Styling Your Home: Cooking For A Crowd Without Becoming Stressed
When Dee Campling and I came up with the idea of presenting Styling Your Home workshops back in October 2016, we decided to go at it with the big guns. No halfway measures for us, our plans involved a full day of interior chat and styling tips, starting at 10.00 am and finishing at 4.00 pm. Hardcore. The idea was to hold these workshops in our own homes and after discussion, we decided that we’d nothing to lose by launching ourselves on the general Instagram public. We had no idea whether or not anyone would book on, or, indeed find anything that we had to say interesting. We decided that there was a fifty fifty chance that either of these things would happen so we took the bull by the horns and announced our first workshop, here at my home in York, via our Instagram feeds with the first date set for 27 January 2017.
We posted the date and waited. Within five minutes, we had our first booking. Within half an hour, we had six. By the following day, we had filled all the spaces we had set and decided that I could DEFINITELY fit more people into my dining room so we upped the numbers by five. Within a week, we had a full house. Literally. A business created overnight and two inexperienced women with a cushion fetish, a propensity to talk too much and a passion for interiors. To say we were winging it was an understatement.
With twenty people booked on, we started to realise that just talking about what we were going to do wasn't enough. We needed to plan, and plan well. It was completely logical, therefore, to leave it until five days prior to the workshop commencing to put our thoughts down on paper and then two days before the workshop to get together to form the Powerpoint slides. Dee lives in Cheltenham and I in York and as a result, it’s a rare occasion that we see each other. So when we do, we like to have a little celebration catch up, which on this particular occasion involved three bottles of red wine. This was a shockingly rookie error, culminating in us doing a four hour run through the day before barely able to speak properly. An early night, Alka Seltzer X and many cups of tea pushed us through and we felt well and truly (sort of) ready to face our twenty attendees on the big day.
Our workshop was focused on styling your home in the way that YOU wanted to, not being influenced by friends or trends and making your home reflect your personality. We were super passionate about this and as a result, there was lots that we wanted to talk about, pushing the length of the day into War & Peace territory. Which meant, obviously, that we needed to provide lunch. Not just lunch, but also refreshments, cakes, biscuits and the obligatory end of the day fizz. I immediately cast aside Dee’s M&S sandwich platter suggestion. People were coming from far and wide (there was even an Irish contingent) and we wanted our day to be as good as possible, to be memorable not just for Dee and I’s inability to shut up about all things styling, but also as an occasion in which they were able to socialise and network with new friends. In a nutshell, the food needed to be as stylish as the conversation.
So what to cook? We knew that it needed to be a menu that could be prepared completely in advance and was also easy to eat on your feet. I raided my vast cookery book collection and came up with some old favourites that required no on the spot prep, recipes that could be covered in cling film and forgotten about until needed. Most of all, recipes that were EASY. Dee was in the running for the Least Likely To Ever Go On Masterchef Award and I knew that I had to take charge Greg Wallace fashion. With more hair, obvs.
There are many benefits to being able to rustle up a buffet style meal for twenty people without pushing your stress levels to the extreme. Firstly, presenting lots of people with beautiful food is great for your self confidence. Secondly, preparing food in advance means that you have more time to chat. And finally and most importantly, it makes you look super impressive, like the UK’s answer to Martha Stewart. So what did Dee and I cook? In the interests of those of you are inclined towards mass catering events, I’ve listed below our menu.
Chicken & Rice Salad
This is one of my all time, super easy favourites which I’ve totally bastardised from my next husband, Nigel Slater. Nigel advocates cooking your own rice and lentils. Personally, I’m a huge fan of the microwave alternatives as I have a terrible history when it comes to cooking rice and have destroyed many pans in my quest to get it right, so I’ve put quantities for both. Nigel’s original recipe was for three so I’ve multiplied it by four to make enough for a crowd. You can make it as spicy as you like and I’d recommending marinating the chicken for as long as possible for maximum taste. This can easily be adapted for a vegan lunch.
YOU WILL NEED: 800g basmati rice (or 4 x Tilda Rice or equivalent microwave sachets); 2 x 400g tins of cooked lentils (or equivalent in dried or microwave sachets); 6 x small red chillis, seeded and chopped (or use chilli flakes to taste); a handful of chopped fresh mint; 6 x tbsp Nam Pla (Thai fish sauce); 6 x tbsp lime juice; 6 x tbsp olive oil; handful of chopped walnuts, 1 kg cooked chicken (mix of breast and thigh); packet of feta cheese (optional).
METHOD: Rinse the lentils and add to the cooked rice, mixing together well. Make the dressing by adding the chopped chilli’s to the fish sauce, lime juice, olive oil and chopped mint. Whisk well. Shred the chicken and add to the dressing, making sure it’s all coated well. Leave for at least twenty minutes. Add the chicken mixture to the lentils and rice together with the chopped walnuts and feta if you are using. Season to taste, add some mint leaves to make it look lovely and voila. You’re done.
Baby Spinach Salad With Dates & Almonds
I’ve listed this recipe before in one of my blogs but I cannot praise it enough. It can be prepared well in advance, requires literally no skill whatsoever but looks and tastes bloody delish. It’s from Yotam Ottlenghi’s book, Jerusalem (my most used book ever) and pairs brilliantly with the chicken and rice dish above. Serve it the biggest bowl you can find for maximum impressiveness (is that a word?).
