Cooking Delia: 1, Eggs
Secondly, since I gave up drinking, I have become more interested in food, and, finding myself at home a fair amount, started watching Masterchef Australia, a vastly superior TV show compared to the UK version. It inspired me.
Delia Smith's Cookery Course, Part One and Part Two. They're 1979 paperback editions of the books published to accompany the BBC Television series Delia Smith's Cookery Course, broadcast on BBC2 from November 1978.
I honestly cannot when or where I acquired them. I believe it was in the past four years for a couple of quid or so at a Brighton car boot sale. Anyway, if I am going to cook, I need to learn. There is no way I could afford to hire the Queen of Cookery Delia Smith to teach me personally, so I might as well let her do it remotely through her wise and well-thumbed cookery course books.
Incidentally, one thing I have noticed about modern cookery books is that most are like coffee table tomes, full of glossy pictures and far too large and swanky to be practical to use easily in a small kitchen.
They contain recipes but don't really teach you how to cook at all. I reckon they are designed to be bought, not used for any practical purpose.
By contract, Delia Smith's Cookery Course is a convenient A5-or-so size, not expensively produced and leaves almost no culinary stone unturned. As a systematic bloke, I decided to take it page by page, reading the Contents, studying the Conversion tables and the Introduction, which enthused me with the line: "The whole idea is that an absolute beginner to cooking can start here."
The next chapter, Equipment, was also very useful, full of tips about saucepans, tins, casseroles, baking utensils, whisks, slices, spatulas, knives et cetera.
A perusal of my kitchen cupboards informed me that I possess quite a bit of useful kitchen equipment but would need to purchase more in the fullness of itme to get anywhere near a complete Delia set. No matter. Rome wasn't built in a day (they built it at night).
On to the cooking. I decided to cook every dish in the course - in order.
After also ploughing through Free-range eggs, Brown or white?, How fresh are they?, Storing eggs and Beating egg whites, I was thankful to get on to the practical cooking:
1. Boiling an Egg: I have to confess I have boiled an egg before but in an inaccurate, untimed fashion. I found Delia Smith's tips and timing produced a superior result: "Simmer for exactly one minute, remove the saucepan from the heat, put a lid on and leave the eggs for a further five minutes (size 4) or six minutes (size 2)." Perfecto. Onward and upward!
2. Hard-boiled Eggs: Again, I had attempted this before, but following Delia Smith's approach made better hard-boiled eggs.
3. Poached Eggs: I am very partial to a poached egg but have never really cracked it (excuse the pun). Without Delia, I would not have thought of poaching eggs in four centimetres of barely simmering water in a small FRYING pan! Yet, it worked so much better than anything I had tried before. Now I am a Delia-turned-poacher.
4. Scrambled Eggs: Believe or not, although I love scrambled eggs I had never previously tried to make them. Delia Smith recommended the "Escoffier Method" - essentially cooking beaten and seasoned egg in foaming butter - and it was yum, as the Aussie masterchefs love to say! I ate it with smoked salmon.
5. Fried Eggs: Now, fried eggs is a dish I have made a lot over the years. But I have been doing it in butter or olive oil. Delia's technique of using lard and basting the top of the egg was a distinct improvement.
6. Baked Eggs (Eggs en Cocotte): To make this, I had to go out to buy something called "ramekins", which are little porcelain pots. I broke an egg in each, added salt and pepper and a knob of butter above each yolk. The strange thing was you then put the remekins in a meat-roasting tin, pour in enough hot water to go halfway up the sides of these little pots and cook in the oven. Who would have imagined?
But it was delicious! I felt quite proud of myself, having completed the basic egg-cooking tasks. But then came a far greater challenge: the proper egg recipes.
7. The Basic Omelette: I am shame-faced to admit that, although I like an omelette, I cannot recall ever making one. I tried to follow Delia's recipe precisely but can't have been successful because my first omelette was somewhat burnt and not very tasty - the result, I suspect, of using too much butter and heat.
And I used the new technique (well, new to me) of putting the frying pan under the grill - to melt Gruyere cheese on top. My Omelette Savoyard did not look as pretty as the picture of it in Delia's book, but it was still jolly tasty.
9. Egg and Lentil Curry: I love curries but tend not to use recipes when making them, and I had never used eggs in one before. I followed this recipe almost to a "t" - frying onion in a pan, adding celery, carrot, peppers, and then stirring in lentils and garlic.
You then sprinkle in flour, Madras curry powder, ground ginger and turmeric. For precise details of recipes, see Delia's course books or website. I added boiling water and simmered until the lentils were soft.
Separately, I boiled the eggs, peeled and halved them, before adding to the curry with yoghurt just before serving. It went well. I used cinnamon instead of ginger, which I had forgotten to buy, and served with chopped parsley and raw onion slices. You can also serve with chutney (also forgotten). (I learnt that you should read the whole recipe before going out to buy the ingredients.)
