Hi chaps, sorry I haven’t blogged in a while, I’ve been tempted into the world of Instagram and blogging has fallen by the wayside. But this morning a thought hit me and I knew I had to write about it. It started with a chicken and then got broader.
I was having coffee this week with someone who said that they can’t cook. I am always quite amazed when people say this and always reply the same way – ‘of course you can, if there is a recipe you just follow it or if you have great ingredients and put them in a pan together it has to be good’. But still people say – ‘nope I can’t cook’.
I follow lots of people on Instagram and have a number of favourite food writers that I admire, a number of them often pay tribute to their parents or grandparents for fuelling their passion as they made pastry at their maternal grandmother’s knee. Unfortunately, I don’t have such provenance. I was never taught to cook by my parents. They both could cook to an extent; we never ate processed food but every day we would have fresh veg and some kind of protein. This would be prepared and then cooked in a pressure cooker to within an inch of its life. So it was never Michelin star food but it was good, honest cheap food. All leftovers were eaten, the veg would be bought weekly from the veg stall at Port Talbot open air market and the meat from the butcher. There was very little packaging as the veg would get tossed straight into the shopping basket, I remember my mother washing out plastic food bags and hanging them on the line to dry, and God forbid if I didn’t bring home the piece of foil my school lunch time sandwich was wrapped in so it could be re used, this was well before recycling became such an issue.
We were a working class family and no one in my family would call themselves a ‘foodie’; we would not understand such a word. We ate food as it is needed to survive, my parent liked food but had a limited amount of money to spend on it, they wanted to feed themselves and their kids and had quite simple tastes and thought that daily fresh veg, with meat or fish was the way to do it. I never once saw either parent use a recipe to cook anything savoury. My mum would use a recipe book for baking, she only had two books, her favourite was a battered spiral bound dark blue cover Trex recipe book and the other was a small hardback white cover book from the milkman! Then she had recipes she had cut out of the paper and kept in a box. Mainly she baked by memory, and eye. I remember asking her a few times about a recipe she was making and she would say ‘You just know’ or ‘half the amount of fat to flour for pastry’ which wasn’t helpful as I never knew how much flour you should start with in the first place. I don’t think my mother really enjoyed cooking, it was just a chore she had to do. If she was in work my father would cook.
I don’t think either parent would say ‘I can’t cook’ and I think that is one of the differences today. We are surrounded by amazing Instagram photos, a food programme on every channel, organic, free range grow it yourself, contraptions for making your own pasta, Kitchen Aids, bread makers, soup makers. There appears to be a push towards perfection and beautiful looking dishes presented to the family on expensive tableware or a board by a beautifully coiffured mother, who has just got home from work where she has abolished the slave trade single handedly and there in the background is her partner who is so hands on with the kids and has perfectly white teeth. It’s no wonder that we think we can’t cook.
Now don’t get me wrong – I am a cliche – I totally buy into the whole bloody Instagram thing, there isn’t a food programme I don’t watch. The best Christmas present I have ever received was a Kitchen Aid, my idea of heaven is to escape for a cookery course, I won’t eat meat unless I can see the field the said animal has pranced about in and don’t get me started on my strong feelings for organic. My retirement present to myself was to have shelves made to hold the ridiculous number of cook books I own. So I won’t blame you for swearing about me under your breath, but food is MY passion and the kitchen is where I switch off and relax. I don’t expect anyone else to do the same but don’t say you cannot cook. Don’t let smug little kitchen shits like me de-skill you. Everyone is capable of boiling a spud (organic or not), pairing it with some greens and a couple of carrots and serving it with a lump of protein. Today (Sunday) I had a lie in after not sleeping most of the night (I swear its the menopause and if I start to blog about it – shoot me!). Anyway when I eventually fell out of my pit I really didn’t feel like making the whole shebang roast with Yorkshires and roasties etc and remembered the following recipe that I used to cook all the time when I kept my own chickens as even the scragiest bird couldn’t fail to make this delicious. It is a Huw Fearnely-Whittingstall recipe but I must be honest I don’t follow a recipe but just combine bird and veg in my largest casserole and bung it in the oven. So if you want a recipe – Google the River Cottage recipe but here is what I did this morning:
Bring the chicken out of the fridge to come to room temperature (shuffle off with a mug of tea and pretend to be interested in the kids game). After an hour go back to the kitchen and put the oven on to 180 to warm up. In the largest casserole you have (it doesn’t have to be a Le Cruset no matter what Instagram says), if it doesn’t have a lid you can use foil tightly folded over instead. Put your chicken in the casserole (of course mine was organic, has had a wonderful life with its extended family on the hills of North Wales, was named Letty and came with its innards which I also popped in the pan. You can use what you like but I do urge you to think about it). Then around the said bird throw in chunks of veg – I used half a fennel, one leek, four carrots (they are Small Girl’s favourite), a couple of handfuls of small new potatoes in their skins (you can use chunks of whatever spuds you have), a quarter of a crown prince squash, a handful of jerusalem artichokes (we have an Organic veg box delivered don’t you know so its what we have – any root veg works so well), a stick of celery. I threw in half an orange as it was lying there and I felt sorry for it. I had some thyme, bay and sage which I tied together and popped inside the chicken (a sprinkle of dried works well). Add white wine (or not) and some stock (I used a gel pot) and fill the pot so all the veg is covered, there will be some chicken standing proud of the stock at the top. Sprinkle some olive oil over the exposed chicken, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Put the lid on (or foil) and put in the oven for about 1.5 hours until chicken is cooked and veg tender.
There it is you have just cooked and provided a wonderful meal for your family – all in one pot! Eat out of the casserole, decant to your great great grandmother’s handmade platter or bung it on everyones plate – whatever floats your boat and works for your family.
I always make stock out of the chicken bones and make a soup out of any veg I have left – therefore another meal. Any left over chicken I put in the fridge and use through the week.
So there it is, not a beautiful Instagramable photo, it ‘aint going to get you in the Good Food Guide but it really is so tasty the clear plates (let the kids eat the bits they like – top tip!) will have you feeling like that super parent we all watch on TV or read about in the latest glossy cook book.
Take Care guys,