Friday, 20 May 2011

Winner's Dinners

I had dinner at Michael Winner's house the other night. This kind of stuff occasionally happens to me - occasionally - and it's always so surreal when it does that I tend to forget all about it. But I remembered just now that I had been because I was thinking about dinner parties.

I had better be discreet about Michael Winner's house because I'd want some shitty half-arsed blogger to be disscreet about mine but I can definitely say that it was extremely grand with a lovely garden. As you'd expect. And Michael Winner is a very charming person and Geraldine is a hoot. But I've always thought that. People think that Michael Winner is some kind of monster because his columns are a bit brisk but they don't understand that he's only joking. There was another guest at dinner who did an outrageous impersonation of Michael pretty much all evening and Michael seemed to think it was funny. Or at least didn't mind, which I think speaks volumes.

The really interesting thing about the dinner was the dinner. There is, thanks to programmes I guess like Masterchef and Come Dine With Me, to attempt to make dinner at one's house like a restaurant experience. And I really thought that was what would happen at Winner Towers.

But actually what we got was the definition of a kitchen supper, which is all any of us ought to aspire to when making dinner for friends in our own home. There were some fantastic canapes, (mini spanakopita, thai pork somethingorother wrapped in lettuce, roast beef on crostini etc) and some really good smoked salmon as a starter.

THEN there was a choice of chicken in a kind of tarragonny cream sauce or beef stroganoff with salad and either white or brown rice. And you were allowed to help yourself!! There is nothing more terrifying or kind of un-jolly than someone else deciding how much you want for dinner. Then there was some cheesecake so amazing that I still regret not taking the leftovers home. But I didn't know if Michael was joking or not when he said that I could.

I hope you don't think I'm bragging telling you about this. I don't mean to. I just thought it was interesting and instructive that what Michael Winner wants to eat is moreish canapes, excellent smoked salmon and a good honest plate of stroganoff with rice.

So next time you're sitting there going "fuck, fuck, fuck" at the prospect of cooking for six people, just bear this in mind. People aren't coming to a restaurant, they're coming to your house. Don't even bother with something as elaborate as a roast.

Keep it simple and everyone will be happy; someone might even impersonate you for the whole evening. Imagine that.  

Monday, 16 May 2011

Thai pork patties

Babies really fuck up your life.

But it's not for the reasons that you might think. It's not really the sleeplessness, or the back-breaking feeding, changing, washing, washing, washing, feeding, scrubbing, washing, folding, folding, shh shh, folding, washing, or the constant worry that they are bored, or hungry, or sleepy, or not sleepy, or understimulated or overstimulated or constipated, or not constipated enough.

Those are just details. They are just the sort of slightly tedious minutiae that litter any kind of job. And looking after a baby is - as is well-documated - a full-time job. (No weekends off or anything, as I was surprised to discover when my first Friday night as a mother rolled around.)

No, they fuck up your life because even though looking after them is a grind that at times you worry might send you completely out of your fucking mind, if you attempt to leave them in the care of someone else for more than 20 minutes, you start to feel weird, then sick, then heartbroken, then demented. You desperately want to let go. But you can't.

About a month ago, looking after Kitty full-time was getting to me a bit. I was getting depressed. I just wanted to walk out of the door and keep walking, without having to tell anyone where I was going or what time I was going to be back.

What we need, I declared to my husband, is a part-time nanny. One was duly sourced, poached off another family and roped in to drop in once or twice a week and play with Kitty while I wrote, or cooked, or went for a walk, or went to Waitrose.

And she is lovely. Posh, charming, friendly, biddable and knows a lot about babies. And yet I hover over her like a dark cloud when she's here. While she is feeding Kitty or waving Sophie La Giraffe at her and saying "Peepo!" I am NOT doing any cooking, or writing, or running any errands. I am hopping from foot to foot, waving at Kitty from corners of the room or fetching the nanny tea.

"This is fun!" said Nanny A brightly and not unkindly the other day. "I get to play with you while Mummy waits on me hand and foot!"

I took the hint and managed to go next door to read a cookbook for a whole twenty minutes.

My husband doesn't want to know. "There is no point," he said in his serious voice, "having a nanny if she's just here to help you play with Kitty. Go out. Do things. Do some fucking exercise so you can stop moaning about your belly. She's just getting to know Kitty just the way that you had to, that I had to, that Shura had to. Let her get on with it."

