There is a reason I cook less in Cambridge. Mostly because my kitchen this year consists of two ‘warming plates’ and a microwave and my fridge (as I’ve said before) resembles the toy fridge that came with the ‘my first kitchen’ I got at the age of three. I have minimal access to an oven and any attempt to use it involves running four floors down my staircase and two floors up on another one, which is always fun when you’re carrying a hot tray…. Plus I have limited (three armchairs) seating and only a desk to eat off. All this makes it less than ideal to throw a dinner party, but I took up the challenge when my friend the Girtonion persuaded me to throw one with her.
We optimistically set a date in a month and a half’s time, although being me, I planned the menu about a week later. Limitations included budget ( if we had a fish starter, we went with a veggie main), gluten intolerance and logistics, oven space (I went with no-cook starter and dessert).
On the day itself, about an hour and a half before the start of the party, we had an offer of a better venue, with a proper table and enough chairs and and oven in the next door room. While fantastic, this proved an entertaining challenge as we carried 3 large lasagnes through college and across the road, I was surprised we managed to pull this off but with 3 minutes to go we were semi-organised.
While enjoying a fine selection of wines (my friends have good taste) we sat down.
Gin and Juniper cured Salmon, pickled cucumber and creme fraiche
This was possibly the easiest course to do within our limitations and relatively cheap with Sainsburys basics salmon fillets, who knew. Although I panicked and left the cure on too long so they were a little too salty but luckily managed to balance out with the mellowing flavours of the creme fraiche and cucumber.
Why I decided to cook a lasagne for a gluten-free meal I am not entirely sure, but I love the Nigella goats cheese and pumpkin lasagne
So in order to tweak it to suit my limitations, we used squash instead of pumpkin, cut down on expensive goats cheese and upped the mozzarella, increased the garlic (always makes things better), replaced the pine nuts with walnuts and replaced the pasta with slices of courgette and aubergine. my original idea as an interesting side was fried garlic polenta, but alas a lack of interesting ingredients in the supermarkets of Cambridge scuppered this plan. Instead we went with chips. We parboiled the potatoes with salt, sage and garlic, tossed the drained contents in oil and roasted for about an hour – they appeared to go down well, my neighbours at the table started grazing on extra chips of the tray before we had even served all the food.
Lemon posset is a delightfully easy dessert, in this case quirkily served in plastic cups (Ok maybe that is all I had…) Simply bring 600ml cream and 150g sugar and the zest of 3 lemons to the boil, boil for 3 mins before whisking in the juice of 3 lemons, pour into glasses and leave to set. Note to self, next time don’t put the popping candy on till the last minute otherwise you simply create a sort of strawberry flavour creme brûlée topping to your posset….
For the shortbread I got to use my new bright red Kitchen aid for the first time. Again devilishly simple. Cream 150g butter, 75g sugar, 1tsp salt, add 250g gluten free self raising flour, roll into flattened balls and bake at 180oC for 12-15mins till golden brown.
There were moments I thought a three course meal for nine would be impossible in college, it wasn’t, but boy it made me appreciate my kitchen at home.