25 September 2011

the soup that broke the camel's back
(and regenerated as chocolate mousse)

My husband and daughter were watching Saturday morning tv, a CBeebies cooking show that he approved of because they pulled a vegetable out of the ground. He was inspired. He and The Boss set about dowloading the recipe for lunch. I left them to it.

He muttered about the recipe not being specific enough, while simultaneously failing to read it properly. I calmly repeated the recipe and left again. He called me back to ask how much "three spring onions" was. I bit my tongue and gave him an old-fashioned look. But when, after the specified cooking time, he held a spoonful of soup out to me and asked "so is the celery cooked then?" I had had ENOUGH. I've deleted the transcript of my rant, it was simply too petulant to share.

I think I was tired. I'm certain I was hungry. But I did actually mean what I said about a grown professional man being able to make a decent fist of a pre-schooler's soup recipe without becoming such a helpless lump.

It wasn't always this way, we used to share the cooking equally, at a leisurely pace and late into the night. But as our baby became a child, we felt the conventional pressure to provide early evening family meals. Now, office hours dictate a stereotypical 1950s "man-comes-through-door-at-six-as-dinner-hits-table" scenario. So the helpless lumpen-ness, ladies and jellyspoons, is what happens when a person stops practising.

The Boss, taking control of the soup situation

Around the same time as the soup episode, my friend at Please Do Not Feed The Animals blogged about a monthly recipe challenge that she loves and I wondered if it might be our solution. If we regularly learn to cook something new together, something so random that he can't possibly assume that I know what I'm doing either, perhaps we can nip this impatient teacher/spoonfed pupil routine in the bud. Cue Dom at Belleau Kitchen and his Random Recipe Challenge.

The idea is to pick a cookbook off the shelf at random, open it to a random page, cook it, and blog about it - WITHOUT cheating and flipping through till you find something you fancy! As a slight twist this month, Dom challenged his disciples to pick a random recipe from their piles and files of notes and clippings.

This we can do. I have a bulging plastic file (written about here) that I'm in the process of rationalising. The vegetarian dishes and curries have already been winkled out, typed up and neatly filed in a shiny new folder, so they're out of the game, but 55 plastic pockets of notes, newspaper pages and scribbled scraps remain.

So how to choose randomly? Well, when playing any game, I've never been one to let fun get in the way of meticulously following the rules. So we didn't blindfold a family member, or throw a dart into the clippings pile (both of which could be considered "fun" in the conventional sense but neither are technically random... just saying). Instead I insisted we suck all the joy out of the process and select our random recipe in the most boring way humanly possible, so it was as close to being genuinely random as practicable. We used an online random number generator. Which came up with the number sixteen. It's a bottomless barrel of laughs round at ours, I tell you.

And on the sixteenth page was a hand-written recipe so full of joy and calories that my brittle, scientific soul softened a little at the memory of it: frozen chocolate mousse.

the book, the number, the page

My Mum used to make this when we were growing up, having been given the recipe by an American friend of hers. The 1980-something tatty old shred of paper with the long-forgotten stranger's red handwriting is, to this day, blue-tacked to the inside of Mum's pantry door. At the time it was the only recipe she used with American cup measures, and so was instantly baffling to us. (Do Americans only have one size of cup in the whole country? Does it not matter as long as you always use the same cup?) I must have copied it into my recipe book at some point in the dim and distant past but, other than assisting with bowl-licking duties as a kid, I've never actually made it. More importantly, I haven't eaten it for at least 20 years.

