There were eight of us sitting around the table, some were strangers to each other, others were known. They were all strangers to me except for Mr NQN. But it was quite obvious after sitting down and shaking out my napkin that one couple clearly couldn't stand each other.
"I already TOLD YOU to wear something different" she told him.
"Well perhaps you could say SOMETHING WORTH LISTENING TO and I'd listen" he countered, teeth gritted.
Roasted shoulder of lamb
I looked at Mr NQN in alarm. There's nothing more awkward that sharing a table with strangers, let alone strangers that are in the middle of a fight.
"Don't worry, they're always like that..." another table mate whispered to me. "They're quite happy...I think" she added when I looked doubtful.
That night the food took a back row to the antics on stage. I don't think that I had seen a couple so loathsome of each other outside a film and retorts flew back and forth the whole evening. Each of us breathed a sigh of relief when one of the couple would leave the table to talk to someone else or visit the washroom because conversation turned to normal. Apparently this is what they were always like? And they get invited places?
Turning to better guests, the kind that are always welcome here, I decided to have an Autumnal Easter feast to celebrate the changing of the seasons and the vegetables that appear for autumn. We invited Queen Viv, Miss America and Ambrose over for the feast. I loved the fact that I could make the oven do all of the work here and I cooked all three kinds of vegetables at the same time in the oven
We were given a wonderful shoulder of lamb and I pegged the shoulder for this dinner party. I must also confess to something here: I actually roasted the lamb shoulder the day before as I had a hard-to-get beauty appointment that afternoon that would have cut into the cooking time and I don't like leaving the oven on with no-one home. Luckily the shoulder cut is a great cut as it is not prone to drying out due to the luscious amount of fat in it.
With the vegetables cooked and tented with foil I reheated the lamb that evening covered in foil on 150C/300F until it was warmed through. It is a very dinner party friendly cut as it requires scarcely 5 minutes of preparation and four hours in the oven in which you don't have to do a thing. It truly is one of the easiest meals that you can make and fell apart lusciously on the way from the fork to the mouth.
Oh and a little postscript: yesterday, Mr NQN told me that the wife from the angry couple was pregnant! :o
So tell me Dear Reader, have you ever had a really awkward dinner party as a host or guest? And do you try to keep your fights private or do you share them?
Slow Roasted Lamb Shoulder
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 4 hours
Degree of difficulty: easy
Someone once asked me what the best media gift I was given and I answered that really good produce is always welcome. I was lucky enough to attend a recent Daily Addict perk which was to visit Hudson Meats and see a lamb carcass being broken down. Daily Addict Perks are special events that are only open to their readership and allows them to get even closer to the brands that they like. We watched as a butcher expertly broke down a whole lamb over the course of a couple of hours.
We served this up to our friends Queen Viv, Miss America and Ambrose who are all fantastic dinner guests for an Autumnal feast. Even Queen Viv who was on a detox diet was a good guest and not any trouble at all whilst the rest of us feasted on the succulent lamb. We served it with Deeb's taratour, a creamy Lebanese garlic dip from the wonderful Deeb's restaurant in Mudgee which was a gift from Bechora Deeb, the chef. That morning I also received a delivery of Paddy's Irish soda bread which was wonderfully fresh and addictive when sliced thinly. I think I ate half a loaf on my own!
2.2 kg shoulder of lamb
4 sprigs rosemary
4 springs of mint
1 bulb of garlic
Salt, black pepper and sumac
1 cup of wine or stock (just in case it starts to dry out in the last hour)
Step 1 - Preheat the oven to 250C/482F. Lay down half of the bulb of garlic (you can leave the skin on the cloves) and half of the rosemary and half of the mint on the bottom of a high sided baking tray. Score the skin side of the lamb by using diagonal cuts about 1-2 cms apart. Rub all over with oil and sumac and a generous amount of salt and black pepper. Place skin side up on top of the garlic and herbs and then add the rest of the herbs and garlic on top of the lamb. Cover tightly with foil - to keep the moisture in. Place in oven and turn down to 170C/340F. Roast for 4 hours. If the meat looks like it might dry out in the last hour or so, add the wine or stock.
Step 2 - When ready remove from oven and allow to rest for 15 minutes under the foil. Use a pair of forks to pull the soft meat apart.
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
Degree of difficulty: Easy
This is one of my favourite ways to eat rice and you can find variations on this all across middle eastern cuisine. I used to wonder how this was made and it was when I visited Deeb's in Mudgee that Bechora Deeb explained the process to me which seemed just so simple to make a rice so delicious. You use butter or ghee to cook the raw noodles until dark golden which also means that the butter browns so you get that wonderfully nutty browned butter flavour to the rice. You add the rice and then cook it as you would regular rice.
