I love cooking (that much is probably obvious) except, that is, when I fucking HATE it. I’m guessing I’m not alone here, but right now I’m having one of those moments.
Despite managing to dodge Christmas lunch duty for all my adult life, I still seem to spend an inordinate amount of time in the kitchen in December. We, as a rule (mainly my husband’s), do not do many dinner parties throughout the year (lazy, anti-social, no friends) so when it comes to entertaining family crowds at Christmas, I tend to go a bit overboard. I spend days in the kitchen, curing this, marinating that, pureeing the other, when really everyone would be just as happy (probably happier) with a massive lasagne. But no, there have to be canapes followed by three courses, cheese and those blessed mince pies, all home-made, from scratch. When I was at school this would be called being ‘extra’: “Oi you,” the mean girls would goad, “how d’you find the time to decorate all your homework in rainbow colours. You’re so EXTRAAA!”
The trouble, and I think this is the real reason why my husband doesn’t encourage more dinner parties, is that I don’t think all this faffery makes me a very good host. For the first half of the evening my husband has to hold fort upstairs, being responsible for all the drinks and small talk, while I’m alone (mercifully) in the kitchen swearing at the roast potatoes that will not crisp up (when you’re cooking enough spuds for 14 they take about three weeks to go brown). When I finally emerge to join my guests, all sweaty and puce (me not them), I’ve lost the ability to speak except to mumble that the meat’s a bit tough, I’ve completely lost my appetite, so instead dive headfirst into the wine that I feel I have been missing out on (when in fact I’ve been downing Prosecco in the kitchen as if it were Badoit) and then start hiccuping and walking into walls (see previous post).
The other disadvantage of such over-reaching behaviour is that come January, I don’t want so much as to step foot near my kitchen. Even requests from the kids for teatime toast are met with an exasperated teenagey harrumph from me. But, because my husband can’t cook, and there are only so many takeaways one can stomach, I am having to ease myself back gently towards the stove. That means lots of jacket potatoes, lots of pasta and lots of things on toast. (And anyway, I’m starting this poxy new diet today so that means cooking at least TWO different meals a night for the next three weeks so I’d better get used to it. What was I thinking?)
Nice things on toast
Toast is the perfect vehicle for delivering something yummy and quick for tea (my husband disagrees, ‘not proper food’ he says, but until he learns to cook, TOO BAD). Simply buttered is fine by me, marmite on sourdough even better, but I’ve still got odds and ends in the fridge to use up so this week I’ve been forced by my own conscience to do a little bit of cooking.
I love a potted shrimp, but you don’t need to faff around and set them in butter to get all that lovely spicy nutmeggy flavour; you can do it in a matter of minutes in a pan.
- 1 90g pack of peeled brown shrimps (you can get these from Ocado, but if you get shrimps from your fishmonger, try to get peeled ones as peeling shrimps is more painstaking and time-consuming than preparing a three-course dinner.)
- knob of butter – probably as much as you would use to generously butter two slices of toast
- pinch cayenne pepper
- pinch ground mace
- good scraping of nutmeg
- juice of 1/4-1/2 lemon
- black pepper
- 1-2 slices toast (preferably sourdough, but as you will see in the photo above, I used cheapo sliced granary because I couldn’t be arsed to go to the posh bakers, and to make sourdough takes nearly two days, which could be classed as EXTRAAA at any time of year, let alone in early January.)
- Melt butter in small frying pan over medium heat. When it starts to bubble throw in shrimps and spices and warm through for a minute. Don’t cook on too high a heat or for too long as they will shrivel up into rubbery pellets. Squeeze over lemon. Taste and add more spices or lemon if necessary.
- Serve shrimps and all their buttery juices on toast (no need for extra butter, but that of course is entirely up to you).
Fergus Henderson’s Welsh rarebit
The best rarebit I’ve ever had was in the bar at Fergus Henderson’s Smithfield restaurant, St John. It was really, really cheesy, hot with mustard and cayenne, with a good tang from the beer. This is from his book, Nose to Tail Eating (Bloomsbury). (BTW, look at my lovely new bread board. It was a present from my clever sis-in-law who has etched onto it some drawings done by my 9yo. Genius!)
Fergus says this serves 6 but I reckon you could squeeze a couple more out of it. You can also freeze any leftover sauce.
- a knob of butter
- 1 tbsp flour
- 1 tsp English mustard powder (I used a teaspoon of actual mustard)
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 200ml Guinness (we didn’t have any so I used some pale ale)
- a very long splash of Worcestershire sauce
- 450g mature, strong cheddar (I only had about 300g but mine was still tongue-tinglingly (so a word) cheesy)
Fergus says: “Melt the butter in a pan, stir in the flour, and let this cook together until it smells biscuity but is not browning. Add the mustard powder and the cayenne pepper then stir in the Guinness and Worcestershire sauce, then gently melt in the cheese. When it’s all of one consistency remove from the heat, pour out into a shallow container, and allow to set. [I couldn’t wait this long so I just put it straight on the toast.] Spread on toast 1 cm thick and place under the grill. Eat when bubbling golden brown. This makes a splendid savoury at the end of your meal washed down with a glass of port, or a steadying snack.”
Mmmm port, now you’re talking. Oh wait, poxy diet. What was I thinking?