Building a Better Bloke

What’s for dinner?

Posted in Domestication by Sam de Brito on December 10, 2009

By Craig “Iron Chef” Heal

To my mind learning to cook is the most important life skill a “better bloke” can learn.

I’m not saying we need to develop the culinary skills of a celebrity chef but all men should attain a level of skill that means we are no longer vectors for salmonella transmission.

I’m talking about men developing the capacity to whip up cheap, quick, nutritious meals for themselves and then having a handful of special meals to knock the socks off potential girlfriends, impress the grandparents or pay back your mates after what happened at the pub during last drinks …

I became committed to learning how to cook after a few of my earliest cooking escapades in share houses became embarrassing public knowledge.

There was the toast that caught on fire which naturally made me rip the toaster out of the socket and throw it through a closed kitchen window before the kitchen was engulfed.

Or when I moved into a new share house without having met one of the share mates and decided the oil in the pan was too hot and that a large dose of water was just what the chef ordered. The resulting fire swept up to the roof just as the previously absent share house mate returned home and came over to introduce herself.

It was around this time, I realised the only thing I could cook was cereal and Cheesy Mac without putting myself or property in danger.

I had a serious problem.

If you are in the same sinking boat, here are some good tips to get you started.

1. Don’t let cooking be a stressful, intimidating process. Ask someone who’s food you already devour to show you some pointers or to step you through recipes. It doesn’t matter who as long as they’re approachable.

2. Stick with the basics to begin with – all-in-the-pan stir-fry’s and pastas, meat and veg, omelettes and packet cakes.

3. Buy pre-made meals and add fresh ingredients. This will set them above the normal bland food you used to digest. Buy a store brought pizza then add cashews, spring onions and satay sauce for an Asian twist. Pretty much anything from your local’s freezer aisle can be drastically improved by throwing something else into it.

4. Eat what you like. If you’re mad about your late night kebabs, get a meal kit from the supermarket and follow the directions. If Indian’s your thing, buy some rice, nuke it in the microwave, brown some meat in a pan and add a pre-made curry mix to the pan ’til it’s hot.

5. Enjoy yourself and your cooking. Don’t make it a chore, cook food you enjoy and keep it simple stupid. The fancy stuff comes once you’ve got the timing down pat or when the girl you’ve been cracking onto surprises you and decides to come over for a feed.

6. Start with the basics. A good set of knifes, a few pans, the odd hand me down ladle and a baking dish will be all you need for most things. Whisks, garlic crushers are all beside the point and can be substituted with something more pedestrian, like a fork or a knife.

Most importantly don’t be discouraged if you serve up the odd inedible slosh; we’ve all been there.

I got blind drunk before cooking Indian for friends at a dinner party only to realise halfway through the meal, the carefully filleted meat (god knows how I handled the knife) lay in the bin and the curry consisted only of bones.

Most recently it was kangaroo marinated in red wine which caused my then girlfriend to projectile vomit what looked like blood at the time.

And to the Better Blokes out there – what are some easy recipes, good websites, handy hints and further steps you can pass onto our kitchen virgin brothers?

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21 Responses

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  1. Tony said, on December 10, 2009 at 8:40 am

    Good post – women seem to really enjoy it when the man gets in the kitchen (reversal on traditional roles I suppose). I’ve been following http://www.eatwelldrinkbetter.com.au – some of the recipies are a bit daunting but there are some cracking simple yet fancy looking dishes that work a treat.

  2. Brian said, on December 10, 2009 at 9:14 am

    Check out the book Beat Heat Eat – the instructions are seriously easy

    http://www.beatheateat.com/preview.html

    I work in IT so I spend most of my day sitting on my arse, hence it was getting bigger and I had man boobs and the beer gut (although not the pony tail). I didn’t like what I’d become so I got serious 12 mths ago about fitness and eating healthy. One thing I picked up was a little magazine at the newsagent ‘Healthy Good Guide’, all the recipes list nutritional content etc, and for the most part they are easy and tasty – the only downside for me is the wife likes my cooking so much now I cook most nights…

  3. Stuart said, on December 10, 2009 at 9:38 am

    Good article. Agree that too many men get intimidated by the kitchen. If you want to start cooking my only 2 bits of advice are
    1) Get one good knife, and keep it sharp. You can get away with crappy cookware but the knife is the essential.
    2) Stick to recipes with less than half a dozen ingredients. There is plenty you can do with that.

    http://www.taste.com.au is where I find most of my dishes. Just search for a meat type and then look at the highest rated stuff.

