A few weeks ago my husband and I decided to have some people over for dinner. This sounds pretty straightforward, right? Think again. We’re dealing with me and my husband, here, so seemingly simple things like dinner for friends take on a whole new dimension.
Like the first time he and I hosted the Family Christmas Meal for all 16 of us. That was a doozie. John built an 8-foot model railway in the centre of the table to pass the salt more easily (I kid you not). In the same vein, this past Christmas he reproduced the famous Italian Mille Miglia 1,000-mile motor race by constructing a Scalextric track in the centre of the table. It wasn’t actually 1,000 miles long, but it did cover several major Italian cities along the way… So as I said, dinner for friends takes on a whole new dimension with us.
John begged me to include this video of his [absolutely brilliant, I have to say] model railway, so here it is. Enjoy!
This time we came up with a new take on the television programme we love to hate: Come Dine with Me. To exploit both our love of food and our knowledge of wine, as well as to reflect one of the more frequent contestant reactions, we modified the title to Come W(h)ine with Me…
To keep the experience down to one meal on one evening, we invited our guests to bring a dish of their choosing to share with the entire group and consequently be judged on its taste and presentation. We were afraid that our friends would think it a bit cheeky if we were to invite them to our house but, er, um, you’ve got to bring the dinner, but the response was brilliant and we ended up with 14 of us around our big dining table. Ah, but no trains or race cars, I promise!
We printed up menu/score cards with everyone’s contributions, and even created a Taxi space for public judging (one person per dish) while the rest of the scoring was secret. There were two competing sets of canapés (husband v wife!), two starters, and two mains. John prepared one cheese course to be judged, followed by two different desserts. Since we supplied all the wines, John was judged on how well his chosen wine paired with each dish. There was a lot of scoring!
Here is our menu:
Skewer of Haloumi, roasted Mediterranean vegetables with Corfu olive tapenade
Stirato (Italian bread) crouton, pepperoni, mozzarella and sun dried tomato
Seared Black Pudding with caramelised pear and oregano on Fondant potato
Baby roasted shallot and Brie Tarte Tatin
Sarah & Clive
Caramelised onions and grilled goat’s cheese on a bed of lettuce dressed with a sherry vinaigrette
Steve & Hazel
Red pepper bruschetta
Bob & Jane
Artichoke and Wild Mushroom Pie with potato salad and herb dressing
Steve & Yvonne
Lamb with salsa verde, cannelloni beans and chard
Shavings of cheese and Radford’s air-dried Yorkshire Ham
Patricia & Robin
Pear and chocolate sponge
Chocolate Lavender Cake with Tongham Wood Cherry Ice Cream
To make a long and very enjoyable story short, Dominic won out over his wife Tracey for the canapés, Sarah and Clive took the starter competition, Bob and Jane’s main won highest points, and Patricia’s dessert won out over mine (imagine that!). We got through eight bottles of wine and 9 litres of water between us, and since we all live in the same village, there was no problem with drink driving. I did hear reports of raucous behaviour and singing in the streets that night, though!
Scoring was an interesting affair, both in the Taxi and on the secret score cards. Patricia was overall winner with 126 points for her Pear and Chocolate Sponge, with not a single score under 8. Bob and Jane’s main of Artichoke and Wild Mushroom Pie came in second overall with 120 points, while Sarah and Clive came in third overall with 118 points for their Caramelised onions and grilled goat’s cheese salad.
Comments left about various dishes ranged from the likes of
“Good,” “Delicious” and “Scrummy” to these:
“Splendid combination of cheese” (cheese course),
“Uncomplicated and satisfying” (Artichoke and Wild Mushroom Pie),
“Very sophisticated” (seared black pudding with caramelised pear and oregano on fondant potato),
“Meat good, chilli bad!” (Lamb with Salsa Verde).
The evening’s revelation was John’s cheese course. Rather than the traditional mix of one hard cheese, one soft (pâte cuite) and one blue, John chose three hard cheeses which he paired with a Radford’s air-dried Yorkshire ham, all served as shavings. This comment sums up the consensus:
“Nice idea slicing the cheese as I think it enhanced the flavour.”
And finally, my own contribution split the group about equally between those who loved the lavender in the chocolate cake and those who really didn’t like it:
“Lavender made it special”
as opposed to
“Cake – sock drawer but nice socks!”
Next time (there will definitely be a next time so get your thinking caps on and your chef’s aprons out) we might even get our dogs and cat to provide some entertainment…