13 February 2017

Cooking for Beginners - I'm trying to help!

I have written before on how important it is to learn to cook  but recently, due to joining a Faceboook group on cooking, I have been amazed to read how very little some people seem to know about the utterly basic skills of cooking and how little food knowledge they have. 

Some say that this is because cooking is no longer taught in schools (is that true?) and some say it is because mothers now go out to work and no longer cook at home so do not pass on what they learnt from their Mums. Here is how I learned to cook  – and it is thanks to my Mum, but not in the usual way!

This is such a sad loss to people that I’ve decided to go into more detail in the hope that I might be able to help or at least encourage people to give it a try. Please believe me, learning to cook is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your family.

7 Excellent Reasons to Learn to Cook …

1.   You will save money – bought in food is so much more expensive than making your own! Here are two examples but I could go on (and on and on!).

Yorkshire Puddings – six ready-made Yorkshire puddings cost about £1.70 in Tesco but see here for how to make six lovely Yorkshire puddings for only 26½p! Not only that; mixing the batter takes literally two minutes, maybe less! 

Croutons – these are about 75p an ounce in Tesco and contain all these things!!!

See here for how to make all sorts of delicious croutons using different breads, oils, seasonings and additions from scraps of bread you might otherwise throw away.  Lots of ideas for using them too!  Say a loaf of standard white bread costs £1 for 800g that means the croutons costs approximately 3½p an ounce.  Actually, this simple idea is so good it may qualify as a genius recipe – see below! ***

2.   You will save time.

It might seem that having take-out is a quick way to get a meal but really, if you have had the presence of mind to think ahead a little and have the ingredients, making a burger, for instance, at home is so much quicker than driving to, parking outside and queuing in a take away and then driving home. Not only that, your food is fresh from the stove so in prime condition.  Read more here, including how to make the perfect burger.

3.   You can eat “cleanly”

I recently enjoyed watching Clean Eating's Dirty Secrets on the Beeb presented by Grace Victory which was about extreme and sometimes ill-informed advice on “healthy” eating to lose weight etc. I am not proposing that my readers do anything extreme such as go gluten free (apparently only about 1% of the population are gluten intolerant) or give up carbs or protein unless medically advised to do so. See what you think ... 

What I mean by eating “cleanly”, however,  is that by cooking at home you can avoid things that might be seriously bad for you. See, as an example, the ingredients in bought in croutons pictured above.

Even if bought in foods don’t contain any chemicals, e-numbers,  etc. they may still be high in salt, sugar and/or fat.  When you make your own you know exactly what is in your food.

4.   Personalise your food – so that it is exactly how you and your family like it. My real man and I both love eating but eat very differently.  I like spices and garlic and all sorts of delicious stuff (have you tried black garlic, for instance, it is wonderful) he doesn’t even like pepper! I seriously believe he is a super taster – find out if you are a supertaster here – so even if we do have basically the same meal I will make adjustments. For instance, when he has steak and chips I might have Peppered Steak Salad with Two Dressings!    That way we are both happy.

If you are a supertaster don't get too excited! John Hayes, professor of food science at Penn State University, does warn …

It's not a superpower, you don't get a cape and it doesn't
make you better than other people

5.   Treat your loved ones
Related to above, if you can cook and want to spoil someone then you can make them their absolutely favouritest meal ever!

6.   Pass on this apparently dying skill – teach your kids, it seems no-one else will!

7.   Stay happy – I have read that eating fast food can make people depressed and not just because it is not quite what they wanted! 

As I say on all my social media ...


Learn some Essential Skills

Here are some important ones, I have more but don’t want this post to get out of hand! I am gradually archiving my Sudden Lunch posts on Flipboard here so take a look, or several looks as I keep on adding things!


Knife skills

You will be gobsmacked how much being able to use a knife properly speeds up food preparation. This is how to hold a knife.

To learn some knife skills watch this ...

... or if you’d rather read about it than watch a video then see here.

How to brown meat – and why you should!

The reason it is important to brown meat before braising, stewing or whatever, is that the searing of the meat causes a reaction (known as the maillard reaction, if you’re interested) which creates great flavour!  Read all about how to do it properly here. 


How to cook eggs

There's lots of information here including important and surprising stuff about how to store eggs!

You might like to read my post 12 Commandments of Cooking Well and also see my book of cooking tips mentioned at the end of this post.

Useful “Genius” Recipes ***

I’ve written about these all over the place but they are such a boon to home cooking I am going to mention them again.  Basically, what I call a genius recipe is a simple basic recipe with the potential to be varied ad infinitum, limited only by your ingredients and imagination.  These are truly useful and genius  – read more here


It’s no good picking up a bargain or a wonderful find, being inspired and then not having the wherewithal! A well-stocked storecupboard (and fridge) allows you to be spontaneous and creative.

