Actually don't - because you have to give over a week of your life to a dinner party and it'll cost you a bomb!
Somewhere, amongst a group of friends, a conversation started "We should do more dinner parties", and then the conversation digressed, as conversations do, and it ended with "let's do our own version of Come Dine with Me!" Surprisingly, this was received by a number of nodding heads. Well not that surprisingly actually, as unless you've "lived it", when someone mentions "Come Dine with Me", you probably picture yourself watching TV saying: "I could do better than that!" and "What's all the fuss about?"
Oh the arrogance we adorn this side of the TV!
It was decided we'd go in couples - because of course that would be easier, forgetting that it would double the guests from four to EIGHT. Instead, we were just thinking, "Two in the kitchen - piece of piss!" Additionally, we had to change the rules so we'd do one a month because otherwise we'd all lose our jobs.
So I doubled up in with my sister because The Future Husband said "living crap TV; my idea of Hell". Although, after the successful Chinese banquet, he had cooked for my parents, he never failed to reiterate how he could have "pissed it". This was followed up with stage whisper of "only difficult for some" whenever I whinged about things not going right.
The Other Meals:
We were third to go, this meant two dinner parties before. Now this is fun the bit: turning up and someone's house, drinking their wine, eating their food... criticising their every move! You can't help yourself. My Sister and I are the least competitive about such matters, or so we thought. It’s incredibly easy to get suckered in and before you know it you're thinking "Is this homemade?" and “Not very adventurous”.
My pregnant Sister, maternal hormones sinking in, had raised concerns over the decision to score, worried about hurt feelings, falling out and bruised egos (because we're in out thirties and these things are still issues) and even suggested the possibility of not scoring! Nevertheless, the group decided we were "taking it seriously" so we decided we would only score 8, 9 or 10! Brilliant! Can you tell there were only two blokes? Another way to spare feelings was all scores to be anonymous; a non-participating friend would keep the score and consequently hold the power which could tear us all apart. Even with this is mind the temptation of "tactical scoring" gnawed away at me.... Me? Competitive? Rest assured, I had a quiet word with myself and resolved this issue.
This actually started back in January - because as we were "taking it seriously" we all had to submit are menus before the first meal. My Sister and I had a crazy, but brilliant idea, let's cook something unusual (advice: don't do something unusual), and found a meal we'd never cooked before and stuck that down. Crazy? Yes. Brilliant? See below.
Practice. Practice. Practice:
Obviously, a practice run was needed; our family were willing guinea pigs. I have to inform you, at this point, me and my sister believe we are "Super-cooks". We have been spawned from generations of female cooking marvels and our lovely Mother has raised us in a kitchen that overspills with fresh herbs and exotic spices and has a collection of kitchen utensils that would shame Lakeland. Subsequently, this transformed to very blasé approach of just following the recipe - 'Jamie's Meals in Minutes'. \We were thinking there’s two of us, were equivalent to one Jamie O... and went forth into my mother's kitchen... and we came out... Deflated!
It was awful: everything was cold, the crispy chicken was crunchy (like peanut brittle; my dad's remaining teeth whimpered at his first bite), the presentation was disastrous and my poor, pregnant Sister couldn’t even drown her sorrows with red wine... which of course I did, it was the best part of the meal! Our dumfounded family tried to give us some constructive criticism: "maybe you could change the menu!"
Great, nothing salvageable then.
We couldn't change the menu, “we were taking it seriously”, so it just meant more practice runs. A week later, I really knew how bad the meal had been when The FH asked what was for tea and when my reply was "Crispy Chicken, Green Thai Curry, Kimchee Slaw..." he groaned and asked "Really?"
However, hope was not lost, with a couple more tweaks and run-throughs we realised a lot of the prep could be done in advance and we began to nurture each other's confidence back to health; "It's fine. We can do this. It'll be great."
The Monday before our meal (which was on a Saturday) we devised a list, which included ridiculous things we had to do - like buy extra cutlery and plates (who has enough matching for eight?), make fortune cookies, prepare the ice breaker, create a party game (limericks?) and other completely unnecessary things we had devised to make the week as difficult as possible.
Fortune cookies? Can you make them? Oh yes you can! You can make about 40 batches, using a video tutorial (a really annoying American woman on you tube), to try and perfect them and they will still be soggy - seriously, we tried everything. Oh the annoying American woman's weren't soggy. They were perfect! It’ll take a "few attempts to get them right". By few, she must mean over 40, because we stopped at that many and still hadn't quite mastered the art of fortune cookies. Fortune soggies, maybe.
Eventually, Saturday came around; we were chilled throughout the day, under the impression that we had everything under control... until an hour and half before when we remembered about everything we had forgotten to do (the vegetarian’s dish; the Kimchee Slaw) and this entailed a blind fury of mess and chaos till the guests arrived. We slowly witnessed life imitate art as we became contestants from the show and Dave Lamb started his commentary in my head. E.g.
- I added an extra chilli to the curry! Why? You see them on the TV "I haven't done it with 3 chilli's before, just thought I'd add an extra one." Noooooooooo! Don't do it you shout, but they can't hear you, they do it! [Dave Lamb: Is that wise? Too late.]
- Fifteen minutes before they were due to arrive my Sister turned to me and said: "Do you want to go do your hair and make-up? I'll manage here." at this point when watching the TV show I always think "Why haven't they done that earlier?" Why hadn't I? I have no idea. I must like the drama. [Dave Lamb: Because that's the most important thing right now: appearance.]
- The chicken will be fine in there on low while we have starters. [Dave Lamb: one problem there girls, it's not on low.]
- "Ooh Seaweed! How'd you make that?" For some reason instead of telling them we bought it from Sainsbury's we started a squirming lie about how you make crispy seaweed. [Dave Lamb: Yes Fran tell us how you made that Seaweed which I saw you empty from a packet earlier.]
- After downing a glass of Chablis during the starter, we then started to plate up the mains I turn to my Sister "I've gone blank, I don't know what I'm doing" [Dave Lamb: Erm Serving dinner to your guests would be a good start.]
Thankfully, we had made our fancy deserts the day before, even though all week we had been tempted to buy them and pass them off on our own, but succumbed to the pressure of "must be homemade". But... they rocked - who doesn't like mini deserts? Plus the limericks in fortune cookies and celebrity (creepy) masks created some unforgettable comedy moments. I think laughter is the best course at a dinner party.
Totally knackered. Totally hung-over. A little bit skint. Warm and fuzzy feeling of success? Not quite - but I'm glad people enjoyed it. Would I do it again? NO! And I make a solemn vow to never watch the contestants on TV and suggest they have a lack of intelligence. No they are not stupid, probably slightly insane, and a little bit weird, but not stupid!