I COOKED for friends on Saturday night and, unsure of their gastronomic preferences, opted for a please-all Italian (ish) menu.
With six of us sat elbow-to-elbow around our dining table there was only room the essentials (Peroni beers, red wine and Parmesan cheese), so it seemed like a wise idea to offer a buffet-style run of food across our kitchen work surface.
Since our home is open plan the food was in easy reach for our guests (and me) when it was time for second and third portions (and sneaky fourths when it was time to wash-up).
It was simple feast, but careful preparation and thoughtful presentation ensured the wow factor (I hope).
There was a classic homemade lasagne from a recipe Gordon Ramsay performed on a recent episode of Cook-a-Long Live.
I say classic, the meat sauce contained milk, which reading online comments from Italian cooks is equivalent to sacrilege. I was a bit dubious myself but it worked, giving the ragu a pleasing, slightly creamy texture.
I also prepared tagitelle with homemade basil pesto, courtesy of Delia Smith, although I wasn't able to find any pre-packed basil so had to buy four potted plants to harvest enough leaves.
I think it would have been cheaper to buy a plot of land and grow the stuff myself. We are now looking to remortgage the house.
I served it strewn with pine nuts and a handful of basil leaves I'd managed to keep aside.
There was ciabatta bread, a sundried tomato loaf and salads of tomato, basil and pinenuts, and mixed leaves.
For pud I made a mixed berry pavlova with vanilla cream and drizzled in honey. Having never made meringue before I followed an easy recipe from the BBC Good Food website and it not only looked spectacular, it ate like a dream too.
No Italian (ish) feast is complete without biscotti and coffee, so I made some lovely versions of the famously hard dunking biscuits from Nigella's Feast cookbook, although I omitted the chocolate chips and almonds and used pistachio nuts instead.
And because I'd relied so heavily on the recipes of others, I whipped up my own recipe for chocolate truffles, using some of Willie Harcourt-Cooze's devilishly dark Venezuelan cacoa. Using double cream to create a ganache, I sweetened them with honey and icing sugar and then rolled them in crushed pistachio nuts.
All the food was gobbled down and everyone made suitable noises of appreciation.
I was particularly pleased when one of my friends turned to me and said: 'Emily, it's all really delicious. Not to do disservice to anything else but the tomatoes in the salad are really nice!'