Saturday, 8 November 2008

Dinner Parties for Beginners

Things one should know better than to do if one is hosting a dinner party for 8 people...

... which we did last Saturday. It's taken me until now to recover and find the strength of mind to revisit the experience in writing...

Never plan to make every last thing yourself. Even the damn 'croustades' (curse you Nigella, curse you for your easy writing style and your promises that it 'couldn't be easier'. I should have known better than to believe you, swept away in your talk of sophisticated chat in the sitting room with all the hard work done earlier...).

Under no circumstances ignore your non-British friends who tell you to get caterers. (It seems that other nationalities are not afflicted by the need to 'show-off' with purees and casseroles in quite the same way as we natives of Blighty). Anyway, next time - if there ever is one - it's Maccy D's all the way. Though with home-made swan napkin place settings, of course.

Don't even consider making the pea and parmesan topping for the croustades on the day of the party. It includes roasting a whole head of garlic for an hour in your oven. Did I mention we live in a basement and that our kitchen has no windows?

Always check that you have enough of everything more than 1 hour before the guests are due to arrive. Leaving it late will end only in tears and a last minute stampede to Sainsbury up the road to find organic carrots, frozen peas, and a replacement topping for the croustades because the pea and parmesan that you made in the morning tastes disgusting....

Don't ask your husband to tidy the lounge and expect that his top priority to be putting the toys away, plumping the cushions, or shoving your embarrassing chick-lit novels to the back of the book shelves. No, as any man will tell you, when you have 6 sophisticated guests arriving in a couple of hours time, the most pressing task is rearranging the cd's in alphabetical order. (I jest, of course. Darling Husband made the entire flat sparkle for our guests. And our cd collection has never looked neater).

And finally, never decide on making a pudding that is famed for it's trickiness simply on the basis that it looks as if just about everything can be done in advance. Yes, I speak of that 1970's / 80's classic - Baked Alaska. Or, in our case, the rather more sophisticated 'Italian Baked Alaska', (which, I'm sure, is some kind of geographical impossibility) a recipe from that time-honoured cook's cheat book 'The Sainsbury Magazine'. This particular point deserves a few sub-points to fully illustrate just how foolish an idea this was...

If you should however throw caution to the winds and decide to go with Italian Baked Alaska, be aware of the following:

- When you hollow out the panettone to fill it with ice-cream, do not allow yourself to be left alone with the discarded inners. They will not last long and you will hate yourself afterwards.

- When placing a meringue-covered ice-cream filled panettone in the freezer, make sure you have a tray deep enough to take it. Frozen egg white everywhere is not a good look, believe me.

- Always take your frozen baked alaska out of the freezer a good 20 minutes before you actually need to put it in the oven. Otherwise when the meringue has coloured up, looking like the Brazilian Beach Babe of desserts, the panettone casing for the ice cream inside will still be frozen solid...

- If you must take the complete pudding out to show off to your guests, do not attempt to cut it up at the table. They will then witness your increasingly desperate attempts to chisel through the rock-hard panettone, cracking the plate and covering yourself and the person next to you with meringue...

- Have a knife sharpener ready. It's not rocket science - though perhaps a little unexpected when dealing with an ice-cream dessert.

And finally, if you're particularly sharp eyed you may have noticed a new name on my blog-roll. Yep, you guessed it, following the success of her two guest posts for me 'Footballers Knees' has set up her own blog. Go sis!


  1. You've just reminded me why I haven't entertained for years.

    Go PM's sis! I'll be looking forward to more great and entertaining writing to keep me from doing all the other things I should be doing!

  2. I've sat here and consumed the equivalent of 2 bowls worth of chocolate ice cream while reading your posts - going Mmmmm - Mmmmm - Mmmmm over each point you've made.
    (the ice cream is for my sore throat - really!)

    I'm with Tracey. You've reminded me why I don't like entertaining. Mind you - The Man does all the cooking around here so I don't know what I'm talking about. He loves putting on a spread of gourmet food. I just set the table and do the dishes! That's bad enough as far as I'm concerned.

  3. Entertaining - isn't that what M&S/Waitrose are for? Especially when there are small people in residence.

    Actually, I plead guilty enjoying the dinner party type of cooking but my desserts and starter are always of the FINISHED-at-least-the-day-before type and the main is prepped in the morning along with the cheese board etc. Then I can spend the rest of the day panicking over finding something to wear that fits!

  4. Whatever made you choose Baked Alaska? Was this some kind of witty Sarah Palin reference?

    I am extremely lucky in that The Doctor tends to do the cooking for dinner parties. I am charged with holding the social fort while he slaves away in the kitchen! (secretly I think he rather enjoys this...)

  5. [Wouldn't that have been a Half-Baked Alaska, NVG?!??!!]

  6. Ooooh yum it all sounds delicious and I'm sure was a resounding success if your dinner party conversation is as good as your blog.

    What is it with husbands and CD collections? Mine orders ours in COLOUR SEQUENCE.. very OCD.

    BM x

  7. Well I'm in awe of anyone attempting to cook a posh dinner from scratch. I have one fail safe method. Mr B usually cooks when our mates are coming over, or we all bring a dish.

  8. Tracey - blogging as displacement activity. Has a certain ring - and a certain familiarity - to it, doesn't it?

    Aims, I am SO desperate to find out who this Man is (assuming your blog hasn't introduced him already). He sounds like a treasure!

    Sharon, the pre-prepped plan was what I was going for - but somehow, it just didn't work out. And something black is what usually works for me. Slimming, AND it hides the kitchen mishaps...

    NVG, yes, yes of course it was a reference to the US elections (damn and blast, why didn't I think of that at the time!).

    Tracey - be nice. The poor woman had to go home to Alaska, of all places...

    BM - colour sequence? OK, you win on the OCD husband stakes. I can't compete.

    Jo, or a take-away sounds good to me as well. The problem is that I always intend to take the easy way out, but a whiff of a dinner party and my inner competitive Nigella comes out waving her apron and her extra virgin olive oil, shouting 'Divine, Darling', and 'just give it a little squiz', and I'm done for...

  9. Oh all very topical, the witty Alaska reference.

    Did you have Hawaiian Tropical fruit juice to drink, and McCain oven chips, and.... struggling with a culinary reference to Joe Biden.

  10. Iota and MH - I thank you both...


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