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Miracles and Catastrophes

November 20, 2012
Every so often you stumble across a “recipe” that really surprises
you. I say “recipe” what I really mean, is when you’re putting
together a cupboard surprise meal that you’re expecting to be quick,
functional, palatable enough – but something in the combination of
ingredients just really clicks and it ends up being delicious.
This is the magic moment I love about cooking – when you think – “ooh, this really WORKS!”.

 Sadly this almost always happens when I’m eating alone – I get an
intense flavour hit in my living room and instantly wish there was
someone else there to feed the food to, so I could share the
experience – I have more than once considered taking a bowl of
particularly tasty tomato soup round to the neighbours but modern
Britain being what it is I’m not sure whether they would take this as
a)a lovely public spirited gesture or b) insane and a bit scary.

I often feel like when I cook for other people  what I make ends up
serviceable, but not particularly noteworthy – just like when you’re
practicing cartwheels, the really good ones always happen when
nobody’s watching. I always wish I could feed people those dishes as
proof – “See, I told you – I really am an amazing cook.” Sometimes you
can salvage the leftovers and feed them to someone on a separate
occasion – but time is a flavouring – it alters the taste. Some things
get better when left a few days (curry and stews generally do) but
often they lose something. Sometimes if it’s really delicious I just
can’t resist eating it before it gets as far as anybody else.

 For a long time I used to think that I would remember the combination
I’d used for one of these magical dishes and be able to re-create a
hundred times in future. But that never works. I’ve now learned that
as soon as possible after eating something surprisingly good, I
absolutely must write down what I did. I’m slowly training myself into
this habit and am creating my own personal recipe books full of things
that work – most of them eventually end up on this blog (although not
all, as that would mean I’d end up posting endless tomato based sauces
– there are a lot of slight variations you can make to tomato sauce to
make it special).

Of course, sometimes it does go the other way too. Occasionally I make
something that should by all rights be delicious, that contains lots
of ingredients I like and that usually work together and somehow it
ends up revolting. This is always heartbreaking – I recently made a
casserole I couldn’t eat, I hate wasting food, I really do – if
something is just a bit bland I will eat it rather than chuck it away,
but this just tasted so bitter and horrible I couldn’t get it down me
even with lashings of brown sauce and a strong dose of guilt about
starving children. I’m not sure quite what was wrong – it involved
leeks, veggy sausages, red wine, sweet potatoes… I suspect I overdid
the wine, then tried to compensate by adding brown sugar and the
flavours just got all muddled up and it didn’t work. Either way, I
won’t be doing that again. There was also what I now call the
legendary “poo soup” – I decided I would be all anti-waste and make a
soup using some of the leftover vegetable crudites from the buffet at
work – plus some lentils, spices and some shredded cabbage I had in
the fridge. Man that was gross. It looked like poo, it smelled like
poo. I don’t tend to go around eating poo so I can’t with any
authority tell you it tasted like poo, but it really wouldn’t surprise

This is the nature of being a self-taught cook really. My Mum showed
me how to do simple things like boil an egg, bake a potato and do a
basic pasta and tomato sauce before I left home, but apart from that
I’ve been more or less making it up as I go along –  reading books,
watching other people, experimenting, and picking up ideas off teh
interwebs. As I carry on living and eating and racking up more days
and more meals, the successes are starting to gradually outweigh the
disasters. I’m starting to learn the flavours that interact well with
each other and the ones that don’t, the importance of texture, and
cooking times, and learning things like to cook rice well it’s best to
leave it alone rather than keep stirring it, that sugar is often good
with vegetables (but not too much),  that potatoes always take longer
than you think, and that sometimes a pinch of salt or a squirt of
lemon is all you need to make a bland dish delicious. The occasional
disaster is inevitable, but I get it at least half right most of the
time – and it’s much better in terms of both fun and health to
experiment with new things a lot, than to just eat the same things
every day because it’s all you reliably know how to cook.

One thing I have learned is that when trying something new, it’s
usually best to keep it simple. I think this is where I went wrong
with the disgusting casserole and the poo soup – just too many
ingredients, too much going on. The recipe here, on the other hand, is
something I made when looking for something new to do with the cheap
avocados I got from Lidl and it’s ridiculously simple, but delicious,
moreish and a very beautiful bright green, which is always a bonus in
any dish, I think. I know warm avocado sounds bizarre to some people,
but trust me on this – it’s lovely.

 I also fried some tempeh in olive oil with garlic and pepper and a
few more pine nuts to mix in to the pasta for protein – you could do
the same with tofu, sliced up sausages, maybe some bacon or prawns if
you’re a meat eater, you could add flaked almonds or crumbled walnuts,
 or just chuck in a can of some kind of bean (cannelini beans would be
my preference I think, but if you want to do a sort of Mexican style
guacamole inspired thing, you could go with pinto or black beans I
guess) – maybe you could stick a dollop of yoghurt on top too. You
could also serve it as an accompaniment to something else, or even in
tiny portions as a starter if you’re doing a posh meal.

Avocado Pesto


Spaghetti/pasta (ideally wholemeal)
At least two ripe avocados (you can tell they’re ripe by fiddling with
the little stalk – it should be loose and move around easily)
Two limes (or lemons)
Handful of fresh spinach
Pine nuts (you can probably use other kinds of nuts or seeds if pine
nuts are a bit expensive)
Olive oil
A chopped clove of garlic
Salt and pepper
Nutritional Yeast (or parmesan  cheese or similar)

– Put the pasta on to boil in plenty of salted water as usual. If
you’re frying tempeh or whatever to go with this, get that going too.
– Meanwhile, squeeze the lime juice into a bowl. it’s important you do
this bit first to stop the avocado going brown.
– Add a good slug of olive oil, some pine nuts, some oregano (about a
desert spoon full for two avocados is good), garlic, and salt and
pepper to the bowl
– Cut open the avocados, pop out the seed (you can grow them into nice
little desk plants) and squeeze all their flesh into the bowl. mush it
up and mix into the other ingredients
– Add the spinach and yeast/cheese
– Now get a hand held blender and blend the mixture until it’s a
smooth bright green paste. If you don’t have a blender you should
really get one – they only cost about a fiver, but in the meantime I
guess you could just mush it up with a fork as you’re probably too
hungry to run down to Argos right now.
– Now pour it into a frying pan or other shallow pan (the one you
fried the tempeh in is fine if you did that), and turn the heat on the
hob very low and stir the mixture just for a couple of minutes. You
don’t want it to start bubbling or cooking really, just for it warm up
– Now drain the pasta, and mix the pesto and pasta together and serve.

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