The Charcoal Roundup

I’ve attended not one but two barbecues over the weekend and been exposed to far too much charcoal . Even without the choking smoke, two barbecues in the space of twenty four hours is a bit much for anybody, let alone when one is full of family and the other is full of Uber Homos.

Now you might not think that your average Uber would enjoy a barbie. A Barbie, yes, but not a barbie. You might think that all that smoke, and fire, and eating of food with your hands, might put them right off. There you would be quite wrong. Continue reading “The Charcoal Roundup”

The Post-Paschal Roundup

I’ve never really been much a one for Easter, as holidays go. I was never a huge fan of chocolate, even as a toddler found the idea of a huge bunny hopping about the globe dispensing candy to good Catholic children somewhat unconvincing, loathed the idea of having to eat fish on Good Friday, and always suspected that when you consider the Catholic doctrine of “free will” that Judas was well and truly stitched up. After all, if he hadn’t done his bit, The Son Of God would have survived, lost followers along the way as they aged and became more socially conservative, and wound up a disenchanted old hippie who grew his own weed and whined at Mary Magdalene alot.

So it was something of a heavy heart that I learned that the responsibility of cooking the Paschal meal would fall to me. Usually this particular feast is dished up by the beer-swilling slattern I call Sister, but her oven had packed up. So of course my mother said, “I’ll cook the Easter Dinner!” which of course actually means “Patsy will cook the Easter Dinner!” Personally I thought this was the perfect opportunity to give the whole thing a miss, but no. Even my cries of “But no-one aside from Mother has even been in a church for at least a decade!” and “At least one if not both of my nephews could actually lay off the chocolate for a year or two!” fell on deaf ears.

So I did what every self-respecting gay man who lives with his mother does: I got out my Nigellas and decided that this would be “Creative Easter.” In short, I got ambitious. There would be lamb, yes, but I would get my family to eat anchovies if it killed us all. There would be no peas, no mashed or roasted potatoes, and no way in hell was I making dessert. The lamb would be liberally slashed, and marinated in anchovies, garlic, lemon and rosemary. It would also be boned, so I could use the bones to make home-made lamb stock. Instead of peas, there would be braised lettuce hearts, and glazed carrots. And instead of roasted or mashed potatoes there would be-and this is where I detoured onto the road to insanity- boulangerie potatoes. Boulangerie potatoes are basically the same thing as a dauphinoise, except they’re cooked in stock, not cream. Much lighter and crisper, and truly heavenly to consume if you’re not the one who spent hours layering the damn dish and now loathe the very sight of them. You must slice the potatoes very thinly, you see, then blanch and dry them, then layer them in a dish, sprinkling with an onion and herb mixture and dotting with butter as you go. Which takes AGES. It occurs to me now that possibly the etymology of the term “dauphinoise” hails from the tragic little son of Marie Antoinette, who died under mysterious circumstances. It is now my firm belief that he spent the remainder of his short and miserable life imprisoned in the kitchens of the Paris Ritz, being forced to spend day after day assembling this dish and eventually, like Neville, died of ennui. Hence the name.

Dinner, when it was finally on the table- somewhat behind schedule due to my not realising that if you’re serving a dauphinoise at four pm you’ve got to get started at four am- was largely a huge success. The lamb was simply stunning, and not a single member of my ancho-phobic family noticed the anchovies all over the lamb. They also, aside from Mother, loved the potatoes, which is just as well since if they hadn’t they’d all be dead right now and I’d be writing this from the internet cafe at my local gaol. Mother, by the way, didn’t even try the potatoes. When the dish was passed to her she replied, “No potatoes for me. I ate enough potatoes during the war.” That she is not currently walking the streets with a carving fork sticking out of her neck is strictly down to my anti-anxiety medication. She also turned her nose up at the braised lettuce hearts (“Does anyone actually like cabbage?”), and the general reception to my lovely leaves was a tad lukewarm. I thought they were gorgeous, but as they weren’t swimming in butter the rest of my family were non-plussed.

The Post-Harvest Roundup

So another Thanksgiving has come and gone. This one went fine, though for me it was a tad lacklustre. I think I need to fire up the menu next year; make it more interesting for myself. This year just felt a bit “baste the turkey, blah blah… make the stuffing, blah blah.. scream at mother, blah blah..” Mc Nureyev was a great help in the kitchen, althought the avuncular/culinary bonding experience went a bit awry at the point when I explained to him-complete with expressive gestures- that one cannot make a bechamel sauce and play “Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of A Dysfunctional Family” on one’s Gamebox at the same time.

The butterscotch cream pie was a huge hit. If nothing else, I no longer fear custard. God help me, it may be souffles next.

The Harvest Round Up

I say Harvest, because it’s that time of year. Thanksgiving, that annual Holiday wherein, depending how you look at it, Americans celebrate a)the first harvest of the Pilgrim fathers, or b) the beginning of the end for the Native population, is upon us.

Or rather, upon me.

