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Three good things on a plate

"It always feels less overwhelming when you remember that you're only 1-2-3 steps away from making a memorable meal." Alice Zaslavsky

I'm not really sure where I'm going with this post because I started with one line of thought and have now found myself somewhere else.

So let's start at the beginning. This is a book that has been sitting on my desk for a while now, waiting for me to 'do' it. I bought it because of a Christmas present of a condiment with the foodie kind of name - tumami. It's a mixture of roast tomatoes and black garlic. I'm aiming to write about it some time - when I've actually tried it out.

Anyway I knew that this book was a big seller, and that this lady is a fashionably trendy cook. So I thought I would buy her book. After all she might have some recipes using tumami in it. (No she doesn't.)

It's an interesting book but more for the little bits of information and advice that litter the pages. I've started with the picture above, because it shows, how - in just a few pages - the first section basically - I have earmarked bits to include somewhere, sometime in my posts. However, to be honest, I'm not that enamoured by any of the recipes. Not because they aren't good I hasten to add, but more that they are not to my taste. Lots of salads - I'm not a big salad fan, and lots of noodles and Asian stuff. Inner city trendy stuff. And I also hasten to add that I see this as a failing in myself. Not the book. It makes me feel old and traditional. I think when I've finished with all the interesting little triggers for posts that are in there, I might pass the book to my daughter-in-law and granddaughters because I think it's more their thing.

So today inspired by one of her throwaway lines I'm going to 'riff on those three good things. Her throwaway lines?

"I particularly love keeping Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's philosophy of 'three good things on a plate' in mind when slapdashing at home."

Here she is referring to River Cottage Easy - a book I bought some time ago - it's wonderful - and which I would have talked about then. So I have probably covered the three things bit before. Never mind maybe I'll say something different and you've probably forgotten anyway. Like me. Initially published as Three Good Things it demonstrated how great meals (or snacks) could be made with just three things.

"In my quest for food that's as easy as it is delicious, it has struck me that so many of the recipes I create at home, and indeed many that I enjoy cooking or eating from other writers and chefs, have something in common. They are little more, and little less, than three good things on a plate. ...

Of course there's a bit more than that to these satisfying dishes. They are not only three things on a plate - there are seasonings, perhaps oil or vinegar, some spices, may a starchy carbohydrate on the side or an egg to finish things off." Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

I don't know whether he invented the format, but there have been many other cookbooks along similar lines - although mostly with five ingredients. The Coles Magazine, for example, has a regular feature What's for dinner? - which has recipes that use five ingredients - although in their case the ingredients will very probably include some processed element that has many more than five ingredients - e.g a teriyaki stir-fry kit in this month's edition.

But back to Alice Zaslavsky who takes the concept to include 3 steps in the process:

"It always feels less overwhelming when you remember that you're only 1-2-3 steps away from making a memorable meal." Alice Zaslavsky

And her very first recipe in her very first, supposedly dead simple section - Slapdash: bits and bobs thrown together - is this rather enticing (and very fashionable) Smashed avo eggs with black garlic. Very trendy ingredient there - well three of them. And it won't be made in our house, although not because it doesn't look good - no it's the forbidden poached eggs and avocado. Does it have just three ingredients - excluding the oil, etc.? Well sort of. Avocadoes, eggs, toast. It depends on whether you include the black garlic or not - oh and the feta - so not quite. Three steps? Sort of too. Poach the egg; smash the avocado with the black garlic and some feta; Assemble on the toast.

Turn over the page though and this is where you get the innovative part of the book. A double-page spread of information of various kinds. In this case you have a complete lesson on how to poach foods as a whole - not just eggs - she tells you that in the recipe. There is also a mini essay on holey things like skimmers, spiders (what are they?) and slotted spoons and another one on black garlic. But that's not all - you also have Tips - in this case how to marinate feta, and how to poach more than one egg; Subs - substitutes for that black garlic, and even for the egg with the invariable advice on how to go vegan and finally - Shortcuts:

"This is already fairly quick to whip together, but you could just swish your favourite paste or 'mite' onto buttered toast and top with slices of avo, too. It's about the flavour combo here rather than finesse, so feel free to freestyle further as you make this a regular at your place."

On other pages you might get information on Waste knot, Double duty, Recipe riffs, Extra extras, Longcuts, Worth it ... Chatty, somewhat millennial, but very informative and helpful plus those Ingredient, Skills and Gadget spotlights.

Every recipe in the book has a similar plethora of advice. Sometimes it's just a couple of paragraphs under the recipe and opposite the full-page illustration of the finished dish. Sometimes as well as the information you get some pictures to illustrate the process. And sometimes you get a double-spread of information, the recipe itself and some process pictures as well.

All in all it's an incredibly helpful and informative book. Too much information? Will outright beginners read all the text on a double-page spread in relatively small print? Who knows. It's not difficult text at all, but there is quite a lot of it. Having read the other day how people reading food blogs get annoyed by text before a recipe, no matter how well written, one has to wonder whether people looking just for recipes will bother. It would be a shame if they didn't. All of those post its sticking out of the book are a good indication of all the interesting stuff there is to glean from the book, over and above the recipes. I know that I sort of dismissed it before because of the recipes, but now that I look at it again I might have been a bit too hasty there. But then again maybe not. There might be just a couple of recipes I feel tempted to try although I need to find some way to absorb all the tips and tricks in there. Just a tiny bit out of my way of cooking - not much, but enough I think. Too millennial - she even does 'loaded' - Loaded potato latkes - although the Crispy sprouty leeky lentils look quite tempting

So I think I've 'done' the book. Although I don't think I'll hand it over just yet. Too many post ideas in there.

I also see that, although this post is called 'Three good things on a plate' I haven't really addressed that topic at all. Well I did say I didn't know where I was going.

So just a few words on that. It's a really good start for making something up from what you have in your fridge, although I think it does require a bit of old-fashioned experience. As I said yesterday a fundamental skill you need to be able to cook at least competently is to know what goes with what:

"Of course, you can't just throw any three ingredients together and expect an instant hit. Cheese, chocolate and curry powder might be an experiment too far, while bread, pasta and potatoes would of course be way too bland and samey." Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Experience teaches you that. And actually I suspect we all just start with one ingredient that has to be used up for one reason or another and then go from there. Maybe someone should write a book on 'One ingredient to start with' some day. Or 'This goes with this and that doesn't'.

Mind you maybe we should try things that don't seem, at first sight, to be natural companions. Ottolenghi's books are littered with these of course, but Alice Zaslavsky has a go too. This is Blistered grape and feta pasta. Now I actually don't find the combination of roasted grapes and feta that weird, or even unusual, but with pasta? I don't think I would have thought of that. And it's also more or less a three ingredient dish - the grapes, the feta and the pasta - extras of herbs and garlic - even though there's a whole bulb of garlic in there - don't really count. This is perhaps one that I could try some time.

She also has a book called In Praise of Veg, for although not quite a vegetarian she definitely is with Michael Pollan in Eat food, mostly plants.

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