I have a new love in my life. It makes me feel good, warm, content, satisfied and gives me immense pleasure.
Food is my new rock ‘n’ roll, I’m becoming obsessed with cooking and have even set myself the ambitious goal of entering – and winning – amateur TV cook show ‘Masterchef’ by the time I’m 45. I have four years to perfect my culinary techniques.
Enjoying good food can often be a gratuitous frivolity. Indeed, while on a recent cooking class I took at the Nick Nairn Cook School in Port of Menteith, the brilliant chef John said we don’t go to restaurants because we have to eat, we go to enjoy the flavours from the different ways food can be cooked.
At the class we all rustled up scallops with Oriental salad and sweet chilli dressing; fillet of beef with a whisky sauce, crushed potatoes on a bed of kale; and soft chocolate cake with caramel sauce.
The cook school gives you loads of great tips and what utensils to use. A silicone spatula is now my favoured implement, along with a small board scraper for scooping up chopped herbs and vegetables.
So I’m now on a mission to cook all kinds of recipes in practice for ‘Masterchef’ and I’m doing quite well if my expanding waistline is anything to go by.
My repertoire is increasing by the week. I’ve cooked pulled pork with a spice rub; pork stuffed with black pudding in a cider gravy with fondant potatoes; fillet steak stir fry; scallops wrapped in Parma ham with a pea puree; various Italian dishes like spaghetti carbonara and home-made pizza; chorizo bruschetta; cheesecakes and sticky toffee pudding with a caramel sauce to name but a few.
I’m certainly flavour of the month with my girlfriend who is delighted to be my guinea pig and I’m improving with every dish.
One thing I’ve always wanted to do is cook a perfect steak. John at Nick Nairn’s said there is a misnomer that fillet is the best cut. According to him it is ribeye but restaurants only sell fillet because that’s what people believe and it makes commercial sense to give people what they want.
I can now claim to cook a great steak following my cooking lesson and some advice from Forth Valley College chef lecturer Martin Luti.
A great tip to ensure the pan is at the right high heat is to throw in a few drops of water and if it runs around the pan in small marble-like balls it’s hot enough.
Squirt a little oil in – I’ve been using rapeseed but Martin said olive pomace is the best as it doesn’t burn as much as others – wait for it to heat then put the steak on. Season the steak just before putting it on. Sizzle for about two minutes tops on one side then turn over and do the same. John says the perfect temperature should be 46o but I go closer to 500 by prodding a thermometer in the middle and find that gives me a perfectly cooked medium steak. Let it rest on a warm surface for five minutes before serving.
The next step in my cooking journey is to take some part-time lessons and Forth Valley College offer a range I’m quite interested in.
There are classes in practical cake craft and specialised patisserie, professional cookery and even molecular gastronomy, like the stuff Heston Blumenthal creates.
Diane Creed, the college’s head of hospitality and salon services, said: “Cooking is becoming much more popular as people can supplement their incomes, cook better and healthier meals for their families or learn how to cook on a budget.
“We work alongside VisitScotland so students get the opportunity to work at music festivals and the likes of the Ryder Cup so it’s a lifestyle choice, not just in the classroom.”
Martin Luti also gave me a few other great tips. He said: “Steaming vegetables is the best way because it keeps all the nutrients in whereas these can be lost in the water if they are boiled.
“Rapeseed oil is a great Scottish product and is becoming as popular as olive oil. A blended olive pomace oil is good for cooking as it has a higher flash temperature. One spoonful would do three or four steaks.”
Along with the boom in cooking, good food is fast becoming a staple on menus everywhere, even for hospital food, which has been the butt of many derisory jokes down the years.
We visited Forth Valley Royal Hospital this week where dietitians were explaining their menus – designed to meet national nutritional standards – at a tasting event.
The hospital’s food is sourced locally – within a 37-mile radius – and cooked fresh onsite every day in the kitchens where 3500 meals are prepared daily for patients around Forth Valley.
Patients also consume 1350kg of potatoes and 5240 pints of milk every week.
I tried the pork stir fry, which is really tasty, and the macaroni cheese was reasonably good, much better than you would expect hospital food to be and feedback from patients is very positive.
This enhances my belief that it doesn’t matter where you eat – it’s the quality that counts.