I hate cooking. As I've ranted about in other articles, I'm a number-phobe, so all of this measuring, weighing and grams/milligrams/ounces business makes me want to survive on a diet solely consisting of Fab ice-lollies for the rest of my life.
I guess my lack of love when it comes to cooking could also be blamed on a combination of me being a fussy eater, vegetarian, and anorexic.
As of April 2021, I don't even eat fish anymore, either - not after watching Seaspiracy. Oh God don't even get me started... The only time I've ever cried more in-front of a TV was when the pigeons in the John Lewis Christmas advert gave the hedgehog a snapback so that he could be part of their little winged gang... Jesus Christ, I'm gone! 😭
ANYWAY, since becoming a homeowner last year, I made it my mission to cook at least one new meal from scratch every week. It was time to become an adult (at the age of 26...) and at least make an attempt to vary my diet from Jelly Tots and Marmite-smothered pasta.
My well-intended vigour didn't exactly start with a bang; there was the infamous honey-coated noodle incident (which my husband still weeps about), and lest we forget the formidable 'walnut surprise' dish... (Spoiler: the 'surprise' was that the whole dish was utterly inedible. My husband's stomach lining still isn't what it once was.)
My lack of cooking competence is somewhat legendary. If my husband ever calls in sick at work, his boss asks if 'Cara has been in the kitchen again?'
When I got married, I told all of the relatives I don't like that I was doing the catering myself to put them off coming. It worked.
Despite the fact that I'm about as educated and interested in cooking as Basil Brush, I don't think I've actually done too bad. As the lockdown months have passed by, I've had more time to rustle up some half decent grub. Every Sunday, I commandeer the kitchen and fill it with curse as I rage against a numerical nightmare in the form of a new recipe.
I usually emerge hours later - around 2am - covered in Marmite, blinking chilli flakes out of my eyes, wearing a bagel as a bracelet, but at least carrying something half decent to eat.
Below are a collection of some of my best and worst dishes from the last six months.
Vegetarian Lasagne –
“For God’s sake!” I exclaimed, peering into the oven. “Why aren’t the lasagne sheets doing anything?! They’ve been in there for 20 minutes and they’re still rock hard!”
“Babe... Where’s the cheese sauce?” My husband asked, joining me at the oven door.
“What cheese sauce?!” I snapped. “I told you about 45 times that I’m NOT USING cheese sauce!”
I hate it when my husband dares to look at me blankly. He seems to forget about the fact that all of his ‘Rs’ come out as ‘Ws.’ (I once booked a trip to Russia purely to spite him.)
"Don’t look at me like that!” I hissed.
“You can’t make lasagne without cheese sauce – that’s why the pasta sheets aren’t cooking.”
I sniffed defiantly. “Well I’m not using it. We’ll just have to eat raw pasta. Actually, when I was younger, I regularly snacked on raw pasta shells."
“Explains a lot,” my husband muttered, taking a Pot Noodle out of the cupboard. “Enjoy your lasagne.”
... Okay, so I don’t think my oddly adapted recipe will ever make the menu at The Ritz, but I quite enjoyed breaking off pieces of hard lasange sheet and using them as some sort of tortilla to scoop up the filling.
The most genius element of the whole shebang? The name of my signature dish, of course! Being meat free and therefore bang on trend, I very wittily dubbed my creation Lasag-NAH.
(*Inserts TM sign here, before Linda McCartney or veggie gods Higgidy claim my invention...*)
Israeli Style Stuffed Pitas –
(Recipe inspired by the Co-Op Food: https://www.coop.co.uk/recipes/israeli-inspired-stuffed-pitta)
Drink it in – drink it alllll in – because will you just look at that 10/10 presentation?!
Literally as soon as I constructed this little concoction, I was genuinely debating setting up a Twitter account purely to tell Gordon Ramsey to retire.
Even served these bad boys on a wooden chopping board to add a bit of quirk, didn’t I?
This meal was a picky vegetarian's absolute dream. Boiled egg, slices of grilled aubergine, spiced chickpeas, tomato and red onion salsa, parsley, hummus and a dash of lemon juice, all crammed inside warm pittas = PAR-TAY IN MY BELLY!
Not only does this set-up look the part, But it also a definite taste sensation! The blend of flavours is explosively exquisite, from the rich hummus and the peppery chickpeas, to the bite of the lemon and the almost creamy smoothness of the eggplant.
(Hey, I'm allowed to be proud - the closest I have ever come to noteworthy food presentation was when I found a strawberry that looked as though it had ears.)
Spicy Corn & Chickpea Burgers –
Hahaha - they look dead appetising these, don't they?! NAWWWWT.
Making these repulsive-looking beasts was quite possibly the most stressful thing I've had to endure since I attempting to make the hamster a mini replica of a particularly funky Vivien Westwood dress (don't ask).
I'm still finding random flour-coated chickpeas in various crevices of my kitchen almost six weeks later.
To be perfectly honest with you, I don't actually know what that thing on the left is. It looks like something they'd serve up on I'm A Celebrity; a ghastly, detached body part of an indistinguishable animal.
This recipe was fiddly, frustrating, and my God, these 'burgers' absolutely GUZZLED olive oil. My skin was practically tinged luminous yellow for days.
