Graham Toal <>

Befoe I stat this page, I should explain in the immotal wods of ichard Nixon, I am not a cook. Damn. Must fix that '' key. Ah! There we are...

It's true - I can't follow a recipe to save my life, and no meal I've ever created has turned out the same twice. I'm also very lazy in the kitchen, and a lot of my successes have come from knowing when to use shop-bought ingredients in ways that no-one would ever recognise. Primarily, however, what I do in the kitchen extremely well is take yesterday's leftovers and turn them into something that you might think was actually intended. (Because of that I'm a bit biased towards curries and chilis). So don't follow these recipes to the letter - exact measurements don't matter, and precise ingredients don't matter. It's just the general style of the thing that I'm suggesting... Have fun!

Prawn Curry

Put a cup of rice in a pot of water and start boiling it. Usually I put turmeric in rice to make it look a pleasant shade of yellow (I don't think it does anything for the flavour, but it looks nice), but that only works with meat - it would be too overpowering with a prawn curry. So make white rice with delicate little flecks of green in it. I think I threw in some dill and some basil leaves, but it doesn't really matter what it is as long as it's green. I suspect you could use green tea and no-one would be any the wiser - putting a little colour into rice that shows that you made it yourself and it's not just boil-in-a-bag is one of those little tricks that separate petty forgers from great fakers! - people don't really taste little touches of things in their food - if you want them to actually taste it, you have to grossly overdo it beyond the stage that it's pleasant. People see things in their food and imagine the taste that should go with it. This way they impress themselves with the sensitivity of their palate and feel superior because their companions can't taste as finely.

Put the curry paste in a little water and stir it on the heat until it's a thick paste rather than lumpy. Then add some of the Oyster Soup and stir some more until you're sure the curry has all blended in smoothly and you're not going to leave any big lumps for anyone to find. Then add all the soup, throw in the prawns and cook until you think you've killed all the salmonella. Squirt in a big dollop of Thousand Island Dressing, which will lighten it considerably, but it'll still be brown rather than pink, assuming you started off with the right sort of curry paste. If you didn't, throw in some curry powder and cook and stir a lot more until there's no discernable powdery bits left.

About five minutes before you're ready to serve the curry, throw in the odd bits of pickle or chutney or relish you had lying around - if you put them in too early they'll just mash down and look a boring brown and taste of the curry sauce anyway. By leaving them to the end you give your guests the thrill of finding something recognisably exotic in their plate - and when they ask "Is this <X>?", you tell them "Yes! You're very observant!/have a very discerning palate!" or whatever sycophancy comes to mind at the time. After all, they already think it's <X>, so you don't have to convince them hard, whatever it actually was. (My charming wife as it happens did manage to correctly identify most of the ingredients). And they think that by having put in all those tiny quantities of obscure ingredients, you must really know something special about the art of cooking, when in fact you were just getting rid of those annoying jars that had less than an inch of stuff left in the bottom of each of them.

Finally, decant the rice into a collander (if it's sticky) and wash off the sticky stuff under the tap. (Not too long under the tap - if you let the rice get cold you'd better have a microwave handy) and put it around the edge of the plate like a levee ready to hold back the waters. Fill the centre of the circle with the curry, and serve. The whole process should have taken no more than 30 minutes and it actually turns out to be a pretty nice meal.

Coming soon: Flamingo Pizza, Coronation Chicken sandwiches, Prawn Cocktail (British style), meat curries, microwaved chilis, Black Forest Gateau, assorted sweet loaves, and the chocolate sticky things that my mother used to make when I was a kid.

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Onward to Carolyn Baird

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