Culinary Catastrophes and very slooooow soup

This weekend I decided to let go of the to-do lists and writing compulsion and, instead, potter around the house, watch films and have a cook-up. A sort of brain de-cluttering weekend after a few intense weeks at work.

I started with a long bath on Friday night accompanied by a whisky and soda followed by leftovers for dinner. Bertie and I then snuggled up (he definitely thinks the sofa is HIS bed) and watched the first episode of Homeland (a friend from work lent me the first series on DVD).

On Saturday I tested out a slow cooker that a dog-walking friend passed on to me. I started with a curried carrot and lentil soup. The recipe stated that it should be cooked on low for 4-5 hours. I have never used a slow cooker before so didn’t want to leave it on while I was out. Slow cookers really do require a lot of trust. What if the soup boiled dry and caught fire? What about Bertie? So it was only on for half an hour before I took myself off to see Testament of Youth, the fabulous film adapted from the First World War memoir by Vera Brittain. Do go and see it if you haven’t already.

When I got home I put the soup on for another couple of hours and watched with fascination as nothing seem to happen – not a single bubble, pop or squeak, but then the whole point of slow cookers is the, um, slowness. Assuming that the soup would eventually cook, I turned my attention to Sunday night’s dinner. With my brother and his wife overseas, I volunteered to cook for my niece and my two nephews. Now before I start on my tale, I should explain that my sister-in-law is a Cordon Bleu cook and produces the most amazing meals. My 21-year-old nephew is also a highly accomplished chef. No pressure there then…

I used to love cooking when I was a child and young adult. Starting with domestic science classes at school when I was eleven to dinner parties at university and then in my share houses and first flat, I was a reasonably good and keen cook. Although I still enjoy cooking, something seems to have been lost in translation.

Anyway, a friend shared a Boeuf Bourguignon recipe with me, one she had downloaded from the SBS website and found to be easy and delicious. As a dish I could prepare in advance, it seemed perfect. Once I’d bought in a kilo of topside, a few leeks, shallots, a bottle of red wine, herbs, some carrots, celery and about 300g of speck and mushrooms, I was ready to go. So on Saturday night, in case the urge to write came upon me on Sunday (it didn’t), I sautéed the base of speck, thinly chopped carrots, celery, leek and onion.

Come Sunday afternoon all I had to do was brown the beef and add it to the vegetables with the wine, bring it to the boil and cook very slowly for 40 minutes. As the meat simmered, I started on the carrot puree, a special touch in this particular recipe which you stir in at the end, and on the fruit crumble. I had the meat on one ring, apples and frozen blackberries on another and the carrots on the back ring. My casserole pot is quite large and about ten minutes into the cooking, I noticed that it had knocked the gas knob up to high. I quickly lifted off the lid and brought the meat back to a simmer. But I fear the damage was already done as the meat was pretty damn tough and chewy when I tested it twenty minutes later. How could I feed the kids shoe leather?

Delicious apart from the leathery meat!

Delicious apart from the leathery meat!

In desperation I rang Ollie, the 21-year-old, and asked for his advice. He thought that I must have either over-cooked the meat when I browned it or during the actual cooking. I offered to run out and buy steaks – we could perhaps drain off some of the delicious bourguignon sauce to have with them – but they had had steak the night before. Ollie said there was some lamb in the fridge that needed cooking so he threw that into the top oven. I agreed to go down about and hour before we were due to eat and pop some baking potatoes in the oven.

I got the potatoes in just after 6pm – we planned to eat at 7pm – and then, keen to salvage my culinary credibility, dashed out to Woolworths and got some milk, a cauliflower and some cheese. I am proud to say – something had to work – that I produced a beautifully browned cauliflower cheese on the dot of seven. We also heated up the carrot puree and fried up the mushrooms. While the cauliflower cheese was in the oven, I got on with the rest of the crumble, rubbing the chilled unsalted butter into the mix of flour, almond meal and sugar (special low GI coconut sugar, if you please). Not only did it start to resemble dough rather quickly, I began to get pains in my wrists – too much typing, I say – so re-named the dish RSI crumble.

Phew - it worked!

Phew – it worked!

With a bit more flour and almond meal, the crumble turned out OK. Well more or less. We were laughing so much about how I’d never make Masterchef – the baked potatoes were a little undercooked and the carrot puree was on the bland side – that I forgot to time the crumble. The topping was a wee bit burnt, but salvageable, when I got it out of the oven but the apples were still a bit crunchy. How did that happen?! I did better than this in year 8! At this point we were all laughing hysterically. What we lacked in culinary precision, we gained in the most wonderful evening of belly laughing bonding. And I proved worthy of my nickname: Mad Aunt Lot-Lot.

Oh, and when I got the home the carrot soup was just about cooked!

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