During a lovely few days with friends in Cornwall I am proud to say that I cook a meal entirely from my stock cupboard except for the dried apricots. Not proud that I had all this stuff in my cupboard, but proud that I used some of it up.
Ottolenghi’s Ultimate Winter Couscous is a bit complicated – lots of putting some things in the oven for a bit, taking the pot out and adding some more stuff and doing that again a couple more times. But it’s worth it. A fantastic supper that we all enjoyed in a great location.
On day 9 of my challenge I am out for the evening learning about and drinking Sauvelle vodka at the Rev J W Simpson’s and no cooking happens.
The next day I am in bed by eight – again I don’t cook.
On Thursday I fly to Glasgow and back for a meeting. Once again I do no cooking.
On Day 12, Friday, I thaw some of the feijeoada that I froze some time ago in anticipation of eventually having a microwave. It’s the first time I’ve owned one and the first time I’ve used this one. It is nice and intuitive to use. I am pleased.
On day 13 I leave it too late to cook properly for the evening, but start a slow cooker recipe I found through thekitchn.com. Actually I start by cooking dried chickpeas in the slow cooker, which takes a good long time itself. The recipe suggests that you can play with it and I do just that, using celery and leeks and a butternut squash to begin with. I think I’ll see how these work together with the onions and potato before deciding whether to add white cabbage tomorrow along with the elderly coconut milk that I have in dried form.
Then it’s late and I’m really hungry so I cook that recipe with capers and tomatoes. Very nice indeed.
Today is spent mainly at the home of my friend Alison who is hosting me, Douglas and Rob. Together we make up the writing group we call DARK after our initials. These meetings are often very intellectual as the other three all achieved the doctorate of management that we all studied for, and Rob is now an academic, and on the verge of producing a significant book about organisation development (OD) in real life.
When we meet we share pieces of writing for discussion. This time Alison has brought her thoughts on why and how she is writing what will end up being a beautifully crafted and significant book on writing and experience, experience and writing. Rob has brought what may be the final chapter of his important book on OD. Douglas treats us to what turns out to be an incredibly well-crafted and deeply-felt oration on the experience of having his latest novel critiqued in the FT, next to other writers who are already professional novelists, by someone who gave an awful lot of space to Douglas’s novel given that he seemed to be suggesting that Douglas wasn’t really a novelist because he was actually (also) a businessman. (I wonder if the idea of the renaissance (wo)man/polymath is dead and think that maybe it is!)
My contribution this time is the first few pages of this diary, which is one of the least intellectual things I have written for a while!
My friends say they enjoyed reading it and encourage me to continue. We wonder whether it could be a book. Perhaps I could placate my friend and publisher Dan with this, given that there is no way I will finish my novel by his preferred delivery date of end of October.
Douglas wonders if I could adapt the recipes of celebrity cooks in an amusing real-world-real-cook way. He cites a friend who, trying out a simple recipe with a small number of ingredients in a recent book by a famous chef, suddenly discovered that there was a secret sixth ingredient. Which was harissa paste. In a version that apparently costs fifteen quid a jar.
While he’s telling this story and I am getting his point, I suddenly sidetrack myself inside my head by wondering if Liz threw out my harissa paste with the other out-of-date ingredients. And then wondering how I will manage without harissa paste!
And I am embarrassed at myself. Some people are relying on food banks to get through the week and I manage to be so careless as to let things go out of date and then I worry about managing without harissa paste?!?! Which I hadn’t even heard of until a few years ago. What does that say about the sort of person I have become?
(I check when I’m back home and I do have some harissa paste. So that’s alright then! ??????)
I like Douglas’ idea, but I suspect that it may not be right for me. I agree that many recipe books require more ingredients and equipment than most of us have at our disposal. But some of the celebrity chefs produce wonderful recipes (or their staff do, I sometimes think). I don’t think I want to have a go at their penchant for difficult-to-find ingredients. I’ve been pleased to be introduced to them. Yotam Ottolenghi for example, is the reason I have preserved lemons and rose water in my stash and I am pretty sure that his work is going to be crucial to my ability to get through the stock cupboard challenge with some pleasure. (By the way I notice that in his books Yotam Ottolenghi gives ample space to acknowledging others – other cooks, his own team. I find I like him all the more for that.)
But I do get Douglas’ idea. A big way we experience good cooking these days is via our TVs. When I think about how rarely I cook a really pleasurable meal for myself or others–yes, the food itself matters, but following an exact recipe is not the route to a great meal with friends–so much else goes into that. Not just what you are serving to eat, but the accompanying drinks, the table settings, the lighting and any music you might play, but most of all, the company. The company.
While I enjoy some of the cooking programmes on TV, I find others very hard to take while many people in the world do not have enough food at all.
In the light of that, my caper dilemma is actually quite shameful.
I cut fresh pork belly into chunks and fry it in vegetable oil with sliced onions. Caraway seeds and bay leaves are added from my spice drawer. (I love my spice drawer, which I’ve filled with the collection of jars I bought from Lakeland a while ago. I’m disappointed that they no longer carry these attractive little stackable acrylic jars.)
The other store cupboard contributions to this recipe are sauerkraut which, although ancient (soft and rather orange) tastes fine for this recipe, and some powdered veg stock that I think I bought on a self-catering holiday in Split, Croatia (see left). I seem to have made quite a collection of this type of product during my attempts to visit the complete set of former Yugoslav nations and cook their way while there. Are you beginning to get a sense of the extent of my collecting bug?!
