Tuesday, October 25, 2016

What's cooking

I am writing this with my mouth on fire from the bowl of cress beside me - it's like eating radishes that have been sliced up into a feathery degree of Thin and Dry, and it scares me a little that this is not the most-influenced I was by reading Home Cooking last week.

Does this look like an authentic French chocolate croissant I took out of my freezer,
let rise overnight, then baked in time for breakfast?  Because it is.  YUM.

Maybe you know about Laurie Colwin already, but I was just at the wrong age when she was writing novels and cooking columns, so I only stumbled across this book recently and immediately bought it because of my longstanding dream of being a competent cook.  By competent, I mean the sort of person who can effortlessly throw together something healthy and delicious and exactly what is needed to turn that particular day into a winner.

I have such a complex relationship with cooking.  Growing up, I was surrounded by THE most amazing baked goods, contrasted by family-size meals that were very practical and involved things like liver and a scary hissing pressure cooker, and, early in the morning or late in the evening, small-scale snacklike things that were both extravagant and just-accessible like really good sausages fried in a pan, or amazingly delicious eggs.  I remember sharing tins of sardines on toast and, as a teen, getting up in the middle of the night to broil lamb chops - this did not go over well, by the way, as I had not realized the lamb chops were in the freezer for a more specific purpose - but given the choice of these three food specialties I was most attracted to to baking.  I mean: duh.

The upshot of my upbringing is that while I am good at several different supper-type dishes, the ones I want to cook are not generally ones that the people I am feeding want to eat, even if we are all agreed that liver will not under any circumstances be involved.  (although I am very very partial to liverwurst on crackers, which reminds me, it's been too long since I had that.) 

Also, I am not a person who finds cooking comforting.  After a really rough day, what I find comforting is having somebody else cook something delicious for me.   Over the years I have tried dining out, taking out, and posh deli counters to meet this need when it arises and frankly my own cooking is always better, with the exception of the really amazing pizza place up the street on Jarvis (G is For Gelato, for readers who visit this area or also live here, heh)

Just this weekend Pete picked up some ready-made scalloped potatoes for me from a gourmet shop and they were SO bad.  Wafer thin slices of potato that even after a round in the oven were still undercooked, and a sauce made with swiss cheese.  And I the only kid raised on cheddar for scalloped potatoes?  Yeesh.

I had a happier outcome from my discovery of Overnight Oatmeal.

Maybe I mentioned this innovation before but basically, you stuff equal parts instant oatmeal and milk into a covered dish or a Mason jar, if you're taking it to work, and leave it overnight.  You can add frozen fruit or sub in yogurt for the milk or do all sorts of other things but whatever you do - in the morning, when you stagger into the kitchen after not enough sleep, you have (cold) oatmeal all ready to go.  And no pot to wash up, which in my opinion makes up for the cold.

Also the chocolate croissant thing is working out for me, until we move back home to The Land of Amazing Bakeries.  My favourite of all of them offers some of their goods in an uncooked-and-frozen form and the croissants have been making my weekends special for a few weeks now.  I haven't even tried the frozen raspberry scones yet, but I should, shouldn't I. 

Most days I find myself rotating between eating raw vegetables or deconstructed sandwiches or fruit - like gorgeous Cororonation grapes when they are in season, which they aren't right now unfortunately,

I am also a fan of raw veggies and hummus.  When I really want something warm, though, I try new recipes that might or might not fill the Comfort Gap and be as pleasant to prepare and clean up after as they are to eat.

I decided I probably won't try any of the other recipes from Home Cooking - except the one for bread, because I'm already pretty competent at that and might be able to pull it off - after one fairly significant disaster.  But I loved the book and will be buying the novels next.  Laurie Colwin had a great writing voice, so warm and friendly and approachable, and she was clearly such a lovely person, as well.  She died very young in her sleep, apparently, but what a professional legacy to leave.

Ready for the disaster story?

Laurie described a potato croquette that serves to conceal vegetables in a side dish, and it sounded amazing.  Its ingredients are very basic - leftover mashed potatoes, leftover vegetables of any kind - but of course, I am rarely justified in making mashed potatoes (which I love but the rest of my family hates, except for the ones who are better cooks than I am and who usually take on the task at holidays) and there are never any leftover vegetables in my house (because why wait?) so I had to make those things first.

While my broccoli steamed,  I realized that a/ the potatoes were ready to mash  and b/ I do not possess a masher.  How is that possible??  I considered a fork which seemed like it would take forever, and then I remembered the immersion blender I bought recently to use for soup, then set aside in sadness after I used to it puree soup with barley in it (if you can't leap ahead to imagine the results of that experiment, picture twenty minutes of puree-ing and, the next day, leftover glue in a pot in the fridge.)

Any thoughts on what a single pulse from a really good immersion blender does to boiled potatoes?

So, with that result established: there I was, with my liquid potato supply dotted with finely chopped broccoli stalks and finely chopped sauteed onions, added to create some illusion of texture, when I realized that in addition to not having a potato masher I had neglected to secure bread crumbs.  I did have a very stale baguette end, but even a hammer couldn't break it apart into something I could smash into crumbs, so that was out.

Doris later pointed out that I could have used crushed crackers.  Doris is an extremely competent cook and sublime at baking too, and yet I do not hate her at all, for which I think I deserve a biscuit don't you?

Not having the sense to call Doris or think of crushed crackers myself I went with Plan C, which was to fry globs of the potato mix like it was pancake batter.  The outsides were soft and lightly browned, and the insides were warm and gooey, and I was the only one willing to eat the six I made.  The rest of the potato mix when into a glass dish for adventures the next day - I baked it with some cheese on top and treated like a gooey casserole.  Again, no takers but me.

But like I said, there's always raw food.  Laurie sang the praises of cress for instant salads so many times in Home Cooking, and I have such fond memories of the egg and cress sandwiches I ate for lunch in St. James' Park the summer I lived in England, I bought some.  I haven't had the energy yet to boil eggs but I'm sure it will happen, and hopefully on a day when I have fresh bread on hand and some cress left over from all the grazing.

What's your favourite no-fail comfort food?


Unknown said...

Lentil soup or Mujadara, a lentil and rice dish. So easy to make and quick. It's great when a dish has an allowance for burnt onions. Also love overnight oats. We make ours with walnuts, cinnamon, maple syrup, soy milk, and chia seeds.

Mary Keenan said...

Katherine it is so funny you should mention Mujadara, because just yesterday I picked up a bag of lentils and rice from the grocery store. Your comment inspired me to actually get it out of the cupboard to try cooking it and - it had expired!! quite some time ago actually. Grrrr. I'll look for it again but maybe in another store with better stock turnover ;^)