How to save your marriage (and Mary Poppins) in the kitchen


Yeah, yeah, yeah, we've all heard it, men don't cook. At least not everyday cooking: they won't have dinner ready on the table when the children are hungry. Or if they do, they've cooked something entirely inappropriate and made such a mess in the kitchen that Mary Poppins' frantic finger snapping and spoonful of sugar singing will cause her to have a heart attack. Then you'll have a messy kitchen and a dead Mary Poppins. Great.

So no wonder a lot of women don't even try to get their husbands cooking!

And yeah, fair enough, some men are at work all day while their wives stay at home with the kids so have plenty of time to prepare dinner while the laundry does itself and the mop and duster busy themselves around the house, and the children play nicely by themselves after waking from those interminable naps. Yeah. Right.

So here's the news: men can cook. They can cook plain yet appetizing healthy dinners for the whole family. And they don't have to use all the pots and pans and utensils in the process. Or repaint the kitchen.

We, at the Paris-Ankara Express, are now bringing you a healthy and tasty everyday family recipe written especially for men, with special emphasis on use of utensils, putting things away and quantity of food to purchase.

Trouts 'en papillote' with boiled new potatoes and green beans in tomato sauce. 

For a family of 4, you will need: 

4 medium trouts, cleaned.
(they'll probably all be the same size anyway if you buy them pre-packed at the supermarket. But, just in case you have the choice, don't, for God's sake, go for some of those huge rainbow trouts. Look, chances are your kids won't eat everything up anyway, so if you're still hungry, you'll be able to finish theirs.

Here's something you might like: how to choose a trout.
Get a whiff of it. It shouldn't stink. If it does, it's bad. Next, look it in the eyes (if you can get close enough to it to do that, it's probably not too stinky.) The eyes should be vivacious, alert, it should have a good honest stare. If it looks blank and bored, it's probably not very fresh.
When you get the trouts home, put them in the fridge. But make sure they're well wrapped! No one will thank you if the fridge and everything in it is covered in fish blood. I can just see your wife's face now.

You will also need some salt, any salt will do, no need to get fancy here, but if you have some rock salt at home, use that. (Please don't go buy a large pack of expensive salt you're never going to use again and that will just crowd your kitchen shelves.) Some pepper corns and coriander seeds would be nice. Again, use what you've got: green, pink, black pepper corns are all good. If you think you don't have any of that, please ask your wife before going to spend lots of money on spices. Chances are, you just don't know where you keep the spices.

If you do buy new spices, please take a minute to study the way in which spices are kept at your house. Are they all in neat little yogurt pots on a clean shelf? Are they just a bunch of half used bags thrown together and spilling everywhere? If the former, please make sure you respect that and put your new spices away in the right manner.

You'll also need: fresh parsley. You'll need a bunch, not to grow two square meters of it on your balcony. Please put that bag of manure back on the supermarket shelf. Thank you.

Some foil: precisely - 4 squares a bit longer than the length of the fish, and one bigger piece to cover the oven tray. Again, find out where you keep it, but you probably have some in the house. If you don't have much left, buy a new roll to replace what you use.

Some new potatoes. You won't need as many as you think (that, I think, is a general rule). On the other hand, boiled potatoes can be used for salads, or sliced up and fried, so it doesn't matter too much if you buy too many. Knock yourself out.

Beans, about two handfuls, no more. If you buy them prepacked, just go for the smallish pack. Two handfuls of a normal sized human being. Please.

a bulb of garlic. If you're like us, you probably have some, check that it's still good, i.e. the cloves should be firm and not disintegrate under your touch.

a can of peeled tomatoes. Yes, your wife and I do not trust you to peel your own. Live with it.

Some olive oil - whatever you normally use.

The utensils

You will need precisely:
one big pan for the potatoes, one frying pan for the sauce, one pan big enough to boil the beans.
one big sharp knife to peel the garlic and check on the potatoes, one wooden spatula for the sauce.
One chopping board.
a colander, big enough to hold your potatoes.
A clean dry cloth - but not a pretty one.
One small rubbish bag tied to a chair or a cupboard near you.
A sponge or cloth that is normally used to wipe kitchen surfaces.
A dust pan and brush.

Please take these out before you start, and refrain from using anything else. If really in doubt, contact me before hand (you can tweet me @sandrineankara).

Cooking Instructions.

Put a pan of lightly salted water on to boil for the beans. Then peel them. No, don't use that big knife. You have fingers, don't you? So here's what you do. Snap off the end of the bean gently, and before it's completely off, tug a bit so that if there's a string running the length of the bean, it will come off. Repeat process at the other end. Yeah, I know, it's a pain in the arse. But you have children, don't you? Call them in to the kitchen and set them work. Peeled beans to go in the colander, end bits in the bin bag tied on the chair. Just make sure the kids don't mix them. When they're done rinse them, then put them to boil for no more than 10 minutes. Then reserve in the colander.

