We are still without a kitchen. I'm not blaming the builders, who have been superb and worked like navvies, but our renovations have turned out to be a more ambitious enterprise than we had originally envisaged. The entire floor base has had to be broken up with a pneumatic drill, revealing a sort of packed down clay surface; pipes relayed, walls rebuilt, chimneybreasts knocked back, French windows inserted, everything re-wired. Gutted. They're nailing down re-claimed 1920's floorboards as I write.
It's been chaos, acidic builder's dust choking everywhere and everything (my dried-up hands breaking out into an unpleasant rash), books piled up high at crazy angles, cardboard boxes stacked here and there- an open invitation to trip, both of us trying hard not get grumpy. But it's been difficult.
And that constant drilling noise, from early morning to dusk. But the worst thing of all: No cooker. Yup, nothing to eat except micro-waved food, and sardines straight from the tin. Neanderthal. God, I'm utterly sick of micro-waved food. Initially, it wasn't too bad, and we could sort of cope with "Taste the Difference" packet chicken in black bean sauce. But after several months of this (has it been longer?) and all those supermarkety, ready-to-go, microwavey instant things have blurred into one awful, bland, salt-rich, monosodium glutamate lovin' nightmare.
Talking of which, I'm beginning to dream about food. Properly cooked food. Fresh food. I had a lovely fantasy sequence the other night which involved, amongst other things, the making of a New England Chowder. Fresh crab, little diced carrots, potatoes, onions, chopped flat-leaf parsley. Creamy. Rich. Thick. Intense, deep fishy, sea-side flavours. And I've started to have an obssession with chicken broth. Can't stop thinking about it.
A very kind friend learnt of this, and lent me us a nifty little camping stove, powered by a Calor Gas canister. I managed to make an excellent chicken soup or broth from it, which I served up to Mrs Aitch who was running a temperature. Cooked on the floor, in the ruins of our former kitchen. Next to a Cement Mixer. It was one of most delicious things I've ever tasted for a long, long time: take away decent, properly cooked food for a few months, and Mein Gott, you will start to really appreciate the crucial role food plays in the quality of life. It's terribly important.
Anyway, this is how I made my very simple, but completely beguiling chicken broth. I managed to find a large pan (about the only thing not in storage), rinsed off the dust with the garden tap outside, and into this I placed a very ordinary, ersatz, non-organic supermarket chicken. A whole one. Price: Five Pounds. By the way, for those of you who are sniffy about supermarket chicken, please take into account that in this particular case the poor beast did not die in vain, in the way that it might have done if it had been served up, say, by the Good Colonel Sanders.
I topped up the pan with water, so that it covered the chicken. Into the pan went: a few leeks (roughly chopped), a parsnip or two for extra sweetness (again, roughly chopped), a few peppercorns, a few onions (roughly chopped), a stick of celery (snapped in two) a few parsley stalks, a sprig of thyme, and a few baby carrots (chopped up into chunks).
The pan was brought to a slow simmer on a lowish to medium heat, and I scraped off the scum from the top as it did so. I kept on scraping off the scum as it bubbled up to the surface. The stew was then simmered slowly at a low heat, until the chicken started to break up, and a rich stock was formed. From memory, this took about an hour and a half. About twenty minutes beforehand, I had sliced up some further baby carrots into rounds and added them to the broth- for decoration. Taste, and add sea salt if you feel it needs it.
To serve, I ladled out the clearish chicken broth into a soup bowl, leaving all the bits and pieces behind in the pan. With a fork, I rescued some of the white chicken meat I found floating around in the pan, and tore it up into bite-sized pieces or strips. These were placed in the middle of the bowl, and the cooked baby carrot slices scattered around them. The broth was finished off with finely chopped flat leafed parsley.
It's a pretty and delicate looking dish, which also happens to be cheap to make; and if you're clever and bother to skim off the scum as it cooks, you should get a reasonably clear broth or consommé. This will amaze and impress your friends and neighbours.