It is only in the last few years I have started to really enjoy people coming to stay with us in our home. Before then i felt it was an ordeal to endure, feeling the need to be endlessly tidy and the perfect hostess.
I would be cleaning out barely used cupboards on the off-chance they would be opened and dust and dirt were found. I could think of no worse crime then my guests to think i was dirty and my home unclean, which was at complete odds with the finished, polished insouciant hostess i presented to them as they came through the front door. You can only pretend to yourself for so long.
Particularly when you are married to an antipodean whose family naturally want to come visit for extended periods and spend time with you. It’s accurate to say I struggled somewhat initially, with sharing my space but as time has marched on and I’ve grown into myself more and more I found peace with what home entertaining actually means, or rather should mean.
When it came to preparing meals I went out of my way to serve a la carte worthy dishes, which whilst lovely in the right setting are out-of-place in a home environment. They are too tiring, too expensive and usually too rich to eat every night. When people come to your home i believe they want to experience life as you know it, with the odd treat thrown in.
After years of getting it wrong and trying too hard i now find the best way to cook for guests staying or otherwise is to offer the finest local seasonal produce i can afford in a simple way so that the food speaks for itself. Fresh, uncomplicated and full flavoured. I am also not loyal to any big supermarket chain for our food supply either. From Waitrose to Asda & Morrisons they all have their place and bargains to be had and should be taken advantage of. It’s actually quite laughable how if i don’t shop in Waitrose, Sainsburys or Tesco’s for a while they start sending me through money off vouchers. Clearly it pays to shop about.
Like all home cooks I have a few fall back signature dishes i like to rely on. Most of these dishes were originally Celebrity Chef inspired but have evolved to be cooked at home by me, an amateur cook, in my normal kitchen in minutes and won’t play havoc with your waistline. That is what real food is.
I watch the food programmes we seem to be bombarded with at the moment and find them weirdly hypnotic. Never has cooking been so prolific or so specialised. Every Celebrity Chef seems to have the answers to our cooking woes or deficiencies when the reality is there is a niche that has really yet to be seized upon. Delia almost had it and Jamie Oliver often hits the mark for me with his no-nonsense pukka approach but even he can stray from the realistic time & ability parameters the normal wife & mother have at their daily disposal.
One of my favourite dishes I make which is perfect for a Summer’s (ok, mildish) evening is my:
Creamy Smoked Salmon Pasta – it takes 10 minutes max !
What you need;
Fresh Pasta – any shape. I like penne or the twisted variety so it takes on the sauce easier
Pack of Smoked Salmon
Pot of Creme Fraiche
A Lemon & black pepper
1) Cook the pasta
2) Chop the garlic and cook slightly in a pan with a tiny bit of oil. Chop the mushrooms and add to the garlic.
3) Put the garlic mushrooms into your serving dish.
4) Drain the cooked pasta and return back to the pan. Keeping the hobb turned off put the pan back on it.
5) Stir in the garlic mushrooms.
6) Stir in the creme friache.
7) Add the smoked salmon either by breaking into small pieces by hand or by cutting with scissors. Mix it all up.
8) Stir in the spinach a little at a time. The heat from the pasta will start to make it wilt.
9) Cut the dill and sprinkle on top
10) Add cracked black pepper, Squeeze half a lemon on top and turn out onto your serving dish and serve with the other half of lemon chopped.
I have deliberately not given measurements or amounts. I find them unhelpful when making a recipe that is just thrown together like this. You’re eating it so cook however many mushrooms you want & how you like to eat them and add as much spinach as you can stomach as a contributor to your five-a-day. If you don’t like pepper, don’t add it. If you want more or less garlic go for it. I say never be afraid to cook the way you like your food, whether guests are staying or not.
Wherever possible I think it always best in lieu of homemade to use fresh shop bought over tinned, canned or dried. All supermarkets offer a range of fresh pasta and i implore you to try it if you don’t already use it. It tastes far superior to dried in my humble opinion. If you are feeling particularly flushed for time have a crack at making your own. It’s in a different league. I’ll do a separate post for homemade pasta to show you how i do mine soon.
This dish is easy, relaxed and thrown together. It should epitomise how you should be when your guests come to stay and will have them asking for seconds.
I am now a seasoned professional at sharing my space with visiting guests and enjoy being with them and featuring in their travels. If there is one thing i have learnt by having another’s family come to stay, or friends is that we are all so very different, and we all live so very differently. We can learn a lot from each other but none more so then realising we are who we are and should be proud of who we are dirty cupboards and all, when going or coming to stay.