Cooking with Mark

I’m a kept man and I like it.

I don’t mean that I never want for money thanks to an elderly spinster with cataracts, bagfuls of money, and only an occasional need for lubrication "down below" in her waning years. Serious offers will be considered.

I am a kept man in the kitchen. And by this I mean that my other half does the cooking. Our arrangement is that she cooks and I wash up. Slightly more accurately: she cooks every day and I wash up when the leftover food on the tower of dirty plates starts to show rudimentary signs of sentience. It’s a solution that works for us.

Still, at the back of my mind every now and then I do wonder what would happen if, for instance, my better half took an extended vacation from me on work-related business, because there are only so many takeaways in the area and etiquette demands you leave longer than four days before ordering the same thing from the same place.

Could I survive if – God forbid! – I had to cook?

Well, I’m not a complete stranger to the ways of the food preparation and food heating and food consumption (especially the food consumption) but I think it’s fair to say that we are but nodding acquaintances unaware of each other’s first names. Time for me to remind myself of just what I think I know.

Beans On Toast

The unbridled pleasure that comes from beans on toast a la MarkWhat You’ll Need

  • Bread – preferably Hovis thick-sliced because the thick-sliced bread is medium-sliced which is what we want while the medium-sliced bread is very thin and the thin-sliced bread breaks through the boundaries of space-time into the realm of negatively-sized dimensions and most toasters can’t cope with this.
  • Beans – Heinz beans. There is no substitute for this. Any other beans are mere bean-shadows compared to Heinz beans, not fit to lick the boots of Heinz beans not that Heinz beans would ever wear boots inside the tin and spoil their lovely flavour.
  • A toaster – you might think you can grill the toast instead but that is only for women who can multitask. Men are not capable of grilling and keeping an eye on the beans as well and at some point the smoke detectors will sound and send you into a panic.
  • Wooden spoon – not metal. Metal spoons have a few properties that make them undesirable in the preparation of ‘Beans On Toast:’ they conduct heat causing surprisingly painful burning sensations in the fingers and lead to spoon-droppery and they occasionally squeak against the bottom of the saucepan sending jolts of terror through your spine which lead to spoon-droppery. Spoon-droppery is best avoided.

Take two slices of bread and place them in the toaster but – very important – do not push the bread down! Open the beans and empty them into a clean saucepan. Place saucepan on hob. Gas hobs are far superior to electric or ceramic hobs not, as many people think, because they heat better but because they have flames and the hidden danger of gas asphyxiation which all adds up to more manly cooking and manly cooking is the best kind there is. Turn your hob on a low-to-medium setting. Since all hobs use different numbers and settings I’ll just assume you use a rainbow scale: yellowy-green should be about right.

Watch the beans. Every ten or fifteen seconds stir the beans. You’re looking for bubbles forming in the bean juice. Bubbles are a sign that the beans are becoming warm and farting to relieve the pressure. Specifically, you’re after the point where there are several bubbles forming every few seconds in different parts of the saucepan as this indicates that the beans are warm enough. If you’re too early then your meal will lack warmth while if you’re too late then the roof of your mouth will lack any feeling for a week.

Here’s where the early preparation pays off: push the bread down in the toaster. If you hadn’t taken the bread out early you would now be faced with trying to perform the important bread-from-wrapper-into-toaster manouevre whilst simultaneously looking at the beans and possibly stirring them too. Terrifying.

Keep looking at the beans. Keep stirring. And prepare yourself because any second now that toast is going to pop up with a loud clang and scare the holy bejeesus out of you. A firm grip on the spoon is important. Try not to flick half the contents of the saucepan across the wall and cabinets.

When the toast pops up turn off the hob. Put toast on plate – optionally spreading some Clover on the toast – and pour beans over to taste.

Common Pitfall
Failure to stir regularly leads to bruising around ears when other half discovers charred bottom of saucepan.

Instant Mash

A mountain of mash. A curse on my Irish heritage for making that look so good.What You’ll Need

  • Instant mash – I recommend Smash because of the martians. Also, the granules actually do dissolve. I tried some stuff that came in flakes before and, surprisingly, were still flakes afterwards which detracted from the whole "pretend it’s mash even though it doesn’t taste anything like mash" experience.
  • Butter – My recommendation is Clover which isn’t butter at all but is nice.
  • Milk – full fat milk is better than half fat milk which is better than skimmed milk which is better than breast milk which is better than powdered milk which is better than soya milk.

Switch the kettle on and boil some water. If you’re American then a kettle is a wonderful invention too complex to explain so you can simply run a "hot water faucet."

While the kettle is on check the packaging of your instant mash. It will have guidelines as to how many granules you should use for a single serving. This is a single serving if you are a fieldmouse. Many of you are not fieldmice so you’ll want to multiply this figure by about twelve.

Pour the granules into a bowl. Because the recommended amount of granules is way off you can assume rightly that the amount of water to add is also erroneous. Pour in hot water to about halfway up the granules. Stir the contents of the bowl with a fork. The fork is more useful than the spoon because many granules will need poking and you can make mountains in the mash just like in Close Encounters when nobody is looking.

The mash will quite likely be too stodgy as you didn’t add enough water to compensate for the vast amount of granules. Add more hot water until the texture is comparable to semolina. Now add a lump of butter for taste. This should melt quite quickly with more stirring. You now need to thicken up the mash a bit more so pour in some more granules. You need to get the consistency of the mash thick enough to justify adding milk at this point so add plenty. Get it nice and thick, pour some milk on and get it just right.

