Stress Free Entertaining

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I have just started to write a book on Entertaining, there will be lots of easy stress free menus to encourage everyone to invite around the pals on a more regular basis.

Don’t get excited yet, it will be at least a year before it hits the shops. 
Meanwhile I am having fun testing recipes for one-pot dishes which may or may not make it to the book, but are yummy, delicious, and just the sort of comforting food one feels like tucking into on an evening in February.
By a long way the most stressful way to entertain is the formal dinner party, particularly if you get involved in cooking meat and two veg and lots of bits which need alteration at the last minute.
Thought not suitable for every occasion, a repertoire of stews, casseroles and pies are invaluable for stress free entertaining. They also have the advantage of being pretty substantial so you may dare to skip the first course and just pass around a few simple tapas with drinks. Next week I will give recipes for some of our favourites but in this article I am concentrating on main courses.

Some can be made ahead, others like risotto can be made casually in the kitchen
while your friends are sipping a glass of wine enjoying the free cooking lesson. Keep it casual, if you can feel cool and unflurried your guests will be equally relaxed and everyone will leave a fun time. A flustered host or hostess ensures that everyone is on edge and after all its only a dinner party so chill!

Beef & Chorizo Stew

Serves 6-8

1 tablesp. extra virgin olive oil
200g (7oz) chorizo sausage, sliced (2 sausages approx.)
1kg (2lb) stewing beef, organic if possible, cut into 3 cm (1¼ inch) cubes
2 large onions, sliced
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablesp.flour
2 tablesp. tomato puree
½ teasp. paprika
1 teasp. thyme leaves
4 tablesp. dry sherry
250ml (8 fl.oz/1 cup) red wine
250ml (8 fl.oz/1 cup) beef, chicken or vegetable stock
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a heavy casserole over medium heat. Add the sliced chorizo and cook until the oil begins to run, about 2-3 minutes. Remove the chorizo and set aside in a bowl. Increase the heat, add the beef to the pot and fry off in batches until sealed and well browned . If the pan is over-crowded the meat will stew rather than brown. Remove the beef from the pot and put in the bowl with the chorizo. 
Add the onion to the pot (adding extra oil if required), and cook, stirring until golden and just starting to brown at the edges. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two 
Stir in the flour and cook for another minute. Add the tomato puree, paprika and thyme and cook for a few seconds. Then return the chorizo and beef to the pot. Stir everything well, then add the sherry and wine, bring to simmering point, then add the hot stock or water. Cover and simmer gently until the meat is tender, about 1½ hours. We prefer to cook it in a pre-heated oven, 160c/325F/gas 3. Season cautiously, but taste first because if the sausage is salty you many not need any additional salt, just some freshly ground pepper. Serve scattered with roughly chopped parsley. Scallion Champ or Colcannon make a yummy accompaniment.

Chicken in Basil and Coconut Broth

Serves 4 -6

175g (6oz) flat rice noodles
400ml (14 fl.ozs) tin of coconut milk – Chaokah brand
500ml (16fl.ozs/2 cups) home-made chicken stock
1 heaped tablesp. grated fresh ginger
1 fresh red chilli, finely sliced
1 teasp. freshly ground coriander
1 -2 tablesp. fish sauce, nam pla
4 organic chicken breasts, boned and skinned

1 handful of fresh basil leaves.

Fresh coriander leaves

Bring a saucepan of water to a fast rolling boil, add the noodles, stir well to keep separate. Boil for 3-5 minutes, depending on size, they should be tender but still firm. Drain and rinse immediately under cold water. Cut the noodles into ¾ inch (2cm) lengths. Leave in the colander until you are ready to serve the soup.
Put the coconut milk, stock, ginger, chilli, coriander and fish sauce into a saucepan over a medium heat. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat just to keep it barely bubbling.
Cut the chicken breasts across into 2mm (one-eighth inch) slices. Add the sliced chicken to the broth and cook very gently until it changes colour and is just cooked through, 4-5 minutes approx. Adjust the seasoning, add a little extra fish sauce if necessary. Throw in the basil and leave to stand for 5 minutes while you reheat the noodles.
Bring a kettle of water to the boil and pour the boiling water over the noodles in the colander. Drain the noodles well.
Warm 4-6 wide deep bowls, divide the noodles between them. Top with chicken and ladle over the hot coconut broth. Serve at once scattered with fresh coriander. Eat with chopsticks and Chinese soup spoons, otherwise use a fork and spoon.

