Now I am a big fan of eating out as many of you will know from my regular restaurant reviews but I have also discovered something undeniably therapeutic and satisfying about cooking. I don't mean the type of cooking constituting of manically shoving something on the stove with whatever is left in your fridge after a long day at work, no, the cooking I mean is different. It takes time, a bit of effort and patience and can be, when done right, the most relaxing and rewarding thing with tasty results to feed you and others, a real celebration of food in good company that for me is what a dinner party should be about.
I had the perfect lazy Sunday at my disposal to try and achieve exactly that with my very lovely friend and one of my favourite fellow bloggers, Rosalind
, coming down to visit me from Oxford for a day of eating, drinking (Prosecco of course) and catching up. On her last visit we already had a bit of an indoor picnic with relatively simple yet delicious small plates to share - sweet potato chips, baked brie and courgette fries to name a few, only inspiring me to find slightly more experimental and ambitious recipes for our next get together, trying as well to make rather than buy dessert as crowning touch on this occasion.
In the end Yotam Ottolenghi was my main source of inspiration. Yes, I already regularly flock to his Islington cafe, wasting ridiculous amounts of my not so ridiculous salary on the beautiful array of salads served up here but luckily for me his recipes turned out to be equally as amazing and to my surprise actually really easy and cheap to prepare. They challenge your flavour perception (boy did I not know that fig and sweet potato go well together), are fresh, light and also absolutely beautiful on the finished plate. As lame as it may sound I already have a Pinterest board full of his creations ( hey at least it's not a wedding board) and can't wait to try and recreate them at home.
I also went for some more classic dishes that are good to share. One for example cannot go wrong with a classic Italian Caprese salad, mozzarella, fresh basil and juicy tomatoes from the Turkish greengrocer behind our house, combining into a trio made in heaven that is hard to mess up. For good measure I also bought a rotisserie chicken, Sainsburys does a pretty good one for under £6, which was served with garlic mayo and which added a bit of substance, especially as we steered away from anything containing gluten for my stomach's sake, all in all leaving us with a pretty decent spread full of different flavours, textures and colours that was an absolute joy to eat and way better than committing to just one main course!
Quality of veg is paramount in all of the recipes and I'd suggest going to your local greengrocers rather than a supermarket if you are lucky enough to have a good one near you. I don't know what it is but the herbs, fruit and veg just taste so much better even if you do get an odd shaped courgette once in a while.
As mentioned above I also wanted to make something a little special for dessert on this occasion especially as I am usually more prone to buying a selection of ice creams rather than actually making something. This cake however is worth all the extra effort in the world. Saying it is the best cheesecake you are going to ever have might be a big statement to make but I have grounds to go on. Since I first made this (once again) Ottolenghi recipe a few years back everyone lucky enough to try it pretty much said exactly those words after a spoonful and after a good 2 year break of making it due to lacking both scales and a baking tin I am happy to say it still got the same reactions. Why? Well you just going to have to try this caramelised macadamia nut, vanilla cheesecake with homemade caramel sauce to really understand....
So get cooking & baking!
Roast sweet potatoes, figs, chill and green onion with balsamic glaze and goat's cheese
It shouldn't work but this combination of sweet, salty, tangy and fresh is incredibly tasty, is easy to
make and looks incredible on your plate!
All you need are good tomatoes, fresh basil, mozzarella, olive oil and I personally love a bit
of balsamic reduction to finish it off.
Grilled aubergine with tahini yogurt dip
This was the first time I ever prepared aubergine, having found a real taste for it in the Middle
Eastern dishes I had sampled it in and it was super quick to do by using a griddle pan for grilling, perfectly rounded up with a ridiculously delicious garlic, tahini and coriander dip that I will be
sure to add to my regular sauce repertoire.
Caramelised Macadamia nut vanilla cheesecake with caramel sauce
It's the best cheesecake in the world, it isn't easy to prepare band afterwards
you'll be in expert in making caramel...but it's all worth it.