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Pretty ugly cooking?

One of my favourite things about cooking is the sheer beauty of it all.  I think the creases and folds of a dried apricot, the shifting crumbs of brown sugar, the faultless tautness of a fresh olive, and the caramelised blistering of roasted capsicums are incredibly beautiful and promising.  I don’t know if everyone feels this way — after all, when you flick open the pages of an interior design magazine, a table is more likely to have a bowl of limes or green apples on the top than a bag of sultanas or a glass of milk — so I haven’t been showing off some of the pictures I have.  (Plus, I’m a pretty dodgy-at-best photographer.)  Is there ugly cooking? Probably. Is this it? I don’t think so.  I am inclined to compare the photos I take of my cooking with the photos I see in the Glossy Lift-outs in the papers, which are of course professionally angled and lit and manipulated beyond belief.  So I feel as though my pics are not as beautiful to other people, but enchanting to me.  I am embarrassed to tell you how many photos I took last time I had avocado on toast for dinner (honestly, it was so lovely: the toast crumbs on the table, and the crystals of sea salt nestling in the waves of green) or how close I’ve come to posting a whole series of photos of porridge.  I have stayed my hand because I don’t think either of them made particularly good blog fodder (toast! porridge! It’s all breakfast, all the time here, folks), but as the year progresses I may yet get desperate.

But while I was clearing my photos from Tasmania off the camera, I found a few snaps of things I had meant to blog about but never really got around to.  These were recipes I completely owned: I took existing staple recipes and made them my own by using my noodle.  They are delicious, beautiful (although not in a conventional way), and tailoring them to my own tastes gives them a force and character they previously lacked.

First up, oat cookies!

Despite looking like nothing so much as a bowl of horse feed, these were startlingly, astonishingly good. So good that their production cancelled dinner because I had to sit down and eat as many as I could fit in my mouth between moans.  I took a very simple oatmeal cookie recipe (any one will do, honestly, there’s not a lot of variance in the basic prototype) and then added finely chopped dates, glacé ginger, pecans and chocolate.  Oh my lord.  Why didn’t someone tell me how good this would be? Look closer:

Can’t you see the wholesomeness shining through? The oats, the cinnamon, the nuts and dates and ginger; all cherished and elevated by the chocolate and brown sugar? Maybe I shouldn’t post when I’m hungry.  I didn’t photograph the finished product, because I was too busy stuffing my word-hole with them and didn’t want to pick up the camera. Moving on!

Roast capsicum relish!

Inspired by some fantastic relish we had while in Tasmania, I leaped upon the urge to make relish.  I’ve made it a few times in the past, but for some reason it’s never been a passion.  The recipe I’ve linked above is, frankly, not very good.  Twelve teaspoons of fresh ginger?  I’ve really got to start listening to those nagging doubts.  I started this last night, but it didn’t come out that promising, and when I tasted the cooled product this morning, I was pretty disappointed. M suggested it was to be another fridge-filler, which reminded me that I have had less-than-successful attempts at relish-making in the past.  This got me thinking, and while in the shower I had something of a brainwave.  I dashed into the kitchen in my towel and threw in a tin of tomatoes, a liberal shaking of paprika (to support the capsicum flavour) and a dried smoked chipotle chilli.  And then, er, the leftover tomato sauce from Tuesday’s pizza night.  Then put it back on to simmer (read: boil the crap out of) while I finished dressing.  While I was having breakfast, hovering over the babbling pot, I declared it Ready and turned off the heat.  A short time later, I ladled it into the above jars to cool.  Oh man, it’s good: spicy, savoury, and slightly sweet, and the taste of roast capscium has not been swamped by the tomatoes (which I worried about, albeit briefly).  It’s so good that I’m desperate to get home and eat it with a stout mature cheddar and some sourdough.  It’s so good I’m considering cancelling my lunch engagement tomorrow so that I can eat this instead.

Here you can see the goodness:

The brown, pulpy, mushy goodness!  Trust me, the inner beauty of this stuff is off the charts.

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