My mother was the ultimate hostess and enjoyed the challenge of cooking for large numbers of people. Coming from a large family, she grew up in a house where there were at least a dozen people at each meal, if not more, depending on who was at school or work. I recall our holidays in the family house in Penang where we would sometimes even have two sittings as there were so many of us staying there. However, we all preferred it when perhaps 10 of us managed to squeeze around the table with the smallest kids sat on stools at the corners. My aunts would cook all morning to feed us for lunch, then have an afternoon nap (whilst we had to stay silent) and wake up ready for tea and invariably more food – cake, biscuits, savoury nibbles or fruit. Again, the breadth of this spread depended who was staying – although when we were there, my mothers fruit cake that she had made and brought from Singapore, was the most sought after morsel!
I like to think this love of cooking stems not only from my mother but from her family – my aunts who used to grind their own spices, go to the fish market daily and relish the delicacies which we would bring from Singapore and then England. However, my mother’s cooking was legendary throughout the family and they each had their own dishes they looked forward to, both Asian and Western. Recently a cousin asked me for my mothers fruit cake recipe, and reminded me how much her father enjoyed my mother’s roast beef and yorkshire pudding (always homemade, never Auntie Bessie!).
I used to watch her effortlessly throw meals together for 15 – 20 people, planning the dishes meticulously and starting the preparation a couple of days in advance. These feasts were renowned… not only throughout the family, but in the days my father worked for Beechams, his visiting colleagues would go back to the UK office with tales of the sumptuous dinners at our house. We never hired glasses or plates yet always had enough, even for 30 people. When i look at my cupboards now, I see that over the years I have subconsciously built up quite a collection and I too have this ability to feed 30 people using all my own crockery, cutlery and glassware!!
What I don’t have enough of is time… like many of us today. We rush around with work and families, and often meal preparation is the last thing on our minds. In my house we haven’t succumbed to takeaways and I’ve never used Deliveroo. I’ve never even used Ocado as like to touch, feel and see what i’m buying. That’s not to say there isn’t always pesto and a couple of ready pizzas in the fridge… when those teens are hungry, they are STARVING!
Recently we had an impromptu lunch for 7… However, I had been out until past midnight the nigh before….! My task was to bbq the meat/fish and make a salad… another friend was bringing nibbles and cheese, and the other a dessert and salad. I really do think that sharing the load is the 21st century way of entertaining! I marinated chicken breasts with yoghurt, cumin, coriander, chilli, garlic and ginger and then cubed them and put them onto sewers. I had 2 whole pork fillets which I marinated in Hoisin, ginger, shaoxing wine and a touch of chilli – cooked whole and then sliced thinly. And then I took a large Salmon fillet and wrapped it in foil with lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, ginger, chilli, a touch of palm sugar, a drizzle of fish sauce and fresh coriander. This steamed to perfection. The 20 years of friendship around the table, everything was divine.
And then there were the leftovers.. the meat is always demolished by the hungry teens, but the salmon was more of a challenge. The I remembered i also had new potatoes.. so i mashed up the salt with a fork, then grated the potatoes on top, followed by chopped spring onion and coriander, and a good dollop of mayonnaise. I mixed all of this together, shaped it into patties, dipped into flour and then shallow fried it. The result was lovely light fishcakes with a hint of spice and without the heavy breadcrumb outer. We ate it for dinner with a squirt of siracha chilli and a squeeze of lemon… my eldest teen and his mate wolfed them down in the blink of an eye and asked if we had to wait for leftovers before I made them again!