Never Mind The Chicken Soup For The Soul

Souls can take care of themselves.  What we’re making here is chicken soup for dinner.

Last night was roast chicken night. With potatoes, sweet potatoes, and whatever else was sitting in the vegetable locker at our house. The whole lot went into a big old covered roasting pan, which in turn went into an oven at 200º C…and then the cook went out and built model airplanes in his Little Workshop.

And they are coming along splendidly, thank you. The main thing was that the cooking process was quite slow and quite simple – and the roast chicken was appreciated by all concerned.

Not eaten all up, however, and that brought me to the kitchen bench this morning. I stripped the carcass of all usable meat and then boiled the bones a little. This, and the jelly left over in the roasting pan, went to make a superb stock – into which everything else that has been hiding in the back of the icebox was dropped. Carrots, peas, a crust of stale bread, a half-cut onion…( It had been drinking…) plus a little more black pepper and a handful of herbs.

The cook is going back out to the Little Workshop and is going to glue landing gear onto airplanes – and tonight’s dinner will again make itself. The point is you do not need to hover over your stove like a TV chef if you have the right ingredients and the right containers. And you do not need to plate it out with a raspberry pureé…

Hint: go look through the Goodwill Store for cooking pots that have proved that they can do their job. Never mind the fancy new kitchen store stuff. Here’s the 1940’s metal roasting pan minus one of its handles which my Dad never did get around to fixing in 1954…I have not got round to fixing it quite yet, myself.

Addendum: The soup was delicious – and there is a pot of leftover soup in the icebox for tomorrow. We live good here.

Adopt A Granny

Or adopt a Mum. Or a Wife. Or a Girlfriend. And none of them need to be your own, either.

What you are looking for is skill and talent. Cooking, sewing, gardening…whatever you lack in your life right now that someone else knows how to do is the thing to aim for. You are looking for the best.

It may be a long and difficult search, but you can make it a little easier by making it more scientific. To start with, identify what it is you need. If your icebox contains nothing but an empty pizza box and a carton of green and black spotted yoghurt, it is a cook you need. If your sock drawer has more holes than socks, you need a clothing specialist. Look at the garden critically – if it stares back, it’s the gardening enthusiast for you.

Trial the candidates with a standard test – if you are a spaghetti fan, get all the possibles for adoption to cook spaghetti. If it is curry – have them submit pots of vindaloo then compare and contrast. Note: calls for spaghetti may attract Italian grannies and they are fierce. Be careful.

Do not be ashamed to admit your faults. All the rest of us see them and we’ll admit them for you at the drop of a hat. And do not feel that you are doing a bad thing – you will be filling out formal adoption papers and lodging them with the Department, so it will all be legal. After all, there is a lot of responsibility to adopting a child, and they are small, so how much more will there be if you go for a full-sized grandmother.

Of course this is not the Ivory Coast. There’ll be no kidnapping or chains. You will be providing a granny flat to whomever you adopt and as much food, coal, and candles as they need throughout the year. You’ll have to provide a full wardrobe, though if it’s a cooking granny  that you get, a lot of this will consist of aprons and oven mittens. There will be a salary, days off, and remember that grannies can drink a lot more rum than you’d think. It don’t all go into the fruitcakes…

Will this make you a better person? No, but it will make you a better-fed one and that is a start. Once you have gotten past the hangry stage you may find that you are holding skeins of wool for knitting and taking her out to tea shoppes on Sunday afternoon.

 

Sauce Pot!

Keen-eyed readers who like mystery novels and television shows may wish to turn their detective powers onto the heading image and see if they can figure out what we are having for dinner.

Winter has arived in Perth with prescribed burn-offs in the bush and lowering temperatures. The crayfish salad and tiny cold delicacy on the vast white plate has given way to food that will actually fuel the boiler. As the local fast food chains have decided to eliminate taste from their products – having gotten rid of nutrition some years ago – and the pubs have finally given in to their accountants and started charging $ 75 for a piece of steak ( Saw the menu the other night – still on oxygen. ), I’ve decided to make our own dinners.

