I really enjoy feeding people. Let me clarify slightly – I really enjoy feeding people who like eating what I cook. Feeding difficult eaters has never been particularly joyous for me, but thankfully that occurs much less frequently nowadays. Children who only ate boiled rice, or who needed tomato ketchup with anything I offered, or whose mothers insisted that everything be organic are firmly in the past, I hope. I know I have mentioned on this blog that one of the things I miss most about being here in New York is our Sunday meals in London. I’m not sure when they became so important, but I know that I wanted one meal a week where we all sat down, together, and relaxed and ate. I do know that it was Nico who said that we should always eat in the dining room because it gave the meal a sense of occasion. The meals then developed into something more than I had ever envisaged with Dad making themed playlists where we had to guess the theme. Some were obvious, some less so, and it still bothers me slightly that we never guessed the one where colours were the link. Friends and family were invited to join us up to a maximum of 14 (the number we can comfortably sit around the table). Some found us a bit hard to deal with. Who can forget Jen’s friend, Kat, as we all started singing along and harmonising to Moulin Rouge? The poor girl looked utterly flabbergasted and you could see her asking herself who these people were and how she’d got here, as she bent her head over her wine. Some enjoyed themselves but wished in retrospect that they had not given in to Bapu’s offer of a raw chilli. I can clearly see Ramage and Noah turning dark red as they tried to control the heat that was exploding inside their mouths, head, throats. The noise was sometimes deafening as people were challenged to defend their statement, and one of Dad’s friends aptly described the banter between you boys as ‘verbal pinball’. I have often described those meals as resembling the opening credits of Roseanne except that we weren’t eating pizza! Everyone talking, everyone laughing, everyone drinking and most importantly everyone eating.
We often had roast meat, the ultimate and stereotypical British Sunday meal. Roast meat was meant for large groups of people, and providing you remembered to put everything into the oven at the right moment (or indeed take it out of the oven at the right moment) it wasn’t a difficult meal to prepare. Heck,who am I to talk? We all know that I was rarely responsible for the roasts – Dad was. My contribution to those roast meals was the starter and the dessert, and I usually prepared the vegetables too. The actual cooking of the meat rested fairly and squarely with Dad. He has a much better feel for large pieces of meat than I do, and the only roasts I am truly comfortable cooking are chicken or belly pork. I am however better at cooking small lumps of meat than Dad and over the years we’ve eaten a selection of casseroles and stews. Most were based on Grandma’s beef casserole and changed according to what vegetables were in season, what was in the fridge and what I felt like that day. All were designed so that we could all relax and enjoy the meal. I cannot bear it when someone is forever jumping up to check something, and isn’t able to participate properly.
One of my absolute favourites casseroles came from The Dairy Book of British Cookery. I was initially drawn to the name – Dorset Jugged Steak – because I had read about jugged hare in various Regency novels and thought the term sounded romantic. I now know that ‘jugged’ simply means something cooked in a closed container (the term is still primarily used for hare and rabbit, by the way), and isn’t at all romantic. Over the years, it’s rarely known in the family by its real name. Hallie calls it my Christmas casserole because I often cook it when we have people round before Christmas. It’s also known as The Stew With The Meatballs In, or the One You Always Do When We Have a Party. Whatever, we all still like it a lot, and the reason it gets cooked so often is because it is so easy. Hallie asked me for the recipe some time ago and I have been very slow in sorting myself out. I will give you the recipe as it appears in The Dairy Book of British Cookery, and then I’ll tell you what I changed and why.
Dorset Jugged Steak
- 700 g (1. 1/2 lb) stewing steak, cut into 2.5 cm (1 inch) cubes
- 25 g (1 oz) plain wholemeal flour
- 1 medium onion, skinned and sliced
- 4 cloves
- salt and pepper
- 150 ml (1/4 pint / 5 fl oz) port
- about 450 ml (3/4 pint) beef stock, to cover
- 225 g (8 oz) sausage meat
- 50 g (2 oz) fresh wholemeal breadcrumbs
- 30 ml (2 tbsp) chopped fresh parsley
- 15 ml (1 tbsp) redcurrant jelly
1. Toss the meat in seasoned flour, shaking off excess, and put into an ovenproof casserole.
2. Add the onion and cloves and season to taste. Pour in the port and just enough stock to cover the meat.
3. Cover the casserole and bake at 170°C (325°F) mark 3 for about 3 hours, until the meat is tender.
4. Meanwhile, mix together the sausage meat, breadcrumbs and parsley and season to taste. With damp hands, form the mixture into 8 balls.
5. Forty minutes before the end of the cooking time, stir the redcurrant jelly into the casserole. Add the meatballs and cook, uncovered, until the meatballs are cooked and slightly brown. Skim off any excess fat and serve hot.
I rarely make this for four people, usually I am making for twelve, and I cannot be bothered with half-empty jars or bottles. So at Christmas I put the whole jar of redcurrant jelly in and the entire bottle of port. I made four times the meatballs because they’re always so popular, but I was careful to skim the fat. I made the meatballs with Waitrose Premium Sausagemeat because I think it’s worth paying for the better quality. I used Knorr Rich Beef Stock Pots to make the stock and added one more Stock Pot than I should have. I wanted the sauce to be really rich and it was. I put in a couple of extra cloves because subtlety has never been my strong point and I like the flavour. I have never only had 700g beef as my base recipe because I tend to buy the stewing steak as a slab and prepare it myself, so it is rarely an exact weight. I don’t think that any of this has spoiled the dish. Indeed, if I may be so bold, I think it gets better every time I make it. These sort of dishes were peasant dishes, meant to last without spoiling and meant to fill you up. They were never intended to be something you precisely weighed everything for. Anyway, those were my changes this Christmas and if you watch me make it next Christmas it will probably have changed again! Use the original recipe as your guideline and make it the way you want to eat it.