“Cuddles” was an important part of the fabric of our family. It involved my Dad calling out to us at 6.45am to clamber into our parents bed, where upon we would cuddle, chat, critique Morning Report and wait for the bar heater to take the chill off the room. One morning I recall my father offering me a couple of career options: Chef or Stockbroker. Being a highly advanced 7 year old I decided that being a chef would take all the fun out of cooking and chose the latter. 40 years on I still think a professional kitchen looks like way too much hard work, but boy I sure do love to cook.
So in the full knowledge that anyone who eats these days has an Instagram account, a food blog and a hankering to be the next AA Gill, I am joining the fray. I am going to write about the food I cook, think about and eat, and share those thoughts with you, whomever you so happen to be. Itadakimasu.
Growing up in 1970’s New Zealand, proletariat food fell into two distinct camps, traditional British inspired fare and new-fangled cooking. There was a battle going on at our house with my mother in one camp and my father in the other. It was a war that was never won. My father had grown up with an extremely modern working Mum, and as a result dinner was more often than not dried out bits of meat that had been cooking all day; there being no time saving conveniences for my Nana such as self-starting ovens, crock pots or heaven forbid microwaves.
So my father had a pathological hatred for anything ordinary, loved international cuisine and regularly experimented in the kitchen with the full fervour of a man pursued by an over cooked lamb roast and grey vegetables. I was an able lieutenant on this culinary quest and am proud to say that he believed me a very fine cook; and yet here we are in the middle of winter and I find myself in urgent need, of a casserole.
Luckily for me I have on hand most of my father’s cookbooks salvaged from one of my mother’s ruthless clear-outs, and amongst them I found a nice little collection of what would have been his attempts to get my mother to cook something decent. Margaret Fulton, Margaritte Patten and Cordon Bleu. Ironically though it is his handwriting throughout these books (he never could leave a recipe alone), and so I set to finding the perfect casserole to warm our tummies and honour his memory.
But a funny thing has happened to our taste buds with all this new-fangled cooking, they have become fussy and a possibly bit uppity, and a quick evaluation of the parsimonious nature of the ingredients lists in these books told me that these dishes were dull, with a capital D. Leaving only a couple of books open I began an internet search: Delia, Jamie, Nigel Slater, Nigella but nobody could give me what I was looking for. And I knew what I was looking for. I had 1.2 kgs of cross-cut blade in the fridge and I wanted it perfect, melt in the mouth, dark rich and perfect. The modern doyens and doyennes were getting there, but no one had it really right.
I wanted a deep unctuous gravy, but it had to have a smooth umami flavour and most recipes contained tomato paste, so that wasn’t going to work. I wanted to use Molasses, but all the US websites that use that also called for an American palate, so they weren’t going to work. I wanted Stout, but I didn’t want to be restricted to using parsley either, so there was only one thing for it, write my own recipe.
Before I share it with you, let me confess that I let Nigel convince me to make dumplings. Now I loathe scones, scone toppers and until now dumplings. But making these little beauties with self-raising flour as well as the traditional suet yielded fluffy little clouds of deliciousness that I had to physically restrain myself from indulging in. Hand grating the lump of visceral fat which is suet, helped in that endeavour.