The beloved Jessica – as you know – is now at university.
Tom went last year.
So welcome to the Golden Age.
The Golden Age of Adventurous Cooking.
Yep, with just Ben at home the shackles were finally off.
No more let’s-have-roast-chicken-because-at-least-everyone-will-eat-it. Chillies, garlic and ginger to the fore while the cheese spread goes mouldy at the back of the fridge.
No two ways about it. My cooking finger was itching – aided and abetted by the return of Masterchef the Professionals.
Pressure? What pressure? Just keep quiet, Monica and watch me fillet this sea bream…
My inner creative chef – locked away for years behind a wall of spaghetti Bolognese – was free at last.
Let’s start with meatballs. I’ve always had a thing about pasta and meatballs.
But how about a bit more Masterchef and a bit less have-what-we-always-have?
And there I was on Friday night mixing sausage meat and crumbled black pudding.
“What are you doing?”
My wife peered doubtfully into the bowl. “What’s in them?”
“Sausage meat. And some crumbled black pudding.”
That’s the trouble with my wife. She judges something before she’s tasted it.
But she’s never seen eye to eye with black pudding.
“Sausage meat, fat and blood,” she said.
“That’s not how Michel Roux would describe it.”
My wife went dreamy-eyed. She usually reserves her passions for George Clooney and bloodthirsty young men with fangs and capes. But she’s added Michel to the list.
I’d never considered really-tidy-in-the-kitchen to be a sexual attribute but clearly I was mistaken.
I followed up with curried shepherd’s pie. Get thee behind me, comfort zone.
Curried shepherd’s pie with sweet potato topping.
They ate it. “Dutifully” is probably the word I’m looking for. There were no seconds. No idle scraping of the bowl. No plaudits for the chef…
There was however, a liberal helping of sarcasm.
“What’s for pudding?” Ben demanded. (No break from tradition there then.)
“Shall I make some chocolate brownies?” Jane suggested, clearly relishing the lack of competition from her daughter.
“Don’t forget to put some black pudding in them, Mum.”
“No, no, silly boy. You put curry powder in chocolate brownies. Everyone knows that.”
Really, the two of them can be remarkably childish at times.
But maybe Jane was hinting at something… I slipped my arm seductively round her waist. “You could put a bit of chilli in them. Chocolate and chilli – that’s supposed to be an aphrodisiac isn’t it? Wasn’t that in Chocolat? And Ben needs an early night…”
My wife hit me with the mixing spoon. “Aphrodisiac? Are you insane? Nothing’s an aphrodisiac after a week in the NHS.”
But I wasn’t to be denied. Especially when someone on Masterchef mentioned clam chowder with curry. “Awesome idea,” I said. “I’ll do it at the weekend.”
“So you can ruin the chowder like you ruined the shepherd’s pie?”
“You don’t understand do you? It’s called ‘fusion.’”
My wife’s reply was short and to the point.
“And I’m going to start carrying three plates like that. One of them up my arm. How difficult can it be?”
“Right. And you’re going to clean the carpet after you drop them are you? The only person who thinks you carrying three plates is a good idea is the dog.”
My only consolation. At least the dog likes my food. “Curried chowder,” I said.
Pepper wagged her tail vigorously. But then she’s a spaniel. She wags her tail vigorously if you say ‘cat puke…’