the holidays were hard on my desire to cook. all that frenzy of preparation leading to just a few meals, it can really take the inspiration right out of you. and it doesn't help that it all happens in this dark, dismal time of year, does it? so how to get back the mojo in the kitchen after the holidays? i've been asking myself that for more than a week. i asked myself last monday, when we went out to dinner at our favorite local restaurant. i asked myself that last tuesday, when i wasn't feeling well and let my family fend for themselves. i asked myself that last wednesday when i made a simple risotto because it felt like the only thing my stomach would accept...anyway, you get the idea.
it wasn't until friday evening, when husband's teenage daughters were each bringing a friend and i suddenly had to cook for more than three people again that i began to feel interested in being in the kitchen again. i started with a faithful standby, nigel slater's coq au riesling. the smell of browning chicken rising from the pan began to awaken my sleeping cooking mojo and it came back in earnest when i tossed in the garlic and a leek and that smell began to fill the air. when i opened the fridge and gazed upon all that winter veg - read: cabbage, and thought, "i can make a delicious salad of this, some chopped macadamias and one of those grapefruit," that i knew it was coming back.
summer cooking is easy, but winter is harder. all those root vegetables staring at you from the bottom drawer. what to do with them? how to keep it interesting night after night, especially if your husband isn't that fond of soup. and how on earth do you top the goodness of the holiday meals and go back to boring, everyday fare again?
one way, for me, has been to adapt an idea i used at christmas to my more everyday cooking. for christmas, i had ordered a duck and a pork roast from the årstiderne, the folks who bring my weekly organic box. they come in really nice styrofoam boxes, together with ice and so rather than opening them up and disturbing this, i just set them in the outdoor refrigerator, without looking at them. when it came time to open them up and prepare them for the christmas dinner, i discovered that the pork roast was a whole lot smaller than i had imagined it to be and i was suddenly worried that we didn't have enough food. after an initial moment of panic, i turned to nigella's christmas, my go-to book for festive meals. there, i found a rolled stuffed loin of pork.
although i didn't have a loin, it was a thick roast and we were able to open it up and put a modified version of nigella's delicious stuffing inside.
125 grams bacon (i had a large hunk that i cubed up myself, rind and all, rather than using sliced bacon)
3 shallots, peeled and halved
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
3 T fresh thyme leaves
handful of dried cranberries
generous handful of salted almonds
3 T olive oil
throw all of these ingredients into the food processor and whiz it up into a thick paste. spread it on your meat, fold it up and wrap the meat in sliced bacon. this really helped against the pork roast becoming dry and boring as they sometimes do.
and ever since, i've been addicted to variations of this stuffing. we used it in a beef roast - minus the wrapping in bacon part and with rosemary instead of thyme - for new year's (i will use less cranberries next time i use it with beef, they were slightly too sweet) and i just used it to stuff a couple of pork tenderloins on saturday, using parsley instead of thyme, since my thyme is under the snow at the moment. it's versatile and flavorful and keeps the meat juicy and delicious. on new year's, we took a bit of our cake over to the neighbor's house and were asked to stay for a drink, so our beef roast ended up in the oven for longer than i would have liked. if it hadn't been stuffed with this, it would have been dry, boring and overdone, but because it was stuffed, it was meltingly tender, infused with rosemary and the smokiness of the bacon and just delicious.
so the next time you're standing before a potentially boring roast, whiz up a batch of this and watch your cooking (and eating) mojo return. but do be sure to roast some of those root vegetables beside it, you wouldn't want to let them go to waste - just pour in a bit of apple cider with them and a drizzle of honey and a few sprigs of your thyme or rosemary and pop them into the oven. they'll be the perfect accompaniment to your roast.