Here I am in my kitchen. My happy space. The heart and centre of our house. Here I cook for my dearest family and extended family, and our friends. Occasionally it's just two eating in the kitchen, and I have once had 50. But big lunch or dinner parties tend to hover around the 12 mark. Seldom does it see a meal for one.
I plan to share my favourite recipes and my favourite people.
I'm going to start with a very short and sweet recipe that has people asking for it, and only agreeing to come (Juliana!) if that's what we're having. this is:
one shoulder of lamb
plenty of salt
place in a 100C oven and bake for 10 hours.
We've had to get up at 5am, sometimes, to put it on...but it's hardly a big job, and it is the most popular meal (other than the Durban beef curry, maybe) that we put on the table. Potatoes can be put in for hours and then crisped up when the meat comes out. You can add herbs/onions/ marinade of any description, but I keep mine simple. It really needs very little else. It comes out of the oven crisp and perfect, with the meat gently falling off the bone. Serve with smashed veggies, ah la my mom - although, I boil two different vegetables in two different stocks (say broccolli and peas, or zucchini (but not too soft) and er, peas).
A good spinach is soft fried spring onions in butter, as a little touch, I add a crushed bay leaf fresh off my birthday tree, and fry it along with the onions. Remove the bay leaf, and add the spinach - oh do as much spinach as the pot will take, trust me.... and a little powdered stock, cook down, stirring a lot, then a good dollop of double cream and pepper....okay it's not rocket science...but I've only just discovered this one and it's good, good, good.
Since time immemorial it has been Bexie's job to do the carrots. Perfect matchsticks caramelized in butter and sugar. But now she's at Sussex University, and I'm in charge of the carrots now!
So for carrots: slice them down the middle, boil up with stock till just tender, then braise for a minute or two with butter, pepper and the juice of half a lemon...mmmmm. Oh, and chopped parsley on top to impress.
Bexie came home this weekend, endearingly missing home comforts. Taking a mother's chance to prove she's right, and to spoil her, I did my new lamb shank and beans and piled the plates high with plenty home-cooked veggies including her favourite, carrots. Most of us went back for seconds - the bean gravy finished off with bread - all the plates and pots were licked clean. I sat back with a satisfied smile ......Bexie digested for a few minutes, then: "so what's happened to the carrots?"
So there's a Sunday lunch that can feed 10, although we've easily done the joint justice when there's only four of us.
We love having Morrie and Carol down for the weekend. Our oldest friends, usually they get a Durban curry, but this time held firm. I'd do a braised beef. I wanted to keep it as simple as possible. Good beef with a good gravy - a country casserole. I loved making this dish because I found some mixed wild mushrooms and these were perfect for the gravy. I repeated a mantra to myself, though: don't put too much in.
I remember this dish, because the next time they came, months later, Morrie asked for the recipe.
Country braised beef
Big wedges of onions - in my big oval cast iron casserole. you need the biggest casserole you can accommodate. On the top of the stove and into the oven, you'll use it for everything ....even for small dishes. I fry the onions slowly in the olive oil. When they're good, add the flour-coated beef ...although in real life, I throw in all the braising steak, then spoon some flour on top with some pepper and stir it around. Cook a bit. The flour needs to brown.
I always use too much meat, and never regret it. Add water...not too much, a clove of garlic, organic beef stock, the wild mushrooms and then a bouquet garni. As darling as the little muslin bags are, like miniature white Christmas puddings, it's still a weird pleasure to plunge a sharp knife into the side of one and shake all the dry herbs into the gravy. Bring it all back up to the boil, scrape and mix the flour in, obviously, and put it into the oven to barely simmer for about an hour. Halved peeled potatoes go in and slow cook for another hour or so.
Serve with the potatoes and, you know, another veg.