I recently wrote about my frittata failure; mainly because my lovely co-worker V thought I was an 'awesome cook', based on what she read here. Which was very flattering, but far from the truth.
Since Leftover Week, I seem to have fallen into a hole of ordinariness and, at times, plain awfulness. Last weekend, everything came to a head. A sort-of vegie casserole was dull - it wasn't even bad enough to be offensive, it was just bland and nothing. I battled thru because I hate waste, but with every mouthful I thought, life is too short to eat dull food, and last night I gave in and scrapped the lot into a container for mum's chooks to eat.
I made a carrot tart from one of the supermarket magazines; it looked elegant - but it too tasted bland. And the carrots were still crunchy. I made an apple and rhubarb pie that looked like it had chicken pox, and was insipid, and soggy - it's heading towards the same fate as the sort-of vegie casserole. The only good thing that came from that experience was these little jam drops, made from the pastry scraps and inspired by the Shady Baker:
These and other disappointments that I'm too low to share with you made me stop and take stock. What am I doing wrong? How could I do it better? And what am I good at cooking? These were the questions I mulled over every time I walked into the kitchen, flipped thru a Delicious or Good Food magazine, watched MasterChef, or clicked on a food website.
I realise I'm good at pasta; I like the simplicity of Italian food, the flavour that comes from lovely produce used in an uncomplicated manner. I like using lots of vegetables, preferably ones I've grown; I know at the moment I'm in that mid-winter malaise of not being able to wander out to my vegie patch and pick green beans and peas to cook immediately for my supper. And I'm good at anything when I take my time, enjoy the process, and don't rush to get it done.
So with this focus, I've come away from the local library with armfuls of books: a Woman's Weekly on pasta, the 'River Cottage Two Easy' (which I think I've had before),Guy Grossi's sumptuous but accessible 'Recipes from My Mother's Kitchen', a back-to-basics style one called 'Fresh and Easy', which will help me finetune my techniques and remember to enjoy the process (it has step-by-step pictures!). I reserved two favourite books, focussing on vegies, by Nigel Slater and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (maybe if I get a tax return this year I'll buy them, to always have them near). And to cheer myself up, I also got a cupcake book.
I also found a fabulous food website, Tastespotting, prompting a flurry of print-outs of delicious looking pastas, risottos, toasted sandwiches and easy suppers.
And last night, I actually sat at the dining table, surrounded by said printouts and books, and started to plan meals and write grocery lists. I surprised even myself.
Then, armed with this self-awareness, I stepped into the kitchen. I pulled out a pasta recipe I have made before (let me get my confidence back with an old friend). I donned my apron - this always signals that I am Going To Cook. I made a generous G&T, and then, at a relaxed pace, I sliced the onion, crushed the garlic, boiled the spaghetti and zested the lemon.
The resulting meal was not gourmet-fancy - but neither was it dull or disappointing. Progress.
Spaghetti with greens and lemon
Adapted from a Woman's Day magazine. I have made this with brussels sprouts, quartered; broccoli; grated or chunked zucchini; and curly kale. It would be delicious with finely shredded dark savoy cabbage. I also alternate between bacon and chorizo; the smoky kick of chorizo is especially suited to kale and brussels sprouts. Feel free to pour yourself a glass of wine or a G&T - it certainly helped me! Serves 2.
- Start by boiling enough pasta for two (for me, this is 140 grams dried weight spaghetti).
- Meanwhile, steam enough green vegies (I've listed my faves above). The vegie is the main part of the dish, so be generous, but it's hard to give quantities here - I just chop and prep until it looks about right. Don't overcook.
- Meanwhile, saute a small quantity of diced bacon or sliced chorizo with some olive oil. Again, I can't give you precise quantities because I am pretty random here myself; and I'm sure you know what will look and taste right (sorry if you don't). Once that's going along nicely, finely slice half an onion and add that to the pan, and when it's on the way, add a couple of cloves of crushed garlic and a sprinkle of dried chilli flakes (to your taste). Saute until onion is done.
- Then add the cooked vegies into the pan, then the drained cooked pasta, and fold thru.
- Then take a nice juicy lemon and zest it in (I like fine ribbons of zest for this recipe, rather than anything microplaned), then squeeze in half to all of its juice - this is a nice and lemony dish.
- Dish up, finish your drink, and enjoy.