But tonight I'm putting that right by having a supper party for friends, in part to show off the new(ish) extension to the house and "Bechy", my beautiful 1913 Bechstein model A grand piano. (Bechy got a special polish ahead of the event.) I selected a menu which could be made well in advance to give me time to socialise: two of the couples who are coming tonight I haven't seen socially for a year, not since we were in the throes of building work and our sitting room resembled a dusty camp site.
I don't often prepare a sit-down starter: I find it's nicer to have a glass of fizz and enjoy simple tapas like Serrano ham, salami, olives and Manchego cheese with membrillo paste. The main course is a rather retro dish which I discovered via Yotam Ottolenghi: it's not one of his recipes, but if he liked it, I knew it would be good. Chicken Marbella or roast chicken with dates, olives and capers comes from The Silver Palate cookbook, the recipe book of the New York deli The Silver Palate, which was founded 35 years ago on Manhattan's Upper East Side by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins, two women who, like me, had a passion for good simple food. It was the first deli to offer quality take away food. In the 1980s a recipe book was published, containing many of the most popular dishes from the deli. The book has become a classic, and The Silver Palate brand has gone on to be highly successful.
The dish is clearly eastern Mediterranean in inspiration. Back in the day, I suspect it was probably considered quite daring and unusual with it combination of meat with dates, olives and capers. It's worth taking the time to marinade the chicken for as long as possible, to allow the flavours to develop and deepen. Then, when you're ready to cook, all you need do is turn the chicken pieces and the marinade into a roasting dish. I'll be serving this with a feta and spinach salad (from Moro: the Coookbook) and boiled new potatoes with butter and garlic shoots.
Pudding is blood orange posset, a dessert I'd forgotten about until I had lemon posset at Brunswick House, the rather wonderful Georgian mansion owned by the London Architectural Salvage Supply Co, at which the South London Concert Series recently hosted a concert. Brunswick House is an amazing treasure trove of antiques and salvaged curiosities, slap bang in the middle of a brand new luxury housing development close to London's Vauxhall Station.
|Beautiful blood oranges|
Posset is not a retro dish, but rather a "historic" dish. In Medieval times, a posset was a warming drink, rather like a bedtime cup of cocoa. Lady Macbeth poisoned Duncan's guards with a "drugg'd posset". Originally, a posset was made from cream curdled with lemon juice or alcohol. By the sixteenth century, egg yolks, ground almonds or crushed biscuits were used to thicken the cream mixture. Posset got rather overlooked when more fancy puddings like Syllabub and Egg Nogg appeared on the culinary scene. But Posset is back - and it doesn't have to be made with lemons. Blood oranges make for a delicately pinky-orange tinged dessert. The chemical process of combining cream with lemon juice and sugar and then boiling the mixtures gently for a short period of time is what gives posset is creamy, silky texture. When made well it should be set, but not solid. It should certainly not be slurpy. Serve it in pretty glasses with a homemade shortbread or amaretti biscuits, or langues de chat for extra elan.