The Cottage Smallholder

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How I learnt to cook (part two) and two baked egg recipes (hidden in the text)

thyme and chopping boardThis is the second half of my entry for the Waitrose cookery writer’s competition. You can read the first half here. I didn’t win but had loads of fun writing the entry and spent many happy hours dreaming about winning. All events are true only the names have been changed.

One glorious night I cooked a perfect soufflé. Smart Wife tasted it gingerly.
“Why this is really good.” She observed me over the horn rims. “Have you made soufflé before?”
“Never.” Honest at last.
“Finally we can entertain again.” She helped herself to seconds. “We’ll have a soufflé party. The boys who run the Chichester Theatre Restaurant are up next week. Let’s invite them.”
“And the friends who came the first night you cooked,” added Kind Husband.
“Bibi and Pongo would love it. They are such good cooks but would never have the nerve to hold a soufflé event.”

For the week before the party we ate soufflés for supper. The horn rims twinkled. Supper became quite a lively affair.

The dreaded evening arrived. I was to announce when the first soufflé was ready so that the party could come into the kitchen and see it being lifted from the oven. The timer pinged and everyone rushed into the kitchen. Kind Husband opened the oven door and stood back. There was an extending of necks. Within a second he had reached into the depths of the oven and retrieved a large crisp disk. He waved it triumphantly over his head.
“Here is your starter. Isn’t it wonderful! We don’t even need to sit down to eat.” He deftly snapped the disk into bite sized pieces and distributed it amongst the astonished guests.
“Now let me top up your drinks whilst Fiona runs up your main course.”

Time passed.

Smart Wife was a well known actress and was away a lot. Initially, Kind Husband and I tried adding some of their 23 sauces to pep up my meals. We forced down many disasters.

We shared a love of baked eggs and began to experiment with these. We cooked together. The competition was fierce and inspirational. We dubbed the sessions The Baked Egg Battles. He would throw down the gauntlet in the morning and it would be egg boxes at dusk in the kitchen. There was just one rule. Any ingredient in the world could be added as long as an egg was included in each ramekin. The tastiest concoction won. For the first time in my life I was playing with flavours and having fun.

The Chelsea couple died years ago. I owe them a massive debt. They taught me the two essential elements for inspired cooking. Kind Husband introduced me to culinary creativity. Smart Wife showed me the basic techniques, how to shop for food, to base meals around the freshest ingredients. It was the first time that I’d heard seasonal food describe more than a Christmas cake.

Somehow the two elements remained separate until I met Danny ten years ago. D couldn’t cook and loved eating. He raved over my scrambled eggs and club sandwiches. My other cooking was not mentioned. This did not bode well for our future.

Then I remembered The Baked Egg Battles. Danny rose to the challenge, buttering ramekins and exploring the larder and fridge for ingredients. I set the oven to 180c (160c fan) and sharpened the knives. We popped the filled ramekins on a baking tray in the centre of the oven and within seventeen minutes we were feasting and comparing notes. I felt the same excitement of those evenings in Chelsea. Back then we competed, our workstations hidden behind large piles of cookbooks. Here we colluded.

Magically, two concoctions were excellent. Danny had crumbled some feta, added a layer of chopped spinach and topped his egg with a spoon of crème fraîche. This is as an excellent starter. Fresh and tangy, it appeals to vegetarians and carnivores alike. I had combined sliced tomatoes and peppered salami and topped the egg with a dessertspoon of grated cheese. Mellow and comforting. Strong flavours work best with baked eggs.

Inspired, we started cooking together. My relationship with food is a never ending adventure, the ultimate in performance art. A territory that can be endlessly explored, savoured and mapped but never completely known. As I venture further the boundaries expand. That’s the tantalising draw.

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  1. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Amanda,

    Kind Husband was an exceptional man. A war hero but never bragged. In invalid for years but never complained. A talented artist. Such a good companion and friend.

    His baked eggs were good too.

  2. Amanda

    Much better idea.

    I love the sort of people with the life skills of Kind Husband so much to be learned from them.

  3. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Amanda,

    We used to come to blows until we decided to elect one as chef and one as ADC who is not allowed to twiddle the knobs on the cooker.

    Cooking with Kind Husband was different. Just childish fun (he once put a slug in a concoction – very chewy).

  4. Amanda

    Ah, lovely! My husband cooks, infact he’s a very good cook, but we rarely cook together. After reading this I think we should. It would be great fun, either that or we’d kill each other…

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