Sunday, December 07, 2008

Delicious nibbles and a dreamy parsnip gratin

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 spent all morning preparing a delicious feast and thought that I had it all under control. The kitchen was tidy, things were in the oven, the table was laid and I was changed. All was calm and perfect. I felt so organised that I even poured myself a pre-lunch gin and tonic. Then the first guest arrived. I took her coat and poured her a drink. I then explained that I had to just prepare the pudding - would she mind chatting in the kitchen with me, whilst I finished off?

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.

With the rib of beef, I served Yorkshire puddings, roast potatoes, glazed carrots, peas and this 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.

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 the recipe. Please go away and cook it now. You won't regret it.


Loving Annie said...

I wish I had just won the lottery and could provide you with a charming frock-coated butler for a year to help greet your guests, serve and put away coats !

Looks like you had a lovely meal - you are quite accomplished in the kitchen !

Yorkshire pudding.... Ooooooh, I love them.

Beth said...

I keep flicking through Nigella Christmas and think I really should make these fig and goats cheese nibbles. said...

I'd gladly stand in while you continue your hunt for the perfect man, so long as you let me eat too :)

I have a couple of parsnips that are looking a little sad in the bottom of my fridge. I think I've found a way to use them up now!

Peter M said...

Your appetizer would had been nibbled with joy but the showstopper is that Prime Rib...WHOA!

Antonia said...

Annie - oh, you are so kind! Yorkshire puddings are so good, aren't they? I hadn't had them for ages are had forgotten how much I love them!

Beth - they are so quick and easy and such a good combination of flavours. Hope you give them a try!

Ginger - of course! There is always plenty of food to go round - sounds like the ideal arrangement (!)
Let me know if you give the parsnips a try - so wickedly delicious!

Peter - the rib was good. Sadly, I forgot to take any pictures of the finished product - I rubbed the outside with a little oil and English mustard powder plus lots of salt and pepper and lay in on a bed of red onions. It was very tasty and nicely rare in the middle. Such a treat!

Sam said...

That gratin sounds amazing, I love parsnips!