Actually, that isn’t what this post is about at all – it’s just a draft title I wrote ages ago and now I can’t remember why. But it made me laugh. What CAN I have been thinking!
No, this post is about recipes. Specifically, recipes for food, and for life. You see, my kids can’t cook (yes, I know, I’m a bad mother) so when they turned eighteen, I wrote them a book of recipes specifically designed for people who wouldn’t know a white sauce if they slipped in it, and think cooking is a mysterious and dangerous art that demands a library of spell books, a kitchen-full of arcane ingredients, and absolute and unwavering attention to detail lest a demon leap into the Sacred Circle and turn your Duc a l’Orange to dust and ashes.
It’s not. If you know the basics, you have the courage to experiment – and the wisdom to just chuck it in the bin and order a takeaway if it doesn’t work – then you can cook something with just about anything. So that’s what the book was about – the basics.
But then I thought, well isn’t cooking like life, really? I mean, isn’t it? There you are, hungry, tired, with just a can of sweetcorn and half a zucchini in the fridge – what do you do? You make something of it – or you ring up the pizza place. You cope or you fold, you save or you splurge, you make do or you don’t.
Speaking of life, we’ve been alive for a while, you and I. We know how to cook, and we know lots of other stuff, right? So why not share it? Why stick to just food? As the Bible said, eighteen year olds cannot live on bread alone. And it was thus the ‘recipes for life’ idea was first conceived…
So talking about sharing, here’s a little bit from the book (very much a draft at this point), for your reading and (maybe) eating pleasure.
HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE WEIRD PEOPLE
“I can’t find enough magpies for this recipe” (an old lady I knew once who sometimes mixed up her cooking with her nursery rhymes)
When I was a kid I had this annoying book called the Water Babies, where this poor kid gets bullied by a collection of bossy matrons with names like ‘Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby’ and ‘Mrs Ifyoudon’teatyourdinneryouwon’tgetanydessert’. As I remember it, any time the kid slips up he gets clouted or killed or whatever. Which is pretty much how life is.
But the point that Mrs I’mgoingtoreadyoulecturestillyoufalloveranddie missed is that people are weird.
Sure, being nice to people is a sound policy. I mean, what’s the worst that could happen? You do someone a favour – and they throw it back in your face like a dirty dishrag. You sigh virtuously, you smirk, you say ‘I guess you needed to do that, didn’t you…” It’s all good.
But you’ll meet people, inevitably, who have a totally different idea of what’s nice than you do. You give them a present, they go round complaining to all their friends about what a dud it was. You do as YOU would be done by and it turns out, it’s not how THEY would be done by, at all, at all!
For instance, a dear friend of mine is a computer moron and often asks for assistance with technical issues, like sending an email.
“Help me,” he asks plaintively, “A Nigerian princess has just offered me money – how do I reply?”
So I patiently explain, and at the end of the process he turns to me with a glare and says “I wanted you to do it for me – not show me all these little buttons and stuff. Fat lot of help you’ve been!”
Or I notice him limping and say ‘Have you got a sore leg, mate? Can I get you anything?” and he’ll say, “No! Don’t you understand a real man enjoys pain? Are you calling me some kind of wuss?”
Which goes to prove that what I’d like done to me is not always what you’d like done to you. So show a little sensitivity, and don’t try to rescue people from suffering if they seem to be actually enjoying it.
But let’s move on to making pies. So much easier than wrangling weirdos.
- Frozen pastry sheets. Either puff or shortcrust will do fine.
- Veg to make pie filling. My suggestion – potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, leeks, mushrooms, pulses (ie lentils, chickpeas, stuff lthat comes in cans). Even (gives vegetarian shudder) pre-cooked meat, chopped up in bite-sized pieces.
- Stock cube or stock powder
- Tomato paste (optional)
- Herbs and spices (optional)
How to make it
- Start by frying something tasty like chopped onions or garlic. While it’s frying, get out your sheets of frozen pastry so they can thaw at room temperature.
- Want to add spices? Now’s the time. Anywhere from a pinch to a teaspoonful is fine, and they only take a minute. Allspice, chilli powder, garum masala…what the hell, try it and see.
- Want to add herbs? They don’t like being fried, so add them with the water (see Step 4). ‘Mixes’ are easiest – Italian Herbs, Greek Herbs, etc. Or take a chance…
- Now throw in your chopped veg of choice (just about any veg will do) and/or meat, and add enough water to cover everything.
- Optional – chuck in a can of lentils (water drained off first) or other pulses/beans. Note, pulses will absorb quite a lot of water so keep checking to make sure the whole thing doesn’t run dry.
- Add stock (cube, powder, whatever) in your favourite flavour. If you’ve got it, add a spoonful of tomato paste – that always makes things taste nicer.
- Simmer on the stove until (a) your veg is just cooked and (b) you have hardly any water left. You don’t want a watery pie. If there’s too much water left, turn up the heat high and boil some off. Last resort, drain it off into another dish.
- Put your thawed sheet of pastry in an oven-proof dish (anything that’s deep enough to hold your filling and won’t melt or explode when it’s hot)
- Put the filling in on top of the pastry.
- Put another pastry sheet on top.
- Prick holes in it with a fork for the steam to get out.
- Put the whole thing in the oven at 180/360 degrees. Should take between 30 and 50 minutes.