Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Food, glorious food!

I can never cook the same recipe twice. Really, I can't. The reason for it is because most of the time I don't follow any recipe. I just go with my instinct.
Take last week for example, for dinner I cooked one of my (what I like to call) One Pot Wonders. What is that? I hear you ask. Well, it usually consists of the following: some vegetables, some minced meat (anything from beef to sausage meat, while also taking a detour via turkey and lamb), a bit of stock and a lot of simmering.

I always start with the same 'base': chopped onions, carrots and celery. Then chuck in whatever else I can find in the fridge that needs using up like leeks, bacon, or peppers. Once that's softened, I then add the mince of my choice. Then, if I want a thick sauce, I add a bit of flour. If I just want some kind of brothy sauce, I skip the flour and just add the stock straight away. I then look in the cupboard for some inspiration and usually end up chucking a handful of herbs (usually rosemary, thyme and laurel) or spices (I always keep a tub of harissa in the fridge and ras el hanout in the cupboard) depending on my mood. And I let it simmer for a while. Some days, I would add some potatoes 20 minutes before serving or other vegetables like courgettes or aubergines, or a can of chopped tomatoes. Or I would just cook some pasta or rice or couscous.

Now, sometimes the result ends up looking like a bit of a dog's dinner, I'll admit it. And it's also the reason why I don't have any pictures of it. But, it's not what it looks like that matters. It's what it tastes like. And as my dad says: it's full of nice ingredients, so why wouldn't it taste nice?

However there are some ingredients I can't seem to cook with. What do you do with a parsnip? What kind of strange root vegetable is that? One day that my parents were visiting, we went to the supermarket and spotted parsnips. My mum being an encyclopeadia on all things foodie, I asked her what that was. And guess what? She didn't have a clue. She answered with one of her best cryptic answers: 'It's probably one of those roots that we stopped eating after the war'. As if people only ate root vegetables during the war, and also, what would she know about it. She wasn't even born then! We had to look it up in the dictionnary when we got home and strangely enough, this particular root has made a comeback in the past few years in French cuisine. Same with swedes and turnips? What the hell are they? They look like those plants that shriek and kill you in Harry Potter, the ones you need earmuffs for. My mum thinks (and is probably right) that they are somewhat akin to our dear 'navet'. Except that ours are tiny, white with a bit of purple at the top. Not gigantic and orange inside. That being said, navet or turnip, I think that both of them are tasteless and don't particularly like them as you would have guessed. So why would I bother cooking them? I bought one of those soup packs the other day in the greengrocer's. It came with a leek, some carrots, an onion, some herbs and guess what? A bloody parsnip. Next time I'm there, I'll make the suggestion that they replace the parsnip with a nice big potato instead. That would suit me better. I ended up taking a potato out of my potato bag and throwing the parsnip out. Talking about potatoes, why do they insist on selling you 5kgs or even 10 kgs bags of potatoes. I know it's a staple here, a bit like bread over in France. But seriously, Irish families are not that big anymore. How do you manage to get through 10 kgs of potatoes before they rot? You'll have to tell me, because my 2.5 kgs bag, bought only last week, is growing lots of little spider look a likes everywhere!

The meat front sometimes looks as bleak as the vegetable front. For a start, butchers here don't cut the meat the same way we do in France. Which makes me laugh everytime my mum gives me a recipe. She always mentions which cut of meat I should ask for (force of habit), which is pretty useless to me because first, it would have a different name, and second, the butcher wouldn't have a clue which bit of the bloody cow I'm talking about. You can't seem to find some specific types of meat here. And, no I'm not talking about horse meat, which is really, really bland, if you ask me. I'm talking veal in particular. Now, thanks to Mr Foodie, this problem has been sorted. He happens to work with somebody (as you do!) whose relative is a butcher. So on Thursday, I sent him into work with my shopping list. I am thrilled, I got 2 rabbits, some veal and some oxtail. The first time I asked for oxtail in the butcher's here some 10 years ago was memorable. He looked at me and asked me my age. What does that have to do with it? Are young people not allowed to cook oxtail or something? He then proceeded to ask me with a suspicious look about how I intended to cook it? Mind your own business how I cook it! I wouldn't ask for it if I didn't know how to cook it!

So what's for dinner tonight? Well, I need to use up those weird looking potatoes (it is still ok to use them, isn't it?). And I have some mince in the freezer, some carrots and a few peas at the bottom of the freezer. So cottage pie it will be. In the meantime, if anybody can tell me if they buy those huge 10 kgs bags of potatoes, please enlighten me and tell me what you do with them!

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