I like to cook and have friends and family round for dinner, but when people are over, I want to be part of the conversation, rather than being stuck cooking in the kitchen (I do really like to talk!). My current kitchen set up has all the work surface around the edges which means, if you’re a slave to the stove, your back is to your guests. In my dream kitchen, I would have an island that people could perch around, sipping drinks whilst I cooked. However, in my current kitchen, I have found the best way to cook for others is to select menus that allow you to do the maximum Mise En Place.
Anybody who has worked in the hospitality industry, as I did for 7 years through school and university, will know all about this. The term is French for “putting in place”. It’s basically a fancy term for doing all your prep. I like to have everything prepped so that you can just throw it in the oven, stick the timer on, and start to enjoy your wine!
I went pan-European with last night’s food selection with recipes from 3 books
Cosciotto d’agnello ripieno di olive, pane, pinole e erbe aromatiche. An Italian dish that translates as “leg of lamb stuffed with olives, bread, pinenuts and herbs”. This is a Jamie Oliver recipe from his book, “Jamie’s Italy” which is available on Amazon UK for £5 (!) and Amazon US for $23.51. The recipe recommends that you ask the butcher for a leg of lamb “with the H-bone and thigh bone tunnel boned and removed”. I have made this recipe with a leg of lamb from the supermarket and have tried to cut it out myself (with great difficulty). Really, I value my fingers a lot more than that. Leave this stuff to the professionals. I visited the butcher yesterday, and he did it for me. It was great to watch (although, I kept wincing as I thought he was going to lose a finger…), and it made it so much easier to stuff the lamb! Thumbs up (and thankfully, both the butcher and I still have ours!) to local butchers who can do the job!
Gratin Dauphinois. So yes, I mixed up French and Italian. But I just couldn’t face roast potatoes so soon after Christmas. Plus, on the theme of Mise En Place, this can be prepared pre-dinner and then you just put it in the oven. I used the book “The Little Paris Kitchen” by Rachel Khoo which is available on Amazon UK for £13.60 and on Amazon US for $20.30. I loved the BBC series that accompanied this book- it is great to have a young, female as part of the cookery show repertoire in the UK. She also has a great website here. The recipe was simple and tasty: smooshing up garlic and rubbing the whole dish with it, followed by a knob of butter was decadent but smelled so good!
I also cooked up asparagus and spinach and pulled out a kitchen gadget that is very useful for times like this: my Tefal steamer. Mine is about 10 years old, but there is one here on Amazon UK for £47.30 (this is MUCH nicer than mine) and one on Amazon US from Tefal/T-Fal for $50.91. It’s just useful as you can do multiple vegetables on the different layers without new pans for everything. For other dishes, I have used this steamer to make Chinese dumplings (in cupcake cases!) as I don’t have one of those pretty bamboo steamers, and it works just fine!
Then, the dessert. I have had this book “Pies and Puds” by Paul Hollywood (Amazon UK for £5 (!) and Amazon US for $22.66) for a while and never cooked anything from it. I cooked Cherry Croissant Pudding. Simple, delicious and indulgent.
For wine we had Canti, Sangiovese Merlot and then Mondelli Montepulciano D’Abruzzo. I don’t know a lot about wine: it’s one of my 2015 learning ambitions- but this went down well!
It was all super-easy- everything was all prepped and ready to go, leaving plenty of time of wine and talking!