I often get asked by friends what it is that I love about cooking so much. It’s a hard one to pin down an answer to, but its mostly a combination of loving food, wanting to try new things and avoid repetition, and partly because it’s a type of therapy for me. It may or may not come as a surprise to people who know me (I have no idea how well I hide it) that I’m an extremely anxious person, to the point that a doctor might class it as a mental health problem. Feeling sick to the stomach about a night out with friends, fretting about any news report with the buzz words ‘North Korea’ or ‘flu epidemic’, and walking around Paris for ages looking for a restaurant that’s not too busy, too empty, too anything that makes me feel uncomfortable (I’m the Goldilocks of picking eateries) can obviously be exhausting at times. Not just for me, but luckily The Boyfriend is very patient and kind. Being on a night out and having to lock yourself in the toilet for half hour so you can calm yourself down and convince yourself that nothing bad is going to happen (other than wasting half an hour in a dirty nightclub toilet) is not the ideal way to spend your down time. Cooking, and baking in particular has helped enormously with the anxiety. When you follow a recipe exactly and out of the oven emerges a cake of such deliciousness, you feel completely in control and know that 9 times of 10 everything will turn out just fine. It’s a good lesson to transfer to life, that not everything will always turn out perfect but if you try hard and stay in control of the situation then it will probably be OK. I’ll probably never feel in full control of the anxiety but I’ve learnt not to let it take over and to relax and let what will be, be. A few Saturdays ago I was queuing in the supermarket a few hours before some friends were due over for a night out in my hometown. Suddenly this overwhelming thought that the night would be a total disaster came into my head, my stomach was in knots and I just knew if we went out something awful would happen. The urge to cancel and stay in on my own was unbelievably strong and a few years ago that’s exactly what I would have done. Instead, I stuck it out and within five minutes of my friends turning up I was having a great time and all the anxiety had melted away. Suffice to say, nothing bad happened other than me being filmed unable to sit up and open my eyes at the same time. Bloody Jaeger bombs. Working in mental health, I see people all the time whose anxiety/depression/agoraphobia has taken over and stopped them living well, and that’s something I’m determined not to let happen to me. Cooking has helped so much with this – being in control in the kitchen has led to being in control elsewhere. Cooking won’t work for everyone, but it works for me.
So anyway, that’s why I love cooking. Tonight I cooked a recipe that I had pinned on my favourite time waster, Pinterest. I could, and have spent hours on Pinterest, mainly finding amazing looking recipes and cakes that I know I will never be able to recreate. Occasionally though a recipe pops up that is achievable, and needing inspiration for my slow cooker I turned to Pinterest and found a recipe for Chinese beef and broccoli. Labelled as a takeout fakeout without the cost, MSG and saturated fat of a takeaway, it came from the food blog Table For Two. I was drawn to this for purely shallow reasons, aka the photo of the dish looked nice. No other reason, although beef is a great meat to chuck in the slow cooker and why not give it a Chinese spin? If you make this recipe yourself, please follow her instructions on using low sodium soy sauce, as the recipe requires a substantial amount and if you were to use the full on salty stuff the dish would be inedible. It’s very simple, but produces a tasty dish with beef that hasn’t fallen apart into mush. The strips of beef had soaked up the beefy, salty cooking liquid and while soft still had a bit of bite, as did the broccoli which goes in for the last half hour of cooking time. There’s not a great deal of complexity, there’s nothing stunning about it, but its still satisfying and stays on the right side of the salty scale. It’s no Chinese takeaway though. Check out the recipe here: http://www.tablefortwoblog.com/2012/09/12/take-out-fake-out-beef-broccoli-crockpot/