Sunday, December 19, 2010

spoiled for choice

One of my biggest challenges after over a decade as food writer, developing hundreds (and hundreds) of recipes, is what to make when people come for dinner.
Am worried people expect impressive Michelin star restaurant type stuff -"flambe of organic baby unicorn in honeysuckle souffle, with truffled rhino horn jus and an oxygen foam"- or some such fancy schmancey stuff.
But fact is I only do "family food". I made my name stretching one chicken breast and 1/2 can of beans into 4 course dinner for 6 - while knocking out a batch of scones and recycling the recycling. Am very happy to eat anything I didn't have to make myself - invite me around for cheese on toast and I'm thrilled! but I suffer from serious performance anxiety at home.
Earlier in year to solve problem I developed my own Help menu. I chose a couple of recipes that were interesting and tasty and made same dishes for each lot of visitors -worked really well until last week when realised we had friends coming who had already had that menu!
Horrors- practically had night sweats trying to decide what to make! Feel very silly as actually really like having a house full of people, enjoy cooking for them, just hate making decisions (also not wild about cleaning but is another story).
Finally after far too much deliberation decided to do leg of lamb, as is a treat for us (anything not mince is treat for us actually). Marinated the lamb in yoghurt and herbs and slow roasted it. Served with crispy garlic roast spuds and a couple of salads. Dessert was old fave Hazelnut meringue roulade.
Was all really tasty, and had an enjoyable and convivial evening. Best of all though- have now sorted out next years help menu! Yay - just cant invite same people for dinner for another 12 months so sorry to those two couples- will be happy to have you to dinner again in 2012.

Here is my recipe for slow roasted leg of lamb - Mmmm - great winter or summer.

Yoghurt Baked lamb with Rosemary, mint and lemon

I love lamb and prefer to team it with seasonings that enhance rather than mask the delicate flavour of the lamb. This yoghurt marinade ensures the meat is tender and juicy and forms a tangy crust, I marinate it for a minimum of 5 hours or up to 24 hours.

Serves 6 -8 adults

1x 2.5 leg of lamb on the bone
1 cup natural unsweetened yoghurt
1 tbsp finely chopped rosemary – a couple of big sprigs
1 tbsp finely chopped mint
zest and juice of ½ a lemon
1 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp salt

Cut several slashes into the plump side of the joint. Combine the yoghurt rosemary, mint, lemon juice, zest, oil and salt and mix well.
Coat the lamb with the yoghurt mixture working it gently into the slashes. Place the lamb in a plastic bag and wrap it so the yoghurt marinade cant slide off the meat. Place in the fridge and allow to marinate for 5 hours or up to 24 hours. Give it a bit of a massage from time to time.
Pre heat the oven to 180, place the lamb into a roasting pan, salvage as much of the yoghurt marinade as you can from the bag and spread over the meat. Bake the lamb at 180 for 20 minutes then reduce the temperature to 170 and bake allowing 20 minutes per 500g so roughly 2 ½ hours.
Allow the lamb to rest for 10 -15 minutes before carving.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

food of love

I always encourage people to teach their kids to cook, as is essential life skill and frankly am terrified that one day I may depend on them to feed me when I am old and infirm and if they cant cook I'll die of malnutrition or worse food poisoning! But is not only kids who need to learn.
Anne and Bill have been married 60 years. They have strict division of labour, common to their generation. Anne cooks and runs house, Bill looks after finances and plays golf.
They raised 4 boys, and enjoy a quiet and comfortable retirement. That was until a fortnight ago. Anne fell while watering garden, savagely breaking several of her 84yr old bones, 4 surgeries later she was finally on the road to recovery and Bill was tired of toast. Survival instinct kicked in and he found himself in the unfamiliar territory called kitchen. Never having attempted to cook anything other than eggs or toast he decided to roast a chicken.
With great pride he regaled Anne during visiting hours of his achievement. He'd successfully cooked a chook. Anne was amazed, how did he do it ?
Apparently there were instructions printed on the pack and Bill had simply followed them. In all the years she's cooked for him she'd never needed to look and he'd never needed to cook.

Don't you wish you'd married Anne? I'd even wear the ugly golf trousers if it meant coming home to a cooked meal everyday - sigh. anyway heres how I cook a chook

To Roast a Chicken

A roast chicken is one of the simplest and most satisfying dishes, the house will smell wonderful while it cooks, and once you’ve mastered the basic technique you can try all sorts of variations.

Pre heat the oven to 180ยบ
Allow 20 minutes per 450g plus an extra 20 minutes at the end.
Make sure the chicken is fully defrosted, pat it dry with a piece of kitchen paper and place it in a roasting pan. Sprinkle the bird with a little salt and pepper and put it into the pre-heated oven.
During the cooking time baste the chicken with the juices in the pan, use a large spoon and carefully spoon the hot pan juices over the whole chicken, this helps it to brown evenly and keep it moist.

When the cooking time is completed pierce the plumpest part of the chickens thigh with a sharp knife and press the flesh firmly, have a look at any juice that comes out, it should be clear. If there is any pink juice at all cook the chicken for another 20 minutes then check it again. If you have allowed 20 minutes per 450 g plus another 20 it should be fine.

Remove the chicken from the oven; cover with foil to keep it warm then let it rest for 10 minutes before you cut it up. This will allow the meat to relax and will be more moist and tender to eat.

Roast chicken is delicious hot or cold, serve with gravy or chutney, hot roast vegetables, mashed spuds or salad.

Hints and tips: Rubbing the skin with butter before it cooks will make it extra golden and crispy but does add extra unnecessary fat.
Adding lemon or orange segments to the cavity inside the bird will help keep a big bird moist as it cooks, herbs and garlic will infuse flavour and bacon strips placed over the breast of the bird will keep it moist and flavoursome.
Marinades and barbecue style sauces will all add variety to a roasted bird as will dry spice rubs or some liquid in the pan while the bird cooks, you could use stock, wine, or a combination.