Unusual as it is for me to compare myself to a domestic goddess (usually I am more slummy mummy than yummy mummy), but this weekend I think I surpassed myself in the domesticity states….but not without the usual minor dramas that keep me on the edge.
Not really a drama, in fact it was quite exciting, on Saturday morning we woke to find a fine coating of snow covering the hill; late Autumn supper had suddenly turned overnight to a full on winter supper. I guess it made a change from non-stop wind, rain and floods. I wondered for a second if I should be cooking something heartier for dinner than sorbet and salads, but I guessed the warm spiced wine and the roaring log fire would warm everyone up sufficiently. I was actually more concerned about bringing in the diners and had toyed with the idea of cancelling, but that was not something I really wanted to do.
The dramas began when the other half rang to say he had a flat tyre. He’d only just gone to collect the veg having dragged himself out of bed at about 10. Not exactly on the same level of stress as me yet!
He reported that John was currently looking for a foot pump. When asked where his foot pump was he informed me it was at home
“Not much f**king good here is it?” I tactfully responded
He took the hint and said he wouldn’t be calling me back unless he was desperate and he couldn’t get it pumped up.
He hadn’t even been to collect the rest of the meat, the olives and the blue cheese yet!!! He’d pushed my little panic button, but this time thankfully all was well. The tyre stayed pumped up and he returned in record time with everything I needed without me having to berate him with hundreds of phone calls.
I also started a waitress down. The usually lovely Rosie was pale-faced, snotty and snuffly and walked around droopily with her face buried in a hanky for much of the morning. I initially banned her from interacting with the general public and serving them food, but as the day progressed and she became snottier by the minute I also decided she was far to lurgy ridden to go near food preparation too. She looked dejected “what am I supposed to do then?” she asked….I decided she could be the dedicated photographer for the night, a job which I barely ever manage to do as I’m far too busy.
I was also able to enlist the help of the equally glam Hobz, she is 2 years older than Ro but they have been friends a long time, they are climbing buddies and Hobz is like the big sister Ro never had. She seems to spend her life waitressing and food preparing at every given location in the Bangor area!! The little un was nowhere to be seen all night, happily ensconced in front of the Wii, he only ventured down the stairs for food, which once served he claimed he hated.
“I don’t like that, we have it at school, it’s horrible” he said. Wish I’d gone to the same school as him we all cried!!!
Sadly we again didn’t have a full house but due to a last-minute booking and a couple of people who said they would come but refused to confirm, we set for eight. I’m pretty convinced that it’s down to money and the weather, but it doesn’t stop the hint of disappointment. To be honest I’d rather have a full house and less in the way of donations because it’s not just about the food, but meeting and entertaining new people, good conversation etc. I’m also not going to bang on about those that say they will attend, but then don’t, obviously we still bought the food, but in the end it was us, the staff that enjoyed a damn good dinner between serving courses!!
After chasing up bookings we eventually seated six people. One couple had been before but had returned this time with friends. It is such a lovely compliment to have diners returning again and again and to be able to serve them great food that they really appreciate. So may it continue!! One other couple attended but after the first two courses mysteriously disappeared into the night (nothing to do with us or the food I was assured). Well, we are a discrete bunch so will not enter into speculation on the reasons why, but I am very grateful to them for leaving a donation and I only hope that they return again in the future.
With the extra help from Hobz we were motoring, tables set and prepared in record time (I know it was only for 8 but it still takes preparation). Also miraculously all the work surfaces stayed clear, the washing up disappeared promptly and the food was all ready without us even breaking into a sweat. With an extra pair of hands we were well and truly sorted. I tend to think that the ‘staff’ were a little underemployed at times on the night. I think this was apparent when one of our dinner guests ended up opening the door to our other guests because the ‘staff’ were so busy taking photos of each other in the kitchen, that they didn’t hear the knock on the door!!! The sackings may begin next month.
We started with spiced wine, home-made olive and sun-dried tomato Foccacia, with Organic Balsamic vinegar and Olive oil for dipping. This was followed by Butterbean, leek and parmesan soup (a Jamie Oliver recipe which I’d amended. It originally had chick peas in it but I thought butter beans worked better. Sorry Jamie but I think my dinner guests agreed).
I made triple the recipe given here (which is for 4). Remove the green ends of two medium leeks, cut in half and then slice finely. Put them into a colander and give them a good wash. Then sweat in a large covered saucepan with about a tablespoon of butter, two crushed cloves of garlic and a handful of fresh thyme leaves (stalks removed). When softened but not coloured chuck in 1 can of butter beans (or dried butter beans that have been soaked overnight and then boiled for 20 minutes, which is what I did) and 2 medium potatoes peeled and cubed. Pour over 565ml of chicken or vegetable stock (I made my own vege stock) and simmer for about half an hour or so until the potatoes are well-cooked. If the soup ends up too thick add a drop more boiling water. Season well and serve with a glug of good olive oil, an extra sprinkle of Thyme and plenty of shaved parmesan. I don’t reckon it needed anything else and although I offered a bit more Foccacia it was hearty enough on its own.
