What? they all cry, Summer barbecue (or braai as it's called where I come from) season , is ages away! Well, I think the best time for an outdoor party is when it's snowing gently. In Summer, the poor chef has to stand by the fire and swelter, while the guests stand about somewhere else, because it's too hot in the cooking zone. The chef is left all alone, while everybody else is getting on with cold drinks and ice-cream.
In Winter, however, your guests will crowd about the fire, relishing the flickering light and the heat while you cook. Have some candles or torches about to add a bit of ambient light, check the weather forecast and put up a tarp in advance if it might be a bit drizzly (this also stops your outdoor furniture getting too damp to sit on) . You'll need lots of cushions and blankets for your guests (wool ones are ideal, as any stray sparks from the fire won't melt holes in them), as well as some interesting food and drinks on tap. Start your fire with some wood to set the charcoal going; you'll need to allow about 40 minutes to get it to cookable heat, or cook inside, and just have wood for the flames.
We always have a family cookout to celebrate the winter Solstice (this year on the 21st December), and these are two simple recipes for you to enjoy in the flickering firelight.
Hot, spiced cider.
-Apples and Oranges
-Fresh ginger, cinnamon, cloves, black peppercorns.
Pour about 2l of cider into a pan and warm gently ( if you boil it, all the alcohol will evaporate).
As it's warming, add about 1-2 tbs of brown sugar, a glass of orange juice, a cinnamon stick, cloves, sliced fresh ginger, a good grind of black pepper and a bit of grated nutmeg. Taste and adjust. Serve in mugs, with added slices of orange (peel included) and apple. For children replace the cider with apple juice or ginger beer.
-1 tsp paprika
-2kg pumpkin or butternut squash chunks
-1.5l hot vegetable stock
-small tub of single cream
Gently fry three sliced onions until soft and transparent (10-15 mins), add 1 tsp of paprika. Add 2kd of pumpkin or butternut squash chunks, and 1.5l of hot vegetable stock. Simmer for about 20 mins. Remove from heat and (carefully) puree. Season well. When your guests arrive, get them to make the popcorn on the fire. Bring the warmed soup out, add grated cheese, and let the guests add a handfull of popcorn as croutons.
EITHER wire two metal sieves together, back to back, to make a sphere, add popcorn, and toast over the fire, OR pour 1 tbs veg oil into a pan, fill the bottom of the pan with a single layer of popcorn kernels, add the lid and fry of the fire, shaking constantly.