Basics: a ‘how-to’ series

Image of Mrs Portly sprinkling flour.

Picture by Jamillah Knowles

It can be difficult when you’re a food writer to know what it is your readers want. Some people are already expert cooks, others are still amassing knowledge, although of course there are always new techniques, ingredients and recipes to discover for even the most accomplished chef.

I spent a day recently cooking with my friend Claire (a curry for her and a fish pie for her husband, if you’re interested) and as someone who says she’s still learning she wanted to know more about the basics.

I try to cover all the bases when I’m writing a recipe but I am occasionally guilty of using terms like ‘a pinch of this’ and ‘a glug of that’.

I could use the excuse that I’m an instinctive cook and I am, but I certainly wasn’t when I started out. I remember cooking several things in my early days which were either woefully underdone (belated apologies to the group of friends I inadvertently subjected to a night in the bathroom as a 20-something tyro after failing to thoroughly cook a batch of kidney beans for a chilli) or under-catered (the friends who probably had to stop for a takeaway on the way home after I misjudged the quantities for a lamb polo).

I’ve improved, through trial and error and practice and although I’m still learning and I always will be, I’ve picked up a few tips along the way.

So for Claire and readers like her I have introduced a new category in the listings that run down the side of the Mrs Portly pages. The idea is to cover the basics: recipes that as a cook you’ll use over and over again, often as part of another dish, like béchamel sauce and shortcrust pastry.

My apologies to anyone to whom this is old hat. You’ll have your own ways of doing these things and you won’t need me to tell you how to go about them. For anyone else, I hope this will eventually become a useful resource to which I can add as new items occur to me.

And if there’s anything you’d like to see in there yourself, drop me a message here (or email via the Ask Mrs Portly page if you’d like it to be private) and I’ll do my best to help.

Thanks and best wishes,

Mrs. P.

17 thoughts on “Basics: a ‘how-to’ series

  1. Great idea Linda, but I have to say great minds think alike. We had a discussion over dinner of a similar vain, husband though I should share my hard learned tips and tricks

    • Well, I learned to cook mostly by watching and helping friends, so I think it’s always good to be able to pass on what works and what doesn’t. Go for it!

  2. Excellent idea. I fancy myself as a capable cook but I’ve never made mayonnaise – the thought scares me! But I read your mayo post and I did feel I could give it a go. Now if you could include a lemon drizzle cake that doesn’t sink in the middle and look like a pancake I’d be forever in your debt!

    • I hope you do try the mayo, Penny, and let me know how you get on. Lemon drizzle is my absolute favourite, have you tried making it with ground almonds?

  3. No, never tried ground almonds but I love anything with almonds in. My last lemon drizzle attempt was in a loaf tin and sank so dramatically it looked like a trough!
    Of course I blamed the oven, but I struggle with ‘sponge; in general.
    Will definitely try the mayo. Pete LOVES an old fashioned prawn cocktail and it would be good to make it from scratch rather than use a jar.
    Currently in Florida and pining for some decent sausages……….and bacon………

    • Hah, you should have come to Suffolk instead! Hope you’re having a lovely holiday. I’ll have a look at lemon drizzle cakes specially for you tho’ can’t promise it’ll be straight away. Meanwhile you might like to look at the courgette cake (which is a sort of l.d.c.) and the orange polenta cake (which could be adapted) on Mrs P.

  4. I think it’s a brilliant idea. It’s always good to re-visit the basics – most of us have some gaps (in my case, lots of gaps) in our culinary education.

    • Heavens, me too, it’s quite a useful refresher! Glad you like the idea, I’m pleased there’s been so much interest. All suggestions gratefully received. Lx

    • I probably posted them at weird times. I was trying to get them so they didn’t all appear on the home page but were accessible from the drop-down menu. WordPress engineers deserve medals.

      • I’m thinking of going self hosted. The prospect daunts me a bit. I have 330 posts to check and modify. Many to redo.

      • Blimey, rather you than me. Just doing this has done my head in and most of it was done for me by Rasto, the Happiness Engineer. See earlier comment re medals. H.E. is WordPress’s description, btw. If they have to deal with many twits like me it’s probably a misnomer from their point of view. 🙂

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