Mmm food, one of my favourite topics.
In my conceited moments I feel highly able, quite brilliant and a producer of some of the most wonderful foods.
In between I feel incompetent and as useful as a tin opener in pieces.
I’ll start by being conceited.
My Christmas special for a few years now has been crispy Peking duck with pancakes. It’s good and compares well to the best places I’ve eaten it. As does my crispy shredded chilli beef.
My crème brulees (when I had a grill) were superb. Rich, a good consistency and with the right mix of delicate vanilla (I like to leave the seeds visible in the finished work of art); they always have my family wishing I’d made more.
My spaghetti alla puttanesca… well… the tangy capers and ancient taste of the olives seem perfectly balanced.
I’ve shared my recipe for goat’s cheese and caramelised red onion tart with many who claim it’s failsafe and my caraway biscuits aren’t around long in this house.
But what defines a good cook?
I think it must mean ability all across all styles and must, it just must include good mashed potato. On that point alone I’d have to relinquish my (self-awarded) good cook rosette.
Because I’ve been thinking about buying a potato ricer, I feel not just a poor cook but a fraud. Isn’t that cheating? Shouldn’t I be able to produce creamy mash without one? Bad workman. Tools…
OK. I peel and cut up my potatoes. I boil them in salted water. I drain them and put a slab of unsalted butter in with them. Lid back on, wait for it to melt. Lid off, add whole milk and cream, a bit of grated nutmeg. Mash vigorously.
Ah. After mashing I beat it with a wooden spoon. Mainly because there are little lumps. I beat it again more aggressively. They remain.
Can’t everyone make mash?
To add to my degradation, I can’t really do a very good fried egg either…
And I avoid cakes completely.
So. If I were a judge in a culinary court, I’d pronounce myself guilt, guilty, guilty of ruining raw ingredients with intent. Sometimes anyway.
My lawyer would probably ask the jurors to consider this: is the list of things I can’t do longer than the list of things I do very well? We could be here a long time.
Maybe there’d be evidence for the jurors to chew over. Ah, I could win them over that way.
Lamb kebabs with yoghurt dip. Salade Niçoise. Lamb biryani, Spanish croquetas, a majestic sea bass fillet, very fine tasting dahl, robust four cheese macaroni cheese, satisfying German kartoffel puffer, refreshing Waldorf salad…
If asked to include mash and fried eggs though, I’d be locked up indefinitely. And forced to eat my own mash and fried eggs three times a day. The judge might even pronounce my sentence with a black cloth on his head…
What about people who can do really good mash but not other fancy dishes?
My own conclusion is that a good cook must be able to do it all. Still a bit inflated, I won’t call myself a bad cook. Just a limited cook.
I’ve mastered many things and will master a good, smooth mash one day.
In the meantime, my family will have to put up with (oh God, can’t she stop boasting?) langoustine in garlic and tomato sauce, homemade burgers, pate with the finest flavours in the county, chilled carrot and orange soup…