17 July 2014

Let's cook!!

In some posts, and on my Amazon bio page, and Twitter, and FB… I have claimed that I can cook.
Well, I can.
For some people it is as simple as following a recipe, step by step and using exact weight measures, but for me it isn’t. And truth be told, I hate recipes. So when I do cook, I follow the mood and setting I am in at that moment.

So…today…I will try and share one of those with you.

A basic lasagna…


Two bottles of red wine

Enough Mincemeat (Ground beef)

One Large onion

Two Cloves of garlic

A bunch of fresh basil

A bit of fresh rosemary

Sachet/small can Tomato paste/puree

A few zucchini/courgette/baby marrows

A green/red/yellow pepper

Ample grated cheese

Sheets of lasagna


This is the part where you need to pay close attention, and remember that tasting food while it cooks is a must…

·         Pour a glass of wine. Make sure it isn’t mere cooking wine, but also not Grandpa’s vintage private collection

·         Take a sip

·         Insert CD or connect iPod. The preferred music is something along the lines of Andrea Bocelli. This is a must to set the stage. Nothing too sad or melodramatic: tears affect the taste of the sauce

·         Chop the onion. The finer the better, basically because if your kids are dead-set against them, you can disguise it and they won’t know the difference

·         Sip some wine, and keep sipping during stages of preparation unless forming part of the instructions

·         Chop the garlic. With this it is paramount to be very fine. Large chunks can catch the guest by surprise and cause either a face that would crack mirrors or a spew. If it is one of your in-laws, you will never be able to come up with an excuse good enough

·         Chop the basil. It doesn’t have to be to fine, but small enough that all the natural aroma is set free

·         Rosemary the same as the basil. The reason I use fresh as opposed to the dried variety, is because the dry one doesn’t soften when cooking and, well, it just isn’t cool when you find one twig in the middle of a mouthful of delicious food

·         Chop the zucchini or courgettes or baby marrows into rings. The thickness is up to you, but it should show when you slice the cooked lasagna later

·         Finely chop the peppers. NOT chilli peppers, sweet peppers

·         Place a pot on the heat and drizzle with olive oil. Virgin, extra virgin, seed blend: it depends on personal taste. If you have a gas cooker, especially a Smeg, I am jealous

·         Take a sip of wine and turn up the music as this is where it all turns into culinary foreplay

·         Brown the onion and garlic in the pot. They should turn a yellowy brown. If it is way brown, oops, clear it from the pot and chop another. As the onion turns transparent, add the peppers

·         Once browned nicely, add the mincemeat or ground beef. Try and make sure that it doesn’t form compact pieces like small meat balls. It should be loose to give the sauce a smooth texture

·         By now your glass should be empty. Pour another

·         As the meat starts to cook, add the basil and rosemary. Stir it in nicely. Salt and pepper should be added at this stage. For those adamant about not cooking with salt and allowing the guests to add their own later…it’s kinda difficult when the dish is layered. Pepper should be corns ground with a mill and not the powdered variety

·         During this process, sip more wine

·         When the meat is almost cooked and starts to brown in areas, add the tomato paste or puree

·         Stir it in nicely

·         Sip

·         Add the zucchini

·         Sip

·         Stir the lot together until the zucchini is evenly spread

·         Pour in half a bottle of wine. Yes, half a bottle. And depending on the size of your wine glass, that should mean your first bottle is toast

·         Drown the pasta layers in a flat dish with warm water. Try not to let them touch each other as they may be stubborn when trying to remove later. Also, don’t use the dish you will finally put the pasta in unless you dry it properly first. The water will mess with the taste

·         Enjoy the music and savour the wine

·         Bring the meaty wine mixture to the boil and lower the heat to let it simmer. All the flavours and textures need to marry in the pot, and this also gives you time to finish your glass and pour another

·         If you are not a usual wine drinker, calm down because you will soon start twirling while giving your rendition of what Bocelli should sound like. Twerking is frowned upon and doesn’t quite go with opera. If you are like me, just close your eyes and let his voice sooth your soul

·         Inspect the pot and make sure the wine has reduced enough that you hardly see any liquid

·         Take it off the heat

·         Sip

·         Pause

·         Sip

·         In a saucepan, prepare a basic b├ęchamel or white sauce. I will not dictate how you make it as recipes differ and I rarely follow them. Personally, I do mine with butter-milk-flour way. For those that have never made a white sauce before, here is a link. This recipe uses parmesan cheese in the preparation which adds a little extra tang, but it is not necessary as it can be hellishly expensive. I also use chicken spice instead of nutmeg

·         That was tiring, so finish your glass

·         In an oven tray, lay the first line of lasagna sheets so that they overlap slightly. Some people put the meat sauce first, but I just find that having the pasta on the bottom kind of keeps the meal ‘solid’ and doesn’t allow the base to flatten when you cut the first slice

·         On top of the lasagna, pour on a healthy portion of meat sauce and smooth evenly. Add a thin layer of white sauce. Oh, and by the way…cooking is creative freedom so you can experiment with the white sauce by adding ground pepper to turn it into a pepper sauce. Or grated cheese for a cheese sauce…

·         Seeing as you get the picture, you can reward yourself with another glass, but that would depend on your spouse or partner as you will need to open the next bottle. I don’t have that problem

·         Once you have layered the lasagna enough and to your own satisfaction, finish it off with a final layer of white sauce and sprinkle the grated cheese on top. The common cheese used is usually cheddar or gouda, but feel free to use whatever you want. For creativity when presenting the meal, I usually sprinkle a bit of paprika to break the overpowering yellow of the cheese, and you can garnish with chopped parsley

·         Bake in the oven at around 180 Celsius or around 350 Fahrenheit until just before the cheese burns

·         While it comfortably develops into a meal that will impress most guests, sip, and sip some more

That is a basic lasagna, and when done should look similar to this…