The Marks and Spencers duck a l’orange for two is out of the oven. The meat is darker than I expected and there’s a slight but distinct whiff of dog food. The sauce is of an indeterminate colour and congealing fast. Luckily my hostess has also made a rather nice homemade leek and orange sauce, though I’m not completely sure we need more fruit on the plate. Is it possible to overcook a ready meal? Or was it just never that good in the first place?
I don’t like ready meals for all the ‘right’ reasons. I mean, I’m a food blogger. I like cooking. And I like food made with fresh ingredients, with care and with generosity. I tend to find processed food either too salty or too bland (or, amazingly, both). You can feel that they’re designed to turn a profit rather than to nourish and give pleasure. You really can taste the difference.
But thinking about why I personally don’t like ready meals has got me thinking about what I do like about cooking. Firstly, it’s a control thing. When I’m eating at home, I want things my way. One of the things I love about being a grown up is getting to decide whether or not to put ginger in my stir fries. I like being able to chuck in a whole load of things I like – and experiment with things I don’t on my own terms. And funnily enough, once it was up to me, ginger stopped being the flavour of the devil and earned its place in my food fair and square.
And that leads me to the second thing – if you chuck a frozen dinner into the oven, what are you learning? I love that the more you cook, the more you learn. And there’s an endless supply of slight improvements to be made, of new techniques to brave and new cuisines to explore. Even making cheese on toast, with its endless tiny variations, can lead you to experiment and refine. It’s a fascinating process that I suspect (and hope) never ends.
However, I don’t think I’ll be stopping pimping my supermarket pizzas with anchovies, oregano, red onion and extra mozzarella any time soon. Best of both worlds!
What do you love about cooking?