Plus One strikes back

00:05, Aug 10 2012

Living with me must have its tribulations. I am obsessive. Food is only one of my many obsessions - I am equally obsessed with music, and rugby, and Dunlop Volleys, and Usain Bolt, and swimming and... you get the idea.

To this end, my partner (referred to, at her request, in this forum, as Plus One - a silly in-joke with a musician friend, i.e. "Jeremy Taylor plus one" on the door list) very rarely gets the chance to cook. Obviously, she doesn't necessarily mind - I do make a lot of effort in the kitchen, and she gets to eat the fruits of my labours.

It does mean, however, that she is at the mercy of whatever want to cook, which means lately a lot of Indian food. It means that she doesn't get to have mashed potatoes as often as she would like, and that any sort of baking is unlikely (because I am breathtakingly crap at it).

Over the weekend, though, Plus One has taken back control of the kitchen. She has had a few days off, and has decided to get cooking. How do I feel about this? Threatened? Put out? Worried that what she will dish up will be bad? Or, worse yet, good? Pah. Not at all - I am absolutely rapt by the thought of what may appear for dinner. Even if it does mean I am on dishes (she's nowhere near as messy in the kitchen as I am, anyway...)

When I get home on Friday evening, there are warm and welcoming aromas wafting from the kitchen. "Yum," I say "smells good - what's for dinner?!"

P1 is, it must be said, looking a bit flustered.

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"I dunno. I've roasted some pumpkin and fried some red onions, and there's some puff pastry and some feta, so I guess we're having some kind of tart."

She has also, worryingly, thawed some frozen peas, which she is also threatening to add to the tart. Now, I need to approach this situation with an uncharacteristic delicacy - I don't want to dissuade P1 from cooking, but neither do I want her to put peas on the tart.

So, with some delicate manoeuvring, I offer to help - not take over, mind. There will be no peas on the pumpkin, feta and caramelised onion tart after all. Charitably, I turn the thawed peas into a dip with the aid of the stick blender, lemon juice and oil, and a chunk of feta - absolutely delicious, and incredibly easy.

The tart, too, is absolutely cracking, it must be said.

The following day, she is warming to her new role as chief cook in the house. She is getting more confident, and more ambitious. We are both big fans of the two Yotam Ottolenghi cookbooks (Ottolenghi and Plenty) at Omni HQ, and I have been eyeing up the broccoli and gorgonzola pie that features in the Plenty cookbook. I am at work that day, and, when I get home - there it is. The Pie. Huzzah!

She has really excelled herself here. The only sticking point is that, in the absence of Gorgonzola, and with On Trays already closed, she has substituted a Danish blue cheese that is maybe a little "bitey" in combination with the wholegrain mustard and other ingredients, but it is still an excellent pie. And I appreciate the effort that has gone into it. So much so that I chime in with an accompanying pear and rocket salad with a balsamic dressing, in a totally "not taking over" kind of way.

The following day I have an afternoon rehearsal, so, again, won't be around to cook dinner. P1 actually leads a charge round the supermarket (and sundry Petone food shops) to pick up ingredients for dinner - a free-range chook, coriander, wild red rice and bok choy. I can sense she is warming to the task, in a way you don't, really, when you're just going to be eating the meal, rather than cooking it.

When I return, there is a whole bunch of stuff on the go - the chicken has been marinating in a mixture of garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, star anise, coriander root and brown sugar, there are candied yams in the oven, as well as chopped bok choy and some of the wild rice. There is also a surprise - P1 has fashioned a pavlova using a recipe from - shame of all shames - Stephanie Alexander's Australian cooking bible The Cook's Companion! Oy vey!

Okay, so she is cooking the chicken in stock, like I do, and I do step in to brown the bird under the grill and cook the bok choy, but this is a real breakthrough. Without significant interference from me, she has made excellent food three days running - there have even been leftovers, which I also love, which we have only just polished off. The pavlova didn't last quite so long, I'm afraid...

Bravo, Plus One - you have done us both proud, and I am more than happy to loose my vice-like grip over cooking duties any time you see fit. Your ability to actually follow recipes means you are potentially a much better cook than me, and the biggest breakthrough has been in your trusting your own palate well enough to give recipes a tweak if you think they need it.

My question today goes out to those who live in a household where one of you does most of the cooking - how would you feel about your non-cooking significant other taking control in the kitchen? Happy? Threatened? Has it happened with successful results, or was it a disaster?

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