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I can’t swim. I can’t ride a bike. I can’t drive. (Well, I can. I learnt for a feature. Took two years. By the time I passed and announced my success, everyone at the mag had left or died. But I don’t drive.) That’s right, I’m one of life’s achievers. Worse, though? I can’t cook. I know. What in the name of Nigella is going on?
I never learnt to cook as a child, and never had to cook as an adult (I don’t have children and have lived mostly on my own) – and so have got away with never cooking (thank you, foodie boyfriends). When I shared flats I lived on chips, and when I lived alone I ate out. Or lived on chips. Cooking really feels like pressure on. That people would be ‘watching’. But if cooking is showing friends and family love, what am I showing them? ‘Go on, cook me another roast and I might turn up with a bottle of Babycham’ disdain? And so, I am hosting my first-ever dinner party. Hold me, readers.
The lovely team at Sainsbury’s magazine said they’d help me by providing me with a delicious-sounding menu. We’re talking carrot, ginger and parsley soup with mini feta fritters (I love alliterative food); Persian chicken; and chocolate, sour cherry and pistachio pots(Add links to recipes). They also helped by gifting me food writer Sarah Randell. Sarah was appointed my Dinner Party Guide — and a few days before my special night, we met up for a cooking lesson. I was hoping that my guests would cancel so I wouldn’t have to endure this humiliation – but Sarah made the dinner party seem doable. Enjoyable, even…
The cooking began. Or, rather, the ‘every time Sarah spoke, I wrote notes in my pad’ began. I was scribbling for my life. Sarah: ‘Go for all green in your salad. One colour is more stylish.’ ‘When you heat the chocolate it will look speckled. But it all comes together. Don’t panic.’ ‘When the edges of the fritters go frilly, then you flip them.’
You know what was great? I surprised myself by knowing some stuff! When I was whisking the chocolate mix, I knew we should place a damp cloth under the bowl to stop it moving. And I knew about frying with butter and oil. (For anyone not as culinarily gifted as me, it’s because the butter adds flavour and the oil makes the butter/oil mix less likely to burn.) How did I know that?
I felt happier frying a feta fritter for the first time (try saying that drunk) in a kitchen with Sarah – rather than at home just with the recipe. (Another tip? Don’t add salt because feta is salty enough.) And it was good to see how much chocolate mix should go in the pots (half/three-quarters of the way) and how much water to put in the bain-marie (to half the pots’ height).
At the end of our session I asked Sarah for more bon mots to help me. Sarah: ‘Do as much as you can the day before or in the morning, otherwise you’ll be cooking all day and you’ll feel burnt out. You’re cooking for friends, not trying to be a Michelin-starred chef. Better to do simple food well, rather than act like you’re on MasterChef.’
I remind you: I’d cooked maybe three times in my life and had ‘mastered’ scrambled eggs a fortnight before. What had I done?!
I was low-level stressed-out the entire day. But I started to calm after I’d made the puds, as a) there were no glitches, and b) the kitchen smelled lovely and chocolatey and I felt like a proper cook. But then I grew too confident. Cue meltdown number one… I didn’t divide the soup into batches before I started to blend it. And so it splashed over me and my open laptop. And then the blender blew up. An actual puff of smoke. As I tried to breathe, my flatmate Janine suggested I use her Nutri Ninja to blend. And so I did. I got ready in about two minutes just before my guests arrived. My brother Daniel and my friends David, Nick and Chris. (With me and Janine making a neat dinner party six.) They encountered meltdown number two when I was convinced the recipe was wrong. ‘In the oven for another 20 minutes? Does that sound right?!’
Then meltdown number three… How can you heat soup and serve soup and ‘decorate’ soup and get chicken out of the oven and tong chicken onto a plate all at the same time?! By getting a Janine to help, that’s how. My heart was pounding. I declared defeat. And knocked back a glass of Prosecco. ‘I can’t do this!’
loved. It was great. I’m sure I shouldn’t say this, but the food was really pretty fantastic! All except the feta fritters. Loving the alliteration less now. They tasted goooood, but I only got one fritter frilly and fab. As I served the soup my head was thumping. But as we relaxed with the puds I was full of pride. And needy questions. ‘Did you like it?!’ My guests were as sweet as the chocolate pots. Daniel said the food was delicious. David said, ‘The meal screamed Bibi!’ (Which I’ll take as a compliment.) Nick said, ‘This sounds like an insult but that was superb and we didn’t expect that.’ Chris coughed – and blamed the light sprinkling of cocoa on the pud. (He then asked for the recipe. He asked for the recipe!) And Janine? ‘The chicken looked great from afar.’ Turns out Janine’s a vegetarian…
We ate, we drank, my guests left at a decent hour and, absolutely shattered, I got into bed with another glass of fizz.
I’m not sure I’ll host another dinner party for a while, but I will definitely start cooking. It was thrilling to make those dishes. And that people loved them? Can you believe it? I did that. Me! The Queen of Toast. Cheers to that!
Don't miss the recipes from Bibi's party: