It all started when I was invited to the New Israel Fund dinner. Amos Oz was speaking. Excitedly I told my husband about it, confident that we would both be going.
‘Sorry,’ he said, ‘I have invited Heston Blumenthal for dinner.’
‘Are you mad?’
‘No. He is giving a talk at Maidenhead Synagogue and we always entertain the speaker beforehand and he is the one person I simply can’t take to a restaurant. You will have to cook.’ (Feminists please note; no suggestion that he might wield a saucepan for the occasion.)
I was not happy. Firstly it meant missing the NIF dinner, secondly… What on earth was I to cook? I enjoy spending time in the kitchen, but my repertoire is limited to the things that four growing boys consume. Potatoes mostly. I complained volubly to all my friends. ‘Keep it simple.’ They all advised. ‘Don’t try and impress.’ ‘Cook something Jewish. I bet he doesn’t get that often.’
That was a good idea.
I looked at my ancient copy of Evelyn Rose. Given to me by my mother-in-law on our engagement, with the inscription ‘To my future daughter-in-law whose husband will never say, “it’s not as good as my mother made it.”‘
I began to get quite excited, but I wasn’t going to let my husband off that easily. Whenever he mentioned the dinner, I would groan and mutter. I had cheder and the synagogue AGM that day. We had invited my niece and nephew aged 8 and 12 to stay for the Friday and Saturday before. When exactly did he think I would find the time to cook? But in my head the menu was beginning to take shape. I would use the last of the vegetables in our new organic vegetable patch (thank you Tony Cohen for all your advice and encouragement). We had marrow and onions, parsnips and a few runner beans – I could make quite a tasty soup with that. Then, I thought, slices of prime bola the way my grandmother-in-law made it, with lemon peel, braised in the slow cooker all day. I would cook tsimmes and maybe the kids would have fun making dumplings.
I pondered over a dessert. Here, Wimshul Cooks came to the rescue with wonderful recipes. I was offered home made biscotti to have with the coffee, and a very special honey cake. I realised that had I played it differently I could probably have had the whole meal cooked for me!
Then, one morning over breakfast, my husband looked at me cheerfully.
‘I have good news,’ he said, ‘Heston is not coming for dinner.’
‘He is filming that afternoon and is not sure what time he could get to us so I told him not to worry about dinner, just turn up for the talk.’
‘I knew you would be relieved. That’s a whole load of stress off your mind.’
‘But I enjoyed the stress. I enjoyed the challenge. I particularly enjoyed complaining about you!’
‘I’m confused. I thought you would be pleased.’
‘Pleased? You have ruined my life! Don’t you realise what a great anecdote this has made? Now you’ve gone and spoiled it!’
How could he do this to me? Men! I just don’t understand them!
Oma’s braised beef
(My grandmother-in-law, like many of her generation did not believe in measurements, hence the vagueness of the recipe but it is so easy and it does work.)
Slices of prime bola – one per person
Flour and seasoning
A little oil
Juice and zest of a lemon
Peel and slice the onion then fry it in the oil until soft and golden. Transfer to a casserole dish. Cover the slices of prime bola in seasoned flour and fry quickly on both sides. Transfer to the dish and cover with the beef stock, add the bay leaf and lemon and cook for a long time in a low oven.