Monday, November 2, 2009

The autocrat in the kitchen


I find it strange that even though I adore cooking, I don't enjoy cooking for a crowd. I enjoy planning the menu, but when the day comes I'm usually so worn out by the frenzy of shopping and preparing the food that I want guests to leave before they've even arrived. I'm not one of those people who likes to have friends and relatives huddled chummily around the kitchen as I cook (I get performance anxiety, and am easily distracted – things will burn), and I wouldn't dream of casually tossing a stick of celery at someone and asking them to chop it. I have read that some well-known chefs like to involved guests in the preparation of the meal, but I find the idea quite horrifying. You see, I want things chopped, stirred, sautéed and combined exactly as I want them chopped, stirred, sautéed and combined. I can barely allow Patrick to boil and egg without inquiring why his egg-boiling technique is different to mine, which is clearly flawless. Usually, I have to leave the viscinity for the sake of our relationship. And don't get me wrong – he can boil a mean egg – but I've had to face the ugly truth that I am a tyrant in the kitchen. And I'm really quite comfortable with this – it's better than being a pedant (read Julian Barnes' The Pedant in the Kitchen, it's a hoot).

The occasions I enjoy cooking most are when I'm making dinner for two – perhaps I'm trying something new, perhaps I'm preparing an old favourite. I like that it's relaxed, and I'm working with manageable quantities. Usually, somewhere along the way, something magic and unexpected happens. Patrick and I will sit and munch, and the joy of eating a truly good meal brings us closer. I really believe that food has the power to do this, but you have to make it with love and passion. So clichéd, but so true. Perhaps that's why my food never quite turns out as impressively as I'd hoped when I cater for more than two: I'm in a rush, and forget to really enjoy the experience.

This dish was inspired by a Bill Granger recipe. I don't think I can stress enough how easy these are to make, on a braai or under a grill. They simply shriek 'summer' and are oh-so moreish. (Images by Deryck van Steenderen – also from the Psychologies shoot.)

Crunchy prawn skewers with lemony avocado dip
Serves 4

Flesh of 1 avocado
125ml crème fraiche
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
400g breadcrumbs
36 medium prawns, deveined
30ml olive oil
12 wood or bamboo skewers

Combine the avocado, crème fraiche and lemon juice in a food processor until smooth. Season to taste and set aside.
Combine the breadcrumbs and zest, and season well.
Coat the prawns in olive oil and toss with the breadcrumbs. Thread three prawns onto each skewer.
Grill for 2 minutes on each side, or until crisp and golden, and serve immediately with the dip.
TIP: Soak the skewers in cold water for at least an hour beforehand to prevent them burning.


  1. Oh yum!! All we need now is summer... :(

  2. i've come to the conclusion that the best way to go about having people over for dinner is if there are two of you in the kitchen - it lessens the stress and the work, and there's someone to check that the roast's not burning while you freshen up on the drinks of the guests.

  3. I hate to have people around me when I cook. I am stubborn and I don't people to tell what to do when I cook. If I screw up a recipe, I rather learn by myself what went wrong.

    Your dip seems to be a great accompaniment to the prawns! Thanks for sharing :)

  4. I'm just like that! I turn into an annoyingly bossy person in the kitchen I've noticed, so I usually leave the kitchen on the odd occasion that I allow TheHusband to make food (not that he does a bad job, mind you) just so that I don't end up barking orders at him. :-)

    On a side-note, it's great to discover another SA foodblogger!

  5. I love cooking for a crowd and have done it several times. Unfortunately, my windowless galley kitchen can hold no more interlopers than the cat in the corner, so my tension borders on claustrophobia and peevishness, especially when gripping a knife.

    That lemon avocado dip is amazing.