A couple of years ago my birthday fell on a Saturday. A few days before, Carl asked if I would like to go out for dinner with a bunch of friends. I told him I would prefer to have a dinner party and Carl found that astounding, wondering why I would want to go to ‘all that trouble’ on my birthday. But I explained that Arabella was going on a sleep-over so she wouldn’t be home and Archie would be home from boarding school but I was sure he was going out, and then we would have to find a babysitter for Alfie and isn’t it always the case that it’s far easier to cook a three-course meal for eight than find a babysitter.
So on my birthday I cleaned, shopped, cooked, set the table, lit candles, arranged flowers and organised the i-pod and by the time the guests were due to arrive everything was just looking lovely. Then Archie came through the door and announced he wasn’t going out after all (so we could have gone to a restaurant), but I didn’t say anything and just said how nice it would be to have him at home to celebrate my birthday with me.
The guests arrived a few minutes later and they all brought champagne to celebrate my aging so we had a few glasses of champagne (unlike the French who restrain themselves to one pre-dinner drink), with our canapes and then it was time to sit up at the table. We were all enjoying our entree when Archie walked into the room saying he’d changed his mind and was going out because a few mates from his primary school days had phoned and suggested getting together for dinner.
So the dinner party conversation paused while Carl, Archie and I had a discussion.
I said, ‘Archie, that doesn’t sound like a good idea. Those boys are now 18 and you’re only 17 so they can get into licensed premises and you can’t and I bet they want to go and have a few drinks and then what are you going to do?’
And Archie said, ‘No mum, it’s not like that, we’re just going to grab some burgers and sit on the beach and then come home. I’ll be home early.’
Carl asked, ‘Are you sure they don’t want to go to the pub?’
‘Yeah dad, they just want to catch up with me. We’re just getting some burgers.’
I said, ‘Well I hope they have no intention of going to that pub because they’re very strict there and you can get yourself into a lot of trouble if you go there underage so it wouldn’t be fair of them to ask you to go to the pub.’
‘Mum, they said we’re just getting some burgers.’
And all the guests were sitting in silence looking at one another while we went 13 rounds with Archie.
So in the end Carl said, ‘Okay, if you’re just getting some burgers, that will be fine.’
And Archie said, ‘Thanks mum, thanks dad. See you soon.’ And he headed to the door.
But just before he walked out I said, ‘Archie! It’s my birthday and I’m having a dinner party so I don’t want any trouble, okay?’
And Archie said, ‘Don’t worry mum, there won’t be any trouble.
Not half an hour later we were at the table enjoying confit duck with du puy lentils and the phone rang. And I did think it was unusual that the phone would ring at that hour on a Saturday night.
On the other end of the phone was a security guard from the pub. He had Archie with him – in chains. Archie had been found in the beer garden with ID attesting to the fact that he was underage. Apparently he’d got in to the pub by nimbly scaling the fence. The security guard said if one of his parents came down to get him immediately he wouldn’t inform the police.
Unbelievable. Or perhaps not.
Carl went down to pick him up and while we waited for him to return I prepared the dessert. A few minutes later Carl walked in with a very sheepish looking Archie whose excuse was that his friends changed their minds and decided they would like a night at the pub after all and assured Archie no one ever checks your ID. My friends all felt sorry for him having his sins so publicly exposed so they asked him to join us at the table and said things like, ‘Don’t worry Archie, these things happen. Hope you had a good time. It’s all part of growing up. No harm done. Come and sit down. You must be hungry. Would you like some dessert?’
So Archie. with a tonne of sympathy and grabbing all the attention sat up at the table and celebrated my birthday with me.
Do your dinner parties go to plan?
It’s been such a hot day in Sydney so definitely the wrong kind of weather for this sort of meal but I had some chuck steak, the red kidney beans and all the spices so this recipe didn’t require much expense. And Archie is going out to night – not to the pub but to a rehearsal for a play he’s in and he needs to take his dinner with him. This is a meal that is easy to pack into a container for transporting and then re-heating.
Braised Beef with Kidney Beans
Degree of Difficulty: 2/5
Cost: This is a very inexpensive family meal as chuck steak is a cheap cut of meat and most of the other ingredients are common in any household.
- 1 kg chuck steak cut into bite sized pieces
- 2 tbspns olive oil
- 2 medium onions, finely chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
- 2 tspns gnd oregano
- 2 tspns gnd cumin
- 1 tspn gnd tumeric
- 425g can tinned crushed tomatoes
- 500ml (2 cups) beef stock
- 60mls (1/4 cup) tomato paste
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 6 baby new potatoes, halved
- 2 small leeks, thinly sliced
- 300gm can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
- 2 tbspns chopped fresh coriander leaves
Heat oil in a large oven proof dish. Add beef in batches and sear until well browned. Remove beef and set aside.
Add onions to the same pan and cook until soft and translucent. Add garlic and ground spices and stir until fragrant.
Stir in undrained tinned tomatoes, beef stock and tomato paste. Bring to the boil. Return beef to the dish, add bay leaves and cinnamon stick. Bake covered at 200C (400F) for 1 hour.
Remove lid from dish. Bake for a further 30 mins.
Stir in potatoes and leeks. Bake, uncovered, for 20 mins or until beef and potatoes are tender.
Discard cinnamon and bay leaves. Stir in beans and herbs.
This recipe has been adapted from The Australian Women’s Weekly Middle Eastern Cookbook.
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