Sometimes, for whatever reason, the standard birthday present is not an option. Lack of funds, no time or boredom with the usual sort of thing can prompt people to seek out a new and exciting present for a friend's birthday. But just what can you do? Allow me to make a few suggestions...
1. Throw an exclusive dinner party for just you and your friend. Cook a delicious meal, light some candles and lay the table for two. If your friend isn't impressed, they are obviously not your true friend. Stuck for a dinner recipe? Try this:
Citrus seared tuna with crispy noodles, herbs and chilli
2 pink grapefruits
• 1 tablespoon fish sauce
• 500g/1lb 2oz piece of sustainably sourced tuna
• 1 tablespoon sesame oil
• 6 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for frying
• 2 or 3 fresh red chillies, very finely sliced
• sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 1 large bunch of fresh coriander
• 1 small bunch of fresh mint
• a couple of good handfuls of glass or cellophane noodles
• 4 spring onions, finely sliced at an angle
Squeeze the grapefruit juice and pour into a sandwich bag with the fish sauce. Add the piece of tuna. Tie up the bag, squeezing out most of the air so the tuna is completely covered in the juice. Leave for 40 minutes, after which time the outside of the tuna will be pale and ‘cooked’. Now carefully pour the grapefruit juice from the bag into a bowl, dry off the tuna and put to one side.
For the dressing, mix the sesame oil, olive oil and chillies into the grapefruit juice. Use as much chilli as you like, and season to taste. Tear off a good handful of coriander and mint from the bunches and put to one side to use for garnish later. Finely chop the remaining herbs and really pat these around the tuna to encrust it. Wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge until needed.
Boil the noodles for 1 minute until they are slightly flexible, drain and allow to steam dry and cool. Add a little olive oil to a hot non-stick pan, add your noodles and leave them until they are nice and crisp on one side. Now flip them over and do the same on the other side – it doesn't matter if some stick to the pan, just scrape them up and turn them over. Divide the crispy noodles between 4 plates. Slice your tuna up about 0.5cm/¼ inch thick – in Japan it's a sign of generosity to have nice thick slices of tuna, but I like them a little thinner as they are more delicate in the mouth.
Place the tuna on the noodles, sprinkle over the torn-up herbs that you put to one side earlier, sprinkle with the spring onions and then drizzle a couple of spoonfuls of the dressing over the tuna. Before your eyes you will see the cut sides of the slices of fish begin to change colour and ‘cook’. Serve straight away.
2. Offer your assistance as a stylist and photographer (without insulting their sense of style, obviously). Dress your friend up in a gorgeous outfit then have them pose for a few shots which they can treasure forever.
3. Collage a box with images from magazines which you think they'll like and then fill the box with little goodies. Some ideas for what to put in are:
Their favourite sweet
A small stuffed animal
A little notebook
A homemade card
Individual herbal teabags
4. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: cupcakes are easy to make, simple to decorate, and look fabulous when you put them in a gift box. People are often fooled into thinking you've been to a posh bakery or patisserie when they see them. Try my vanilla or chocolate cupcake recipes and decorate as you like.