Sunday, 15 March 2009

haphazard dinner

It was always ambitious - I somehow managed to end up with a whole weekend's worth of things to do in just one day, culminating with having 9 of us for supper.

I did make a vague attempt to get ahead of myself on Friday, by nipping into Asda after curry with the BR girls at Coz's. Curiously my after hours logic pointed me towards parsley, spring onions and Marigold bouillion powder. A valiant attempt, but a complete failure to purchase sufficient ingredients to enable me to actually prepare anything when I got home.

My 8am alarm dragged me from the sleep of the dead this morning, and I was up, nosing in cook books, dressed (in the loosest possible sense of the word) and out the door to the supermarket by 9. The reason for all the rushing - having invited my aunt, uncle, parents, sister, cousins and of course She for dinner at 7, I had also managed to book a hair appointment at 11am, and commit to rugby spectating in Oxford at 1.45pm.

The menu was composed based on the path of least resistance, both on the way to the shops, and indeed mid aisle.

We ended up with ...

chicken skewers with sweet chilli
lemony green beans
balsamic roasted tomatoes
and my favourite Leon 'open sesame slaw'

along with watermelon and baklava for desert

Before my haircut I quickly sorted the beans, started off the tabbouleh and marinated the chicken. Cut to 6.15pm - I flew back in the door after Oxford nearly an hour later than I'd planned, with 45 minutes until the family were due. While I skewered chicken, diced vegetables and prepared the toms She laid the table, before indulging in extreme benevolence and making the dressing for the coleslaw.

I love cooking for large groups of people, especially when the food ends up in great bowls, swapped up and down a long table. In spite of the great pleasure I take in it, there are those moments when you look at the clock, look at yourself in the mirror, remember how long it takes to shred half a cabbage ... or the potatoes aren't cooked ... or you haven't got any ginger, and it dawns on you you're about to be exposed as a charlatan - the confidence to serve interesting, tasty food at the right time, for the right number momentarily deserts you. Luckily at this very point She stepped in sensing a revolt - see above .

Suffice it to say it was lovely, we have leftovers, there was wine. As with any repeated act, the more you eat together, the more natural and relaxed you become - and that of course is where the magic happens.

On to the serious bit, the recipes. I'm not including the open-sesame slaw because it's not mine, but the others are adaptations and creations, so worth a mention. The quantities are rather large here, but you get the general idea.

sweet chilli chicken skewers

1.5kg chicken breast, cut into thick strips - I used mini fillets cut in half lengthways
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 tbsp light olive oil
juice of 1 lemon

sweet chilli sauce

bamboo skewers - you should soak these in water, they shrink back when they're cooking, making it easier to get the meat off them in the end

Whisk together the lemon juice and olive oil, and add the garlic

Marinate the chicken in the mixture overnight - though I left it 7 hours today and it was fine

Wiggle the strips onto the bamboo skewers, then suspend over a baking tray and put in the oven at 200 degrees C for 25 mins or until cooked and starting to brown. You could of course do these on a barbeque. Mmmm.

Serve with a good drizzle of sweet chilli sauce

lemony green beans

750g green beans
zest and juice of one lemon
2tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Blanche the beans in salted boiling water for 3 minutes, then remove from the heat and place immediately in a bowl of cold water / under the cold tap

Place in a large bowl, and stir in the lemon juice, zest, olive oil, and a seriously generous pinch of salt

I only use Maldon salt, and have done for a couple of years now. I'm not one for using branded, trendy or expensive things just for the sake of it, but it really does make a difference here. The salt brings out a greater depth of flavour, and tastes less, well - less processed than table salt.


350g bulgar wheat
650ml boiling water
3tbsp olive oil
juice of one lemon
good handful parsley, chopped
slightly less fresh mint, chopped
even less fresh coriander, chopped
1/2 cucumber, diced
2 sweet peppers - so red, orange or yellow ( I don't like the green ones)
5 spring onions chopped
1tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper

Put the bulgar wheat in a bowl and add the boiling water and salt, leave for 20 mins, covered

This is the point where I warn you - bulgar wheat smells. When you put water on it like this it stinks, or at least it does to me. In fact the first time I made tabbouleh, at the water pouring stage I thought 'oh God, this is going to be disgusting'. Trust me it isn't, it's lovely.

Stir through the olive oil, lemon juice, herbs and a really good grinding of black pepper, then leave in the fridge overnight, or in my case for the seven hours I was out today. At this point you could add sultanas if your housemate doesn't have an irrational dislike of them in savory dishes. Ahem.

Add the diced vegetables, toss well and season to taste if you need to - you shouldn't.

balsamic roast tomatoes

cherry tomatoes on the vine
balsamic vinegar
olive oil
pinch of salt
2 cloves garlic, bashed but not skinned

I'm not going to insult your intelligence here. Tomatoes and garlic , in a dish, drizzled with oil and vinegar and a pinch of salt, roasted in a moderate oven. It's absolutely worth using on the vine tomatoes because they look so pretty. Serve them straight from the dish.

I'm knackered. It's mad to write this now, but I'm still feeling warm and full of the contentment of an evening happily spent with my nearest, hopefully I'm transmitting a little bit of that to you.

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