How to put on an amazing dinner party on a school night.
A fancy dinner for eight on a school night is tricky to pull off. Here’s how we did it on Friday with a minimum of fuss. (We used our Winter Wild Venison Casserole for the main course. There’s a small amount left in shops but this would work just as well with any of our slow-cooked casseroles.)
Venison Casserole with celeriac mash and cavolo nero
Passion Fruit Tart/Chocolate & Almond Torte – Cheese
Between the hours of 530 and 8pm we managed to get the kids home from school, fed, washed, into pyjamas and sworn to best behaviour, while doing all the food prep, pouring ourselves a drink and even taking in a little early-evening TV soap.
Served with drinks - Duck & Plum Pate on crostini; Fig & Stilton Muffins (we found a tray in the freezer left over from Christmas); bowl of posh crisps; bowls of green and black olives.
Scallops with pancetta served on pea and mint puree The one bit of proper “cooking” designed to be quick, straightforward but kind-of impressive. We made the pea and mint puree earlier in the evening (peas, mint leaves, a few dollops of crème fraiche, bit of seasoning, blitzed up with a blender), then reheated it in the microwave. Some amazing pepper-crusted pancetta from the local butcher we grilled earlier ‘til crispy, then popped in the oven to reheat. Scallops from the local fishmonger, a couple of minutes each side in a pan with olive oil. Only challenge is having a pan big enough to fit 24! Trick is to start at 12 o’clock on the outside of the pan, then place each scallop in the pan in a clockwise direction, then do another circle inside, then another (depending on your pan size). Then flip them over in the same order. Putting it all together took about five minutes from start to finish.
Winter Wild Venison Casserole served in individual casserole pots; celeriac mash; cavolo nero. Using our ceramic dishes, we put two four portion casseroles in the oven at 7.30pm (they take about an hour to cook). At 8.30pm, while everyone was having drinks and canapés in the living room, we ladled out the casserole into eight individual ceramic pots with lids, like mini Le Crouset dishes. Lids on, these went into the top oven at a lower temperature. We didn’t actually eat until 930 and with the pots covered, the extra cooking time made the venison mind-blowingly tender and flavoursome. We put the pan of potatoes and celeriac on to boil when we sat down for the starter. The cavolo nero took five minutes. To serve we scattered some fresh parsley into each pot before replacing the lid, and putting the pot on a plate in front of each guest (the lid on kept everyone guessing, a nice little bit of theatre). We served the mash (just added some butter, a dash of milk and seasoning to the pan before mashing) and cavolo nero in one of our ceramic dishes, passed around the table.
Passion Fruit Tart and/or Chocolate & Almond Torte, served with a bowl of crème fraiche. We took a bit of a breather before pud. The Tart and Torte had gone onto cake stands in the morning and into the fridge to defrost, with raspberries surrounding each for decoration. We took them out of the fridge when we sat down, to bring them to room temperature. Served at the table with some crème fraiche to share in a ramekin.
A selection of hard and soft cheese with some fancy biscuits on a nice board.
Job done. Happy guests. Warm glow of a successful evening (horrible hangover the next day).
See how to serve our Chocolate and Almond Torte here