It's no secret - an inordinately high proportion of the world's best chefs are men. Joël Robuchon, Gordon Ramsay, Paul Bocuse, Tetsuya Wakuda, Alain Ducasse. Let's leave aside all questions of right, wrong, equality, yay, nay or otherwise, because that's for another time. What actually puzzles us most about the high number of haute cuisine male chefs is the lack of a corollary - if the creme de la creme is mostly male, then why are most mortal men utterly hopeless in the kitchen?
Summer is here, of sorts, and short dresses have lured the heterosexual male from the sofa to the beer garden, in pursuit of love and lust. (Yes, this is primarily directed at straight men. ManSchool's gay friends just don't need as much help in this area.) So you've met a nice lass at the pub, got her number, and are poised to call her up to ask her on a date. ManSchool suggests that you don't take her to a white tablecloth overpriced restaurant.
Cook her dinner instead.
Go on. We dare you. Cooking a dinner party for a dozen food critics with a myriad of courses is difficult, and takes practice. Cooking for two is just ... well ... not. Try the following recipes for an amazing dinner which will take an hour from start to eat time, leaving you plenty of time to chat while you prep. The dishes genuinely require the culinary skills of a monkey. But the most important ManSchool lesson for the day: the end result of the food is immaterial; it's all about the effort.
ManSchool's Prosciutto Salmon with Roast Garlic Butternut Squash and Asparagus, followed by Balsamic Strawberries
We love the simplicity of this dish, and the summer flavours which come through. The roasted garlic and the saltiness of the ham with the freshness of the fish combine to create a great summer evening dish. Follow the main course with the sweetness of strawbs with the tang of balsamic, and you can't fail to impress.
- 2 salmon steaks
- 4 slices prosciutto or parma ham
- 1 small half butternut squash
- 1 bunch asparagus
- a couple of cloves garlic
- 1 lemon
- 1 punnet strawberries
- balsamic vinegar
0 minute mark: Turn the oven on, and set it at 180C. Take the half squash and scoop out the seeds. Into the cavity place a knob of butter and the garlic - the cloves don't even need to be peeled. Stick it in the oven on a piece of foil or a baking tray, and bake for an hour.
10 minute mark: Take the prosciutto or parma ham out and wrap two slices around each salmon steak. The natural stickiness of the ham will mean it sticks to the fish. Put in a baking dish or on foil and set aside.
20 minute mark: Time to get pudding ready. Take the strawberries' tops off with a knife, cut them in half and place in a serving bowl. Sprinkle them with a couple of spoonfuls of sugar and then scatter about a shot glass worth of balsamic vinegar over the top. Mix it all up with a spoon and set aside - it's finished.
40 minute mark: Put the fish in the oven - same temperature, leave the squash where it is.
45 minute mark: Chop the non-pointy ends of the asparagus off and put the remaining spears in a glass, or lay them flat in a dish. Cover with boiling water for 5 minutes, then remove, drain and chop into roughly 2-inch lengths. Set aside.
60 minute mark: Take the fish and the squash out of the oven - they will both be ready. Cut the squash in half length ways, and put half on each plate parallel to a salmon steak - the melted butter will spill out and the garlic will be soft. "Sprinkle" the asparagus on top. Try to get as much butter or pan juice on top. The final touch - cut the lemon in quarters, and just squeeze one quarter over the top of each plate. Put a remaining quarter as garnish on the plate. You're done! And pudding can follow whenever you're ready. Add ice cream if you like, but strawberries are so good in summer you won't need it.
Asparagus should actually be broken at the end "where it gives" rather than chopped - but maybe next time, when you have more time. It should be crunchy and never soggy like tinned asparagus - all the flavour and goodness is lost when that happens. Also, when you're serving your food, two things. Height is good - avoid taking up the whole plate by spreading stuff around - concentrate it in the centre and build up vertically. Second - don't be frightened to wipe around the rim of the plate with paper towel to clean drips and spills. This is what restaurants do and it just makes everything look a bit nicer.
You don't need French champagne at this stage. Buy a bottle of Cava. It's inexpensive, bubbly and a great way to start the evening.
Big long candles are old-fashioned and intimidating and can convey the wrong idea. Buy some tealights and put a couple in a bowl or on a plate, or even in a brown paper bag. Candlelight is candlelight for a reason - it works, and it's so simple.