Thursday, October 26, 2006

Men Who Cook

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


MamaDuck said...

Hm. Did this in Firefox. Looks dreadful in IE. Suspected it might. Fix it tomorrow. Gonna stick with IE for formatting in future.

MamaDuck said...

For the record. After IE-side tweaking, much tidier in IE, and little difference in FF. (I wondered if fixing for IE would mean messy text spill in previously perfect FF.) Pain in the ass to have to redo - better things to do on a Friday motning. Definitely creating all future posts in IE.

Keefieboy said...

MamaDuck: it makes no difference which browser you create the post in - Blogger will write the exact same code. It's only when that code is displayed that differences show up.

elle said...

Mmmm I want, I want.... beef fillet with a gratin of wild mushrooms...and a chef!!

I've always said if I win the National Bonds one day, I'm going to employ a chef. Can you imagine breakfast at 7, tea and scones at 10, a lovely lunch at 1, tea and cake again at 4 and then a light dinner at 6. All of it just appearing, no need to think or do. Absolute Heaven!!

MamaDuck said...

Uhuh, I know that. What I mean is, first, that when I've created a new post and hit 'View Blog', I'll obviously see it as it appears in the browser I've accessed Blogger from; and second, since I then use that View as a visual reference for purposes of adjusting layout, it's better to be in IE than Firefox, because what looks very good in IE will almost certainly look good in Firefox, but the reverse does not apply, unfortunately.

I think it must come down to how the two browsers interpret code on spacing.

You know a lot more about this than I do, and I'm working hand-over-hand here, not from any real understanding of what lies behind it all; but it is a given that pages appear differently in Firefox and IE. For a text entry, or something with a single image, creating in Blogger via Firefox is fine: the result will almost certainly be acceptable regardless of which browser someone accesses the blog from. But for multi-image entries with supporting text to work satisfactorily in both browsers, it seems to me that it has to start in IE.

Though I prefer looking at the blog itself in Firefox!

....all I want is something that works....

trailingspouse said...

Men who cook are indeed a treasure, but just look at all those pans! My experience is that ALL men like to use every single pot and spoon in the kitchen, no matter how simple the dish. I always used to think dishwashers were for wimps, but now I couldn't live without one.

MamaDuck said...

Elle: Speaking as the Incredible Expanding Woman, I'll pass on your fantasy, but you go right ahead honey!

T.S I've noticed that too. Every Pan In The House! I have to say, though, that while I don't much care for washing up, I prefer it a dishwasher, which doesn't seem to reduce the amount of work so much as change its nature. Plus a basin of hot water is very therapeutic, don't you think?

Taunted said...

Looks good, and I'm pleased you did your bit! I love to cook too, usually a'la Keith Floyd, ie with glass in hand.

And I can't stand Terry Pratchett!!

halfmanhalfbeer said...

Mamaduck: just checked in after a few days lazing in Muscat and was tickled pink to see my name in lights on your site. Many thanks for that, you've inpsired me to post some more. Tell Mr Habibi that a fabulous recipe involving carrot fondue is coming up....this one is outstanding!

Thanks again.


ps I've checked three different Spinneys now for pimenton, no joy.

halfmanhalfbeer said...

Mamaduck: oh, and another thing tell Mr habibi that from the same Secrets book the Cep tarts are great (add garlic at stage 2 and a splash of mirin or sherry at stage 3) and so is the langoustine cocktail, though I use large tiger prawns instead.

There are others that I have done as well but can't remember off the top of my head!


nzm said...

My father cooks too which is probably just as well because my mother cremates things - she doesn't cook! So in order for my father to survive, he learnt to cook.

But get this - he also washes as he goes, so by the time the meal is over, all we've got to clean up are the dishes and paraphernalia from the table.

What a man!

BTW - I'm good at washing up! :-)

Jin said...

For as long as I can remember, my dad has always done the cooking, plus the washing up. Mother Dearest has had it well easy over the years!

Hubs takes great delight on cooking on a Friday night. I do all the 'normal' stuff during the week (like toad-inna-hole, but with better bangers than Cut-My-Own-Throat Dibbler could ever imagine!) but Fridays are 'dad's day' & bugger, do we look forward to that! Last night was the most divine Chicken Fajitas. Can't wait for this coming weekend!

MamaDuck said...

We had lamb knuckle faggots last night, straight from the GR book, but although they were much nicer than their appalling name suggests, they were not really worth the enormous amount of preparation: definitely one for the leisured foodie, or a treat in a restaurant.