The Relaxed Kitchen
Did you ever have a dinner party disaster? Yes, I'm afraid so. Have you ever bitten off more than you could chew by cooking a complex main course? Well, yes. Did you ever find yourself barbecuing a large pig in your swimsuit and sarong when uninvited porn stars show up for dinner? Uh…now wait just a minute…
If any or all of these things happened to you, fear not. They've all happened to Brigit Binns, the globe-trotting expert on relaxed and elegant entertaining, and she's here to help turn disasters into delight. Brigit's not afraid to admit that she's had plenty of dinner party nightmares because she's learned from her mistakes. In The Relaxed Kitchen, she's here to share some hilarious stories of her failures, her embarrassments and, happily, her triumphs; but, most importantly, she's here to share her hard-won entertaining secrets. From a precariously balanced Napoleon dripping with deep red berry sauce - served in a pristine, just-decorated, all-white London flat - to frying an almost hallucinatory overabundance of duck breasts and potato cakes on a blisteringly hot terrace in Spain, Brigit's learned what works beautifully and what doesn't. From her years as a cookbook author, she's developed a surefire plan that insures casually elegant entertaining. The recipes? Well, they're just what you'd expect from someone in love with bold, Mediterranean flavors:
- smoky shrimp escabeche
- fried almonds with turmeric
- Tuscan style artichokes
- roasted pepper and sausage torta rustica
- butterflied leg of lamb with rosemary
- roast chicken strewn with thyme branches
- chimichurri skirt steak
- grilled lobster with smoked paprika mayo
As Brigit says at the opening of the book, "I fell in love with food before I got my first bra." Only someone like Brigit, who is passionate about cooking, whose insatiable quest to entertain often and well has led to some questionable decisions and amusing results could persevere and arrive at a fail-safe plan for entertaining with elegance and ease. So invite Brigit Binns home, and make your own kitchen a Relaxed Kitchen.
Sample recipes from The Relaxed Kitchen
This recipe came about through laziness the hillside outside my front door in Spain was covered with wild thyme. I couldnt be bothered to strip the little leaves from the stems so I started throwing handfuls of thyme branches over the chicken while it roasted.
As an homage to one of my heroes, Nigel Slater, I set out to create the sine-qua-non of potato comfort-in-a-pan. But, in order to qualify for inclusion in The Relaxed Kitchen, it had to be 80 percent hands-off, and then, once finished, capable of hanging out uncompromised until I was good and ready to serve. This heavenly dish is the result.
You may increase this recipe with impunity, and will probably want to. Generously thick-cut and mounded with crisp and garlicky breadcrumbs, one tomato slice is probably enough for one non-gluttonous person, but chances are almost everyone will want seconds of this more-ish dish. Remember that, although they can overlap slightly, the tomatoes really must bake in a single layer, so bring all your gratin, baking dishes, and shallow casseroles into play.
Season the steaks the night before (you are essentially dry-brining them). Pull the parsley and oregano leaves from the stems and make the chimichurri sauce (without the vinegar) 4 to 6 hours before serving.
To save time, you can make the olive salad the night before. Or, you could substitute a well-made store-bought tapenade for the base of the olive salad, but be sure to add the fresh herbs, garlic, roasted pepper, and lemon juice to brighten it up. Assemble the muffuletta from 1 to 6 hours (better) before cutting and serving.
I am indebted to the hugely talented dessert-meister of the Palm, Jeff Bleaken, for the original recipe on which this variation is based. You will probably have to invest in a new pan the first time you make it, since so few people actually have a 10-inch spring-form pan lurking about the kitchen, but once you have the pan you can place the cheesecake firmly in your repertoire of formidable desserts (it travels well, in the pan, too). Note dont be tempted to make it in a 9-inch pan itll be too thick to cook efficiently.
If necessary, thaw the corn kernels. Cook the corn, chop the shallot, and snip the chives. Open the bean can rinse and drain the beans. Rinse and spin dry the frisee.
Ideally, thaw the phyllo dough in the refrigerator for 24 hours, to prevent it from sticking together. You can refrigerate the assembled package overnight, covered with plastic wrap transfer directly to the hot oven. You will not use the whole box of phyllo, so be prepared to re-wrap it securely, air-tight if you do, it will keep for up to one month in the refrigerator.
Thaw the puff pastry for at least 2 and up to 4 hours at room temperature. For this recipe, you will not be rolling the pastry out any further, so all you have to do is remove it from the package and unfold.
These are rather decadent and filling little bites that nevertheless can lay claim to a certain rusticity. Beans will do that. If lobster is unavailable or too expensive, feel free to substitute cooked crayfish or crab.
I created this salad for Christmas dinner at our friends Jareds lovely Victorian home in Athens, New York. We were still doe-eyed from our most recent Chianti experience, and missing sheeps milk cheese and truffles. This seemed a perfect way to provide both. The unexpected presence of the melty cheese, hiding shyly underneath the tender greens, and the perfume it imparts to them, are a blissful revelation.
There is no more elemental dish in this book. The soft-boiled eggs are most easily pulled apart with your fingers, which will be salty and oily from handling the thick slices of pancetta. From barn to vegetable garden to chicken coop, this salad brings all the best pastoral ingredients onto your plate with simple honesty. Use the best eggs you can lay your hands on, and serve outdoors in the sunshine, if possible.
I like the tartness of mascarpone against the sweetness of ripe fruit, but taste the mascarpone and, if desired, whisk in a little sweetness in the form of raw sugar, honey, or maple syrup (the macaroons will also add a lovely sweet crunch).
Good supermarkets and virtually all respectable specialty food shops offer a plethora of olivesloose and in glass jars or plastic tubsthat can run the gamut from brine-cured to oil-cured, from luminous green to dull green and from deep black to a rather unnatural red. Assembling your own personal best olive bar will involve research and experimentation. Think of it in the same terms you do when designing a cheese platter offer a range of textures, shades, and flavors along with accompaniments, like bread and good olive oil spiked with a few drops of your best balsamic vinegar for dipping, or sun-dried tomatoes and peppers, that compliment the true stars of the bar, the olives.
My lifelong friend Ronda is the Queen of the Cold Platter, the Maven of Mixology, the raven-haired Empress of Effortlessif rather expensive--Entertaining. When time is short, which I gather it tends to be with two diminutive little darlings dashing about, her strategy is to forget making it herself, just Buy Buy Buy!
Other cookbooks by the authors