Before we were parents, Rob and I used to enjoy holding dinner parties at home. Back then, we totally took it for granted. As other parents of young children might agree, a grown-up evening without interruption, and without you feeling so tired you’d fall asleep on your plate, can feel like a thing of the distant past.
After talking with a group of mummies (we’d met at my “Mummas & More” bloggers talk ) about getting together, we started considering the idea of a dinner party where we all contribute a dish. However, in the end we decided to invite a chef to do all the cooking (and clearing up!) for us. 🙂 On Day 32 of #100DaysNoTV we had a restaurant experience at home!
As host, I had a lot of fun looking on Pinterest (where else?) for table decoration ideas. Happy to have found some hessian from Sew Much to Do, an independent in Ely, and sprigs of baby’s breath and cut gerberas from Ely Market, and new table linen from Habitat. Our cinematic light box got some use too!
to be frank
In Cambridgeshire we’re quite spoilt for choice as there are many chefs who provide a private service in your home. Many specialise in a certain cuisine, and use seasonal ingredients so their menus can vary throughout the year. The chef brings all the cooking ingredients, and as host you provide kitchen equipment, tableware and drinks.
Finding it hard to decide on one chef, I asked for recommendations from local food bloggers. After careful consideration, Frank, of Wild in the Pantry, was the chosen one. He had a great menu selection and following a friendly exchange of emails, I was confident it would go well.
And, so it did. Although it began in an almighty rush: Frank was due to arrive at 6.45pm, Ollie had a film night at school and needed to be collected at 7.15pm, everyone was arriving at 8.00pm and Rob’s flight home from Canada was cancelled, so I was flying solo!
Frank was bang on time, and once the boys were home they needed A LOT of encouragement to go up to bed! Too much excitement. They’re inquisitive little chaps and had lots of questions for Frank, who happily answered them all. With the boys finally sorted, I had roughly 7.5 minutes to get changed from my scruffs to a dress, tousle my hair and slap on a bit of make-up, before popping open the chilled prosecco and starting a Spotify ‘Dinner Party’ playlist. Aaaand, relax.
our evening begins
As everyone arrived we heard the pitter patter of tiny footsteps down the stairs. Who can blame them? 🙂 Once the boys were (re)settled in bed, the girls and I enjoyed a catch up and Frank brought through our first canapé: deep fried macadamia nuts with a tomato and olive salsa. It was served on a white porcelain canapé spoon. I never know how to eat out of one of these – at least, not without dribbling most of it down me. Managed it though, and it was delicious.
We were invited to make our second canapé, and we weren’t about to refuse that offer! Frank showed us how to create the perfect cheese beignets (no, I don’t know how to pronounce it either) with a spiced soy dip. Using two teaspoons, we shaped the mixture roughly into rugby-shaped balls, and dropped them into the oil to sizzle.
Can you guess which is mine? Don’t guess. I have no idea. What I can say, is that these bite-sized nibbles were beautifully gooey in the middle with a lovely crunch on the outside. I could’ve eaten many, many more!
Seared scallops and pancetta: king scallops and crispy pancetta on a bed of minted pea purée, drizzled with Jerez vinegar dressing
This was as good as it looks! Fresh scallops, salty pancetta and earthy pea purée are flavours that complement each other so well; it has to be one of my favourite starters. We could’ve chosen to have black pudding instead of pancetta, which I must admit I would like to try. Happy to go with the majority vote this time. 🙂
When hosting a dinner party where we’re doing all the cooking, I find we’re popping to and from the kitchen, and don’t always get time to chat properly – at least until dessert. This party was so different in that respect; we were all able to natter and laugh together. Totally stress free!
Slow-roasted pork belly: served with crisp crackling, marinated with thyme, lemon zest
and fennel seeds, on a bed of apples cooked with sage and ouzo, and
served with fondant potato, carrots and mange tout
Proper crunchy crackling – never the same if it isn’t – and the pork was nicely moist. The dish was every bit as yummy as I had hoped. The empty plates were testament to how delicious this dish was. I’m licking my lips as I write this!
We could have chosen two different dishes for two of the courses, but fortunately we were able to keep it simple as all of us have similar tastes. I think Frank appreciated that too!
Chocolate and salted caramel tart: crispy chocolate pastry, gooey salted caramel,
topped with a light chocolate mousse, served with strawberries and sugar cage
I don’t know about you, but I would take chocolate and salted caramel tart however it was presented! But, there is something about a glistening sugar cage to give it that extra bit of sophistication. It was time for us to step up once again and get involved in the kitchen.
Frank had found my ladle in amongst a mountain of utensils, and this proved to be a good mould for the cage. Taking a scoop of the syrup, we held the ladle steady in one hand, and held the spoon up high with the other and basically drizzled the syrup all over the ladle. Hand-to-eye coordination isn’t as easy after a couple of glasses of prosecco! 😉 Within seconds it had cooled and set, and we could take it off in one piece. Smiles all around.
Sugar work is tricky and can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing! Having the syrup at the right temperature is key, and by the time all six of us had finished, it was getting cool and tacky, which made it harder to drizzle the syrup.
While we tucked in to our final course, Frank quietly cleaned and tidied away in the kitchen; nothing left for us to do. It really doesn’t get any better than that!
Everybody left with a gift bought from another Ely independent: chocolates from the fabulous Cherry Hill Chocolates on Ely’s High Street. If you’re ever visiting, don’t miss this little wonder!
So, what’s a girl to do after everyone departs? Take off the make-up, put on the onesie and enjoy a final glass of prosecco, of course! 🙂
Would I do it again? Absolutely! Whilst a private chef isn’t hugely cheap, when you factor in what is included and what little the host is required to do, we felt it was amazing value. If you’re celebrating or just feel like getting friends together for a grown-up gathering with little fuss, I can think of few better ways to spend an evening.
For some reason, I’m feeling a bit peckish…
Bye for now!