The year is 1992 and it’s drawing to the end of November, I am 10 years old. It was the usual boisterous weather for that time of year, a wild night being supported by the hard hitting rain that attacks side on. Delia Smith is on the telly with her Delia’s run up to Christmas series. We are all on lock down because of the weather and are all somewhere dotted around the house, except for Dad, who has been dispatched out, and into the night, dressed in the required suitable warm fleece and woolly hat that should not see the light of day. The fireplace and the stove are effortful in emitting as much heat to warm the family home and all those nestled inside.
I am stretched out on the rug in the living room with little awareness to the rest of my surroundings as I am fixated to the telly box with pencil and paper at hand trying to take in as much of what she is saying to me and scribbling it down in the same worst hand writing I use to this day, though the paper in front of me, lined or not, I had this niggling feeling, my feeble notes were not going to prove enough, I would have to try a little more and push that little harder. Though my writing which was and still is almost illegible to others and if anyone made a noise to interrupt my work they were met with the scouring look of a meban, I felt I was having a one to one lesson in my own living room with someone who, in later years I consider to be one of the greats and later receive her million selling, how to cook, cookbook one Christmas was warmly received with her simplicity, warm approach, and acute detail in the recipes. That evening, this meban was doing some important, without being prompted to, actual homework that actually meant something to me and until now, wouldn’t realise the importance of that work and the realisation of that evening was when I first asked myself what joy do people get from cooking and why?
Later that evening, I recall the clock on the living room wall. The clock had a face of white, numeral numbers, was gold in colour with a spike appearance all the way round all at varying lengths, almost like it was replicating the sun in a way, yes I think so, that would make sense with time, in the way we revolve around the sun, which is interesting in the way time dictates most things we do, when we do it and how controlling it can be. On one recent morning I thought it would be pleasant to click a picture of the sunrise, and put it up on social media, with the caption, let’s see what today brings. A short while after that a realisation came to me with the help of a good friend how we should be thankful and always grateful to be presented with another sunrise with the opportunity of another day and applying the same thought at the end of a day as the sunsets.
The clock read 9pm, there was not much give in the weather when dad returned home. There was much commotion for the next while with boxes being brought into the house, all this was being conducted by mam with the strictest instruction on how things should move forward. As the boxes were opened they revealed an array off all sorts of goods from tinned, jars, biscuits, chocolates, refreshment and more. This was our Christmas hamper. I had never seen so many delights in one room. The likes likes of tinned spam in the oval tin, the one in the old adverts you used to see, what was done with it is vague but I think it might have been used for seasons visitors, or sandwiches on the lead up to new year for the bells. With military precision, all was put away into the correct cupboards and freezers with the rest being hidden away from inquisitive mebans. Being conducted out in the taigh na bheairt. All the lamb and ‘lovely’ mutton was being manoeuvred to make way for the frozen goods. The rest of the evening , which at this point was edging well past bed time, was as normal as any other evening, the only thing that is vague or even a memory that barely exists, is where my scribbled, almost unrecognisable documented recipes ever went.
One of the earliest memory of soup for me, that i can remember was one Christmas. It was a tomato soup. I like to think it was home made but something is telling me that it seemed like a tinned variety, but never the less, looking back the soup was delicious, what made it even more special was not just the fact it was Christmas, a magical time for any child but what made it more magical was that we were a loving family around a small table and there is not a price you can put on that, these are a few of the special moments that make a meal, even as simple as a bowl of soup one of the most special things for me, not just to eat but the satisfaction that comes in making something so simple, so special.
For me the joy of cooking comes from starting with the basics. I find that a comforting bowl of soup is where the beginning that joy and comfort can be found. Now first and foremost out of all the soup recipes out there it is broken down into two categories. A bowl of comfort and joy that is also some peoples main meal, hearty and wholesome, the kind of soup I like to see on a luncheon menu. I’m quite flexible when it comes to the first choice as one of the best meals I recall having was a comforting pan of leek and potato in the early hours which was not just a warm welcoming surprise, the equivalent of a long overdue hug, whereas the restaurant bowl of soup, as a starter where you can pay up to seven pounds plus for, it has to be something special, infact very special, it has to catch more than my eye. Something where time has been spent on and a creative mind has been active, more importantly it has to be tasty. It has to be on the edge of bloody worth it, not just the generic “can’t be arsed soup” throwing something together unenthusiastically.
