Kitchen therapy…

Felt appallingly ill this morning (and last few days, not helped by no more than 2-3 hours sleep a night). So as moping around feeling sorry for myself clearly hadn’t worked, I bit the bullet and headed for the kitchen. Only 5 feet away but some days a major challenge.

I came across a partial soup recipe I thought I’d like to try, but making it more of a stew – chickpeas (garbanzos in the colonies), potatoes, garlic, rosemary as the base, plus a secret ingredient or two. No idea what, so I’ll have to wing it.

I thought I could do something with that, adding onion, sweated off in olive oil and butter, with the garlic, and something green, like chopped green beans, or broccoli florets, added near the end. Maybe a bit of carrot, too – a chiffonade rather than slices, perhaps, for colour and a touch of sweetness. All in a light veg stock. Yep – I liked the sound of that.

Then it got put on hold, as I only had one can of chickpeas. Last night, though, I remembered I had about 250g of dried chickpeas, about 2 years old, but the things are indestructible, so last night I set them to soak and, this morning, cooked them with a peeled and roughly chopped carrot, two squashed cloves of garlic (peeled), a few bay leaves, and a splash of olive oil. I’ve never been convinced that oil does anything for the cooking beans, but it smells good while cooking. They cooked quickly, too, surprising as the older they are, the longer they take.

The second stage is now under way. Two medium onions were chopped and sweated off in olive oil and butter (mostly butter, the oil stops it burning), and two finely chopped garlic cloves added once the onions were soft.

I peeled two medium carrots, cut them in half, across, then with a very sharp knife I took a sliver off the side of each piece to create a flat spot, as the next step needs stability – and that’s cutting the carrots into 1mm slices – a chiffonade – then cutting each slice into quarters, winding up with slices about 2cm long by 1cm wide, depending on the size and shape of the carrots, and 1mm thick – more or less, no need to get obsessive about it. Tip: when doing jobs like this, always use a razor-sharp knife – a blunt one is far more likely to slip and cut you, and hold the carrots so that your fingernails are the closest part of you to the blade.

I always have frozen rosemary in stock (in a plastic tub, in olive oil), as you can’t rely on being able to buy it. For example, in Sainsbury’s (Upton, Wirral), today the rosemary box in the fresh herb display contained nothing but thyme – good luck to anyone who didn’t know what rosemary or thyme look like!

So, I pulled out about two sprigs worth of leaves, poured some of the oil into the pan too, and chopped the leaves finely, scraping them and the oil that came off them into the pan with the onions garlic and carrots.

I had no idea about the secret ingredient. I could have asked but I thought I’d do my own thing, and added some sweet paprika. Stirred it well into the buttery-oily onion/garlic mix, added a Kallo organic veg stock cube (haven’t use these since I was a veggie, and they’re excellent), plus some celery salt (home-made), and white pepper.

They were covered with boiling water, given a good stir, brought back to the boil and left to simmer very gently until the carrots are soft (much quicker than if they’d been cut into slices or chunks. Smells great, and the texture as I stir it with the bamboo rice paddle** I use for cooking is amazingly unctuous and silky.

**I got this with a wok sometime in the eighties, and it rapidly became my standard stirring utensil – incredibly versatile and much easier to handle, if you have arthritic hands (I didn’t then, I do now), than a wooden spoon, as it doesn’t have a tendency to turn in your hand unless gripped tightly.

Next step is to peel and chop some spuds, a mix of Rooster and Maris Piper (for no better reason than that’s what’s in the fridge), including some cut very small so they’ll collapse and thicken the stock, plus another stock cube as I’ll be adding more water. Then, when the spuds are almost cooked, gently stir in the cooked chickpeas, taste and season with Maldon sea salt and white pepper (despite two stock cubes, it took a surprising amount of salt. Once the spuds are fully cooked I’ll set it aside to cool, then refrigerate it for 24 hours

I was going to add something green, for colour, but with the orange of the carrots and the red of the paprika, it’ll look too much like traffic lights, so I think I’ll pass on that,** not least because I’m starting to feel frazzled, because in between the various stages I also cooked a pan of soya mince, with loads of carrot, swede and peas, for the freezer (not veggie, as it’s flavoured with Bovril). Not to mention tweeting, signing online petitions and generally furtling about online. And writing this.

**And that turned out to be a good plan, as the starch from the spuds has combined with the red of the paprika to produce a wonderful ochre shade, with oily scarlet hi-lights

However, inspired by the blog linked to in the second para, I’ve ordered a bunch of Japanese ingredients so I can try this recipe, a soya bean stew with tofu noodles (I ordered Udon as I can’t find those in the recipe, the rest is as per). And as so often online, you’ll find me there too, and on this page, where there’s a simpler soya bean recipe which I also plan to try (I seem to be heading into a veggie phase…).

And after spending much of the last 5 hours in the kitchen**, I feel a lot better. Still crappy, but not soul-eroding crappy! Though I seem to be developing a sore throat!

**To clarify, not continuously – lots of breaks to sit down, and/or wait for one part of the process to cook out before going on to the next

And – something I haven’t done for ages, I had lunch while I was beavering away – a bowl of instant sweet and sour noodles . At first I had to force them down – part of the recent problem has been overwhelming nausea – but my stomach soon got the hang of being fed at a very unusual time and they disappeared pretty smartly.

And here’s the usual disclaimer, lest the DWP stumble across this – most of the time I am totally unable to cook (and by cook I mean start with the raw ingredients and end up with a freshly-cooked meal on a plate, table set with napery and flatware), and live on snacks, sandwiches or ready meals. So when I’m able to, I have to make the best of it and cook for the freezer, as I don’t know when I’ll be able to do it again. The Japanese ingredients, above, will keep until I’m able to cope again.

Talking of sarnies, last night I had slices of warm, freshly-cooked boiled gammon, thinly-sliced strong Cheddar (I use a cheese-plain – very easy to get uniform slices), and mayo on home-made wholemeal bread. Amazingly good. Does mean I had to buy bread today though, as I finished my loaf early.