Sunday, 15 August 2010

If you can't stand the heat

When I see the experts on cookery shows, I'm not entirely convinced we're being shown the true picture. Everything seems so easy, so sanitised. The chef floats along in a cloud of calm, clinical efficiency, creating culinary delights with no fuss, no drama.

Last night we were reminded that this is not a reflection of the truth. Last night we had Chris and Karen round for dinner. Last night we nearly burnt the house down.

I suspect that at least one of those statements may generate additional questions from you, dear reader.

The night had started well; Chris and Karen were being fed and watered. Well, by "fed" I mean we'd started on the anti-pasti, and when I say "watered", very little actual water was involved in the equation. So we were there, marvelling at the creative things our Mediterranean cousins can do with things that grow out there; get the sun to blush this, force some cheese into that.

We were happy, we were relaxed. No drama, no fuss.

Then the main course, a pasta dish, courtesy of Nigel Slater. In truth, courtesy of Katie, but she had her nose buried in one of his books for the recipe. It was delicious, a veritable symphony of flavours. The dried chili flakes were a nice touch. We all reached for our drinks.

We were happy, we were even more relaxed. No drama, no fuss.

Katie slipped off to the kitchen to finish the surprise dessert, a rather boozy crème brûlée. Well, four of them actually. We're good friends with Karen and Chris, but I think gathering around one single portion would be pushing things onto quite another level of intimacy.

Katie had prepared these earlier in the day and hidden them away in the fridge. Now it was time for the finishing touch for any crème brûlée, the caramelised sugar layer on the top. For this, a butane blowtorch was to be employed.

You're probably beginning to see where this might be heading, aren't you?

"Could use a little help in here," came the call from the kitchen. Flashing our guests my calmest grin, I went in to see what was happening.

Katie was stood at the counter top, her back to me. "I don't think they should let people use one of these after a bottle of halfway-decent Sauvignon Blanc," she giggled.

"Bloody hell, what's that burning smell?"

"I caught one of the paper napkins with the blowtorch. How do you turn the flame up on this thing?"

"Well, paper isn't exactly known for its flame-retardant qualities. What do you mean 'turn it up'? Haven't you caused enough damage already?"

"Look," she said, suddenly angry, "I need more oomph from this blowtorch. Jesus - what the hell's that?"

We were both distracted by a moth that had flown in through the the open kitchen window. I say 'moth', but at first glance I thought it was a medium-sized hang-glider. This thing was huge - we're talking 'Really Bad Japanese Sci-fi Film' big. It started circling the light, but then swooped towards Katie. Perhaps it liked French desserts.

Katie turned, her eyes aflame, matching the miniature jet afterburner now glowing in her right hand. She had drunk well, rather than wisely. She was stressed. And now Mothra was getting in the way of her culinary triumph.

I watched as my wife, armed with a blowtorch, fought against a giant moth on the rampage. That's not a sentence I've typed before.

I had visions of the moth, on fire, flying through the house, spreading flames wherever it settled. "Leave it alone, Katie," I exclaimed, "while there are still some things in this house you haven't incinerated. Stop the madness!"

"Everything alright in there?" came a somewhat nervous voice from the other side of the kitchen door.

I weighed up the likely outcome of telling them the truth and rapidly decided that complete fiction would be a better option. "Yes, we're fine," I replied, wielding a Dyson vacuum cleaner attachment against our airborne assailant with a hearty thud. "Just sit back and relax. Anyone for another drink? I think I could use one."

After a moment or two of silent reflection we emerged, crème well and truly brûlée-d. However, it was delicious. Remarkably so, given the nature of its birth.

Maybe the best cooks need a degree of struggle to produce excellence. However, I still don't think this is how Nigella does it.


la ninja said...

ha ha ha. cheers for the laugh.

(found you via your comment on antonia's blog, should you be wondering :)

fatboyfat said...

Ooh, ta, always nice to have new readers. Antonia's blog makes me howl on a regular basis.


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