Dinner at home by Lois Daish, Bridget Williams Books, 1993
I am a very long time Lois Daish fan. When I lived in London my mother used to send me Lois’ recipes from the Listener. When I came Wellington, in the mid-1980s, I regularly frequented the Mt Cook Café, where the Louisiana chicken salad was my go-to menu option. The recipe was published in the Listener column and was the very first meal I ever made my now husband. It has become a firm favourite in our family rotation. I used to cut the recipes out of the Listener and paste them in a spiral bound book. I lost this book for a few years when we packed up our cooking books for a kitchen renovation and I have a lovely story about my favourite meatloaf recipe that wasn’t in any of the published books. I discovered that a friend was a neighbour of Lois and I asked her if she could ask Lois for the lost recipe. Lois duly provided a photocopy of the Listener article, with the accompanying photo scribbled through and a note saying that the recipe tester had made it in a tin but Lois never did. I am pleased to say I never did either.
I, like Lois, look forward to cooking and eating dinner at home. I always have, even when we got home around 6 p.m. and needed to get dinner for seven on the table by 6.30. Dinner at the table with family and friends is the best time of any day.
I haven’t dipped into this book for a while and have really enjoyed ambling through the pages again. I got it off the shelf because I had some mushrooms which needed using and the chard was, as usual, running rampant. You will notice chard is a bit of a theme with all these recipes. I found a recipe delightfully called hamburger on a plate p.41. This is a hamburger patty served, as it says, on a plate, with mushrooms, spinach (chard) and potatoes. I happened to have a portion of beef mince in the freezer, so this was dinner. Lois suggested a meatball mix for the patty, with breadcrumbs and milk, however I just formed the mince into two patties which I seasoned and pan fried to medium rare. While the burger is resting, cook the mushrooms, sliced and sautéed in the pan that the patty was cooked in, along with some sliced spring onion. After a couple of minutes add a slosh of red wine and tip in the resting juices from the patty. Pour this over the plated burger and serve alongside wilted chard and roasted potatoes. Dinner on the table in half an hour.
I was inspired. Next up was sauté chicken with red wine and bacon, p19. I used chicken Maryland pieces. This recipe cooks the sauce, browns the chicken in a separate pan, pours the sauce over the chicken and simmers until the chicken is cooked. I decided to brown the chicken in a pan, then set aside while I made the sauce in the same pan and returned the chicken to the sauce to cook through. Saves on the washing up. To make the sauce, fry diced bacon and onion, until the bacon is crisp and the onion golden. Stir in a couple of tsps flour and cook for a minute or two. Pour in 1/2 cup red wine and a tsp tomato paste and simmer until reduced by half. Add ½ cup chicken stock and reduce again by half. Add the chicken back to the pan and simmer gently until the chicken is cooked through. I served this with orzo and wilted lemony chard.
There is a recipe for Yorkshire pudding with red capsicum and onions, p111, which put me in mind of a Listener recipe for Toad in the Hole with red capsicum. I found this one in Lois’ later book, A Good Year, on p104, delightfully titled Red Capsicum Toad. You can make it with sausages or just the capsicum and onions. I make this in an oven proof pan, so the pan is already hot when it goes into the oven. Make a basic Yorkshire pudding batter with eggs, flour and milk and set aside to rest. Heat the oven to 210C. In an ovenproof pan lightly fry sliced onion and red capsicum, then push them towards the centre of the pan and pour the batter around the edge. Bake for 20 minutes. I served with wilted chard again.
This book tends to be organised by main course of meat or fish and vegetable accompaniments which is not how I cook these days. I visited the accompaniment section and found two dishes that made a lovely weeknight supper. Buttered spinach with lemon and garlic, p128 and pot roasted potatoes with garlic and herbs, p117.
