Goo

I know a secret or two about goo. It won’t mind if I tell you.

Last post I said I was planning on a potato salad, Asian-style, which would include at least miso and soy. Well that came to fruition sooner than I had imagined, basically because on Sunday I was once again in the vicinity of the basement market and once again I bought a little rustling bag of potatoes.

I’d been thinking of pairing the spuds with some kind of thick-stemmed Chinese leafy green, carrots and spring onions. What I found on an adjacent stall to the potatoes was the bonus of some purple-sprouting broccoli – a rare thing here, especially given the season – so into another bag that went. The other ingredients followed.

Once home same process of par-boiling the spuds, with mint (just for the smell of it), and then dividing them up. This time I quartered them into smaller sizes because I felt the flavours I had in mind would lend themselves better to a lighter forkful.

Said flavours being a marinade of olive oil, sesame seeds, miso paste and dark soy sauce, all whipped up together into a kind of liquidy pulp and then smothered over the steaming potatoes. Into the oven on about 200 although I probably tinkered with the temperature a couple of times and left to cook until crispy, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile in a lidded flat-bottomed pan I had the carrots – four smallish ones – and broccoli (a fistful) cut into rough strips with about half a glass of water. Brought that to the boil the covered it and left it to kind of steam/boil on a lowish heat until tender. Removed the veg and chopped up into chunks commensurate with the potato sizes. Finely chopped the spring onions, I used three or four.

Now, the goo. I hadn’t anticipated the miso-based marinade to form such a mouthwatering smear of crispy but chewy goo. Sure, I burnt it a little, as the picture demonstrates, but there was a delicious sweet saltiness to it, something almost indescribable, something….umami.

Bundled all together in a bowl with a dressing of oil, teaspoon of soy, good squeeze of orange and generous grating of ginger. Surprisingly hefty for a salad, and not really a summer dish, but I’ll be making those potatoes again.

Pass it on

I’ve developed a penchant for potato salads. Warm ones. The kind where the freshly-cooked spuds, still steaming from the pan or crisp from the oven, are immediately mingled with a selection of other ingredients, tossed with a dressing, then devoured.

The principal reason for this relatively sudden tuber-titillation is I’ve at last discovered a good source of them. Every Sunday in the basement of one of the large shopping centres near my workplace a market is held selling all variety of organic produce, from soaps to shoes. In one corner there’s a little – but bountiful – farmer’s market and one stall in particular always has a good tub of spuds. They’re the waxy variety and as such perfect for jumbling into a salad.

Back home, laden with brown paper bags (aside from the environmental benefits, the crinkle of these carriers is aesthetically superior to the slippery shuffle of plastic), I begin preparing the potatoes. Scrubbed and washed I then cut each along the diagonal, quartering those of slightly bigger size so all the pieces are of similar proportions.

Into a pan of cold salted water they go, with a sprig of mint, and brought up to the boil. The smell of mint and boiling spuds is evocative of summer days in Somerset and I think I add the herb for that reason alone. I either par-boil or fully cook the potatoes, depending what I’m going to do with them afterwards.

The first salad I made was a combination of the freshly-boiled potatoes, delicious peppery rocket and a kind of camembert (both these bought from the same market), all tossed together with quite a robust dressing of olive oil, salt and cider vinegar. The cheese melted superbly and the rocket had a snap to it that only the freshest variety has. Didn’t neeed anything else apart from a glass of white wine to wash it down.

After that I began to experiment more, with dressings – I’ve used combinations of all or some of: lemon juice, grain mustard, different flavoured vinegars and oils,  capers, olives, different herbs, sun-dried tomatoes. I’m planning an Asian twist soon, using miso and soy, among other flavours.

For my most recent confection I par-boiled the spuds, drained them, then returned them to the pan with a lid on. Here I shook them around, to rough up the edges. I was going to put them in the oven and I wanted that kind of crispiness this sort of treatment gives. While the potatoes were roasting in oil I made a basic pesto of basil, pine nuts, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and grated parmesan, all the ingredients whizzed up until I got a smooth paste.

When the potatoes were verging on being ready I added some small tomatoes, halved, to the oven. I have a thing about crisp potatoes and softening tomatoes cooking together. At the end I sprinkled over some dukkah – a spice and nut mix used in Egyptian cookery – just to lift the whole thing. I’d had a jar in my cupboard for a while and was looking for a good opportunity to use it; this was it.

Spuds and tomatoes on the plate, rinsed baby spinach ripped over  pesto drizzled on with a little more oil just to loosen things up. Once again, nothing more needed except a glass of chilled white wine.

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I Am The Hero

Leaving tomorrow for ten days so a quick inventory of my fridge’s contents: a potato; some old celery; herbs – dried bay, thyme, rosemary; palmful of button mushrooms; half a large onion; a third of a stale-ish baguette; one egg; block of cheddar cheese.