  4. Subwoofer said, on December 10, 2009 at 10:05 am

    For cheap, regular recipes, Super Food Ideas magazine is a winner. There are always several recipes that you will like in every issue. Not everything in each issue will appeal, but you’ll find enough every issue to justify the purchase price.

  5. SexyNinjaMonkey said, on December 10, 2009 at 10:22 am

    My fave recipe site is Closet Cooking http://closetcooking.blogspot.com/
    Nice, mostly simple dishes that can be prepared in a small kitchen.
    My specialty is one i learnt from that site, Kare or Japanese Curry.
    Another good source is youtube, there you can watch dishes made from start to finish.

  6. davo 25 said, on December 10, 2009 at 10:44 am

    my tips

    Stick around in the kitchen while stuff cooks (drink a beer, clean out the fridge, start stacking the dishwasher) because as soon as you go back to the movie/modern warfare… hello charcoal

    Pizzas are easy enough to make, crank the oven to 200, mccain pizza bases, tomato paste on the base, add cheese and toppings. If you want to get fancy you can buy pizza herbs – sprinkle some of that on

    below is what I had last night for dinner, all the warnings are from experience haha
    dave

    My mum’s Chow Mein,
    not very fancy, but a good feed:

    Food Required:
    Garlic bread
    Cheese
    Mince 500g for 2-4, 1kg for 4-6
    Frozen vegetable mix (peas, corn, carrots, capsicum, whatever you want)
    Pasta (I like the thing long type called angel hair, and it is easier to cook because its so thin)
    Chicken stock
    Curry powder
    Little bit of oil (get a healthy one like canola)

    Procedure:
    Get a beer out. All chefs should have a beer, cooking is hard work.
    turn on oven
    start boiling water
    when oven is close to 200 and water is boiling
    throw pasta* in water, and garlic bread in the oven (set an alarm for the pasta on your phone if necessary)
    cook some beef mince in a wok** dont put in more than a shot glass worth of oil in at the start and let the oil heat a bit, before chucking the mince in remove the paper on the underside of the mince – it doesnt taste good
    keep stirring the pasta and working the mince
    when the mince is looking cooked, cook it a little bit more to be sure, then throw in your frozen vegetables. stir stir stir
    check the pasta (boiling water is hot, get pasta on a fork and run it under the trickle of a tap to cool it first) if its good then dump it through a strainer and run some warm water over it
    keep moving the mince & veggies around, try a sample, if the vegetables are hot then we are good to add flavouring & spice. chicken stock cubes & curry powder, crush the cubes and try to sprinkle it out evenly over the wok, mix it in, test to see if it needs more. repeat until good***
    pasta should be done by now if it wasnt before
    garlic bread should be ready
    turn everything off, and move them off the hotplates so the leftovers don’t get scorched while you eat
    Get another beer out so you don’t have to get up from the couch as soon as you sit down.
    enjoy!

    * assuming pasta is the cheap takes 15 minutes kind
    ** a wok big mother of a fry pan, they’re like 5 bucks from ikea and they look impressive like you brought it back from Cambodia or something – only issue is they dont fit well in a dishwasher
    *** if you like your food spicy and others dont, get a weaker mouth to do this step (you can add more curry powder to your plate directly)

  7. Jess said, on December 10, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    Big thumbs up for the modern bloke who can cook and doesnt consistently look to his miss’s to whip something up for dinner!

  8. Tim said, on December 10, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    I ended up surrendering my kitchen to the cockroach plague for two years and just eating at the pub every night ($6 backpacker meals). Have recently started cooking at home again.

  9. Graham said, on December 10, 2009 at 1:23 pm

    Food is a great passion of mine, I watch all manner of cooking and foodie-travel shows (particularly Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations) and I often find myself holding back the urge to salivate uncontrollably.

    I have the desire to cook great meals for myself but I find myself both intimidated (having been taught no life skills by my parents) by the prospect of cooking for one and confined by my limited income. In the end I find myself eating egg and beans on toast most evenings.