To continue, the final ingredients are fresh sliced white cabbage and your choice of cured pork product. I’ve used an air dried pork salami this time, bought some time ago from LIDL. In the past I have used those German sausages that come in a horseshoe shape and can be boiled in the bag. Another option is chopped gammon steaks or pancetta. In each case you’ll want to choose an appropriate time for adding them to the recipe: frying them with the fresh pork at the start or adding them after the stock. Also, some of these products are more fatty than others, which should lead you to amend the balance with the other ingredients.
I put a half glass of white wine in with the stock this time, Galloping Gourmet style, from the glass I am drinking from. Do you remember Graham Kerr, the Galloping Gourmet, one of the first and best TV cooks? It dates you if you do and if you don’t you need to know that partaking of a glass of something while cooking was key and rather exciting part of his shows. I have looked him up and he is still with us, it turns out, unlike the wonderful and rather similar Keith Floyd, who died before his time. I’ve looked him up now too, and realise that it wasn’t the drink that killed him. But at the time of cooking I do pause for a moment or two to consider how many glugs should go in my cooking and how may glugs should go in me! Both those things.
It may not make much difference at which point you add your cured pork product because this is a nice long stew so the flavours combine well over time. I find it useful to taste the sauce quite frequently to make adjustments. It should not be necessary to add salt. Your cured pork product will be quite salty already and those powdered stock products are pretty salty too. But this is one of those personal make-it-up-as-you-go recipes, so carry on testing and tasting until you are comfy with it.
Although I think I probably built this recipe from the memory of a more sophisticated one from a book – one that probably includes sour cream and fresh dill – I feel it connects me to the part of my heritage that is in middle Europe – Austria and, as I have recently learned from links sent me by MyHeritage.com, Prague and Brno. But I think it’s the recipe from a book that tempts me to serve this with tagliatelle.
Overnight, having gained Liz’s permission to buy strong flour, I set my breadmaker going to make a 70% wholemeal 30% white flour loaf. I can’t find the recipe book that goes with the breadmaker but luckily Manualslib has been good enough to put it online. All goes well, although the result at 0600 this morning was, shall we say, dense. The most likely culprit for this is the ancient yeast that I used, although it will take some experimentation with different quantities and different recipes before I feel ready to give up on it.
On the way home from work I find that my local Tesco has no frozen peas in stock. What?! I have to buy fresh, which are pricier, but at least obey Liz’s rule (she didn’t say I could buy frozen veg). I also buy fresh mint because that in our little garden is towards its end for this year. 70p for a half handful of mint seems pretty high, but I justify it to myself because I seem already to be saving money in my stash challenge.
One benefit of adding peas and mint to yesterday’s soup is that it is now green. The other is that it tastes quite nice. Not excellent. But quite nice.
The bread is dense, but it tastes lovely! Good enough not to need butter.
Next day I re-heat the soup again but this time without blitzing it. I find that the whole peas pop pleasantly in the mouth and the mint has entered the soul of the soup. Finally happy with it, I still suspect it would have been just as nice if no white asparagus had been involved.
I have done some internet research on what I might be able to do with the jar of white asparagus in brine.
The most popular recipe seems to be
1) open the jar
2) drain the asparagus
3) throw the asparagus in the food recycling bin
Undaunted, I buy onions, celery and leeks in order to make Jamie Oliver’s Asparagus Soup with a poached egg on toast. I follow the recipe fairly closely, although I cook it for less time after the addition of the asparagus, which in Jamie’s recipe is fresh. The white asparagus from the jar is pretty squidgy and doesn’t look like it will need half an hour.
The result is palatable but rather bland, even with the addition of some wasabi paste from my stash. Also I’ve never learned to poach eggs in water and I haven’t replaced my trusty egg poaching pan which is not suitable for my wonderful new induction hob. So I chicken out of the egg, so to speak. And I forgot to buy ciabatta for the lovely thin toast. But the remaining LIDL pepper oatcakes are an OK substitute.
Not the most successful thing I’ve ever cooked. I think when I re-heat it for tomorrow’s supper I might add fresh mint and frozen peas!
Having left the house at 0630 to take a train to Cardiff, I make it home again at shortly after five. In a rainstorm. I do some more unpacking of my kitchen stuff and then it’s seven and I realise that I’m hungry. I have no bread and I can’t remember if Liz said it’s OK for me to buy bread (or maybe I should be using the long-idle breadmaker).
I give up a short struggle to be inventive and I open a can of oxtail soup, which I eat with some LIDL black pepper oatcakes. Actually quite nice on a cool day in September when you’re tired. But I know that I if I go on like this I will use up the easy meals I have in my stash.
Perhaps tomorrow I’ll do something with the asparagus.
My friend Liz comes round to help me fill the cupboards and shelves from the boxes and crates I had stored downstairs.
We make progress but we realise that however huge my kitchen is, it’s not huge enough for my ridiculously large supply of gadgets and cooking ingredients. Even after we’ve chucked out the huge amount of it that is way past its use-by date.
Yes, I am a hoarder. An impulse buyer and a hoarder. Not a good combination.
Liz proposes a challenge:
“How about you try to cook entirely from your stash until it gets used up? You can’t buy anything except fresh veg, meat and fish.”
“What? All three jars of capers?”
We negotiate a bit. She rules that I am allowed to buy canned tomatoes once the three I have in stock are used up. This may be useful because my only standard recipe involving capers also involves canned tomatoes. But I think I may nonetheless need to widen my caper repertoire!
I am also allowed to buy wine. This may be crucial!