Monday, 14 February 2011

Rediscovering the joy of cooking

It's no secret - anyone who knows me well enough knows that I love playing around in the kitchen. What many don't know is that I haven't had the energy or the will to cook for around two years now. For a hobby I loved to do daily, that's been pretty crushing.

Throw in going dairy free, and more recently gluten free, and I've been even less able to do this one of my favourite things.

When I have made food it's generally been as an obligation, or in one of the very, very rare flashes of feeling not-tired. It hasn't been a part of my daily life, and I have missed it horribly.

That's changed in the last two weeks. I have been able to think about cooking, and experiments, and carry them through. To theorise and test my theories. What can I say? I'm a geek in the kitchen, as much as I am anywhere else in life. I stand there and I think about the chemical processes going on, and how it would change if I did something else, or used a different ingredient, or a different process, or whatever.

Occasionally I get a surprise, as I did on Sunday when I made my breakfast quiches. Well, they were supposed to be quiches. They ended up being souffles instead. Apparently, mayonnaise is a very effective raising agent. I'm not quite sure why that is, but it certainly seems to be the case. Originally, it was supposed to be substituting for cream, to give them a better texture. It changed the texture, all right. Just in a bit of a different direction to what I was expecting. I've tacked the recipe on to the end of this post, suggestions for flavour combinations and tweaks would be great.

I want to start making my own mayonnaise for use in my quiches too. Anyone got a good recipe?

I still haven't debugged my mini meatloaf, which are my lunches during the week. Being dairy and gluten free, and also doing a lot of physical exercise, relying on cafes and food courts for lunch is expensive and risky. So, I DIY. I like a hot lunch, too. Thus: mini meatloaf. Anyway. They're lovely and moist and ... fall apart. I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong there, really. Maybe less egg? More breadcrumbs? Oh well, I'll give it a try next time I make a batch.

Quite apart from the meds (which have had a vastly positive impact on my outlook and mood), I think that making more of my own food is making me feel healthier. I get bugger all preservatives in my diet now. Lots of fresh veg and good quality protein. Very little starts off looking like something not recognisably of plant or animal origin. On top of that, it's fun. And delicious! I say without shame that I am a very good cook. I can count the number of fail meals I've made in the last decade on one hand (I'm up to 4). I make food that is far, far better than what I can buy in a packet and is usually better than what I can buy in a cafe or restaurant. Part of that is, I think, that I have been doing it long enough - about 20 years - so that I have a good 'feel' for it. Part of it is the way my brain is twisted towards curiosity and experimentation, followed by analysis, theories, and theory testing. This is helped along by a very active sense of taste - I love food, food tastes awesome, and there is no faster way to give me an endorphin high than to feed me a wonderful meal.

In a slight change of subject, I'm considering adding to my list of hobbies doing formal reviews of gluten and dairy free products. Especially for baking, flour in particular, it is a right royal pain in the posterior to get together, mix, and keep on hand all the little bits and pieces needed. Also, packet products are a good place to start a new set of experiments - it tastes good, what's in it, can I make it better? Or simply have around as convenience foods. I guess I'd have to contact various companies to find distributors in my area, although I suspect I already know where most of them are within a 10km radius. It will improve my writing and food photography skills, as well as providing at the very least a self-reference for various products, and potentially a resource for others.

This post is probably long enough, so I'll leave it there. Please comment on anything that interests you, and let me know if there's anything I can improve in my writing or anything else.

As promised, the recipe:

Crustless Individual Quiches or Souffles.

Ingredients.
8 eggs
2-3 cups finely chopped veges (shallots, fresh asparagus, capsicum,
tomatoes, green beans, zucchini, mushrooms, caramelised onion, etc).
Saute hard veges first.
200g meat filling (bacon, salmon, chorizo, etc)
spices to taste (pepper, garlic, chilli)
herbs (basil, thyme, dill, rosemary, mixed herbs, etc)
2-3 tbspn whole egg mayonnaise (4-5 tbspn for souffle)

Method.
1. Preheat oven to ~180C.
2. Grease six-cup texas muffin tray.
3. Whisk together herbs, spices, eggs and mayonnaise in a 2L jug,
until smooth. ~30secs.
4. Mix together meat filling and veges.
5. Divide meat/vege mix into muffin tins.
6. Pour egg mix over meat/veges. Fill cups to nearly full.
7. Bake for around 30min, until golden brown on top.

Makes six texas muffin sized quiches or souffles.