Which one is the hot one, again?
I read an interview with Delia in the 1990s where she moaned that whenever she went round to someone’s house for dinner they always cooked something fancy, trying to impress her, and all she really wanted was fish and chips or something.
But when I invited my friend the renowned-food-and-drinks-writer Douglas over for dinner, I knew how Delia’s mates felt. (Sidenote: does Delia actually have mates? She seems too robotic to have anything other than football players whom she patronises, in both senses of the word). But as Douglas is a man who knows his claret from his Beaujolais, I had to wanted something a bit special. So I picked the new Fabulous Bakers Brothers book off my desk – it had a chapter called “Things Men Like to Make,” and Douglas was a man, so it was a sure fire winner.
I’ll admit, I’ve not seen any episodes of their new Channel 4 show. I’ve meant to – they’re all stacked up and waiting on my Sky box – but, well, watching Shipwrecked has been prioritised over them (ohmygod! Anna! whaddabitch etc). Anyway, Caitlin Moran, head of that sixth form girls-esque group who rule Twitter, has already proclaimed them the worst human beings who have ever lived, so forming my own opinion on them seems pointless and obsolete. Anyway, at least one of them is quite fit (I’m never quite sure which one).
I began cooking three hours before Douglas, our friend Jo, and my boyfriend arrived. As a starter I chose their Fish Finger Sarnies with Tartare Sauce, which comes with the pleasing directive to “eat whilst looking at a rainy window and thinking the world isn’t so bad when you’ve got a fish finger sarnie.” We didn’t do that – we ate with a glass of Sunday Times Wine Club Champagne (which expert Douglas assured me “smelt pretty good”) and constant proclamations from me about how fun and easy they were to make, and gasps from everyone else how about awesome they were.
The Baker Boys fish fingers. To be eaten looking at the rain, apparently
And they were actually pretty good. “Who bothers to make their own effing fish fingers?” I grumbled to myself as I laid out a plate of flour, a bowl of milk and egg, and a plate of breadcrumbs as my action station. But the process appealed to my obsessive nature: roll, shake, dip, roll, repeat until you have eight fish fingers ready to shallow fry just before serving. As for the homemade tartare sauce, all it took was to chop a couple of capers, mix them with some gherkins, herbs and mayonnaise, and you had Douglas claiming it was the best tartare sauce he’d ever tasted. And he eats out for a living.
I felt like a proud dad. They worked! And were easy! And I almost ruined them by running out of butter and covering the bread in Utterly Butterly!
But then the night went downhill. “I’m following the book exactly,” I’d explained to Douglas and Jo as they arrived. “So anything that goes wrong is their fault, not mine. Of course, if it goes right, I’ll take the credit too.” Sadly, the good name of the Fabulous Baker Brothers got besmirched over the event of my Beef Wellington.
Their version of Beef Wellington. Mmm, meaty stuff that men like to cook…
It sounded easy enough. You seared the meet – that was fine, even when a bit of blood spattered on my fluffy white alpaca slippers – and then wrapped it in the leaves of a savoy cabbage with some wild mushrooms before encasing it in the pastry. “Don’t leave any holes in the cabbage casing,” the book warned, “that’s what will ruin the pastry!” It was impossible not to leave holes – the leaves just didn’t stick to each other. I bunged the whole thing in the oven anyway, forgot about it, and then nearly had a meltdown as I had to serve up a disintegrating mess. The meat was uncooked at the 1 hour time directive – I had to break my own rule about how I’m not meant to break any rules. “You can’t serve it this raw, you’ll poison them,” said my boyfriend as he hacked of thick chunks and quick fried them in a hot pan. The meat was tough and stringy. The pastry soggy and limp. The whole thing looked like a pile o’crap, or deconstructed, if you will. “Your broccoli is nice,” Douglas said gallantly, as I poured another glass of fizz.
My Beef Wellington. Meaty stuff that men don’t like to eat
The Rhubarb Queen of Puddings fell somewhere in the middle. The filling, poached with vanilla, sugar, orange zest and rosemary, was possibly the tastiest version of rhubarb I’ve ever had – and it smelled incredible whilst cooking. The base was fine to begin with, although the command to cook for 10-20 minutes, or until golden, actually meant it had to stay in the oven for 40. The Italian meringue was pretty good too – prepared by melting the sugar in the water until it got to 121C, and then pouring it into the beaten egg whites. With one hand on the electric whisk and another on the thermometer I had my second meltdown of the night. “Will!” I shouted at my boyfriend, who was busy getting drunk with the others in the living room. “I need you to hold this!” Thrusting the thermometer into his hand whilst I carried on beating the eggs, he looked at it rationally as it stuck at 106C. “It’s not going to get any hotter – it’s water,” he explained calmly, as if talking to an infant.
Their Rhubarb Queen of Puddings.To be fair, it does look pretty gay
Following a verbal tirade I accepted he had a point and poured the liquid into the eggs – it created the glossiest, smoothest meringue I’ve seen. The whole thing went into the oven happily. “Well, the pudding will be a success,” I boasted.
It tasted a lot better than it looked. The base would have made a nice cocktail, maybe?
“Why is the base so watery?” Jo asked 20 minutes later, looking at her meringue-covered rhubarb soup. “Can I have more of the topping?” Verdict: it tasted good, but looked like sick. Ah, but at least one of the Fabulous Baker Boys is hot.
Cost of ingredients, to serve 4: £37.87 (not including items already in store cupboard)
Starter: * * * * *
Main: No stars
Pudding: * * (for the meringue and aromatic rhubarb)
Easiness * *
Overall marks: 4/10 – the fish fingers were excellent, some of the bread recipes look good, and one of the Brothers is kinda pretty.
Published by Headline. Official photographs by Chris Terry.