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The Cookbook Supper Club. Simple by Yotam Ottolenghi.

This post contains gifted items and some affiliate links.

 

I can’t really think of a better way to spend a Saturday night than sat around a table with good friends, jugs full of gin cocktails and overflowing bowls of hummus primed for freshly baked bread to be dunked in.. I know the thought of cooking for a group can be really daunting for some and realistically it’s never going to be an easy task, but personally I absolutely love it.

A few weeks ago I spent my Saturday afternoon listening to Fleetwood Mac, setting the table, arranging the flowers I’d been to collect the day before and lighting the candles; it was a pretty perfect way to spend a day in mu book. It was all in preparation for five friends heading over to spent the night digging into dishes all cooked from Yotam Ottolenghi’s latest book, Simple. Minus the smoked hummus and gin cocktails. Those creations are all mine, Yotam can take no credit there.

I had an idea a while back whilst dusting my extensive collection of cookbooks that it would be fun to hold a dinner party and use a book to create the entire menu from. I purchase many, many cookbooks and more often than not they are relegated to the shelves in my dining room after their initial read. Very few become go-to books for everyday cooking. Simple seemed like a good place to start trying out the idea, having just arrived on the shelf in the form of a birthday present from my friend Jo.

 

The Table

In the past my table settings have been all white. To say I was a one trick pony would be entirely justified. I was a one trick white pony. If you’ve followed me on Instagram for any time you might have noticed that lately there have been some softer tones arriving here and there… a dusky pink, a pale blue there. Let’s call it personal growth.

The beautiful tableware you see here was kindly sent to me by Habitat, a brand I was also lucky enough to collaborate with on some content with earlier in the year. I first spotted the pink Nona plates whilst having dinner at a restaurant here in Newcastle, Cook House, and fell in love. The size you see here is the side plate, but to be honest they’re fairly generous.

 

 

To contrast with the pale pink of the Nona plate, I went for a matte grey set called Violet. Both stoneware ranges have been handmade by small ceramic studios and so are irregular in their colour and pattern – something I absolutely love about Habitat’s dining ranges. It makes everything look softer and more organic, and well, much more expensive than it is. The Violet range has a beautiful soft lilac-grey tone to it that works perfectly against the white linen. The rose gold cutlery you see here was a sale purchase from M&S some time ago, but you can find similar here at Made.com.

 

 

To serve everything I used a combination of plates, bowls and large dishes, scattered across the table and just invited everyone to dig in.

I’m a bit old fashioned when it comes to table linens. I think things to be actual linen wherever possible. Both the table cloth and the napkins are from The White Company. They come out time and time again, wash perfectly and iron up to have a lovely dishevelled crispness to them. Each napkin was folded in half beneath the tableware, very handily serving as the place setting and the napkin.

 

 

The White Company were also kind enough to provide the beautiful gin glasses and pitcher used to serve the cooler in. The pitcher comes with a very elegant glass stirrer that did not at all make me feel like I had a magic wand and in no way lead to me pretending to cast spells.

 

 

The finishing touches of any dinner party table are the flowers and the candles. Again in a break from my all-white tradition I went for small glass vases of wild flowers, everything from softly scented cornflowers to soft pink snapdragons. They were beautiful scattered across a mixture of glass and stoneware vases, mixed around the table with tealights and Jo Malone London candles. Fragrance wise I decided to go for a combination of Lime Basil & Mandarin (a classic, naturally) and the sweet scent of Orange Blossom.

 

 

Keep everything low level so as not to obscure anyone’s view of each other across the table. That’s never fun. Be sure to also light the candles around 40 minutes before anyone arrives also so they have time to scent the room.

 

The Menu

First up, I wasn’t the best at photographing the food itself. Mostly because everyone arrived and well… it’s bad form to be photographing people’s food before the dig in I felt.

