oriental chicken stir fry

Well I felt like chicken tonight, like chicken tonight (insert your own dance), tonight.
Knorr might have the K-now How, but I certainly don’t, so this was to be my most complicated new meal so far.
This wasn’t going to include any microwaves and if you read the instructions it sounded very simple but there were a few places I might lose it here.

Lets start with the positives though.
1. 450g Tesco finest fresh, free-range, organic, chicken breast (2 breasts)
2. Knorr “Chicken Tonight” sweet & sour sauce

What it says on the side of the jar is “an Oriental inspired cooking sauce for chicken with pineapple, peppers, bamboo shoots and honey. Great with rice or noodles. Serves 4 hungry people.”
I’ll be honest, that sounds nice. I like pineapples, not sure about peppers, honey is great, and I’ve never eaten bamboo shoots but I think pandas are cute…although they aren’t interested in sex…so maybe it’ll stop my desperation where women is concerned too. Double bonus.
I love Chicken, so theres not much to go wrong there.

One slight downside to this was the price of the chicken. According to the “Chicken Tonight” jar, it is designed to go with 450g of chicken. 450g of finest tesco skinless organic, etc, etc chicken is £6.50. Seems expensive but then it’s designed to feed 4, so not too bad.
I must admit I hadn’t noticed the “serves 4” until I started typing up this. At the time I’d guesstimated 1 chicken breast, and roughly half the sauce.

So onto the cooking we go.
The directions for the sauce say “10mins in a wok” or “20mins on the hob”. Neither includes cooking time for the chicken, and I’ve never cooked fresh chicken before. I was hungry and thought 10mins sounded better than 20, so I found a wok in my kitchen.
I’ve never used a wok before either, and I’ve never fried anything since before I moved into this new house in July 2006.
I lived in a bedsit before that, and I used to fry food there every now and then, but the smoke from it used to prevent me from sleeping well, and make everything smell of smoke for ages, so I just stopped.

So in my new shared house, I was able to find a wok in my kitchen belonging to someone else. Looks like a big frying pan to me, so I poured in some oil. Don’t worry. I have seen some cookery shows – I know you’re not meant to pour loads in – just added a little bit.
While it was getting hot, I cut up one of the chicken breasts. The sauce directions say to “stir fry 450g chicken strips in a little oil until golden”. I’ve not really got any clue how long that takes, but cook until brown.. seems easy enough. Not sure what the definition of strips are..long and thin? Or some sorta rough size? I took a wild stab in the dark there.

About now, the wok started smoking so I shut all the internal doors to stop the smoke alarms going off. I was at V Festival in Chelmsford a while back this year, and someone having a barbeque said the smoke meant it was too hot. I turned the gas down a bit on the oil til it stopped.
Chicken added, cooked til brownish, sauce added. Directions say “add the sauce and simmer for 10minutes, not covered, stirring once or twice”. Those last 10 minutes seemed like an eternity. I think it was up too high to start with because it started spitting sauce all over the place.

That said, so far I’ve used one sharp knife, a chopping board, and one wok. Not looking bad on the ‘utensils used:food at end’ ratio.
It did say on the sauce jar “great with rice or noodles”. I hadn’t bought any of either so I missed them out.
It was only a few months ago that I tried eating rice for the first time in my life. Courtesy of my ex-girlfriend this was. I had no idea what it might taste like – looks like snow, and I’m not hugely keen on rice krispies. I was surprised that it didn’t really taste of anything. She’d had a slight mixup with spices and made the rest of the meal quite hot, so I probably didn’t eat a lot of it – but it was ok.

Almost exactly 10 minutes to the second the sauce went in, the heat came off, and it all went onto a plate.
I couldn’t find my emergency chopsticks I’d got free somewhere, so opted for a knife and fork. First impression – unusual. Dare I say it – “nice”. Interestingly..well.. it sounds obvious, but it really is sweet and sour together. I ate it all and felt like I could have eaten it over again. Sauce says “serves 4”? Well I’d eaten two people’s share already.
Very exciting. A food that isn’t completely boring, that I like, that someone else might want to eat, that I can cook in less time than a pie and chips. Result! 🙂

Beefy pasta-y…thing

Yesterday I forced myself to go to Tescos on my way home from work.
This is to stop me doing what I usually do – whereby I come home from work directly, get changed, have a cup of tea, chat on msn and don’t think about eating til 9pm.
So tonight, I had every intention of cooking something. Every intention I tell you.