Next came the chicken wrapped in Pancetta, roasted with potato slices, cherry tomatoes and olives, served on a lemon dressed bitter leaf salad. The chicken was from Williams the butchers and was fantastic, juicy and succulent. The Pancetta was a bit of a revelation because I set Paul the task of finding me some that was locally produced (I didn’t think he would find any to be honest, but he definitely came up trumps). Yep he said there is someone in Wrexham that does it. Okay it’s not within 30 miles, but Wrexham is a lot closer than Italy (or London, or wherever the supermarkets get theirs). This is actually another Jamie Oliver recipe, its pretty simple to do and the secret is in the ingredients (good quality, fresh makes it i think).
The chicken breasts were cut underneath the small fillet and filled with about a dessertspoonful of basil butter (just butter creamed with chopped fresh basil and a pinch of salt); they were then wrapped tightly with about six thin slices of pancetta. I used about 2lb pancetta for 10 breasts. I then peeled sliced and par boiled (for a minute or two) 2lb potatoes. They were then drained and tossed in a little olive oil, salt and pepper then spread out on the base of two roasting tins. I then stuck them in the oven (gas 7, 220 C. 425F) for around 10 minutes. While they were cooking I marinated three big handfuls of cherry tomatoes and the same of pitted black olives in more olive oil, salt and pepper. I then chucked them on top of the potatoes and placed the chicken on top of that. Returned to the oven they should then take about 20 minutes to cook. I think mine took longer than that, first because my oven is shit and second because it couldn’t cope with that much chicken to cook. No problem though it cooked beautifully in the end. The chicken was served on a bed of bitter leaf salad (amazing that Pippa and Jon still had some going) which had been tossed in a little olive oil and lemon juice.
Now as you will have gathered from my previous posting, I was well impressed with my tarte tatin last week. So I decided to stop playing it safe and within the spirit of experimentation chose to be adventurous this week and make something I’d never made before for the first time on the night (I had intended to try it out prior to supper club but ran out of time). A stupid thing to do you may think, but it sounded nice and thought I would go for it. I was a little nervous I have to say and it could have gone either way. Nigella’s chocolate mousse cake sounded seriously decadent but her assertion that you had to ease off the foil slowly and carefully to avoid the cake sticking to it was enough to make me uneasy. Anyway, the cake was made, baked and left to cool completely (usually I’m too impatient and try to rip off foil or baking paper too soon, not this time). As I nervously came to remove the foil I tugged at a small corner with trepidation. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it came away without any cake, as did the rest of the foil. The cake was in my opinion, perfect (ha! I would say that of course). It was dark and sticky and oozy in the middle and lightly cooked and springy on the outside. With a damp knife it sliced easy and perfectly. I then served it with a dessert spoon of sharp crème fraiche and a small scoop of bitter orange sorbet (which I’d made at some time after midnight on Friday after finishing work at Hendre). It was an amazing combination and one which elicited lots of oohs and aaahhhhs (and that was just the staff!!). At one point I asked them to stop orgasming over dessert in the kitchen. They told me I was disgusting.
The night finished with coffee and cheese and as I sat down to chat in the dining room, god knows what they were up to in the kitchen (although I was offered photographic evidence of silliness, which involves the other half acting the clown for the girls…I may use it as blackmail material first though……no sod it, you can have it now)
Other half and I were also very grateful for the glasses of wine offered by our guests. Very much appreciated.
Now we are looking forward to two Christmas supper clubs on the 11th and 12th December, both of which will be far more manic than the last two November dates. With hindsight I have enjoyed the calm, before what will be the storm. With fewer guests we have been able to take it easy and chat, most of the clearing was done before Sunday and we were able to return to normality much quicker.
But of course instead of kicking back and putting my feet up on Sunday, I felt the domestic goddess urge fall upon me. Christmas puddings, marmalade, sewing and ironing awaited me. Since Rosie had retreated to her bed for the day and Hobz was doing a 10 hour shift in the local bakery I enlisted the help of the smallest person in the house. In fact this little man made the Christmas puddings all on his own!! I on the other hand embarked on marmalade making. These will make fantastic Christmas presents along with sloe gin, home-made truffles and chutney. Perfect if you want to give something non commercial or if you are a bit skint like me!!
It was a good thing that the other half had (at my request) bought far too many organic un-waxed oranges at great expense. I didn’t need them all for the sorbet and they don’t keep well but were perfect for marmalade making. I had to add my twist though and chucked in a bit of brandy when boiling and then another glug once the set was reached.
So as the temperature dips (3 degrees it was this morning) and I finalize the menu for Christmas we shall all cosy up for a week…well that’s until next Saturday when I will be making and donating soup to the Bangor Free shop…but that’s another story