Busy doing . . . . what?

“This is absolutely wonderful”, she said. “It’s a doddle”, I replied, but I could instantly tell she didn’t believe me. “You cook such lovely meals and I appreciate how much effort you put in”, but I was already thinking she didn’t actually understand.

Of course I was pleased she was pleased. That’s what cooking for someone, even yourself, should be about. It’s not just refuelling. Anyone can do that without thought. But we have to eat; every day of our lives until we die. It’s an inescapable fact; like breathing which we also have to do and the Clean Air Act helped us do it better – and longer.

I was being praised, not just for a lovely meal but also for putting myself out, for working, for going beyond the call of duty. Which, of course, is rubbish.

As I sat back while Sunday evening TV rattled on in the background, I wondered how much work I’d actually had to put in to produce such accolades. And, while it’s easy to say that it was nothing, what I found more interesting was what else I’d been doing at the same time and, as a loving and thoughtful husband, how little thought I’d put into planning.

Thinking it through, I developed a mental diary of my day. This was a month or so ago and I was due to depart for a week away in 24 hours and, like anybody about to embark on time away, I felt under pressure to get done all that was necessary before flying – despite not even writing a to-do list.

That Sunday I’d woken at the normal Sunday time with a slightly poorly head, wondering what I’d done last night and whether I’d upset anybody. Assuming I had and quickly getting used to it, I settled down to things that could be achieved rather than worried about.

After a coffee and a browse through the papers, I wondered outside to get a little fresh air and suddenly realised that my sheep, having run out of grass some months before, needed their twice-weekly feed. So, after emptying the last bag of food into their trough, I went to the local feed merchant (they are open on the Sabbath) and bought enough food for my wife to feed them for a week – and then, together, we went back down to the paddock so I could show her how they should be fed while I was away.

That’s half the morning done.

As I walked back from the paddock I realised that spring had sprung and noticed that there were dozens of bushes to be pruned which, while I was doing it, reminded me that the grass was just starting to grow and that at my next opportunity to get in the garden I would be confronted by grass getting too long to be cut easily – and I’ve a lot of grass.

So, after an hour or so’s more pruning, I went and made myself another quick coffee and then to the shed to inspect the lawnmower, only to discover that two of the tyres were flat. Yes, it’s a ride-on but, with so much lawn, riding around allows me to make a few calls and down the occasional can of beer. I managed to pump up one of the tyres but, after 20 minutes of invigorating exercise, I realised that the second one was going nowhere. So, jacking the machine up, I removed the wheel and went into town to get it sorted. Back an hour later I suddenly remembered that the next day, prior to travelling, I was giving a talk to a local community group so sat down to write it. But staring at the unlit fire for inspiration, realised that my wife might want to keep warm if the weather here wasn’t quite as good as it actually turned out to be, so then spent some time sawing up wood.

Looking at my watch, I realised that time was running out as I had an important meeting in the pub at five; an unavoidable appointment only excused by death (of either a close relative or me) or a trip well out of the area. Realising that I’d qualify next weekend but not today, I quickly finished, washed my hands and headed for the kitchen. After all, I wanted a good meal upon my return.

So take look at the recipe on this page. Apart from the few minutes taken putting the meat in a bowl to marinade earlier on in the day, it took me a total of 15 minutes before I went to the pub and a further 15 minutes afterwards. It was one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. Sure, I left it in a slow oven while imbibing. But don’t tell me that cooking good food’s difficult or time consuming. Evan a fool who can’t plan his day, nor finish any other job properly, can do it. And I’d cook it for you if I had the time.

Braised venison

Don’t be frightened by venison. It’s no different from cooking beef or lamb, isn’t a weird taste and, to satisfy the health-food lobby, is low in fat.

You can buy venison in the same way you can stewing steak – already cut up. Or you could buy a piece of shoulder or shank, or any other cheaper piece, and cut it into 3 or 4cm cubes.

Serves four

1½ kg venison meat – cut into cubes
One bottle of red wine
Two cloves of garlic – peeled and crushed
One bay leaf
A couple of sprigs of thyme
Three or four juniper berries – crushed with the blade of a knife
Two heaped tablespoons of plain flour
Two medium onions – peeled and chopped
Two tablespoons of tomato puree
1½ litres of beef stock
250g carrots – peeled and cut into chunks
One teaspoon of sugar
A handful of chopped parsley
Oil for frying the meat
Butter
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper

Put the meat into a glass or stainless steel bowl along with the red wine, garlic, bay leaf, thyme and juniper berries. Mix and leave to marinate for at least four hours and overnight if possible, stirring occasionally.

When you’re ready to cook, drain the marinade off the meat but make sure you keep it. Dry the meat on paper towels and sprinkle with half the flour and some salt and pepper. Heat a heavy-based frying pan and fry the meat in a little oil until browned on all sides. You might find it easier to do this in batches.

Pre-heat the oven to 150°C (gas mark 2).

In a casserole or large oven-safe saucepan, heat a little oil and butter and fry the onions over a low heat until they’re soft – 10 to 20 minutes. Add the remaining flour and the tomato puree and continue cooking for a few minutes while stirring. Add the marinade, a little at a time, stirring continuously and then bring to the boil. Reduce by half then add the stock and the marinated meat. Bring back to a simmer, cover with a lid, place in the oven and leave to cook for a 1½ to 2 hours – until the meat is tender.

Approximately 45 minutes before the end of cooking, place the carrots in a large saucepan, add a good slice of butter, the sugar and some salt. Just cover the vegetables with cold water and bring to the boil. Cook at a gentle boil without a lid until the carrots are tender; about 30 minutes or so. Most of the liquid will have evaporated but drain off any remaining and then mix with the chopped parsley.

To serve, spoon the venison casserole into warmed serving bowls and spoon the carrots over the top.

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