This dish is no closer to traditional Italian cuisine than the local IGA supermarket shelves. As the checkout girl has dark hair I pretend she is from Milano and that makes it all authentic. If I lived in North Perth or the City of Stirling it might actually be, but I suspect the people who make the sauces and the pasta probably came from there a hundred years ago so we’ll go with that. And none of this nouvelle cuisine serving stuff – when we get a plate of dinner we want more dinner than plate on the table. Oozing over the edge is not considered a flaw.

There will be red wine and it will be extremely cheap. Like $5 for a 2 litre cask. It’s time-expired Yalumba from the local bottle shop and if you drink it without letting it hit your taste buds it is fine. Actually it IS tasty, and the business of ” best by ” dates is a bit of a frandoogle when you are talking about basic blended goon. It is cheaper than drinking lacquer thinner or motor oil.

 

The Fast Life In The Slow Lane

I try to hit all the stops. And then I really do stop.

Like last Sunday – I was jerked bolt upright at 8:30 AM by the realisation that I did not have to go to work in the cotton fields. Of course we don’t live in Mississippi and I’m retired anyway, but there was still that feeling. And once up, you can’t go back to sleep. The cat will make sure of that.

Then it was off to the shower, the shaver, and the sh….umm..let’s change the subject.

Breakfast. They say we must start the day with a substantial breakfast. Toast is substantial. So is oatmeal. So is rum and motor oil, for that matter. Don’t get near me when I burp.

Out to the Little Workshop. On with the radio. Olde Tyme Wireless from Wireless Hill. So you can avoid the horrid music of millenials by listening to equally vacuous stuff from  baby boomers. And it is true that we pluggers can identify a piece of music from the first two notes – if it is one of the only three that the station owns and plays repeatedly. Anyone fancy a Walk In The Black Forest?

Lunch? Don’t mind if I do. The chicken and celery soup is attractive, seeing as it is left over and doesn’t need any effort to heat up. No-one else in the family will eat it, so I get as much as I want.

Shall I work or shall I nap?

And dinner. I must prepare dinner. Fortunately there is an electric oven and as long as you let things cook over a slow heat they will be fine. Too many people think that an fan-forced oven run at welding temperature will be more efficient, but they are eaters for efficiency, and are welcome to it. I cook for flavour, and if this takes 3 hours rather than a blowtorch, so be it.

And the dinner need not be hurried when it is ready. It’s Sunday night and the family is home and there is nothing more important to do than the roast and three veggies. And the glass of red wine. And of course one must not drive or operate machinery after this. Safety in all things.

 

To Cook The Dinner You Must Be The Dinner

Professional food people – chefs, fry cooks, army chow sergeants – can cook anything at any time, whether they want to do it or not. That is a trait shared with other professionals – the ability to do a job in spite of everything. Amateurs can barely do it when conditions are perfect – pros can do it under fire. I know – I used to be a professional in a profession and I could indeed do the dance.

But back to food – the amateur cook may be feeding themselves alone or may be doing it for the family as well. There may be good facilities or bad ones – lots of ingredients or very few – but there is one thing absolutely necessary for success. The person making the food must want the food.

Not just want it to succeed or look good or taste good for others. They must want to eat it themselves. If they commit to that, they can do it.

Take a simple fried egg…possibly the most complex food known to man. Escoffier deeply feared eggs. Brillat-Savarin would never allow one to cross the road in front of him. And I have heard it said that eggs swear at Gordon Ramsay…

To make a fried egg you need an egg. And heat. And something that prevents the egg, while frying, from adhering to the hot surface. The egg should be fairly fresh – it need not be warm from the chook’s bum, but likewise do not attempt to cook it if it is already pecking at the toast crumbs on the floor. You can check for freshness by floating an egg in a container of benzene, but do not light a match while you are doing it.

