On Wednesday evening we hauled six large boxes and bags of food, linen and kitchen equipment to a beautiful Georgian townhouse on Upper Wimpole Street.
I was hosting and cooking a dinner for Red magazine’s Smart Women Week, and was thrilled to find a group of interesting and very smart women had all bought tickets for the evening. From jewellery designer Claudia Bradby to a city banker setting up a charity, the guests were the very definition of Smart Women.
I decided on a very seasonal, autumnal menu: mushrooms, damsons, cobnuts, Jerusalem artichokes and cauliflower all featured heavily.
It was also important that there was lots that I could either cook or prep in my own kitchen in advance. When cooking in a strange kitchen on your own it’s wise to presume that there will only be the bare minimum of equipment, and not set yourself up for a fall. (And there’s a limit to how much stuff you want to be lugging to the site.)
That being said, my menu had a lot of processes – I made bread, soup, cake, meringues, ice cream, purees, pilaf…Most of the recipes came, or were adapted, from my cookbook Friends, Food, Family. And huge thanks to my friends at Mentzendorff for providing the wines, including some delicious Champagne, Sherry and dessert wine. (We’ll be doing a run down of the fabulous wines later this week, many of which were from female winemakers – which seemed appropriate for the evening.)
The table was a standard boardroom number, so I brought my own grey linen tablecloth and napkins, along with some tiny glass vases for the hydrangeas, and my own silver antique candlesticks.
(The grey linen was a present from my mother, but you can find similar here, and a beautiful vintage-style white linen one from The White Company here.) I’m currently obsessed with vintage blue and white china, so I also brought a box of Willow Pattern and Spode platters I sourced over the summer from antique shops, on which we served the canapes and all the vegetables.)
All the starred items are from my book (Friends, Food, Family).
Canapes: Artichoke puree on croutons
Wine: Champagne Ayala Brut Majeur
Mushroom soup* (Potage aux champignons a la Bressane)
Homemade warm soda bread, served with whipped butter with roasted garlic puree
Wine: Sherry – Bodegas Hidalgo Pasada Pastrana Manzanilla
White – Hamilton Russell Chardonnay
Roast butterflied marinated leg of lamb served over cauliflower puree* with chopped fresh Kentish cobnuts
Charred purple spouting broccoli with harissa mayo
Barley pilaf with green herbs and sea salt
Jerusalem artichokes with peas, lemon zest, and garlic butter*
Vegetarian: Charred cauliflower steaks with Waterloo cheese
Wine: Turkey Flat Grenache
(I particularly recommend this OXO nutcracker. Nice padded arms to spare you from blisters)
Pudding: Warm spiced apple cake* with brown sugar meringues and damson ripple ice cream
Wine: Klein Constantia Vin de Constance
With coffee: Small squares of squidgy chocolate brownies*
Here’s the old ‘drizzle single cream using the back of a spoon trick‘ in action – it means the cream trickles, rather than flows, ensuring it doesn’t immediately sink to the bottom of the bowl.
I’m sorry we don’t have more pictures – but I was concentrating more on getting the food out of pans and onto plates!
And, of course, huge thanks to Smart Women Week sponsor Clinique, for doing my make up pre-event and for the on-film piece I did for Red before we started cooking.