Smoked Hummus – The recipe for which is below
Apple & Elderflower Gin Cooler – The recipe for which is below
Sourdough Bread
Olives

From Simple:
Burrata with chargrilled grapes & basil, page 43
Stuffed courgettes with pine nut salsa, page 60
Roasted whole cauliflower, page 94
Harissa and confit garlic roast potatoes, page 142 – with the Goose Fat substituted for butter
Puy Lentils with aubergine tomatoes and yoghurt, page 166
Honey & yoghurt cheesecake, page 280

 

 

Everything went down a treat, there’s no denying that. The burrata and chargrilled grapes and lentil dishes being the real stand outs here! The cheesecake was also subject to seconds for everyone. If you’ve ever had any of Ottolenghi’s books because you’ll likely be aware that his dishes, whilst being amazingly tasty, can often involve an awful lot of ingredients and time. Simple’s concept is pretty clear from the name. Most dishes can be made in advance either in full or in part, making you’re life a little easier here.

On Friday afternoon I started preparing most of the dishes in some form, ready to be finished and cooked before serving on Saturday. I also made the cheesecake in its entirety as it can simply sit in your fridge until needed. Excellent. It’s not a baked cheesecake and the most tricky part here is the straining of the yoghurt to remove the liquid. That was messy and I definitely recommend doing that in advance. It will likely also ruin a tea towel, keep that in mind.

The grapes for the burrata were left to marinade overnight to really absorb the flavour and the confit garlic from the potatoes does take quite some time, so keep that in mind during your prepping process!

I’ve only cooked roasted cauliflower for one person who didn’t enjoy it and to be honest his opinion is sketchy at the best of times. It’s a revelation. Watery boiled cauliflower? Absolutely not. Roasted cauliflower? A delight.

Anything I wouldn’t cook again?

The stuffed courgettes were a little uneventful. Not sure I’d recommend those from the book! I would likely substitute them for a stuffed tomato or pepper perhaps.

And my own additions to the menu were:

 

Game-Changing Smoked Hummus

2 x 400g tins chickpeas (reserve the water from one tin)
3 large cloves garlic 
Smoked Rapeseed Oil (available at Sainsbury’s)
Smoked Salt (I use Maldon)
Pepper
Zest & Juice of 1 lemon
Smoked Paprika
Ground Cumin
3 tbsp Tahini 

This makes a hefty portion of hummus, enough for a dinner of six with plenty left over for the week ahead. I tend to make it for just about anyone who arrives on my doorstep, I love it. The deep smoky flavour comes from a combination of Smoked Rapeseed Oil and Smoked Salt, with a touch of Smoked Paprika at the end.

Place your garlic cloves on a baking sheet and lightly drizzling with olive oil, pop in a pre-heated oven for about ten minutes to roast. Don’t let them burn, they should go a nice golden colour. I always find raw garlic in hummus to be a bit too sharp, this brings a lovely mellow flavour.

Drain the two tins of chickpeas, reserving the liquid from one tin in a jug to use later. When the garlic is roasted take it out of the oven and use the same baking tray to roast a handful of the chickpeas on. Drizzle with oil, salt, pepper and some smoked paprika. Toss everything so it’s covered and pop in the oven for twenty minutes until nice and crispy.

In your food processor add the drained chickpeas, the tahini, juice and zest of the lemon, smoked salt, pepper, garlic, an initial glug of smoked rapeseed oil and a pinch of ground cumin. Blend everything up and when the mixture looks like it’s sticking to the sides of the jug, begin to pour in some of the chickpea water, then some more rapeseed oil, alternating until the hummus has a lovely smooth consistency. The more powerful your food processer the quicker this will be.

Taste to check the seasoning and adjust if needed. I usually find it needs more pepper!

To serve swirl the hummus into a bowl, add the roasted chickpeas to the top, a scattering of smoked paprika and a good glug of olive oil. Tear up chunks of bread or toasted pitta breads to dig into the hummus with.

 

Apple & Elderflower Gin Cooler

Gin (A crisp, clean gin is best rather than anything spiced)
Cloudy Apple Juice
Elderflower Cordial
Juice of three limes
Cucumber & rosemary to serve
Ice

Makes a large jug full.

There’s no quantities with the recipe above as to be honest I mostly just do it by eye and taste.

In a large jug add the gin, a sensible amount please. Pour in a 1L bottle of cloudy apple juice and the juice of your three limes, along with a glug of Elderflower cordial. Taste and see if it needs more gin or elderflower.

