APPARENTLY there are folks out there who whip up dinner parties and luncheons at the drop of an apron, without breaking a sweat. I am not one of them.
But then Laborie Wines invited me to take part in a challenge to host a lunch. There were certain Ts&Cs attached of course, along with wine prizes for the winner – and spot prizes for voters (just saying). I thought about it for about five minutes, and accepted.
One of the conditions was to use three mystery ingredients, which would only be disclosed once I’d agreed to take part. I’ve watched enough Masterchef and Chopped to be mildly worried about this but my concerns turned out to be unfounded. The ingredients were revealed – and delivered along with a helpful bottle of gorgeous Laborie MCC to drink while I planned the event – to be strawberries, basil and sweet potatoes.
I was delighted; fabulous seasonal produce and super easy to incorporate on a menu.
Having a home which is more suited to spontaneous raucous drinks soirees than sit-down meals, I immediately pitched the idea to my mom, whose garden is perfect for entertaining. She replied to my carefully drafted proposal with one word: “Yes.”
With the venue secured and Laborie taking care of the wine, I began Googling recipes, discussing decor with Mom, and very importantly, considering the guest list. Once upon a time, a friend and I used to play a game in which we would imagine the worst possible group of people to put around a table…knives and rivals, what could go wrong? However, this was not the occasion to put these theories to the test. Just for fun, I included children and dietary requirements. Challenge, you say? Here, hold my wine.
There was a generous budget, which allowed me to experiment with different dishes. Inexperienced in these matters as I am, I do know one thing: never cook something for the first time when you’re having guests. The menu changed several times – even in the last few days, after it had been printed – but there comes the moment when you just have to stop, and stick with your decisions.
The big day dawned, bright and sunny, as it does in all the best stories. Most of the food had been prepared in advance so I wouldn’t have to spend the whole day in the kitchen, but could socialise with my guests, and – hopefully – be a relaxed and charming hostess. The long table was set in shades of blue with white flowers and fairy lights, and pops of bright pink; and the bubbly was on ice.
For welcome drinks I made jugs of sparkling summer punch with lemonade, strawberries, mint from Mom’s garden, and cucumber ribbons – non-alcoholic for children and teetotallers – with the option of adding Musgrave Pink gin. The Laborie MCC and Chenin Blanc were there for the taking, as was the Merlot Cab Sav; I didn’t want to dictate food pairings, preferring to let everyone drink what they wanted, when they wanted.
The main meal led with roasted picanha steak, an interesting cut from the cow’s rump which lends itself well to this method of cooking. It was served with basil mayo, which was delicious if I say so myself, and keeps well in the fridge. Alongside the meat was a tomato tart, easy peasy to make with store-bought puff pastry; a massive leafy green salad with asparagus, broccoli, cucumber (cut into star shapes by Mom in a last minute creative touch), blue cheese and toasted walnuts, with a basil vinaigrette; and the winner of the day which were all Hoovered up – bacon-wrapped sweet potato wedges. So simple, and totally “why have I never thought of that before?”.
I loved my dessert of divinely rich flourless chocolate torte with strawberry coulis and whipped cream. It was also surprisingly easy to make, and much as I love her, I later deeply regretted having let my bestie take the leftovers home with her. We concluded with a platter which had been sent to me by Culture Club, to fulfil Mom’s request for some “sexy cheese.”
The combination of great family and friends who got along famously, lots of wine, and a meal which impressed everyone – all wrapped up in a pretty environment – turned out to be a roaring success. I may even do it again one day.
NOTE: The competition to determine the winner of this challenge will run on Laborie’s Facebook page from January 22 till 25 so it will be great if you pop on over there to vote for me. Please and thank you.
Follow my Instagram feed @biancaleecoleman for more pics.