Attempt to correct me if you think I’m wrong but isn’t eating imitation meat cheating for vegetarians/vegans?
Like I get really mad when I see tofu that tastes ‘just like chicken!’ or whatever the ever living fuck ‘vegan cheese’ is.
Because let’s be real here, you made a choice and that choice didn’t include cheese or the taste of meat. You don’t get to have the best of both worlds, stop being a pussy and eat your bland tofuburger.
The first is behind closed doors… what you eat on a daily basis in the comfort of your own home. This is likely to be just a couple of familiar mouths to feed, you already know their likes and dislikes and can make it super personal. It’s rare that these dishes are the most extravagant, adventurous or even new… instead they are practical favourites that you know will be enjoyed. Our latest ‘Made Personal’ series has been a tribute to this style of bespoke cooking… dishes created to keep a person happy.
The second is perhaps the more social of the two, and due to its challenge, the type I enjoy most. It’s the opportunity to cook for others at an event or occasion. Having old friends, work mates or even new people to feed. Sometimes these might be larger groups, often with a variety of food preferences or dietary requirements that you may or may not be aware of. I see this as a juggling act and a challenge, but still an opportunity to impress.
Last week presented just such an opportunity… a lunch to throw together quickly on a Monday morning for 12 people. It wasn’t to be anything too over the top, but instead something people could help themselves to and eat easily without a table. Salads might not present themselves as the the pinnacle of outlandishness but with a selection on offer there would be something tasty for everyone to tuck into… served with fresh part-baked bread (a suitable cheat), sliced cured meats, cheese and homemade honey and mustard roast ham.
My top tips:
1. Base the salads around staples that enable them to be cooked in relatively large quantities, quickly and with ease. I.e. a potato salad using a bag of baby new potatoes thrown straight into a pan to boil, pasta salad was even simpler still and the bean salad was bulked out by opening and draining two tins of beans.
2. If you’re unaware of what dietary requirements your guests have it’s easier to provide for all than to ask ahead. Make sure there are vegetarian (pasta, potato and bean salad), gluten-free (potato salad, bean salad) and dairy free options (panzanella, potato salad) on the table and that they don’t all include egg and nuts.
3. Vary up the consistency of salads, the last thing you want is a choice of mayo, mayo and mayo. Most of the ones I chose were carb-heavy, yet the pasta and panzanella were vinaigrette dressing based, the potato salad was combined with mayonnaise mixed with horseradish and the bean salad was tossed in a yoghurt dressing.
4. Don’t make life unnecessarily difficult or expensive. For example, I made use of a bunch of leftovers in the fridge to create the pasta salad including half a jar of roasted red peppers, a few remaining olives and sun-blushed tomatoes and a handful of capers left from a previous dish and basil out of the growing herb pot. The only fresh ingredient I bought for the salad was mozzarella balls. The salad looked great and was scoffed down. If only they knew! ;)
5. People eat with their eyes… especially at a buffet. Make sure you serve the salads in appropriate bowls as this will instantly lift even the most basic of salad once it’s been scooped out of the messy mixing bowl, garnish with a variety of options including toasted nuts, croutons, freshly chopped herbs or crispy bacon shards.
6. Prep ahead. Get yourself a rough plan, scribble it on the back of an old envelope to get it out of your head and then stick to it. Do whatever can be done ahead… for example prep all the individual components and store then in the fridge and moments before you serve mix them all together, dress them and they all look super fresh as if you’ve just 'thrown’ them together.
Do you guys ever cook for groups of people? What are your best tips?