I’ve been a tad quiet on this front for a number of weeks – what with holidays, day job, work trips to Sydney. That doesn’t, however, mean that I’ve not been making a little headway ( a very little headway) on this behemoth of a cookbook.
For this update, I’ve skipped ahead to the chapter titled One and Two. I have to admit that this is possibly my favourite chapter to date. The recipes in this section are, as the title suggests, for one, maybe two people. It’s a conundrum, this whole idea for cooking for yourself. My husband hates it. If Sarah and I are away he’ll live on cheese sandwiches or tinned soups. Yet when I was alone for those couple of months when they’d moved to Queensland before me I actually enjoyed mucking around in the kitchen for myself. It was a way of trying things out that I knew he mightn’t want to try or that Sarah would say, ‘I’m not sure how I feel about that.’ Having said that, as much as I enjoyed cooking for myself, after the first few days I didn’t enjoy eating on my own. I suspect the novelty might have worn off on the cooking thing before too long too; knowing that it was a break from normal kept it interesting.
Nigella says in this chapter that cooking for yourself helps you find your culinary voice without the fear of failing in front of people who you might want to impress. It gives you the freedom to try a little of this or that, to gain experience, to build your foundations. It also allows you to mess up every so often and be able to shrug about it. To me, this makes sense; it’s a little like blogging or journaling helps you to find the voice that you write in.
Anyways, what have I cooked?
Cream of Chicken Soup
Normally I like a soup with added bits – veg, meat, pasta, barley – but there’s something luxuriously retro about cream of chicken soup. I remember that a guilty pleasure used to be nursing a mug of Cream of Chicken cup-a-soup in the winter – even though I knew that the calories were off the scale and that I hated the metallic aftertaste of preservative. This cream of chicken soup is nothing like the ones you get in a packet. For a start, there’s real chicken in it and real leeks and real cream.
Given that the recipe uses poached chicken breast I used some that I’d stripped from the chook I’d simmered for stock the previous day. That also meant that I had a good stock on standby – even though Nigella says it’s okay to use a stock cube. The leeks are cooked in butter until soft and then a tablespoon of flour is added to give you a roux. A combo of pre-heated chicken stock (300 ml), full-fat milk (300ml) and a bay leaf (which you take out before adding to the roux) is poured in along with the chopped chicken and stirred occasionally until it all comes up to a boil. At this stage, it’s almost like you’re making a bechamel sauce that will become soup. The whole thing is then blended and sieved to get it perfectly smooth, before being brought up to the heat and finished with an egg yolk and a few tablespoons of double cream. The result is a silky, rich bowl of wintry comfort that has very little resemblance to the sup-a-soup version.
I really couldn’t be faffed with the whole sieving thing and didn’t mind the resultant texture and occasional bit of leek and chicken. As yummy as this soup was, it was also, I’m sorry to say, too much for my lactose challenged tummy – even though I swapped out some of the milk for stock. Is that too much information?
Sunday Night Chicken Noodles
While I will probably, for the sake of my tummy, not make the Cream of Chicken Soup again, this noodle soup has become a regular favourite. Excellent on a Sunday night, a Monday night or, indeed any night when comfort is needed, this is one of those soups that tastes as though it will be good for you – and actually is. It’s for when you need a little nurturing but also want to eat relatively healthily.
It does require a little bit of forward thinking in that the chicken strips are marinated for an hour, but other than that it’s one of those bowl dishes that can be on the table in less than 30 minutes.
The quantities below are for one large bowl of soup for a hungry eater. When this is feeding the three of us on a Monday night I double the recipe. Don’t get too hung up on what veg to use. This dish works really well with an Asian leafy green like choy sum or bok choy, but if all you’ve got in the crisper is beans and broccolini, use them instead.
The chicken breast is cut into strips and marinated in sake (4 tablespoons), mirin (3 tablespoons), soy (1 tablespoon), garlic (1 clove grated) and chilli (1 dried chilli, crumbled), so it almost has a teriyaki taste to it – without the sugar, of course…and with garlic and chilli. Actually, come to think about it, it’s really nothing like a teriyaki.
After the chicken has been marinating for an hour or so you can start putting dinner together. Prepare some fresh rice noodles (100g) according to the instructions on the packet. If you’re boiling them, toss in your chopped green veg for the last couple of minutes of cooking and then drain. Heat up some chicken stock (500ml); we usually have homemade in the house or some leftovers from chicken rice, but Nigella says a cube is fine.
While that’s coming to the boil, heat up a tablespoon of oil in a wok with a few drops of sesame oil, and when they are hot throw in the chicken and toss it about a bit until it’s cooked. Pour over the marinade and let it bubble until the chicken is dark and glossy. If we haven’t boiled the veg we toss it into the wok for the last couple of minutes of cooking.
Into your bowl pop the noodles and the veg. Pour the stock over the top and finally the chicken. If you have it lying around, some chopped coriander or spring onions will finish the dish beautifully.
I’ve taken on the challenge to cook my way through Nigella Lawson’s How To Eat. You can find other episodes here.