Illustration by Edwina White/The Jacky Winter Group.
It seemed so simple. We are awash with cookbooks at home and most never get used. Jamie gets a regular workout, as do Nigella, Stephanie, Margaret and Kylie (no, not Minogue, but give her time now she's stopped warbling), but the rest remain virgin territory.
So I thought it would be good to get some friends around for dinner, cooking one or more of the recipes in the unused books. And, of course, what's the point in having people around if they're not amazed at your culinary skills?
Going that extra yard or two, I chose Shannon Bennett's beautiful cookbook My Vue: Modern French Cookery and its recipe for assiette of wild hare.
Bennett points out that it is his interpretation of a classic Larousse dish and that it is time-consuming but well worth it. And that it would go well with a "big occasion pinot noir" or even a Grand Cru Burgundy. Naturellement, mon brave.
The recipe is contained on two pages, the ingredients on one. As the editor of that timeless, classic cookbook, Blokes: Tasty No Fuss Recipes, this was obviously right up my alley.
Now, some wild hare (500g hare forequarter, including rib cage) might be a little harder to source than, say, common or garden rabbit, but I put that to the back of my mind - "How hard could it be?" - and concentrated on the rest of the recipe.
Salt and freshly ground pepper: check.
Next: 200g of chicken mousse. Funnily enough, we're all out of it. Luckily the recipe points to page 377, which reveals that the mousse recipe needs 620g of chicken breast fillet, salt, 3 eggs, 4 egg yolks and one cup of double cream. Basically you give it all a blast in a food processor before resting in the fridge for 30 minutes (the mousse, not you).
Now, back to the hare recipe: next up are 1 tbsp of black truffle paste and 100g of caul fat. Okay. Well, it might take a bit of searching and a chat to the butcher - "No, not 'cool'; 'caul', mate, 'caul' " - but we're good, right?
Ah, now it seems I need two twice-cooked hare legs. This is why you must read the recipe right through beforehand; you'd look pretty silly getting your hare forequarter and rib cage and having to go back later to see if the legs were still hanging around.
So, twice-cooked hare legs - see page 272. Right, olive oil, hare legs, eight-spice powder ... uh, turn to page 382, where we are told to grind together juniper berries, whole star anise, white peppercorns, cinnamon quills, cloves, saffron threads, salt and cardamom pods. You could buy the stuff, of course, but where's the fun in that? Now where was I? Page 272. I think.
Oh, this is just too simple: carrot, celery, onion, leek, red wine, 4 cups of veal stock, goose fat ... hang on. Veal stock? Turn to page 294, where it seems we need 5kg of veal knuckle bones, olive oil, garlic, thyme, more white peppercorns, another carrot (make a note to self - two carrots), brown onions, more celery (note to self, get a shitload of celery, just in case), six cups of red wine (and have one yourself while you're at it, squire, just not the Grand Cru Burgundy, okay?) and 500g of tomato paste. FIVE HUNDRED GRAMS? Oh, and the whole lot needs to be simmered on a very low heat for 24 hours. No wonder Shannon always looks shattered.
Hit the phones; change dinner evening to weekend after next.
So we're back on track, sort of, on page 270, where a pea purée is called for. This recipe is on page 142 and consists of fresh peas, olive oil, onion, garlic, baby spinach and 100ml of chicken stock, which must be made from a recipe on page 378.
No worries; this is why Microsoft made Excel spreadsheets. So, page 378 reckons chicken wings make a far better quality stock than ordinary carcasses and we will need 5kg of them, two more carrots, more leeks, more onions, yet more celery, garlic, thyme, bay leaves and more white peppercorns. All covered with 40 cups of water.
Chuck it all together and simmer for 7-8 hours. On the stove next to the veal stock. When done, use to make pea purée back on, argh, where are we? Er, page 142?
Now we're cooking! Or not. The next ingredient is two sheets of puff pastry, the recipe for which is way, way off on page 54, where flour, butter, some other stuff and three hours will result in puff pastry fit for a king. I think we might buy that one ready-made.
Oh, this is getting easier; an egg, olive oil, 2 hare kidneys (see earlier note re hares), 100g broad beans and 3 tbsp of mushroom stock. Which means it's off to page 109, where an hour, 1kg of button mushrooms, Madeira wine, dry white wine, shallots, garlic, thyme (have I got this already?), bay leaf, peppercorns will ... oh no, we need chicken stock! See page 378? Oh, we've been there and done that. Well, we haven't done that, but we will.
So, it's back to page 270 and the original recipe, where we need a cèpe mushroom (fresh or frozen, you wild thing, Shannon!), 100ml of semi-whipped cream and, last but not least, 2 pinches of dried cèpe powder. As you do.
And, yes, you guessed it, we have to go to page 376, where we discover that 10g of dried cèpes need to be placed in a warm, dry place for 24 hours to make sure they really are dry. Then we merely grind them in a mortar and pestle with some salt and pepper.
I have long since abandoned the spreadsheet for an old-fashioned flow chart. This now takes up the whole of one wall, goes down the stairs, out into the street and up past the bus stop, where a little old lady mutters, "Making the assiette of hare, eh?" What the chart also reveals is that once all 40 or so ingredients have been sourced, I can have the whole thing prepared and cooked by ... oh, late September.
But first I have to find a butcher who not only stocks wild hare but who will "separate the saddle from the rib cage, remove the loins from the saddle, cut through the backbone vertically, scrape the ribs bones from the inside, remove any sinew ..." Really, this recipe just became a Damien Hirst installation.
But whoa! Hang on! I just read the words below the recipe title. They are in a little faded grey type and they say: Serves 2.