You don’t have to be a brilliant cook to bring a soup together or even the need to follow a book. The way I look at it is, you build a soup in platforms and each flavour addition is the platform. If you put water into a pan and add a chopped onion, take it to the simmer, you will have an onion flavoured stock, simple. If you add a chopped carrot to that pan you are adding an extra bit of flavour, perhaps a stick of celery, hmm…..more fresh flavour, a little swede, OK, stronger in flavour than the other veg, but it works. That simple veg selection will give you a basic vegetable flavoured stock. If you would like to bring more flavour sometimes it’s just nice to glide along the larder, adding a bit of this and a bit of that, perhaps crumble a stock cube to the mix or some herbs or even a touch of spice. A point to also remember is that you can add but can not take away, so a little at a time with all the seasonings and herbs you use, sometimes half a stock cube can be more than enough. If you like it rustic, leave the vegetables as they are, or give it a quick blitz for a smoother finish. I guarantee whatever you put into a pan for a soup you will end up with a bowl of something delicious and nutritious which you will learn from and perhaps next time be that little more adventurous. If you have made to much, soup will last up to 3 days in the fridge or why not freeze it in portions for convenience.
So the joy of cooking, where do we begin in answering this? When I’m at home I don’t cook much with the exception of a Sunday. This is where my Kirsty takes the reigns and I become spoilt with decent nutrition and tasty meals. With her meal plan for the week, which after three weeks with me away, makes a change for a meal for one. Now for this cooking to happen or for the enjoyment for both of us, firstly, I must not be in the kitchen until dinner is on the table. Why? Well, it’s just better that way. What is special about this, is when I’m pottering outside and the expelled fragrance, through the kitchen hood, without choice being capsulated by the breeze, it matters not what is being cooked, I believe it tantalises our minds, unwittingly expressing and luring us further into the enjoyment of looking forward to a serving of what is about to be or can be offered not just from our home kitchen but restaurants, bakeries or chip shops.
What about the finishing touches to the Sunday roast with the addition of the gravy? I would like to think that just as much effort goes into this accompaniment as time spent on the roast itself. Bearing in mind that the addition of accompanying sauces came from the efforts of masking meat and such like that had started turning rancid into an appealing meal again. But with such interest in modern sauce techniques that we see appearing with the modernist cooks this is why it plays as a main element.
I’m going to go back to basics and talk briefly and to the point of a simple gravy and what such simplicity and joy that it can bring. So your roasting joint is now resting, you will have plenty of time to work on the gravy, the longer the rest the better the meat. The process can be this simple, if you have used the correct roasting tray for your meat this will work well, if the tray is to big the juices will just flow away along the tray and burn with the end result being bitter. The meat should just be snug with just a little leg room for slight manoeuvring for basting. To deglaze the roasting tray which basically means to wash/loosen with liquid. It’s up to the individual what liquid is used, wine, stock or water and even the residual liquid from cooking the vegetables.
If the roast has had a good sear and there is plenty of caramelisation on the bottom of the tray along with some chewy pieces that have somewhat appeared that if you do not move quickly are consumed by any one lucky enough to be in radius of the stove. A chopped onion, carrot and celery are welcomed but remember to remove before they break down and cloud your gravy, bay leaf, whole peppercorns and perhaps a little red currant jelly, it’s that simple.
I take pride in everything that I cook, it matters not how simple the dish is. It should never be a case of it will just do attitude, that just falls well short of the standard. Sticking to the pan of gravy, another method I use, is to roast and roast well some marrow bones which is the beginning of a good stock pot with plenty of time and patience, some fine tuning along the way for the end result will offer to you a gravy that some how intertwines more than what a consommé can do for your soul, perhaps beef tea could do it, I do like oxtail, but what I can offer here, I know there are perhaps the very few or little people who know the secret to one of the best comfort foods in the history of comfort by mouth, gravy served in a mug with bread, it will touch every corner of your soul in ways that other foods don’t even come close. If you look at it a bit closer it is literally a soup made by extracting as much flavour from the roasted bones as possible, the marrow adding the body and even more flavour, other simple additions also help and if required just a little cornflour to give some body.
I have just realised that for this blog in where I wanted to talk about the joy of cooking and what joy people get from cooking, I feel that I haven’t even scratched the surface and barely even begun to answer the question. So for now I will finish on this note and call this part one of the joy of cooking for now and continue soon with more results, because gravy matters, ahh.
Allan’s made the gravy and never in the month of Sunday will I ever let the standard drop. A roast of any kind regardless of the seasons will bring people to the the table, but it’s the passing of the gravy jug, that will bind family and friends together.