Often, I think how useful it would be if I could just hurry up and find 'the man of my dreams'. Nothing to do with the joy and wonder to be had in finding the person with whom to share ones life. Oh no. I'm far more practical than that (...though that part would be nice too). No, mainly, I think it would be handy to have 'another half' so that they could pour the drinks. And maybe take the coats. And possibly even hang those coats up somewhere. Or hide them in my bedroom so that people didn't have to venture in there themselves and discover that is where I've hidden the entire contents of the dining room to make it suitable for guests.
Last weekend I had seven friends over for lunch and it was lovely. But it would have been lovelier still had there been someone else who could have poured the drinks. And perhaps laid the table. What happened instead was this...
I then realised that I'd run out of milk. I gave her back her coat, took her drink from her and sent her back into the cold to the corner shop.
Fortunately, I know her well.
In the meantime, in the middle of whisking eggs, the doorbell rang again. Two more guests. Two more drinks to make (one involving a trip to the basement to get ice), two more coats to deal with and eggs half-whisked. More door-bell ringing, plus the timer going off as the beef was done and that the Yorkshire puddings needed to go in.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, within half an hour, my calm controlled, clean and tidy kitchen had become a scene of total destruction. Tonic bottles, corks, half-sliced lemons, dirty pans and a half made pudding all jostled for space with my seven lovely friends who were kindly trying to assist by getting their own drinks/whisking more eggs/putting coats in the black hole of my bedroom.
What joy it would have been to have a handy man around to entertain them all for ten minutes in the sitting room, fix their drinks and hand round the rather delicious nibbles that I had made in advance. My friends would then perhaps have thought me to be the height of effortless entertaining. (Actually, I think they know me better than that).
Fortunately, the chaos was salvaged when we sat down to eat and I realised that beyond the mountains of mess in the kitchen, I'd managed to produce a reasonably good lunch. What a relief! Next time though, I'll be serving a dessert that I can make in advance. And perhaps I'll employ the services of a butler. And also, in my next house, I'll have one of those kitchens where people can sit and chat and nibble while I potter behind the safety of an island which hides all the mess and chaos.
Anyway, onto the food. These great nibbles came from the queen of relaxed entertaining, Nigella. They are in her Christmas book and elsewhere too, I think. The combination of parma ham, mild goats cheese and dried fig is a winner. These are super simple to make and can even be made up a couple of hours in advance and popped in the fridge until needed. I'd suggest taking them out around 30 mins before you want to eat them to take the chill off which tends to numb the flavours.
Parma ham, fig and goats cheese rolls
Makes approx 24
12 slices of parma ham (2 supermarket packets)
125g mild, creamy goats cheese
6 dried figs
1. Carefully cut each slice of parma ham into strips - mine went fairly neatly into two strips, but you may find you can get three. Lay the strips out on to a chopping board.
2. Snip the figs into quarters (I used scissors).
3. Smear a small teaspoon-or-so of goats cheese onto the cut side of a fig quarter. Place cheese side-down at the end of one of the strips of parma ham and roll tightly together.
4. You're done. That's it.
dreamy parsnip gratin. If you love parsnips and you love cream, then this you HAVE to make. I really do insist. It is seriously good. And particularly good with beef, I think.
With the rib of beef, I served Yorkshire puddings, roast potatoes, glazed carrots, peas and this
the recipe. Please go away and cook it now. You won't regret it.
The recipe for this came from the great BBC Good Food and so I won't repeat it here. It is made in much the same as pommes dauphinoise though with the addition of grain mustard. I made no amendments to the recipe. All that I will say is that I used Parmesan cheese instead of the Twineham Grange suggested. I also found it quite hard slicing the parsnips thin enough so I used the slicer of the food processor. I suggest you do the same.
So, here is