Cooking for crowds

My cookbook collection grows. When we moved into this flat four years ago, I brought with me a desert island stash. The bare minimum of books I needed for comfort and sustenance. Yes, you can look up the quantities for anything you want on the web, and this blog serves as my own aide memoire. But curling up with a cookbook is different. And then of course I bought a few, and then a few more, and there were so many finds at charity shops and book fairs, and that pesky free super-saver delivery. And they pile up. Literally. They are all over the house. And that’s all right. Right?

I used to justify a cookbook if I used three recipes. Then I whittled it down to one. Now I’m fine if I find a sensible tip, and fine, too, if I just enjoy reading it.  The right kind of cookbook gives you a window into other lives, like any other good book. I like the kind of books that make me feel as if I’ve been taken to somebody’s house, allowed to roam the kitchen, open the cupboards, rummage in the drawers, see the photos on the fridge, lift the lid on what’s cooking. And this I like to gather from the text, not from the photos. Most of my favourite cookbooks have no pictures, maybe a few elegant black and white illustrations. 
Right now, in order to qualify for staying on my bookshelves, I mostly have to like the author, and everything follows from there, because a likeable author will make me like the food in the book, and nudge me into trying something new, or making something old again.

Recently I was given a copy of Cooking for crowds, by Merry White, the 40th anniversary edition of the 70’s original. And it ticks all the boxes. The recipes look great, but mostly the author sounds like somebody I’d love to have dinner with. There are no photos, which is more than fine, as it has lots of sweet black and white drawings by Edward Koren.

As with all cookbooks, there is more than a touch of the aspirational. In this case, be the sort of (supercool) person who has 50 guests and is ready to cook for them. Wouldn’t you love to be that person? Not only do you have fifty people around, but you are unflappable enough to serve them big, generous bowls of homstyle, yet sophisticated fare. And if you burn the borscht? Call it Smoked Borscht.

It’s a wonderful book for building confidence. Cooking for crowds, White insists, is not more difficult, just more time consuming, so there’s no excuse. Even better, if you do not have to, or want, to cook for fifty, the recipes come with different quantities. For 5o, for 25, for 12, for 6. See how easy 6 sounds? Anyone intimidated by cooking for 6 will have to admit it’s not that big a deal, compared with lugging sacks of potatoes that will feed 50.


A sandwich

You know how sometimes you have to call a friend, and you keep putting it off, for good reasons, then bad reasons, then no reasons other than the thing is spiralling out of control, and you end up resenting this person you’re not calling? So it was with lobstersquad. I was looking for something I really wanted to blog about, and not really finding it, but then, reading the Wednesday Chef, I was led to a flummoxing article.
And then I thought, you know what, I might as well write something after all.

That post, which you can read here if you like, is about someone who has decided not to cook because she forgot to put salt in some galette she was making. The galette came out fine, but it was not the galette to end all galettes, and she had failed to make all her friends wither away in envy of her Instagram feed, and so she’s going to live on olives and prosciutto for ever and ever amen.

I can’t even begin on how crazy I find that. Instead, I will tell you about the lunch I made on Saturday. I, too, had decided not to cook, but just for that morning. But because I am the boy scout of fridge maintenance, and have become, now that I live in the North Pole, an avocado curator, I knew that a world class sandwich was within reach.

First I had to go to the shop and buy some fresh bread. Not mindblowing artisanal bread, of course. Supermarket mini ciabattas, of the sort that look a bit rubbery but come to life with a couple of minutes under the grill.

That, filled with thinly sliced leftover steak, wedges of avocado, pickled cucumber, a squirt of lemon and a dash of hot sauce, was all. A bag of salad was emptied onto a bowl, and dressed with the last of a bottle of vinaigrette I make in batches.

It was very quick, it was beautiful, and it made perfect sense, and if it wasn’t cooking, it wasn’t turning my back on it, either.

So there you are.