The resulting rice has a wonderful aroma to it and you can almost taste things like cinnamon although that's just the browned butter talking. I used a wonderful Randall's organic GMO free rice which is grown and milled in the Murrumbidgee Valley in NSW. They've been growing organic for over 20 years and they also use a unique milling process which leaves some of the layers of bran on the grain. It was perfect for this dish and they also gave me another tip for storing rice-store it in the fridge! I have ever since I had a pantry moth attack and the little blighters love rice and they say that it's the best way to store rice. And I have to say that this is one of the best way to eat it ;) I know I'm pushy but if you like buttery rice, please make this! :)
1.5 cups long grain rice, rinsed and drained
60g or 1/4 cup butter or ghee
1/2 cup uncooked vermicelli, orzo or thin spaghetti noodles broken up into small pieces
2 1/4 cups boiling water
1/2 teaspoon salt
Step 1 - Rinse the rice and drain it well and set aside. In a saucepan heat the butter and add the butter or ghee and cook the noodles until they turn a golden brown stirring constantly to make sure all of the pieces get coated. Once done, add the drained rice and cook for a minute coating all of the grains in the butter.
Step 2 - Then add the water and salt and put the lid on and simmer on low for 20 minutes until the rice is done. Fluff with a fork and serve warm.
Foil Roasted Beetroot
Preparation time: 10 minutes plus 5 minutes at the end putting the toppings on
Cooking time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Degree of difficulty: Easy
I know that beetroot has enjoyed a revival of late and I remember talking to a farmer who said that twenty years ago, his farmer dad used to throw them in a ditch as nobody wanted them. Well like the revenge of the nerdy girl turned swan, it seems that everyone loves beetroot now. I saw this recipe on Rachel's blog and I like this sweet magenta version of the roast potato. They were easy to do and the saltiness from the cheese went well with the sweetness of the roasted beetroot.
6-8 whole beetroot (1 per person plus extra)
Some oil for drizzling on the foil (optional)
75g/2.5 ozs feta
A few mint leaves
Step 1 - Preheat the oven to 220C/440F. If you are doing this at the same time as the roasted carrots and spiced cauliflower, place the beetroot on the lowest oven rung. Peel and trim the beetroot so that it can sit flat. Make some foil squares - you want two squares per beetroot. Add a drizzle of oil on the foil if using oil and wrap the beetroot up tightly in the foil. Bake in the oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Step 2 - Remove from oven and open up the foil. Cut a deep cross into the beetroot making sure not to cut through the bottom. Fill with feta and top with mint leaves.
I was inspired to make this spiced cauliflower from a visit to Jah Bar in Manly when the cauliflower was set down in front of us I may have clasped my hands together at its sheer edibility! This spiced cauliflower dish packs some nice heat in it but if you prefer it less hot (and even chilli fearing Queen Viv could eat this), you can use less cayenne pepper in it.
Preparation time: 15-20 minutes
Cooking time: 30-40 minutes
Degree of difficulty: Easy-medium
1 medium sized cauliflower (or as much as you can fit on a baking tray)
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1.5 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1.5 teaspoons salt
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 large red chillies
1/4 cup green spring onions, chopped
Step 1 - Preheat oven to 220c/440F and line a baking tray with parchment. If you are doing this at the same time as the roasted beetroot and roasted carrots, place the cauliflower on the highest oven rung or where the hottest part of the oven is.
Step 2 - Wash and trim the cauliflower making small florets and place in a bowl. Try to keep them as evenly sized as possible so cut down the larger florets in half.
Step 3 - In a small bowl, measure the spices (cumin, turmeric and cayenne pepper) and the oil and salt and stir to combine. Drizzle over the cauliflower florets trying to coat them as evenly as possible.
Step 4 - Lay them on a single layer on the prepared tray and bake for 30-40 minutes - I find that sometimes bits of the cauliflower catch and so you may have to turn your tray around. Sprinkle the green spring onions on top and serve.
Roasted Carrots and Red Onion
Scarcely a recipe I feel like a fraud writing this up, yet they are so popular that they will disappear every time they are served up. I wanted to buy some purple and yellow carrots but alas supplies and time were running low.
2-3 bunches of Dutch carrots
4-5 whole red onions
Good quality olive oil (I used Splish mild olive oil which is organic in conversion)
Salt and pepper
Step 1 - Preheat oven to 220C/440F (do these at the same time as the beetroot above). If you are doing this at the same time as the roasted beetroot and spiced cauliflower, place this dish on the middle oven rung. Trim the carrots of the fronds (which are actually edible and have a slight bitterness to them) and wash them well. Quarter the red onions and peel off any papery layers.
Step 2 - Line a large baking tray with parchment and add the carrots and onion and drizzle with oil, salt and pepper lightly tossing them with your fingers or tongs. Bake for 30-40 minutes until the they both have a nice caramelisation on them. Dutch carrots are perfect for roasting as they take less time to roast than regular carrots.