Thank you Dom, I'm loving this process already.

frozen chocolate mousse
for the crunch
  • 2oz soft butter
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tbspn flour
  • 1 cup coarse chopped walnuts or pecans (we used pecans)
for the mousse
  • 1.5 cups whipping cream
  • 8oz good chocolate
  • 6 eggs at room temp
  • 2/3 cup of sugar
  • 2 tspn vanilla essence
  1. mix all the crunch ingredients together and press into a baking tray
  2. bake for 30 minutes until dry and slightly brown (no temp given I'm afraid, we used 170C)
  3. leave aside to cool
  4. melt 1/4 cup of the cream with the chocolate (in a bain marie presumably)
  5. whip the rest of the cream (in a separate bowl)
  6. beat the egg yolks till light and then beat in the chocolate and vanilla (in yet another bowl)
  7. add this mixture to the whipped cream
  8. beat egg whites and sugar until stiff (seriously, I don't have a maid for all this washing up)
  9. fold in the chocolate and broken up nut crunch
  10. freeze

It was actually quite a tricky recipe, lots of stages and things that you have to be careful of along the way (keeping the chocolate smooth, not scrambling the egg yolks, ensuring no yolk sneaks into your whites, folding in the whites to retain maximum air etc etc). We spent a lovely relaxing evening working through this together, and doing the resulting mountain of washing up.

every mixing bowl I possess

And the end product? Two whole litres of rich, dense, chocolate ice cream with pecan crunches and a few bonus flecks of incompletely-folded marshmallowy meringue. Absolute heaven. But I repeat: two litres, so as well as addressing a few culinary equality issues, this challenge may add a good few inches to our waistlines! Maybe that'll prompt a shared interest in competitive team sports... but I bloody hope not.

Thank you once again to Dom for hosting, and Please Do Not Feed The Animals for encouraging us to take part. I thoroughly enjoy both of your blogs, commend them to others, and look forward to the next challenge!

frozen chocolate mousse



  1. What an excellent post! I'm so glad you've joined in!! I love your writing style and humour. It's excellent. ... Lovely frozen chocolate mousse too! Glad to have been of service ;0)

  2. How funny, I recently posted about my own cook from cookbook challenge ;) your recipe looks great

  3. Lol - that was such a funny post I think the random number generator sounds quite exciting actually - that's how much fun it is here - well, on a Sunday anyway.
    Love the sound of the recipe. xxx

  4. That looks delicious, and a good idea to randomly choose recipes to try as well

  5. Oh my god - it looks SOOO good!! I fear in my pregnant state though I wouldn't stop eating until all 2 litres were gone. I completely get the retarded male cooking dilemma. Frustrating doesn't even come close!! x

  6. This one made me laugh - my husband is exactly the same! Perfectly capable of cooking a great meal for great many people one moment - and the next (after having been a dad for less than three years), he can't even find the rice in the larder and all he seems able to cook is pasta. Strange.
    And that frozen chocolate mousse looks divine!

  7. I love that idea of having to pick one without thumbing through, and how fun you happened to pick one with a childhood memory! It looks delish :) Thank you for linking up with Post Of The Month Club! XOL

  8. You've brought so many pictures to mind through this post including someone throwing darts at their cookery books while wearing a blindfold. The mousse looks scrummy.

  9. This was a cracking great read from start to finish and although I'm tempted to take part in the challenge, I'll be honest I probably won't.
    What I will do however is bookmark this fabulous mousse for a special occasion as it looks absolutely delectable.

    Waving from across the seas,
    Felicity x

    PS: Visiting from Laura's 'POM' club

  10. Oh what a great start to Random Recipes! This sounds like a cracker of a recipe. I'm glad you filled in the blanks. Looks like a recipe that will have to wait for an evening with lots of time but would be ace to have in the freezer and whip out if visitors were here.
    We make an effort to have Steve cook something at the weekend so that I don't feel like I am constantly having to think about what is for tea and so that he gets a chance to cook from time to time too. It is rather nice having him involved in the random recipes too. Hope you both had fn doing this one. xx

  11. linked over from dom's. this looks delicious! sounds like a really tricky recipe though, i admire your bravery!

  12. Kudos to you for taking up the challenge! The frozen chocolate mousse looks delicious. I am going through a similar cooking inequity with my husband. What is so frustrating is that he actually has a natural cooking ability and makes delicious food on the rare times that he cooks. Plus he spent a summer learning to cook in Japan! What a waste!


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