My love of entertaining has been somewhat curtailed by the dreary healthy eating regime. Not only is it not much fun creating sumptuous dishes from nothing but mung beans and salad leaves, but also it doesn't go down a bundle with the guests. Can't think why...
But the very welcome gift of Madhur Jaffrey's new book, Curry Easy, persuaded me that it was time to dust down the apron, throw caution to the wind and get cooking. Dinner for six? A breeze.
I'd like to say that I made the starter myself - but toddlers and time constraints being as they are, frying bhajis and patting pakoras all afternoon was never going to happen. Nonetheless, the supermarket version did rather nicely - and went down well with the popadoms and chutneys (that I didn't make either).
Yes, yes, I hear you say. Isn't this meant to be a COOKING blog? So I offer as consolation the fact I did at least rustle up a raita (of sorts) from scratch. I'm not big on creamy stuff so I am unable to confirm how good it was, but the fact it was polished off in thirty seconds flat suggests not bad. And... 'this is fabulous' said one of the diners. 'Could I have the recipe?'
I felt that to admit that I had simply chopped up half a cucumber, poured one carton of yoghurt on top, stirred twice and forgotten to season might have taken something away from the allure so I muttered something about delicate blends of spices and slunk off to sort out the main course.
Grilled Masala Salmon was the star attraction. Ludicrously easy to make, but oddly I forgot to mention this fact to the assembled throng. You simply rub a mix of spices onto the fish and refrigerate for 1-4 hours. Beat together a paste of olive oil, mustard, lemon juice and fresh coriander, slather over the top, grill briefly then finish in the oven.
Madhur suggests serving with Basmati Rice With Lentils - I went for plain only on the basis that I'd already knocked up quick batch of Bill Granger's dhal and, with health and safety in mind, thought one lot of pulses was possibly enough for six people eating a large meal in a confined space. Had we been dining al fresco I may well have gone for both but with snow forecast I figured caution was wise.
To add some colour I did go for Madhur's other suggested side dish - South Indian-style Grean Beans. Again, incredibly simple, although I never do seem to learn to stand clear of seeds (on this occasion cumin, sesame and mustard) popping in hot oil.
I had intended to take a series of beautifully lit and artily angled shots of all these dishes coming together on the plate...but sidetracked by the delicious aromas I forgot and by the time I remembered there wasn't very much left (and even this vanished before I could make it look pretty).
The verdict? Dhal - great. It's become a staple for me - easy, quick and healthy. What's not to like? Salmon - delicious (and requests for recipe can only reinforce this). It didn't taste as spicy as I'd thought - possibly because I skimped on the cumin (not a fan - I tend to leave it out of the dhal too) but more likely due to the piquancy of the mustardy emulsion. Moist and tasty though and will definitely be done again soon.
The beans were pretty good too. This time I'd followed the spicing to the letter - cumin seeds somehow not offending me in the way that the ground stuff does - and the balance of flavours was great. Overall a little oily for my taste but that's easily fixed.
So all in all an excellent first foray into the book - and there are already several people who are looking forward to the next one.
Dessert by Nigella of course. I resisted temptation to try out her Peanut Butter Chocolate Cheesecake on the basis that I could not be trusted to be left alone with it for longer than 30 seconds. So Butterscotch Fondue did the job instead - rather well I thought (though at 525 calories a portion I guess it doesn't strictly, or even loosely, tie in with the regime. To clutch at straws I can say that I served half portions - it's so rich that even that's a lot to get through. And, er, we dipped a lot of very healthy fruit in as well... I admit that drinking the leftovers was possibly my downfall. But it IS served in a cup...)
Blame the soft focus on the sugar rush.
And thus I shall return to the gym. I may be some time...