We caught up with Felicity Cloake to find out her tips on how to throw a laid-back winter dinner party with a simple but satisfying menu from her Perfect Host cookbook. Here’s what Felicity had to say…
Christmas aside, there aren’t many upsides to winter in Britain, but one of them is that the reliably foul weather does give us an excuse to tuck into the kind of food more usually reserved for those who have spent the day off-piste. The way I see it, skiing is (in theory) fun, while going to work in sleet is not, so actually those of us stuck at home are more in need of cheering sustenance.
I’m a late convert to macaroni cheese, having been put off by the gloopy school version, but, after making six or seven different versions for the Guardian, I finally worked out what everyone was on about. As insurance against blandness, however, I usually add a few extra ingredients to the dish, just in case I fall out of love again: this particular spin on the traditional recipe is inspired by a wonderful warm leek and lardon tart that I enjoyed after a gruelling day falling over in the French Alps last year. It can be prepared right up until step 3 a day ahead: in that case, you’ll need to chill it, without the breadcrumbs, in the buttered dish, then cover it with foil and reheat in a 180°C/gas mark 4 oven for 30 minutes before uncovering, adding the breadcrumbs, and baking for about another 10 minutes until golden and bubbling.
One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learnt in recent years is that you can have too much of a good thing – in other words, don’t follow something rich and unctuous with a pudding in the same mould. You may still have the appetite for it, but afterwards you, and your guests, will be consumed with queasy self-loathing. Trust me. This classic French recipe, more often made with kirsch, is more than the sum of its parts, and much simpler, and more interesting, than a boring old fruit salad.