Italian braised Lamb and Tomato Stew

Serves 6
A gutsy stew made with inexpensive and delicious shoulder of lamb, flavoured with sage, rosemary and bay leaves.


extra virgin olive oil – 2-3 tablesp.
3lbs (1.3kg) shoulder of lamb chops, 1½ inches (4cm) thick
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teasp. each finely chopped sage and rosemary
4 fl.ozs (125ml) dry white wine
1 x 14oz (400g) tin tomatoes
salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar
2 bay leaves 


Cut the lamb into manageable pieces. Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan, brown the pieces of lamb a few at a time. Don’t overcrowd the pan or it will stew rather than brown. Transfer to a plate. Add the garlic and freshly chopped herbs to the sauté pan. Stir, add the wine and allow to bubble for a few minutes to burn off the alcohol. Chop the tomatoes and add with their juice. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar.
Finally return the lamb to the pan with the bay leaves. Bring to simmering point and then continue to cook at a slow simmer or transfer to a heated oven 150C/300F/gas 2 for 1-1¼ hours, or until the meat is meltingly tender. Cover the sauté pan but leave the lid slightly ajar to allow the liquid to slightly evaporate and concentrate. Stir every 15 or 20 minutes and if the sauce evaporates too much just add a little water.
Taste and correct seasong. Serve with soft mashed potato. 
In Italy this is served alone or followed by a green salad.

Lamb and Medjool Date Tagine, Herbed Couscous

by Merrilees Parker
Serves 6-8

2 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp each ground coriander and turmeric
2 tsp each ground cinnamon and cumin
2 tsp coarse ground black pepper
1.5kg/3lb 5oz lamb shoulder, well trimmed and cut into 4cm/11/2in chunks
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2.5cm/1in piece peeled root ginger, chopped
3 onions, roughly chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
600ml/1 pint tomato juice
600ml/1 pint lamb or chicken stock
2 tbsp clear honey
225g/8oz Medjool dates, cut in half and stones removed
For the Couscous
350g/12oz medium couscous 
juice of 2 lemons 
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
600ml/1 pint chicken stock
4 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley and mint
Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Greek style yoghurt and fresh coriander leaves, to garnish

Mix together the paprika, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, cumin and pepper in a large bowl, then tip half into a small bowl and set aside. Add the lamb to the large bowl and coat in the spices. Cover with clingfilm and chill overnight.

Preheat the oven to 325F/170C/Gas 3. Place the garlic, ginger and onions into a food processor and pulse until finely minced. Heat a large heavy-based casserole. Add half of the oil and brown off the marinated lamb in batches. Add the remaining oil to the pan and then add the onion mixture cook for a few minutes until softened but not coloured. Stir in the reserved spice mixture and cook for another minute or so until well combined.

Pour the tomato juice and stock into the pan and then add the honey, stirring to combine. Bring to the boil, cover and transfer to the oven. Cook for 1 hour, then stir in the dates and cook for another hour until the lamb is completely tender and and sauce has thickened and reduced. Season to taste.

To make the couscous; place it in a large bowl and add four tablespoons of the oil and the lemon juice. Mix well ensuring that all the grains are completely coated. Heat the stock in a small pan and season generously. Pour over the couscous and allow to sit in a warm place for 6-8 minutes until all the liquid has absorbed, stirring occasionally. To serve, stir in the remaining oil and the herbs into the couscous and arrange on plates with the tagine. Finally garnish with a dollop of the Greek yoghurt and coriander leaves. 

Andalusian Shellfish Stew

Serves 6

Extra virgin olive oil – about 6 tablespoons
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 onions, chopped
1 large red pepper
1 large green pepper
salt and freshly ground pepper
½ teasp. saffron
waxy potatoes
4 ozs (110g) Serrano ham, diced*
2 pints approx. (1.2L) fish stock
1 can butter beans (14oz/400g)
4 lb (1.8kg) cockles or mussels, or a mixture

Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a wide sauté pan, add the chopped onion and garlic and sweat until soft and slightly coloured, add the sliced peppers. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Put the saffron into a cup, cover with a little fish stock. Add the diced potato, butter and the Serrano ham to the pan.
Cover with fish stock, add the saffron and the soaking liquid. Taste and correct the seasoning. Continue to cook until the potatoes are cooked. This stew can be prepared ahead to this point.*
Just before serving return to the heat, add the well washed cockles or mussels. They will open in the heat. Taste and correct the seasoning. Serve in deep soup bowls.

Banana and Yoghurt Smoothie

For a speedy breakfast or an energy boost any time of the day.
Serves 1-2

8 flozs (250ml/1 cup) natural yoghurt
1 ripe banana
1 teaspoon honey (optional)
8 ice-cubes

Peel the banana, chop coarsely, blend with other ingredients in a liquidizer until smooth.
Pour into glasses and serve immediately.


Hot Tip

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Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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