Friday, 23 January 2015

The Family Table: Part 13: Caro Webster

A couple of years ago when I first started writing this blog I thought about what it was that I wanted to share.

It started as a way of me sharing my food knowledge and my passion for preparing real food for our families.

More importantly though I like to think that I give people the confidence to appreciate that the magic that is the Family dining experience is NOT just about the food.

While the food is what draws us to the table it should be considered but ONE of many things that are shared and indeed NOT the most important one.

LOVE to me should always be the single most important ingredient that is shared at our family table. Without LOVE the food and the entire dining experience is just another meal. But with it our souls as well as our tummies are nourished.

It is with this in mind that on Fridays I will be sharing with you my series- The Family Table- where super special guests share their family dining experiences with us. It is a way of appreciating that there are infinite ways of dining together & that the term 'Family' is a wide & wonderfully differing thing.

My wish is that every single one of my readers makes The Family Table part of their own family life.

It has been WAY too long between Friday Family Tables!
I am so sorry- what can I say? Life in 2014 proved to be WAY busier than even I could have imganined.
So here are in 2015 reviving this much loved Friday series.

This week I am sharing with you another lady of the interwebz.
Caro Webster is a keen cook and writes of her adventures on her blog Caro & Co.
We share quite a lot in common but it is our combined love of encouraging children into the kitchen that cemented our friendship.
We have talked online for a long while but we finally got to meet and have breakfast together in real life last year, along with our dear pal Barry Humphries- who thankfully had worn purple corduroy slacks for the occasion. Phew!

I am thrilled to have Caro share her Family Table with us this week.

1.) Can you please share a little about how your family shares food? 

It starts by cooking together every day. My daughter Grace is a mean baker, which is ace because I am not. She’s currently trying to perfect Pavlova and Tiramisu, so we are eating them over and over (no complaints from me). My son enjoys whiz-bangery so he’ll happily blend, chop, grind or grate ~ anything that involves a machine.  We eat about 90% of our meals together. It’s much-cherished family time.  My husband would readily admit he’s not a cook so he’s the pot scrubber of the family. It’s the perfect arrangement.

2.) Do you have hard & fast eating rules?

Only that ALL technology is shut off and put away so there’s no competition with conversation or fighting to be heard and so we can fully engage with one another.  I must admit to being a bit of a stickler for table manners and the way the table is set. We use fresh linen serviettes every night, condiments in dishes rather than jars, fresh flowers, no elbows on the table, cutlery must be held the right way, no licking plates with fingers (Grace and I are notorious for that). When the kids were little I used to tell them that Mickey Mouse would never come for dinner if our manners were bad and we didn’t make the table look pretty and colourful….

3.) Can you share with us where your cooking influences/inspiration are from?

My passion for homegrown, seasonal food and cooking initially came from my grandmother.  She wasn’t an adventurous cook but had a few old-fashioned recipes that were super yummy. Tuna Mornay with pineapple (yes, pineapple), homemade chocolate custard drizzled over her sponge cakes, lamb loin chop stew with rice, the best-ever crumbed veal schnitzel with lemon sauce and piles of creamy mash, golden syrup puddings and so on.  Although she horribly overcooked any vegetable that came her way, so we always preferred her casseroles and stews! She took great delight in feeding her grandchildren and made me want to spend time in the kitchen. My Mum, however, would have to be my greatest influence. She was a corporate housewife so nearly every Friday or Saturday evening she and Dad entertained business acquaintances and clients. This was always followed by family lunch on the Sunday which I recently wrote about here.
I was paid a pittance to be helper in the kitchen and serve the food. I actually did a silver service course so was able to impress guests with my deftness using serving implements!  It was the seventies, so I remember lots of dishes like Avocado and Prawn cocktail, Garlic Prawns, French Onion Soup, Beef Wellington, Chicken a la King, Chicken in a Basket, Fondues, anything cooked using a crockpot, stuffed vegetables, gratins. Our greatest triumph for one dinner party was to make a croquembouche from scratch, complete with drizzled toffee like a spider’s web and vanilla ice cream.  I remember being very proud of my choux balls. Mum continues to inspire me, often sending me recipes she’s found and whilst she’s now only cooking for herself, she still enjoys being in the kitchen. I love her to bits.

The talent of chefs such as Stefano Manfredi, Yotam Ottolenghi, Hetty McKinnon of Arthur Street Kitchen, Nigel Slater, Maggie Beer, and my mate Ruth Bruten ;) inspire me no end. And, um, I also have a huge soft spot for Rick Stein and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

4.) Do you have a favourite cuisine?

