Feeding a crowd this season? If you are at all nervous about it, seek out a copy of Margot Henderson’s joyous book You’re All Invited. As a caterer and chef (Margot is also married to Fergus Henderson of St John, one of London’s most iconic restaurants) she is in a good position to urge: Don’t take it too seriously.
“It’s awful when your host is slaving away in the kitchen and not having a good time,” writes Margot in the introduction. “I think that people are more relaxed if things aren’t too formal.” Relaxed chaos is the goal. You can almost forget the food: “The most important thing about eating is being together and having a conversation.”
For Margot’s Lemon Possets recipe, see below.
Photographs by Joe Woodhouse.
Above: Lemon spinach soup. “For a canapé party serve in little cups.”
Above: Roast quails. “Quails are a great crowd-pleaser: they’re straightforward to cook, they have a robust nature, which makes them difficult to overcook, and everyone loves them, especially kids,” writes Margot, sensibly. Then: “A large pile of quails with legs a-go-go make for a festive moment at any time of the year.”
“Celebratory meals can be more nerve-racking than a usual supper party,” muses Margot. Her ideas on making a special dinner even more special:
“¢ The guests: bring “generous-spirited friends and family together.”
“¢ Make it festive with: flowers, tablecloths, and candles. And, “if it’s an extra-special occasion, iron the napkins.”
“¢ Start with a cocktail: to lift the spirits.
“¢ Serve piles of things: langoustines, asparagus, salads, birds.
“¢ Save the music for dancing later: “I hate not being able to hear what is being said.”
“¢ End the meal with a digestif: “to get everyone going again.”
Above: Caldo verde, or chorizo and potato stew. This comes under the Comforting Lunches category but could also come under the “casual cooking pot on table” category. And why not? “A one-pot wonder is always good for large groups,” says Margot.
Above: Time for dessert. “Often I find that people want to move around after dinner, so little puddings that you can pick up work well.”
Above: Pecan and chocolate tart. “Puddings that are kept in the freezer also work well for large groups, as they can be made a few days earlier and don’t suffer along the way. I love a big central pudding like a tart; all it needs is good cream, so buy the best.”
Above: Lemon Possets: “Fantastically easy and delicious, these give you that little sugar and lemon hit at the end of a meal, lifting you up for the last part. When blood oranges are in season you can use those instead, to make blood orange possets.”
“¢ 8 unwaxed lemons
“¢ 1.5 liters double cream
“¢ 500 grams caster sugar
Remove the rind from four of the lemons, using a vegetable peeler. Squeeze the juice from all eight lemons (you should have around 350 milliliters of juice–rolling the lemons on your work surface before cutting them in half will yield more juice.
Put the cream into the pan with the strips of lemon rind and stir over a low heat until the mixture starts to steam. Add all the sugar and stir until dissolved. Turn off the heat and stir in the lemon juice, then leave to settle for five minutes. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a large jug, discarding the lemon rind.
Pour into ten ramekins or small bowls, if you have them, or one medium-sized bowl. Cool to room temperature, then put them into the refrigerator to set for at least four hours or overnight.
Serve with shortbread and maybe a little cream.
For more unflappable cookery writing, see Notes from the Larder by Nigel Slater.