Yup, I have once again inflicted upon myself the chore/joy/opportunity for self-aggrandisement that is cooking a big turkey dinner for nine people. I’m keeping it traditional this year, not really straying too far from my usual menu. In recent years I seem to have hit on a menu that goes down well, so I figure why fuss with it? I know I will never get my family to eat sweet potato, let alone squash, so I’ve long since given up. There may be a bit of light tweakage with my stuffing recipe, and perhaps the gravy will contain port rather than white wine, but that’s about as far as I’m wandering this year. I’ve also enlisted the assistance of my nephew, MC Nureyev this year. Having professed an interest in cookery, he is now on strict instrtuctions to come straight to my mother’s after school, wash his hands thoroughly, and begin peeling and chopping and stirring. I’m also putting him in sole charge of the sauteed green beans with garlic and hazelnuts. Supervised, of course.

Nope, the only culinary limb upon which I am teetering forth this year is dessert. I’ll be baking my usual pecan pie, but one pie is not enough for nine, and anyway one should always offer a choice at these events. So tomorrow (a day in advance in case it all goes horribly wrong) I am attempting my first butterscotch cream pie. This involves making a custard, which will be a first for me. I must confess to being somewhat wary of stirring hot cream into eggs without scrambling them, but I am hopfeul that this experiment won’t result in a) a sickly sweet ommelette, b) a store-bought dessert, or c) me running screaming from the kitchen and throwing myself in front of heavy traffic.

I also say Harvest, because I have spent this evening completing my mother’s US tax return. And is income tax not an annual harvest? An annual harvest of the most sinister variety? I’m doing it slightly late (but not before the final due date), but that’s only because it’s taken me months to steel my nerves for the experience. I did it for her last year so I know whereof I speak. I defy anyone out there to fill out a US tax form without winding up gibbering in a dark corner. It’s been a couple of hours since I finished, and it’s taken me the better part of a bottle of wine and an episode of I’M A CELEBRITY GET ME OUT OF HERE to calm down enough to post. Thank God I’m not baking tonight.

I also say Harvest, because if I hear of one more sci-fi or supernatural or really any kind of tv show ever using the word “harvest” again as a plot device, I shall begin a harvest of my own. I shall make it my business to roam the earth slaughtering all tv writers to make way for the new crop. Which could well be all you fan-fic writers out there. And you won’t use that hackneyed old plot idea, will you? Not if you want to live. I am of course referring to this week’s TORCHWOOD, which was possibly the worst piece of genre tv I have ever seen, and I’ve seen CLEOPATRA 2525. There was absolutely nothing redeeming about that hour’s worth of manure. There are those of you out there who adore the Barrowman, I know. And yes, he’s not exactly a trial for the eyes. But yeesh can he not act. (Personally, he doesn’t do much for me. I know too many stories about him involving sex toys, crash mats, and sex parties. You may wonder why on earth this would put me off, but I gotta tell ya, I need at least a bit of mystique in a man.) And have you ever seen less convincing guns? Gwen’s gun actually rattled in her hand at one point.

I should go harvest some sleep now. The cooking begins tomorrow. Wish me luck.

The Big Sweaty Barbecue Roundup

It’s that time again, and still the weather is horridly hot and humid here in blighty. It’s not even sunny all the time, but the clouds don’t produce the necessary storms. Instead they’re hugging London like a big wet dog and the air is getting more and more stale. The weather pundits have grimly noted that the heatwave is going to stick around through the first two weeks of August, and may get even hotter. I want to move to Iceland, or even just set up camp in the freezer section of the local supermarket. If I don’t, I’m liable to turn into Blanche DuBois and start begging passing boys to run round the corner and get me a lemon Coca-Cola.

Sunday was extended family barbeque day at my sister’s house. And what a gala menu we served! I say “we” because earlier in the week my sister had called and asked if I could perhaps lend a hand.

“Of course!” I replied. “And this is what you’re going to cook…”

So my sister’s plans for the traditional burgers and potato salad affair were kicked into hetero touch by my big gay menu consisting of lamb cutlets marinated in lemon, garlic, and oregano; chicken and red pepper kebabs with a teriyaki glaze, a mediterranean rice salad with chickpeas and roasted artichoke hearts; my fave garlic-marinated tomato salad; home-made tzatziki; a light green salad, and strawberries with black pepper for dessert. After some heartfelt pleading on her part, I did unbend just enough to allow the burgers.

As usual with these affairs, there was a bit of flustered toing and froing before the guest arrived, but with my catering skills (if I do say so myself- and I do), the forces were marshalled and it all came together beautifully. My mother was particularly heroic. She spent a good hour parked in a corner of the kitchen threading chicken and peppers onto skewers and trying to remember, kebab-to-kebab, in which order the meat and vegetables should alternate. I was particularly heroic in that I overcame my gay catering neurosis and kept assuring her that, despite the fact that they would no longer be identical and therefore as beautiful as they would be delicious, it didn’t really matter.

So a lovely time, and meal, was had by all, and once my aunt (a lovely lady but a former nun, and it shows) had taken my mother home, we really kicked off and had ourselves a rollicking good time.