A Modern English Dinner Party
In 9 Courses [Menu]
Guest blogged by Amanda Berne, Senior Cookbook Editor at Ten Speed Press.
Photographed by T. Shane Gilman
Friday morning, well into the planning of our feast… recipes chosen, guests invited, wine pairings suggested… an e-mail comes in from Sam, my co-chef/conspirator—you know, the owner of this blog. Some highlights:
From Sam Breach
To Amanda Berne
Date Apr 20, 2007 5:21 AM
"last nigh i stabbed my hand wit a skewer… cant move my middle left finger…i am try to find vicodene but i cant find it…why does it hurt so much?"
The quick story? Sam was in pain for the love of English food. She stabbed herself with a skewer while trying to rig some yogurt draining contraption in her refrigerator with skewers and rubberbands.
Don't try this at home. Really.
We had to feed 12 people in roughly 36 hours. Nine courses, including an amuse, fish course, soup course, appetizer, palate cleanser, entrée, cheese course, dessert and mignardise. The last thing I needed was a swollen, drooling co-chef with one hand. I offered postponement, but to my relief she didn't. My Sam, she's a trooper.
It's not like we just wake up, e-mail each other and say, hey, let's have a nine course dinner party for 12 tonight.
We started weeks before and the spreadsheet master, that's Sam to the mere mortals out there, got us hooked up on the Google shared spreadsheet so that we could start tossing ideas around. It was St. George's Day, some holiday in England, and Sam was set for an English feast.
I should offer — I'm not English, nor British even. I'm from Baltimore; not very helpful. What Sam doesn't know is that I might have inwardly cringed a little when she suggested that. English food is the butt of many, many jokes, some of which I might have made at one point. I mean, really, who eats faggots and feels ok about it after?
Here was a typical conversation during our planning process:
"Sam, how about we do rarebit?"
"Amanda, that's Welsh not English." Oh.
"Sam, how about we do mushy peas?"
"um, no, they are gross." Oh.
(I won on that one though; see later in post.)
Beans on toast? Gross.
Black pudding? Nope, can't really get it here.
Bacon pudding? Um, what?!? Ok, this one doesn't exist.
Getting the point? There could be no Sam down — I needed her.
But, for those who have met Sam, well, she's one tough broad, and Friday night she picked me up to go shopping and get started. We hauled everything up to her amazing apartment, and got to work.
First thing was first: We had to order pizza.
With that tough task out of the way, it was time to start prepping. That night we made Campari and grapefruit sodas; cleaned fresh sardines to marinate in malt vinegar; made chicken wingettes into stylish lollipops; ate pizza; prepped the tikka masala sauce; ate some chocolate; made mint oil; drank champers.
As usual, Sam woke me up at some ungodly hour to go to the farmers' market. She softened the blow with a cup of tea and promised to buy me a Claire's Square for my trouble. Bribery works, folks. Her hand was still swollen, but looking (a bit) better, but she still couldn't do certain things. Like zip her own coat—that's what friends are for.
We spent the next 12 hours shopping and cooking, with barely a moment to sit down. There were moments of panic (I won't tell you which ones), and moments of pure, unadulterated joy, while tasting all the dishes (and the Claire's Flapjacks, my new favorite treat). And many moments in between as we danced around the kitchen to BBC Radio 2 streamed in through the speakers. It was all-British, all the time from this moment on. Including the fresh English muffins that I bought from Boulette's Larder to cheer up my wounded English friend. It worked, especially with the salty English-style butter. Oh, and the lemon cake.
We finished down to the wire, I was out of the shower minutes before our first guests arrived, and the kitchen was clean with our stations set to plate each dish as it was served.
We went for a modern English approach...
Curry houses are some of the best eating on the cheap in London, so we paid homage with the "Chicken Dippa Masala," which were yogurt-marinated chicken "lollipops" with a smooth, spicy, sweet masala. We were eating this out of the blender with spoons. Shhhhhhhh
I don't know when beef Wellington went out of fashion, but I say we make a protest to bring it back. Especially our deconstructed wellys with puff pastry circles, grass-fed filet, mushroom duxelle, seared foie, herb crepes and pan sauce. Rich? Yes. I might have licked the plate. Served with the cutest little kale-kissed Bubble & Squeak cakes ever.
Next time any of you refer to English food as a joke, well, I'm gonna sic my one-handed English friend Sam on you!