I confess to having a soft spot for The Likely Lads – well anything featuring James Bolam can’t go far wrong in my book – but on contemplation my biggest soft spot here is for the theme tune. Oh what happened to you, whatever happened to me? What became of the people we used to be? Once upon a time parties were riotous affairs wending their way into the small (and oft large) hours of the morning with copious amounts of free flowing alcohol and that odd moment waking up afterwards and never being wholly sure who was in your house. My student days are long gone and a party now is more likely to involve a civilised dinner, conversations about the price of chickpeas and pensions, everyone off to catch their respective methods of public transport by 11pm, washing up done before bed and knowing exactly who is staying in your house. Middle age, it catches up with us all.
Those of you paying attention to my ongoing ramblings will have picked up that my housemate’s been away for a couple of weeks and I’ve been left to my own devices (largely remembering why I don’t live alone, i.e. I need someone to look after me to make sure I eat more than toast). So I decided to demonstrate my growing love of cooking by inviting some friends over for dinner. All well and good. In fact it all was well and good until 5pm on Saturday when I stuck a chilli coated hand on the rawly sensitive bit of skin between my nose and upper lip and spent the ensuing half an hour in the bathroom with my head under the cold tap weeping in pain. Don’t worry, I manned up, went back downstairs and valiantly continued to finish preparing my feast with a soggy bit of kitchen roll clamped to my face. I was halfway through doing my make up when the first of my guests arrived – lucky my friends are all quite used to me really and didn’t bat an eyelid over either this or the fact that my kitchen resembled the aftermath of a bomb explosion.
I’d spent a week or so poring over the various cookbooks stashed under our kitchen counter deciding what to make and settled on Mexican purely because you can make that in reasonable quantities (especially useful as my guest tally was variable right up until the last minute) and also because my Woman’s Weekly book of Mexican cooking had been left sorely unused since it was bought for me. I selected my menu, wrote out my ingredients list, pulled them together and undertook stage one of every successful dinner party: invite the Tesco man to cometh. He was a jolly nice Tesco man too, somewhat distracted by the fact that you can see quite a lot of stars from the doorstep of my corner of the metrop but we had a good chat as I unpacked the box about cooking and my previous chilli related disasters.
The second stage is to then have to actually physically go to Tesco on the day to buy the few bits you forgot to put on the order and to replace to sour cream that died a sorry death when it leapt out of the fridge.
On return from my shopping mission it was time to get down to the cooking. So I started with dessert, as you do. At New Year I acquired a copy of the Green & Black’s chocolate book and I was itching to bake something from it. So naturally when the lovely LondonBakes posted about these Celebrations brownies I knew what my direction was. They are seriously yummy although I have yet to perfect the art of baking a brownie right through – the edges were perfection but I got impatient and the middle remained a somewhat unset gooey mess
that I shoved in some tupperware and ate the next day for breakfast and nearly made myself sick. Halfway through the cooking process I decided we needed more dessert and whipped up some fairy cakes, which I didn’t photograph because there was a teeny tiny icing disaster and it makes me sad.
Then I worked in a slightly more logical order and set about making the main course. I wound up making three different dishes for this for a sort of ‘pick and choose’ affair. There was a spicy sausage and bean stew (which I’ve just finished off for tea aided by liberal dollops of sour cream and cheese), chicken with black beans and pearl barley and vegetable fajitas. Essentially there was a lot of chilli and flavour kicking about.
However, my pizza de resistance came as the starter. It wouldn’t be a Mexican extravaganza without nachos, would it? No. And these were seriously good nachos if I do say so myself. I butchered the recipe slightly having realised that I’d screwed up by buying refried beans which was not what I wanted at all. Yeah, one of these days I’ll learn to read properly that day is not today. I gently friend some kidney beans, tomato puree and garlic up together, then mashed a couple of avocadoes to within an inch of their lives and chopped some beef tomatoes and red onions in a vague kind of fashion. Next step was to empty a bag of tortilla chips over a couple of plates and liberally sprinkle with cheese, pop those in the oven until the cheese melted then throw the beans, avocado, tomato&onion and sour cream over the top. They were properly yummy.
We ate sitting on the living room floor, because that’s how we roll in this house. Well mostly I couldn’t be bothered to fight getting the table out of the back room… At quarter to eleven after a few hours of varied conversation and plenty of giggling my friends concluded they should be heading their respective ways home and so I waved them off from the doorstep wondering when my housemate’s next going to be away so that I can play at chef for the night…