Sunday, 7 February 2010

Cracking it: roast beef for 6 people

I've written here before about my problems with mass catering. The fiddliness of getting everything ready, while also smiling, taking coats, handing out drinks and exuding calm and hostessly bonhomie. I can't really do it. I freak out, go red, drop things, sit down and eat my lunch with audacious haste so that I can start freaking out about coffee and pudding and keep saying "Is it okay? Really? Is it? Sorry the veggies are a bit burnt! You don't have to eat it if you don't want!!!" rather than leaning back and saying something divine like "Henry, did you know that you and Sally share the same views on Renaissance art?" as if I'm some Princess in Anna Karenina.

Anyway, yesterday we gave a lunch for six and it went just fine. Admittedly, there were two of us doing it, which always helps but, amazingly, nothing was burnt, undercooked or gross and we all managed to talk at the table about something other than the niceness or not of the food.

So the menu went like this:

Chilli and Parmesan popcorn to snack on while stragglers turned up
Roast rib of beef with Henry's macaroni cheese and roasted vegetables
Steamed treacle pudding (which I bought from the farmer's market but it wasn't very nice, so I'll skip over this).

Chilli and parmesan popcorn is just brilliant stuff; pop the corn as you normally would in a large pan with a thin layer of vegetable oil on the bottom. Tranfer it to a large bowl and toss in a few shakes of mild chilli powder (or paprika) and sprinkle over a handful of parmesan. Delicious.

In the morning, we made Henry's macaroni cheese, which I've described before in my Dimbleby's dinners post. I really can't recommend that you try this out for a dinner or a lunch party highly enough. Everyone loves it.

I cooked 500g of macaroni until al dente (about 4 minutes) and then rinsed it immediately a few times in cold water to stop it from cooking any more. We couldn't find any morels, so we rehydrated a handful (when dry) of chanterelles and porcini mushrooms in a small bowl with just enough water to revive them. Henry says that you want to steep them quite tightly so you can use the mushroom water to give added wow to the mac cheese sauce.

With the now-cool pasta in a large pan, pour over two slim tubs of single or pouring cream (I think this was about 350-400ml). Squeeze the mushrooms dry of liquid in your hands and add these, then strain the mushroom liquid through a tea strainer or normal sieve (to get rid of grit) and throw that in. Grate in a handful of Gruyere cheese.

Season with salt and pepper and give it a stir. Then generously butter a large-ish gratin dish and pour the pasta in. Grate over enough Gruyere cheese to completely cover the pasta (it melts right down in the oven so don't be shy about really walloping the cheese on). This is then ready to go in the oven for about 25-30 mins, while the meat is resting.

The rib of beef Giles bought from a butcher in Kew and it was a bit of a beast, I think 2.3kg. Before it went in the oven, Giles rubbed dripping all over the meat and a good sprinkling of salt and pepper.

We cooked it according to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's meat cooking times in the River Cottage Meat book - I think it was half an hour's sizzle at 200C and then 1.5 hours at 180C and then half an hour's rest, kept warm under tin foil and a tea towel.

While the meat was resting, we put the mac cheese in the oven at 180C. In the roasting tin that the beef had been roasting, we put in 3 young leeks and five carrots, chopped up and par-boiled (for about 4-5 minutes), swirled them around and slid them in the same 180C oven. Both the roasted veggies and mac cheese cooked for about 24-30 mins.

And that was that! For some reason, it was really easy. Nothing burnt. Nothing was gross. Except the bought steamed pudding, but the less said about that the better.

Perhaps finally after so many bad dinner parties and lunches this is my reward: a good, stressless lunch?

Perhaps I am, actually, learning something.


  1. I'm worried by the sound of this macaroni cheese. How can it be cheesy? It doesn't sound cheesy AT ALL. Gruyere? Gruyere? Just grated on the top? Goodness, I make a white sauce and melt super-strong Factor 50 mature cheddar into it. Then I taste it and think it isn't cheesy enough and run out and buy more. Grated gruyere seems like.... doesn't it just sort of taste of cream? Maybe that's good though. Maybe that's nicer.
    But not for me because I LOVE CHEESE.

  2. Ha ha! "Factor 50" cheese made me laugh out loud and it's Monday morning. Okay: you are totally right - you don't get from this "posh" macaroni cheese the nose-blocking taste wallop that you do from a white-sauce-cheddar mac cheese. But this is just more chic. There, I said it. It's not that there isn't a place in life for Factor 50 mac cheese (Ooop, I've gone and stolen your funny) but if you want to dish it up at a lunch or dinner party, this is just a slightly less overwhelming, more grown-up version. I'm going to get hate mail for this, I can feel it.

  3. I shouldn't have read this sans breakie and pre-lunch. On a Monday. When the most attractive lunch option is processed pork products wrapped in bread. I will conquer my I'm-going-to-ruin-expensive-lumps-of-beef fear. Soon.

    I like your blog! I, well, in a totally no stalky way, read almost the entire thing on Saturday night because I was too hungover to go to the pub, and home alone, and unable to move more than my fingertips and occasionally my head, but not too far. But it was good, and cheering, and funny. And reassuring because, at that point, I had 10 people arriving for lunch the next day and my preparation (due to said hangover, it really was bad) extended only as far as buying 7 lemons, a massive leg of lamb, and 3 boxes of eggs.

    (It was okay in the end. I managed to buy more things, cook some things, and didn't have to feed everyone lemony meat and lemony eggs).


  4. TEN PEOPLE?! Jesus you are a brave woman. I don't think I have ten wine glasses. And on a hangover too. I would called them all up and said that I broke my leg and had to be shot.

    Don't keep us all hanging - what did you make?! I'm guessing... roast lamb and... queen of puddings? Some kind of merigue? Mayonnaise?

  5. Well, I won't lie, I am proud of the sheer amount of STUFF I managed to not ruin and have on the table by 4pm, even if I did have a little cry and slam things and shout bad words with equal frequency and volume.

    Roasted pumpkin soup with cinnamon, with garlic croutons and bits of nice bacon. Then...roast lamb (I rested it for fecking ages as per your tip, thx!), some Lebanesey rice and lentils (Mujadara if we're being specific), brocolli in a caper and pasley butter, pickled cucumber and poppy seed salad salad, griddled aubergines. TWO puddings; lemon tart (including own pastry. PASTRY!) and chocolate brownie.

    The morning was SHEER hell, but once everyone arrived, and stuff was done, and wine was drunk, it really was dead enjoyable. Which means, inevitably, that it will happen again.

  6. I am SPEECHLESS. That is.... just... a staggering effort. I made a fuss about making macaroni cheese. You deserve a medal!

  7. My mistake was to tell everyone the menu beforehand thus removing the possibility of emergency shepherds' pie and trifle!

    But, thank you!

    Next to conquer...beef fear.

  8. OK I tip my hat to the posh version. But then you must call it Macaroni Chic.
    ... but then I suppose it stops being chic as soon as you call it that. Like the side salad at the Tex-Mex restaurant in Hampstead that's called a "Side Saddle". You couldn't order that even if you wanted one.

  9. Macaroni chic!! No, sorry, that's its new name. If nicknames for food are good enough for Nigella, ("Go Get 'Em Smoothie", "Minestrone in Minutes") it's good enough for me.