Smaller Dinners

Although I am known for grand dinner parties like the one I blogged about a few weeks ago (, I also love more intimate dinners. Six or eight people around a table is a nice number, because most recipes are given in quantities for six, and a bottle of wine pours six to nine glasses (depending on the size of your glass). However, there are times when you're hankering for something a little more relaxed, or maybe you need to have a serious or more sensitive conversation, or you just want a quieter night. These are the times when dinner for two or four is wonderful.

There are a number of recipes I can always rely on. These are things I've been cooking for years, recipes I know by heart and can easily play variations on when I'm entertaining. They're brilliant when I'm cooking for ten, as I often do, because I know they can be done in advance, and the recipes are easily scaled-up without loss of qua…

A Night at the Movies

The Beloved and I sat up watching the BAFTAs last evening, and next weekend we can look forward to the glamour and excitement of the Oscar award ceremony. It got me thinking about drinks to celebrate films and film actors. One of my oldest and dearest friends, Kath, is an avid film fan. Avid, as in obsessed and indiscriminate. She seems to know everything there is to know about every obscure film and has an encyclopedic knowledge of Oscar statistics. She’s also a cocktail fan. Over the years, we’ve tried old cocktails together, invented new ones, compared variations and generally done untold damage to a pair of no-longer-young livers. A conversation with Kath gave rise to the following ideas.

It's too easy to name the vodka martini as the film cocktail. However, Bond ordered a variation on the martini in Fleming’s original James Bond novel, Casino Royale, something he would never do on film until Daniel Craig took the role. In his variant, Bond calls for a mixture of vodka with g…

Meat-free and gluten-free entertaining

As a confirmed meat eater with no allergies, I am in the fortunate position of being able to cook whatever I like when I cook for myself. I'm often challenged, though, by needing to cook for others who don't eat meat, are coeliac or have other dietary restrictions. I firmly believe my guests deserve the best of me, and I struggle with diets that are unfamiliar to me. I certainly wouldn't want any dinner guest to be served food that has something missing, taken out or replaced with a lesser substitute. For this reason, I dislike serving ersatz meat and jackfruit masquerading as pulled pork. Far better, in my opinion, to find dishes that make the best use of vegetables and plant protein on their own terms.

Discovering Japanese cuisine, a few years ago, has been a Godsend to me. In Japan, tofu and vegetables are cooked to make the most of their natural properties. Soy and tamari, rice wine and vinegar, and salted, fermented or pickled fruit and veg give the cuisine a livelin…

Bringing it all together

Have you ever wondered about the influences that create our culinary culture and styles of dining? I have been creating dinners for the last few years that explore these influences – the places, the people and the moments that have made us who we are as diners and hosts. Since these dinners bring together all the attitudes and skills I've been blogging about (using aperitifs to create a sense of expectation, planning a menu, setting out a stunning visual scene...), a reader has asked me to give an account of some of these dinners and why I think these people, places and times matter.

One of the more colourful dinners we gave explored the social scene of the mid-1930s. In order to create a menu and a social atmosphere that made sense, I tried to imagine what kind of dinner would have been given by the people who lived at my address in 1936. Let's consider who those people were and how their world looked...

For a generation who had survived the horrors of the Great War, the 191…

Low alcohol drinks - an update

I posted early last year about alcohol-free and low-alcohol drinks. At the time, there were very few alcohol-free drinks available in the UK that were intended specifically for aperitif drinking. How things change in a year! What follows is an update of that post, with some new products reviewed.

Our neighbour has commented that, as a non-drinker, she often feels infantilised by the choices offered when she goes out with others. While friends drink wines, spirits and beers to suit the adult palate, more often than not she is offered pop or fruit juice. No wonder she generally drinks water! I made it my mission to find some grown-up drinks that don’t compromise on alcohol.

We start with tonic water. One of the markers of the adult palate is that it tolerates bitterness much more than a child’s does. Tonic may be sweet and fizzy but it’s unmistakably adult. It’s also fresh and stimulates the appetite, so it works well as an aperitif. Try mixing it with grapefruit or orange juice (1/3 j…

New Year Bubbles

There’s something very wonderfully decadent about a Champagne-based cocktail. It can be a perfect way to start an evening and, depending what you want in the mix, can take you in all kinds of directions: deeply romantic, sensual or just plain giddy. Whatever your plans for marking the New Year, there's a fizzy drink to help you on your way.

Hélène de Troie
Pour a measure of rose-flavour liqueur into the bottom of a Champagne glass and top up with pink champagne. Garnish with a rose petal.

This has got to be the most romantic cocktail I know. It’s been a favourite of mine since I first tried it in a Greek restaurant in France. (The name means “Helen of Troy.”) It has a deep pink colour and smells of damask roses.  This is the cocktail to serve if you're planning a New Year's Eve a proposal. I make it with French Crème de Rose liqueur (available online or in specialist cocktail shops). It has a deep colour and very strong flavour of roses. Italian rosolio liqueur is paler and…

Festive cocktails 2019

It's that time of year again when we love to let go, throw frivolous or outrageous parties and bring something special to our table. It's a good time to serve cocktails, so I've been thinking about what I should suggest as my festive selection for 2019. Here are the ones I love to serve and drink. They include a few you could serve together at a cocktail party, some that are particularly suited to aperitif drinking and one that's great for winding down when the guests have gone.

You'll notice a lot of overlap in the ingredients for these cocktails. The main reason for that is my love of certain spirits and liqueurs for their flavour and versatility. It's also so that you can put together a stylish cocktail party without buying a large number of different ingredients. The manufacturers of these ingredients have not sponsored me in any way, save by supplying a couple of photos for the blog.

Three White Ladies
The original White Lady cocktail is a thing of simplic…