Saturday, January 1, 2011

Things That I'll Never Buy In A Jar, Number A Million

As I write this I am picking away at a bowl of potato salad, leftovers from my sister-in-law's birthday party. My brother called over the day before the main event with a big pot of peeled spuds. "Will you do me a favour and boil them?" "Do you want me to make a potato salad with them?" "Yeah, brilliant!" and the eldest sibling scurried off to stress out about something else. It's kind of like the way he sometimes appears at my front door with my nephews. "Would you like me to babysit them?" "Yeah, brilliant!" The next day, in between making stews and cakes I caught sight of the saucepan of potatoes and remembered pretty much in the nick of time that I had a salad to make, but I hadn't factored it into my shopping that morning. Thankfully the necessary elements were to hand, including all I needed to make some mayo. Mayonnaise is up there with salsa, guacamole, hummus, salsa and pesto as a foodstuff that tastes indescribably better when homemade than when bought in the shop from a jar with a label that lists way too many ingredients, including some that look more like chemicals than food. There's some sort of mayo myth, kind of like the risotto myth, that it's really difficult to make and goes wrong very easily. Lies, lies I tells ya: it's easy peasy, and, as with risotto, is in fact rather soothing to make.

Darina, trusty trusty Darina, provided me yet again with guidance. Since the kitchen was utter chaos, the only place to put that hefty tome was up on the dish drainer.

Four yolks plopped into a big pyrex bowl, whites kept for icing the cake.

Then half a teaspoon of salt, half a teaspoon of dijon, two dessertspoons of white wine vinegar.

And then the addition of the oil, 450ml, a mixture of olive oil and sunflower oil. Darina recommends a ratio of about 7:1 or 6:2. I would suggest playing around with it to see what flavours you create and what you like best, as very subtle changes in that mix can create really distinctive differences in taste. This is the bit where it can all go wrong, but wrongness can be very easily avoided by adding the oil really really slowly, mere drops at a time. It's nice to have to slow down sometimes, to just ease off on the frantic doing of things and ticking of boxes and going through the motions oh-so-speedily. And watching your mayo thicken up with each drop of oil that is added is extremely rewarding.

Look at the colour: mayonnaise is not supposed to be that unnatural, processedy, white-as-a-film-star's-teeth colour. It has a gentle primrose hue, the egg yolks bonded with the oils to create a lighter-than-lemon shade. You really need to taste it to understand how far from the jarred, supermarket variety real mayonnaise is. There is a jar of Helmann's in my fridge, leftover from a time when my house was full of telly people and the like, and it is now used as hair conditioner. Yeah, that old chestnut. Well we're all reverting to 80s-style behaviour now that we're completely skinners, aren't we?

In the meantime, the mountain of spuds had been boiled and cooled, and were waiting to be baptised with my freshly-made mayo.

There were random bits of onions lying about the place, red onions and spring onions, and if I'd have thought of it and was possibly not doing ten other things at the same time, I could have grabbed some herbs from the garden to add to the mix, but at that stage I was all about keeping it simple. And in between everything else, the potato salad somehow came together in the end - tastiest afterthought ever! It didn't all get eaten though, since there was such an amount of it, which has me now in the very stomach-pleasing position of having lots of lovely leftovers to chow down on.

And since I didn't want to bash the spuds up too much I barely mixed it at all, resulting in a rather lumps-of-everything look. But what it lacks in prettiness of presentation it makes up for in comfortingness.

Happy new year to you all, may 2011 be filled with comfort and simplicity and tasty homemade treats.

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