Posts

Showing posts from July, 2019

Menu planning - a summer series (2)

Image
A few weeks ago, I started to look at how to plan a good dinner for friends. I drew attention to the fact that serving food as a sequence of single dishes is a relatively recent phenomenon. I want to look this time at the alternative to that: service fran├žaise - laying everything out together. It's what you do for one-course feats, table-suppers, tapas, meze, smorgasbords and sharing dinners.



This type of dinner is becoming more popular again as hosts and friends alike hanker after less formality in their entertainments. There's something particularly sociable in passing serving dishes around the table, dibbing in as something interesting passes, and discussing with the diners 'over there' what they have worth trying at their end. For the cook, this type of service has the advantage of all the work being finished: you can sit down with everyone else and relax, knowing there's nothing that'll call you away from the table - short of a wine refill - until it's…

American Classics

Image
This week marked 243 years since the English-speaking colonists on the American continent declared themselves independent of the British crown and organised themselves into a new nation. Whichever side of the Atlantic we live (or the Pacific, for that matter), whatever our tastes in cinema or music, whatever we think of this or that figure in American politics, culture or history, we still have much to admire in the USA, with its high, founding ideals of individual liberty, just government and responsible citizenship. For those of us with a taste for mixed drinks, July is a time to raise a toast to the United States for the gift of the cocktail.



There is evidence from as far back as 1806 of mixed drinks being called "cocktails," and an answer in a newspaper column to a request for a definition of the word gives a recipe for a spirit mixed with sugar, water and Angostura bitters. That seems to have fallen out of favour for a while, and by the 1860s, bars were selling Dutch ge…

Menu Planning - a summer series (1)

Image
I have given hundreds of dinner parties over the years, and I've come to love the planning stage. In my experience, the planning is the time of exciting fantasies about what you might cook, who you could invite and how your table will look. It's the most creative stage, full of possibilities. It's also the stage, when you start to hone down the ideas into concrete plans, that ensures your event will be a success - an enjoyable time for all.

Have you noticed how often people roll their eyes and sigh in mock exasperation whenever they say the words "dinner party?" For English people in particular, it seems to have become synonymous with social unease, moments of stress and panic in the kitchen, and generalised anxiety about whether you're getting it "right" (whatever that is).

I think that's a pity. There should be few more pleasant experiences than sharing food among friends. It's been said thousands of times, but I'll point it out again…