So my prediction that my next dinner party would be a girls’ night in has not come to pass. My next dinner party was in fact one at my parents’ house in Devon. I spent last week having a little bit of R&R, or me time, down in the South West and offered my services to my mother when it transpired that my father had invited friends of theirs over for dinner on a night when she was working… Disaster looming but catastrophe avoided by my presence in the shire.
It’s quite tricky cooking for people who you don’t know but I had a lovely time going to a couple of local farm shops to buy ingredients (Greendale and Darts Farm), picking herbs in the garden, collecting eggs… How perfect! Even if the chickens did try to ‘get me’ in a pincer movement – aggressive.
My mum was responsible for the majority of the dessert which was a delicious trio of miniature desserts consisting of a tiny sponge filled with mascarpone and fresh strawberries, a clotted cream and strawberry ice cream (amazing) and then a Pimms jelly which I threw together. She did also make some strawberry cordial but now that I think about it, it was never served…
There was no starter for this extravaganza as my father and one of the guests required pre-dinner nibbles (I prefer to say canapes) in the Engine Shed prior to dinner. I made a delicious and oh so simple artichoke dip, (recipe below), the classic, figs with dolcelatta wrapped in prosciutto, tiny Thai chicken bites topped with lime mayonnaise and mango, and quails eggs with cayenne pepper. I had only intended to make 3 different canapes but when I went to Darts Farm to purchase quails eggs, on looking in the egg section I couldn’t find any so had a dramatic/quick re-think which resulted in me settling in the figs. I selected my fantastically ripe figs, went to the cheese counter and made the lady cut an impossibly thin piece of dolcelatta for me and then headed to the cured fish and meats cabinet. This is apparently where they keep the quails eggs – who knew? I certainly didn’t and was somewhat surprised to find them nestling amongst the hams and smoked fish offering. By this point I was of course fully committed to the figs but couldn’t bring myself to abandon the idea of quails eggs so they found their way into the basket as well!
For my main course I pan fried some beautiful Grey Mullet fillets that had been caught down the road at Lyme Bay and served it on a bed of braised peas, lentils and pancetta. As this didn’t require any preparation until the last minute, I spent most of the day making macaroons. My first foray into the world of macaroons went rather well. The only thing I would have preferred is if they had not coloured quite so much in the oven but I think that this would be rectified simply by using the oven in my kitchen which is less fierce than the one at my parents’ house. I didn’t find the macaroons particularly difficult to make but rather time consuming. I think that the key to good macaroons is patience. I was aided in my macaroon making by a rather marvellous book that my friend Siobhan leant to me which includes 10 steps to macaroon perfection. I also consulted my own macaroon book, I Love Macarons by Hisako Ogita and combined the tips from both. I made cassis macaroons with a chocolate ganache filling. Memo to self, next time up the quantity of cassis used to make sure that the flavour really comes through. I am so taken with making macaroons that I am investigating Mastrad baking sheets and next time I want to incorporate edible glitter.
I also spent a little bit of time on my table setting and made my own napkin rings from sprigs of fresh rosemary and rose hips taken from the garden fixed to the napkins with very fine string. Most suitable for the season.
1 jar of artichoke hears
3 tbsps creme fraiche
Handful of fresh mint leaves
Juice of 1 lemon
Plenty of salt and pepper
- Empty the jar of artichokes (including oil) into a food processor along with the fresh mint leaves and blitz together into small pieces.
- Then add 3 tbsps of creme fraiche and blitz again before finally adding lemon juice and plenty of salt and pepper. Definitely taste it to make sure that it is seasoned to your liking; you can always add more or less lemon juice depending on your personal preference.
- Serve with triangles of toasted pitta bread