Friends at My Table A Year of Eating, Drinking and Making Merry by Hart, Alice ( Author ) ON Apr-26-2012, Paperback Paperback – 26 Apr 2012
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Alice Hart has perfected the art of feeding crowds, and in her new book she shows not only how to serve people memorable meals, but also how to host all sorts of gatherings in a relaxed and convivial way.
Top customer reviews
It is beautifully presented, the photography is stylish, and there is a wealth of extra material that adds a certain charm.
Those recipes, those ideas, look lovely, and there are a few that I'll try, but there are rather more that I'll simply read and think how good they look.
You see a certain freedom, a certain lifestyle, a certain wealth, is presumed.
Some will find that irksome, but I can accept it. For me is a book to browse, a book to dream with, and maybe, on very particular occasions, a book to cook from.
One for the coffee table, I think ...
There are some really delicious recipes in this book and you can cook them for large numbers, or you can cook and eat over a number of days. I cooked the Autumnal Panzanella, which is recommended as a contributory part of a picnic spread for 8-10, but I cooked it and served it alongside grilled pork chops and some extra mixed salad leaves for a meal for 4 and it was perfect (my friends instantly requested the recipe!)
I made the sticky date and ginger cake for a pudding night for a group of mums I meet regularly and alongside a scoop of good quality vanilla ice-cream (I used Kelly's), this was termed by all as "simply divine!" I loved the fact that I could make this the night before and then just warm through before my guests arrived, but it appeared to them that I had just finished baking it (when in reality I was busily using those valuable minutes between putting the children to bed and my guests arriving to tidy up the stray toys etc!)
Indeed there are plenty of recipes that allow you to prepare in advance, or which are deceptively easy to prepare/cook. Those that can be made in advance include a lovely pumpkin salsa, which can be made up to three days ahead; the baked white chocolate and rhubarb custards can be made a day or two before your event; the deep and chewy flapjacks to take "glamping" can be kept for up to a week. There are vodka infusion ideas - from rhubarb or pear and cinnamon to the more daring lavender and rosemary - these are great experiments and potential homemade Christmas gifts. I have a strawberry infused vodka, which only needs five day to make and I can't wait to try.
All of this is in keeping with some of the general rules of the book - which are laid out on pages 26 and 27, helping you to keep your head whilst cooking for a crowd - these are good principles and take the fear out of cooking for more people.
There are a number of drink recipes included for a variety of social gatherings (in addition to the previously mentioned vodka infusions) - I am most looking forward to making the boozy hot pear and rum punch for a winter warmer on a cool autumnal/winter's evening and then when the weather warms up again, the non-alcoholic pineapple and ginger fizz or the basil limeade!
Some ideas conveyed in the book are almost impossibly unlikely for me ever to consider, such as the Firepit, but should I ever meet anyone adventurous enough to help, then I have not only two pages of directions of how to build and cook with a firepit (on pages 140-141), but also the perfect stuffed venison recipe to crown it with! (By the way, there are directions to cook this on a Weber-style barbeque or even in a hot oven, which might be more accessible to most of us!)
This book is beautiful to look at, with beautiful photos, with muted colours, a lovely padded hardback book - this would make a wonderful gift for anyone who loves food and cooking it!
In essence the book provides twelve menus for a series of what the author describes as 'occasions'. These occasions include a bridal shower, a holiday weekend away, a country wedding, glamping (glamorous camping), a beach cricket barbecue , a firepit night (with instructions on how to build your firepit although frankly I can't see myself ever doing this). Clearly the menus are just as applicable to other occasions or to no occasion at all, and you wouldn't have to use a complete menu.
Much as I like to cook, I really couldn't see myself cooking the weekend away menu. The author quite rightly points out holiday cottages aren't big on equipment such as good knives - but of course you bring your own, together with a decent frying pan, a whisk, a small mandolin, scales and assorted cake tins!! I was left speechless. I am a keen cook but draw the line at carting half the kitchen with me when I go away for the weekend. I read on, and then came across this little gem: "Plan to cook one big lunch and one casual supper. ..... Beyond that, my advice is this: don't get bogged down in shopping, cooking and clearing up for the entire weekend. There will be pubs serving food, chip shops or restaurants. .... Cook a few lovely things but, otherwise, .....get outside, explore, have fun." I am not sure which is worse - the fact that the author feels it necessary to tell her readers that there are pubs which serve food and restaurants, or the advice to have fun.
The real test of a cook book is whether you will actually use it to cook from. In this regard, I just don't see me using the book much, if at all. There are a few recipes that I would probably use, but most of them are for drinks (I can highly recommend the pineapple and ginger fizz from the bridal shower chapter!). The leek, mascarpone & smoked garlic tart is lovely, the black grape jelly with Muscat sabayon is one to try, the autumn panzanella is nice and the blueberry, almond and vanilla choux buns are straightforward and more-ish. There are other recipes that appeal but they call for ingredients which are not readily available to those of us who live out in the sticks and who don't have access to an ethnic shop or Greek deli for example. Normally one of the two Waitrose branches nearest to me will have what I need but not in this case.
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