… anyone who’s even attempted to throw a special night at home knows it can be a stressful affair, as well as making all the food I always feel responsible for creating the right atmosphere by styling the house a little , making sure the lighting is right, ensuring there’s plenty of comfy furniture (even though everyone inevitably always ends up perched somewhere in the kitchen and that the music is the right balance of happy tunes over volume.
Over the years, and yes, it has taken years to learn this stuff, I’ve realised that it’s my controlling nature in the kitchen that makes it so stressful and what I now try really hard to do is let go a little, if people offer help, don’t turn them away. Enjoy the ‘everybody mucks in’ attitude, in fact, as my first tip advises…
embrace the help of others… don’t be the control freak. We’ve all reached the stage in our lives where we know who our friends are and which of them are best at what, so make your special nights ‘all involving’… I always find that the best parties are when everyone one brings something, whether it’s a dish or the music, let them in!
be prepared… like every good scout or girl-guide knows, preparation is the key to success and this can’t be more prevalent than at a special night. All the dishes I’ve suggested for my Very Special Night can be made in advance and then simply pulled together on the night. Food should be a communal experience so I try not to have to make food that leaves me stuck in the kitchen all night or that I have to plate up, make look pretty and serve. I prefer the type of food that goes onto the table and everyone constructs their own plates… I always think this is more special in a way.
don’t sweat the small stuff… I’m a food writer and people always expect me to have made all the teeniest details in my food from scratch and mostly I do, I find pastry really simple to make but if I’m cooking in volume or time is not on my side then I’ll purchase ready rolled pastry and I don’t sweat it. It’s the stuff that’s going into the pastry that matters and quite frankly, who needs to know.
share the music… I learnt a long time ago that not everyone likes Kylie blaring at full whack whilst tucking into a bowl of penne arrabiata but there’s no accounting for taste! The best nights have a rhythm of their own so instead of going crazy worrying what kind of music to bring together for the perfect night what I now do is ask everyone who’s coming to suggest 3 songs to add to the play list for the evening. It’s always fun to find out who’s suggested what and then everyone is happy and you don’t have to take the slack for one too many ‘un-cool’ tunes!
a little something goes a long way… I always treat myself to a special little tipple an hour or so before anyone arrives. It calms my nerves and helps me relax into the evening… but be warned, make sure you don’t go crazy before the firsts guests have even crossed the threshold, there’s nothing worse than an inebriated host and you don’t want to end up embarrising anyone, yourself included.
Cheese-on-the-inside burgers with Saint Agur blue cheese and Martel VS sauted mushrooms
This is a really special, grown-up burger and so I would insist purchasing the best mince steak you can find and a really good French blue cheese, it will make all the difference in the end. These can be made well in advance and wrapped in cling-film and kept in the fridge for 24 hours or even frozen and fully defrosted before serving. You can grill these or barbeque these but I always have the oven on full blast too so they all go in on a roasting tray whilst you’re cooking the rest which means you’re less stressed and you can serve them all at the same time… another tip is to arrange all the burger buns, fillings and sauces on the table and let your guests construct the burgers themselves… serve these with French fries of course!
for 6 people
500g Steak mince
200g Mushrooms – very finely chopped
salt and pepper
4 tablespoons Martell VS
butter and olive oil
Saint Agur blue cheese
Brioche burger buns
Salad and sauces of your choice
heat a little oil and butter in a large frying pan, add the mushrooms and let them gently sweat and saute. Add seasoning, the Martell and a little pinch or two of freshly chopped rosemary, turn up the heat and let them sweat for another 6 minutes or so until the Martell has bubbled away and reduced – set aside to cool
place the mince into a bowl, season well and add a drizzle of olive oil and the mushrooms and bring together with your hands
form the meat and mushroom mix into 12 small balls and set aside
take one ball and flatten it in the palm of your hand, then place a wedge or two of cheese on top and place a second meatball on top and form the patty, sealing the two halves together
I like to pan fry these in my griddle pan until just done and then keep them warm in the oven for a final blast of heat once all 6 are made
build your burger as you like it
eat and of course, enjoy!