‘Recipes for the happily imperfect host’

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Special Guest — Recipes for the happily imperfect host by Annabel Crabb and Wendy Sharpe
Published by Allen&Unwin
RRP $45

‘Special Guest is a gentle guide to turning easy basic fare into something of a celebration,’ says the cover of this delightful cookbook. ‘For when you want to say to your friends with their spouses and ten small children, ‘Why don’t you stay for lunch?’ without hating yourself afterwards . . .’

Special Guest by Annabel Crabb and Wendy Sharpe is the fraternal twin of Special Delivery — a cookbook for anyone who ever felt like punching a wall before their guests arrive.

If you are someone who prepares for guests by sweeping bills, laundry and newspapers behind sofa cushions, take heart!

It’s possible to be an imperfect host, but happily so. The essential ingredient is not, paradoxically, the food, nor the perfect house to host in, but the sentiment you convey when you open the door. Do your eyes say: ‘I like you and I enjoy your company,’ or does a weepy cloud of visceral horror descend as pine nuts burn quietly in the kitchen?

Learn the lesson of ‘one splendid thing done well’ without regard to the hundred other things, and call the day a success.

Pick up some pointers for the modern conundrum that is cooking for people with seemingly incompatible dietary requirements.

Hosting your friends is not about showing off; it is about delighting others. Your dining table might be decorated with a pile of unmatched socks and kids’ homework, but that’s no reason not to invite friends in for a chat, a sit-down and something delicious to eat.

Stuffed peppers with feta and beans

This is such a cheery, colourful and dead-easy dish: peppers stuffed with salty feta, then baked with creamy white beans. You can make it using ordinary peppers but hands-down the best result is with the long kind, which come in red, green and sometimes a pale greeny-yellow. This is now on high rotation in my kitchen — it can be prepped ahead of time, looks nice on the table, and works perfectly as a stand-alone meal, served with couscous or bread, or as a foil to a huge leg of roast lamb.

INGREDIENTS:
2 leeks, pale parts only, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, crushed
Olive oil, for cooking
½ teaspoon coriander seeds
2 x 400g tins of cannellini or other white beans, rinsed and drained
150g green olives (optional)
Handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
Splash of white wine, stock or water
8 long peppers (capsicums), red or yellow, or a mix
2 x 200g blocks of feta
250g cherry tomatoes, cut in half, or 3 vine-ripened tomatoes, roughly diced
3 tablespoons pistachios, flaked
Almonds or pumpkin seeds, toasted
Handful of chopped dill

HERB SAUCE – OPTIONAL
4 tablespoons Greek-style yoghurt
Juice of ½ lemon
2 tablespoons finely chopped mint,
dill and/or coriander (or ½ teaspoon
dried mint)

METHOD:
• In a sturdy roasting tin or large ovenproof frying pan set over medium heat, fry the leek and garlic in a generous amount of olive oil for 2–3 minutes until the leeks have softened. Stir in the coriander seeds and fry for another minute or so, then add the
beans, olives and parsley and mix everything together.
• If you’ve got some white wine on the go, you can sacrifice a splash of it to the pan at this point; otherwise, add a dash of stock or water. Spread out the bean mixture evenly in your roasting tin, or transfer from the frying pan to an ovenproof dish.
• To prepare the peppers, cut off the tops – just a centimetre or so below the stem — and use your fingers to clear out as many seeds as you can. Cut each block of feta into five strips. And here is where the advantage of using long peppers instead of the more bulbous sort becomes apparent: push a strip of feta inside each pepper and it should fit perfectly. Very satisfying for neat freaks. Lay the peppers on top of the beans and crumble the last two strips of feta over the top, then scatter over the tomatoes. Set aside until you’re ready to bake — if that’s more than a couple of hours away, pop it in the fridge.
• If you want to serve the herb sauce with your stuffed peppers, simply mix together all the ingredients and refrigerate until needed.
• About an hour before serving time, preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan). Drizzle the peppers and tomatoes with olive oil, season with a pinch of salt, and bake for 40–50 minutes. The peppers should look
defeated and collapsed — but appetising! They’ll be fine kept warm in a 160°C (140°C fan) oven for a bit longer, but you may need to add a small splash more wine, stock or water to stop them from drying out.
• To serve, remove from the oven and leave to sit for 5 minutes. If using the herb sauce, flick it in frantic zigzags across the top, then sprinkle with the toasted nuts or pumpkin seeds and finish with a scattering of dill and a good grinding of pepper.
• Serves four as a main or eight as a side.

