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Shortcutting… Cocktails

21 Jul

Let’s face it: During the day, holidays are tough. There’s sand – ew, sun – phew, and other assorted hardships to contest with. So what better way to relax and forget your troubles than alcohol. Alcohol is, of course, the go-to sorrow-drowner for any self-respecting person, but holidays have their own special breed of it: the cocktail. Cocktails essentially use sweet, fruity juices and the like to disguise hardcore spirits, most frequently vodka, rum, gin, and tequila, so that before you know it, you’re on the floor, miniature umbrella resting gently on your face. Okay, I exaggerate, but they do sneak up on you, these things. Here are a couple I have tried and enjoyed:

The Mojito
Contains: White rum, lime juice, mint leaves, sugar, soda water
Feedback: The strength of this one can change it wildly but it’s pretty straightforward, with nothing fruity to distract from it. The predominant taste (except alcohol) is lime. Good if you’re not into fruit.

The Pina Colada
Contains: White rum, cream of coconut, pineapple juice
Feedback: This one is somehow very summery, probably because of the pineapple, but don’t have it unless you like coconut! The great thing about it is that they have it everywhere so if unsure you can always turn to it for a reliable drink.

The Strawberry Daiquiri
Contains: White rum, lime juice, sugar, strawberry
Feedback: This one’s a particular favourite, and tends not to be too strong, which, depending on your aims, may or may not be a good thing. You can get different types of Daiquiri but I’ve only tried the strawberry version so do let me know if you have more daiquiri experience.

The Sex on the Beach
Contains: Vodka, peach schnapps, orange juice, cranberry juice (or other juices)

Feedback: I remember feeling slightly awkward ordering my first one, as though it was all some big practical joke and I was actually asking for something very different from a cocktail, but never fear, it is a certified cocktail (an International Bartenders Association Official Cocktail in case you were wondering). Again, this one’s pretty fruity, which I like, but don’t drink it too fast!

The Harvey Wallbanger
Contains: Vodka, Galliano, orange juice

Feedback: Okay, not going to lie – I don’t actually like this one, but it’s a friend’s favourite so I thought I’d include it. As I can’t say much for the taste (in fairness, I think the one I tried happened to be very strong), I will just say this – it’s a very nice, bright yellow colour.

The Alabama Slammer
Contains: Vodka, amaretto, Southern Comfort, grenadine and orange juice

Feedback: This is the only one on my list which isn’t IBA certified, and as such doesn’t have an official recipe, but I had to include it because it’s just so damn good (with these ingredients anyway). You probably won’t find it in many places but the grenadine makes it really nice and sweet, and the three types of alcohol ensure a spinning head at the end. Woop!

One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor…

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Here's a pic of my Alabama Slammer and my friend's lovely yellow Harvey Wallbanger

Here’s a pic of my Alabama Slammer and my friend’s lovely yellow Harvey Wallbanger


Shortcutting… Waitressing

26 Jun

I had to do some waitressing today at a party of sorts (long story), and I have to say it was rather enlightening being on the other side of the greedy hands grabbing at canapés (okay, that’s a bit unfair: there were no greedy hands among the guests today, in fact the only greedy hands somehow ended up being me again, attacking the leftovers).  Anyway it was, as I said, an enlightening experience, and I thought I’d share with you a little about what I learnt.

1) When you are waitressing, you become hyper-sensitive to those around you. I remember my granny once telling me that she had been a waitress, and she knew for a fact that in restaurants, waiters/ waitresses always know when you’re trying to get their attention, they just sometimes choose to ignore you. I now see what she meant. I could somehow feel it in the air if people were craving an avocado mousse canapé; I barely had to look into their eyes and I could see that longing, that avocado-based desire, that caused their eyes to keep flicking towards the tray in my hands. One good source of amusement was pretending not to notice and watching them trying to resist tapping me on the shoulder or yelling ‘Stop!’ as I flitted in and out between the groups of people, or better still allowing them to follow me around at a distance, hoping I would turn around so that they could innocently take a little piece of that avocado heaven.

2) Use a wooden tray wherever possible. Some of the canapés I had were on wooden trays, but the majority were on these slabs of slate which were incredibly heavy. I had the misfortune of being halfway through a round of canapés when the speeches started, which took about twenty minutes overall (well it felt like it anyway), and by the end my hands were shaking so much that I was seconds away from showering the person in front of me with the very avocado mousse they had been chasing me for just moments (or twenty minutes) earlier. It was a close shave.

3) Try and crack a little joke about the food. One of the canapés I was serving was a little burger-type deal, only the meat in question was steak tartare (i.e. raw) with an egg on top. Not, some might say, the most convenient canapé choice de nos jours. Some people refused them flat out but there were others who seemed to be toying with the idea of trying what I came to think of as the ‘risk’ canapé: for these people, I tried a friendly sort of dare, and in the momentary lapse in sanity that a dare inevitably brings, where they picked up the risk canapé and pondered its existence, I whisked the tray away, said ‘Good luck!’, and darted off before they could change their minds. As an aside, it was interesting, if a little stereotypical, to note that the men were much more game, and most tended to bravely scoop up the risk canapé before I’d had a chance to tell them what it was. I also realised it was a good idea to say what was in the canapé only after they had picked it up (I did get a few ‘I wish you hadn’t told me’s), but this wasn’t always possible. I should mention at this point that as a waitress it is your mission to empty that tray, whatever it takes, hence my underhanded tactics for making people take a canapé they might not have wanted.