    I have searched online for cooking classes in Perth but they seem aimed more at those with already developed skills as opposed to an absolute beginner. Perhaps what I should do is contact the WA Blind Association and investigate their services to see if they stretch beyond adaptive techniques.

    Being able to cook for myself would not only boost my self confidence but it would also prove further that the blind/vision impaired are not dependent invalids, which seems to be a common misconception.

  10. J-P said, on December 10, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    ” Buy a store brought pizza then add cashews, spring onions and satay sauce for an Asian twist.”

    This has to be a joke. Right?

    • Craig Iron Chef Heal said, on December 10, 2009 at 4:08 pm

      Really aimed this post at encouraging our brothers who struggle opening the fridge door. I did try this for a uni progressive dinner and it went down a treat. If your passed this rudimentary stage then heavy props to you nom, nom, nom.

  11. LittleChild said, on December 10, 2009 at 2:43 pm

    Foodies are so bourgeois. There was a post a couple of days ago telling us to think of all the suffering, hungry people of the world.

    Wittgenstein said ‘I don’t care what I eat as long as it’s the same thing everyday.’ That barrell of laughs was no omnivore food slut. Einstein was the same.

    Put on a few food competition TV shows and suddenly everyone’s a conniseur. I’m turning into a real shit like that de Brito bloke.

  12. Eric um-Bist said, on December 10, 2009 at 5:25 pm

    I’ve been perfecting steak and salad for the past few months. The steak would generally be rib-eye, maybe sirloin, depends what’s looking good. The salad is a bed of ripped up lettuce, finely chopped red capsicum, carrot and shallots, a finely sliced tomato, shaved vintage cheese, sliced hard-boiled egg with a few olives and then salt, pepper and lite dressing.
    Hot English mustard and horseradish sauce for the steak.
    Takes about 15 minutes or so to make and then served with rounds of bread so you can make folded over sandwiches of the meat and salad: delish!

    After having whipped this up about 50 times or so, it’s great to see the improvements I’m making in cooking the steak just right and being able to get the right mix of ingredients for a well-balanced salad.

    Practice makes perfect.

  13. MK said, on December 10, 2009 at 10:32 pm

    I recently watched parts of the Jamie Oliver “Ministry of Food”. I was so taken by his intention (ie that it’s a basic human right to be able to prepare and feed yourself tastly, healthy meals) that I decided to check out his book (of the same name). I can not tell you how easy his receipes are and so far, only one hasn’t tasted great. The most exciting bit for me is that I am now varying some of the ingredients he suggests and making them even better.

    For quick, easy, cheap and tasty options, it’s a great place to start.

  14. Joel said, on December 11, 2009 at 2:14 am

    Having lived in Hong Kong as a kid, I’ve grown up with a taste for fresh, simple Chinese food – much more exciting, healthy, and everyday-friendly than your standard deep-fried, oversweetened Aussie Chinese Restaurant Food.

    This Chinese take on chicken noodle soup’s a a winner for an easy, impressive meal that can be thrown together for one or en masse. The bonus is that the sauces can be re-applied to pretty much anything – most meats, or best of all, late-night boozy noodles.

    Before you start, find your nearest Asian grocery store, and buy 3 things. Rice vermicelli (rice noodles that look like spaghetti), DARK soy sauce (different from the stuff in the little fish-bottles of Kikkoman), and dried chilli flakes.

    1. You’ll need bok choy. Shred it across the leaves, about 5mm wide.

    2. You’ll need some nice meat – chicken breast or a decent cut of beef fillet is the best. Slice it thinly across the grain of the meat and lob it in a bowl.

    3. Add a decent splash of dark soy, a little splash of light soy (kikkoman fishman bottle style), a gob of oyster sauce, a dash of sesame oil, and if you’re a bit of a chilli monster, a little chilli oil. (That’s where the flakes come in – half fill a jar with them, lob in some boiled and crushed garlic (pat it dry first) then top it up with peanut or canola oil).
    Lob it into a frypan or wok, and cook it til it’s cooked good and proper if it’s chicken, or just past rare if it’s beef. (The soup does the rest.)

    4. Boil up some noodles.

    5. Drain the bejeezis out of them (they get really starchy), then put fresh water in the pot, and bring it back to the boil with a chicken stock cube.

    6. Pour the soup (yes, that counts as soup) and noodles into a bowl, then sit the shredded bok choy on top on one side, and the saucy meat on the other side.

