Zen, Blokes and the Art of Cooking
Solo traveller or not, it’s time blokes get into the supermarket and kitchen and discover their Zen and the Art of Cooking…
By Richard Robertson
Cooking really isn’t mystical, although for years I thought it was. My journey of self-discovery began when Mrs showed me how to shop and then rustle-up quick and easy ‘real food’. Apparently, man can't live by toast alone.
If you’re a bloke who normally only enters the kitchen to get to the fridge, then read on. A great thing about cooking is that as long as you don’t burn things beyond recognition or undercook and end-up crook, there really isn’t any right or wrong. Most food is still edible even after a bad kitchen day and almost anything goes (liverwurst-and-cream chocolate cake excepted)…
Zen and the Art of Food Shopping
Food shopping is largely a state of mind. Firstly, try not to do it when hungry – that’s ‘a recipe’ for disaster. Speaking of recipes, unless you have one in mind for a special occasion you should simply try to ‘shop with the flow’.
Mrs rarely plans our meals in advance, be they at home or on the road. Rather, when shopping, she (and now I) look for value and ‘let them find us’. At the supermarket, looking for value comes in the form of reduced items or what we call ‘yellow labels’ – items approaching their Use or Best-By dates and that carry a significant discount. This isn't because we’re tight, it’s simply the love of a bargain. Plus, it’s a bit of a challenge! Over the years this method has literally saved us thousands.
Such items are usually meat, poultry or fish and form the basis of our meals. Additionally, some of the biggest bargains come from new lines shoppers haven’t yet embraced, so keep an extra keen eye out. We also stock-up at times and freeze them for later use. Finally, don’t forget supermarkets’ weekly specials: browse the aisles and read the labels, and you’ll be surprised by the bargains you can find.
On the road, hunting food bargains this way isn’t always possible, especially in small towns, so we shop in larger regional centres where possible. However, we also love fresh, local produce. That includes small-town butchers making gourmet sausages; roadside stalls selling farm-fresh eggs; seafood from local co-ops; home-grown veggies and locally baked breads, homemade jams, etc.
Speaking of veggies, look for them and fruit, fresh, in season. They’ll not only be better value, they’ll taste better. Also, remember frozen vegetables retain high levels of nutrients and are a convenient way to get lots of veggies into your diet. Tinned vegetables can be good too, but make sure you read the label to see if anything’s been added, like lots of sugar in tomatoes.
Careful supermarket browsing and roadside stalls can not only save you money, they can open up a whole new world of culinary adventures as you travel…
Zen and the Art of Cooking
Regardless of whether you have time to go good-bargain hunting or not, what to do with what you buy is the final challenge/hurdle/mystery.
Mrs has always loved a TV show called Ready, Steady, Cook. In it, chefs race against the clock to create appetising meals from mystery ingredients. She likes a challenge and so our evening meals often start with something from the fridge (or freezer that morning) and a gaze into the pantry and vegetable crisper. The ability to make something from what you have, rather than working to a set recipe, is invaluable. It also means that instead of looking for recipes all the time, all you need do is look at what’s on hand and create from there.
Think laterally about what you know is in your fridge and cupboards, and go from there. For example, say you’ve just bought whole chicken breasts and know there’s a bottle of oyster sauce in the cupboard. That’s the basis for a stir fry if you slice the chicken and slice some veggies, then add a bag of fresh noodles.
On one solo motorhoming adventure I popped into a local, small-town supermarket to find something for dinner. I spied a reduced special of beef kebabs (beef cubes on skewers) and decided I could something with them, but what? I didn’t want to grill or barbecue them in my rental motorhome, so another thought developed: Take them off the skewers and cook the beef in a simmer sauce, then add some frozen veggies. Here’s how it ‘panned’ out as a guide on how to think laterally and make the best of what you have (or don’t).
What I Had
- 3 x Beef kebabs/skewers
- 1 x Jar Rogan Josh simmer sauce
- 1 x Bag mixed frozen veggies (corn, peas and other colourful stuff).
What I Didn’t Have
- Cooking oil for browning the meat
- Brain in-gear to also buy rice and a pack of naan bread
- Really much idea how it would turn out…
What I Did
- Melted butter in the frying pan
- Used a fork to remove the beef from the skewers
- Browned the beef until no red meat was visible
- Read the Rogan Josh instructions (I know, last resort)
- Poured the contents over the beef, turned the heat down and let simmer for the suggested 10 minutes, occasionally stirring
- Didn’t think to use a plate to cover it to keep the heat in and stop it splattering over the cooker. Bugger…
When the 10 minutes was up I tried a piece of beef and was as surprised as you to find it cooked and delicious.
- I added what seemed an appropriate amount of frozen vegetables
- Stirred them in and let it continue simmer/splattering to heat through
- Taste-tested until everything was hot and I was happy.
Despite the absence of rice, and naan for mopping-up the sauce, my modest dinner turned out nicely and I had leftovers for the next night. All it took was an eye for a bargain and a bit of thought outside the square. There is a world beyond beans on toast and healthy cooking really isn’t that difficult. Just channel your inner Zen-self for enlightening culinary experiences…