The perfect baked potato

A baked potato
A baked potato

Over the years I have got better at cooking not gradually, but in a series of leaps that look like this:

1976-1994: No cooking at all.

1994-99: University years. Specialities: pitta-bread pizzas, cheese toasties, tuna pasta bake.

1999-2005: Spent living with a chef. Learned a few bits of proper cooking, but mostly left it to him. Specialities: stuffed peppers, chilli con carne.

2005-2008: What I like to think of as The Wilderness Years. Very little cooking. Specialities: pasta with grated cheese, buttered crumpets, crisps.

2008-date: Sudden keen interest in cooking, wedding vouchers spent on kitchen equipment. Specialities: roast chicken, roast beef with yorkshire pudding, chicken pie, lasagne, apple crumble, sausage rolls, bread, cheese scones.

From which we can conclude that if you want to come over for dinner, you should do it now and not five years ago. Unless, that is, you want baked potatoes. I love baked potatoes. They are one of the simplest, cheapest, most honest and unfucked-about-with things you can eat, and a big one is a meal all by itself. But here’s the thing: I can’t bastard cook them. I have tried every method, and whatever I do they end up unevenly crunchy where they should be soft and soft where they should be crunchy or else so dried out as to be more or less inedible. There is no in-between. Occasionally, like one time in twelve, they have turned out OK, which makes it even worse because it’s just encouraging enough for me to keep trying, with almost-inevitable disappointment each time.

If you have a miracle method to share with me, please do. I will probably make a cock of it, but I’ll give it a go. The perfect baked potato is:

  • Fluffy
  • Not too dry
  • Not reheated
  • Liberally annointed with butter and cheese
  • Elegant in its proportions, not the size of a half-brick

Damn, I’m hungry now.

A lazy, high-fat, high-carb, high-protein dinner

Homer Simpson
Me, yesterday

I have no particular reason to be eating high-fat, high-carb, high-protein dinners. I am not in training for a marathon (and even if I were, I don’t think anyone recommends high-fat meals, unless it’s to cheer you up after running 15 miles in the rain). But last night we found ourselves with almost no food in the house and having eaten takeaway twice over the weekend, we didn’t quite feel able to do it again, so we were forced to improvise. This supper, whilst not the healthiest ever, has the advantage of being quick, yummy and so easy to make that you’ll barely notice you’ve done it.

Ingredients (serves 2)

One small packet of smoked salmon (or half a big packet left over from the weekend)

Half a packet of soft herby cheese, the kind that comes in a roulade (like Boursin, although we used the Co-op’s own-brand version)

Some milk

Enough pasta for two people – fusilli or farfalle work best, but whatever you have

3-4 spring onions (or a handful of chives)

A little bit of lemon zest

Method

Boil pasta as per the instructions. Meanwhile melt the cheese in a non-stick pan over a very low heat, adding a splash of milk to thin it whenever it gets too gloopy. Cut or tear the smoked salmon into smallish pieces and add it to the melted cheese when the pasta is ready. Drain the pasta and coat it with the cheese and salmon sauce. Chop the spring onion into small pieces and sprinkle it over the top with the lemon zest to serve.

The whole thing takes about ten minutes, or however long it takes you to boil pasta.

I haven’t been doing much cooking recently, but this weekend we finally got around to spending our wedding vouchers on, among other things, a blender and a griddle pan,  both of which should arrive this week. So I plan to spend the summer experimenting with cakes, soup and grilled steaks. I will report back.

Let’s talk turkey

I don’t much like turkey. And apart from the beloved, who doesn’t like jacket potatoes so his taste in food is questionable anyway, I don’t really know anyone who does. We all eat it at Christmas because we’re supposed to, but chicken is just as nice and usually nicer, and certainly easier to cook. So what’s the point of turkey?

All of which went through my mind yesterday when I realised with dismay, halfway through marinating it for a stir fry, that I had accidentally bought turkey breast rather than chicken. Oh well, I thought, the beloved will enjoy it even if I don’t. And, feeling rather saintly, I continued marinating it in walnut oil, garlic, ginger, chillies and chives.

(The walnut oil and chives are a little unorthodox, I know: it’s just that unless there’s a compelling reason not to, I put walnut oil and chives in everything, because they are two of my favourite things.)

Later on, with the addition of cashew nuts, mange tout, egg noodles and a splash of soy sauce, I fried it all up and served it with a wrinkled nose and a feeling of resignation. And you know what? It was amazing. The turkey had a richness and a smokiness that I’ve never got from chicken, but was still light enough to carry all the flavours of the marinade without overwhelming them. It tasted almost more like pork than like chicken, and contrasted beautifully with the lightness of the mange tout and the noodles. It was also, contrary to expectations, not in the least dry, but juicy and succulent, even where I’d burned some of it at the edges when I left the kitchen briefly and then forgot to go back until I smelled the smoke.

So there you go: turkey isn’t as horrible as I thought, and it’s worth experimenting with methods other than the full Christmas roast version, because now I have a whole new ingredient to start playing with.

I am still right about jacket potatoes, though.