One of the most important lessons we’ve learnt from Skye McAlpine is that food simply tastes better when it’s eaten with friends and family. Her relaxed and delicious approach to cooking has given us so much more confidence in the kitchen, so she was our first port of call when we needed a festive-meal road map that would allow us to eat great food and actually enjoy the day, too. Here’s a plan that we’ve handpicked from her new book, A Table for Friends: The Art of Cooking for Two or Twenty (which is a must-buy for anyone still on your list). It’s filled with the kind of simple dishes that make entertaining (genuinely) effortless.
Extract taken from A Table for Friends: The Art of Cooking for Two or Twenty, by Skye McAlpine (£26, Bloomsbury). Photography © Skye McAlpine
BURRATA WITH POMEGRANATE
This is the kind of easy dish that makes even those of us who don’t call ourselves cooks feel cool and confident in the kitchen. I often start with burrata, regardless of the season. There are so many variations on this theme, but frankly, even burrata on its own is sublime.
Arrange 4-6 burrata on a plate (I usually allow 1 per person), then tear open to reveal the creamy centre of the cheese. Drizzle over a little olive oil, sprinkle a few salt flakes and scatter over a handful of pomegranate seeds. Serve immediately.
APHRODITE’S ROAST CHICKEN
This recipe comes from my mother’s friend, Aphrodite, and is truly food of the Gods. Its charm lies in its delicious simplicity.
Heat the oven to 200 ̊C/fan 180 ̊C/Gas 6. Finely slice potatoes into rounds (3-5mm) and layer in a large roasting dish (any will do), overlapping them. Drizzle with olive oil and season. Nestle the chicken over the potatoes. Then prick the lemon with a fork and stuff it into the cavity with half the rosemary. Drizzle with oil again, and rub it into the skin with a dash of salt. Scatter lightly crushed garlic cloves (unpeeled) over the potatoes, along with the remaining rosemary. Cook for 60-70 minutes.
WILD RICE & LENTIL SALAD
Loosely adapted from Charlotte Wood’s brilliant book, Love and Hunger, this light, nutty recipe works equally well as a centrepiece or a side dish.
Cook wild rice to the point of being chewy – some grains may burst open like exotic flowers in bloom. Drain and tip into a large bowl, seasoning generously with olive oil and salt while warm. At the same time, cook the lentils and then add to the rice. Fluff together and season with olive oil. Lastly, fry onions over medium heat until crisp and dark. Combine the onion and pomegranate in a serving dish with the grains and pulses. Before serving, tear in the mint leaves, toss, and check for seasoning.
SET THE TABLE
More is more: if there is ever a time for fabulous excess, it’s Christmas! Arrange fruit, nuts, chocolates, sweets, mince pies and other edible delights in small bowls and dishes, of all different shapes and sizes, down the table. I like to put my Christmas cake, towering high on a stand, in pride of place at the centre of the table too. I always decorate each place setting with a cracker, which I customise with big velvet bows. Small touches also create a sense of occasion: handwritten menu and name cards are a beautiful touch. And be playful with the colour scheme! Touches of glimmering silver and gold always make everything feel Christmassy.
While I have often said, and truly believe, that cooking doesn’t have to be hard work – it’s more important to have friends over and spend time with them, even if you end up getting a takeaway but you’ve laid the table beautifully – a great way to start a relaxed and enjoyable meal is a delicious drink of the grown-up variety.
For this cocktail, mix one part pomegranate juice with two parts chilled prosecco, then add a few pomegranate seeds for extra sparkle.
FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE, CHESTNUT & ROSEMARY CAKE
Chocolate cake is often dry and rather disappointing to eat. This chicly dusted cake is the ideal balance of velvety chestnut and rich, fudgey chocolate.
Heat the oven to 180 ̊C/fan 160 ̊C/Gas 4. Whisk 400g of chestnut purée with 100g icing sugar until smooth. Pour into a large mixing bowl. Separate the eggs and lightly beat the yolks, then add to the purée. Add ground almonds, cocoa and roughly chopped rosemary leaves, mixing well. In a second bowl, whisk egg whites until stiff, then fold into the mix. Pour into a buttered 20cm cake tin (lined with parchment) and sprinkle on rosemary sprigs. Bake for 40-45 minutes. Dust with icing sugar before serving.
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