"Formal dinners are over, but casual cooking for friends throws up a new set of dilemmas." Tony Naylor
My mind is currently preoccupied with menus for a meal with friends. Really a triple whammy of preoccupations really.
My gourmet friend has a birthday on Tuesday and we were going to go to our local fine dining establishment for dinner together, but they are not open on Tuesdays and other nights are not possible, so we decided I would cook a birthday dinner. I haven't cooked a 'special' meal for a while and so I'm a bit out of practice.
Added to that there are additional dietary problems, but in a way, this should make its easier as I can eliminate a whole lot of stuff because of them. A smaller base to choose from. There will be no bread or pastry involved, for example - I really can't be bothered to make gluten free bread or pastry, and anyway there is no need. No onions, no apples and pears, no garlic. Also somewhat limiting, but again, in a weird sort of way this makes it easier.
Because my main problem is that I have a very, large library of cookery books, not to mention the internet at my fingertips. Where on earth should I begin?
At first I thought I would be good and search through a couple of books I have - The Great Australian Cookbook, and Food we Love - produced by the same people with some overlapping recipes it has to be said. But they do have indexes with sections on Gluten free and Dairy Free (yes this is another but less rigid problem), so I thought it would be a good opportunity to actually use these books. I haven't much. But honestly, although I looked at every Gluten free recipe that didn't sound otherwise difficult for my guest, there was nothing that appealed. So I decided to turn to my two old-time favourite gurus - Robert Carrier and Delia Smith. I began with Robert Carrier and his book Entertaining - which is very old-style and is organised into menus. Well I thought it would be fun to actually follow somebody else's menu plan and an old-fashioned one at that. But I just couldn't do it. There might be a main that was Ok but the accompanying entrées and desserts were not - or vice versa. So I turned to his New Great Dishes of the World, which did indeed have a couple of tempting solutions - mostly with fish I have to say. Indeed I even pondered on Irish Stew. I could adopt a theme of old-fashioned English I thought. Because that's one of the suggestions menu planners make isn't it? Choose a theme - a particular cuisine being the most obvious. And in the night I had pondered on Moroccan. I make a rather nice chicken dish with yoghurt and carrots and chicken, but yoghurt - maybe not. And anyway I wanted to use an actual recipe. Not wing it.
So at last I turned to Delia and specifically this book. It was published in 1995 and given to me as a birthday present in 1996 by David. At the time I was a cataloguer at the State Film Centre Library here in Melbourne and I had catalogued the video series Delia Smith's Summer Collection - and fell in love with Delia. I have made so many recipes from that book. And so when this one came out I asked for it as a birthday present. It apparently was a major, major bestseller and led to Delia receiving an OBE. She had published other books beforehand, but these two were the game-changers for her. I chose this one because it is almost winter, and today is very wintry. After a night of torrential rains and low temperatures, I noticed that the deciduous tree that I can see from my bed (I don't know what it is), has finally lost all of its leaves. I am guessing the rain bashed them all away. And yet a day or so ago it looked like this. (It's the yellowy one in the background to the left of the barbecue.
So after my lunch I browsed through the Winter recipes and to my delight found several to choose from. I think, to start it will be a soup - perhaps a Black bean soup with black bean salsa, Tuscan white bean soup, or both together - she suggests the fanciful presentation below. And then again there is a Polish beetroot soup (too much I think) or a Chickpea chilli and coriander soup
I think I have made the white bean soup before and was surprised at how delicious it was, as it didn't really sound that wonderful on the page. So perhaps the black bean one. I think I have some in my storage drawer. Or I could look and see what other soups she has. Soup anyway.
Which means the main needs to not be soupy. Maybe fishy for a change. There is a very posh looking Roasted fish topped with sun-dried tomato tapenade for example - and I think I have made this as well. Or Seared salmon steaks with black bean salsa - no too many beans, Chicken breasts with wild mushroom and bacon stuffing and Marsala sauce (it's only supposed to take 20 minutes). Look there are so many more options that I shall just have to sit down and consider more closely. Perhaps consult David.
I think I've decided on dessert though - unless I find prunes are a no no - Fallen chocolate soufflé with Armagnac prunes and I'm pretty sure I have made this before too. She also has a cake with prunes and armagnac but that includes apples too, so it's not possible. But there are a few other things I could choose.
And the wonderful thing is that although the original book did not have pictures to accompany every recipe - the Delia online website does.
So my theme is Delia. Apparently during lockdown people have been watching her very old shows on television again. She doesn't do TV any more. The picture at the top of the page is Delia then - taken from the cover of the book. She has just turned 80, so doesn't look quite as elegant these days - and is concentrating on her Online cooking school, because apparently she is very angry that people today can't cook. And that's the other thing about her recipes - not only do they give delicious results - I don't think I have ever had a failure - but she also explains why as well as how, and also when, and includes a list of what you need. She is a teacher. A slightly stiff one, in comparison to the modern breed of TV cook, but nevertheless clear and precise.
"Any idiot can be themselves; there are only about two people left alive who know how to address the world with a courteous formality, and Delia is one of them." Zoe Williams - The Guardian
"There's a reason that I – and very many others – turn to my extremely battered Complete Cookery Course when I want a fail-safe recipe for a classic dish. Delia is reliable, dependable, can make sales of omelette pans rocket overnight. There are few people who can boast that." Vicky Frost - The Guardian
So even though the only kind of food dilemma that Delia seemed to be conscious of in her books - vegetarianism - nevertheless there were several options to choose from in just this single book. I have lots more of her books and those that I do not have, have their recipes online. She's probably got a whole lot of other potential soups that I could choose from for example.
So final decision not made, but I'm well on the way. Thank you Delia.