However, while loitering in my kitchen, my new French housemate who moved in a few days ago, was cooking something that didn’t look half bad. It was spirally pasta of some sort, which had some form of minced meat in it (turned out to be beef), and he had apparently cooked a lot of it. He added a tomato sauce that came straight out of a jar and didn’t contain garlic. I questioned what sort of Frenchman he is, as he wasn’t even wearing a string of onions round his neck. He isn’t that keen on French food, it seems.
He asked me if I wanted some of what he’d cooked.

Normally I’d panic a little here, and usually decline – as I don’t like to accept generous offers of others’ cooking, as I think it seems a little rude then if I really don’t like it. I explained I wasn’t sure I’d like what he had cooked, and tried a small amount of it. Still not 100% sure, he told me he had cooked far too much and if I didn’t have some, he would end up throwing a lot of it away.
I figured if he was going to throw it away, it didn’t matter so much if I didn’t eat all that much of it, so got myself a plate and had some.

It was alright. There were a few crunchy bits in it – maybe some fat from the beef or something. It tasted quite nice, but I felt like I couldn’t eat that much of it. Plus it seemed to get cold very quickly. Maybe its a recurring design-fault with pasta. I might have to look into that.
I stopped eating it, and no sooner had he started putting it in tupperware to reheat (he said he was going to throw it out if it wasn’t eaten!), I felt hungrier.

I think at this point if I want to have some chocolate, I deserve it. I’ve tried my new food, eaten something healthy, so it can be time for something unhealthy.

Pasta – Carbonara Tortelloni

Friday nights have traditionally (for a few years anyway) been where I’ve had no real evening meal.
I would come home, relax, watch tv, and eventually about 9.30ish get hungry enough to need food. I would then snack on toast, chocolate, biscuits, or sometimes just go to bed and skip dinner altogether.
This very evening for example I got home just before 6, had a twix ice cream, a cup of tea, and a large vanilla and chocolate cookie I got from the bakery this afternoon.

So tonight I thought I’d break that habit with the second new meal of the week for me.
I went to Tescos a couple of days ago and picked up what’s described as “Carbonara Tortelloni” or “pasta”.
The reason I went for this is because I never used to like Chicken Pies when I lived with my parents. Now I like them a lot.
I’ve tried pasta before and not liked it.
When I say this to people, they normally ask “how can you not like pasta?”. I don’t know.
I’ve tried noodles (excuse my terrible cooking/food knowledge if this doesn’t count as pasta) and hated them. Supernoodles they were.
So tonight, pasta.
It’s part of Tesco’s “italian” range and it looks nice enough in the packet.
It is apparently “italian egg pasta parcels filled with pancetta, smoked ham, ricotta and Edam cheeses”.
I like cheese, I like ham.. what’s to go wrong there?

So I got it out, and read the instructions (open packet corner, add 75ml of water, microwave for 1minute, then shake, microwave for 1 minute). It sounds easy enough.
After I’d struggled to find anything that could measure 75ml of water, and decided 80ml was “close e-f**king-nough” – I measured the water, opened the packet and….well I’ll be honest I thought it smelt quite disgusting.
I’m not letting that stop me though, so in the microwave it goes.
At the mid-cooking shake it smelt decidedly different. A bit like something I’ve smelt before. Smoky bacon crisps perhaps? I actually like them, so maybe it will taste like them too and I’ll have something else I can eat.

Cooking time over, removed, left to stand for 30 seconds or so, and I nervously put an egg pasta parcel into my mouth. Tastes…well..I don’t know really. Quite bland to be honest.
I force myself to try another and not mix “bland” with “don’t like”.
I’ve eaten 10 or so of them and they’re still a bit bland. Less bland than they started but still not particularly exciting.
Also they have cooled a lot, so I whack them back in the microwave for another 30 seconds.
Is pasta meant to be hot? I don’t know.
Surely not, if its only cooked for 2minutes?

