Saturday, 15 January 2011

Cooking as therapy

It's been a funny old week in various ways (a funeral and snapping my glasses being but two), but the working week culminated yesterday in a sort of shit-almost-hitting-the-fan sort of moment, which left me gnashing my new teeth and contemplating an evening in the bar by way of dealing with it.

The Other Half, however, tactfully coaxed me away from my desk and down the road toward Waitrose – the direction I'd originally intended to take – to buy bread, milk, cream, mushrooms and some packet puff pastry. And then it was off home.

The final remains of last weekend's roast chicken awaited. It had occurred to me, sometime in the early hours of Friday morning, in that half-sleep, half-awake state, that one possibility for finishing it up would be to make pies.

Now, while I've made cottage pies (and shepherd's pies) and fish pies before, I've hardly even dabbled in the realms of pies that involve pastry.

Having made a few notes on temperature and time, I set the oven to 200˚ and got down to business. Doing all my measurements by eye, I poured some semi-skimmed milk (it was the end of a jug) into a small pan and put it on a low heat, with some dried porcini mushrooms in it.

Next up: a finely chopped shallot went into some butter to soften, followed after around five minutes by the button mushrooms, either halved or quartered, depending on size. Cook gently for a little longer and then add the chicken, that's been roughly chopped up into bite-size pieces.

Then sprinkle with about a dessertspoon of plain flour. Stir and cook through for about a minute, then start slowly adding the milk. It stirred in easily and in helpfully lump-free fashion. You want it to thicken – but not too much. Once the milk had all gone in, the porcini joined it.

Add some thyme, taste and season. Then a good spoon of thick, thick cream.

I had considered adding some mustard to the sauce, but then, because I'd got some in and because I liked the idea of a third level of mushroominess, I grated a little black truffle in too. You can get small ones in small jars (usually two to a jar) and they keep in the fridge for quite a while, which as you don't need much, makes them far cheaper than one might imagine.


Butter some dishes (or a large one if you want) and pop the mix in.

I'd opted for pre-made pastry from the chiller cabinet because I wasn't going to use shortcrust and I wasn't going to make a first attempt at making my own puff pastry on a Friday night after work.

Beat an egg and brush some over the rim of the dishes. Take a square (or rectangle) of the pastry and pop it carefully on top. Press down gently around the rim and trim the edges with a sharp knife. Make a couple of slits in each pie and then brush the pastry with the remaining egg wash.

Put in the oven and leave for 30 minutes.

During that process, I realised that I was singing quietly to myself. When the little alarm went and I looked into the oven, the sight that met my eyes produced whoops of delight – although that wasn't apparently obvious from a room away: The Other Half wandered in looking concerned, assuming that it had all gone tits up.

Not only did they look wonderful, with sauce dripping down each dish and a beautifully risen and golden pastry top, but the taste was a triumph too.

Never mind that it was excellent comfort food, but it was also a perfect example of cooking as therapy. By the time I sat down to eat, the problems of the day had drifted away.

Could I sell this as an alternative health remedy? Cooking instead of Valium?


  1. sounds tasty as it is bt did you put the chicken in? x

  2. ~~slaps forehead and swears~~

    I very roughly chopped up the remaining chicken and put it in just after the mushrooms, before the flour.

    I'm going to edit that because it's so darned important. Thanks for highlighting it! ~~thumbs up~~