“At Home” – the cookbook for shooting widows
There are days when we all need a reminder that life is what you make it, especially in the face of bad luck. There was one the day I picked up Michael Caines’ brilliant cook book ‘At Home” (published by Preface 2013) in the foyer of Devon’s amazing Gidleigh Park Manor Hotel, having enjoyed his tasting menu the night before.
This amazing chef’s life story (he is still young so I am sure there is more to come) is detailed in the foreword to his book. He was adopted into a kind, earthy, ebullient sounding family (The Good Life meets the Brady bunch), had a slightly naughty passage through school but his oodles of potential got recognised and he ended up doing a culinary tour of some of the finest cooking apprenticeships in Europe, including with Raymond Blanc two Michelin stars, Bernard Loiseau three Michelin stars and Joel Robuchon 28!!! Michelin stars. He gets his big chance at Gidleigh Park as Head Chef and within two months had an awful car accident and lost his right arm. A right-handed, impeccably trained chef, losing his right arm just as his big moment comes. You have to pause for a moment to digest the magnitude of what this must have meant for him. He didn’t pause for long. He learned to lead with his left hand, had a prosthetic fitted and went on to be awarded two Michelin stars, which he has retained for 15 years. An extraordinary feat in itself. Next time I am having a bad day and feel the world is against me I shall think of Michael Caines and compose myself. Keep Calm and Carry On.
However, it is not why I bought the cookbook and I only discovered this later, thanks to my odd habit of flicking from middle to end to middle to beginning with any book with pictures (I need to register a minimum threshold of interest before I will consider buying the book). I bought the book because this chef really wants you to be a good chef. He wants you to enjoy all the elements: shopping for food, preparing the food, sharing the food, the hosting, the wine. In his introduction says ‘amateur cooks are becoming more ambitious and I want to fuel their passion and prick their curiosity’, and he actually means it and has taken great care with his guidance notes.
It reminded me a tad of Mary Berry’s ‘Cook Now, Eat Later’ which I was given as a gift when we first moved to the countryside, back in the days as first time Aga owner who had to Google the oven temperatures for our 45 year old four cooker. “Cook Now, Eat Later” (Headline Publishing) is basically a gem of a book that allows you to cater for a big country house weekend by preparing during the week, or before, or just muddle through feeding a family over the week, then heat, or defrost and heat, and garnish a range of pretty tasty meals that can withstand late guests or extra arrivals.
Michael Caines’ “At Home” is the Pagani Zonda supercar, Michelin star earning version of this book, packed with brilliant tips for the cooking enthusiastic. Recipes are peppered with ‘Can also be served with..’ ‘You can also make this with [substitute ingredients]’, and wonderful little red headings throughout ‘Planning Ahead’.
The nice (yes, actually very pleasant to read) narrative style behind his recipes is that of a kind mentor whispering instructions as in your head you take the Masterchef stage. Did you know you can freeze pesto? Any vegetable that is grown above ground needs to be cooked in boiling salted water for it to retain its colour, while root vegetables can be bought up to boil from cold water with no effect on their colour. A tip for green vegetables is to cook them ahead, refresh them in iced water to stop them cooking and help them keep their colour, drain and refrigerate, then reheat in a little water and butter. Cook Risotto for 18 minutes then place it on a tray and finish later when you are ready to serve, make crème brule 12 hours before, and so forth. I like all the help I can get when catering for a dinning party as well as hosting it.
If you are preparing yourself to become a shooting widow everyday Saturday this autumn or winter season, you should actually make your husband buy this book. In fact, professional shoots should probably gift this book to the willing wives that release their husbands from fatherly and household duties for a day a weekend, for no longer entirely necessary hunting and gathering duties, and therefore make shoots possible at all. Eye watering Michelin star worthy recipes for pheasant, grouse, duck, partridge and venison are precisely detailed that quite frankly will provide a welcome respite from my pheasant curries and game pies. Salad of wood pigeon, mange tout and hazelnuts; roast grouse with celeriac puree; roast partridge with braised chicory, quince puree and gewürztraminer wine sauce – a far more fitting and celebratory end for the bird.
It is one of those rare cook books that make me want to replicate American blogger Julie Powell’s effort of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in a single year by cooking her way through Julia Child’s cook book of the same title, which I might well do. By far the best fancy-pants cook book I have seen.