'I'll be honest. I never thought I'd write a Christmas book. But then my publisher called to gossip about the credit crunch. "What's that got to do with me?" I yawned, stretching out on my chaise longue.
"Nothing, sweetie," she said. "It's us here at Chatto I'm worried about. We're desperate for a Christmas bestseller to help us make budget and we wondered if you could help us out."
"OK, darling, you've twisted my arm," I cooed. "But there are a few ground rules. My Christmas isn't some kind of austerity family hold-back affair. I want to be able to forget the sad, grey little faces of all my neighbours who have lost their jobs at Lehman Brothers and luxuriate in guilt-free greed and over-indulgence."'
... and then, a little later...
'You might be wondering what the "welcome table" is. It's a term I made up for the table in the hall that's laden with whole pigs and cold swans for all those guests who arrive feeling a little peckish and aren't sure if they can make it to the dining-room without dying of starvation. Anything can go here, provided it's got enough kick to give you a heart attack.'
... and finally...
'For the main event you need to get your staff cooking several days in advance to prepare the stuffings and marinades for the turkey. All cooking instructions are based on the assumption you have a double oven. If you don't, be prepared to have a shitty meal at 10pm! Be generous with quantities; allow at least 27 chipolatas per child.'
But on to more serious matters. I had rather a lot of salmon in my fridge this week (long story short, a dinner party that never happened), and came up with two quite stunning little dishes. The first is a salad that's simply superb as a light lunch. I'm not quite sure what prompted the inspiration for adding smoked paprika to the yoghurt dressing (I think it was just sitting right there next to the yoghurt or something, shouting, 'Look at me! I'm over here! Oh won't someone please notice me?! You with the lid, get my publicist on the phone!').
Something along those lines.
The second is roasted salmon with anchovy and caper butter — and it tastes even better than it sounds. I found the recipe on Epicurious, and it went beeyoootifully with creamy tomato spaghetti, but be warned: it's super-rich, so perhaps a side salad is a good idea. The original recipe called for a tablespoon each of cognac and chopped parsley, which I think would have been an excellent idea, but I didn't have any and it still turned out well. Better than well. (It wasn't very photogenic, though, but PLEASE don't let that put you off.)
Salmon salad with smoked paprika yoghurt dressingServes 2
1 salmon fillet, roasted and flaked
1 small head butter lettuce
1 can chickpeas, drained
1 large handful wild rocket
For the dressing:
1 tsp smoked paprika
Juice of one lemon
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Pretty standard: mix all the salad ingredients together in a big bowl, then mix all the dressing ingredients together in a small bowl. Add the small bowl to the big bowl, shake it all about, and Bob's your uncle.
Roasted salmon with anchovy & caper butterServes 6
4 garlic cloves
5 anchovy fillets
3 tablespoons drained capers
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup butter, room temperature
6 salmon portions
1. Blend first 5 ingredients in food processor. Add butter and process until well blended. Season to taste with salt.
2. Lay sheet of plastic wrap on work surface. Transfer butter mixture to plastic wrap and roll to form a log. Freeze until firm, about 1 hour. (Caper-anchovy butter can be prepared 1 week ahead. Keep frozen. Let butter soften slightly before using.)
3. Place salmon fillets on a baking tray and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill until just cooked through, about 8 minutes.
4. Place salmon on plates on a bed of creamy tomato spaghetti (see recipe below). Cut caper-anchovy butter into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Top each salmon fillet with 2 slices butter. Serve salmon fillets hot.
Creamy tomato spaghettiServes 6
6 ripe rosa tomatoes, halved
3 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp mascarpone
1. Spread the tomato halves out in a single layer on a baking try, and grill on a low heat (about 150C) for about 2 hours, or until they've shrivelled a bit and gone all gooey and gorgeous.
2. Transfer the tomatoes to a mixing bowl and add the mascarpone. Using a hand-held blender, blend until you have a smooth sauce. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
3. Cook the spaghetti until al dente in plenty of salted boiling water. Drain and return to the pot. Mix in the sauce until the spaghetti is well-coated, and serve.
But wait, there's more...
I just have to share this with you. The Guinea Pig and I went to The River Cafe (no relation to the London institution) in Constantia Uitzig for lunch on Monday and had the most fantastic meal. I started with a naughty little onion tart with balsamic reduction (highly recommended), and then grilled asparagus with bacon, a poached agg (agg?? You know I mean 'egg' of course... Just between us, I sometimes accidentally type 'reslut' instead of 'result', and giggle to myself. Don't tell anyone) and Parmesan shavings. Just scrummy. See?
Then we pottered down the road to La Colombe, and the afternoon light was just too gorgeous. See?
And they all lived happily ever after. The end.