1. “A Romantic Dinner For Two”: first serious date at your house, or first wedding anniversary, so something sensuous and sexy.
“Cooking for an intimate dinner for two takes a little planning — there are a few elements to consider. Firstly, the food should not need a great deal of last-minute preparing: it won’t be much fun or particularly romance-inducing for your partner (or prey) to have to sit alone at the table all night while you faff about in the kitchen! Secondly, the food can be rich, but don’t serve huge portions, unless you plan to fall into a heavy sleep as soon as you have finished eating. Thirdly, the food needs to look good to eat — as in, you need to look good eating it — so trying to chew your way through a huge sirloin steak might not be the most sensual thing! Fourthly, beware of too many herbs in the food — as we all know, parsley in the teeth is not a good look!”
2. Mid-week dinner party”: something a little chic, a little stylish for when you’ve asked people round midweek and suddenly have to cook something after a hard day at work. Smoked haddock chowder, Moroccan chicken tagine, couscous with mint, pasta with aubergine and pine nuts, caramel poached peaches.
“If you are having people over to your home during the week, chances are you have been out at work all day, or you have been busy trying to get children to bed, or maybe even both! So you need either food that can be made quickly with minimum fuss, or something that you have made the previous night, that still did not take hours to conjure up. This is lovely informal entertaining, to allow good friends to catch up with each other.”
3. “Summery Food”: Cure those winter blues with the sort of food you’d like to eat to make you feel summery, even in the depths of winter, using ingredients that are available all year round. Green goddess salad (a variation on the Caesar salad), roast fish with potato salad, strawberry and honey tart
“Summertime food for me is all about easy eating — fresh food bursting with sunny flavours; food that can be transported easily to a table outside if the sun suddenly shines; food that you can happily eat lots of without feeling sluggish and heavy. Make the most of all the wonderful ingredients in season now (ingredients that haven’t had to fly halfway across the world), like the tomatoes and the basil, the herbs and the lettuces, the fish and the lamb, and the strawberries and raspberries.”
4. “Girls’ night in”: we had a boy’s lunch in the last series, so why not a girly dinner in this one? Of course, boys will like this food too! Rosé cocktail, grenadine cocktail, antipasto, chicken liver paté, Asian pork salad, meringues with raspberries.
“I love a good girls’ night in, even if I don’t do it nearly often enough. For this kind of evening, I love a few really yummy tasty dishes that don’t require huge amounts of work, but that everyone will enjoy grazing over for hours, while catching up on the latest news over a couple of cocktails.”
5. “Curry Night”: Two great curries, and lots of extras: lamb korma curry, Thai red prawn and butternut curry, Turkish flatbread, raita, hot chilli sauce, tamarind chutney, poppadoms
“A curry is great when having friends over — you can make it (or nearly all of it) in advance, and it will only improve in flavour. It is also fun as you can serve as many different sauces and accompaniments as you please. For this reason, I wouldn’t necessarily serve a starter first — just some spiced nuts with a cold beer — and more often than not, I would continue with beer to go with the curry. For dessert, I like to eat something cooling like the Indian ice cream, Kulfi, or Antony’s Mango and Yoghurt Fool.”
6. “Party food”: canapés, finger food, food to be eaten standing up, without knives and forks. Sushi, crostini with Iman Bayildi (aubergine), sweetcorn cakes, tortilla chips with pea guacamole.
“When cooking for any party that you have pre-planned, it makes such a difference if you can prepare a lot of the food in advance; your friends have come to see you, so try not to spend all the time in the kitchen. A friend of mine is so clever — she gets to mingle a little while her younger cousin and friend (for some extra pocket money, of course) help to pass around big plates of gorgeous little bites. As you and your guests are probably going to be standing when eating this food, you need to make sure that it is easy to hold, and that it can be eaten in one or two mouthfuls. I love this kind of food — not only are the recipes in this chapter good for parties, but each also works well for a sit-down meal too.”