4) Leave the tray there for a few seconds after someone has taken a canapé. There is nothing more awkward than whisking the tray away as they reach for another one and grasp thin air, making it abundantly clear to all in sight that they were greedily trying to get two canapés in one go.

I hope this advice comes in handy to you if you ever wish/ need to do some waiting around…

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Shortcutting… Greek Food

24 Jun

I mentioned the other day that I’m Greek, and because of this, law dictates that I should have at least a vague grasp of Greek cooking. I am no chef, but I do know a couple of simple little dishes that’ll add a little Greek to your day (they’re not at all complicated and can’t really be classed as ‘cooking’ per se, but this is shortcutting after all!).

First up is the classic that is the Greek salad: cut up some tomatoes and cucumbers, and make sure the pieces aren’t too neat: we’re going for a rustic vibe here. In fact, don’t think ‘pieces’ at all, think ‘chunks’: all rough and ready and fresh from the earth. Now add to the mix some cubes of feta cheese: I’d recommend going for the small but many approach – everyone wants a bit of feta in their portion! (A warning to feta virgins – feta may be widely known as a cheese, but it’s actually not so much cheesy as salty, veeery salty.) Next up, put in some (rustic-ly cut) red onion, and finally dress in liberal amounts of olive oil. Yum!

Fresh from mama’s kitchen…

Another super-easy dish is tzatziki: a yoghurty kind of dip thing which goes really well with bread, greek salad, meatballs, or anything really. This one consists of Greek yoghurt, grated cucumber, crushed garlic, a splash of lemon juice, and a dash of olive oil, all mixed together thoroughly so that the cucumber is evenly distributed. As a finishing touch (but not essential), add a little sprinkling of paprika.

Here’s one I made earlier 😀

 If you can’t get enough of the Greek stuff, then there are some other great recipes out there, but I am not the right person to give them to you. I can however give you the rights terms to search for:

  • Pastitsio – kinda like lasagne but with penne rather than pasta sheets
  • Keftedes – meatballs
  • Moussaka – aubergine, lamb, and a cheesy topping
  • Saganaki – fried cheese
  • Fasolakia ladera – basically oily green beans but sooo good!

Okay, those are my favourites: you should definitely give them a try.

Why did the Roman Empire fall? Because it slipped on Greece! Hehehe…

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Shortcutting… Dining Etiquette

4 Jun

This holiday I’m on has involved a fair amount of posh dinners (makes up for the sand), so I’ve had to sharpen my manners somewhat (although no matter how sharp they were, it would still be highly impolite to cut my meat with them). I’m not going to bore you with all the ins and outs of dining etiquette (mainly because I don’t know them), but there are some simple rules you can follow that will allow you to blend in with well-mannered fellow diners.

Firstly, don’t take a bite of food until you’re sure conversation is officially ending. There’s nothing worse than eating during a conversation. You can’t talk with your mouth full, obvs, so if you come up with a really witty comment, you have to chew really quickly and finish, by which point the moment has usually passed. Also, if you’re in witty company, don’t drink before the conversation has ended either. Laughing + mouth full of liquid = not being invited back.

Okay, so the meal has started. Firstly, if there’s lots of cutlery, go from the outside in. Okay, now there are different rules for different foods. For rice or other grains, you can’t scoop it into your fork: you have to kind of stick in on top if your fork with your knife, or you will be frowned upon. If there’s pizza or other food that could potentially be eaten with fingers, I’d either wait to see what everyone else is doing, or just stick with cutlery, as in the rule book it’s never really allowed to eat with fingers (except, interestingly enough, for asparagus). Another food that should send up warning bells is spinach, or indeed anything that can get stuck in your teeth. If at a restaurant, avoid these at all costs. If at someone’s house, just be very careful. It might even be a good idea to bring a little pocket mirror around with you so in such a situation you can subtly check every now and then.

Glasses are another tricky one, but if you’re dealing with a glass with a stem, you should hold the stem: that way, you can keep the drink cold. And don’t gulp noisily where possible: not only will it attract attention, in my experience it can also, if done without real concentration, lead to a confusion between water glass and wine glass that results in a similar situation to the laughing-while-drinking I mentioned earlier. Not good.

Asking for more is a real tightrope. If you ask for too much, you seem greedy. If you don’t ask for any more, it looks like you haven’t enjoyed the food. So ask for a little bit more, but don’t overdo it. I’ll leave it to you to figure out exactly where the line is.

And if anything goes horribly wrong, like dropping cutlery or spitting, then the best thing to do is to just keep calm and carry on. Cheers!

