When I flew the coop, nearly 30 years ago, my culinary abilities extended to boiling eggs and making beans on toast. Finding myself in a foreign city (OK, Edinburgh) after leaving college, with no family to call on for sustenance, I had to find my own way. Initially, this meant a lot of badly-fried eggs, savoury rice from a packet (which was sometimes enhanced with a bit of chicken, and called risotto), and - when my willpower evaporated - something greasy from a chip shop.
In talking of chip shops, I feel I have to mention that great Scottish delicacy, the deep-fried pizza. Deep-fried it certainly was, but pizza... well that's debatable. Consisting, as it did, of a disk of dough covered with the barest smear of tomato paste, and sprinkled with a few herbs and possibly a bit of onion, it was nothing short of a travesty. Most of the flavour came from the frying, in both the flavour of the oil remaining in the dough and the slightly browned nature of the thing itself. I'd run a mile from one now of course, but in those days, it was a different matter. Perhaps they have improved by now, but I doubt it.
Anyway, I gradually moved on to higher levels of kitchen trickery (having finally mastered the method of frying the perfect egg), daring to cook various forms of meat, and managing to produce a meal with which I'd be quite happy even now. This was achieved largely by guesswork and trial-and-error, until some kind soul gave me a copy of Delia Smith's One is Fun. This was not, as friends later speculated, a sex manual, but excellent guidance for someone whose sole reference prior to this was the Be-Ro cookbook presented to me by Dear Mother upon my leaving home. The only thing is, I decided that I hate working from recipes; I'd much rather look in the fridge and cupboard, then make something from what's available. If I am forced to refer to a recipe, I usually end up tetchy and frustrated from going backwards and forwards between the book and the cooker, as I try diligently to follow the instructions.
In the end, it took a long time and a few "ah-ha" moments for me to become yet more adventurous. As it is, I'm more at home with tried and tested favourites, such as mince & tatties* (even if I do modify them now with the benefit of experience), but every now and then I like to try something different. If I do, there's a chance it will be slightly odd, or under-tasty, and the rest of the family might not appreciate it. Recently though, faced with a pack of mince and dinner time looming, I decided to experiment a bit.
* I discovered recently that this - boiled mince and steamed, boiled or mashed potatoes - is not a universally-recognised dish, so perhaps I'll post my recipe later.
I grew up on good old British "boil 'till required" type of thing (sorry Mum!), and about 10 different "safe" meals. These days, I'm more than happy to eat things that my dear old folks would look at with suspicion (you know... 'foreign' food). So, having decided that tonight wouldn't just feature burgers or mince, I assembled the following list of goodies:
- 500g good mince (I used beef, but take your pick)
- 1 small onion, finely grated
- 1 carrot, finely grated
- 1/2 courgette, finely grated
- 2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed/chopped
- about a dessertspoon of tomato paste
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin *
- 1 teaspoon paprika *
- 1/2 teaspoon mint (I used dried mint) *
- 1/2 teaspoon salt *
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup rice crumbs *
- 1/4 cup oat bran *
- * approximate measures - I just gave sprinkles that looked about right
After mixing everything together well in a large bowl, so that the consistency was reasonably dry, not too sloppy, I squashed some of it around skewers (it's kind of a Kofta kebab), and formed some into patties. Either way, a few minutes under the grill produced a tasty result, which I can hardly wait to make again. Not too bad for a fumbler!