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The job of cooking

Ah, Sunday. Where did it go? What became of all those lazy-day promises I made to myself? Get a pedicure. Catch up on correspondence to friends who, unlike me, send Christmas cards with notes tucked inside. Settle down with Gods Behaving Badly, a whimsical-sounding novel in which Apollo, Aphrodite and the gang get up to no end of mischief in present-day London. But I did none of these things. Mostly, I cooked.

I haven’t cooked so much—we’re talking both frequency and volume, great potfuls of garlicky fare—since I was young and so hard-up that I once sent my husband out to sell a bus ticket, thereby pocketing just enough extra cash to pay for a can of tuna. (Please bear with me if you’ve seen that story here before.)  In those days I relied on so-called tuna casseroles, which in fact consisted mainly of a whack of noodles drenched in cream of mushroom soup and topped with enough buttered crumbs to beguile the most demanding stomach into thinking it had just been soothed with something unattainably luxurious, like chicken cordon bleu.

Now casseroles are making a comeback and Campbell’s is flying off the shelf. In these days of pink slips and shrinking portfolios, we’re all feeling poor. And I, a middle-aged writer, will not be snagging a job with a health plan when the lean times end. In my corporate years, I fell into the habit of dashing to the store at 6 o’clock for a couple of tuna steaks and a takeout quinoa salad. I’ve curbed my free-spending ways, but I’ve acquired a taste for more flair and less fat than tuna casseroles can deliver. So every weekend I pull out the slow cooker. An apt name, in my opinion. Believe me, it’s a project to cook this way.

SlowcookerYesterday’s project was a beef and barley stew that sounded divine in The Healthy Slow Cooker. Rosemary, red wine, orange juice, garlic…how could I go wrong? Trouble is, I had to brown two pounds of beef. And chop a daunting quantity of onions, celery stalk and carrots. And stand at the stove in my bathrobe, waiting for my veggies to soften in the frying pan, which was supposed to take a matter of minutes and in fact took more like half an hour, there being so much veg to whip into shape. (Why do cookbook authors seem to think I have a restaurant-quality stove?) Then I noticed I’d forgotten the orange, which required a run to the store. Then the cork broke into a kajillion little crumbs. Have you ever waited for a cup and a half of cork-filled wine to make its way, drop by drop, through a coffee filter? I wanted to curse the god of cooking, whichever toga-clad scamp he might be, for turning his powers to my kitchen.

WorthingtonI wrote yesterday’s post amid the scents of Provence. Then I took a mind-clearing walk on the still-snowy sidewalks of Toronto. Around about 6:30, just as promised, my fragant dish was cooked. Well, almost. Nobody tells you that slow-cooker recipes create so much liquid, you’re in for some straining and reducing. Only then could I tuck my creation away for the week ahead. Out came my previous exercise in chopping and simmering, lentil soup with Italian sausage, from Diane Rossen Worthington’s soul-warming collection Taste of the Season. My depression-reared mother would be proud of me (although, knowing her, she might suggest I’d been rather too generous with the sausage).

Tonight we tuck into the beef and barley concoction. Let’s hope it justifies the effort. Meanwhile I do know this. According to The Healthy Slow Cooker, it’s best served with the optional persillade, a melange of parsley, lemon and lots of garlic. Of course I want nothing but the best. Count me in.


Posted by Rona

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