I can’t tell you what, exactly, you need to keep in stock, other than the basics such as salt and pepper and flour and sugar, cooking oil, onions etc.; it all depends on what you and yours enjoy eating.  But once you know your preferences start gradually stocking up.

Further help

The internet (including this blog) is awash with recipes – choose something simple from a reliable site such as the BBC  (or this blog!) and follow it exactly, to the letter. When you are confident maybe try adding a pinch of this or a little of that (except in the case of baking which is a chemical reaction, don’t mess with those recipes).  Try another recipe and so on.

In the sidebar of this blog you will find a section Useful Foodie (and drinkie!) Links where you can find links to all sort of useful information.

I have written a book in which I give over 500 useful ideas, methods, hints, tips and tricks I have learned or come to realise. They are all ways of making cooking quicker and/or easier and/or more effective and/or more delicious, additionally they will probably help you save money and eat more healthily. 

You will be glad to know I have not included any of the silly hacks one sees on the web – read about some of these here but don’t bother trying any of them! 

If you would like to hear more from me (as you can tell I am very interesting) please sign up at the top of the page to receive Sudden Lunch! straight into your inbox and please like my Facebook page, it is appropriately named Learn to Cook!

Happy Cooking!

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4 February 2017

Aphrodisiacs Quiz for Valentine's Day and beyond!

Don’t worry if you haven’t read it, you can do that later!
which nut is an aphrodisiac
1.  Which nut did the writer Colette spurn because she thought that “they add weight to the breasts”?

     ~   Brazil nuts
     ~   Almonds
     ~   Cobnuts
     ~   Walnuts

2.  What do Hindus traditionally leave on the doorstep to indicates that a marriage is about to take place?

     ~   A handful of rice
     ~   A banana
     ~   A jar of honey
     ~   A coconut

3.  And which food do the Amish traditionally associate with weddings?

     ~   Carrots
     ~   Sauerkraut
     ~   Celery
     ~   Candy

4. What did Casanova say could “restore an old love and … ripen a young one.”?

~  Champagne
~  Cheese
~  Chocolate
~  Something else starting with


5.  Who wrote a long, strange and rather naughty Poem called “Figs”?

~  Philip Larkin
~  Oscar Wilde
~  D.H. Lawrence
~  Allen Ginsberg

ginger root

6.  Ginger derives its name from a Sanskrit word, srngaveram, meaning …

~  Healing root
~  Horn-shaped
~  Tickling stick
~  Sweet heat


7.  Who said “If you have no Honey in your Pot, have some in your Mouth.”?

~   Benjamin Franklin
~   Mark Twain
~   Walt Whitman
~   Henry David Thoreau

8. Which of these is NOT considered to have aphrodisiac qualities?

     ~  Baboon urine
     ~  Horny goat weed
     ~  Stinky toe
     ~  Spanish fly

vanilla for impotence

9. What is held to be the ideal length for a vanilla pod?

~  The longer the better
~  A good 6 inches
~  11cm
~  125mm

10. What fruit was known by the Aztecs as the Testicle Tree, in their own language of course — ahuacacuauhitl?

     ~   Granadilla
     ~   Papaya
     ~   Avocado
     ~   Soursop

11. Which herb in Italy is known as “bacia-nicola” which means “kiss me Nicholas”?

~   Oregano
~   Marjoram
~   Sage
~   Basil

12. Which food did the Talmud say that people, “even women”, should eat on the Sabbath, because it “promotes love and arouses desire”?

~   Roast Chicken
~   Gefilte Fish
~   Garlic
~   Locusts

 Wait - you're not cheating are you?

Oh - before we get to the answers here's a picture of my aforementioned book!  It's only 99p and includes ...

~     The most 17 most convincing (at least to me) aphrodisiac foods
~     Some background on each one
~     46 recipes plus other delicious ideas of what to do with them
~     A little bit about their nutritional benefits
~     A brief mention of other, seemingly lesser, aphrodisiacs
~     One or two possibly suggestive food photos
~     Some rude comments and, of course,
~     Double entendres.

This book is perfect for those who agree with Gael Greene who said ...

"Great food is like great sex.  The more you have the more you want."

OK - here they are!

1.   Almonds
2.   Banana
3.   Celery
4.   Cheese
5.   D.H. Lawrence – read the poem here
6.   Horn shaped
7.   Benjamin Franklin
8.   6 inches
9.   Stinky toe – more about this here
10. Avocado
11. Basil
12. Garlic

How did you do?

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2 February 2017

Food Safety - get your facts right!

I recently joined a Facebook group, Feed Yourself for £1 a Day, on the recommendation of a friend – she thought I might be able to help, and I do try.

