The opening sentence in the hefty cookbook that is "The Australian cookbook" reads...The revolution in Australian cooking over the last few years has led to a new sophistication in the way we prepare and present food. More and more publications have a gourmet image which looks, and often is, very difficult to attain. Perhaps we have lost sight of the real values in food preparation and this is the reason for this book.
First published in 1986, a year after I was born, Anne Thorpe compiled hundreds of recipes supplied from experts in their chosen fields as well as other contributors who were involved in Australian food at the time. It is one of those books, just like the "vintage" editions of The Australian Women's Weekly, where at first the photos catch your eye...paper doilies, a garnish of parsley tucked into the side of a rice dish, a Hawaiian chicken salad served in a pineapple. Then there are titles for the recipes...Chicken licken rice, Jumbuck stew, Farmland treat, Chicken mountains and 14 pages full of rice desserts! Who new one could have so many variations! The peach ginger rice cream complete with whole peaches topped with extra whipped cream and perfectly placed toasted almond slivers looks...interesting.
However, it is amongst these pages where so many learnt how to prepare and present food and I have to be honest, it does bring a certain sense of nostalgia looking at (and smelling) the pages. I do not know who this book belonged to before it found itself on my bookshelf. Ben gave it to me for my Birthday a couple of years ago, he had found it in a second-hand bookshop and the lady behind the counter said he could have it for free...It was in perfect condition, not a splatter or an oil mark to be found. I am pleased to say that that has changed. A book has a life when it shows the marks of a cooks hand, be that a sauce-stained fingerprint or a scribbled note here and there and I have made sure that this book has been given that opportunity.
So it was with great gusto that I heaved it off my bookshelf, carried it outside with me into the spring sunshine, matcha in one hand, pen in the other as I set about plotting and planning for our Sunday lunch from the pages of this classic recipe laden book.
By the end of the day, in between the day-to-day chores and running around after Beau and Viviana, I had a plan...it was a combination of two recipes, chutneyed chops banana and farmhouse casserole which resulted in the curried forequarter chops with onions and potatoes. An abundance of silverbeet going to seed inspired the rice pilaf and it was a competition between the Blitz torte, lemon tart and the apple banana shortcake for dessert.
I heeded the advice at the start of the Dessert chapter...Dessert is the ultimate indulgence, usually eaten when satisfied. Whether it be a smooth chocolate mousse or a simple cheese and fruit platter, it always forms a mellow end to a fine meal. Never serve a rich dessert after a heavy main course and if serving a saucy dessert then it is best to avoid sauces in other courses. Three courses are very filling so sometimes it is best to serve what is, strictly speaking, a first course followed by a delectable dessert. This is becoming a new trend overseas. Whatever the choice, make the end of your meal memorable and leave your guest craving for another invitation.
Our tummies were full, we were indeed satisfied. And we enjoyed our delectable dessert of apple banana shortcake outside on the deck, in our camping chairs along with the dog and three chooks. There was a dollop of brown sugar whipped cream on each pretty china plate and not a crumb to be seen. I think these guests of mine are craving for another invitation...well, I do hope so, they make fine dining companions, even if it does get a little messy!
The following Sunday lunch menu will serve 4, or 2 hungry adults and 2 little ones with leftovers the following day.
Curried lamb forequarter chops with onions and potatoes
5 lamb forequarter chops
1/3 cup plain flour
a good knob of butter or two
2 brown onions, peeled and sliced
4 potatoes, peeled, rinsed and sliced
1 tablespoon curry powder
1/2 cup of water
2 tablespoons fruit chutney (I used fig chutney)
Preheat the oven to 160 degrees celsius. Coat the chops in the flour, shaking off any excess. Heat a large roasting pan over medium heat. add in a good knob of butter and allow to melt before adding in the chops. You want the chops to take on a golden colour, once this is done on one side, turn over and continue to cook until golden on each side. Move the chops to the side of the pan and add the sliced onions and potatoes and a little more butter and swirl to coat them in the butter and the meat juices until they are slightly softened.
Arrange the chops and onions and potatoes in the dish, as best as you can, making sure that there are onions and potatoes in between each chop and some on top. Mix the curry powder, fruit chutney into the water until combined and then pour over the chops, spreading it all over with the back of a spoon. Cover with a sheet of foil or two and place into the oven for 1 hour. Once the hour is up, remove the foil and pop it all back in for another 15 minutes uncovered.
Rice Pilaf with Silverbeet
Meanwhile, you can start to prepare the pilaf...
1/2 cup olive oil
1 brown onion, finely diced
about 1kg of spinach or silverbeet, or a mixture of both, washed well, excess water squeezed out and sliced
2 cups of water
1 cup of rice, washed and rinsed
1 cup of frozen peas
In a large frypan pour in the oil and warm over medium heat, add the onion and then lower the heat and pop a lid on to soften the onion without colouring. This will only take a few minutes, having the lid on creates steam which will soften the onion without colouring. Remove the lid and add the spinach or silverbeet and stir until starting to wilt, pour in the water, season with a good amount of cracked black pepper and a generous pinch of salt (add more than what you think as the rice will absorb a lot of it) bring to a simmer and cook until the greens have collapsed, add the rice and give everything a good stir. Pop the lid back on, lower the heat and cook for 20 minutes, until the water has been absorbed. Ten minutes before the rice is ready to be served, take the lid off, pour in the peas and give them a quick stir, place a tea towel over the top of the rice and then pop the lid back on and bring the sides of the tea towel up and over the lid. Then finish cooking for another 10 minutes. This will make the rice extra fluffy. When ready to serve, give everything a good stir and check for seasoning, you may need more salt...
Take the pilaf and the lamb to the table. I serve the lamb straight from the roasting dish, but I do spoon the pilaf into a serving bowl and then everyone can help themselves.
And now for dessert...
This can be made in advance or it can also be made up to the point of putting into the oven and then when you take the lamb out, all you have to do is to increase the oven temperature and then pop the shortcake in and it will be ready to serve after the lunch (or dinner) plates have been washed and dried and the sound of the kettle can be heard from the kitchen...
Apple banana shortcake
125g butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 1/4 cups self-raising flour
1 cup plain flour
2 apples, either granny smith or pink lady, grated
1 banana, sliced
zest and juice of a small lemon
1 tsp apple cake spice (this can be purchased from Gewurzhaus) otherwise you can just add ground cinnamon
Demerara sugar, for sprinkling on top
Preheat your oven (or adjust to) 180 degrees celsius. Grease and line a 20cm springform cake tin. Cream the butter and sugar until pale and then add in the egg and beat until combined, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Sift in the flours and then mix until it forms a soft dough-like consistency. If it is too sticky when you touch it then add a little more flour until it can be handled without leaving any stickiness on your hands. It should feel lovely and soft. Place it onto a lightly floured bench and divide into two portions. Roll each one out into a circle big enough to fit into the cake tin. Place one round on the bottom.
Stir the apples, banana and the spice together with the lemon zest and juice, then spoon this on top of the pastry, smoothing it all out evenly. Place the second round on top and press down lightly. Brush the top with a little water, make three or four incisions on top and then scatter over the demerara sugar.
Pop into the oven for 30 minutes, or until golden. It can be served warm or at room temperature and is particularly lovely with a dollop of whipped cream with the added sweetness of brown sugar whisked in.
Sit back and relax with your cup of tea in hand and enjoy the silence as everyone fills the last remaining space in their bellies with good, honest food that you have prepared, cooked and baked with love.