My recent trip to Manchester was like my many previous visits – gastronomic and involving a lot of Netflix. This time, however, my attention was brought to things I should have learned earlier in my 25 years of enjoying food:
- When it came to dinner time, my automatic reaction was to waltz into my boyfriend Calum’s kitchen and start preparing – heating the oven, slicing onions, warming cooking water. This easy confidence took an immediate nose-dive when I shook the salt pot with arrogant nonchalance over a pan of sweating onions. The lid exploded off drowning the onions in a cascade of salt. In numb shock I set about salvaging the onion, scraping away the soggy granules which were dissolving into the juices much quicker than I would have liked. After bashfully describing my disaster to an amused Calum he tried the over-salted onions – my heart pounding as if I was a Bake Off contestant – and he deemed them perfectly acceptable to incorporate into gravy. I then slipped a slither onto a spoon to try – and nearly gagged. Note to self: no one likes an arrogant salt shaker.
- When chopping sweet potatoes into wedges, I need to MAKE SURE my finger is not in the way of the knife. Before I start chopping with said knife MAKE SURE there are plasters in the vicinity. Wounds can open up in many awkward situations – in interviews, at the station, while your brushing your teeth. One of my (petty) problems with a food career is that my hands are now dotted in scars and burns, and at one point missing half a nail on my index finger but I won’t go into details.
- My obsession with baking has reached new heights. Next time I visit Calum for a weekend I am taking my own scales so I can bake something and my sweet tooth can be satisfied. Satsumas are not adequate substitutes.
- Don’t use the word ‘buff’ to describe food – or anything for that matter – ever again.
- I tried heart for the first time. These were duck hearts and my first taste of offal (other than a pathetic nibble of a kidney when I was six or seven). By working in cookery I’m learning to taste everything and, especially as meat-eaters, a lot of food goes to waste just because we can be squeamish. Many chefs consider it our duty as carnivores to consume the whole animal which has given its life for a side of its flank or rump. The duck hearts were served with frisée leaves, capers and salsa verde – the meat was robust, juicy and chewy while the acidic herb sauce danced on my palate. I wanted to scrape the plate clean. This delicious dish was concocted at Hispi in Didsbury – I also recommend the Eccles cake thanks to my weakness for anything wrapped in pastry.
- Don’t wear glasses or white clothes while peeling rhubarb.
- At the end of last year I was an avid fan of the whimsical and over the top TV drama Victoria. Tom Hughes’ face was probably a contributing factor. Sponsored by Sainsbury’s, the programme had the same ‘Little Twists’ advert before and after… every… single… break. I’ve memorised the plate of food – an alternative fry-up of eggs, halloumi, wilted spinach, mushrooms and tomatoes. Before my train journey home on Friday I perused the open fridge and discovered these ingredients. I set about designing a similar version with creamy scrambled eggs, soft white toast and roasted tomatoes. A long time tomato-griller, I was skeptical as I turned on the oven, seasoned my tomato halves and slid them inside the hot cave. Fifteen minutes later I pulled them out to discover juicy deep red tomatoes, wizened slightly at the sides, skin crisp and blistered. Cutting them open resulted in a spray of juice and a rich jammy wine flavour, sweeter by far than the grilled variety. I am a new convert to the church of roasted tomatoes.