Whilst I think aiming to eat for so little per day is rather ambitious I certainly salute the idea.

Feed yourself well for pennies.

This is a very busy group, with so many people needing answers to their food questions and so many answering with tips, recipes and info about where bargains can be picked up. All very useful. 

Feed Yourself for £1 a Day has well over 100,000 members and climbing rapidly, so obviously there is a great need for information and it is such a good idea for people to get together and share their knowledge. 

There is a problem, however …

I know it is with the best intentions but some of the members are giving advice which is incorrect and on occasion dangerous and the poor enquirer, presumably, has no idea which is the right advice. A case in point, and one that has worried me, is a discussion on the group yesterday that was started by this question …

I cooked chicken breast pieces last night in the oven at 8 and out in a sealed container but forgot to put in fridge, safe to eat for lunch today? Or is it going in the dog?

He went on to say …

Went straight from the oven to the container and sealed, was too warm to put in the fridge straight away then forgot.
And …
It literally went straight from the oven to a sealed container.

This last point is particularly worrying see chart below.

Amongst 68 answers so far are the following …

~   Done that regularly and we're all fit and healthy. Don't waste it.
~   If it smells ok I would use it.
~   It’s not like the suns cooking it whilst its sitting out.
~   If the room wasn’t hot it will be fine.
~   Smell it and cut a bit off too taste, you will know before lunch if it's safe too eat.
~   I'd eat it. I've done that before and i was fine. Germs are on everything!
~   Eat it if it was covered. Don't eat it if it wasn't covered.

Etc. and many, many other comments saying it will be fine. 

I think the person looking for advice was absolutely right to ask and realise that the people answering are trying to help, with the best will in the world this sort of advice is dangerous. It is very likely that chicken treated like that will not be fine.

The facts of the matter are …

Most food poisoning bacteria do not cause food to look, smell or taste bad. Food that looks, smells and tastes fine can still make you very ill. Relevant to this post salmonella which chicken can be susceptible to, does not smell or taste any different from un-contaminated chicken.

Food bacteria love a warm environment and their favourite temperature range is 5ooC–63oC  (122o F-145oF). At this temperature they grow and frolic and spread easily. Below 5ooC/122oC they are very slow and sluggish which is why food kept in the fridge stay fresh longer. If you reheat food properly to a high temperature (over 82o C/180oF) right through, then the bacteria will actually be killed and the food safe to eat.

For this reason food that is to be eaten later should be cooled or allowed to cool as quickly as possible, so not kept in a cooling oven or a sealed bag or container. As the UK Government guidelines on food safety say ...

Cooling will always be a step that is critical to food safety. 

Here is a chart from the UK government on food temperature control.

Correct storage and serving food temperature chart.

What this Facebook group has brought home to me, however, is how very little people generally seem to know about food and cooking. I had heard it said before that my generation (aka quite old) were the last to learn to cook from their mothers (this is how my Mum taught me, unorthodox but oh how it worked!) but hadn’t seen the reality of it till now. 

So, on the one hand, thank God for communities like Feed Yourself for £1 a Day but on the other hand, please do be sure of your facts before posting and don’t believe everything you read!!! There is plenty of info out there if you do a simple search.

Sorry to be so serious but I think this is important information that people should be aware of.

In Other News …

Suzy Bowler Learn to Cook

I have seriously updated my website so please have a look here and see what you think of it. 

In fact, related to the above, although I’d love to make lots of money (but not be famous!) I mainly write my cookbooks in the hopes that I might help people cook real delicious food just as they like it for themselves and loved ones without spending loads of money. Maybe my new website will help.
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14 January 2017

A Deliciously Different Pizza Type Thing!

Yesterday I wrote a post on using prosciutto scraps  but I was unable to include this because I’d never made it.  I did it last night to use up various leftovers, I had …

~  A small amount of sourdough um … dough.  I make two or three loaves a week and the size of my “mother” seems to be gradually increasing to the stage where I had some spare.
~  A small chunk of prosciutto/parma ham.
~  A batch of what I call “soubised” onions i.e. slowly cooked till tender and then caramelised.  ***

So I had a go at making a kind of faux Flammeküeche, as you do!  
Here’s my recipe slightly adapted as I doubt you’ll have leftover sourdough and cooked onions …

Creamy Onion & Prosciutto Flatbread/Pizza Thing

Per flatbread you need …

1 pizza base – for a good recipe see here
½ tablespoon olive oil
125g thickly sliced prosciutto – diced
15g butter
1 medium onion – thinly sliced
100g-150g crème fraîche – depending on how big your pizza base is!

