Introduction

Introduction

By
Skye Gyngell
Contains
0 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
978 184949 950 7
Photographer
Jason Lowe

I thrive on the stimulation I get from running a restaurant – working with a team of talented chefs and creating new dishes inspired by the wonderful seasonal produce available to us right through the year – but I can honestly say that the greatest pleasure I derive from food is cooking for loved ones. Bringing friends and family together around a table at home to enjoy food, share conversation and relax together is deeply satisfying. Entertaining needn’t be demanding or time-consuming. At home, I like to keep food and cooking simple. It’s easier on the shopping and gives me more time to spend with my family – and guests when I’m entertaining. I wanted to share the food I cook at home with you, not least because I am aware that so many of us are time-pressured these days and I was keen to offer some solutions in the kitchen. However busy we are, it’s important to make time to enjoy ourselves. And, for me, the pleasure of cooking for others – of witnessing their enjoyment of my food – is second to none. Above all, that’s what this book is about: delighting others through food – with ease, generosity, unpretentiousness, and a little finesse...

Essentially, this is a collection of the recipes that I cook at home, arranged by the kind of meal – from breakfast through lunch and tea to evening meals and late-night suppers – encompassing everyday dishes as well as special occasion food. As ever, my cooking is strongly inspired by the produce in season and I always seek to bring together ingredients that appear at the same time; so often they have a natural affinity. However small your garden, even if you have nothing at all – just room for a little window box – I encourage you to grow some herbs. Fragrant top note herbs, such as basil, parsley and soft thyme, inspire me in the kitchen and remind me of sunshine.

Along the way, I have given simple tips and offered some specific advice on cookery skills. My cooking is not defined by complex techniques, because I prefer to keep things easy, but over the years I have come to realise the importance of mastering a few basics. It really isn’t difficult to make your own crisp, light pastry, whisk egg whites to the peak of perfection, fold flour delicately into a sponge mixture, or cook a velvety smooth custard without it curdling… once you know how. I’ve also tried to take some of the mystery out of cooking methods, such as slow-cooking, roasting and pan-frying. Like most things in life, these simple skills are down to practice – knowledge brings confidence and repetition breeds understanding.

People often say to me it’s alright for you, cooking and entertaining isn’t demanding for you. It is my job, of course, and I am fortunate enough to do it all day, every day. In truth, it is something I feel comfortable with, but there are so many areas of my life in which I don’t feel as self-assured. Slowly I am learning that if I practice things I feel overwhelmed by, they become easier to accomplish and my confidence grows. It is the same with cooking. So just start and don’t worry about making mistakes for they are learning curves. Food often requires more in the way of concentration than skill, so try to give it the attention it deserves. Rushed, distracted cooking is often reflected in its final taste. Embrace the spirit of why you are doing it, and – above all – enjoy yourself. Hopefully you will find, as I do, that it is incredibly satisfying. I cook for the same reason that you do – to bring joy to others – it pleases me to see people smile and laugh and feel content around a table, and I’m sure it is the same for you.

In many ways cooking is now more confusing than ever, owing to the tidal wave of information about food, its provenance, seasonality and availability. We are perplexed by questions, such as is it fair trade, organic, sustainable? When confronted with so many considerations, it can be difficult to decide what to cook. And when we are entertaining, we need to choose a menu that will suit everyone. One way of sidestepping these issues is to design a menu that revolves around practicality. Ask yourself, will this menu suit the number of guests, the time you have available to prepare it, and the time of year? Above all, simplify things... perhaps adding a little touch of extravagance.

A feast should be just that – abundant and with a great spirit of generosity – not necessarily in terms of quantity, but in terms of thought. The taste, smell and sight of food make for memories. Now, well into adulthood, I have fond recollections of Easter egg hunts and the tastes of the eggs that we ate with gusto upon discovering them. And of Christmas in the sweltering heat at my grandmother’s house, where we ate the same things year after year: tinned asparagus laid neatly on to plates, cold turkey and potato salad, followed by a steaming pudding with sixpences hidden inside. It wasn’t the best food in the world by any means, but it’s the stuff of memories. And for me now, the most important part of cooking for my family and friends are the precious lingering memories. Eating in restaurants can be a wonderful experience but it doesn’t match the enjoyment of entertaining at home.

When you are planning a menu, consider colour and texture, and choose one dish that dazzles. However competent you are, there is no need to prove it course after course. Time and time again, you will be encouraged in recipe books to prepare as much as you can ahead of time, and this is sound advice. Think through the dishes you plan to cook, prepare whatever you can in advance and lay the table the day before, if that is possible. Cooking in advance allows you to focus on the important things – such as making guests feel welcome and at ease. Do not insist to yourself that all must be perfect, for this is a sure way to spoil the spirit of the occasion. Entertaining isn’t about proving you are the world’s best cook.

As for the table setting, it is hard to beat generous-sized plates of a colour that does not contradict the food, simple glasses in which the glorious colour of the wine seems suspended, and large, generous soft napkins. Cutlery and crockery need not be matching – in fact sometimes it is more charming when they are not. Candles lit in the evening lend a dreamlike, almost smudgy, quality to everything around them, making things appear softer and warmer. Flowers cut from the garden – sitting lazily in a vase upon the table, rather than precisely arranged – lend character. Often when there is too much going on at the table, it feels as though too little has been done in the kitchen.

In my choice of recipes, I have included what seems important in terms of linking beautiful produce, food to share and memories. Afternoon tea is a treat that we rarely have these days, but it’s lovely to savour dainty sandwiches and wonderful aromas of vanilla, spices and fragrant teas.

Special days, such as Christmas, Easter and birthdays, mark the passing of the year, so I have included menus for these. The Easter feast, Roman in feel, celebrates spring with lamb, tender artichokes and peas. An Italian rice cake, topped with candied citrus fruit, serves as dessert. Christmas Eve always feels romantic to me. Glistening food and glowing light enhance the anticipation: oysters served simply, richly glazed ham and spiced fruits, followed by an opulent pashka. Russian in origin, this dessert reminds me of deep snow, fur hats and horse-drawn carriages.

Good entertaining comes from imbuing an occasion with your own personal style. Cook and eat with gusto... and joy!

Notes

Please use sea salt, freshly ground pepper and fresh herbs.

Choose organic free-range eggs. Anyone who is pregnant or in a vulnerable health group should avoid recipes using raw egg whites or lightly cooked eggs.

Buy unwaxed citrus fruit if possible, especially if you are using the zest.

Timings are for fan-assisted ovens. If you are using a conventional oven, turn the setting up by 10–15°C. Use an oven thermometer to keep a check on the temperature.

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