25 May 2015

Cooking Together is Very Entertaining

Cooking Together and Entertaining

It's an idea we'd thought of before, cooking together. One Christmas I even bought the husband "Jamie's 30-Minute Meals". It was always something we thought we might enjoy, but not something we ever got round to.
Until my ever-practical counselor suggested it as a way for us to connect more.
See, in the ever-crazy busy-ness of life we were too often passing each other like ships in the night, our opposite personalities, different ways of relaxing and seldom-intersecting schedules meaning that too often we would only talk deeply when the crap hit the fan. Anyone else know what I'm talking about?
What the engine of our marriage needed was some regular interaction, a shared activity that would bring us together to just hang out on regular basis. Something do-able. Something that wouldn't end up in the too-hard basket. And something we would both enjoy.

Like cooking together.

Spanish Tapas Feast
[Tapas is all about little bites - this is lamb balls, marinated anchovies with tomatoes and olives with dips]

When I ran the idea past the husband he was all for it. Like I said, it's something we've wanted to try for ages but never got around to it.
The husband is pretty useful in the kitchen, with a number of go-to recipes he can whip up when needed, but he was keen to expand his repertoire.
Meanwhile, I was bored to tears with churning out the same tried-and-true dinners on rotation. Sure they were easy, but it would be cool to try new stuff and expand the pool of quick and easy meal options I could call on.

Potato "tortilla" with fennel seeds and Rosemary
[What Jamie calls a Potato "tortilla" - it's really like a frittata - pan-fried potato cubes with fennel seeds, rosemary, garlic and egg]

And in the past whenever hubby and I managed to work together on a project, we've found it very rewarding, so this was a win-win proposition, in theory. Now it just had to be DONE.

The first week I scoured Jamie's 30-Minute Meals book looking for something that would be fun to cook, not tooooo challenging and something the kids would eat (two out of three of our bunch are super-fussy, and very nervous about trying anything new).

Cured meats and cheese platter - Tapas Feast
[Sticky Glazed chorizo with the cured meats and cheese platter]

The best option looked like Jamie's Tapas Feast, mixed and matched with a few substitutes from other meals that looked simple enough. Yummy - and hopefully fun to create.
  • Cured meats & cheese platter drizzled with honey and ground coffee (!!!)
  • DIY anchovy skewers with cherry tomatoes, lemon and thyme
  • Sticky chorizo sausage and ciabatta bread
  • a Potato "tortilla" with fennel seeds and rosemary
  • roasted peppers with Brie
  • Minted Lamb balls
  • Dips and Spanish olives
  • rocket with herbs
  • Sliced oranges in chilled sparkling water and Sangria to drink
I figured we should be brave and invite some guests to join us. Saturday night was the appointed time. The ingredients were bought, the brave guests confirmed.
Meanwhile, I was having trouble pinning down my cooking partner as he rushed from one appointment to another, a fifty K cycle to the gym. The husband never sits still (unlike his couch-potato wife, moi).

The conversation would go like this:
Me (waving Jamie's book): "Babe have you got a sec to go through these recipes with me so we know what we need to do on Saturday?"
Him (rushing out the door wearing lycra): "yeah, yeah, I'll get to it, I trust you, just whatever...."

Jar Candles on the table
[I wound jute twine around the necks of jars to give a rustic feel]

Saturday dawned, another crazy day of sport and taxiing kids. Come 4pm, we still had not sat down to discuss our menu plans. I began setting the table, rigging up candles in jars, setting the atmosphere.
Where was my cooking buddy? He ended up racing out to get some drinks and the olives I'd forgotten, so I ended up glazing chorizo and roasting fennel seeds alone.

He came back just in to light the candles and save my hanging jar display from falling on our guests' heads. I cooked alone.
The meal was superb, the guests AND kids enjoyed it immensely but I cooked it alone.

Our guests at the Spanish Tapas Feast
[Our friends Gail & Mark came with their kids - who loudly enjoyed the the Tapas feast]

But don't worry I wasn't going to let my cooking partner off that easily. We teased him and got smart about me doing it all alone, and he tried to plead his case ("But you did it so well! This is amazing! you're so good at it!"). Not the point buddy! We're doing this TOGETHER. And there's always next week...

I was not put off. We were going to DO this. TOGETHER. And to make sure I got complete buy-in I asked him to tell me what HE wanted to have a go cooking next time.

Toad-in-the-Hole, he said. That classic English pub dinner of sausages baked in batter.
Righto, you're on, pal.

I searched online and found Jamie's Toad-in-the-Hole recipe. We booked in another round of brave guests to experiment on (it's always more fun with others to share the culinary adventure) and through the week I kept reminding my cooking pal that THIS TIME WE'RE DOING IT TOGETHER.

This time, he did not shirk...

Husband helps in the kitchen

He sprinkled cinnamon, pinched pastry and whisked eggs. He zested oranges and wrangled sausages into hot oil. (He DID question Jamie's wisdom about having a whole CENTIMETRE of vegetable to cook the batter in, but I assured him Jamie knew best).

Traditional English Toad in the Hole
[Traditional English Toad in the Hole]

Our Toad-in-the-Hole turned out perfectly. Two roasting trays filled with the best Westmere Butchery beef-and-Guinness sausages and melt-in-your mouth Yorkshire pudding batter, delicately flavoured with rosemary. Mmmmmhmmmmm.

Brave guests sample classic English pub fare
[Our brave friends Carla and Bonnar seemed to enjoy their classic English pub fare, as created by us]

We served this English classic to our guests and our kids, with onion gravy, mashed potatoes and peas (your choice of mushy or non-mushy). Classic English pub fare, proudly created by me and my hubby working TOGETHER to feed two hungry families on a wet and wild Saturday night.

Toad in the Hole with onion Gravy, mashed potatoes & peas

For dessert we made Jamie's "Quick Portuguese Tarts" (cinnamon infused pastry shells, filled with zesty custard and topped with homemade caramel). So delish!

Portuguese Tarts - custard in cinnamon pastry with caramel

It was better than any restaurant. The kids came, ate and then went off to play, while we got to hang out with our (very appreciative) friends, feeling proud that we did it. Together. There was no teasing the husband for leaving it all up to me this time!

I really think we are going to keep doing this on a Saturday night. It means one less night eating takeaways. It means we plan ahead and invite friends to join us, which results in us being more social; our kids get to hang with their friends and so do we. And best of all - we are having fun and connecting while working on creating something together.

Next week we're cooking Italian, and attempting a Tiramisu, among other things. Another family of brave food-testers will be joining us. Can't wait.


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