Recipe: Chilli

Instead of a long story about how my recipe reminds me of a summers day in Spain, I start with a quick difficulty list. This means you can easily decide if you’re up to it or if you’d rather toss a pizza in the oven.

For ingredients, 1 means you may already have all of them at home and 5 means you may need to special order an ingredient.
For equipment, 1 means the most very basic of tools need and 5 means needing to buy a special piece of equipment you may not use often.
For method, 1 means as easy as prepping and tossing in the oven and 5 means you’ll feel like you’re juggling flaming knives.

Ingredients: 1/5
Equipment: 2/5
Method: 2/5

This recipe makes 8-10 portions

Ingredients:

  • Olive oil
  • Chopped garlic (approx 3 cloves)
  • 1 white onion, diced (here’s a great video for learning how to do this well)
  • 2 yellow, orange, red or green peppers, diced
  • 1.2-1.5kg lean ground beef
  • 3 cans of diced tomatoes
  • 2 cans of kidney beans
  • 2 cans tomato soup
  • 1 tsp hot chilli powder
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • Dash of paprika, cumin and dried oregano
  • Shredded cheddar cheese
  • Soured cream

Equipment:

  • 1 large, hob-safe cooking pot (3.5L at minimum)
  • Cutting board
  • Knife
  • Cheese grater
  • Wooden Spoon

Method:

  1. Bring the cooking pot to medium heat on the hob and add the olive oil and garlic.
  2. When the garlic begins to sizzle, add the onions and cook until they are browned and softened (2-3 minutes).
  3. Add the ground beef and cook until browned.
  4. Drain the beef and add the tomato soup. Stir regularly.
  5. Rinse the kidney beans until cold water and add, stirring regularly
  6. Add the chopped tomatoes. Stir regularly
  7. Add the spices and stir
  8. Bring the pot to a boil, before reducing down to a gentle simmer
  9. Simmer on the stove for 2-3 hours. The minimum is 30 minutes or so but will be better the longer it sits. Stir regularly and taste, add additional spices to achieve desired heat and flavour. Beware that chilli powder will get stronger over time as it simmers.
  10. Serve with rice or elbow pasta, garnish with a dollop of soured cream and shredded cheese.
  11. Leftover chilli can be frozen and reheated in a saucepan.

An Amateur Approach to Cooking

I don’t really know what I’m doing, but here we are.

No, that’s not the title of my sex tape, but it could definitely be the title of my cooking show. The show would then proceed to be an hour of me saying “hmm, I wonder if that will work” and “needs more butter”.

Recipes are less of rules, and more “guidelines” when I’m cooking. Except for baking or things like pancakes where the mixtures need to be spot on, most of the dishes I’ve learned to make once maybe started out as a recipe. Much to my girlfriend’s displeasure, every time we sit down to eat I tend to try the meal and immediately say something like “needs more salt” or “it’s a bit overcooked”. Luckily for me, she puts up with being my test eater and only rolls her eyes a little when I criticize the food.

This is pretty much my whole approach to cooking. Try new things, see what happens and adjust accordingly. The closest I’ve come to a cooking class is calling my mother in a panic the first time my friend and I tried to cook a turkey for a dinner and couldn’t work out what part of the turkey the stuffing goes in. It turned out okay, and more often than not things do. You can always order a pizza if it doesn’t work out.

Amateur chefs in action. Note, the knife technique shown is not recommended.

The advice and recipes you find here are largely going to be along these lines and I would encourage anyone who wants to start cooking more adventurously to do the same. The advice isn’t going to turn you into a professional cook, and with that in mind if you’re here looking for anything more than amateur advice you’re probably in the wrong spot. Ask me to give advice for making dinner for your friends, I’m your man. Put me in front of Gordon Ramsey, he’ll very quickly have found his next idiot sandwich.

