It has been around 11 months since my last dinner party, so I decided that another was in order – just so I can show off my culinary flare and meet some of my closer friends socially for the occasion.
You can learn a lot about the dos and don’ts of dinner partying just from watching Channel 4’s Come Dine With Me. Mismatched guests – complete strangers, granted – with mismatched tastes. The result: pure drama and disaster, and voyeuristic pleasure to the point of Schadenfreude for the viewers. So in an attempt to avoid as many of these mishaps as possible for my own gatherings, I try to follow a few simple rules, a Top Ten feature about which will be following in the ensuing weeks. This article, however, is about what food I decided to serve.
This year’s menu was as follows:
French Onion Soup
served with Gruyère Croûtons
Roasted Shoulder of Lamb
served with Smashed Vegetables and Greens and Mint Sauce
White Chocolate and Raspberry Cheesecake
For a while now, French Onion Soup is a dish for which I’ve had a strong desire – to the point that, while at uni, I made some from scratch for the first time. And it came out so well (apart from being a tad salty, which I since rectified) that I decided it would be my first course. Past dinner parties have seen me serve Cheese and Onion Tarts (see pictured) and my old favourite Chicken Liver Pâté – so I decided it was time for something a little easier to serve. Simple and to the point, like soup, served with Gruyère Croûtons. Admittedly, my definition of a croûton is different to that of my friends, but baguette pieces with grilled Swiss cheese on top count in my opinion and go just as nicely as an accompaniment to this dish.
Every year I hold on of these parties I attempt to go a little step further – this time I added another course to the menu in the form of a sorbet. In high society and haute cuisine establishments, this course is quite romantically called the Intermezzo – translated from the Italian word for Interval. The decision was inspired by a recent Masonic Lodge weekend we had stay with us at the Wessex, who had a Champagne Sorbet served as part of their gala dinner. I went for something a tad less fancy in the form of Strawberry Sorbet, (see pictured) once again made from scratch. In an attempt to give the otherwise mundane palate-cleanser a kick, I added infinitesimal amounts of Cointreau and Vodka to the mixture. Another very easy thing to make provided you make it the day before the event.
The choice for meat – as a couple of my guests are impartial to fish dishes – also came as a result of being almost addicted to lamb. My late father – an admirer of Jamie Oliver – used to do great justice to his roasted shoulder of lamb with smashed vegetables and greens. He used to cook his meat in the slow-cooker over several hours, so that it literally fell off of the bone. I got my lamb off the bone, and cooked it up in 50 minutes, yet still followed the rest of the instructions regarding garlic and rosemary (I added sage and thyme to it to add flavour) to the letter. It saves time and stress to buy and cook meat off the bone – there isn’t so much to get in the way when you’re carving, for one thing. And, while I tweaked a few of the elements of the recipe, such as mashing the swede, the carrots and the potatoes instead of “smashing” them with a rolling pin, and doing away with the balsamic sauce (I didn’t have time for that) in favour of the classic mint sauce accompaniment, I feel the final result came out pretty nicely (see pictured). My guests certainly did not complain, though by this point they were becoming somewhat full and wanted to leave some room for dessert.
Dessert was by far the best course, even if I do say so myself. I have always wanted to make a good Raspberry and White Chocolate Cheesecake (see pictured) – all that I have ever tried in restaurants have always been more cheese than cake, raspberry or chocolate. So I had to make this one really rich in flavour – outweighing the singular pot of Philadelphia cream cheese with 550g of Belgian White Chocolate. In retrospect, I could have done more with the raspberries,