‘Special Guest is a gentle guide to turning easy basic fare into something of a celebration,’ says the cover of this delightful cookbook. ‘For when you want to say to your friends with their spouses and ten small children, ‘Why don’t you stay for lunch?’ without hating yourself afterwards . . .’

Special Guest by Annabel Crabb and Wendy Sharpe is the fraternal twin of Special Delivery — a cookbook for anyone who ever felt like punching a wall before their guests arrive.

If you are someone who prepares for guests by sweeping bills, laundry and newspapers behind sofa cushions, take heart!

It’s possible to be an imperfect host, but happily so. The essential ingredient is not, paradoxically, the food, nor the perfect house to host in, but the sentiment you convey when you open the door. Do your eyes say: ‘I like you and I enjoy your company,’ or does a weepy cloud of visceral horror descend as pine nuts burn quietly in the kitchen?

Learn the lesson of ‘one splendid thing done well’ without regard to the hundred other things, and call the day a success.

Pick up some pointers for the modern conundrum that is cooking for people with seemingly incompatible dietary requirements.

Hosting your friends is not about showing off; it is about delighting others. Your dining table might be decorated with a pile of unmatched socks and kids’ homework, but that’s no reason not to invite friends in for a chat, a sit-down and something delicious to eat.

Stuffed peppers with feta and beans

This is such a cheery, colourful and dead-easy dish: peppers stuffed with salty feta, then baked with creamy white beans. You can make it using ordinary peppers but hands-down the best result is with the long kind, which come in red, green and sometimes a pale greeny-yellow. This is now on high rotation in my kitchen — it can be prepped ahead of time, looks nice on the table, and works perfectly as a stand-alone meal, served with couscous or bread, or as a foil to a huge leg of roast lamb.

INGREDIENTS:
2 leeks, pale parts only, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, crushed
Olive oil, for cooking
½ teaspoon coriander seeds
2 x 400g tins of cannellini or other white beans, rinsed and drained
150g green olives (optional)
Handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
Splash of white wine, stock or water
8 long peppers (capsicums), red or yellow, or a mix
2 x 200g blocks of feta
250g cherry tomatoes, cut in half, or 3 vine-ripened tomatoes, roughly diced
3 tablespoons pistachios, flaked
Almonds or pumpkin seeds, toasted
Handful of chopped dill

HERB SAUCE – OPTIONAL
4 tablespoons Greek-style yoghurt
Juice of ½ lemon
2 tablespoons finely chopped mint,
dill and/or coriander (or ½ teaspoon
dried mint)

METHOD:
• In a sturdy roasting tin or large ovenproof frying pan set over medium heat, fry the leek and garlic in a generous amount of olive oil for 2–3 minutes until the leeks have softened. Stir in the coriander seeds and fry for another minute or so, then add the
beans, olives and parsley and mix everything together.
• If you’ve got some white wine on the go, you can sacrifice a splash of it to the pan at this point; otherwise, add a dash of stock or water. Spread out the bean mixture evenly in your roasting tin, or transfer from the frying pan to an ovenproof dish.
• To prepare the peppers, cut off the tops – just a centimetre or so below the stem — and use your fingers to clear out as many seeds as you can. Cut each block of feta into five strips. And here is where the advantage of using long peppers instead of the more bulbous sort becomes apparent: push a strip of feta inside each pepper and it should fit perfectly. Very satisfying for neat freaks. Lay the peppers on top of the beans and crumble the last two strips of feta over the top, then scatter over the tomatoes. Set aside until you’re ready to bake — if that’s more than a couple of hours away, pop it in the fridge.
• If you want to serve the herb sauce with your stuffed peppers, simply mix together all the ingredients and refrigerate until needed.
• About an hour before serving time, preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan). Drizzle the peppers and tomatoes with olive oil, season with a pinch of salt, and bake for 40–50 minutes. The peppers should look
defeated and collapsed — but appetising! They’ll be fine kept warm in a 160°C (140°C fan) oven for a bit longer, but you may need to add a small splash more wine, stock or water to stop them from drying out.
• To serve, remove from the oven and leave to sit for 5 minutes. If using the herb sauce, flick it in frantic zigzags across the top, then sprinkle with the toasted nuts or pumpkin seeds and finish with a scattering of dill and a good grinding of pepper.
• Serves four as a main or eight as a side.

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