So for all of you looking to start somewhere here are some guidelines to get you started and build some confidence:

  1. Plan it out a little. While recipes are a guideline, it doesn’t hurt to have a plan for it all to be ready at the same time. Thinking about roughly how long everything is going to take, which pans you’re going to use and do you have enough space in the oven can make all the difference.
  2. Take a list to the shop. You will almost certainly forget something.
  3. If you can, buy better ingredients. Local greengrocers, butcher’s and the like will almost always result in better food.
  4. Don’t multi-task and cook while doing other things. It’s really hard to burn something if you’re paying attention to it.
  5. Own at least one good, sharp knife. Using dull and crappy knives is not only going to make chopping harder, but it’s also dangerous.
  6. Prep ahead of time as much as possible. Chopping ingredients and having them all ready before you start cooking makes it a much less stressful affair.
  7. Taste your food along the way. This is a habit I’ve gotten into more and more and it’s definitely yielded better results. Better to know what it needs before you serve it up.
  8. If someone you know makes something really good, ask them how they do it. Personal accounts beat online recipes any day.
  9. Have some fun while you cook. I almost always have music on and have been known to dance around the kitchen a little. If it becomes something you have fun doing, you’ll do it more.

Cooking is something most adults have to do every day and has a huge effect on both mental and physical health. Learning to enjoy cooking is a great way to build confidence and make things feel less like a chore. Even simple meals can be delicious just by improving basic things.

What’s your #1 tip for people looking to give cooking a go?

48 Hours in Hanoi

After nineteen hours of travel, a stop in Singapore, and an estimation that I had peed in at least 5 time zones in a 24 hour span (certainly a personal best), I was in a daze as I stepped out of the Hanoi airport to catch the no. 86 bus into central Hanoi.

I often find that people’s descriptions of places, especially first impressions, are rooted in hyperbole. Except Anthony Bourdain, he f*cking nailed it. The smell of grilled pork in the distance mixed with the pungency of motorbike fumes and still somehow a tinge of fresh air. Parts Unknown was right on the money with this one, and it was only the beginning.

As the bus motored on down the highway, the “meep meep” of a scooter passing by could be heard as it got more and more regular entering the city centre. It was a rainy morning and the roads were slick but this didn’t stop families of three or four people, sometimes with the family pet onboard from motoring along on their little Honda scooter, taking corners at alarming speeds and weaving in and out of the natural flow of traffic.

Hanoi is a city that when viewed from afar seems like chaos of the highest order. Mopeds, trucks and pedestrians weaving in and out of traffic in a seemingly random set of rules. Vendors of all sorts of food, clothing and other assorted trinkets set up wherever they can find space, spooning noodle soup out of large cauldrons on the side of the road. Up close, however, the chaos begins to fade as you realise how ordered it really is.

Traffic, although seemingly random, has it’s methods and it’s, shall we say, guidelines to it. This becomes abundantly clear when you first cross a major street. Walk steady, with purpose and the traffic flows around you like water around a rock in a stream. The thing most noted is that although there is noise everywhere, very little of it seems to be aggressive in any way, just more of a simple “just letting you know I’m here” sort of way. Even on Train Street, where patrons set up stalls and break them down away from the tracks, three or four times a day when the trains role through, has an order to it that seems almost rhythmic.

4:20 Train arriving on train street

Shops appear random until you notice each little street has a theme. Flower streets, shoe streets, hardware and other DIY items, clothing and streets of nothing but restaurants and places that turn into the infamous Bia Hois at night (Bia Hois are a Hanoi institution where kegs are brought out by the street and served on the cheap to anyone sitting nearby in the hastily arranged plastic kiddie furniture that dots the city streets at night).

Bia Hoi in Hanoi

And the food, my goodness the smells as you walk past the stalls. Morning smells of beef broth from the simmering of Pho noodle soups, afternoons and evening smells of duck, pork and fish mixed with lime, red chili’s and fresh lemongrass in assorted different combinations is enough to keep you exploring the city just by following your nose.

The best Phô in Hanoi

Vietnam is a place that has only semi-recently become a common place for travellers to visit, especially backpackers and that is evident in the people who are friendly in a still-curious sort of way. Hanoi is certainly more used to Westerners due to it’s proximity to Ha Long Bay, Vietnam’s biggest tourist destination, but it seems to have not yet become weary of constant tourism like sadly places like Thailand and Cambodia have to a larger degree.

It is safe to say that thirty-six hours is not enough time to see all there is to see in a city of seven million people however, Hanoi, you have certainly captured me and I am certain that before long I’ll be back to you again.