I remove it from the microwave, and place another pasta parcel in my mouth.
Still quite bland.

So I try something that has worked for me in the past when I’ve not known how else to make things taste different, but have known I didn’t like them much as they were.
When I lived with my parents, I refused all sauces. I’d have burgers and chips without ketchup or any sauce.
At some point since moving out of parents’ aged ~18yrs old, I’ve gotten a likening for HP barbeque sauce. I generally put it on everything from Birds Eye “simply cod” fillets, to new potatoes, to chicken burgers.
Most everything except sausage sandwiches (where I prefer brown sauce) get HP barbequed to the max.

Tesco’s finest carbonara tortelloni – in barbeque sauce.
It doesn’t really work. Tastes of barbeque sauce if I put enough on – other than that, bit bland.
I eat another few (probably still less than 1/4 of the 300g packet) and stop because I don’t really feel that hungry anymore.
God knows how anyone is meant to eat all of this in one sitting. Maybe they’re not meant to have the twix, biscuits, cup of tea, etc..first?

I’ll likely try it again somewhen, but I might buy a pasta sauce to go on it. I’m putting that down as a general positive – I didn’t totally hate it – but it is just as boring as anything else I might have cooked tonight, as it was.

The start – soup

Hello if you’re reading this.

My name is Ben, and I am a very fussy eater.
It’s safe to say I’m not all that interested in food at the moment. It goes through peaks and troughs but right at the moment I couldn’t give a monkeys really.
Someone told me a while ago that if it was possible to have food like in futuristic movies – one pill which had all your day’s vitamins, minerals, nutrients, etc..within it, they would take it.
I agreed.
Most people think I’m crazy for thinking this way.

Throughout my life, I was told it was a “phase”, and to a certain extent that was true in some areas. At one point of my life it was a standing joke among my relatives, that I wouldn’t eat anything except luncheon meat and “squeaky” carrots. At that age, I think “squeaky” was what I’d named carrots from a tin.

Fast forward a few years on, I was staying with my older sister at her house, and one morning during breakfast, was struggling to find anything to put on my toast. When offered marmalade, I jumped at the chance, until I discovered it was of the shredded variety, with the bits of orange peel in it. Exactly like the childrens (although adults still enjoy it) story of Mr. Fussy (copyright of the superb Roger Hargreaves), I didn’t like her marmalade because it had bits in it.
By this point I’d decided it would be easier to just have butter and forget jam/marmalade.
My sister being my sister though, decided it would be funny to separate some into a smaller jar, remove all the bits from that and attached a label to what was to become MY jar, that read “Mr Fussy’s Marmalade”.
I didn’t hear the end of this for a long time.

Some people seem to think children who are fussy are just being difficult, and will eat “when they are hungry”.
I never did.
I would just put up with being hungry.

One weekend at my Dad’s house, I can remember the same deal there. Didn’t eat my main course, so didn’t get anything else.
For some reason he’s always shopped at Makro for as long as I could remember and bought huge amounts of chocolate and crisps in bulk. He doesn’t really snack on them all day long – but saves having to buy them every week.
So one time when it was that meal or nothing, I snuck downstairs later and had a load of that instead of my dinner.
Another time when I wasn’t much interested in what I think was supposed to be mashed potato for lunch, again I got nothing else. He went out an hour later, and I cleared out half of the snacks from his house, giving them to local kids.

I am skinny but tall enough I’m not registered as underweight by the doctor’s charts.

Over the years that passed, I generally would do things to get out of anything food related. I wouldn’t go to meals unless it was in a pub somewhere (steak and chips is available in most), and if it was somewhere that sounded like it might serve something I wouldn’t like, I’d do my hardest to get out of going.

As a teenager, if I was staying at a friend’s house and they were having dinner, I would decline their offer of food, and sometimes lie and tell them I’d already eaten. Sometimes I would take sandwiches in order to guarantee I’d be able to eat that evening. As this is unusual behaviour and people would question it, I got used to telling them that I didn’t like a lot of foods.
Occasionally people would question further, and ask what foods I didn’t like.
So I got used to telling people this would be a long list. Most would drop it there, but eventually some smart bastards would ask for a list of food I DID like.