~   Dice the prosciutto and cook gently in the oil till starting to turn colour.
~   Lift carefully out of the oil and set aside.
~   Add the butter to the fat in the pan, then the onions and toss to coat.
~   Press a piece of foil directly onto the onions to cover completely.
~   Turn the heat down low and put the lid on the pot. The onions should not so much fry in the butter as gently steam in it.
~   Cook slowly until the onions are soft enough to cut with the edge of a wooden spoon. You can stir once or twice during this time - they will take about 30 minutes.

~   Turn up the heat and cook, stirring, till starting to caramelise.
~   Preheat the oven to 425ºF/220ºC/200ºC fan/gas 7.
~   Divide the sour cream or crème fraiche between the two bases.
~   Scatter with the melted onions and the prosciutto.
~   Bake till the base is crisp and golden.

As I say I have never tried this before but shall certainly eat it again! 

Real Flammeküeche, also known as Tarte Fambée, is a flatbread from the Alsace region of France made with crème fraîche, diced smoky bacon and thinly sliced raw onion and I’ll try that too some time but it will have to go some to be better than this!

I did make one other big mistake; traditionally Tarte Flambé is serve with chilled Alsatian white wine and I had red!!! Oops!


I am in the process of completing the 5th book in my Genius Recipes series; THE Best Way to Cook Onions, which is about what I call “soubising” – cooking onions, and occasionally other things, till utterly tender, sweet and delicious with, as is my way, not only lots of recipes and suggestions to make the most of these luscious onions but also every bit of information I can think of that will help.  Watch this space or sign up here to be notified when its ready. There is an option to have Sudden Lunch delivered direct to your inbox but it’s not compulsory!

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13 January 2017

Hamming Around with Prosciutto Scraps!

My friend Carol recently gave me a hunk of Prosciutto.  She often gives us things, for instance this lovely painting she did of our home!

Anyway, back to the prosciutto and before we get started I should just like to point out that prosciutto and parma ham are the same thing, in fact prosciutto’s full name is Prosciutto di Parma.  

As you can see it’s quite a hunk and, as I can’t be bothered to slice it thinly, this post concerns what to do with chopped and diced prosciutto rather than finely sliced. All these ideas are also perfect for leftovers and scraps of parma ham.

Prosciutto Vinaigrette

60g finely chopped prosciutto
1 garlic clove –  finely chopped
120ml olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
salt and pepper

~   Put half the oil in a frying pan, warm gently and add the chopped prosciutto.
~   Set aside for 15 minutes to infuse the flavours.
~   Whisk together the rest of the ingredients except the salt and pepper.
~   Return the pan to the heat and cook over medium heat, stirring a bit, till the prosciutto is crispy.
~   Whisk in the crispy ham and oil from the pan.
~   Serve warm or cold.

Add to Pangrattato which is a quick, cheap and easy way to improve almost any meal, see here for details and do the same as with bacon.

Prosciutto Butter

1 tablespoon olive oil
90g chopped prosciutto
150g butter at room temperature
freshly ground black pepper – optional

~   Fry the chopped prosciutto in the olive oil over medium heat till crisp then drain.
~   In the beat (or process) the meat into the soft butter.
~   Taste and season with pepper – it’s probably salty enough already.

Chopped parsley or chives would be an attractive and tasty addition.  Lots more ideas for compound butters here.

7 Ways to Use Prosciutto Butter

1. When about to roast a chicken loosen the skin on the breast and rub a little of the butter under the skin massaging it into the breasts (hopefully I will get more hit on this site from those last few words!).

2. Prosciutto Scones – an ingenious way to do this is to use this instead of the normal fat in scones. And, by the way, I know a super-flexible scone recipe which can also be used to make shortcakes, rock cakes, griddle cakes, cobblers, dumplings, doughnuts and more! 

3.  Stir a knob of prosciutto butter into appropriate pan sauce at the last minute to add not only texture, richness and shine but also lovely prosciuttoiness!

4. Prosciutto Alfredo Sauce – this is a gorgeous, rich, creamy sauce great on pasta and much else, see the recipe here and use the prosciutto butter instead of normal. 

5. Melt onto corn on the cob.

6. Melt a little over steak, fish or chicken when serving.

7. Eat on toast.

Crisply fried shreds of prosciutto can be …

~   Sprinkled over salads, soups and creamy pasta dishes.
~   Stirred into polenta as you make it. For details see here which is actually a post about a close relation of polenta, fungi (nothing to do with mushrooms) which also has instructions for making polenta.
~   Scattered on top of pizza as soon as you take it out the oven
~   Added to scrambled eggs and omelettes.
~   Nibbled on as a cook’s treat

Of course, all these ideas can be used for thinly sliced prosciutto too!!

If these are just some of the suggestions I can think of for bits of parma ham aka prosciutto don't you wonder what ideas I have for the other 450-ish potential leftovers in my book, The Leftovers Handbook?

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