If I've learnt one thing from Cowie, it's the need for themes. You can't have a theme-less party. It's just not allowed. And I have to admit, I think she's right.
The only problem is picking a theme that is fun but also do-able. Whilst tarts and vicars was a fun theme at university it doesn't work quite as well in London when you have to get changed into your fishnets and bondage gear in the office before hopping on the District and Circle Line and then getting the night bus home.
Whilst being overwhelmed by the experience we had at the Royal Well Tavern, we decided upon what turned out to be a brilliant theme: Quintessentially English. Quite retro, but perfectly in keeping with a Summer weekend at Stevington.
Catering for 14 for a weekend is a much bigger task than I had realised. So I took the Friday off in order to break the back of the cooking. My day started with a 4 page plan, which I've included here, mainly to impress Cowie who thinks I can't organise anything!
The starters were all inspired by recipes from a brilliant book called Terrine by Stephane Reynaud. Admittedly this might sound a bit Frenchy, but it still felt English and very retro! Plus, most of the vegetables in the terrines came from our garden.
I meticulously recreated his spring vegetable terrine that remarkably emerged from its icky looking cellopane actually resembling the picture in the book!
Anna and Edwin did their best to recreate a cauliflower and cabbage terrine. It's just unfortunate that I forgot to buy green cabbage. Rather than turning out snow white and surrounded by dark green leaves like a classy maki roll, the red cabbage blead through the cauliflower turning the whole thing pregnancy test blue!
More successful was Cowie's smoked mackerel terrine topped off with yellow courgette and cucumber "scales" - very retro. Very tasty. Very Cowie!
But the star of the starter show was the tomato, mozerella and basil terrine challenge. Edwin, myself and Ed from work all had a go at contructing this fiddly little terrine. Anna and Edwin had lovingly dried out a tonne of Mum's yellow and red tomatoes from the greenhouse...
You just layer tomoato on top of mozerella on top of basil until you have filled the chocolate fondany pot. And then hope that your one emerges as the best! Sadly mine didn't win. But it meant that Ed has been basking ever since, waiting for me to write about it!
Ed's is the one in the middle and mine is at the far end. Edwin's masterpiece is nearest the camera.
My favourite part came next. It was a whole day in the making, but it was all worth it! I had seen a stunning recipe for Heston Blumenthal's pea and ham soup on Eats Like a Girl's blog and was determined to give it a go. I brought a ham hock and two pigs trotters back with me on Thursday night from the ginger pig and lovingly simmered them all day on Friday with some herbs onions and other stock goodies. After many hours of bubblig I took out the hock and trotters and added a massive bag of frozen peas which quickly cooked. We had some for dinner on Friday night and it was delicious. But a day later after some serious straining and refinement we each had a cold shot glass of pea and ham soup as an amuse bouche. The trotters and hock had given the liquid a silky complexion and a serious amount of body. So much so that the jelly/stock left back in the pot was able to belly dance of its own accord.
We enjoyed these large shot glasses full of green gunge with a small glass of chilled sherry. And you know what. It worked.
By this point I was getting a bit worried by the state of my 3 kilo wild sea trout - it's so hard to work out how long it should stay in the aga for. Unfortunately, I left it in a shade too long. I much prefer medium rare fish - with translucent flesh, but when you are cooking for so many people it is so hard to get things just right. We served this incredible fish from Delizzimo with steamed samphire, buttered new potatoes, brown shrimp butter and hollandaise sauce (which I had made for the first time). It was delicious and very refined. Tremendously English. And all inspired by the sea trout I had at the Royal Well Tavern.
The desserts lifted things to another level - Cowie's gooseberry jelly was a masterpiece in Englishness. I wonder whether it could have been any more seasonal or Nationalistic. It was inspired by Stephen Reynaud's strawberry jelly and was intended to offer a lighter option and also stop any celiac's from grumbling about discrimination.
Anna and Edwin's strawberry tart looked and tasted stunning.
And I was very proud of my home grown raspberry cheese cake that I had baked in my grandmother's slightly rusty tin.
All of these seasonal desserts were washed down with a delicious Italian sweet wine, which brought our glass tally up to the double figure mark. Exhausted by all the cooking we eventually retired to the summer house to play a brilliantly chaotic game of roulette and black jack.
Thanks to everyone who came along and to all of you for helping out so much. Especially Edwin, Anna and Cowie. It has since been pointed out to me that I have got absolutely no photos of people any more. I'll have to rectify this next time.
I can't wait to host another party - all I need to do is save up for a bit and think of a new theme. My gut feeling at the moment is that it should be a pizza oven party.