Saturday, 27 November 2010

Kitchen Challenges: Three in One

It's time to wrap my week of cooking exploration; mainly because I've got a mountain of other topics I want to write about, but also because the further away from that week I get, the more I forget what I did. So here's a brisk power-walk through Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

When I last left you I was feeling light-headed after making tasty things with a large ball of pizza dough. Wednesday was no less sickly. In truth, this theme of flu-like symptoms ran for the the whole week. We'll call Wednesday the 'URGH! MY THROAT! IT STINGS!' day. Lunch was pretty easy. If you recall, I had made some kind of giant, herby cream cracker the night before.  This was lovingly dunked in the guacamole I'd whipped up in my mini food processor at the same time. I'm all for chunky, barely combined guacamole, but when all you've got is one very small avocado in the fridge, a bit of motorised demolition is required.

I combined my solitary avocado with some spring onion, coriander, a handful of baby spinach leaves, a serious glug of green Tabasco (one of my favourite things), garlic pepper, a generous squeezing of lime juice and very quick drizzle of olive oil. Come Wednesday lunchtime I was just a quick trip to the kitchen away from a tin-foil package of home made crackers and little tub of green heaven.

I call this design of nail varnish..... Cabin Fever. 

After spending the afternoon trying not to look at the TV equivalent of a hypnotists pocket watch, Giada's decolletage......

Like a lava lamp. 

.....I began thinking about what I might conjure up for tea. I wasn't really sure what I was doing but I ended up throwing together a fantastic Italian inspired dish of asparagus tips, tender stem broccoli, rosstini (fried gnocchi) and home made pesto. Considering the amount of Italian food I consume, I'm slightly embarrassed that I've never made fresh pesto before. Into my mini food processor I put some extra virgin olive oil, a garlic clove, a handful of basil, a large chunk of Parmesan, a spot of lemon juice, a few baby spinach leaves for bulk and a large handful of pine nuts. Jamie Oliver says the pine nuts in a pesto should not be toasted. It makes the pesto creamy. Nigel Slater says they must be toasted for authentic flavour. Quivering at the thought of taking sides between two of my favourite cooking men I toasted half and left the other half untouched by heat. The result was delicious and fisticuffs were averted.

I combined the veg, gnocchi and pesto in the pan and applied heat. Here's a tip: if your pesto is particularly cheese-heavy, avoid applying direct heat to it. Even though Parmesan is a hard cheese, the solids do react differently when they're warmed up. My pesto took on a slightly grainy texture as the cheese cooked. Other than that it was a tasty dish, made slightly chefier by the addition of a lemon cheek and Parmesan shavings.

Thursday will be referred to as the day I waved a little white flag at my sinuses and asked if they wanted to make peace. They didn't. In search of something both quick and extra tasty to overcome the loss of one of my senses, I knocked up a quesadilla. I placed some leftover rosstinis, sliced tomato, a few chopped Peppadew peppers, a spring onion and two kinds of cheese over half a tortilla wrap. I chose cheddar for flavour and mozzarella for extra melting loveliness. From there it's just a fold and a hot frying pan away from being the ooziest sandwich you could imagine.

Some of the best meals are the ones you start cooking with absolutely no idea where you're going with them. On Thursday night I made what I'm now referring to as Serendipity Soup™ . I've made it again since that sickly week, so I'll explain it with the tweaks included. It's amazingly easy. I cooked off some finely grated garlic and red chilli in butter with some sea salt just long enough for the garlic to begin colouring. From there I added chopped leeks, broccoli, asparagus tips and some sliced courgettes. Stirring the veg on the heat just long enough for them to soften and soak up some of the garlic and chilli flavours, I added some chicken stock and a big handful of fresh mint. You can obviously use vegetable stock to keep it a completely vegetarian soup. Simmer away until all the vegetables are soft and turn off the heat before liquidising.

Once a gorgeous green pulp, return the soup to the heat and add a handful of cous cous, remembering that cous cous expands significantly when cooked. I did not remember this the first time round and had to add more chicken stock to stop it turning into something of a risotto. To finish add a drop of double cream (optional) and grate in a mountain of strong cheddar. Once the cheese has completely melted, serve with an extra grating of cheddar on top.

This soup was by far my most successful meal of the week. Or maybe it just felt that way because I was making it up myself as I went along, so it truly felt like my own food. The lack of foresight regarding the cous couskoftas I tried making with the leftover minced lamb. Abysmal. Definitely two things I'll need to revisit at a later date.

Apologies for poor picture quality.

So what did I learn from this week of cooking things I hadn't cooked before? I learnt that I gravitate towards Italian food and flavours far more than I ever realised and that makes me pretty happy. I learnt that cooking for one is significantly harder than cooking for a few people. While it was fun to experiment and try new things without the fear of a crowd of people shouting URGH, there was never anyone apart from myself to shout YUM either. I'm pleased to have people to cook for again. I confirmed my suspicion that forward planning makes for far more interesting meals. But I also remembered just how exciting it is to throw ingredients together and so what happens.

One more thing before I wrap this up. As well as buying a standard Moleskine to scribble notes into and accidentally splatter with gravy as I'm cooking, I've also bought the Moleskine Recipe Journal. I'm using it to record final recipes, everything from full main meals to favourite sandwich fillings. I love it. Have a look:

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