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Nothing much to do with the egg unless I make a large potato cake and have a fried egg on top. There’s the issue then of keeping it for when I return. It seems to me that it won’t freeze well and, anyway, I don’t much fancy a big potato tablet today. The egg can wait.

It’ll be another soup then and, to this end, I have augmented my solid if unspectacular set of fridge-bottom staples with a leek from the greengrocer’s around the corner and a large clove of garlic from beside the stove. My one reservation in making soup is the lack of any handy stock. One of the reasons why my previous effort was so successful was the chicken broth used; I had the foresight to use the bones of a roast I had made for that purpose. I have learned how to make a scratch chicken stock, and I’ll include the features of that in a future post, but for now it will be a reliance on the flavours I already have, some careful seasoning and judicious use of a stock cube.

All this weighing up of what I have to hand, working out what it can be used for, puts me in mind of one thing, and then another.

At the beginning of many fantasy role-play gamebook series, most notably Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson’s Fighting Fantasy line and the Lone Wolf sequence, the protagonist, the YOU, is given a run-down of what possessions he/she already has and what others, within certain and changing limitations, might be added at the outset of any particular quest as suitable supplements determined by their potential usefulness.

Typically, at least in the early Fighting Fantasy books, it was along the lines of ‘leather armour, sword and backpack’, plus provisions, and the adventurer got to choose one of three potions for boosting either of the Luck, Skill or Stamina values which made up YOUR profile. As the series grew, and different authors involved, so elements such as spells and other special features were included, depending on the type of adventure about to take place and the hero profile required. Early example of adventure sheet below, something of a blank canvas:

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Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf was different in that the protagonist was always the same character, the titular hero no less, and so a progression through the books, which followed a linear narrative of sorts, meant a gradual acquisition (and therefore casting off) of various pieces of equipment, items, disciplines and skills. The books differed also in the sense they specified where the various pieces of equipment and items could be carried: in the hand, in the belt-pouch, in the backpack, and so on.

Cooking is a kind of journey, as is this blog, and it’s natural before embarking on any meal preparation to take stock of firstly, what one has, and, then, what one needs. Sometimes I wear an apron, and I carry a wooden spoon in one hand, knife to chop and slice in the other. Like today I size up what is available and make a dish on that basis, adding as appropriate.

This moreover is a new adventure, a new quest. In the recent past I might have been tempted to look contemptuously at the contents of my fridge and decide there was nothing worth using, or nothing I could be bothered to use. I may well have gone shopping, purchasing sundry other ingredients – the point is, this conglomeration of objects is what I have, so I should make the best of them. Just as I possess various skills and disciplines of my own that, in the past, I have not fully appreciated or utilised. In the gamebooks you learn to use what you have wisely, whether it be in your hand, in your belt-pouch, or even in your head; such care and respect does not necessarily mean a positive outcome, because some things are out of your control – the dice rolls against you, for instance – but, by arming yourself in the best way possible, by recognising what you have, you are at least better able to deal with things.

In the past few years interest in the Lone Wolf and Fighting Fantasy series, to name but two, has been resurgent, leading to reprints, greater discussion (especially online), electronic versions of the books for iOS and android, and much more. Joe Dever allowed almost the entire back catalogue of Lone Wolf to be republished online, here, to create a ‘lasting legacy.’ For Fighting Fantasy there have been various print runs, containing some, but not all, of the original set. The most recent seems to be dumbing down slightly, especially in terms of the artwork (an index of the original artists can be found here), and in if you have a mind it is worth scouring charity bookshops across the UK for the original series, some editions of which fetch a pretty penny.

Failing that there are now quite a few blogs dedicated to playthroughs of one or both series, of which the most readable and dedicated can be found here, here and here.

But I was making soup. To maximise flavour I make sure to give each ingredient enough cooking time before adding anything else. So I cook the potatoes, seasoned, gently in olive oil to brown slightly, then every other component in turn: the leeks and celery, washed and rinsed; onion and mushrooms, coarsely chopped; rosemary and thyme, finely: bay leaves, cast in. Water to cover with half a chicken stock cube crumbled in. I simmer until the potatoes have more or less dissolved then blend, before cooking down potentially to thicken more.

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As in many of my attempts at the role-play adventures, I make a mistake, in this case forgetting to remove the bay before blending. This error has not led to instant death, I am pleased to say, and the results would have been worse had the herb been of the fresh variety, yet I am concerned the soup will be overpowered by its taste nonetheless.

The result is a light green and grey, gently bay-flavoured mellow soup which, jazzed up by some quickly-fried croutons and a grating of cheddar makes a more than satisfactory meal. The absence of proper stock is evident, as the overall savour is mild rather than robust. What I started with appeared a meagre selection yet, with some dedication and care, I was able to transform the ingredients into a tasty and hearty soup. Lunch made and a lesson learned (and barely a flicker of meat). Also, the day drab, an atmosphere more befitting to the making.

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