I’m not a great cook, but I love to eat and I know with absolute certainty that the tripe, smoked cod and lumpy, grey mashed potatoes I had the misfortune of growing up with are fit for no-one but the most hardened recidivistic prisoners.
Let’s assume that my taste buds got off to a less than inspiring start.
My ex-husband (EH) was seven years older than me and when we met he already had a number of sophisticated married friends. We would enjoy enthusiastic dinner parties from young women keen to trial their bridal Le Creuset casserole and sporks.
After several years of free loading, it was suggested we might like to return the favour. EH was happy to endorse my novice cooking skills and made a date for our first dinner party.
He lived in a cramped one bedroom flat with a Spartan kitchen. The upright stove was more frequently used for storage than cooking and with the exception of a vegetable peeler and spatula, there was little else to suggest a functional kitchen.
So I raided my stepmothers cook books, quietly wondering if they were pointed gifts from people familiar with her particular style of food mutation, and set about planning three courses of fabulousness.
I found a recipe for individual salmon mousse that could be whipped up and refrigerated the day before. This proved startlingly easy and I really didn’t know what all the fuss was about.
With my newfound culinary cockiness, I settled on trout almondine with a green salad and baked potatoes for main course.
Fresh rainbow trout was not available at the supermarket back in the time of which I speak and there were no fishmongers nearby. As changing the menu simply did not occur to me, EH was forced to scour the four corners of the earth in a pescatorial treasure hunt.
Eventually he returned to the Eastern Bloc kitchen and left me to wrestle with six whole oncorhynchus mykiss.
The recipe book demonstrated how to fillet them whole. It looked straightforward enough. A smiley big haired blonde sliced open each fish with surgical precision, opened out the fillets and ran a rolling pin gently down the length of the spine. Using a fine bladed knife she then extracted the entire vertebrae with ease. Voila! Even the fish heads looked impressed.
Not having the luxury of a rolling pin I searched the flat for something to substitute for it. High up in the hall cupboard was a large Aladdin vacuum flask. Perfect.
Excited by my ingenuity I failed to notice as I wielded the large Aladdin flask that far from gently loosening the spine it was actually pulverizing it. I spent several hours picking out minute particles of crushed fish bone from each increasingly deflated looking trout.
The guests arrived and I accepted a glass of wine from EH. The era of responsible drink driving had not quite arrived so he plied our guests with as much alcohol as would deflect their attention from my cooking and cranked up the Hall and Oates.
We were quite the entertainment team.
The salmon mousse entrée with Melba toast made soggy by the non-ventilated kitchen was edible. It’s red and black football colour themed lumpfish roe garnish, however, failed to impress.
I am thankful Instagram had not been invented.
Having consumed several glasses of fortifying wine at this point I had to be reminded to deal with the fish.
I set about pan-frying each mutilated rainbow trout as shown by the smiling big haired blonde. Turning the first fish with the spatula I watched with horror as both the head and the tail dropped off. That’s ok, I reasoned, that one can be mine. This happened to every single one of them.
Without the benefit of a microwave, I had thrown six baseball sized potatoes into the oven moments before the entrees were served.
EH wandered in, genially inquiring as to what the hold up was? I looked at him murderously over the carcasses of my trout.
I served the anatomically arranged trout with charred almond butter sauce and a potato. As the first rock hard tuber shot across the table EH was moved to retrieve the satanic cookbook and exhibit just what my culinary impetus had been. This was thoughtful of him.
Everyone looked baffled as they were presented with their dessert. I had inexplicably vandyked cantaloupe halves and arranged slices of kiwi fruit and strawberries at the apex of each vee; a container of vanilla icecream was plonked in the middle of the table. By this time I was beyond caring.
Honestly? Just put them on your head.
I can confirm that things improved markedly from here and that subsequent dinner parties, while borrowing more from Peter-where’s-the-cheese-Russell-Clark than Julia Child, were nevertheless eminently more successful.
Of course there was the time I nearly poisoned the parish priest, but that’s another blog.
No really, you’ll have to wait.