Sun 25 Jan 2015
When my sister and I were little kids, we loved to pretend like we were cooks – not always with great results.
I recall a couple of “cooking” disasters as kids that really should’ve put us off for life. In Japan, where we lived until the age of 5, we loved to rifle through the trash bins at the end of our road to see if there were any leftover ingredients we could throw together in an empty container – this, to us, was cooking! During one such occasion, my sister picked up a half-open tuna tin and ended up slicing her finger on the jagged edge of the lid.
On another, we took various half-filled bottles of soy sauce, vinegar and other condiments that’d been left in the trash and poured them into the small pond in our neighbour’s garden. I can still see the tadpoles turning on their bellies and floating up, dead, to the surface, and us thinking that we’d just made the best fish soup ever. My dad, who came out to see why we were stirring the pond with a stick, had a different take altogether.
No, we weren’t street kids (I’d say my parents are absolutely mortified reading this right now!), just brimming with curiosity and eager to mimic what we saw our parents doing in the kitchen. It was also the 1970s, in small-town Japan, and we could play outside without fear of being kidnapped or hit by a car on our little road. At three years old, all we took from seeing my mom at the kitchen counter with a bowl and a spoon was that she was putting various things into a container and mixing it. We just wanted to do the same, hence the tadpole “soup” attempt.
Another memory I have is trying to recreate my dad’s famous chocolate ice cream soda. By this time, we were about 7 years old, so slightly more experienced though not quite ready for sous cheffing in the Kleinedler kitchen. One afternoon, my sister and I got the tall glasses my dad always used, the chocolate syrup, ice cream and the clear, fizzy drink he’d always add at the end. When we tasted our concoction, we spat it out immediately. That day, we learned the difference between club soda and 7-Up.
Though no one would’ve blamed my parents for barring us from the family kitchen, they instead nurtured our curiosity and started teaching us how to cook. At first, it was simple things like grilled cheese sandwiches and basic salads. Then we moved onto packaged cake mixes and ready-made frosting, then to frozen fish sticks and tater tots. After we mastered these things, it was on to lemon meringue pies and homemade turkey chilli.
Years of practice has led to a slow but steady growth in my confidence and abilities in the kitchen. Having a thick skin and the will to persevere in the face of disaster didn’t hurt either! As an adult, I’ve had my fare share of screw-ups in the kitchen, like the time I grabbed hold of a blazing hot baking tray with my bare hands, dropping my painstakingly-prepared salmon wellington straight onto the floor. Or the time I cut straight into a cuttlefish, only to have black ink shoot out all over my white shirt.
Maybe it was the tadpoles’ revenge.
Risotto Nero with Gambas & Scallops (adapted from the River Cafe Cookbook)
Though my first experience with cuttlefish (or squid) ink wasn’t great, I’ve grown to love the salty, earthy flavour of this natural seasoning. But instead of trying to cut the ink sack out of the squid yourself, buy it in jars or packets (I got mine at Doran’s in Howth; Fallon & Byrne also sell sachets).
1L fish stock (I make my with dashi, a Japanese fish stock powder; you can use homemade or stock cubes).
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cloves garlic peeled and finely chopped
1 small shallot, finely chopped
300g risotto rice
3 sachets squid or cuttlefish ink
2 tbsp finely chopped flat leaf parsley
4 giant gambas (prawns), heads on but with the bodies peeled
6 scallops, with the roe attached.
Heat fish stock and check for seasoning.
Melt the butter in a saucepan and fry the garlic for 1 minute.
Add the rice and continue to cook gently stirring for a further minute.
Pour in the white wine and cook until it has been absorbed by the rice.
Add a ladle of the fish stock stirring continually until it too has been absorbed.
Continue to add more dish stock until the rice is al dente then add the squid ink.
When there is only one ladle of stock left turn off the heat and add this remaining stock.
Stir in the parsley and season with salt and pepper, set aside for a few minutes and either in a frying pan or a grill pan, cook the gambas over high heat, turning after just one minute on each side. For the scallops, fry for 30 seconds to a minute on each side. Plate the risotto and arrange gambas and scallops on top, however way you want to arrange it. Enjoy!