Because of this, eventually I stopped telling people. They would ask if I liked tomatoes, and I would tell them I didn’t. They would ask if I liked squid. I would tell them I didn’t. Whatever it was, unless I was sure I definitely did like it, I would tell them I didn’t, whether I had tried it or not.
It goes without saying that this makes for an uncomfortable conversation now at the age of 25 when someone asks me if I like spaghetti bolognase, and I have to admit I’ve never eaten it.

At some point along the way, I got some almost ‘fear’ of food. I hated trying new things. This fear continues to this day but I’ve managed to control it well enough that I can actually go out to a restaurant without panicking the whole week beforehand that I won’t have anything to eat where we’re going.
Friends who know what I’m like suggested restaurants were great places to go to try food. The problem is you need to take someone with you, and after waiting ages, if the food arrives and you don’t like it, then what?
1. You can either eat it and tell everyone how terrible you found it afterwards. This gets you a reputation as a grumpy ungrateful sod.
2. You can eat it and pretend you liked it. This is a bad idea – someone will take you back there for your next birthday.
3. You can not eat it. This makes me feel really uncomfortable, because when the waiting staff arrive to your table, and remove your friends’ empty plates – you always get the “was everything alright with your meal?” jibe, like you’re somehow offending them by not eating what is essentially a good meal in most people’s eyes.

Last year, I was invited to my office Christmas meal and very nearly declined it because they were going to a Chinese restaurant that they all liked and I didn’t want to look awkward not appearing to be enjoying my meal.

It has to be said that as I’m skinny, I can’t eat a lot either. This also causes problems in restaurants because everyone I’m with wants to have a starter and three pints before you get to the main course. By that point, I’m feeling as full as an obese American with a gastric balloon and literally couldn’t eat a wafer thin mint without bursting.
This continues on throughout the night because as you eat half the main course, everyone else is still eating.
When they finish their main course, they’ll want desserts, and then what? You’ve got two options:
1. You can not have one and be the only person at the table of sixteen not eating one. This gets you weird looks from the waiting staff and other customers. Then you feel disappointed at your lack of fatness as you wonder if that chocolate sauce
2. Order one when you don’t really want it, force half of that down then wander off to the toilets where you’re not sure which end you’re going to erupt from. Usually neither – just an uncomfortable feeling for an hour or so.

I’ve never had a recognised eating disorder, nor is anyone in my family clinically obese.

The BBC ran a documentary series a while ago about fussy eaters. This was taken to the extreme it has to be said, with one person living entirely off cheese and crisps and another who claimed to have never eaten a vegetable in his life.
I’m not THAT bad.

My ex-girlfriend despaired at my lack of eating vegetables on a daily basis.
I’m sure 90% of the population don’t manage the recommended five portions of fruit or vegetables per day (my sister is a vegetarian and she doesn’t think she does), but my girlfriend didn’t share my excitement when I totalled five portions one week for the first time that I’d noticed in a long time.
Because of her I stopped asking them to remove the lettuce in my one-a-week ‘chicken in a bun with cheese’ at my local Miss Millie’s chicken takeout and resisted the urge to leave all salad (or “garnish” as I usually refer to it) on the plate.
This was fairly short-lived when I remembered I hate lettuce, and also had the realisation once more, that one piece of lettuce is in no way making any difference to the health count of a fried chicken and cheese burger.

It should be noted I’m not in any way consistent though.
Years of pre-packaged food and not really giving a crap about artificial flavourings has led to an interesting situation where if I’m in a bakery selling cream cakes, and I ask if it’s real cream or artificial – if they tell me it’s fresh cream, I won’t be buying it.
I absolutely love banana flavoured Nesquik, but I don’t like bananas at all.
The texture of some foods puts me off too – I don’t really enjoy eating yoghurts that have bits in them, but again I’m not consistent – I like orange/pineapple juice to have bits.

Because of all this there is a limited selection of foods I eat. I generally eat the same foods week in, week out, and every now and then I get bored of it. A few months ago, I decided I was going to learn to cook, bought myself some cookery books and borrowed others.
It’s fair to say aside from a swiss roll and some fairy cakes, thats as far as that went.

