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Things We Are Proud Of

So often, while I’m whipping up a batch of my famous whipped truffle meringues (internationally renowned after being featured on “Fancy-Arse Homes of Unheard-Of Food Bloggers”, the short-lived docu-series on SBS), one of my many admirers will ask, “bethini, what cooking feats are you most proud of?” After I’ve served everyone their meringues and poured the coffee, I might answer. (Depends how much baking powder I’ve inhaled.) These are the things I am most proud of cooking (an abbreviated list).

Yoghurt
I had a few dud batches, where the warmed milk just stayed warmed milk, without an Acidophilus in sight. Then I figured out the best way of keeping it warm while the bacteria processed it, and BAM. Success in a delicious dairy form. Buying plain, thick, tangy yoghurt that hasn’t been thickened with gelatin is harder than I thought it would be, and since I go through 2-3 litres per week, economically there’s just no comparison. Yoghurt is one of my favourite things to make: it’s easy, I like the homemade stuff better, and it’s cheaper.

Bread
Specifically, the kind of bread you can make into toast and sandwiches. Making sandwich bread was a learning curve: I learned how to knead properly, how to tell when a dough’s glutens have developed enough, how important salt is to the outcome, and what makes a good, tasty, strong bread for everyday use. I can still make crusty loaves, flatbreads, crackers, baguettes and breadsticks with the best of them, but what good’s that if you don’t have anywhere to put your marmalade in the morning? Learning sandwich bread was a huge deal for me and I’m still congratulating myself on it.

Poached eggs
I know, it’s ridiculous. I love love love eggs. I never bought into that whole “limit yourself to four eggs per week or the cholesterol will getcha” philosophy (turns out I’m right). As part of my overall egg love: the poached egg. I love the texture of soft-poached eggs, where the white is firm and the yolk yielding. If you are similarly right-minded, the following picture should enchant you:

Faultless.

Like yoghurt and sandwich bread, poached eggs are deceptive: at first you assume they’ll be super easy, then you have a few craptacular episodes where the little bastards just seem to dissolve into strands in the water, and then you nail it and you realise they really are super easy. The key seems to be: don’t skimp on the white vinegar and don’t have the water at a rolling boil when you slip the egg in. Alright, that’s two keys. Next item.

Pizza
If you don’t know how to make your own pizza yet, you’re probably (a) under seven years old; or (b) in serious need of help. For Christ’s sake, you can buy pre-made bases and sauces at petrol stations. What are you waiting for? Take it to the next level: start by choosing different cheese (stay away from the hanging cheeses), crazy-arse toppings, and making your own sauce. Seriously, making your own sauce = simmering a can of tomatoes with some sugar and salt until it’s thick enough. You can add onions, garlic, herbs, red wine, red wine vinegar, capers, chillies, or anything else that sharpens your pencil, but that can of tomatoes is the starting point. Once you’ve got that down pat, start going nuts. Pesto! Satay sauce! Cheese sauce! No sauce! Hummus! Then: make your own bases. Mega easy, mega tasty, and you can get them as thick or thin as you want. If I couldn’t make my own pizza, half my diet would be missing.

Fruit loaf
I only learned how to make fruit loaf a few months ago, and I am super proud of it. I love it to bits, and by the second loaf I was freestylin’, going with the flow and figuring it out based on what was in the pantry, yo. Fruit loaf, like sandwich bread, has to be spot on or you’ve just got some sort of loaf-shaped impersonator that nobody wants. Like generic brand coco pops, a not-quite-there fruit loaf is a nowhere fruit loaf. And frankly, there’s none of that around here, because I kick arse at fruit loafs.

On the whole, I’m most proud of cooking. End of sentence. I’m proud of myself for imagining out things I want to eat and finding a way of making and improving them; I’m proud of myself for accepting that sometimes this means huge, charred contributions to the compost bin (I’m a lot more gracious about these inevitable cockups since I got a compost bin); and I’m mega pleased that, for the most part, the only obstacle between me and a happy tummy is the washing up. Cooking, not just to get by and save money, but for challenge and pleasure, kicks arse in all sorts of ways.

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