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Edible Science

I love to eat. No question. But I love to cook, more. Eating is just the final outcome - and the final test of success.

I don't mean the kind of cooking that follows a prescribed recipe. That's useful when you need to produce a reliably tasty meal. But it's not exciting - you already know what you're going to end up with before you've even begun. It leaves nothing to the imagination, taste-buds, or available ingredients of the individual cook. No; my favourite kind of cooking looks a bit more like a messy science experiment: starting with raiding the fridge and store cupboard for inspiration from the ingredients I have to hand, and finishing with trying to concoct a suitable recipe that won't poison anyone. An edible science experiment.

Maybe I'm easily pleased, but I find the results are often surprisingly good - a testament to the magical alchemy that occurs when you mix certain foods together (made all the better by not having to follow instructions or head off to the shops to buy a long list of ingredients).

Of course, it helps to work to a few basic guidelines. Some limits to work within. Like Nigella's invaluable advice for making meringues, "for every egg white, add 60g of caster sugar". This simple formula allows one to scale up the fluffy mix to an infinite quantity, whether you're making bite-sized meringue 'kisses', traditional Eton Mess or a Baked Alaska-style dessert. Embellishments such as flavouring, colour or decoration can be as wild as your imagination.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's principle for making pesto with any combination of nuts/cheese/herbs is similarly adaptable:

"Pine nuts are traditional, but you can use any nuts as long as you grind them finely. You can even use ground almonds, which work really well. Alternatively, you can leave out the nuts altogether and make the pesto with lightly toasted breadcrumbs instead - in which case, it might need a little more oil. You can vary the herbs as well - parsley is particularly good."

I love adding cashews to my pesto, and wild garlic leaves when they're in season. Feta cheese also makes an excellent replacement to parmesan, especially when teamed with walnuts.

So I was delighted to be given Anna Jones' cookbook, A Modern Way To Eat, where she frequently liberates her readers by passing on the principles behind her recipes (which are, by the way, always stupendous. And though sometimes lengthy, they are always worth the effort for the guaranteed plate of deliciousness). Finding a stray tin of chickpeas lurking on my kitchen shelves yesterday, I had the idea that I could transform it into some form of humous. And thanks to Anna's foolproof formula of pulse/citrus/seasoning ratio, I did. Okay, so my humous had zero tahini in (a traditional ingredient in most humous recipes), but the ground almonds worked a treat, blended with chickpeas, ground cumin, garlic, olive oil, grated lemon zest and lemon juice. The resulting dip was certainly tasty enough to serve at any dinner party, alongside crudités or sliced flatbreads.

...the only problem with these ad hoc food experiments is remembering the quantities and ingredients one used so you can repeat any real success stories!

Last updated 11:17 on 1 March 2018

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