I thought it was optimistic to a trust a recipe that claimed to be able to magic consumable burgers out of chickpeas, sweetcorn, flour and chili flakes alone.
I'm sure there's a technique to making these taste like something other than 'stomach cramp in a bun,' but I will not be the one to master this talent, I'm afraid.
Summer Saccotash With Poached Eggs -
(Recipe taken from the Co-Op Food:
Okay, so my poached eggs look a little like breasts, but apart from that, I'd deem this dish a success!
To be honest, it would have been a grave concern had I managed to fail on this one - it was staggeringly easy!
I couldn't find broad beans at Aldi, so I used butter beans instead, and I'm very much a part of the infamous 'We Hate Coriander' tribe, so I omitted that hellish green demon for fresh parsley, but other than that, this recipe was simple to follow.
Unexpectedly flavoursome, this is the perfect light meal to enjoy on a summer's evening, or even as an accompanying dish at a BBQ. (Although saying that, no BBQ I have ever attened, EVER, has served up anything remotely as fancy as this. 'Saccotash' my backside - PASS ME THE DORIOTS!!)
Kidney Bean Burgers -
(Recipe taken from Asda: https://www.asda.com/good-living/recipe/kidney-bean-burgers )
I didn't bother with the home-made guac element of this recipe because, well, I'm not made of time, and avocados freak me out. I don't have anything against them as such, I just find the whole concept of them slightly mindboggling. They're up there with Sphynx cats and Elderberries in things that leave me feeling slightly uneasy. I can actually trace each phobia back to a pivotal moment in my life, and I'm sure you're dying for me to share my strange little anecdotes, aren't you....?!
1) Sphynx Cats: I watched a video about a terrifying Sphynx cat called the Dark Lord, who took pleasure in balancing on top of doorframes and slapping his owner across the face with his huge, hairless paws. As regal and mighty as he clearly is, the way he sat slumped in on himself with his bare belly protruding just didn't sit right with me.
2) Elderberries: On my 8th birthday, my Grandma found some wild elderberries while out on a walk and encouraged me to try them. I snaffled about 85 branches of the stuff, attributable to the fact that I was greedy and hours away from my caterpillar cake (I'm not naming names - I CBA getting involved with this whole riot - but for the record, I'm team Aldi). Later that afternoon, my Mum and Grandma were preparing my birthday tea, while I lay on the sofa watching 102 Dalmatians, feeling slightly queasy. My Grandad sat opposite in the armchair, reading his paper. Suddenly - out of nowhere - I burped loudly, before projectile vomitting elderberry residue all over the living room. I'll never forget the look of utter horror on my Grandad's face, as he pelted from the room, loudly summoning my Mum and Grandma.
"BARBARA! MOIRA! SHE'S BEEN SICK! SHE'S BEEN SICK!"
The curse of the elderberries resulted in me being too ill to enjoy my caterpillar, and since then, I've found it really hard to trust or let anybody close.
3) Avocado: Just before lockdown last year, I went out for afternoon tea with the girls. I was the only one to order the vegetarian option, and so my portion henceforth arrived absolutely dripping in avocado. All three variants of my sandwich selection included avocado: cucumber and avocado, egg and avocado, and just plain avocado. There was even an avocado spread for my scone. I thought I'd finally managed to escape the emerald nightmare when I hit the cake layer, only to discover that a smear of avocado juice had splashed up the side of my chocolate brownie. That was almost 18 months ago, and I still firmly believe that 99% of my blood stream is made up of guacamole. No wonder every blood test I've had since has been mysteriously inaccurate.
... If you genuinely came here to immerse yourself in some new veggie eats, I do deeply apologise for the pure mess of failed recipes, unflattering food pics, and utter word vomit.
But yeah, these burgers was a LOT easier to whisk up than their wretched chickpea & sweetcorn cousins. They held a lot better too.
The most challenging aspect of this recipe was finding the time to grate six carrots.
Mediterranean Pasta Salad -
(Recipe taken from Ada: https://www.asda.com/good-living/recipe/italian-penne-salad )
Now this was INSANELY good! You can't go wrong with pasta really though, can you?
When we first went into lockdown in 2020, the country was gripped by loo roll and pasta mania. I was forced to break through the dust in the bottom cupboard and crack open my promiscuously shaped carbs that I'd brought back from Venice for my Mum as a stab at 'banter.'
I was literally eating suggestively shaped pasta in Dolmio sauce, because I couldn't find penne for love nor money.
I felt like Cathy in Wuthering Heights, aimlessly blithering around the empty aisles at Sainsbury's, hair wild, skin pale, rickets pending.
"PASTAAA, IT'S ME YOUR CAZZAAA, COME HO-ME!"
From those fateful, empty days, I've learned to treasure the humble pasta spiral. It's true; you never know what you've got till its gone. And indeed, how better to honour these little stodgy pieces of heaven than by soaking them in balsamic dressing, tossing them with parsley, baby spinach, fresh beans and sundried tomatoes, and topping with croutons?
This dish was a dream!
Next month, I'll be following this article up with a baking edition. I've just informed my husband, and he's now locked himself in the bathroom. I can hear crying.
Cara Jasmine Bradley