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The Revolution Begins in the Kitchen

February 25, 2010

If there’s one thing I really hate, it’s recipes.

Don’t get me wrong – I believe recipe books have their place in this world – especially the ones with nice pictures. Correctly used, a good recipe book is basically awesome porn – you can flick through the pictures when you’re not cooking, and have no intention of cooking, and get excited about all the things you could be cooking (but probably never will). When you’re planning on cooking you can also use them quite effectively to get you in the mood, so to speak.  They can give you ideas, help you to decide what to do with half a bag of flaked almonds, and suggest that maybe pine nuts would go really well with roasted pumpkin. I read recipe books all the time – I can just never bring myself to actually follow a recipe.

 What I hate is the idea of having to slavishly follow a set of instructions that lay out someone elses idea of what I should be buying and cooking. I hate that they say things like “the best butter you can afford”, as if money somehow equals flavour (actually the opposite is often true, but that’s a musing for another time). I  hate measurements – I can understand them when it comes to, say, cakes (although I’ve learned through experience that you really needn’t be that precise even then), but when you get a recipe for spaghetti bolognese and it tells you to use 300g of mushrooms – seriously, like I’m going to weigh my mushrooms and chop a little bit off one of them so the weight is perfect otherwise my spag bol will be ruined? Come on…

So I hate recipes and here i am basically starting a recipe blog. Why am I doing this exactly?

Well – I love food and I love cooking. And I naturally want to share my love with others (I’m suddenly really glad I didn’t over-extend the porn analogy by the way). I want to talk to people about food, I want to compare notes.

Following a recipe to the letter is kind of like painting by numbers: you get an identical result each time. It will be neat, and tidy, and it will keep you occupied and out of trouble. Real cooking is more like getting a huge blank canvas and creating your own masterpiece. It’s exciting, it’s creative, it’s emotional – even life-affirming. Taste is one of our primary senses, it’s as much part of how we experience and relate to the world as our sight or hearing – tasting a good, original dish for the first time is like unveiling a new work of art.

 The first time I ever tasted oven roasted garlic was not so different emotionally as the first time I ever listened to X-Ray Spex sing “The Day the World turned Day Glo” or The Clash doing “White Riot”– afterwards I felt envigorated, excited, like my view of the world had just been knocked off kilter ever so slightly.  I use that comparison, because my approach to cooking is very much based on the classic punk do-it-yourself philosophy.  You don’t need to be a classically trained musician to make great music.  You just need to get the hell up there and do it.  “Here are three chords” said the infamous Sniffin Glue fanzine “Now go form a band.”  Well here’s three ingredients – onion, tomato, cheese – go cook, bitch.

I’m definetly not a trained chef. Nobody ever really taught me how to cook. I own recipe books now, but for a long time I didn’t, and I still rarely use them other than as a starting point (or porn, obv.) But I do love food, and I love sharing food with people I care about (and occasionally with complete strangers, who are also, in a way, kind of people I care about), I love putting incongruous  flavours together and seeing what happens, I love grabbing the leftovers from the store cupboard, or the bargain bin in the corner shop and seeing what I can come up with. Sometimes it’s more Throbbing Gristle than the Clash – but hey, they have their fans . Cooking from scratch without a recipe(along with growing your own veg, and making your own clothes) is about the most anarchic thing most people do these days. By saying no to the manufactured pap of the supermarket ready meal, or the latest approved Jamie Oliver formula, you are truly Socking It To The Man.

So the “recipes” I’m posting here,I would like to offer more as experiences than sets of instructions. Variations are awesome – if you’ve ever used a bit of leftover houmous or pesto instead of butter on cheese and toast you will know what i mean. I’m offering these experiences up to friends, strangers, anyone who stumbles upon this little slice of the net – whether there’s only two of you, or two hundred. Whatever.  I always want  people who’ve never cooked to give it a go, and people who are slavish recipe followers to let go a little, I want people who already embrace the anarchist approach to food to continue to do so. Food is, quite literally, what keeps us alive. It’s a part of who we are. And it would be criminal not to enjoy that with true reckless abandon. Remember: THE REVOLUTION BEGINS IN THE KITCHEN!!!

Chapter 1: Mayo Cake

 This is a good place to start because, apart from being a cake and therefore pretty much guaranteed to taste awesome, it’s based around ingredients most people already have, and, fpr a cake, is pretty adaptable. I know I said I’m not big on measurements, and i’m really not – but with cakes you need to at least get your proportions roughly right, if not exact measurements (100g butter and 200g sugar can easily translate to 200g butter 400g sugar for a bigger cake. I do own a nice pair of scales, but most of the time I’m too lazy to use them and I just make a guess based on the size of the packet – usually works fine.)

 

Ingredients

275g Self raising flour

225g sugar (caster, granulated, brown all work – not icing sugar though, that’s rubbish.)

2 tsp baking powder

200g mayonaise (oh yes! Low fat or full fat both fine, not salad cream though.)

Some cocoa powder  disolved in 225ml hot boiled water– I use about 5tbsp, but I do like a rich cake, feel free to use less (or more!)

Vanilla essence

 

Using an electric hand mixer if you have one (and if you haven’t you should really get one, it will change your life!) beat all of the ingredients together in a bowl. Then pour into a cake tin of your choice. Bake in the oven at 180C (Gas Mark 4 unless you have a dodgy oven like me, in which case Gas Mark 6 may be more appropriate), for around 30 minutes, until you can stick a skewer or knife in and it comes out clean. That’s it.

 

Don’t worry about the cake “sinking” – this isn’t meant to be a fluffy, airy church fete type sponge – it’s more local biker pub – dense, dark, messy, and a bit sexy.

 

Now for some possible variations:

 

I once unexpectedly ran out of mayo half way through making this so I improvised and used 100g mayo and a pot of cranberry yoghurt. To my amazement, it actually worked, though I’m sure that defies the laws of physics. It was an interesting, slightly savoury taste – it might be cool to experiment with different flavour yoghurts and potted desserts. In the cake I mean… what you do in your personal life is none of my beeswax.

 

Add choc chips or other sweets to the mix before baking. When I made it for my boyfriends birthday I put smashed up bits of Milky Bar in there. I bet Smarties would be fun too. Or ground nuts if you’re a grown up.

 

Change the vanilla essence for almond , peppermint or orange essence, or favorite booze. I make it with Irish whisky sometimes.

 

Add a spoonful or two of instant coffee

 

I’ve never tried this, but I have considered disolving the cocoa powder in something other than water. Lime cordial possibly. No idea if that would work.

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