A few weeks ago I was privileged to be invited to the launch of Jane-Anne Hobbs’s new recipe book ‘Scrumptious: Food for Family and Friends’. I’ve long been a fan of her Scrumptious food blog, where she shares her triple tested recipes and appetising anecdotes. Online she’s larger than life, in person she’s about two bricks and a tickey high but with a personality that fills the room. The woman has a way with people, words and food and the combination is quite delectable. This was a recipe book I had been keenly anticipating.
Back home it was time to don my apron and give these recipes a run for their money. I chose the beef fillet and potato salad with green goddess dressing with a purpose – for years I’ve been trying to replicate one of my favourite meals from the eighties: a green goddess salad from the Front Page restaurant in Melville (Jhb). This recipe had all the elements and the sight of Tarragon in the ingredients gave me a thrill of hope.
The book is written for entertaining. Each recipe is broken down into its component parts and most can be cooked ahead of time and whacked together just before serving. J-A herself says that no hostess should spend more than ten minutes in the kitchen attending to the last minute cooking details of any one course. Her recipes stay true to this credo.
The cooking was easy, they really are flop-proof recipes (if followed) and the results were astounding. One finger-lick of the creamy green goddess dressing and I was right back at the Front Page restaurant, complete with spiral perm and high waisted trousers. (And Janie du Plessis as our waitress!)
That’s the thing about Jane-Anne’s food: rather than intimidate, it feels comfortable – familiar, in fact. It’s a combination of the engaging way in which she shares her recipes and photographer Michael le Grange’s mouth watering shots evoking edible intimacy, that makes these recipes feel like old friends. And man, does she nail those flavours: the chilled beef was soft and buttery, the hot potatoes crunchy, the creamy herb dressing pulling it all together with leafy greens keeping it fresh. Her food lives up to the title.
Desert was a Cape gooseberry meringue pie. I liked the idea of the tart berries after the rich salad but it was also a dish that latched on to a warm and fuzzy memory – that of my Mum’s home grown gooseberry pie, a seasonal treat when I was a kid. Where Mum’s was served warm and in a pastry case, J-A’s is a cold gooseberry filling on a crunchy biscuit base topped with a soft sweep of sweet meringue.
I was ill prepared and should have made the dessert the day before as advised by none other than the author herself, but I didn’t. As a result, the gooseberry centre hadn’t yet set and it spilled its guts as I served it (prematurely). All the other elements were perfect, including the flavour. It may not have looked as pretty as it should have but it’s still a gooseberry pie like my mother wishes she could make.
It’s through her food that Jane-Anne shares herself with her nearest and dearest and reading this book is like being at one of her dinner parties, you can feel the love on every page.
Simple. Sublime. Scrumptious.
(Well done Mavis!)
‘Scrumptious: Food for Family and Friends’ by Jane-Anne Hobbs
Published by Random House Struik