Just before serving, fill large gin glasses with ice, cucumber and a spear of rosemary, then pour in. You can add an additional twist of lime at this point too if you’d like. Simple.

 

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Saw

5 Ways To Get Yourself In The Festive Spirit.


This is the part of the festive season where you wonder how it all arrived quite so quickly. Surely it isn’t only two weeks away? You planned to make chutney, sip mulled wine whilst watching Home Alone and dance around the tree to Wham. Well, it’s fast approaching and if you’re not careful you’ll forget to enjoy it under the pressure of trying to get everything done. You should always enjoy Christmas. It’s time to get into the festive spirit.

No matter how busy or manic you might be, if you don’t enjoy the season and the extra time and attention you to get to spend on those that mean the most, then you’ve kind of missed the point.


1. Set The Scene. The 4 Best Christmas Scents.


It likely won’t come as a surprise to you that I’m a big believer in the power of scent. You name an occasion, situation or mood and I’ve got a candle for it. Christmas is one of those occasions that comes alive with a scent. A smell can evoke so many things and I’m not sure thats ever more apparent than at Christmas.




1. Winter, The White Company

A true classic of the genre. Warming, festive and in the nicest possible way, potent. On the 1st of December, as I extract the baubles from their dusty holiday home beneath the bed, this is the candle I light. It is to all intense and purposes Christmas in candle form.


2. Orange Bitters, Jo Malone London

I’ve said it many times now, but it remains as true as ever. I like to smell like a fruit. Orange Bitters is that kind of warm zesty scent that makes you think of a gooey chocolate orange liquor rather than a blossom filled orchard. It’s a little less traditional but in no way any less festive.


3. Ambre, Diptyque

Perhaps you don’t like cinnamon and spice. Some people have a real aversion to those scents. Ambre is warm and smokey, without being overbearing. It isn’t overtly festive but cosy and caring, perfect for those who want to dabble in something wintery without feeling like they’ve ventured into a spice rack.


4. Skog, Skandinavisk

If you find yourself longing for the scent of  real Christmas then Skog could be the answer to your prayers. There are many fir tree scents out there; all with varying levels of pine. For me they can often smell a little like toilet cleaner… Skog is quite light in comparison. Fresh and clean. If someone was to create a candle that portrays being in a snow covered pine forest in the Swedish countryside, this would be it.



2. Don’t Rush. Wrap A Present A Day.


I think why most people dislike wrapping presents is due to the fact they try to fit the task into the day before Christmas, haphazardly trying to find the end of the Sellotape as they clumsily attempt to render the shape of a teddy bear unrecognisable with shiny paper. Stop. Take your time. You have two weeks. A present a night and you’re likely done.

If you’ve already bought some presents then sit down on a quiet evening, put on a Christmas film or a rerun of The Vicar Of Dibley and enjoy it. It should be a pleasant job. You’ve bought someone a gift, this is your chance to celebrate what you’ve done.

If you’re not the most talented wrapper, fear not. YouTube arrived for a reason. If you search for it you’ll find videos on everything from tying the perfect bow to wrapping a cylindrical shape.



3. Take Some Time. Write Some Cards.


Sending Christmas cards has sadly become something very few do now. Personally I’ve never stopped. Over the years the quantities have most definitely decreased but still, every single year I sit down with a mince pie and a book of ridiculously over priced stamps and I write my cards out. A lot of the people I send cards to aren’t those who I see all that often so it always feels nice to write out a kind message of well wishes, more than likely finished with a comment about having to meet up soon, despite the fact we never quite got round to it this year. 

It’s a nice task. It feels calming to write something I always feel? To nearly write an address on a perfectly white envelope before positioning a jolly red sticker in the corner. It’s a lot art, I say we bring it back. 

This year my cards have come from Mark + Fold, a small British brand I absolutely love. You’ll be able to see more of them very soon.




4. Plan Ahead. The 4 Christmas Cookbooks You’ll Have For Life.



Planning makes me happy, as does making a good list. The act of planning the Christmas dinner, writing the list of things to do and the things I’ll need to buy is one of my favourite parts of the season. I make a pot of coffee and I settle down with my books, Post It noting every page that catches my eye.


