Here are a few photos from a recent family get-together in Nymburk to celebrate my grandma’s birthday. It is only right that it as not even the day of her actual birthday as I do not think she would like to be reminded of her age. There will be no recipes as such this time – either there is no need to expand on the blindingly obvious or they only exists in my grandmother’s head. I hope these photos will illustrate the point that in my family, as in many families the world over, love is most saliently expressed through the preparation and sharing of delicious food.
These occasions tend to be trying times for my grandma’s early 20th century table which these days we seem to hold together by willpower only. There is, after all, only twelve of us, how we managed to consume such quantities of food is entirely beyond me. The table is one of those clever extensible ones, my grandma’s old ironing board even doubles as one of the extension boards. I have great childhood memories of playing under it, the table being my fortress.
A rather eclectic spread of delicious goodies, from top: Greek salad, turkey rolls, spiced potato wedges, tomato salsa, pork steaks, farmer’s potato salad, couscous salad, more Greek salad and more farmer’s potatoes. What you can’t see is delicious beef fillet which I somewhat extravagantly requested beforehand (sorry grandma), a request that was met at a considerable expense but did not disappoint. I am not sure my grandmother has much experience cooking beef, what with the mad cow craze that swept the country and my family in particular about a decade ago. She rose to the challenge well.
This photo gives you an idea of the kind of quantities of food my grandma likes to make, just to be on the safe side. For eleven people I count 11 pork steaks, 9 of those turkey rolls and the two massive fillet steaks you cannot see in this picture. And dessert. It is almost as though we are being smothered by love and food, not that we mind though.
Baked beets were my job this time. Cut up your beets, add loads of unpeeled garlic cloves and thyme sprigs, season with salt and pepper and a glug of olive oil and balsamic. Bake covered with foil until they are done but not falling apart, then remove the foil place under the grill for a few minutes. Absolutely delicious, make sure you give this a try. Baked garlic, if you are not familiar with it, will surprise you with its mellow sweetness, so different from its sharp flavour in its raw form.
Farmer’s potatoes are my mum’s recipe. This deliciously summery potato salad is laughably simple – use new potatoes, I would not bother peeling them. Allow them to cool and dress with yogurt and mayonnaise (amounts vary every time, the right combination is up to you) and a large handful of chopped dill. Sometimes my mum adds finely sliced peeled cucumbers, not this time. Delicious either way.
And finally couscous with sundried tomatoes and avocado is my grandma’s staple. I am not a huge fan of couscous so sometimes this is made with bulgur, which is much tastier if you ask me. Black olives, chopped avocado and lots of sundried tomatoes go it and the whole thing is finished off with a simple dressing of olive oil and lemon juice. I can see that grandma added iceberg lettuce this time – I would strongly advise against this, it just does not work. Sorry nan. She normally uses baby spinach instead which is quite nice in this salad.
Turkey stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon or pancetta. I did not try these so am not entirely sure which, and what cheese went in. In a brainstorming session prior to the party I suggested mozzarella but I have a feeling that grandma may have gone with niva, a variety of blue cheese. We will never know. The whole thing was finished off with herbes de Provence and baked with olive oil and white wine.
The recipe for dessert, the aptly called ant hill was apparently courtesy of my other grandmother Emma who passed a couple of years ago. What follows is purely guesswork as the recipe has not been passed onto me yet. I think the base consists of a sponge which is then used to mould the sides of a large, shallow bowl. The inside layers will be formed of the same sponge, alternating with an egg, sugar and butter mixture (which could be flavoured with coffee, vanilla or anything else you like). The bottom layer must be sponge – apologies for stating the obvious. It is then left to rest overnight in a cool place or the fridge. The following day it can be carefully popped out of the bowl, iced with the same mixture and covered liberally in shavings of chocolate. Heavenly delicious and surprisingly light.
Around 3pm our gatherings tend to disperse. My brother gets restless and must leave and go see his friends this instant. The more hardcore of us stay, carry on eating cake and watch tennis. Leftovers usually feed us the following day as well.