Retro: Steak Diane, Hasselback Potatoes and Bean Bundles
Looking back, I was a slip of a girl when I was married. It was 1978 and the groom (now my ex) and his groomsmen wore Royal blue suits with fat lapels, flared trousers, bow ties and platform shoes. I, too, was wearing heeled platform shoes and my dress was a floaty, embossed chiffon number. My bridesmaids were in duck egg blue chiffon and I think my brother-in-law may have even worn a maroon Safari suit! The thought of it makes we want to burst out laughing as I sit and reminisce.
In those days, we threw dinner parties that called for serious advance preparation. There were always several courses, including hors d'ouvres, and the dishes on the menu were so involved that they sometimes took a day or two to prepare. We listened to Elvis, Diana and Marvin, the Bee Gees and Earth, Wind and Fire. And we drank Mateus and smoked cigarettes as though they were going out of style. Yeah, we were cool!
A random poll on Twitter recently resulted in some interesting responses. Sile (Sheila) Farrell, from Ireland, was single and living in Dublin in the 1970s, but says she loved fashion, platform shoes and food. 'We ate lots of garlic bread, served baked Alaska for dessert, and drank Blue Nun or Black Tower (if you were dead posh)', Sile said.
Fellow tweep, Kate Cody, grew up in Melbourne and Sydney, and says her parents did a lot of entertaining during the 70s. 'Mum’s go-to cookbooks were Robert Carrier’s Great Dishes of the World and all four of the Elizabeth Davis classics: Summer, French Country, Italian and Mediterranean. While I was not a dinner party invitee, I was a keen observer and always in a rush the morning after to see if there were any leftovers', Kate says. 'As the eldest of four kids under five, I started cooking early inspired by Mum’s enthusiasm and she was a great teacher of basic methods, like how to make bechamel. Mum was/is an adventurous cook and embraced ‘ethnic’ cuisine from an early age – I was the type of kid who had cold green lasagne in my lunchbox', she added.
Kate and her mother, Margaret brainstormed a few dishes from the 1970s. Canned smoked oysters on Jatz crackers and Gazpacho featured on the repertoire. Margaret says she tended to cook things that could be served from the oven dish/casserole and she favoured beef and veal because she thought it was more sophisticated: Boeuf a la bourguignon, Filet en croute, Paprika veal and veal Marengo, for example. Margaret also loved a curry party, perhaps due to the fact that before she married her Kiwi husband she was engaged to a Sri Lankan man. Trifle, chocolate mousse and fresh fruit salad with maraschino liqueur were favourite desserts.
Another tweep, Chopinand, grew up in Kuala Lumpur and says the British influence was very much present, given the oysters mornay, beef Stroganoff and chicken a la King his family ate. 'I love food from the 70s because it was hearty food that was around long before so-called fusion food became fashionable. I would equate dishes like lobster Thermidore and Stroganoff to music by The Beatles, The Carpenters, Carole King and James Taylor. Food from that era should be celebrated because, like the musical counterparts, they were popular dishes that defined an era'. Chopinand says his special memories include iconic restaurants, such as The Ship, which has existed for decades in Kuala Lumpur. The menu has a mix of modern dishes but it's the 70's dishes that take him back to his childhood.
Dining out in the 1970s was a formal event and here in Canberra we were patrons of restaurants such as The Charcoal Grill on London Circuit in the city. I believe that establishment may still be there and probably lists Carpetbag steak and strawberries Romanoff on the menu.
Nowadays, we are time poor and life is too busy to stuff cherry tomatoes! Dining at home with friends presents us with the opportunity to have a relaxed gathering where good food is shared with good company. Food trends have changed significantly and dinner can be anything from sausages or steak on the barbecue to Laksa or Green Papaya Salad, or wood-fired pizza. But there are some retro foods that, for me at least, will never go out of style. I'm talking prawn cocktails, oysters Kilpatrick, steak Diane and strawberries Romanoff. I plan to investigate some of these retro dishes in upcoming snippets, so watch this space. In the meantime, dear reader, your dinner for two is served: steak Diane with Hasselback potatoes and bean bundles. And thanks to Sile, Kate and Chopinand for your great input to this snippet!
2 medium sized Sebago potatoes
a little light spray olive oil
sea salt and black pepper, to taste
You don't really need a recipe for Hasselback potatoes, but if you do, here is how I've always made them. Preheat the oven to 190-200 degrees C. Slice a piece from the base of each potato, see picture (don't throw these bits out, they can also be baked briefly!). Place the potato on its bottom and, using a sharp knife, slice even-sized cuts into the potato, taking care not to cut all the way through. Pop the potatoes onto a lined baking tray or sheet, spray well with some light olive oil and season to taste with sea salt and black pepper. Bake for approximately 40 minutes, or until tender.
a good handful of stringless or baby green beans, as many as you and your partner will eat
2-4 sturdy sprigs of chives
sea salt and cracked black pepper, to taste
Again, you hardly need a recipe for this classic dinner party or restaurant side dish. But if you need instructions, just wash and then top and tail the beans. Timing is essential here, so do this as you pop the steaks on. Steam the beans briefly until they are tender. Tie up in little bundles with the lengths of chive. Season to taste, dot with a little butter if you wish. Serve immediately.
2 thick slices eye fillet steak
2 dessertspoons butter
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon of tomato sauce or tomato paste
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup water, perhaps more
1 heaped teaspoon cornflour
sea salt and cracked black pepper, to taste
finely chopped parsley, to garnish
Melt half the butter in a heavy-based frypan. Add the steaks. Cook, turning once, until done. If you are not sure how to test your steak, there's a great link here that will teach you the finger method. Remove the steaks and set aside on a plate to keep them warm. Add the extra butter and sauces to the pan, deglaze briefly. Add the garlic, then the water and cornflour and stir until the sauce reduces slightly and thickens. Add a little more water if required. Season to taste. Plate up your steaks, potatoes and bean bundles. Pour the sauce over the steaks and serve immediately.
*Recipe adapted from Meat Cookbook by Tess Mallos (Hamlyn, 1976). I also like the classic recipe for steak Diane made with cream, but this is a lower fat version that also tastes great.
What did you or your parents (or grandparents) cook in the 1970s? What foods do you consider stylish enough to be served today, with a few tweaks? What 1970s music do you love, or hate? Do please share your thoughts and stories. I look forward to hearing from you.
Hello. I'm Liz, a writer, cook and traveller based in Canberra, Australia.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.