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Cookbook review: Friends at My Table by Alice Hart

Patricia Conte has a background in marketing communications and works as an independent writer. In 2010, she was given the opportunity to combine her love of writing and food when she started as a contributing writer for the Food channel...

Party prep made easy

Any time of year is the right time for a gathering. Alice Hart shows how to host a great get-together in her new cookbook.
Cookbook review

Celebrate all year

Friends at My Table: Recipes for a Year of Eating, Drinking and Making Merry, by Alice Hart, will get you ready to plan and host a wonderful party. Elegant yet casual, the recipes and suggestions in this book will help your friends and family feel welcome and relaxed at any gathering you host.

Friends at my table

Divided into seasons and menus, this book is perfect for informal, yet celebratory parties. You'll find 12 menus (three for each season), whether you're planning a casual gathering or something more elaborate. The recipes in this book are meant more for a crowd: think in terms of 10, 16 and 20. However, Hart indicates that most of her recipes can be halved or quartered for a more intimate meal.

Special surprises

The recipes and party ideas in Friends at My Table are more laid-back than super-formal, and you'll find guidance throughout the pages that will help provide your festivities with fanfare and fun. You'll find some standard party-planning essentials like seating, tables and flowers included in the Laid-Back Country Wedding section. There are also pleasant surprises sprinkled throughout the book, like a guide on how to use chopsticks for the Vietnamese Bridal Shower menu, and another on wild foraging for your food, as well as one on how to make simple vodka infusions (great to enjoy and give as gifts during the holidays). Hart strives to make party planning easy and stress-free so everyone can enjoy the fun.

Stick to the season

With a focus on seasonal eating, Hart notes that food can also help create an atmosphere. Food should be delicious, she says, but also appealing in its colors and textures. Parties were meant to be memorable, right? You'll find instructions to help, and that won't deplete you financially. So that party planning for a larger gathering doesn't make you run, Hart includes techniques and tips on things like prior prep, when possible. She suggests you shop and prepare in advance. If you can prep some ingredients ahead of time, make a plan for it.

A helpful guide you'll turn to often, the Seasonality Chart details when fruits, herbs and vegetables are best to enjoy. If you're cooking for a bunch rather than a few, you'll also appreciate the Equipment and Techniques to Cook for Crowds.

The gorgeous images of tablescapes with flowers, flatware and food bring an immediate sense of welcome with a relaxed vibe, like walking into a party in your honor held in your best friend's backyard.

Try a recipe from Friends at My Table:

Lemon and rosemary tart

Serves 8-12

For the pie dough

  • 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and diced
  • 2 tablespoons minced rosemary
  • 3 egg yolks, from chilled eggs

For the filling

  • Finely grated zest and juice of 5 unwaxed lemons
  • 1 cup superfine sugar
  • 4 eggs, plus 6 egg yolks
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • Scant 1 cup unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar
  • Crème fraîche or whipped cream to serve (optional)

Directions:

For the pie dough

  1. Pulse the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor a couple of times to aerate it. Add the butter and pulse just until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, being careful not to overwork or it will be tough.
  2. Sprinkle the rosemary over and add the egg yolks. Pulse again, until the dough starts to clump together.
  3. Tip onto a counter and knead lightly, just until smooth. Form into a fat cylinder and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill for at least an hour.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Slice the cylinder into rounds, each no thinner than 1/8 inch. Lay these rounds side-by-side over the bottom and sides of a fluted 8 x 12-inch rectangular tart pan, with a removable bottom.
  5. Press the dough out with your fingertips to line the pan evenly, leaving the edges untrimmed and rising slightly above the top of the pan. Prick the bottom with a fork a few times.
  6. Line with a large rectangle of nonstick parchment paper and fill with ceramic baking beans, dried beans, or uncooked rice. Bake for 15 minutes, until the base no longer looks raw, then remove the paper and beans or rice and continue to cook for 5 to 10 minutes more until the pastry is a pale cookie color and looks "sandy" and dry.
  7. Remove from the oven and, once cool enough, use a sharp knife to trim the edges flush with the pan, brushing the trimmings away.
  8. Gingerly press the removable bottom and work a knife tip into any corners that stick, just until the pastry lifts away. If the pastry welds itself to the pan at this stage, there will be trouble when you come to release it later.
  9. Let cool completely in the pan.

For the filling

  1. Whisk the lemon zest and juice, sugar, eggs, egg yolks, and sprigs of rosemary together in a large pan until blended. Don't worry if the rosemary gets caught up in the whisk, it will still be releasing its oils and doing its work.
  2. Set over very low heat and whisk slowly as you add half the butter. Don't stop whisking or let the heat get too high, or you'll have scrambled eggs.
  3. Once the first lot of butter has been incorporated, add the second, bit by bit. Keep whisking intermittently to prevent a skin from forming, until the curd has cooled to body temperature (close your eyes and prod with a clean finger; you shouldn't detect much of a temperature difference).
  4. Drape plastic wrap directly over the surface and let cool to room temperature.
  5. (A note to nervous cooks: you can make the filling in a heatproof bowl over gently simmering water. It will take longer but is safer.)
  6. Pour the filling into the tart shell and smooth the top.
  7. Chill for at least 6 hours or overnight to set.
  8. Slice into rectangles and dust with confectioners' sugar just before serving.
  9. Crème fraîche or whipped cream will cut through the tartness of the lemon.

Purchase a copy of Friends at My Table >>

About the author

A graduate of Leiths School of Food and Wine, Alice Hart was the youngest-ever food editor at Waitrose Food Illustrated. She set up and ran the hit pop-up restaurant, The Hart and Fuggle, in London with fellow food writer and chef, Georgina Fuggle and appeared in the BBC2 special, Sophie Dahl on Mrs. Beeton. As well as a passion for all things culinary, Alice is in love with Myrtle the Hurtle, her 1972 VW camper van, complete with its own kitchen. Alice's Cook Book was published by Quadrille in 2010, as part of the New Voices in Food series and her recipes are regularly featured in The New York Times and Stella magazine.

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