Saturday, June 6, 2009

Cooking therapy

Well, there's art therapy and music therapy and a zillion types of physical therapy.  I also specialise in deck therapy [sit on the deck with a cuppa tea til you feel better].  Last night, after a long (but not arduous) day, I suddenly got the urge for some cooking.  I bought a ton of organic fruit and veg, and good meat from the butcher, on Wednesday.  Didn't want to end up throwing half of it into the compost for lack of action.

M often says of me "hard to start; hard to stop".  This is quite true I think - I can take hours to get moving and thinking, but once started on something I can find stamina to do - and OVERdo - many activities.  I come over all Virgo and attend to all the teeny details and get into micro-cleaning frenzies (do you think anyone cares if the window-ledge behind a huge pot plant ever gets dusted??) ... last night it was a cook-a-thon.

Here's the round-up: 
- bacon bone soup with the end of a jar of lemon and chilli chutney, ditto apricot chutney; carrot, cauli, broccoli, fennel; half a tin of kidney beans; a bottle of passata; plenty of pepper and water to cover.  Later when it had simmered into purrfection I added a good glug of olive oil to soften it.  Wowee!

- two small free-range chickens, split along the backbone and butterflied.  Rubbed with this:  crushed clove, cinnamon, allspice powder and black pepper.  Squished over this:  chopped onion, the tomatoes from a tin, sliced zucchini, sliced aubergine; one huge lemon cut in half.  I squeezed the lemon juice over the chickens, inside and out.  I mixed the juice from the tinned tomatoes with some of the chopped onion, the spices, and a bit of olive oil and rubbed it into the top of the chickens.  Then I sprinkled some chopped black olives over the chickens and put a cover over all of it and baked it for about 2 hours on a medium oven.  I didn't need to take the cover off to brown the chickens cos the tomato/spice mix coloured them beautifully.

- a baking tray of roast veg: potato, pumpkin, onion and carrot.  Just sprinkled with olive oil, black pepper (lots) and a very small pinch of sea salt.  They went in with the chickens to make best use of the oven.

- I boiled two enormous beets, which will go with this: a chocolate/spice-rubbed rump steak.  I will grill this to medium rare, then slice it when cold and serve it on a bed of English spinach, sliced beets, walnuts and a horseradish sauce (mix horseradish and plain yoghurt or sour cream to taste.  Always add some pepper!).  This is my version of a Jamie Oliver dish.

Next I have a dozen quinces to deal with - some baked slowly until they are ruby red.  They go in with water, lemon juice and sugar, and make their own jelly.  This goes into jars.  Some will become jam I think.  And I will make one PURRFECT Tarte Tatin, using half stewed sliced quince and half raw sliced apple.  The quinces colour the apple pink during the cooking process.  It is necessary to eat this with cinnamon-flavoured cream, altho I'll allow you nutmeg if you prefer it.

Remaining in the fridge are three crisp red capsicums, which will have the wonderful fetta/raisin/lemon/parsley stuffing.  A sweet potato which I suspect will just be steamed, and two avocados which are only ever eaten on sandwiches.  I have some excellent blue cheese from the McClaren Vale, which would make a great sandwich combo with the avocado, altho I can also recommend eating it with dates, walnuts and honey on well-buttered sourdough.  Nom.

~~~~~~~~ Later that same day..

The cooking bug is still biting.  This time I fancied dessert.  I never make desserts any more, except for friends.  M is against baking and sweet things in general.  HE doesn't suffer from a sweet tooth, so the bakeries of Canberra profit from mine.  But while we were walking at dusk, I suggested we have one just for a change.  My mind turned to peach cobbler and apple crumble and bread'n'butter pudding.  What I ended up with was a hybrid - a few leftover slices of sourdough bread torn up and mixed with peaches (tinned) and a punnet of strawberries.  A good lot of egg custard mix over the top (fresh eggs, milk, sugar, nutmeg and The Secret Ingredient[TM] whisked together).  Lots of fresh grated nutmeg on top.  Into the oven, about 180c, with a lid on the dish and a tray underneath in case it boiled over. It did.  The dish was a mess, dribbles all down the sides, but it tasted juuuuuuust fine.  Sweet and fruity with a pleasantly stodgy undertaste from the soaked, custardy bread.

I also boiled some short-grain rice for a Greek custard.  The recipe calls for the initial boiling in water; then quite a lot of milk is added and it's slowly bubbled down to a thick goo.  The recipe asks for a bit of cornflour mixed with milk to achieve a final thickening, but I don't like the taste of flour, so I just bubbled a little longer until the rice was nearly catching on the pan.  Then in goes sugar, either vanilla essence or the grated rind of a lemon, and a bit more of TS([TM].  Into a bowl and a heavy grating of nutmeg on top.  When it's chilled, I'll cut it into squares and freeze some portions.  The purpose of all this cooking was very much to re-stock the freezers and also to make a big mess all at once.

The mess part I achieved very well.  A full dishwasher last night.  Again today.  But my best achievement was to carefully ladle out portions of the bacon bone soup into those Glad containers and put them in the fridge to chill, awaiting transport to the shed fridge at a warmer, lighter time of day.  I bent to move one of them a bit to make way for a bigger bowl, and the bloody thing dropped out of my hand, the lid fell off, and I had a great big squelch of soup, veg, bacon etc etc ALL OVER the bottom three layers of the fridge and the floor. UNDERNEATH the bloody fridge.  All down the bottles of wine and soda in the door.  All through the veg in the crisper.  Splashed up onto the underneath of the shelf.  BUGGER.  M stood by helplessly while I sloshed handfuls of veg etc into a bag.  Then silently handed me several miles of paper towel; retrieved the mop, and made himself scarce while I swabbed away.  You can't tell me irony isn't a force.  The cleaners are due in two days.  AND I wiped out the fridge last night while it was empty.  Huh.

On balance, however, I am filled with the virtuous glow of successful and useful foodery; making good use of good things; thinking ahead for those days when cooking is NOT going to happen; stacking the freezers with healthy things AND pud; and general practical efficiency.  I can sit down heavily at this point, happy in the knowledge that apart from steaming the odd veg or making a pot of rice or pasta, we're right for a while.  What with M's expurrtise in the takeaway department I feel prepared for whatever Dark Star moments may come my way in the next few weeks.

Today brought to you by Gucci 'Flora', my new and very subtle purrfume.  A present to myself from Adelaide.  It must suit me cos I've garnered lots of positive remarks.  It's subtle, soft, floral without being sweet, and quite sophisticated.  Maybe it helped me not lose my temper as I knelt on the floor trying to sponge muck from underneath the edge of the fridge.  And now for another generous blast of it as I wend my way to the workroom and the waiting half-quarter square triangles waiting for sewing.  No I can't explain what these are.  Try your own purrfume and see!

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