And so we fast forward to today – 4th September 2007.
Tonight I got home from work, put on my computer and chatted on msn.
About 19.30 I started watching tv, and about 21:00 decided I might want to think about cooking something to eat. This isn’t an uncommon experience, and as I didn’t really have anything in, went to Tescos.
I didn’t fancy anything in particular. In fact by the time I got to the supermarket I couldn’t be bothered to cook anything at all.
I wandered the aisles, picking up items I know I would eat. I’ll let you in on what some of them are, shall I?

Birds Eye Chicken Pies. Probably featured in 1-2 meals of mine per week, I do like these now. I used to eat them a lot as a child, until one point somewhere in my teens that I stopped eating them because I thought they were dry and horrible. Several years after moving out of my parents’ house, aged about 20, I bought some again and was surprised that I liked them a lot.
Despite the probably high fat content, I believe the adverts that everything in Birds Eye products is from field to freezer in 12 hours or whatever it is, and the fact that it has a tiny amount of vegetables within it, means in my mind at least I class it as one of my five-a-day.

Oven chips. I don’t really enjoy these. They certainly don’t taste anything like chips from a chip shop – but I’m very bad at timing things, and my local chip shops are a bit crap. I also believe they contain less fat than fried chips (I’ve no idea if this is true or not) and I can cook them on the same tray as the chicken pies to save on washing up.

That pie/chips meal will undoubtedly be in a couple of nights time, but tonight – I’m trying new things, and one thing that I don’t recall ever eating in my entire life is soup. It might not sound like much but for the last few years I’ve avoided soup like the plague. I’m not sure why.
I’ve known people have their tongues pierced and they seem to be able to eat only ice cream and soup (separately) for 2-3 days afterwards. Just one of the many reasons why I’d never get my tongue pierced.

So today, I try: chicken soup.
Because I don’t like food, I’ve never learnt to cook. So as it was nearly 21:30 by the time I got to Tescos, I bought a pre-packaged soup.
I went to the more-expensive ready-meal section though, with the stuff that only lasts two days.

The soup in question is by the New Covent Garden Food Co. I bought it because I’ve heard of them somewhere or other and it was considerably more expensive than the cans with a best before date of a year from now, so I figured it was probably better for me as it had to be eaten in the next 10 days.
This soup features “all natural ingredients”, and doesn’t list any E-numbers so I guess I’m safe to assume it’s good for me.
The bulk of the ingredients are: water, potatoes, milk, onions, chicken, carrots, leeks, garlic, thyme, white wine, double cream, flour, salt and pepper.

Of the list, I don’t like garlic, not overly keen on double cream, and onions I put up with as they seem to be in a lot of prepackaged food. Leeks, and thyme I have no idea if I like or not.
According to the packet you can heat it on a hob without boiling it or microwave it in a 900w oven. Microwaving it occurs in the cardboard carton, and hob involves getting a saucepan dirty, so I opt for the microwave.
My microwave is an 800w, so as it’s meant to be in for 5minutes at 900w, I randomly press the 30 second button to add up to somewhere between 7.5-8minutes, and remove it a couple of minutes from the finish.

I’ll be honest, it smells kinda unusual. I stir it with a teaspoon and remove the spoon and it has to be said that I’ve never seen something that looks more like man-juice, without actually being man-juice.
Once that idea pops into my head I’m no longer overly keen on eating it, but I’ve come this far (if you’ll excuse the pun), so I dip in some bread, absorb a tiny bit of soup, and into my mouth it goes.
It tastes..well….I don’t know. Its not horrendously unpleasant, but I’m not feeling confident enough to take it on its own.
More bread is used..until I’ve used a whole slice. Still not really wanting to eat it on its own, so another slice of bread used.
Half way through the third slice of bread, I’m actually bored of eating this. I work in problem solving and with computers, and a quick calculation in my head tells me the effort involved in eating this in this way isn’t worth the time it’s taking me.

I cut short, and tip the remainder of the soup away.
I’m going to mark it as a positive experience. I tried it, and didn’t hate it – but unless someone removes my tongue and all of my teeth, I can see no reason why I’d purposely want to eat it again.