It was great to be properly back in the kitchen this week. As if all my limbs had been reattached. And it was a nice combination of new recipes, an old favourite, and a spot of winging it.
I've been thinking a lot lately about why I love cooking so much. While I wasn't cooking in December I didn't go more than two nights without dreaming about cooking or famous chefs. I had a brilliant dream in which Rick Stein was arranging a boat to sail me to his Manchester restaurant. I'm not sure how that might work or even if Rick Stein has a restaurant in Manchester, but my subconscious enjoyed it nonetheless.
There are the usual things about cooking being a creative outlet and producing something that makes people happy. They certainly apply. But right now, I think it's that over the past couple of years my life as I knew it got shrunk down to just a fraction of what it was. With the exception of the first few months when I could hardly make it from one room to another without holding on to the walls, and in the middle of last year when I was creatively paralysed with heartbreak, cooking remained something I could still do. When other things (and people) fell away, cooking never really changed.
There's a great line in Julie and Julia, which is unsurprisingly one of my favourite films, that sums it up better than I can. Julie says to her husband:
"You know what I love about cooking? I love that after a day when nothing is sure, and when I say nothing, I mean nothing, you can come home and absolutely know that if you add egg yolks to chocolate and sugar and milk, it will get thick. It's such a comfort."
Anyway, I've been pensive enough this weekend. It might be time for some pretty pictures.
The New Recipe
I acquired a pile of new cookbooks over Christmas, one of which was Lorraine Pascale's Home Cooking Made Easy, given to me by my brother's girlfriend Jen. The book accompanies Lorraine's second TV series, which was great, if inexplicably short.
I stuck a pin in it and decided to cook a slightly adapted version of the Cod with Chorizo and Thyme. There is nothing like the smell of chorizo oozing out its paprika juices. Nothing. The fish could have been a little thicker and the tomatoes weren't quite ripe enough, which made the liquid sharper than I'd have liked, but otherwise it was lovely - served with tenderstem broccoli and miniature potatoes.
The Old Favourite
Gordon Ramsay's chicken with pea & lettuce fricassee and mash was a little rushed and not as pretty as it usually is. I got home much later than expected. But any time you combine peas, onions (spring onions in this case) and chicken stock it tastes divine. There is some special alchemy that takes place. I could never get tired of that flavour.
I've been trying to think of a reason to use tinned cherry tomatoes for ages and figured Italian was the way to go. Alright so 'Italian' is generally my first answer to all cooking questions, even when it's a highly inappropriate one. But in this case, it worked.
I quick-roasted chopped aubergine, courgettes, red onions and garlic with extra-virign olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme. Once they were sufficiently squidgy I added the tomatoes, a pinch of sugar to cut through the acidity and warmed it through in the oven. Adding the tomatoes before the other vegetables have roasted will just stew them. None of that gorgeous roasted flavour will come through.
From there you're just a big mixing of cooked penne and a generous handful of basil away from vegetable heaven. Oh, and there were sausages. I do so love when a vegetable based meal is so good that it makes meat feel like the side dish.
This week I'm craving superfoods - foods with loads of colour, packed with vitamins and nutrients. Best get shopping!