Thursday, December 12, 2013

Summer Sundays



When we lived in England, we got into the habit of inviting people over for Sunday lunch. It’s a time-honored and universal tradition there, and is my first choice for hosting. There’s much more time for cooking on Sunday morning than there is on the average weeknight, and there’s much more time on Sunday afternoon for lingering over dessert and a cup of tea. If everything falls into place, you might even get some uninterrupted adult conversation while the assembled children a) wreak havoc or b) watch a video in another part of the house.

Maybe part of the reason Sunday lunch feels like such a natural option for me is that I grew up with it – except we called it Sunday dinner. Whatever the name, most Sunday middays found us gathered around the table, digging in to a traditional roast dinner; an unvarying rotation of roast beef, roast pork, roast chicken, or baked ham; all served with potatoes and peas, and followed by a homemade dessert.

The only time we didn’t follow this pattern was during summer vacation when, every Sunday after church, we would pack up the car with towels, buckets, sandwiches, the scotch cooler, and the eight of us, and head to the beach. My enduring memories of Sunday lunch in the summer are of ham sandwiches and carrot sticks in the car; peaches, chilly from the cooler, on the beach; and ice cream on the way home.

Maybe that’s why I still feel a bit flummoxed when I think about cooking a Sunday lunch in warm weather. My default Sunday lunch option is the typical roast dinner – large hunk of meat, roasted potatoes, starchy, filling dessert – that warms you up on a winter afternoon and leaves you ready to do little besides doze off on the couch. Unless you’re the hearty type that likes to go out for a brisk, chilly walk and work it off. (Full disclosure: I am not that type, despite DP’s best efforts these many years.)

As we enter our second summer in Australia with outdoor eating facilities at our disposal, I think I’ve hit upon a formula that works. I still base the menu around a large hunk of meat, because it’s easy and doesn’t have to be served piping hot. I replace the roast potatoes and vegetables with salads. And the dessert, instead of a crumble or a rich, heavy pudding, is something lighter and more seasonal – preferably a pavlova.

It still has that Sunday-lunch feel, and still provides opportunities to linger and chat – preferably outside, in the shade, on an afternoon that’s not so warm it’s uncomfortable, but warm enough that no one feels inclined to suggest a brisk walk.

Baked potato salad
I first got the idea of baking potatoes for salad from the fount of useful information and great ideas that is dinner with Julie; I find the texture and taste of salads made this way vastly preferable to the traditional boiled-potato method.

12 small to medium baking potatoes
~3 scallions/spring onions/shallots
2-3 Tbsp Greek yogurt
1 Tbsp mayonnaise
2-3 tsp Dijon mustard
salt
healthy sprinkle of cayenne pepper

Prepare the potatoes as you normally would for baking (ie wash, remove eyes, poke with a fork), then put in a hot oven (~200C/400F or thereabouts) until baked. (Time will vary, depending on size and oven, from 30 minutes to 2 hours; I judge that my potatoes are ready when the skin feels papery and the potato feels soft when I squeeze it.)

Chop the potatoes into bite-sized pieces while hot, and place in a large bowl. Finely chop the scallions into the bowl, then add the yogurt, mayonnaise, and mustard. Gently mix until all ingredients are thoroughly combined. Season with salt and cayenne and mix again, tasting to check seasoning.

Serves 4 adults and 4 children, with a moderate amount of leftovers.

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