The plan was to have a quiet night in with friends, having undertaken a little gentle prep during the day. On the menu was a velvety smooth cauliflower soup with deep fried spiced cauliflower and onion bhaji type bites, then tuna, scallops and prawns pan-Asian style cooked on the Tepanyaki with a sharp and tangy green mango and papaya salad, closely followed by lemon curd ice cream with bitter orange sauce and little choccy morsels on the side.
The day went well. Monty helped me make cakes. Gerry came for a cup of tea. And cakes. I was a little late returning Monty home and although I had intended to at least start the soup (I’d already coated the fish with some sesame oil, crushed ginger, lemon grass and garlic in the morning and put in a covered bowl) but had failed, the lure of the sofa and a good natter got the better of me in the afternoon. So, back home, with John and Het due in an hour. On with the soup. First find the cauliflower.
I know I purchased it on Thursday with a load of other stuff. But could I find it? Not in fridge, not in utility room, not rolling round in the boot of the car, nor the footwell. Not in with the spuds. Not in a shopping bag. Couldn’t find it anywhere. It was a bit like when I lost the child benefit book – eventually found it in the cheese box in the fridge – or when I lost the rent which I had put in an envelope and inadvertently thrown into a wastebin attached to a lamp post. I knew it was somewhere, but where?
I had already softened chopped onion and garlic and added roasted ground cumin and a little turmeric. But no cauliflower to be found. Whizz over the road to my lovely neighbour Jasmine who never fails to deliver when I am in a muddle. Jasmine, do you have a cauliflower? Yes dear, but only frozen. I don’t mind, that will do. Here you are. Frozen rectangle of cauliflower handed over I fly back up the drive, release it from its plastic wrap and hurl into the saucepan without looking at it really. Slam on the lid to let the steam do it’s business, whilst I crank up the food processor with the coarse grater, and shred some potatoes and onions instead of carefully picking little florets off the cauliflower. It will have to be crispy potato and onion bhaji’s instead.
Frantically dry roasting cumin, coriander, black peppercorns a few chilli flakes and some black cardamom in a shallow pan with one hand, I blindly stir the cauliflower in the saucepan: health warning – never put your head over the pan whilst dry roasting spices. Yes, frozen cauliflower is breaking down nicely in the pan. Boil the kettle. Mix grated potato and onion for the bhaji’s, add two large tablespoons of gram (chick pea) flour into which I have mixed ground cumin, coriander, chilli, turmeric, salt.
Now, to inspect the cauliflower. I peer down into the depths of the steamy saucepan to encounter mashed potato. Freezer warning: always label what you put in the freezer. It looked knobbly. It was white. In its frozen state it looked like cauliflower. But it was mashed potato.
Hell’s teeth. My plan for velvety smooth cauliflower soup gone completely to pot, I chop parsnip into small pieces, add to the potato then add stock and bring to a furious boil. I wonder if I can pass this soup off as cauliflower? No, don’t be ridiculous. It’s potato and parsnip. Curried. Hey ho!
At this point John and Het arrive, the kitchen is in turmoil. Every cupboard door open, the fridge peeping to itself because the door is ajar, a trail of gram flour across the floor, every bowl and pan in use. Wrappers scattered across the work surface. Spoons hurled into the sink. At this point I gave up being on the wagon and downed my first Bloody Mary and we all laughed a lot. Then Will rang (it was his 35th birthday, but I was a bit distracted). Then David came in, took one look at the kitchen and looked at me, quizzically. Problem?
But from there-on-in it got better. The Bloody Mary’s helped. It was another moment when the queen of the kitchen lost it, found it, lost it again then regained equilibrium ably assisted by a well refined sense of the ridiculous.
And so, later in the evening, all was calm. The table laid, the house warm, the wine bottle open – we consumed a delicious spiced potato and parsnip soup, with crunchy spiced bhaji’s, followed by the fish which was flashed onto the Tepankaki with a little sesame oil, served with the mango and papaya salad spiked with crushed roasted peanuts, chilli, lime, fresh coriander and fish sauce along with steamed Pak Choi with a little soy and honey dressing. Pudding was the doctored lemon parfait (Nigel Slater) – frozen a week ago (that was lucky!) served with bitter orange sauce (actually the strained liquid from the three fruit marmalade that looked as if it wasn’t going to set, so I removed some of the liquid and put it in jars in the fridge) and tiny bite-sized Florentines (Waitrose). A triumph!
In the middle of the night I awoke with a start. Nudged David, and declared ‘ I know where that cauliflower is’. Grunt, groan, sigh from beside me. ‘Where is the cauliflower my sweet’. ‘It’s in the green recycling bin of course’. ‘Of course it is dear’. I WAS going to put the cauliflower in the utility room and I put it in a box that I was going to put in the recycling. But between the kitchen door and the lobby door I (typically) got distracted and simply hurled the whole lot in the green bin.
So the following morning if you were up early enough, you could have found me outside in the drive, looking my best in slippers and dressing gown, emptying the green bin. Eureka! There was the cauliflower.