YOU WILL NEED: 3 x tbsp white wine vinegar; 2 x red onions, sliced; 20 pitted Medjool dates, quartered (you can buy these dried too if you can’t get fresh ones); 60g unsalted butter; 4 x tbsp olive oil; 6 x small pittas, roughly torn into small pieces; 225g whole almonds, roughly chopped; 6 x tsp sumac (available in the herbs and spices section of the supermarket); 2 x tsp dried chilli flakes; 3 x small bags of prewashed baby spinach leaves; 6 tbsp lemon juice.
METHOD: Put the sliced onions, quartered dates and vinegar in a bowl with a pinch of salt and mix together. Leave to marinate for at least 20 minutes - the onion will turn a lovely shade of pink. Drain the vinegar away and set the mixture aside. Heat the butter and half the olive oil in a large pan and fry the pitta and almonds on a medium heat until they are lightly browned. Be careful you don’t burn them - I’ve taken my eye off and made this mistake many a time. Remove from heat and add the sumac, chilli and a teaspoon of salt, tossing until it’s all well coated. When you’re ready to serve, toss the spinach leaves with the pita mix in a large bowl, adding the dates and onions, olive oil and lemon juice. Season. Serve. That’s it.
Roasted Sweet Potatoes & Fresh Figs
Another Ottolenghi but SUCH a good one. My main objective when planning a meal for many (something I do quite a bit) is for it to be as easy as possible, thus allowing me plenty of time for other things. Such as talking and drinking cocktails. I serve this on a large platter - you can buy huge slate tiles from Topps Tiles that are perfect for this purpose - spread out like a piece of edible art. Ha.
YOU WILL NEED: 16 x sweet potatoes (each cut lengthways into six); 2 x bunches of spring onions (sliced on the diagonal into 4cm segments); 3 x red chilli (thinly sliced as circles); 12 x ripe figs (quartered); 300g of goats cheese; bottle of balsamic glaze (available in supermarkets), olive oil.
METHOD: Mix the sweet potatoes in a large bowl with six tablespoons of olive oil and season well. Spread them on a baking sheet and cook for about 25 minutes at 220 degrees until soft but not mushy. Remove and leave to cool. Arrange on a serving platter. Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a saucepan and fry the spring onions and chilli on a medium heat for about four minutes - don’t overcook the chilli. Spoon the spring onions, chilli and oil over the sweet potatoes. Dot the figs among the wedges. Drizzle over balsamic glaze. Finish off with crumbled goats cheese. Serve at room temperature, sit back and wait for everyone to say how creative you are.
I showed this recipe on my stories a few months ago and got millions of messages saying that people didn’t realise that making hummus was so easy. Yes, I know it’s easy to pick it up in a plastic pot from the supermarket but I can tell you that this tastes WAY better and you also get about six times the quantity of the preprepared variety at a fraction of the price. You’ll never buy it again after you’ve made this. Unless, like me, you are always missing one vital ingredient from your store cupboard and end up buying the plastic pot in Tesco Express. Give it a go.
YOU WILL NEED: 3 x 400g of chickpeas (drained); 3 x tbsp Tahini (sesame seed paste, available in all supermarkets); good glug of lemon juice, 2 x tbsp cumin, 1 x tbsp paprika; 6 x garlic clove (chopped as small you can); handful of pine nuts; 6 x tbsp olive oil; water.
METHOD: Blitz everything but the paprika and pine nuts in a food processor. Literally, that’s all you need to do. Add water until you get the right consistency. Put in a nice rustic looking bowl, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle the paprika and dot with pine nuts. Easy as.
Lemon Drizzle Cake
All you need for this one is a loaf tin and some of those paper liners and you’re away. This is a Tana Ramsey recipe which I’ve used for years - ridiculously simple and extremely delicious. We served this with a large bowl of strawberries and some vanilla marscarpone cream which I’ll list beneath. You’ll need to make two cakes - quantities here are for one. I’ve rarely met anyone who doesn’t like a lemon drizzle cake and strawberries.
YOU WILL NEED: 225g butter; 225g caster sugar; 225g self raising flour; 4 x eggs; zest of one lemon; For drizzle topping - juice of 2 x lemons, 85g caster sugar.
METHOD: Set oven to 180 degrees. Beat together butter and sugar, add eggs one at a time. Sift in the flour and add the lemon zest, mix well and transfer to a lined loaf tin. Bake for 45 mins until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Add lemon juice to caster sugar and heat until melted. Make holes in the top of the cake whilst still in the tin and pour syrup over the top. Leave to cool.
Vanilla Marscarpone Cream
YOU WILL NEED: 450g of marscarpone cheese; 80g icing sugar; 580ml whipping cream; 4 x tsp vanilla extract.
METHOD: Whisk cheese, icing sugar and vanilla together in one bowl. Whip the cream in another. Mix together well. This quantity will serve 20.
Fresh Bread & Cheeseboard
Alongside the above, we served fresh sourdough and rye bread with a full cheeseboard. Taking the cheese out of the packaging and styling it beautifully on a slate platter is the most difficult part of preparing this bit. And EVERYONE goes back for cheese afterwards. Unless they’re vegan, of course. Pop on a vegan cheese to cover all options.
So that was our menu and it worked BRILLIANTLY. Over the course of a year, Dee and I presented over twenty workshops, some at our homes and some at Instagram famous homes and most of these were full day events which involved this menu. We’d prepare most of it prior to arriving at the location and by the time we got to our final workshop, we could have rustled it up with our eyes closed. Almost. We really enjoyed presenting these workshops and it was always so brilliant to see the lovely people who attended relaxing, chatting and making friends over a spinach salad prepared with our own fair hands.
So if you’re stuck for ideas the next time that you have a large family gathering or social occasion, give this menu a go - it’s super easy and looks really impressive. If Dee and I can do it, you can too!