To say that I am not a cook is an understatement. I adore eating and there’s nothing I won’t try, yet I find the rituals of cooking laborious and frustrating. But I am determined to change my ways.
Jane Hornby’s What to Cook and How to Cook It seemed the ideal way for me to get back into the kitchen. It’s full of basic recipes broken down into illustrated steps, and its glossary includes explanations of such advanced culinary techniques as ‘return to the boil’.
I choose the roast chicken with lemon and leek stuffing — inspired by a friend who has a tendency to throw a roast in the oven without a second thought (while I am busy making pasta with sauce from a jar). I figure, if anything, it will help me overcome that never-having-roasted-a-chook sense of inadequacy.
However, I am almost undone at the start. Perusing the method for stuffing the bird, I am helpfully informed that the cavity is ‘the big hole between the legs’ – just in case I have any beginners’ uncertainty about where to stick the half lemon, half garlic bulb and sprigs of thyme.
It takes a dirty martini for me to regain my composure. Thankfully, the chicken remains stoic and — after a literal buttering up — I manage to tie it up and get it into the oven, guided by my expert assistant, Mum.
Next up is the lemon and leek stuffing, which, oddly enough, is to be wrapped in bacon. I am a firm believer in bacon making everything better, so I am on board with this, although it seems odd. The stuffing is simple (onions, leeks, white bread, parsley, sage, lemon and egg), and I have my first experience of the exciting ‘pulse’ button on the food processor.
One step closer to MasterChef. I come a little unstuck when it is time for wrapping the stuffing balls, as I have roundish bacon rather than the long rashers that are called for, but a few toothpicks later and I am back in business. Not the most attractive little parcels in the world, but I have a sneaking feeling they will be bacony delicious. In they go to keep the chicken company for the last 20 minutes, followed by some extra hits of garlic.
After some tense moments where my culinary insecurities kick in and I am convinced I am going to give the family salmonella, the chook emerges in all its golden glory. It is cooked perfectly, although I think that has less to do with me and more to do with my expert assistant, who apparently has a feeling for chickens.
She is so at one with the dish now that I even graciously hand over the responsibility for the gravy, as I am rapidly reaching my cooking threshold. I remain to offer moral support. With the addition of some steamed potatoes and squash, the dish is delicious and a hit all around. I may even need to make it again.
– Tracey Lazos
WHAT TO COOK AND HOW TO COOK IT, Jane Hornby (Phaidon Press)