Expand your repertoire: in cooking, practice makes perfect

If you get a moment, it is worth trying new recipes and then practising them so they become part of your life

Domini Kemp - Cheese Straws and Baked Ricotta Photograph: Alan Betson / THE IRISH TIMES

Domini Kemp - Cheese Straws and Baked Ricotta Photograph: Alan Betson / THE IRISH TIMES

 

I t might seem obvious, but the whole point of a food column should be to inspire you to cook. Now I do appreciate there are some folks who are quite happy to read about my kitchen exploits and day-dream about nice food rather than actually making anything to eat. But ideally, you should have a few recipes stashed away that become favourites and part of your weekly repertoire.

While I love reading cook books as much as anyone – I’ve an office lined with them, with more to squash in – I too have found over the years that it’s hard to cook something once and then remember to do it over and over again. I need constant nudging to repeat an old favourite, but equally, I’m reluctant to try anything I deem a tad faddish.

But this is the time of year that I suppose I’m tempted to try things for the hell of it and the more shortcuts and secret weapons in your arsenal, the better.

We are often reminded to have a set of basics in the store cupboard – good salt, dried herbs and spices, decent oils and vinegars, as well as pasta, rice and tins of things like anchovies, chick peas, tomatoes and jars of roasted peppers. But this focus on store-cupboard ingredients means we can forget about that chillier store-cupboard: the freezer.

I’m a huge fan of having a freezer full of emergency grub and using it properly. Chillies, lime leaves, peas, breadcrumbs, good bread, prawns, spinach, crabmeat – all great freezer staples.

But I have to admit to a weakness for old-school puff pastry. Take it out in the morning or the night before, and it is ready to go by the time you are ready to cook.

Easy-peasy – really – even more so if it comes ready-rolled. In an instant you can scatter roast sweet potatoes, Parmesan, sauteed mushrooms or some tinned artichokes and goat’s cheese, or cook up little rounds and top them with creme fraiche, smoked salmon and dill. So, the two recipes this week both involve puff pastry – one sweet, one savoury. While it might seem like overdoing it to have the cheese straws accompany more cheese, let me assure you that the combination of crisp, savoury straw dipped into warm, almost quivering ricotta is irresistible.

The mince wheels are child’s play – just five minutes to make and 20 minutes or so to cook. And the result? Sticky, caramelised perfection.

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