And after much planning and co-ordinating of schedules it finally happened at the weekend.
So what do you cook when you have and Englishman, Frenchman and an American come over for dinner? A little bit of “home” for each of them. Which I thought would be super easy when I had that flash of inspiration, but it turned out to be a bit trickier than I thought.
Some parts were a no-brainer; my Frenchman friends loves Madeleines as well as gougeres (which are these lovely cheese puffs made with gruyere cheese), so they were first onto the menu. As it was scheduled for a cold weekend in July, I though Boeuf Bourguignon would be lovely and hearty (and not require too much last minute fiddling once my guests had arrived), and what goes better with beef but Yorkshire puddings?!?! Two countries down, America to go. I scanned through my well-thumbed copy of Jamie's America, but was a bit short on Inspiration, apart from Would You Like Fries With That?? I was leaning towards a Waldorf salad to counter the heavy beef and pudding, but then a girlfriend suggested Mac N Cheese. Admittedly a bit carb heavier than I would have liked, but I had cooked it several times before (which was something I was trying to do with this dinner – usually I will use a dinner party to try new recipes. But with 8 to cook for I thought I would be a bit sensible and Stick with What I Know) AND it was a Cook Earlier and Leave dish; also one of my criteria (I do so like to chat and drink with my guests once they arrive and not be stuck in the kitchen if I can avoid it!). So that was locked in until my American’s Wife sent me a list of Thing to Cook (“… but we won't come without bringing a dish... So you have to choose one of the seven options!) – bless her, she knows that I like to do it all myself! And wouldn’t you know it, but number one was “Yam/Sweet Potato Casserole (Mom's Recipe)”.
How could I resist? Something I had only heard of an American TV shows made to an authentic American recipe! (and something that I didn’t have to cook). So main course was set.
Dessert was tricky more for the overabundance of choices – did I go for an English pudding like sticky date or jam roly poly? Could I go all gourmet and do Crepe Suzette? Or go the Apple Pie route? Madeleines were already decided as part of the dessert/with coffee course, and I had planned to make a New York Cheesecake for an earlier dinner then hadn’t eventuated so I still had a bit of a craving for that. But what to cook that was English that wouldn’t be as filling as a pudding? I figured after three courses we might not want something too heavy. Luckily I took inspiration from Wimbledon and chose scones with jam and cream. Simple but effective.
So we were looking pretty good with two courses sorted, with lots of “here’s one we prepared earlier” components. Only entrée was causing issues. Can you think of a traditional English entrée? I couldn’t either. I googled it, I emailed my english friends all to no avail. Prawn cocktail was the only thing I could find, and I had already earmarked that for my American entrée as “shrimp cocktail”. In desperation I was going to open a packet of crisps, when I changed tack and decided to make pretzels as the American entree. I had enjoyed making them a while ago and thought I may have solved the Turning Them Over in the Pot of Boiling Water dilemma (solution: a wok skimmer – brilliant!!). So I grabbed some traditional American Mustard (ironically called “French’s) to serve them with, as well as some Baconnaise, which I had picked up the last time I was at my USA Food store (which really deserves its own heading. It is bacon-flavoured mayonnaise, which is crazy enough and falls nicely into the Only in America category; along with cinnamon or dark chocolate flavoured peanut butter. But when we got it home and read the blurb on the back, it is also kosher and safe for vegetarians. How they get it to taste so deliciously bacon-y is beyond me, but it a revelation with hot chips).
So I had confirmation from all 4 couples (except for our Frenchman who had a late-planned trip to Paris) and began the Expats Dinner Cooking Timetable (which I had mapped out earlier in the week – did someone say OCD???).
Friday night saw the marinating of the beef for the bourguignon and cooking the NY Cheesecake (which conveniently needed to be refrigerated overnight). Saturday morning saw the making of the pretzels (with its long rising periods) interspersed with making madeleines, scones and gougeres. The pretzels need a super-hot oven, so I baked them before lowering the oven to 160’c for the bourguignon.
Then cleaned up and set the table (appropriately themed in red white and blue) and waited or my guests to arrive.
I had instructed each couple to bring alcoholic beverages from their country of origin, so we started off with some lovely English ales (at room temperature of course!) followed by an earnest discussion of the differences between English, Australian and American beer. While they all chatted about the long involved process that is organising a Spousal Visa and munched on gougeres and (extra thick) pretzles (as they had fallen apart easily last time I tried to make them thicker, but they rose properly this time so were very thick! Still delicious and fluffy but still not that distinctive pretzel look. Third time will be the charm), I assembled the prawn cocktail. As it was one of three entrees which would be followed by two other large-ish courses, I opted for a smaller version and did them in shot glasses. Which looked very effective.
Main course brought about the anxiety of cooking Yorkshire puddings for an Englishman. I hadn’t thought much of it until chatting with my girlfriend who mentioned she had “finally perfected her Yorkies”.
She had been in England for 8 years.
This was a sobering thought as this was one component of dinner that I had not made previously. Plus when I tried to find a recipe online, I realised that there are Many, with lots of variations. The first one I tried turned out too crisp and almost biscuity with a hard shell; not at all suitable for soaking up roast beef juices. Luckily the next one I tried was from my trusty PWMU cookbook, which is my Go To for all Old recipes. They were soft and fluffy and perfect – hooray! And the Englishman gave his thumbs up too. Score!Main course was also the debut of the yam casserole!! I had by this stage worked out that Americans called sweet potatoes Yams so I thought it would be a variation on mashed or scalloped potato. Which it kind of was but with an American twist: mashed sweet potato with a pecan nut crumble topping. And marshmallows around the edge. Baked in the oven.
Only in America.
I found it quite yum but we all agreed that it was very sweet (especially when drinking lovely French Burgundy) and would probably have been suited better as a dessert. But still a great cultural exchange, and a bit of an insight into why they have pumpkin pie for desert on thanksgiving.
So all in all, a fantastic night with some fantastic people from all around the world. I managed to use every mixing bowl in my kitchen (some twice), 5 different cookbooks (Delicious Sweet, Lonely Planet Street Food, A Little Taste of...France, PWMU and my own personal recipe book) and about 4 loads through the dishwasher. But not lose my cool or have chaos rear its ugly head which has happened before in the arena of Dinner Party Cooking.
And it was hopefully a little piece of home for our ExPats, and feeling of You’re Not Alone.
Next up? A cocktail party from around the world. I have been wanting to make a Sazerac for ages (one more ingredient to go), my girlfriend feel in love with Champagne Soup when she was in France, and our American friend spent time in Brazil and can make a mean caipirinha. And the other countries we will have fun researching.