Recently I attended a four week Indian cookery course run at a local community café. There’s something ironic about an Asian girl whose mother is a dab hand in the kitchen going to an Indian cookery course, no?! The fact of the matter is, even though I’ve loved all things food related (mainly eating, obviously) and have cooked meals for myself from scratch for years, it’s only relatively recently that I’ve begun to actually enjoy cooking. I’ve even learnt to do something I never thought possible: embrace kitchen mess. A cluttered counter top, crumbs on the floor and a pile of washing up used to bring me out in a cold sweat (it’s the OCD in me). Now I just accept it all as part of the process and enjoy the journey, as it were. Not that I ever let it get as bad as this:
Don’t ask me how this transformation has come about. It certainly wasn’t a case of ‘Right, that’s it. I’m going to learn how to poach eggs once and for all, damn it’. I’ve never poached an egg. But that’s what I’ve come to realise. Like most things in life, I tend to enjoy something if I do it on my own terms. It’s taken me years to figure out that just because you almost never prepare meals for friends and loathe dinner parties doesn’t mean you can’t cook. It probably just means you don’t like having to cook under pressure, for more people than just yourself. And don’t own enough matching plates. Cooking is cooking, whether that entails using an egg to make a frittata (one of my favourite egg dishes when done with rosemary, feta and squash – see below), or poaching it with asparagus and hollandaise sauce, or knocking up a sponge cake.
It’s also dawned on me that there are probably two kinds of cooks. There are those who like to follow recipes to the letter, planning everything carefully, measuring precisely and not substituting ingredients. Then there are those who like to use a recipe as a basis for a dish, but to wing it a bit. I’m the latter. I think the invention tests on MasterChef prove the point – some people faced with a bench full of seemingly unconnected ingredients panic, while others dive right in. Recipes for me are a starting point, but if you can’t ‘make them your own’ (to use an annoying talent show phrase), where’s the creativity, experimentation and fun? I lean heavily towards a Ready, Steady, Cook ‘What’s at the back of the fridge and what funky stuff can we make to use it all up?’ approach.
I believed for years I couldn’t cook, all the while messing around with ingredients in my own kitchen most days of the week and teaching myself how to make a modest repertoire of vegetarian dishes. Now I know that while I’m never going to be facing an invention test under the scrutiny of John Torode and Greg Wallace, I have more of an understanding of flavours and techniques than I previously gave myself credit for. Armed with this knowledge, I’m thoroughly enjoying spending more time in the kitchen, even more time reading recipes and – inevitably – a lot more time doing the washing up!