Sunday, 29 March 2009

A Sunday in the kitchen

It’s Sunday, it’s the morning and I’m on my own for the day so, as Mr Gershwin might ask: what to do, what to do what to do?

It seems amazing that, even though I’m conscious of it now, I still get twinges of guilt if I’m not ‘doing things’ all the time – even when I have a day off work.

Cooking fulfils the need to ‘do things’ – and gives me an increasing amount of pleasure, so I don’t have to give myself excuses for spending time in such a fashion.

So what to cook today?

I have decided to try my hand at a different sort of bread – a date and pecan loaf. To start with, this means dealing with a different type of flour – granary – and then adding the dried yeast differently too; not by mixing it first with liquid, but by putting straight into the flour and salt, and then adding warmed milk and water.

Even after adding all of the specified liquid (and I am an Überpedant when it comes to measuring ingredients during baking), it’s not coming together completely. Fortunately, I’ve seen enough cookery programmes and read enough books to know not to panic and to simply add a little more warmed water.

Knead for about 10 minutes (at which point I realise the error of not removing my baggy, comfortable old sweatshirt first), until it’s a pleasingly elastic dough, then pop into a lightly oiled bowl, cover with cling film and stick into the airing cupboard.

An hour, and a few essential but boring chores later, the dough is ready to be knocked back and have the fruit and nuts added.

Eh? It’s like trying to cram a quart into a pint pot. At least, for such a seemingly impossible task, I’ve removed my sweatshirt first, and am standing in the kitchen with arms bared and just a t-shirt between me and the dough. It’s an elemental struggle!

I get as much in as I feel is possible, then kneed again for another couple of minutes before it’s rolled it into a ball, plopped it on a baking tray, covered in a clean tea towel and returned to the warm shelf above the boiler.

It might not be very Francophile, but Oasis makes a great driving accompaniment for such endeavour.

Amazingy, it’s almost 3pm when the second proofing is complete. Time flies when you’re having fun. A quick brush with water, a generous dusting with more of the granary flour, and it can go into the pre-heated oven.

Now, for the first time in what seems to have been a frenetic weekend, I’m going to go and sit down and have a read.

Some time later, the bread is cooked. But for all the magnificent aroma, you can’t eat it yet. Oh no, you have to wait to let it cool at least a bit. It’s a form of torture. And in today’s specific case, I don’t think I’ve ever felt as mad for a slice of ‘mere’ bread.

Thus comes the ‘Oh My God’ moment. Still warm, so the butter starts to melt invitingly. So sweet from the dates. Gorgeous. That’s three slices gone already.

More reading. And then: good grief! Where has the time gone?

It’s almost 6pm, but still light, since this is the first day of British Summer Time. It catches you out.

So to dinner. I’m continuing yesterday’s Gordon Ramsay mood, but this time with a dish from A Passion for Flavour: roasted salmon with a sweet and sour red pepper sauce.

To start with, that means softening very finely chopped red pepper and shallot in butter, together with some herbs. Now, partly because this dish is only for one person and not the four that the recipe is designed for, I’m adapting a bit. That and not having all the recommended ingredients.

I haven’t got any Noilly Prat, which chefs seem to love. Vermouth is the next best thing and there’s always some in the cupboard for risotto.

One of the herbs that I don’t have is tarragon, but since I have a French tarragon white wine vinegar, that can easily substitute for the plain white wine vinegar in the book. And one pepper (a red one) will to do instead of two red and two yellow. And today – what a crime! – it’ll be veg stock out of a bottle and not a proper, homemade vegetable nage. So there, Gordon! But thanks for the recipe anyway.

Ramsay has been on telly a couple of times in the last week, with new episodes of the US version of Kitchen Nightmares.

One can’t help but wonder why, if restaurant owners contact the production company to ask them to send in the gobby Glaswegian genius because help is required, so many of them are then so reluctant to take the advice that is dished out?

The pepper sauce has had the vermouth, the tarragon white wine vinegar and the stock added, been simmered for 20 minutes and then had the herbs removed.

Rice is now on and the oven heating for the salmon. For a Ramsay concoction, this seems really easy. All the sauce needs to finish it is a little more butter whisked in. The fish gets 10 minutes in the oven – nothing more required except to sit down and eat, with a glass of red wine and some Dean Martin on the deck.

Perhaps this is one of the most indulgent things that you can ever do – cook really good food just for yourself?

And on that note – cheers!


  1. Oy, I love the smell of bread baking.

    What a lovely way to spend a Sunday.

    I think I need to be more self-indulgent. I cook lovely meals for friends and family, but end up eating leftovers when I'm on my own.

  2. Hi Ell – I'd recommend some self-indulgence anytime. It's good for the soul.