Family cooking is the basis of this blog, but it’s such a pleasure to break out of the mold every now and again to venture into the world of grown up cuisine.
One of my resolutions for 2011 is to throw dinner parties as it’s not something I’ve done a lot of since having the boys. It’s the perfect opportunity to catch up properly with our friends – it’s normally quite hard to have a decent conversation when you’re on crowd control duty!
It’s also a great chance to be a bit more adventurous in the kitchen and delve into more complex recipes and learn new skills. It’s lovely to use ingredients the boys perhaps wouldn’t be so keen on, and maybe try and find inspiration for new dishes I can adapt to their tastes.
To celebrate the arrival of 2011, we invited our friends Tara and Robin over for dinner. I immediately plunged into Ottolenghi The Cookbook which I bought in the summer but never got around to using.
I tend to do this with cookbooks. They sit on my shelves for months, then suddenly I rediscover them and it opens up a whole new dimension to food.
Another of my resolutions for 2011 is to try and eat a less-stodgy diet, and what better way to help this along than with a spot of middle-eastern style cooking?!
For the starter I made buttered prawns with tomato and olives mopped up with some delicious crusty bread. It’s a small dish bursting with big flavours, so an ideal appetiser that gets your juices cranked up ready for the main event.
You can get all the components to this dish prepped in advance, then there’s barely 10 minutes worth of cooking to do once your guests are ready to eat.
I’m all for getting as much done in advance as humanly possible so I can relax and enjoy my guests’ company. It’s also an excuse to enjoy a lovely afternoon of soothing cooking with Radio 4 for company while my exceptionally generous husband kept the boys amused.
Buttered Prawns with tomato and olives
serves 4 as a starter
4 fresh plum tomatoes
12 tiger or king prawns (with tail segment of shell left on)
50g softened butter
1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes
50g Kalamata olives, stoned
20ml Arak or Pernod or Greek firewater like I used!
3 garlic cloves, finely sliced
2 tbsp roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
pinch coarse sea salt
1. Remove the skins from the tomatoes and with a knife score each fruit with a cross on the bottom and then plunge into a bowl of boiling hot water for a minute. Take out and run under a cold tap. The skin should easily peel away. If it doesn’t then put back in hot water for a bit longer. Cut each tomato into 6 wedges and set aside.
2. Heat the frying pan on a high heat and then melt 20g of the butter and fry the prawns quickly for 2 mins. If you’re using ready-cooked prawns then reduce this time to 30 secs so they’re heated through.
3. Add the tomatoes, olives and chilli flakes and cook for 2-3 mins. Add the arak/pernod with care (it can easily catch fire) and let the alcohol evaporate. Then add the rest of the butter, garlic, parsley and salt. Toss the ingredients together and then serve straight away with warm crusty bread.
For the main course I did roast chicken with saffron, hazelnuts and honey. Instead of using a whole quartered chicken, I kept it a budget affair by using four large chicken legs.
Again there was much I could do in advance, like marinating the chicken and making the hazelnut paste to spread on top for roasting.
This dish is sweet and succulent – a real showstopper. The warmth of the toasted hazelnuts combined with the honey and rosewater is just gorgeous. It was my first outing with rosewater – what a lush smelling ingredient! Can’t wait to explore using it for baking.
I made two vibrant side dishes to accompany the roasted poultry. The first was couscous with dried apricots and butternut squash.
The recipe said it was enough to serve 4 but it was an enormous dish of food which fuelled the Brysons through the next few days!
The butternut squash and apricots had a lovely sweet quality and the huge quantities of fresh herbs – tarragon, mint and flat-leaf parsley made this dish just sing. It’d be great as part of a buffet or at a barbeque with tonnes of roasted meat.
Finally to add a bit of greenery to the occasion I opted for a trio of sugar snap peas, mangetout and fine beans blanched and refreshed and dressed with orange zest, chives, crushed garlic, olive and walnut oils and a generous scattering of toasted hazelnuts.
A really fresh, crunchy and delicious side that can happily be made a few hours in advance.
Again there were plenty of leftovers so we’ve been munching on couscous and greens over the weekend teamed up with things like fishcakes and home-made hummus. Um yum!
The New Year’s Eve meal itself was a great success, Tara and Robin really enjoyed the tucker which is always a huge relief when you’re trying recipes for the first time! They also bought a delicious dessert with them, so that was one less thing for me to think about.
I feel really chuffed with my first foray into the Ottolenghi cookbook. It’s a healthy and extremely tasty approach to food. The results are also visually stunning and have turned my fridge into a veritable delicatessen counter!
I feel quite inspired to make a few dishes every weekend to last us through the week for lunches. It’s proof that healthy budget-conscious food does not need to be dull.
If you want to find out more about Yotam Ottolenghi and his partner Sami Tamimi head over to their website http://www.ottolenghi.co.uk/ which has a cool blog, amazing photography and some more of their delicious recipes.