The Christmas Chronicles, Nigel Slater.

This book requires some time spent with it. It’s filled with recipes but it is more than that, it’s a book to be read. It walks you through the season right from October and finishing in early January. Last year I made the Christmas Cake recipe from this book, it’s a little unorthodox in that it doesn’t feature a single spice, but it’s incredible. I made it again this year and shipped off bundles of it to my family. The toasted hazelnuts and sour cranberries are perfect against the sweet icing I lavish on top.


Nigella Christmas, Nigella Lawson.

Yes, she does advise buying a huge plastic bin to brine your turkey in. That is undeniable, but once you move past that it’s a book filled with dishes I come back to year after year. It’s a tradition in my house that New Year’s Day features Nigella’s Gleaming Maple Syrup Cheesecahke. It’s not overly sweet and the base is peppered with crispy pecan nuts; it’s the perfect antidote to the night before.


Delia’s Happy Christmas, Delia Smith.

The reason I love to cook is Delia Smith. I watched her religiously as a child and still have the huge tome my mum bought me for my eight birthday. It’s one for the most traditional of Christmas dinners, your fail safe. Cranberry sauce, classic stuffing recipes – it’s all here. Truth be told this isn’t really my style of cooking anymore… but it just captures the traditional family Christmas so well. If you need to brush up on the basics of preparing the perfect roastie, this is the book for you. 


Jamie Oliver’s Christmas Cookbook, Jamie Oliver.

I’ve always been a little jealous of Christmas at Jamie’s house. It always seems so big and full of life, so many people crammed around the table and sloshing gravy about the place. In a way this is the polar opposite to Delia Smith’s book; everything is modern and updated for the way we eat now. The deserts are pretty epic here, especially if your family has a strong aversion to Christmas Pudding. I can’t vouch for it being a vegetarian, but each year I make Jules’ Gravy from this book and each year it goes down a storm. 





5. Take To The Kitchen. Give Something Homemade.


Last year I set myself the challenge of making my friend’s and family’s main presents myself, in addition to my usual round of jam, chutney and biscotti. It was a task I won’t be setting myself again anytime soon, I’m not sure I’ve ever had quite such a stressful Christmas. Flannel pyjamas for long limbed folk, monogrammed dressing gowns for best friends and leather shopping bags for mothers, I tried it all. It nearly broke me.

As a result I try to take it a little easier with the homemade gifts now. Each year I deliver overflowing tins of biscotti (a handy and easy little recipe for which you’ll find here), chocolate truffles, honeycomb pieces and ramshackle piles of shortbread biscuit. Generally they’re placed inside glass jars from IKEA and all in all cost little more than a fiver. There’s just something about receiving a homemade gift that feels so special. Someone spent time on it just for you. It’s almost as satisfying as making a gift for someone.  

Pistachio Biscotti Recipe
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Design, Saw, Travel

Richard Serra at the Gagosian.

I am a little funny when it comes to art. Or perhaps that should be when it comes to ‘art’. In the larger sense. If you’ve read my previous post about my own inability to select artworks and imagery for my walls you will know, I struggle with my own tastes. What do I like? What do I appreciate? Mostly it’s all just a mystery to me.

The name Richard Serra has been appearing quite a lot recently. His work seems to have served as the inspiration for everything from fashion editorials to full blown runway collections and I will admit, it wasn’t a name I was all that familiar with. Whilst in London last week I took a detour from my heavily planned day to visit the Gagosian Gallery to see a series of three installations by him. And I am very glad I did.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to have some profound moment where I explain an artistic revolution I’ve found myself in the midst of. It was however, an experience I recommend fully. The piece above (NJ-2 if we’re going to be precise) is rather colossal. Colossal and beautiful. I feel ultimately images won’t really explain its effect and command of the huge space. The metal undulates and twists, bends and folds, with you winding your way through it all. Almost as if it was a piece of ribbon stood on its edge, twisting around.

If you find yourself in London – perhaps whilst waiting for a train from nearby King’s Cross – head to the Gagosian on Britannia Street. The exhibit’s run has just been extended until March 10th, it’s absolutely free and photography isn’t just allowed, it’s encouraged. My kind of place.

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