I have no use for celebrity. The word makes me a bit light-headed and I think of vacuous TV and film actors who gain fame more for what they look like rather than any talent they may have. I look for value rather than sparkles. I know there are many "celebrity chefs" sashaying their way around authentic and fake kitchens but I don't like labels, so I ignore most of them and just see the ones I admire. I love Nigella Lawson not only for her recipes but for her indulgent, and very familiar to me, attitude to food. I love Hugh Fernly-Whittingstall because he talks the talk and then, in a very practical and accessible way, walks the walk. Of course, I love Margaret Fulton, and her daughters seem to be very creditable cooks as well, and Maggie Beer, who could not love her. And yes, I know the later women are cooks not chefs, but it's the label thing again; they're irrelevant.
All these cooks have been my favourites for years. Year in, year out, I watch them if they're on TV and I buy their books sometimes. So I surprised myself when I had to make a place in this small group for another cook. I have been reading Nigel Slater's column in The Guardian for many years and then, all of a sudden, he was on TV. I watched, hoping he would be what I wanted him to be, and there he was - calm, precise and intelligent, cooking simple food in a gorgeous kitchen surrounded by a lovely garden. He won my heart.
If you haven't discovered Nigel yet, go here to view last week's show (I'm sorry, it might not work for readers outside Australia) and discover him for yourself. Watch out for the insanely delicious-looking rice pudding with spice and glaced fruits. It has reminded me that glacing fruit is on my to do list.
Do you have any favourite cooks or chefs?
And for the soup fans, here is the Lamb Hotpot recipe I made last week. The inspiration for it came from the new Women's Weekly Country Table cook book. I had it here for a couple of days before I gave it to Sarndra. If you're a new cook and looking for a good Australian cook book, you will be well served by this book. It has all the classic Australian meals such as roast pork, apple pie, pikelets, corned beef and all those good old dishes your grandma or mum used to make. The photos are gorgeous, the recipes are easy to understand and the meals are delicious. I had this book because a lovely Dymocks bookshop owner, Ted, in Toowoomba, asked me to select a book from his shop as a gift. The Country Table was my choice. Thank you Ted.
I don't have the book here now but here is my usual recipe:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 kg/2.2lbs lamb neck or shoulder chops
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 2 sticks celery stalks, sliced
- 2 carrots, sliced
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
- ½ cup washed pearl barley - this will add flavour and nutrition as well as thicken the soup
- ½ tablespoon paprika
- 2½ cups water or stock
- salt and pepper
- chopped parsley to add just before serving
- Heat half the oil in an over-proof pot or frying pan. If you're using a frying pan, you'll have to transfer it to a pyrex or oven-proof container, with lid, later.
- Brown the lamb chops in batches, 2-3 minutes each side. Transfer chops to a plate and continue until all of them have been browned.
- Remove all the chops to the plate and in same pan on high, sauté onion, carrot and celery for about 3-4 minutes.
- Sprinkle on paprika and stir in, if the pan is dry, add a little more oil.
- Add the barley and stir in. Cook on lower heat for two minutes. Don't leave this bit out because this is what develops the flavour.
- Put the chops back in the pot.
- Pour in water/stock and bring to the boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Season to taste.
- Transfer to an oven-proof dish and place in a hot oven 180C/350F and cook slowly for two hours.
- Remove bones, bay leaf and add chopped parsley just before serving. Test taste again and add salt or pepper again if needed.
Just a word about the lamb chops. This is a traditional dish of the working class, it is made with cheap cuts of meat like neck chops or shoulder chops. Give them a try, even if you've never eaten these cuts before. You won't be disappointed. There will be fat and gristle on the chops. Cut off the fat but leave the rest because over the long cooking time, the gristle will melt down and produce the most delicious and healthy natural gelatine that is good for you, especially if you have arthritis. You can cut up the chops if you like, but putting them in whole, on the bone, will provide you with a nice stock while you cook the meal. Bone broth is very nutritious. If they go in whole, the chops will fall off the bone when they're cooked. Before serving, remove the bones.
This is delicious served with herb dumplings. The recipe for them is here.