It was no oil painting but tasted good.
10. Poached Eggs with Cream and Watercress: I liked the sound of this one. First, I made a white sauce out of butter, flour and milk, cooking for seven minutes. I "collapsed" - a new cooking concept for me - watercress leaves with butter in a saucepan, before adding to the sauce and stirring in grated mild Cheddar and Parmesan cheese.
You were supposed to whizz it in a liquidiser but I don't have one, so I went tonto with my handwhisk. The sauce went back into the pan, and cream and lemon juice were added with salt and pepper. I poached eggs in a frying pan and, to serve, poured the sauce over them and sprinkled on some more Parmesan. A nice dish!
You were supposed to serve it with rice which I put it on too late. The key to cookery is. . . . . . . . . . . timing!
10. Eggs and Leeks au Gratin: I have always liked leeks and so was looking forward to this. The recipe required eight eggs but that sounded like a lot of cholesterol for one guy, so I used four instead and halved the quantities throughout.
While the eggs were being simmered, I made a sauce out of butter, flour and milk and cooked for six minutes. I chopped and "sweated" the leeks like Putin and, once they'd written out their full confessions, I arranged them over the base of a buttered baking dish and placed the peeled, halved eggs on top.
Cheddar cheese and Parmesan then went into the sauce and once the cheeses had melted, it was seasoned and poured over the eggs. I placed more Cheddar on top and a dusting of cayenne and put the dish under the grill, toasting the cheese and bubbling the sauce. I added parsley and watercress before serving. Delia suggested one or the other but I had both to hand, so what the hell.
My attempt at Eggs and Leeks au Gratin may not look great but tasted very good.
11. Cheese Soufflé: I had never tried to make a soufflé before and can't even recall eating one. Delia suggested I start by finding a soufflé dish but having no idea what one looked like I plumped for a porcelain dish with undulating sides which I found deeply buried in a kitchen cupboard.
Delia told me that the "one and only secret of success in making a soufflé is to whisk the egg whites properly", so I got my whisk ready.
To cut a long one short, I melted butter in a pan, added flour and stirred over moderate heat, before gently stirring in milk, followed by cayenne, mustard, nutmeg plus salt and pepper. I left it to cool for a bit and added grated cheese and well-beaten egg yolks.
I have to admit I had never separated yolks from whites before. It's not something that has ever seemed necessary in my life.
But it wasn't hard to do and, as my mentor Delia suggested, I whisked the whites like there was no tomorrow (which, for them, there wasn't) before they joined the sauce, in my dish. I suspect I cooked it too long or too high - it looked a bit blotchy and probably didn't rise as much as it ought to have done. But it didn't taste bad.
12. Piperade: Strange name, strange dish. Delia informed me this is a "famous egg dish from the Basque region of France". I cooked onions in olive oil as gently as I could, desperate for them not to turn brown.
In went garlic, tomatoes, peppers, salt and pepper, for a good old stir and 20-minute cook. I beat up the eggs and poured them "like you would with scrambled eggs". This seemed really odd to me. As soon as it thickened, I got it off the heat and ate with steak.
An interesting, rich and nourishing dish!
14. Chilli Eggs: This didn't sound a big deal - how long can chilli-ing up some eggs take? But there was more to it than met the eye.
I fried onions, a green pepper, chilli and cumin powders, oregano and tabasco, before adding tinned Italian tomatoes, to reduce to a messy pulp after turning up the heat.
The eggs I broke into the pan and then simmered, before dressing with parsley. My effort may not have been aestheticaly pleasing but did taste good.
I decided to skip the next recipe, Zabaglione, described as a "very famous Italian classic" because it struck as being a cocktail rather than a meal - a simple mixture of Marsala wine with sweetened egg yolk. And I am on the wagon.
With a lemon, I squeezed juice and grated rind and added to egg yolks and caster sugar. I whisked egg white and folded them back into their yolks. Tricky!
I poured the lot into melted butter in a frying pan to cook, before putting the pan under the grill to brown. I did not follow Delia's suggestion to set fire to it with some brandy. Perhaps, that was my mistake. My lemon soufflé omelette was too lemony and perhaps the rind was not ground finely enough or my whisking had let me down. I served with smoked salmon which was probably the nicest element.
16. John Tovey's Quick Hollandaise Sauce: After eating nothing but eggs for two weeks, I was relieved to reach the final recipe in this section.
This one needed a liquidiser but with a lot of hard hand-whisking I managed to put it off.
I boiled butter in one saucepan, and wine vinegar and lemon juice in another. After whisking egg yolk, sugar and salt, I added the hot lemon juice and vinegar - and the boiling butter. It was delicious!
My eggs-cellent fortnight taught me a lot but nothing could prepare for the next chapter in my 1970s Delia Smith culinary odyssey: Bread.