Friday, 21 December 2012

Apocalypse not

So, what did you do with your last day alive? What do you mean, you didn’t believe that the world would end today?

Whatever was going to happen or not, one thing was certain: today was my first day of the holiday at home, so time was going to be spent in the kitchen.

I'm working on a rather special dessert for Christmas Day and, fortunately, it can be done in stages.

Actually, this Christmas will, as previously, be a four-course meal. But to be honest, I think that doing the big festive dinner this way is easier that doing a big roast bird with all the trimmings.

Doing a traditional roast beef dinner, for instance, sends me crazy – not because any single element is difficult, but because timing everything, all at the same time, is.

And the more I learn, the more I realise that if I plan carefully for a meal like the one I have planned, lots can be done beforehand, leaving me with comparatively little serious cooking to do on the day itself.

So today saw a second attempt at one of the main components of dessert – there are more to come – which has already involved trying new techniques such as making Italian meringue.

Oh, how wonderful an invention is the thermometer!

The final shopping lists have now been written and the post office visited to collect a cake board and sugar decorations for tomorrow’s major project. Prep will continue until Monday evening.

But we still had to eat today and, with a bag of beef mince needing to be used, I decided to baptise my new tagine.

After all, it was only given to me a fortnight ago, so it would be churlish not to use it before all life came to an end.

So, approximately 400g of mince was mixed with four cloves of crushed garlic and some leftover roasted spices that I had from a week or so ago, before being rolled into neat meatballs.

Then, it was back westward, with a mirepoix of finely diced red onion, carrot and celery.

When all the prep was complete, and while the oven was warming to 160˚C (fan), a large sauté pan with a drizzle of olive oil was heating on the hob.

The meatballs were browned first and, after being removed to a plate, were followed into the shimmering oil by the vegetables.

After softening, they were joined by half of my last chilli from this year's harvest, a pinch of sugar, a nip of salt and a generous squeeze of tomato purée.

A dessertspoon of plain flour followed, before a healthy glug of red wine deglazed the pan – and maintained the sense of west meeting east. A little defrosted chicken stock went in too, plus several grinds of black pepper, before it was all decanted into the tagine, the meatballs added, the lid popped on and the whole carefully placed in the oven.

Discovery: it's not easy to lift a tagine lid while wearing big rubber oven gloves.

However, after 40 minutes, it came out and was tested for seasoning. Result – a little more salt added, plus, in a burst of inspiration, a dessertspoon of a honey fig jam I'd picked up on this morning in La Bouche.

And back into the oven for a further 40 minutes, before some basmati rice was set simmering, perfuming the kitchen delightfully.

That wasn’t bad for a last meal.

The mood must have been catching, since Loki chose today to go further than any of our cats has ever gone.

After deciding – all short hair raised in a stripe, from the top of her head to her tail, like a feline Mohican – to chase the considerably larger Reggie from the carpark, she had thought it wise to venture beyond the carpark gates.

It was a while before we realised – on my return from errands – that she was nowhere to be seen. And still longer before The Other Half detected her, hiding in fear under the metal stairs at the converted pub next door.

Once home, she ate as though she’d been starved for days, before we got hold of her and wiped off the worst of the mud she’d been up to her belly in somewhere.

Then she spent the next hour cleaning herself immaculately, before suddenly deciding that she was actually rather traumatised and wasn’t going to shift from beside The Other Half for the foreseeable future.

What an adventure!

But before we laugh easily at those who apparently actually believed that the Mayans had correctly predicted the end of the world as we know it – and knew where France was and where Bugarach in France was – something does occur to me.

Perhaps we might wish to remember, not least at this time of year, that many people still genuinely believe that a god came down from heaven and impregnated a woman – without even a hint of any coitus non-interruptus – and that the offspring was also that same god himself.

And then he later was executed for political crimes – although since his dad (who is also himself) knows everything, sees everything and is all-powerful, this means that his father planned his own/own son’s death.

But it was okay, because the father/son then rose from the dead and returned to heaven, along with their mate, the holy spirit.

And for some, if you eat a bit of bread and drink a sip of wine in the right setting, it will quite literally be a bit of his/their actual body and his/their actual blood – a wow of a cannibalistic idea.

Y’know, I think I was right to spend the last day – hic! – doing something constructive like cooking.

And anyway: Santa is coming and I have to make him a mince pie.

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