Creative cooking is not my forte it would seem. The ideas that people have and then translate onto the plate and bowl are nothing short of alchemy, at least in my head…and my kitchen. I like cooking, I like baking and I even like the meditative process of making soup and stock. A good thoughtful stir of a soup pot and a culinary sauna often helps in times of stress or strife. I won’t be the first one to say that nor will I be the last and the results of the stirring are usually quite good. Tonight’s dinner was not one of those efforts.
It was the first day back to work after a blissful week off doing not a lot. We were house-sitting for my parents while they swan around in France and it was a week of sleeping, a bit of culture in London and a wander along the pebbly south coast – all in all, a good break from routine. I’d spent the day at work dreaming about what to have for dinner and my mind had settled on honey and mustard chicken with either roast potatoes or rice. The idea was pitched to Tom, he agreed and off he trundled to get the required ingredients. Now, when I thought of the meal, I had in mind something like the Chicken Tonight sauce that was so ubiquitous in my cupboards at university. Add sauce to browned chicken, stick in the oven and bang – a meal with enough left over for lunch the following day. How hard could it be?
When you say “how hard can it be” the ghost of Julia Child rises up and messes with the culinary karma and the end result is not great. Tonight was such an event. It started well enough. Chop an onion and grate some garlic. Fry off and then add the chicken to seal. Stir in a couple of teaspoons of whole grain mustard, a sprinkling of plain flour and a spoonful of honey. So far, so good. It looks good, it smells good. Add the mountain of sliced carrots in the vain hope they really will help my night vision (thanks for the lies Mum, but my night vision still blows) and add the stock until the carrots and meat is covered. Stir well and stick in the oven to do the magic bit.
And somewhere between adding the stock and sticking in the oven, karma waved her magic and it all went sideways. It still smelled good, it looked like a casserole should but something wasn’t working. The sauce (as it should have been) wasn’t thickening. It was bubbling. It was cooking the chicken and the carrots but as for thickening – nada. Even the fail safe addition of a cornflour and water emulsion didn’t work. All 6 tablespoons of it. Nor simmering on the hob while the roast potatoes took their turn in the oven. I tried a rapid boil; maybe the fierce heat would scare it into submission. Still nothing thickened. Tom stood behind me, watching me do battle with the pan. I said, half jokingly, “If I screw this up, at least we have roast potatoes”. He smiled and said the nothing of a well-practiced boyfriend.
An hour after starting, dinner was on the table, candles lit as we do every time we eat dinner at the table. The casserole still unthickened was served with the bronzed and crispy potatoes. The chicken was cooked and tender, the carrots still firm and sweet. The sauce however…it was edible but not what I had hoped for, or wanted or anticipated.
I looked at Tom as we finished. “Still, at least the potatoes were good…”