7. “Chocolate Heaven”: a whole programme dedicated to chocolate, mainly sweet things, but a savoury dish as well. Divine rich chocolate cake, chocolate ice cream, chocolate truffles with brandy, white chocolate and cranberry cookies and an Italian pork casserole with dark chocolate.
“What would we do without some chocolate in our lives? Whether you are a die-hard fan of bitter-sweet dark chocolate, brown-sugary milk chocolate, or creamy vanilla-ey white chocolate, everyone seems to have their own favourite. As we now know, good dark chocolate, eaten in moderation, is actually good for us. So what more of an excuse do you need?”
8. “Christmas party Food”: Rachel suggests some delicious items to serve at a Christmas party. Smoked trout and avocado crostini; chicory, blue cheese, pecan and cranberry salad, spicy lamb meatballs, baby orange mince pies, mincemeat and almond shortbread, gluhwein.
9. “Sunday lunch”: a firm favourite with Rachel and a great, relaxed way to entertain friends. Broad beans with lemon zest, chicken with mushrooms and marjoram, garlic layered potatoes; polenta, almond and lemon cake with berry compote
“Sunday lunch, for me, means good old-fashioned food — a delicious roast followed by some little pavlovas with cream and fruit, or rhubarb pudding. It is the kind of food that sets you and yours up for the rest of the day, with maybe some leftovers to be devoured for supper later on.”
10. “Big family lunch”: a lunch after a Christening, for example, preparable in advance, and something that suits all ages. Cauliflower and cheddar cheese soup, beef bourgignon, spinach and ricotta lasagne, strawberry ice cream.
“This is the kind of meal where you will have lots of family and close friends over to the house — maybe a birthday or a big wedding anniversary, or a christening. You want food that is just as easy to make for 30 people as it is for 6; food that children and grown-ups alike will enjoy; and food that can all be prepared in advance.”
11. “Time for Tea”: sweet and savoury treats for afternoon tea (TX date ???) Cheese and onion tartlets, coffee cake, fruit Madeira cake, almond tartlets, marmalade gingerbread, shortbread.
“Proverbs, poems, books and films have all been written about or dedicated to tea. The American writer, Henry James (1843–1916), said ‘There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as Afternoon Tea.’ Well, I think I must have been born in the wrong century. Whether it is to wake up in the morning, a mid-morning cup while the boys are at school, or an afternoon with friends and their children, I can always put some time aside to sit (most of the time!) and have a cup of tea, and what better excuse is there to have some cake too!”
12. “Dinner to Impress”: your mother-in-law, your boss or your partner’s boss (or all three?!) is coming for dinner – what can you cook to make a good impression? Smoked salmon paté, roast fillet of beef with red wine glazed shallots, horseradish sauce, chocolate roulade, caramelised walnuts and blue cheese.
“A few people have asked me what I would cook for a boss, or for someone who would need a little impressing — maybe a mother-in-law (or even scarier, a mother-in-law-to-be!) Personally I think that just very simple food cooked with the minimum fuss is actually impressive enough, but if you want a meal that would show that you are an accomplished cook, you should find something in this chapter. I find the trick is not to take on too much — that will defeat the whole process. It is quite handy to have the starter and the dessert made ahead of time, so you can spend maximum amount of time possible at the table, dazzling everyone with your beauty, wit and intelligence!”
13. “Indoor Bar-b-Que”: Good bar-b-ques require preparation and Rachel suggest some food ideas that taste just as good indoors – you can prepare the food, but you cannot guarantee the weather. Tandoori chicken, lamb with a herb marinade, tiger prawns with a ginger marinade, chickpea feta and tomato salad, vegetable kebabs with a spicy peanut sauce, barbequed fruit parcels.
“In our climate, we tend to think of barbecues only in the summertime, and even then the weather can be slightly unpredictable. But as with most barbecue food, in the event of a sudden monsoon-like shower, the food in this chapter can be cooked inside — either in an oven or, even better, on a grill pan (or started on a grill pan, and finished in the oven). There are also recipes here that don’t actually get cooked on the barbecue, but are good to serve on the side.”
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