    7. Chopsticks and porcelain spoon. If you can’t use ’em, wipe off the southern cross tattoo and learn.

    Remember those sauces – they’re your best pal. You can apply them to anything in pretty much exactly that combination.

    • Joel said, on December 11, 2009 at 2:15 am

      I should mention… cook the sauced up meat by itself, not with the bok choy.

  15. Ash Simmonds said, on December 11, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    Steak!

    Ode to meat: http://highsteaks.com/ode-to-meat/ (proper site coming in the new year)

    As for cuts I wouldn’t recommend rump or porterhouse to the average kitchener – it’s very difficult to really get a good result out of them, eye/petit fillet has fantastic texture and it’s great if you can get a “fist” of meat rather than a big flat piece, but you really need a strong red wine garlic jus to go with it – and that’s difficult to master (I still suck).

    T-bone is great if it’s THICK (450-600gm) and very rare, the large bit is somehow magically better than porterhouse when it’s on the bone, typically doesn’t need much sauce on it – just a light drizzling of something mediterranean – chimmi churri or cajun or maybe a worcestershire and dijon concoction.

    Scotch fillet is an all-round safe bet, 350-450gm is perfect – easy to prepare and gives a great result, goes well with basically any sauce or naked, a bearnaise is great here.

    However – my favourite cut is the rib-eye (500-700gm), this has consistently given me the most impressive results and often that “to die for” taste and texture, the best topping for this is simply a glob of garlic butter.

    As with any steak – they should be left unrefrigerated for at least a couple hours prior to cooking, you don’t want the middle to be dead cold, just nice and “blood warm”.

    Preparation – just experiment! The simplest and effective method is to just slather the meat with oil and rub whatever random crap you have in the spice rack – don’t overdo it, just try a few different things – pepper medleys are a pretty safe bet.

    Don’t salt the meat, don’t use those “tenderising” spices, it’s way too difficult to properly judge how much to use and you just end up with an overly salty meat. If you want salt on your meal, add it once you’ve tasted it and decided it needs salt. Also – you shouldn’t need tenderising – only buy quality meat and you’ll do well.

    I also like to specifically go for extra virgin olive oil, avoid canola and processed oils.

    Don’t pan-fry, I’ve never had one out of the pan that was half as good as one over direct flames. Heat the bbq/grill up on high for at least 10mins, whack the meat on there, come back in a few mins, flip it, then 1-2 mins later switch the heat off and move the steak to the resting rack, close the lid and leave it for about 5 minutes. The resting period allows the juices to be properly absorbed back into the flesh as the muscles relax so you’ll have a juicier tenderer steak – if you hoe into it right away the flesh may still be tensed from the direct heat, and any of the juices will likely just leak onto the plate leaving you with dry meat in a pool of blood and fat.

    As for doneness – I go for black and blue, so high heat and quite charred on the outside but basically raw on the inside, however a more socially acceptable doneness is rare to medium-rare, anything more than medium-rare I can’t abide by and refuse to discuss.

    Enjoy!

  16. Aurthuria said, on December 13, 2009 at 10:44 pm

    I lived with a chef who refused to cook as it was work as far as she was concerned, so she taught me to cook.

    For the basic, “Delia Smith teaches cook”, steps you through the basics in a way that made me fall in love with cooking.

    The trick though is to cook for others, it makes it much more enjoyable.

  17. candan said, on December 17, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    I been eating pastas lately, very convenient and easy on the hip pocket, which is what my cooking has been about lately.

    Diced onions
    Mince beef
    canned butter beans
    cheese
    chili sauce
    canned, diced tomatoes

    Fry onions, add beef to brown, add tomatoes, simmer, add chili sauce and canned beans, then serve with some sort of pasta. Easy, tastes really good and keeps for a couple of days.

  18. Rita Vecchio said, on February 5, 2010 at 7:51 am

    Great articles. Theres a lot of nice information here, though I did want to let you know something, I’m running Redhat with the up-to-date beta of Firefox, and the design of your site is kind of wonky for me. I can read the articles, but the navigation doesnt function so well.

  19. cake recipes from scratch white said, on March 20, 2010 at 5:06 am

    yummmy:P thanks for your ideas , i’d adore to adhere to your blog as generally as i can.use a nice day~~


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