Written by Emma D'Arcy
We all know and love the rituals of dining with friends and family – quality time spent enjoying each other’s company. Music playing in the background. A bottle of wine uncorked and laughter echoing around the room. The smell of food being prepared, tables set, candles lit, gathering together at the end of a busy day. The simple pleasure of dining together.
There is something so satisfying about following a recipe to create a tasty meal for loved ones, or just yourself, so you can experiment and trial all sorts of colourful dishes. Either way, we’ve all learned new ways to learn to relax and unwind recently, with more time spent in our home environments. In mainland Europe, families and friends gather daily to spend long evenings together over dinner – a culture which I loved whilst living on the beautiful Mediterranean island of Majorca a few years ago. Now that we are able to socialise more freely again, it’s time for me personally to test out some of those skills I learned over the last two years.
Until the beginning of the pandemic, I had dabbled with – but never successfully mastered – my cooking skills. I spent most of my time out with friends after work at restaurants, or I’d rustle up a simple fresh pasta dinner with shop-made pesto. I didn’t have the time to perfect the preparation of my favourite meals. One of the silver linings of being at home more these days is that I have experimented far more than ever in the kitchen. As with every new skill, it requires practice, time, and a healthy dose of confidence.
Every month I started trying new recipes from around the world, taking inspiration from my travels from Mexico to Bali. During a trip to Thailand a few years ago, I watched locals create healthy dishes with fresh simple ingredients and have continued to make Thai meals since (admittedly they don’t taste quite as good as what I had there – but it’s improving!) A few other favourites I started with include a mushroom bourguignon, vegetarian chilli, and some amazing simple fish dishes during the summer months paired with herbs, sauces, and lemons.
It’s also important to learn about the provenance of your ingredients – free-range eggs, meat, and vegetables from farmers’ markets supporting local businesses where possible. Whilst living in New York recently, I used to love Saturday mornings at the local food market in Brooklyn, sampling fresh cheeses and talking to farmers so I knew where our meat had come from – the quality spoke for itself when we tucked into our Independence Day BBQ burgers!
In my experience – the secret to gaining condence and culinary success? It’s finding a cookbook that suits you: your tastes, your personality, that provides inspiration for the kinds of dishes you want to learn. I also take recipes from several different sources – from the New York Times to Mary Berry’s cookbook and online recipes on BBC Good Food, to name a few. However, if you’re looking to pick up the basics to begin with, I highly recommend researching and buying a physical copy of a classic cookbook (a hardback version is best, given the time spent pouring over the page – it’s preferable to wiping phone/iPad screens whilst busying around in the kitchen!)
Then when it comes to preparing your dinners, I always allow plenty of time, play my favourite chill out house or jazz music in the background, with a glass of wine ready to indulge! The preparation time is all part of the ritual, it’s time to relax and have fun when you are cooking – being creative in a whole new way, and the best part is sharing your work afterwards with your nearest and dearest.