January last year I went for dinner at my grandfather’s, he asked if I’d ever cooked Aubergine and gave me some tips on recipes he likes to use. In order to later tell him, ‘yes I did cook an aubergine’, after returning to university a week or so later I made my first bolognese. Of course he’d totally forgotten about the discussion by the time I next spoke to him but it lead to one of the best life decisions I think I’ve ever made. From then onwards I cooked myself a pound of mince every Monday night always with Aubergine (one of my now favourite vegetables) and whatever else I’d bought that week. Not only did it add a sense of routine to my life (Monday was cooking day, Wednesday was DocSoc day etc.) but it also triggered my interest in cooking.
When I returned home permanently back in September I wanted to retain some of the stability that this routine had given me whilst also furthering my knowledge, skills and basic understanding of cooking. So every Tuesday night I cook the family dinner.
I started off with recipes I picked up at Weight Watchers or in Waitrose and then moved on to using the Jamie Oliver 5 Ingredients cook book. After making about five meals, some successful and some not so much so, I begun to feel really frustrated. It is described as containing ‘Quick and Easy Food’ yet a lot of the recipes require very specific tools (a shallow casserole dish that goes both on the hob and in the oven) and ingredients (a shoulder of beef with the bone still attached). On top of this he doesn’t consider oil, salt or pepper as one of the five ingredients which constantly annoyed the pedantic side of me.
So last week I bought myself two new cookbooks. The first being Ella Risbridger’s Midnight Chicken: & Other Recipes Worth Living For. I haven’t et used it but it does contain beautiful illustrations and really sweet anecdotes and stories about all the food. The second is Skye McAlpine’s A Table in Venice: Recipes from my home, after searching through Amazon for about an hour, this was the only book I came across with no fewer than three star reviews. It is another stunning book, perfect for placing on a coffee table and again contains some lovely sentimentality. Of course being Venetian food a lot of the main meals are seafood based, which living in a Jewish household is a bit restrictive. On my first flick through, however, I came across a fish recipe which immediately caught my eye and I cooked it tonight along with one of the vegetable dishes from the book.
Normally I go and buy the ingredients myself, but today I sent a list to my dad. I’m very particular when it comes to measurements etc. but my parents not so much so, despite me stating exactly how much I needed of everything he bought far too little spinach and not realising it had all gone off so I threw it out last week, absolutely no garlic at all. He also had to get a different breed of fish as there wasn’t any sole in the supermarket. None of this really mattered though. What mattered was my clumsiness.
Despite cooking almost weekly for over a year now today I had my first big ‘mess’ up in the kitchen when my frying pan lost balance and half the sauce splashed out across the entire hob. This lead to some panic and I consequently forgot about the chips in the oven and the fish under the foil next to me. I ended up serving an albeit tasty but cold meal with multiple texture flaws and proportion errors. In hindsight this sounds much less of a big deal than it felt at the time, I’ve definitely learnt from the experience and will certainly be trying the recipes and similar ones again soon. For me it’s these kind of mistakes that tend to hit me quite hard and often knock my confidence.
Coming from a Jewish, Italian family cooking is an essential part of the culture I’ve grown up in. Whether it’s a traditional Friday night dinner or just a simple risotto I want to be able to deliver to my family what mine have given to me. I’m so far enjoying my journey into the world of making food and hope to continue learning and improving every week.