Since you’ve added too much milk the mash will now be cold so pour on some more hot water to heat it up. It will now be too runny again so empty the remainder of the instant mash packet into the mix and Bob’s your uncle! Sixteen kilos of instant mash perfect for eating.

Common Pitfall
Telling your girlfriend "it’s just like real mash" leads to sudden explosions of instant mash all over face and bruising around ears.

Chicken Tikka Masala

Ooh, now we’re getting posh.

Do not put your cat in a microwave. People didn't know any better in the 1950s but you doWhat You’ll Need

  • Chicken Tikka Masala microwaveable meal for one.
  • Calculator – scientific calculators are preferable or, if you’re a software developer like myself, you can write a .NET application to do most of the hard work for you.

Take meal out of freezer, open package and remove plastic tray containing yellowish block of ice. Use a fork and pierce holes in the film over the meal. Don’t go crazy here or you’ll end up with no film at all. Similarly, not enough holes could cause a pressure buildup in the meal during cooking and you only ever do that once I assure you.

Read the instructions on the package assuming you didn’t tear them removing the food. You will see a chart listing power settings on the microwave and times of cooking. Here’s where the calculator/program comes in handy. You’ll notice that no matter what power ratings are listed on the packaging your actual microwave happens to belong to a rare group not usually used for cooking and so not included by food manufacturers. You need to work out the percentage difference between their nearest setting and yours and multiply or divide this by the time, remembering that time is measured in minutes so multiplying by 60 to get the seconds first. You may come up with two or more figures depending on when and where you multiply or divide. Since undercooked food is dangerous you should always take the highest value to end up with and add ten or fifteen seconds just to be safe.

Place the package into the microwave oven and then look through your junk drawer for the instructions on how to set the power and timer on the microwave. Try to come up with a simple way to remember which one of the ‘Clock’ and ‘Time’ buttons is the one that sets the cooking time and which one resets the time to a flashing ‘0:00’ but don’t spend too long on this as you’ll forget it anyway.

Press the ‘Start’ button and watch the food rotate slowly. At the end of the cooking period you are supposed to let the food stand for a minute. Nobody knows why so don’t bother. Take plastic tray from oven, drop it onto plate, and run across to sink to run fingers under cold water where they came in contact with barely-sub-steam water droplets on top.

The next seven minutes will be spent trying to remove the film from the meal without burning yourself any further. At the end you’ll have a complete meal for one. You might want to transfer this meal to a saucer instead to make it look bigger. The chicken pieces will taste very similar to how you imagine simulated chicken for vegetarians tastes. Be very careful of pieces of carrot or peas if your meal includes them: those buggers retain heat like you wouldn’t believe.

Common Pitfall
Closing the microwave door rather than washing down the inside and leaving the door ajar to air a little leads to bruising around the ear when your curry-hating girlfriend opens the door the next time.

I think I should be able to survive a short period of lone-cooking without too much risk of malnutrition. If you have any simple recipes you’d care to add then I’d be happy to receive them.

Author: Mark

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  1. Cold hot dogs wrapped in a bread with ketchup. Speaks for itself really. The only difficult part is opening the tin with the hotdogs in it. I usually use a gun, but you end up with bits of hot dog all over the place.

    Also, a special mention for Fray Bentos Steak and Kidney Pie. It takes forty minutes to open the tin, but there’s no washing up afterwards, which is a huge plus.

    Great post, as per usual. I’m glad I found this site.

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  2. You forgot that male culinary delight of frozen meat/fish product with frozen potato product.

    The combinations are endless – fish cakes and oven chips, burgers and waffles, sausages and hash browns, fish fingers and spicy wedges

    On the rare occasion X cooked, that’s all we got.

    Now he lives on his own he has turned into quite a good cook – he even asks for recipes. Maybe it’s just a ‘man with a woman’ thing – why bother when there is someone else to do it for you?

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  3. I’m still pondering why take-away etiquette exists ..

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  4. Now I also like eating creamed rice straight from the tin because of the ‘no washing-up’ benefit although some people would argue that this isn’t a real meal. Rice. That’s a real meal. Of course I can never open the tin quite right and leave jagged bits of metal around the edge which is fine until I try licking it at the end.

    Anni – you could be right. After all, all the best chefs are men. I guess they were all left on their own for a period in their lives.

    Pippa – you’re not alone. Sartre devoted two books to the subject. He still never broke the rules though. He’d never have eaten in a French restaurant again.

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  5. Take-away etiquette exists because no-one wants their local foodery to think they are a big fat pig who can’t be arsed to cook.

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  6. You have doubled my cooking repotoire so I will print out this post and staple it to the fridge.

    Jamie Oliver watch it.

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  7. not to be a dick, but you Brits eat some weird shit. I’m sure you think the same of us. but one thing I can’t fathom is why the hell a company would can hot dogs, don’t you guys have plastic over there?

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  8. teehee Mark geeeeeeenius as per usual. And Nutty.. you made me snort woman! heheh

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  9. The only reason I dont go to the takeaway more often is that they’d talk about me behind my back if i became too regular.

    It’s be pizza forever if i wasnt so paranoid.

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