If I had to be restricted to one type for the rest of my life (sigh) I’d have to say Mediterranean ~ because that gives me all the countries hugging the Mediterranean Sea to choose from right? Or is that just plain greedy?  I adore everything Yotam Ottolenghi, and avidly watched his fabulous “Mediterranean Feast” series on SBS. 

5.) Can you recall a super special meal or eating experience that has stayed with you forever?

It was at our farm in the dead of winter about 10 years ago.  I did a 23-hour slow-cooked pork shoulder.  The recipe called for basting every two hours. I felt like the mother of a newborn, getting up regularly to breastfeed! We served it the next day with the creamiest mashed potato, homemade apple sauce and wintergreens from the garden. I remember because it was ‘old-fashioned pork’ (none of that new fangled stuff thank you very much), the crackling was a triumph. The meat was meltingly good. By the time we sat to eat, the fire was blazing, corks had been pulled from a couple of sensational reds, the table had been set beautifully, with small vases containing Hellebores from the garden running down the centre. The room was slightly steamed up from cooking, with misty condensation on the windows. It was so happy and snug and inviting.  It was the most convivial afternoon shared with friends and family that I can think of.  If I remember rightly, we even had snow in the afternoon. Perfect, just perfect. 

6.) Would you please share the recipe of your favourite family meal with us?

Crikey, there are so many that I’d love to share with you, but I’ll choose my oven-baked Ocean Trout because it’s dead easy and spans across the seasons. I make it often and love the delicacy of Ocean Trout.

Oven-baked Ocean Trout with roasted Kipfler potatoes and greens
Serves 4

You will need:

4 Ocean Trout fillets (skin on or off depending on your preference)
Juice of half a Lemon
Juice of one Orange
10-15 sprigs of Lemon Thyme, leaves only
10-15 sprigs of common Thyme, leaves only
10-15 sprigs of Tarragon, leaves only 
Fennel seeds
24 Kipfler Potatoes, washed and scrubbed, cut lengthways into long thick chips
100g toasted slivered or flaked almonds

For the greens:

Cold outside? Then you’ll need:

1 large bunch of washed English Spinach roughly chopped stems and all
2 bunches baby asparagus or baby zucchini
25-30 trimmed French green beans

Warm Weather? Then you’ll need:

Small bunch of baby rocket
1 baby fennel sliced thinly (include the feathery tops)
1 Orange halved and sliced finely
150g snow peas sliced finely, lengthways
Red Wine vinegar
Some orange juice

Preheat the oven to 180.

Place your potatoes in a roasting pan, drizzle with oil and toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and fennel seeds and put into the oven.  They’ll need to roast for about 30 or so minutes. Turn them once during roasting. 

Get 4 square pieces of tin foil and place a piece of trout on each one. Drizzle with EVOO and turn to coat well. Splash each with some lemon and orange juice and sprinkle the herbs on top. Give them a generous crack of salt and pepper. Now wrap the foil around the fish to create a little airtight parcel.  Put into a roasting pan and place into the oven.  The fish will need 10-15 minutes (tops) to cook, depending on how pink you like it.

If using the wintergreens, take a large heavy-based fry pan, add a knob of butter and melt. Add the beans and turn regularly until only just starting to cook. Add the asparagus and do the same.  At the last minute add the spinach and cook until just wilted. The whole process should only take 5-8 minutes. Remove from pan and put into a large serving bowl. Top with a knob of butter and sprinkle with toasted almonds.

If making the salad: combine the rocket, fennel, orange, snow peas in a salad bowl. Make a very simple dressing using EVOO, red wine vinegar, some orange juice and S&P ~ you might need to add a small tsp of sugar. Shake all in a jar, adjust to taste, then pour over salad and mix gently with your hands to combine.

Remove your fish and potatoes from oven. Take fish out of foil.  Arrange both across four plates (that you’ve warmed either in the oven or microwave). 

Serve immediately. So simple and bloody yummy.

7.) What music would be playing? (youtube link if possible)

Hmm, that’s hard because we all have such diverse musical tastes.  I’m a bit of a head banger from way back but also adore jazz.  My children love anything in the top 10 and my husband would always select something classical.  However, given I’m the only one who actually knows how to work our music system, I’d choose Blossom Dearie.  Blossom was a NY jazz singer and pianist of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. She has the most beautiful youthful, lilting voice.  Listening to this particular song makes me want to curl up in front of a fire with my family, our two pups, a book and a fine glass of red.

It might as well be spring ~ Blossom Dearie


  1. I love this series! I don't have a family only a husband, but I do enjoy the ideas :)

  2. It's my first time here, although I've been following you on Instagram for a while. Your blog is great and your individual style and sense of fun and quirkiness shine through. Finding out what makes people tick in the kitchen fascinates me, so I will definitely be checking back in.

  3. My fave family table so far I think xx


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