The non-stick frying pans work well while the coating is new but become egg-traps as they wear in. Generally you can figure that when the egg slips around and fries with no grease whatsoever, it is because the coating is new and dinner will taste like Love Canal. When the nerve agents and dead cat extract that comprise the non-stick coating wear off the eggs will taste better but you’ll need to get them out of the pan with a wood chisel.

Spray-can release agent is fine and helps many people to make fibreglass canoes from moulds. They can also be used to free that egg.

I favour bacon grease that is leftover from cooking in the pan just before you crack the egg. It’ll let the egg slide about at a certain point and then you can capture it with the egg-slice and get it onto the toast. Best trick of all is the non-stick pan that has tall, heavy sides and bottom, and can be heated in an oven with a griller element above it. You heat the pan, cook the bacon, transfer this to a warmed dish, and then crack the eggs into the hot fat.

Pop it back under the grill and the eggs cook from both sides in half the time. No more slimeys. No more sticking.

The Dishes

Doing the dishes seems to have been the underlying theme through most of my life.

It was one of the first of the ” chores ” that was assigned to me as a kid – in exchange, I suppose, for my weekly allowance. This was never stinted, I might add, and I was as free to spend or save it as my understanding might dictate. But the dishes were always there.

They are still here. Two or three times daily there is a fill up of the basins – detergent in one and fresh in the other, and the results of four people cooking and eating are dealt with. I do not include the cat as a person – I am able to distinguish species – but the cat dishes get done as well.

In truth I should not complain.

a. If I am doing dishes it is because we have eaten. We had enough money to buy food, a stove to cook it on, and plates to bear it. Being fed is better than being hungry, even if you work afterwards as well as before.

b. We have dishes that can stand cleaning. The people who eat off paper plates or flimsy plastic dishes do themselves, the food, and the environment no good.

c. If it was really that onerous a task, we could buy a dishwashing machine. But we’ve never used one that was satisfactory and the addition of another complexity to life is unappetizing. Just scrub and wipe dry.

All this having been said, it is a pleasure sometimes to take a meal elsewhere – a hotel or restaurant – where the staff may pester for tips or to move you on, but they cannot compel you to the soapy water torture. It makes holiday eating a pleasure.

You Cannot Break Eggs Without Making An Omlette

I think that’s how it goes – it’s one of those memes that sounds profound until you say it aloud eight times. I like to say memes aloud on the train as it gets you a seat and space around you.

Idly, if the om of omlette refers to eggs, and the lette part indicates a small thing…is there a full-sized dish of eggs that is just an om? Perhaps an emu or ostrich ? They never tell you these things on the cooking shows.

Tonight we make one with bacon, champignons, and onion bits. Also whatever herbs and spices are in jars in the pantry. It may involve hundreds and thousands or marzipan icing, if the contents of the shelves are anything to go by. Thankfully, I have a wife who can taste it before I do  – as long as I watch to see for any dangerous signs I should be alright.

End of the week menus are always speculative things – they consist of whatever might be left over in the ice box or overlooked on the pantry shelves. Of course, logic will tell you that whatever has been overlooked has been overlooked for a good reason, but desperation cuisine knows no barriers. If it will fit in a pot it can be cooked.

Sometimes the journey is exciting and sometimes hazardous, but always exciting. The old rules about segregating sweet from sour or liquid from solid can be ignored. It is possible to mix oil with water if you put them both into a sponge and eat that. It is an acquired taste.

Of course, the chief contents of the pantry shelves will become depleted over the week – and if you do your shopping once a month the last week can get pretty much like a Mother Goose rhyme. But you can always count on spices – and packets of sample foods that are given out at supermarket promotions. And then it’s simply a matter of combining the jalapeno marshmallows with the dried capers and the contents of the little sushi soy fish for a sensational Saturday breakfast surprise.

This sort of cooking is one of the explanations of why Gordon Ramsay is the way he is.