The secret’s in the timing: cooking is just like comedy really.
Well, it certainly is when I try it.
When it comes to eating, I like to think I have fairly broad and reasonably adventurous tastes (although there are some gastronomic lines I will not cross). As such, I’m struggling to respond to this, latest, of ‘365 Days of Writing Prompts:
“Tell us about your favourite meal, either to eat or prepare. Does it just taste great, or does it have other associations?”
Hand on heart, I would find it very difficult to nominate a definitive favourite meal. A lot depends on the prevailing mood, Sometimes only comfort food – Shepherds Pie, for example – will do, but on other occasions it’s nice to satisfy a hankering for some higher-end gastronomic experience, like Lobster Thermidor.
Unfortunately, my ability to produce a decent feed is considerably more limited than my ability to savour it. Accordingly, my culinary range is rather narrow, as I’m the first to acknowledge. I like to think I work quite methodically, in getting all my ingredients lined up before I start the actual cooking process, Nonetheless, I find that, almost inevitably, anything that involves more than the merest modicum of multi-tasking is unlikely to end well.
Of course, this may not be entirely unconnected to the fact that a key part of my cooking process involves the ready availability of a pastis or a glass of wine. Or three.
This act of homage to the Galloping Gourmet doesn’t do much for the timing either: if a recipe says ‘Preparation time: 20 minutes’, I need to allow at least an hour. As for ‘presentation’…my take on that would have the Masterchef judges reaching despairingly for the cooking sherry.
Curry’s a sure-fire winner. I like eating curry and I like making it too. Chili? Bring it on; the more the better. If it ‘s not making my nose run like a tap and my eyes water it could probably take just a little extra seasoning.
Curry’s pretty straightforward to prepare too, especially as – being a bit of a connoiseur – I make up in advance my own paste for Thai curries and my own base sauce for Indian curries. With those already to hand, it’s basically no more than flinging in the rest of the ingredients and boiling some rice. Even I can manage that.
The only dish I make on a reasonably regular basis that’s any more challenging than curry is Steak Diane, which not only tastes great but also has very happy associations. Rather depressingly, according to Wikipedia: ‘It was popular in the middle of the 20th century, but was considered dated by 1980’. I know that feeling.
For the uninitiated, the crucial element of Steak Diane is a sauce made with mushrooms, cream, brandy, mustard and Worcester Sauce. You simply can’t beat good plain food, plainly cooked. I follow the recipe of a well-known Scottish chef, famous for swearing a lot. I am living testament to the fact that it’s (almost) idiot-proof. Although I swear a lot too.
As for the happy associations, this is the dish – at the time, the very height of decadent luxury – that I prepared (‘perpetrated’ might be a fairer description) on the evening that I proposed marriage to Madame. Fortunately, I had enough sense to obtain her consent to make me the happiest of men before serving up what was my very first attempt at anything ‘fancy’.
I’ll always be grateful that my unforgettable trademark onions – raw on one side, black on the other – didn’t turn out to be a deal-breaker that night.
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