MasterChef is a British television cooking competition which has been going for decades. It was also what my youngest sister, who appreciated the important things in life, called Habibi.
I am fortunate - being only an average cook myself - to have been surrounded for most of my life by Men Who Cook. First there was my father. Of course, it was my mother who cooked every day for a family of nine, in between everything else that goes into looking after seven children and a husband who works shifts. And she loved to bake beautiful sultana scones, and vanilla buns - golden yellow scallops that came moist and sweet out of the tray. But on high days and holidays, it was Dad who cooked.
Of course, this may be one of those tricks of memory. It is quite possible that Mother usually did Christmas dinner, but because she usually cooked anyway, I only remember the times my father did it. Kids!
Like the baby who spends umpteen hours a day with Mama, but whose first word is 'Dada!'
But I shall always remember the Christmas that Dad cooked the eight-legged turkey (which must have been 1971, when my youngest brother was old enough to eat Christmas dinner, but my youngest sister wasn't). In the backs of our minds, we understood that our parents had gone for a catering pack of legs because everyone liked leg, no-one was bothered about breast, and - I suspect - the oven simply could not accommodate an entire bird of the requisite magnitude. But who cared? That year, we had an eight-legged turkey!
These days, while Mother really enjoys her meals, she's definitely more of an assembler of good things - cold meats and salad and such, or beautifully presented plain cooking. (I'm much the same, but with a penchant for making single dishes - casseroles and pies - that don't require the management of several pans at once. ) Mother pours her creativity into her garden, her knitting, and her tapestries.
Dad, on the other hand, cooks. He knows his chefs, his cooking programmes, and his cookbooks. In a kitchen smaller than ours, whenever we get over to stay, he pulls out all the stops to present starters, main courses and desserts, always accompanied by the right wine (bonus feature: he was once a wine waiter at a rather swish establishment in London, and knows his wines too - hm... at this rate I could run a raffle: Dinner for two, anyone?). And it's all to die for. In fact by the third day of splendour I think it might be to die from - but what a way to go!
As for the rest of the Men Who Cook: my eldest brother trained as a chef; my youngest brother draws on the flavours of the world for his stews and curries; Habibi is self-taught and loves to experiment with recipes - quite possibly even more than he enjoys eating the results; a friend who stayed with us for several months (and with whom we later stayed for several months!) was just as enthusiastic - to the point where he and Habibi were all but competing for kitchen time.
This was great during the week, when we sat down to a fine evening meal; but at the weekend, one of them would prepare a huge cooked breakfast, and the other would cook a wonderful dinner, and it began to feel like a sustained campaign to fatten me up for slaughter.
Yes indeed, it is possible to have too much of a good thing!
Meanwhile, I was the envy of my girlfriends, who all went home from work and cooked dinner for their families: You mean they both cook? They won't let you in the kitchen? Can we have them after you?!
And now Habibibaba has discovered the culinary arts. The signs are unmistakeable: detailed, happy descriptions over the phone of what he's cooked, how he's cooked it, and who for; the phone call to Habibi to find out how, exactly, you roast a chicken; the deeply satisfying announcements of the acquisition of an excellent knife, a good set of pans; and the walk down from The High Place at Petra, where I was taking in the gob-smacking (er.... I mean awe inspiring...) vista and astonishingly varied rock strata, while Habibibaba quizzed his father on how to make a proper Bolognese sauce, all the way down. It was lovely to see the pair of them so absorbed in a shared passion.
Yes sisters, they've got me surrounded to the third generation. Does it get any better?!
Well actually, yes.
A few months ago, Habibi came across HalfManHalfBeer's blog.... and his recipes. A new adventure begins! Chilli con Carne made with cocoa and smoked pepper. Chicken Tikka Masala. Chicken sort-of-Kiev-but-much-better. Classic Chish 'n' Fips. Oh yes.
Go to this man's recipe collection, people!
One day he mentioned that some of his favourite recipes are from Gordon Ramsay. With Habibi's birthday coming up, I camped out in Magrudy's for an hour or so, with a stack of Gordon Ramsay cookbooks, and picked Secrets, which focuses on techniques as well as recipes: right up Habibi's street.
Yesterday we had - beef fillet with a gratin of wild mushrooms.
Man returns from supermarket with interesting goodies
Man preserves Aura of Mystery
Man substitutes available tame Shitake mushrooms, for unavailable wild mushrooms.
Man chops green things and pokes brown things in pan
Man shows large pieces of cow what a frying pan looks like
Man lets cow pieces get their breath back (definitely still mooing on arrival on dinner plates some time later)
Man prepares prettily coloured heaps to please Woman
Man adds extremely yummy brown stuff and yellow stuff, before putting cow pieces in hot oven in case they're feeling cold
Man presents feast to suitably appreciative Woman, who will love him forever.
(Apologies for poor pic.... It looked so much better in real life.....)
There. Did you enjoy that? I hope so. This is a delicious dish! Oh yeah!
P.S. Woman does her bit:
So worth it =D