It was a little different on the first night though… On night one ten diners who were all friends of ours, came along to try out and celebrate the idea, the menu, and generally provide some constructive criticism. We didn’t start well, the lovely waitress decided to throw a hissy fit and after about ten ‘yeah whatever’ type phone calls she decided she wasn’t coming home and was going to stay at her mates….one waitress down and no extra help in the kitchen. The lamb took about 45 minutes longer to prepare than I’d anticipated, two batches of shortbread decided that tonight was the night that they wouldn’t work, I discovered that my oven wasn’t big enough for two huge trays of slowly cooking lamb, and a vegetarian moussaka and my Damson fool was definitely substandard compared to previous ones made without the pressure of entertaining!!
So we winged it big time!! The guests arrived and decided to congregate with their Champagne cocktails in the kitchen; they opened beer and wine on all the work surfaces and were a generally unruly bunch. They plied me with red wine and I was half cut before the main course went out…..as we worked they chatted loudly and with much enthusiasm for the Champagne cocktails (the first hit of the night). Once we’d rounded them up and got them to table I tried desperately to get some clear work surface to plate up starters. It was a theme of the night, not enough hands in the kitchen and not enough space. But we got there, the starters were fab, the lamb cooked perfectly (although by the time the veg went out it wasn’t as hot as it should have been), the shortbread (well the bits I retrieved) were spot on and only the Damson fool got a mixed reaction (too sweet for some, not moussy enough overall). We proceeded to sit and drink more wine and coffee and try numerous local cheeses until 1.30am.
With the experience gained from night one, we were fully prepared for night two, our proper first night (entertaining people we didn’t know). The lovely Rosie B decided not to have a hissy fit, although insisted on looking sulky, wearing her iPod and berating her father all the way through setting up the ‘restaurant’. She was on the ball though and between them they soon had the tables organised, set and looking beautiful Pics The pair of them then nipped off to change while I prepared and cooked like a demon. I was on the ball though, bread, crackers, sorbet and pate had all been made the night before. Glasses were set for the Champagne cocktail and there were no vegetarians (so no oven stress). The sink stopped leaking (fixed by our friendly local plumber for a fiver) and all was calm in the kitchen. An unexpected advantage that came from inviting strangers into my home was that hubby decided to get a bit anal about the house, he insisted on re-grouting the bathroom on the Friday, hiding all the crap on the drive, hiding all the shoes, medicines etc and went around strategically placing household articles to hide patches that needed repainting…..if only he could be this observant and methodical every day!!! Oh well once a month will have to suffice.
So there we were all ready to go, nervously awaiting our guests, wondering if they would turn up or like what they found in our living room. Seven fifteen arrived and there was a knock at the door…that was it off we went and from then on we didn’t stop until the last guest left at 11.15pm.
Our welcome was home made bread rolls and Champagne cocktails, raved about by all and as popular this week as last.
Champagne cocktail recipe: One sugar lump with a couple of drops of Angostura bitters, a teaspoon of brandy then topped up with Champagne or Cava Next came the starter of smoked mackerel pate with home made toasted rye bread.
The bread I have to say was better this week than last, I think the yeast was better for the bread machine (which had been on almost non-stop for the past two days). The pate recipe is an old family favourite of my mothers; she says I have refined it and mine tastes better than hers, but I’m not sure my version is much different except I use locally smoked mackerel (from the Llandudno smokery) which is more delicately flavoured than supermarket mackerel.
To make the pate for 8 people I used 150ml (quarter of a pint) single cream 350g (12oz) smoked mackerel 125g (4oz) cottage cheese 125g (4oz) butter, melted 2-3 tablespoons lemon juice Start by removing the skin of the mackerel and then flake into a bowl and mash well with a fork removing any bones you find. Sieve the cottage cheese into the bowl then add the butter, lemon juice and cream. Mix well and season to taste. Spoon into individual dishes as I did, or one big dish as a party dip. Chill prior to serving for at least a couple of hours, over night is better. I served mine with toasted home made rye bread which was a Nigella Lawson recipe from her book “How to be a domestic goddess” and crisp local granny smith apples steeped in lime juice.
Next was the slow cooked lamb shanks, another pillaged recipe, this time from the River Café Cook Book, one of my favourite and most used books. To feed all my diners I used 12 lamb shanks (and enormous they were too, thanks to Williams the butchers for saving them all for me). I dusted them in seasoned flour and browned them in olive oil in batches. Unfortunately I could only do three at a time as I didn’t have a frying pan large enough (something else on my list to buy!!) hence my underestimation of the time It took to prepare the dish first time round. This time I didn’t make the same mistake.
- Browned lamb shanks
- plated lamb all ready to go
So once browned they were placed in a large roasting dish (6 per dish). I then sliced very thinly a dozen red onions which I added to the pan with a little more oil, these cooked slowly for about ten or fifteen minutes then I added a large handful of fresh rosemary leaves chopped roughly (from the bush in the garden) 8 garlic cloves (from Pippa and Johns small holding). I then slightly deviated from the recipe and added a tablespoon of plain flour just to thicken the sauce as I found it wasn’t quite thick enough first time round. After a minute or two I added 350ml (12floz) organic balsamic vinegar and 600ml (20floz) organic red wine which I allowed to bubble and reduce for a couple of minutes. The sauce was then added to the lamb in the roasting tins which were then covered with foil and placed in the oven (gas mark 6, 200C, 400 F) for two to two and a half hours. After an hour I swapped the tins in the oven and basted them coating them in more sauce so they didn’t dry out. These were served with sweet potato mash (not local unfortunately) and vegetables so fresh they were pulled from the ground and cut from the plant that morning
I gave everyone a little while to recover from the lamb, we chatted, drank more wine and a few came through the kitchen to the back garden for a quick between course smoke! Although the cats had been firmly banished from the house they did take their chances when the door was opened, rushing through the gap only to be greeted by a sea of diners chatting loudly…stopped in their tracks looking like rabbits in the headlights they turned tail and decided they were better off outside. Fat Steve persevered and was eventually taken under the wing of one table that, unseen by me let him sneak quietly onto the sofa behind them for a doze. What with them and the ‘competative waitressing’ ….(every so often Rosie would hiss, ‘back off dad that’s MY table’)…it was a night of much hilarity.
Anyway, back to the food, dessert came next in the form of Blackberry and Apple sorbet. I changed the dessert from the first week as diners thought it was a bit sweet and too rich after the huge lamb shanks. This was a much better choice as it was refreshing and cleaned the palate nicely for the cheese, crackers and chutney still to come.
We finished with coffee and local cheeses from Derimon smokery on Anglesey and Y Cwt Caws goats cheese, home made seed crackers, spiced courgette chutney and Elderberry and Apple chutney (yes, nothing wasted in this house, the Elderberry syrup was a great success recycled into spicy chutney with apples and raisins and chilli’s)
So the night finished with big smiles all round, happy diners, happy waitress and happy me! Roll on November, I can’t wait