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The story of last night's dinner

"The cold fact is no matter what new dish we turn a hand to, eventually it will come to taste and look like everything else we’ve ever made."

Meg Mason/delicious. UK

This photograph is not what I cooked for dinner last night. I did not take any pictures, but because I was really quite pleased with what I had produced I thought I would do a 'proper' blog post and write it around one of my recipes. That's generally what food bloggers do. Well not quite. Not many of them write a story around it. They might just give a few tips and explanations along the way. However, the best ones add stories.

This is not anything I make all the time, it's just something I cooked last night with what I had to hand, although I have made similar things in the past. So this morning I looked for pictures that would approximate what I had produced and this is perhaps the nearest. Otherwise use your imagination as we did all those years ago when cookbooks had no pictures.

However, there are a number of rambling asides about this particular recipe, that may possibly turn it into a kind of story. I'm going to try anyway.

It began a day or so ago, when I spied a 'reduced for quick sale' pack of two pork loin medallions for a mere $5.00. I might go on about David's bargain hunting fixations, but I'm a bit of a sucker for bargains myself. So I bought it. This would be dinner well below $5.00 per person - how satisfying - and it proves that you can still find reasonably priced meat in the supermarket.

I decided I would make it with an onion kind of sauce, accompanied by a potato gratin and some asparagus - I had a bunch in the fridge. But I had no onions, so the day before yesterday I went into the shops to buy some onions.

Alas yesterday was a really worrying brain fog day for me, and this was one instance of it, for although I went into the supermarket with the specific intention of buying onions - that was all I wanted to buy - I exited the supermarket and got all the way home, with half a dozen other items - including a really guilty pleasure item of soft white floury rolls - but no onions. The day was filled with such dreadful lapses of memory, all of which I cannot remember. I do remember the first one though - taking the wrong pill in the morning. I should have seen it as a sign. So I had to shop again yesterday for the onions. I took David with me to make sure I didn't forget them this time.

Anyway, let's skip to yesterday. I had the idea of marinading the chops in wine, oil, garlic, mustard and sage and then cooking with onions. So first of all I decided to look through the old masters' recipe books for such a dish - Elizabeth David et al. I was in the mood for rediscovering actual recipes from the distant past. However, I did not find what I was looking for. Almost but not quite. There was Dijonnais - with mustard - but mushrooms not onions and capers too, there was Flamande - but that involved apples and cider, or Vallée d'Auge but this also involved cider.

So I decided to go with my gut and just make it up. This is what I did (for two). Apologies about not specifying quantities but if you by any chance decide to make this, then I'm sure you will adjust to suit yourself.

(1) Marinade the medallions in a mixture of some olive oil, rosé wine (it was what was in the fridge), two large garlic cloves, crushed, a large teaspoon of whole grain mustard, some chopped sage and black pepper.

I did this in the morning and turned the medallions over halfway through the day. On reflection I think I should not have included oil in the marinade as it made the final dish a bit - well oily.

(2) Slice a medium to large sized onion (they're all large at the moment) thinly and soften in a little olive oil. Remove from the pan.

(3) Brown the medallions in the remaining oil. When brown return the onions to the pan.

(4) Pour over the marinade and add some cream. Add a bit more sage. Mix it all around.

(5) Turn the heat down, put the lid on the pan and cook for about half an hour, turning the medallions halfway through. Keep an eye on it to see the sauce either doesn't all disappear - in which case I guess add some more liquid - wine, cream, water - whatever. I did not have this problem because cooking with the lid on produced more liquid.

(6) If you have too much liquid take the lid off and cook at a higher temperature until the sauce is the consistency you want.

And that's it. This is another picture I found that approximates the finished dish, although my sauce was a bit paler and it was flecked with sage here and there.

Potential variations? Add some mushrooms. Different wine - or try beer or cider. Sour cream, crème fraïche, no cream, more wine. A different herb. Add capers or cornichons; lemon juice or zest; orange come to that; apples ... Different mustard or no mustard. The options are pretty endless really.

As I said I served it with a potato gratin with a similar sauce - well there was sage, garlic and a mixture of cream and milk - with grated cheese on top.

And asparagus - cooked à la Madhur Jaffrey. Turn in a spoonful of olive oil in a frying pan. Add a splash of water, put on a lid and cook for about 7 minutes until the end of the asparagus is easily pierced with a skewer, shaking the pan every now and then. Easy and perfect.

So what was the verdict. Well yes it was pretty nice. Almost too creamy but not quite. But the other thing that made me write this post was that quote at the top of the page. Because yes it tasted a lot like everything I cook. Even things that theoretically should be quite different - lasagne say. I suppose that's not quite true, but certainly it wasn't new and exciting. Just quietly delicious I suppose. Comfort food.

Does this mean that I have a style of cooking? A personal touch? No I don't think so. I think it's just years of absorbing recipes from here, there and everywhere. You learn to know what goes with what. You learn basic techniques. You accumulate a repertoire in your head of classic dishes. I mean everyone surely can cook a spaghetti bolognaise without resorting to a recipe. Well everyone except those who have never cooked anything - but even they might be able to have a go because of seeing others do it. No, if you want excitement and novelty turn to a cookbook.

"cook from recipes we must. It’s the only way the food you cook will stop tasting like the food you’ve always cooked. Using better quality ingredients aside, following the recipe is the only way to deliciousness." Kate Gibbs/The Guardian

She's right you know, but choose your recipe carefully.


Pan con tomate again. When I wrote that post I don't think I checked out Ottolenghi, but of course I should have because he does indeed have a take on it. Although it's relatively modest for him in terms of difference. The grated tomatoes are mixed with chilli flakes (of course), vinegar and oil, and the garlic is sliced and fried. Cherry tomatoes are griddled until charred and the slices of bread (ciabatta of course), are oiled and griddled then put on a platter, covered with the tomato purée, topped with the charred tomatoes and those fried garlic slices. Drizzle with the oil in which the garlic was cooked and sprinkle with chopped oregano. Just small Ottolenghi touches that sort of makes his food the same as always too. A style I suppose.

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