There are dinners that are a gamble.
The risk is not whether they’ll work – most food is salvageable to a degree (when in doubt, chop it small and toss it through a frittata).
It’s more about how the meal will play for an audience.
It’s important to know what people hate. I keep a spreadsheet for it. You think I lie- but I never joke about spreadsheets.
It reminds me of no kiwi or miso for one of my brideslaves. No unsustainable meat for another. There’s another pal who can’t palette pine nuts. For another it’s custard. There’s the no egg brigade, no fruit crusaders and my dad’s simple frustration with cous cous. He just doesn’t see the point of it.
Some of these preferences I’ve learned the hard way. It’s not like people present this information to you along with their names when you meet (though granted, that would be easier).
If you cook a lot for people you learn to recognise the clues; bits of food scraped into a huddle in the corner of a plate. Swilling mouthfuls down with water or wine. Or then there can be a more subtle, out of character reluctance to ask for more.
This is what happened last week.
I had some cabbage to use up. So dinner became fillets of seabass on a slaw of cabbage, mint and coriander, bound with a dressing of avocado, lime and yogurt. There was a salsa of apple and red onion for crunch. I liked the way the bitter cabbage bounced off the fructose in the apple. I thought it drew out the sweetness of the fish. Yet, to my surprise, The Hungry One wasn’t so hungry.
It wasn’t that he hated it (that kind of vehemence he reserves for Vegemite). It was just that raw cabbage doesn’t float his boat. We live, we learn.
It’s not a dish that’s going into high rotation.
It’s made me think I need a new column on the spreadsheet. Next to loves and hates will be the final frontier; ‘demonstrates mild displeasure with in this state’.
It also meant that the next night I played safely among the ingredients that live in the other column; things he loves.
Things like these.
It was a dinner of boy-pleasing flavours, made healthier than it could be.
There was his beloved pork-but instead of a fatty chop there’s a lean tenderloin. It got some colour in the pan and then cooked in the oven until it’s as pink as a slapped thigh and meltingly soft.
There’s a puree for squish- it could have been sweet potato. It could have been pumpkin. But instead it was a compote of cooking apples and red onion.
No harsh and bitter leaves here- it’s sweetness and light all the way.
And then there was the stuff he really likes.
I’m talking about a crumble of roasted nuts with garlic and chorizo chunks.
The nuts add grit and there’s a little bit of garlic for grunt. The chorizo adds heat and spice. It’s like a very sexy pangrattato, minus the carbs. I scattered it over some green beans to give them a bit of punch. But now I realise I shouldn’t just stop there.
It would be grand over a white bean puree with charred chicken. It would be great with grilled white fish and baked potatoes smeared with creme fraiche.
It’s my new secret weapon in the kitchen. And the great thing is, it freezes well.
Which means it’s always going to be on hand to tweak things more to his liking. So maybe I shouldn’t give up on the cabbage just yet.
Chorizo nut crumble
Makes enough for green beans for 4-6. Or to have some on hand whenever you need it.
1 small food processor. 1 knife. 1 sheet of paper towel. 1 frypan.
30 grams of chorizo, cut up as small as possible
50 grams of a combination of hazelnuts, walnuts and almonds
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and haphazardly sliced
Here’s how we roll
1. Take the small chunks of chorizo, nuts and peeled and sliced garlic and put into a small food processor.
2. Whizz it until it’s rubble that’s a little smaller than a pea, but bigger than breadcrumbs.
3. Dry toast it in a fry pan until the chorizo is cooked through and the nuts are toasted. NB, if you are cooking greens you can cook them in the same pan as the crumble. They’ll take on some of the oil of the chorizo which will taste lovely.
4. Empty out the crumble onto a piece of paper towel to soak up some of the oil (this is optional- it will make it lower fat- but will also take out some of the flavour). Use, or freeze until you next need it.
(NB, additions for your column on the master spreadsheet gladly received below)