One of the best things about being an adult - as well as setting my own bed time and being able to avoid competitive sport, THANK GOD - is discovering new food that I like. I cringe in retrospect at what a fussy child I was, and it must have been a total pain in the arse for my poor long-suffering parents. Up until I went to university, I was still pretty cautious about what I liked and what I didn't, and lots of things that I love now were simply off the menu.
Then I went to university and didn't want to be fussy any more in front of my cool new friends, so I made myself eat things. And now that I'm a proper grown-up, my list of things I still don't like has shrunk still further. Namely: fennel (blurgh), tea (rank), goats cheese (too goaty), leafy coriander (too overpowering). Anything else I will eat, and almost all of it I will like.
The thing is, though, that sometimes you've got to work at things. Who likes wine when they first try it? I remember thinking alcohol was disgusting, although clearly that didn't last long. It does, however, explain why we all drank those repellent Bacardi Breezers and Smirnoff Ices as teenagers. I actually used to like Archers and Lemonade! Oh the shame.
It's the same for olives - couldn't stand them for years, kept trying and now I love them. Mocha proved a mild, chocolatey gateway drug on the way to proper coffee. Mushrooms, avocado, lamb, cooked banana, all were once verboten to me and now I love them all. And yes, I know I should persevere with tea - I'm British, for God's sake - but it just makes me gag so that one remains on the No list for now.
For my New Year's resolution this year, I resolved to push past the pain barrier with blue cheese and pears. And, embarrassingly, it was incredibly easy to like both. I'd been put off for years by the pungency of blue cheese but a buttery, creamy cambozola proved my entry point. I'd been warmed up to pears, on the other hand, by crumble - still my all time favourite pudding - and the final push to send me over the edge came on Pancake Day. I went for the classic lemon and sugar combo (and very delicious it was too), but my fiance was inspired by a recipe in Waitrose Kitchen and had his pancakes with buttered pears, vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. He was so happy with it that I tried some, fully expecting not to like it.
It was amazing. The pears! So juicy! And delicate! And they actually were delicious with the chocolate, although I'd always scorned fruit and chocolate together!
That was the beginning and the end for me. Since then it's been all pears, all the time: poached, raw, fried in butter and now, roasted. This recipe comes from the wonderful Smitten Kitchen and we served it with vanilla ice cream and a chocolate nutella sauce. It was so good - sticky caramel edges, tender, juicy flesh and all speckled with vanilla seeds. I actually feel sad for all the years I wasted when I could have been eating this. Here's to a future free from food fear and fussiness!
Adapted slightly from Smitten Kitchen
Serves 4, with leftovers
- 6 pears, peeled, halved and de-seeded. Leave the stem on if you want it to look pretty (and see Smitten Kitchen's beautiful photos for real prettiness), but take the stem off if you don't want to risk anything getting between you and the chocolate sauce.
- vanilla bean paste (I had this on hand rather than the actual vanilla pod she suggests)
- 50g caster sugar. I used vanilla sugar, aka caster sugar I've kept in a jar with a vanilla pod, but normal caster would do. I imagine that golden caster would be even more caramelly.
- 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons of water
- a few knobs of butter
Preheat the oven to 180 and arrange the pears, cut side up, in an ovenproof dish. Mix together the lemon juice and vanilla bean paste and drizzle over the pears, then scatter the sugar and little lumps of butter on top of each pear.
Pour the water into the bottom of the dish and roast for an hour, turning them once to ensure that they get caramelised all over and tender right through. I should point out that Smitten Kitchen suggests proper basting and brushing at regular intervals, but I'm a bit slapdash and they still worked out fine.
When serving, make sure you don't miss the caramel pear juices - I almost licked the dish. Ok, strictly speaking the word "almost" should be removed from that sentence.
Adapted loosely from Nigel Slater's Real Food, a long time ago
Serves 4 greedy people
- 100g of dark, good-quality chocolate
- 50ml milk
- a few squeezes (or spoons) of golden syrup
- a dessert spoonful of nutella (optional)
This is dangerously easy. Just break the chocolate into pieces in a microwaveable jug, add the milk and golden syrup (and nutella, if using) and zap in the microwave for 30 seconds. Stir, zap again for 10 seconds, see if it's melted and delicious - if not, keep zapping for 10 second intervals and checking.
Don't panic if it looks grainy, just keep stirring and it will all come together. I should warn you, this is another candidate for licking out the bowl.