A few weekends ago, before my Dad left for Hong Kong, his good friend and golf buddy, Uncle Harry, invited us over to his house for dinner. I had heard over the years about what an expert Uncle Harry was at making lamb. In fact, a few years ago when we threw Dad a birthday party, we made Uncle Harry in charge of grilling the rack of lamb. The last thing Dad would want is overcooked lamb so Uncle Harry was the perfect person to delegate the cooking to. I barely ate any of it because at the time lamb still scared me. But I heard it was great!
In my Dad’s generation, most men left the cooking and caring for the kids to the stay at home wife while they went out and worked to make sure all the bills were paid. Not many of my Dad’s friends can actually cook, let alone cook well. In fact, when my Mom passed away, my Dad couldn’t even boil an egg! Uncle Harry was no different when his wife passed away, but because his 2 daughters were still young at the time, he had to quickly learn how to do it all as a single Dad. All I really expected that night was lamb chops, possibly cooked on the grill. After all, if he was anything like my Dad, the kitchen is a mysterious place with complicated gadgets and scary knives.
But not only did Uncle Harry make amazing lamb chops, he made a 4-course meal that was each served and plated like a chef in a private kitchen! On the menu was:
Course 1: Shrimp Avocado Tomato Salad
Course 2: Creamy Tomato Basil Soup and Garlic Bread
Course 3: Rack of Lamb with Roasted Potatoes and Zucchini Parmesan
Course 4: Creme Caramel
GASP! HE CAN BAKE! And he can create recipes (Course 1), recreate recipes from restaurants (Course 2 was inspired by a soup that he had at a restaurant in Osoyoos), make delicious sides, and figured out how to make delicious zucchini in the microwave for just 5 minutes???
What was most impressive was how relaxed he was in the kitchen and how organized he was with his prep work all made ahead. Everything was timed perfectly so that each course was enjoyed hot and fresh out of the oven (or toaster, stove, and microwave). Furthermore, each dish was made with the ingredients all portioned out for each person so that there was just enough food to fill each plate and bowl for each course.
When I asked Uncle Harry where he learned how to bake he said from his wife. That when she was sick they wanted an activity they could do together and because she was an excellent baker he said to her, “Why don’t you teach me how to bake?” And even though his wife is long gone, it is amazing how the torch he carries for her still shines so brightly. It is clear that she was a great teacher because she was gifted in the kitchen and he, in return, was a great student because he loved his teacher.
We cleaned up after each course and watched Uncle Harry prepare the next dish in the kitchen while enjoying the wine and his hospitality. By the end of the night, we were all happy campers, there were practically no leftovers to keep (other than the lamb chop bones for Turbo the dog), and almost no clean up left to do. Dad asked me that night why when I cook there are dishes and stress piled high everywhere but when Uncle Harry cooks it’s as smooth and precise as a swiss clock. Message received, Dad. In the new year, I plan to work on my timing, organization and portioning in the kitchen!
This is the recipe for his delightfully light and refreshing salad. He said you can swap out the shrimp for grilled prawns, king crab meat or smoked oysters, for example. Or incorporate fruit like mango to add some sweetness. He didn’t measure anything out, after all, no experience chef bothers to! So adjust the seasonings according to your taste. When I make it, I’m definitely omitting the cilantro so that I don’t have to pick each little tiny piece out like I did that night. And perhaps replace it with dill? This is so delicious and easy to make, thanks for sharing the recipe, Uncle Harry!
P.S. When I sent Dad this recipe the other day so that he could make it in Hong Kong, he asked me where he could buy diced onions!!! After discovering there was no such thing that could be bought at any supermarket, he looked up a youtube video (watching it 3 times carefully so that he wouldn’t cut his finger off by accident) on how to dice an onion and how to defrost shrimp, and managed to execute the recipe perfectly.
Thanks, Uncle Harry for inspiring Dad to cook as well. This may be the beginning of his transformation from egg boiling master into chef extraordinaire!
Uncle Harry’s Shrimp and Avocado Salad
Feeds 2 appetizer portions
What you need:
2 avocados, cubed
2 tomatoes, cubed
1 cup of cooked shrimp
1/2 small red onion, diced
juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 tsp of sesame oil, or to taste
a handful of cilantro, roughly chopped (optional)
What to do:
Mix together in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste