After so long being in lockdown, the joy of being able to meet with a few friends and hug, laugh, eat and drink together is something that, until it happened, I hadn't realised how much I'd missed. The first thing I did once we came down to level 2 was to invite a few people over for a long Sunday lunch. This wasn't going to be the kind of food we'd been eating in our bubble — all that cheese, comfort food and baking — I wanted the aromas of a big meaty braise filling the house with welcoming aromas and feel a sense of celebration in a prettily laid table, with flowers and candles.
So much about dining lies in setting the scene and less about what you actually eat. It's a lot less stressful if most of your menu can be made in advance, with last-minute requirements running to simple jobs like tossing a salad with the dressing or cooking some green vegetables.
My takeout from lockdown has been a kind of reset (that I'm hoping will last), an idea of living more simply. It's easy to think when people come over that you have to up the ante with lots of expensive treats but actually, they just want to see you and hang out. Post-lockdown, I've decided that I don't really need to go shopping for out-of-season tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and green beans. Instead, I will rely on what's in season and the harvests of my winter garden and my pantry stores to round out my menus.
I love the idea of building a menu around a central slow-cook braise, curry or casserole. For the sides, there'll be some kind of starch and a salad. For dessert, after that rich, slow-cooked main, you want something fruit-based, not too heavy.
The great thing about a weekend winter lunch rather than dinner is that everyone gets to go home before it turns cold and dark. Light the fire and open a couple of bottles of red wine to breathe. And if the weather is nice, you can take everyone out on a little walk outside, between the main course and dessert.
Here's to welcoming in winter with long, lazy weekend lunches.
Slow-Braised Beef Short Ribs with Sherry
Ready in 5 hours plus overnight chilling
This dish looks fabulous served family-style on a large platter of soft polenta. It's a great make-ahead recipe to prepare a day or two in advance. Leftovers reheat well or can be frozen.
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
About 2.2-2.5kg beef short ribs
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
4 cloves garlic, halved
1 tsp black peppercorns
2 bay leaves a bunch of fresh thyme
5 cups beef stock
1½ cups sherry
1 Tbsp cornflour mixed with a little water
Gremolata (or chopped parsley leaves)
2 cloves crushed garlic
Zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
½ cup chopped flat leaf parsley
Preheat oven to 250C fanbake. Make a bed of onions and celery in a large, deep roasting dish. Spread out beef ribs on top and season well. Roast until the ribs are well browned and the fat has rendered off (about 45 minutes).
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Remove dish from oven and reduce oven temperature to 150C. Drain fat and discard. Add garlic, peppercorns and herbs, season with a little more salt, then pour over the stock and sherry. Cut a piece of baking paper to fit over the top then cover the dish tightly with a double layer of tinfoil. Bake for 3½ hours.
Lift out the ribs and set aside. Strain the cooking liquid into a large pot. Chill ribs and cooking liquid for at least 3 hours or overnight.
To serve, preheat oven to 180C fanbake and put in the ribs to warm through. Skim off the fat from the cooking liquid and discard. Simmer the cooking liquid for 10-15 minutes to reduce, then add the cornflour and water mixture to thicken slightly. Add the ribs back into the pot and simmer gently for 5 minutes to fully heat through. Combine gremolata ingredients and sprinkle over ribs or sprinkle with parsley.
Asian Winter Slaw
Prep time: 15 mins
Adding pickled ginger really elevates this Asian twist on regular slaw.
¼ cabbage, very thinly sliced
2 spring onions, very thinly sliced
2 cups bean sprouts
3 radishes, coarsely grated or shredded
½ cup (50g) pickled ginger, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp black sesame seeds or toasted white sesame seeds
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp fish sauce (optional)
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 clove garlic, crushed
To make dressing, combine all ingredients in a small jar and shake to combine.
To make salad, combine cabbage, spring onions, bean sprouts, radish and ginger in a bowl. If not serving at once, cover and chill. When ready to serve, toss dressing through salad and garnish with sesame seeds. This salad will hold for several hours.
Twice-Cooked Pears with Ginger and Star Anise
Ready in 40 minutes, plus chilling
Serves 6-8, 1 pear per person
Simmering the pears first and finishing them in an oven to lightly caramelise produces a really rich, flavoursome result.
3 cups white wine, e.g. riesling
1½ cups sugar
75g piece ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
5 whole star anise
1 vanilla pod, split
3 strips lemon rind, peeled with a vegetable peeler
6-8 long pears, e.g. beurre bosc, with stems attached
Five-spice honey cream
1 cup Greek-style yoghurt
½ cup sour cream
Rind of 1 lemon, finely zested
½ tsp ground five-spice
2 Tbsp honey
In a saucepan that will hold all the pears upright in the bottom, heat together wine, sugar, ginger, star anise, vanilla pod and lemon peel, stirring until sugar has fully dissolved.
Peel pears, leaving stems intact. Add pears to syrup, placing them upright in the pot — the syrup probably won't cover them fully. Return to a simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes. Cool in syrup. Pears can be prepared and stored in their syrup for several days in the fridge.
Stir ingredients for five-spice honey cream together in a small serving bowl. If not using within an hour, cover and chill.
When ready to serve, heat oven to 200C. Lift pears out of syrup and arrange upright in a shallow baking dish lined with baking paper (slice a little flesh off the bottom if the pears won't stand straight). Bring syrup back to the boil in a saucepan and cook over high heat until reduced by half, about 15-20 minutes.
Brush some syrup over pears and place in oven for 15-20 minutes, brushing with syrup two or three times during this final cooking stage to give them a rich, burnished glaze.
Serve pears with reduced syrup and pieces of cooked ginger, discarding other spices or leaving as a garnish and accompany with the five-spice honey cream.