Sometimes my husband laughs at me (in that loving way) because there are times I really get into having people over for a meal. If it’s a special occasion (such as Thanksgiving) I may write out a menu and place cards but if it’s just the regular brunch gang I’ll set everything out on the table buffet-style. I’d like to think people enjoy coming over for the food but when you gather a group of friends to enjoy each other’s company and a meal it’s all about setting a tone and really making everyone feel welcome. The mark of true hospitality has nothing to do with the ingredients you use or the table settings either. The simple act of opening your door and letting others feel that kindness and generosity is important. I think this is why I’m so drawn to Laura Jackson and Alice Levine’s book Round to Ours — it’s a book dedicated to gathering people together to enjoy a little food and fellowship.
Jackson & Levine is a UK-based lifestyle brand founded in 2013 by friends Laura Jackson and Alice Levine who met at rummage sale and soon discovered a shared love of food. That shared love was translated into a wildly popular “supperclub” — if you click on that link you’ll see a few examples of their different supperclubs. While each has a different theme what you’ll notice from the photos is that each gathering has a warm tone, is perfectly lit, and seems so inviting. It’s their skill building these events that has been shared in their debut book Round to Ours.
Offering 24 menus for almost any occasion the book begins with setting the mood (with the proper music and lighting), how to set the table (what plates to use, types of glassware, linens, etc), and how to stock the larder with hardworking, multitasking ingredients. What I really appreciate about their approach is that they don’t want anyone to be anxious about hosting. It’s not about being perfect which is why they suggest using enamelware or an eclectic collection of thrifted plates. It’s about using what you have in a creative way that will help set the tone of your gathering. Need napkins? Use IKEA tea towels! These sections are full of helpful tips and advice on how to plan and execute your gathering.
The menus are organized into three sections — Brunches, Lunches, and Dinners — with food and drink ideas that are tasty but that any home cook is capable of making (writing this I am reminded of that scene in Bridget Jones where she’s making the leek soup and somehow turns it blue! Don’t panic J&L have made their recipes so that you’ll be successful). The beauty of this book is that it removes the need to source recipes from different books by offering menus full of recipe that complement each other and support a theme. I also enjoyed the fact that they choose unexpected recipes for some themes. Take the Movie Night theme — instead of using the easy movie night go-tos like pizza and popcorn they have offered an easy but elegant pasta dish finished off by some really gorgeous Salted Caramel Brownies. The snacking option is some highly addictive Spiced Nuts that you’ll most likely have to hide so that you don’t eat them all before the guests arrive. This is not a vegetarian or vegan-based book so with the Sausage, Broccoli & Fennel Pasta I substituted meatless sausage for the pork ones called for in the recipe. While the meatless sausage was easy to brown they didn’t seem to keep their browned appearance when I added the wine so I would suggest adding them in at the end if you’re partial to that. Otherwise, while not browned, the pasta dish tasted wonderful.
Some of the menus are almost vegetarian already — take their d.i.y thai menu. It’s not the kind of cookbook that labels for specific diets (gluten free, vegan, vegetarian, etc) but I feel that the recipes are easy to sub in/out different ingredients. For the meaty-mains (like roast chicken) you might need to swap the recipe for one of your old standbys. To be honest I wasn’t bothered by the fact that this is not a plant-based book because my main interest is in the planning and hosting aspect of the book. Round to Ours is beautifully photographed and Jackson and Levine have a very approachable voice — I think their style really shows and I can completely see why their brand is so popular.
While I didn’t have any get togethers planned I thought I’d try some of their recipes to get a feeling on how well they stood up. Were they easy? Were they difficult? For the most part the recipes were a cinch to make and for the recipes I tried the ingredients were ones I had in my pantry/fridge already (aside from the meatless sausage). Since the book was first published in the UK last spring the book and it’s writings reflect a particular (British) felicity of expression and I feel like some ingredients for some recipes may take time to source (I find that this often happens with British-based cookbooks — you’d think that the ingredients would be the same but not always). It should also be mentioned that this book is a reprint of the original so it hasn’t been rewritten for the North American home cook. The book does come with a handy conversion chart that’s tucked in the front cover (which is why the book is wrapped in cellophane). I did use the chart to help convert the oven temperatures from Celsius to Fahrenheit for the roasted chickpeas, nuts, and also for the brownies.
So much more than just a cookbook Round to Ours offers a complete guide on how to host your own gatherings complete with fun-themed menus (with easy to prepare recipes — bonus!) and lots of tips and advice on setting the mood and your table too. If you’re curious to see what I’ve been making from Round to Ours explore my custom Instagram hashtag #roundtooursisshipshape or my dedicated Facebook post. As I cook more things, I’ll keep adding photos.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Raincoast Books and Quadrille for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.