Entertaining can be full of perils and the perils absolutely multiply if you’re trying to pull off a dinner party with your own small and unpredictable children under your feet.
My mother didn’t like to do things by halves so instead of inviting a manageable amount of six guests, she would invite 12. And there would be no hired help, you’d just be run off your feet the entire evening.
On this occasion when 12 were coming for dinner, we five daughters had been fed early and put to bed so the business of the dinner party could get underway without any interference from us. Well, that was the idea.
Once the guests had arrived and enjoyed their pre-dinner drink they were taken through to the dining room and my father would pour the drinks while mum plated up the entree – yes, when you don’t do things by halves you have to also include an entree. Between the kitchen and the dining room was a little hole in the wall framed in chocolate brown louvre shutters. When mum had finished plating up she would open the shutters and dad would be there on the other side to take the plates to the table. After the entree which could have been something like deep-fried camembert or French onion soup, the plates would be cleared and passed back through the servery window. The chocolate shutters would then be closed so the guests were spared witnessing any kitchen mishaps.
While sorting the plates in the kitchen mum turned around to see a slight white figure in the doorway saying, ‘I feel sick’. And it was one of the five of us who was just about to vomit and she informed my mother that two more of us had just vomited all through our beds.
What had they given us for dinner?
Mum raced my sister upstairs where she vomited in the toilet. After stoking the fire and pouring everyone another drink and turning over the record in the record player, dad rushed upstairs to find me and my sister Emma sitting up in bed with vomit all over our sheets and blankets and through our hair.
While the guests listened to the music and chatted amongst themselves, they remained oblivious to the goings-on upstairs. My mother now had the three who had vomited in the shower and was shampooing out the vomit. Dad was checking the other two to make sure they weren’t going to follow suit. Then dad stripped the beds and changed all the sheets and mum towel dried our hair and found us some clean pyjamas and put us back to bed.
They raced back down the staircase, hurried into the kitchen and plated up the main course which could have been something like Coq Au Vin or Beef Wellington. Dad then ran back into the dining room, turned over the record, re-stoked the fire, poured everyone another drink, opened the little brown shutters and took the main course plates to the table. And as they sat down with their guests no one asked them where they had been.
While mum and dad can’t remember what it was they served for the entree and the main, they do remember the dessert. It was crepes suzette and dad remembers it well because when he reached for the cognac bottle for the impressive flaming part of the dessert that wasn’t done privately in the kitchen but was set alight at the table, it was empty. Not to worry, dad just re-filled it with brandy and no one could tell the difference. Or if they did, they were too polite to say anything.
That was a night that could have gone more smoothly.
Have you ever got away with a substitution?
Coq Au Vin
Degree of Difficulty: 3/5
Cost: If serving this for a dinner party it is a fairly inexpensive main course.
- 2kg chicken pieces (I use thighs, legs and wings)
- plain flour, salt pepper
- 2 tbspns olive oil
- 2 tbspns butter
- 200g speck
- 16 pickling onions, top, tailed and peeled
- 400g Swiss brown mushrooms
- 400ml dry red wine
- 4 fresh bay leaves
- handful of fresh thyme
- mashed potato and steamed green beans to serve
Coat chicken pieces in flour seasoned with salt and pepper and shake to remove excess.
Heat a large flameproof casserole dish over high heat. Add olive oil and butter. Add chicken pieces in stages and cook until brown – about 5 minutes. Remove and set aside.
Add speck to pan and cook over medium heat until crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Add mushrooms to pan and cook briefly until lightly browned. Remove and set aside.
Add onions to pan and cook for a few minutes until lightly browned.
Return chicken, speck and mushrooms to pan. Add thyme and bay leaves. Pour in wine. Bring to the boil then cover and place in the oven for 60 minutes or until chicken is tender and onions are soft.
Serve with mashed potato and steamed green beans.
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