I am a fairly competent cook. I can do most things in the kitchen reasonably well and produce food that people enjoy eating. I know what flavours go together so I can improvise from random ingredients if I need to. I can follow a recipe and, more importantly, I can usually work out what part each ingredient plays and can therefore make substitutions if necessary.
Actually, all following a recipe involves is reading and comprehension. I can do that. I remember spending lots of time in Eggy Thomas’ English class reading various poems and prose then having to write long winded answers to questions about the piece. I used to quite enjoy it and I wasn’t that bad at it. I do have a tendency to skim read things though which, when it comes to recipes, can be a bit of a problem.
On Saturday we invited two friends of whom we don’t see enough to dinner. We planned the menu with a Spanish theme because I am very boring and if left to my own devices will always veer towards Spanish cuisine. We decided on some appetisers of Manchego from Flavours Of Spain, salted caramelised almonds and fried broad beans. The start, main and dessert were to all come from my favourite cookbook, Season Spanish Food by Jose Pizarro.
The starter was to be Grilled Mackerel with Crispy Serrano Ham, the main was Pork Fillet with Piquillo Peppers and the dessert was Turron Mousse. I made a mental list of the ingredients I needed and we headed off to Borough Market. None of the fish stalls had any mackerel so I got herring sprats instead. I bought everything else and headed home.
I had read the first part of the mousse recipe which said to soak the sultanas in PX sherry for 24 hours and then use the sherry in the mousse. Unfortunately I didn’t buy the sultanas until Saturday morning. “Never mind,” I thought, “I will soak them for as long as possible and then make the mousse just before serving.”
I also missed the bit about marinading the pork for twelve house until I happened to reread the recipe three hours before I had planned to eat.
The evening came and our friends arrived. As our flat has a kitchen-diner they sat at the table with the appetisers whilst I cooked. Or rather they sat while I badly fillet the herring (I can fillet fish quite well but I have never tried to fillet such small ones), grilled them, tried to pin bone them destroying half them in the process, gave up, opened a tin of tuna, slicing my thumb on the edge of the can, and made watercress and tuna salad with crispy Serrano ham. I apologised profusely as I served them this before running off because I had forgotten to serve (or crisp up) the ham with it. Darlings that they are our friends pretended that it wasn’t horrible.
The pork fillet didn’t suffer too much from not having been marinaded for long enough and was jolly nice. After eating it everyone decided that actually they were too full for dessert yet so we decided to sit and chat for an hour or so. I then made the mousse and read through the recipe just to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. I hadn’t, apart from the bit about leaving it in the fridge to set for six hours. Darlings that they are our friends pretended the turron slop was lovely.
My old English teacher, Mr Thomas, would have looked over the top of his glasses, through the fringe of his ginger wig and shaken his head sadly at me. And if the teenage me could have seen into the future to last Saturday night he might have realised he was wrong when he asked “what is the point in all this reading and comprehension, we’re never going to need it in the real World?”
Reading though this post I have comprehended that, maybe, appetisers, a starter, a main and dessert (and of course all the wine that went with it) might be the reason why I gained two pounds this week.