I narrowed my eyes at him and sidled out of his office and went to curl back up in the corner of the bedroom to do some more rocking backwards and forwards.

The cookbook I managed to read was a new one by a boy called James Ramsden, who is a very modern sort of cookery writer. He's one of those cooks and writers who attitude is "It's only dinner." His new cookbook is called Small Adventures in Cooking and it is available for purchase here. Despite the fact that it won't lie flat on a worksurface and doesn't have enough pictures for a cook with as shit an imagination as me, it's very jolly and I recommend it to you.

I cooked from it the other day some Thai Pork Patties.

These are excellent for a light supper wrapped in lettuce (James recommends Little Gem but I am so fucking sick of Little Gem I can't tell you so I used iceberg) and dipped in chilli sauce. They are also absolutly fantastic cold, so make too many, is my advice, and have them for snacking on in the fridge.

For 2 as a light supper with plenty left over for snacking
this is not James' exact recipe but it was nice anyway

500g best minced pork
1 large red chilli or some dried ones, whatever you've got, chopped finely or crumbled
1 stalk lemongrass, chopped finely
1 small bunch coriander, chopped
2 sprigs mint, chopped
salt and pepper
2 handfuls breadcrumbs
2 eggs
2 spring onions, chopped
groundnut or peanut oil for frying

1 Combine everything well in a bowl sprinkling over 2 or 3 generous pinches of salt and a good 6 or 7 twists of black pepper

2 Form into pattie-shapes. I like mine small-ish - finishable in two large bites, but you must do yours however you like. Then turn on your extactor fan, stuff a teatowel under the kitchen door and fry off your patties in some medium-hot oil for about 3-4 minutes each side. If you can, fry them in a pan that has a lid otherwise your house will smell like the back end of a chippy all night and for most of the next day.

Eat as quick as you can and then rush back to your 24-hour cotside vigil.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Dinner party poussin

Sorry, this turns out to be a bit blurry. But you can get the idea.

One solution to a dinner party crisis - especially if you are not a magnificently confident cook (who is?!) - is to throw a lot of money at the problem.

I don't like doing this, because I have been brought up to think that if I do not buy all my clothes from H&M and make dinner out of half a loaf of stale bread and some turnips then I am wretched and profligate and will probably go to hell. Although when you're from a family as protestant in thought and word and deed as mine, hell is a far too good, interesting and racy place for sinners.

This is why I'm always cooking cabbage.

But it is a fact that you can just go out and spend a lot of money and throw an impressive dinner party. Like doing this Lucas Hollweg thing I found in the Sunday Times the other week. I don't have much time for Lucas Hollweg normally - partly because he says things like "I cooked this for my book group and they loved it!!!!!" but mostly because he's got a fucking wicked job and I am not big enough NOT to hate him for it.

Nigella's always going on about how marvellous poussin are for a party and my objection has always been meanness. "£3.99 each?!?!" I find myself screaming silently to myself. "Absolutely not. They can have boiled ham and carrots."

But if you are half-minded to unload some cash, poussin are a good idea - as everyone gets one each, so you don't have to do any tedious carving and they're more festive, somehow.  The idea is to pile up the poussin in a bowl and everyone helps themselves in that modern, faux-naif, nauseatingly bourgeois way.

Lucas does this with a sort of middle-eastern marinade thing, which works pretty well and smells great. It also means that you can do this with a salad and couscous, rather than dicking about with a lot of veg.

This is not his exact recipe, but it's kind of the same idea.

For 3 poussin you need the following quantities for the marinade:

4 tbs olive oil
1 tbs groundnut oil
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tbsp paprika - any sort
3 crushed garlic cloves

Soak the birds in this mixture for as long as you can. Ideally for a few hours, but even one hour makes a difference. If you've got a lot of poussin, increase the quantities of your marinade accordingly.

Then sprinkle over with salt and roast at 180C for 35-40 mins.

If you're doing this with couscous, add to it some lemon juice, coriander, salt and pepper, chopped cucumber and toasted pine nuts. We also had this with some minted yoghurt, which was just a lot of fresh mint chopped up and added to Greek yoghurt with some salt and pepper.

V nice. If pricey.