For the potatoes, Lois cooks garlic in the oil and then removes it. I used garlic-infused oil because I always worry about burning the garlic. She also does this and then browns the potatoes (cut into large chunks) in a pan and transfers to a casserole dish. I did it all in a Dutch oven and there is no transferring. So, brown potatoes in garlic-infused oil, add chopped herbs and salt. Cover and bake 40 minutes at 200C, until the potatoes are tender. I had a leek, so I cooked the leeks in garlic-infused oil and just before serving, wilted the chard leaves on top with a knob of butter. Season with salt and lemon juice.
In a section titled, “yes thanks lamb shanks”, I found this lovely recipe for lamb shanks braised w red wine, p29. This recipe suggests browning the shanks in a pan then transferring to a baking dish, while making the sauce in the pan, then pouring over the shanks. I did the whole process in one ovenproof pan, browning the meat then setting aside while I made the sauce. Sauté a thinly sliced onion and crushed garlic, add the zest and juice of an orange, a tsp cinnamon and ½ cup of red wine. Once the wine has reduced a little, add tomato paste and 2 cups of stock. Cover and transfer the pan to a low oven for two or three hours. This dish is served with rice and when the shanks are done, Lois suggests cooking the rice using some of the liquid from the sauce. I did this and it was delicious.
I still had a leek in the fridge, so I made, Fish w leeks and cream, p10. The recipe was for smoked fish, but I used white fish. To make the sauce, sauté thinly sliced leeks in a little olive oil and butter until they are softened but not coloured, add a tsp of whole grain mustard, a dash of tabasco and 100ml cream. Pour the sauce over the pan-fried fish and serve with roasted potatoes.
A recipe that intrigued me was chicken w 17th c sweet and sour sauce, p56. This recipe was in the “lamb steak” section and suggested either lamb or chicken so I used chicken thighs. This put me in mind of agrodolce onions and is indeed an old Italian sauce recipe consisting of equal quantities of brown sugar and red wine vinegar. Lois added a couple of tbsp dry white wine, 2 tbsp sultanas, (I used currants), and the zest of a small lemon. I served this with roasted potatoes and shallots and some wilted chard, and it was quite delicious.
I was feeling inspired by this book and I boldly decided to make Cornish pasties, p75, even though I am not confident with pastry. I put 175g plain flour in the processor, cut in 70g of fridge-cold butter and processed to the consistency of “coarse sand”. Then, with the motor running, I trickled in cold water, about 50 ml, until the pastry began to clump. I pressed this into a ball, and rested, wrapped in cling film, while I made the filling. I sometimes rest dough under a bowl, a trick I learned from my pasta teacher in Bologna, to avoid using plastic film wrap. On this occasion I wanted the pastry in the photo. Perhaps I should have just had the mysterious overturned bowl.
For the filling I sliced 250g chuck steak into very small thin pieces. I added a finely chopped onion and 300g of potato and swede cut into thin slivers. I seasoned with salt and pepper and a few thyme leaves and added a tbsp of water to moisten everything.
I divided the pastry into two balls and rolled out each ball to dinner-plate size. I put half the filling onto each circle, brushed the edges with an egg wash, (egg and a tbsp milk), and folded over to form a semicircle shape. The edges are then folded and twisted to secure them, and the pasties are placed on a baking tray, brushed with the egg wash and pricked in a couple of places to release the team while cooking. They were baked at 220C for 15 minutes and 180C for another thirty, to completely cook the filling. They turned out like the genuine article.
There was a lovely section of salad ideas, and I was inspired by a spinach salad served with black pudding, bacon and a poached egg, p70. However, it is the depths of winter, and my garden is overflowing with chard so I served wilted chard, dressed with a drizzle of lemon with slices of fried black pudding and a rasher of bacon, topped with a poached egg.
While I was writing this I discovered a blog from 2015/16 called Lois and me, which celebrates Lois’ practical style and delicious recipes. For many of us Lois is the first place we turn when we are wondering what to make for dinner. I am looking forward to revisiting Good Food and A Good Year.