Keep shortcutting,

Shortcutting… Picnics

1 Jun

It’s the Queen’s Jubilee this weekend, which means several days of Britishness are coming up. Britishness involves tea-drinking and stiff-upper-lip-keeping of course, but in the Summer season there is a new entrant in the charts: picnics. Those tiny little triangular sandwiches, and plastic cups of lemonade, and strawberries and cream, will all be making an appearance in great number during the next few days, so here’s the lowdown on how to make your picnics a walk in the park:

Picnic blanket: Make sure the blanket is big enough for everyone to sit on cross legged plus food. It might be worth doing a dry run at home just to make sure: You know, get everyone to sit down on the floor of your living room a comfortable distance apart and then measure the surface area required. No one wants grass stains on their trousers or ants in their finger food. As far as fabric goes, those waterproof ones are more durable but there’s something a bit un-Summery about waterproof picnic blankets so I’d opt instead for your classic woollen ones and cross my fingers. A union jack is not obligatory but it just amplifies that Jubilee vibe a little bit more.

Sandwiches: You definitely ought to make the little triangular sandwiches as not only is it much Britisher but it also allows people to pick and choose and leave out the gross ones. Speaking of gross ones, don’t make gross ones. Keep it simple with chicken and maybe some cheese ones, taking your guests’ dietary requirements into account.

Drinks: I’d say lemonade all the way, as almost everyone likes it and it’s nice and light and cooling. If you’re thinking along boozier lines, something bubbly would definitely go down well. And make sure you get a lot of cups: people always forget which one was theirs and need a new one.

Pudding: If you want to be traditional, and get into the spirit for Wimbledon later in the Summer, then strawberries are your best bet. If, however, you’d rather be a bit more indulgent, I’d opt for cupcakes: they’re fairly small and simple and everyone likes them.

Bon appetit!

Keep shortcutting,

Shortcutting… Cakes

17 May
The result of my own meeting with Betty and her wonderful cake mix. Don't ask about the writing...

The result of my own meeting with Betty and her wonderful cake mix. Don’t ask about the writing…

There comes a time in everyone’s life, be it a friend’s birthday, a dinner party, or a bake sale, where it is necessary to make a cake. The cake family is an extensive one, from Uncle Chocolate and Auntie Lemon to Grandpa Cheese and Cousin Carrot, and, thankfully for the Shortcutter, a very shallow one: looks are much more important than what’s on the inside (somewhat ironic, as people like myself who are closely acquainted with the cake family, are rarely in a position to be so superficial). In other words, as long as your cake is attractive, you will be praised, regardless of the taste (unless it’s verging on toxic). Bearing this in mind, I present you with two options in the quest to ‘make’ a presentable enough cake with minimum effort.

Option one: Use a cake mix. I personally recommend any Betty Crocker cake mix: very few ingredients to be measured out, very little washing up to do afterwards, it’s bound to look good and it’s almost guaranteed to taste great. As an added measure, buy a tub of Betty’s icing too: a generous portion can disguise the taste of the cake itself (just in case you get it wrong), and it looks that little bit more professional (you can cover up cracks on the surface etc.). There are also various little decorations you can get for your cake, but in my opinion the minimal, sophisticated look is a winner.

Option two: If all this beating two eggs into a brown powder sounds too much like hard work, go to the supermarket and buy a ready-made cake. In order to make it look more homemade, it is advisable to add something of your own to it (think mini eggs or those little silver ball things), or at the very least squash it just enough that it doesn’t look like it came out of a perfectly-round-cake machine.

If you are at all concerned about the taste of your cake, serve it with alcohol. It is a widely-known fact that everything tastes better through whatever the mouth equivalent of beer goggles is. A beer mouth-guard? Anyway, good luck with the ‘baking’ and let them eat cake!

Keep shortcutting,

Shortcutting… Low Carb Cooking

14 May

I have failed many diets in my time, but one I come back to time and time again is the low-carb diet (also known as semi-Atkins), because I can pretend to myself that I’m eating less when I cut the carbs. There are all sorts of dishes one could try out, but as a Shortcutter-in-chief I opt for the quickest, easiest low-carb meal: the omelette. (N.B. I realize the quickest, easiest diet is in fact starvation, but I have found this to be somewhat impractical.)

I got the omelette ‘recipe’ (it’s so simple I’m not sure I can even call it that) from a friend, and having tried doing it in slightly different ways each time, with varied results.

The basic recipe is this:

Beat two eggs in a bowl, melt some butter in a frying pan, pour the eggs into the pan, let it start to solidify/ get omelette-y, put on your filling, fold one side over, flip it so it’s cooked on both sides, et voila – simples.

Here are some pictures marking my progress:

Disaster! I'm just going to pretend this was meant to be scrambled eggs...

Disaster! I’m just going to pretend this was meant to be scrambled eggs…

A definite improvement but rectangular due to folding problems...

A definite improvement but rectangular due to folding problems…

A true beauty. Masterchef here I come!

A true beauty. Masterchef here I come!