While the beans are boiling wash the potatoes and bang them in the big pan. Cover with cold water, add a pinch of salt, put it on to cook. Depending on their size you should check on them between 10 and 20 minutes after the water boils. Check them with the knife. Put the point of the knife to the skin. If the skin breaks easily, they're done. If in doubt, take one out and taste it. The flesh of the potato shouldn't crumble - that's over done.
If they're ready but the rest isn't  you can turn the heat off and leave them in the pan.

As soon as the potatoes are on, turn the oven on. Don't know what temp, not too hot, but hot. Make sure you put a sheet of foil on the oven tray - that will save you some serious cleaning later.

Put the clean dry cloth near the sink. Put one sheet of foil on the work surface (as near the sink as you can). Put your pepper corns, salt and parsley near it.
Get your fish out, put the bag down near the sink. Take one fish out of the bag, run it under the cold tap, then put it on the clean cloth and dry it. Then transfer it to the bit of foil. If you've dried it properly you should be fine, if not, you'll have dropped fish blood everywhere and you're in big trouble. Not my fault if you don't follow my instructions to the letter. You're on your own, mate.

On top of the fish, put some salt, pepper corns, and a biggish sprig of parsley. Then bring up the sides of the foil, and roll them up at the top. The thing needs to be closed (you don't want fish juices running everywhere. But you need space for the air to circulate, so don't do it too tight.
Repeat the process for the other 3 fish. Bang them all in the oven.

Depending on their size, it should take around 20 mins. You know they're cooked when the eye is milky white and round.

When you've put the fish in the oven,and the potatoes on the boil, you should get on with the sauce for the beans.
To make the sauce, you start off by peeling the garlic. So take three cloves. Put a clove down on the chopping board. Take your big knife and press the side of the blade hard against the clove (put your fist on top if that helps). Don't crush it, just scare it a little. Then with the same knife, cut off the extremities. The skin should come off easily. If it doesn't it's just you being a bit useless and you may need a garlic peeling tube.
Then cut the clove in half, lengthways. If you see a green bit in the middle pop it out. Then chop the clove finely.

Put your frying pan on the stove. Light the stove, and put a glug of olive oil in the pan (a glug, not a spoonful. No, you don't need to dirty a spoon for that). Wait about 20 secs for the oil to heat, then add the garlic. Stir with the wooden spatula for 30 seconds or so. Then open the tin of tomatoes carefully. Pour it in the pan very carefully. Turn the heat down a bit: you don't want tomato splattered everywhere! Bang the cooked beans in the sauce and leave for about 15 mins, stirring every now and again.

Clearing up:
While the sauce, potatoes, and fish are cooking, you should clean the kitchen up a bit. Now if you've followed my instructions to the letter there shouldn't be too much of a mess.
But here' s a few things you'll definitely need to do.
Put away the foil, in its box, if it had one, and in the place where you normally keep it.
Put away the pots or jars of pepper corn. Again, neatly.
Put the garlic peal, fish bag, and any stray bits of bean in the plastic bag. You'll have to take that bag out after eating once you've put the fish bones in it.
Wash up the chopping board, the pan you used for the beans, and the knife. Put them away.
Wipe the work surface and sink.
Put the cloth you used to dry the fish to wash.
Probably, if you've cooked dinner and you haven't made a mess, your wife will be happy to wash up afterwards. That's if you normally wash up when she cooks. Fair's fair. 

When everything is ready, put one fish still in the foil on each plate, bring the potatoes and the beans to the table (don't forger serving spoons), water for everyone and wine for you and your wife.


'Im Indoors said...

That's all very well, but what am I going to do with this dead Mary Poppins...

hpretty said...

Hee hee. this did make me laugh.
men cannot tidy as they go when they're cooking just as they can't when they simply "living".
i also think that men get to cook the fancy meals once in a while and brag on abut it, while women make the big, dependable family meals 7 days a week.

JulieB said...

Ha ha, what a fantastic idea. Personally I like to think I am quite a relaxed person, but when it comes to food I just seem so much more bothered about what I eat than my husband. He will happily cook, but only with very clear instructions, which I can never normally be bothered with. Maybe I'll print this out and see how he gets on!

Sandrine said...

lol. Try your husbands out with the instructions! And if they're not mortally offended, you might actually get results!
(re: M.Poppins, just bury her discreetly in the garden and tell the kids she's gone to live in a nice farm in the country.)

Irem said...

Awesome! Loved this, Sandrine! Thank you! (And yes, apologies to the real men we know who do cook regularly.)

Sandrine said...

@Irem - yes. I got the impression that your husband cooked? Mine, as you know, certainly does. Which is just as well cause we don't have a garden (or a garage with a giant freezer) so couldn't easily dispose of a dead mary poppins.

kyouell said...

I love this! I had a friend whose husband was a chef; the food was wonderful but the mess was just as fantastical. She'd find bits of onion in the oddest places weeks after he'd made salsa.

I found you through your comment on The Bloggess' eBay & France may hate me post. I'm subscribing!

Sandrine said...

You should definitely subscribe, we love subscribers! And also, please keep this whole bloggess thing quiet, otherwise she may start demanding blog royalties, or some such thing! I reckon real chefs probably always make a mess, men or women, it's that diva thing they've got going.

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