It happens to us all. Some days there is just nothing going right and the minutest thing peeves us off big time. It’s the wrong side of bed, it’s the bad hair day, a niggling worry or a major impending cock-up reveal to the boss.
Whatever the reason, sometimes we are simply not very happy. Still you have to eat, let alone the family. Of course, we can always resort to a takeaway, but considering we eat far too many of them already, it might be better to find something healthier to put together reasonably quickly. Or perhaps quite the opposite: find a cooking process that will be therapeutic and annoyance-free.
The key principle: NOT to experiment. Nothing worse than embarking on a completely new recipe, only to lose enthusiasm halfway through because it turns out to be undoable. I must say I have never actually hurled a bowl of half-kneaded bread dough across the kitchen, or slopped a half-cooked dish out of the window, but I have been close. Don’t do that: when you’re in a bad mood, cook what you’re good at or what you’ve made many times before.
The best ideas for a time of ire are recipes that involve lots of peeling, chopping and dicing, but once assembled, nothing much can go wrong.
Stir fries are perfect like that. Stir fries are, as someone said, simple one-pan, thirty-five-bowl dishes. You have to prep all the ingredients, peel and chop, grate and crush, and the best stir fry practice is to prepare them in individual bowls in the portions that go into the wok together. I don’t know about you but I find it intensely cheering to see little bowls of prepped ingredients, all lined up to create a satisfying dish that takes five minutes of active cooking.
Peeling, chopping, then hands-off is also when you make soups, especially if you cook your own vegetable stock, like for Stilton and broccoli soup, or chicken noodle – which basically IS stock. Also, gratins: potato and fennel or potato and cabbage, or cheesy hasselback gratin. Plus the end result is a super-comforting dish.
If you don’t go for soups much, try lasagne. That’s some peeling and chopping but mostly therapeutic stirring of sauces which should focus you (especially the bechamel) enough to forget about your gripe. And assembling a lasagne is a joy!
Talking about cooking therapy, let’s not forget breadmaking, justly considered a kitchen tranquiliser. But it will only work if it’s your thing, and only with a recipe you’ve successfully done many times before. As I said above, it will only lift you up if tried and tested. For me, it will be San Francisco sourdough, provided I have a lively starter on the go, because in this particular recipe stretching and folding the dough that feels alive and looks more and more like a plumed up goose down pillow makes me happy. For you, it could be fougasse Emmental and I’d advise to knead it all by hand.
Then there’s cake, and if rolling out, cutting and baking a batch of lemon cornmeal shortbread won’t cheer you up, I don’t know what will. Maybe Swedish white chocolate cake, kladdkaka? Happy (and I mean it!) kitchen therapy!