Dinner party disasters

Our features ed faces a culinary implosion under pressure

Hosting friends? Holly Sands battles with the culinary challenges of dinner party season.

It was when I heard the first of the ringing fire alarms in my apartment block’s corridors that I knew. The yelps and shrieks from next door confirmed my fears. Dinner party season has sprung in Dubai, and no dish is too ambitious, even if it does end up flambéing your living room.

You would have thought that after several years of watching Come Dine With Me disasters on telly, we’d all have learnt a thing or two about throwing spag bol to the wind and embarking on our first ever soufflé before a table of 20 hungry guests. But of course we haven’t.

And so it was that I found myself in the kitchen last weekend, channelling Jamie Oliver (which mainly involved adding seasonings from ludicrously great heights and ending every sentence with ‘D’ya know what I mean?’) and whipping up my first ever chicken liver paté. Now I’m no newcomer to the kitchen, but despite following every instruction down to the last grain of salt, I found myself with what can only be described as a chicken liver smoothie – and no amount of whipping or cooling could persuade it to set. Watching as my guests poured this deeply suspicious-looking savoury gunk over lovingly-sliced triangles of brioche was too much to bear, so I slunk back to the stove to get a head start on the mains.

A word of warning. If you’ve ever asked yourself, in a culinary sense, ‘How hard can it be?’, the answer is very. Always. And don’t believe any cook who tries to sell you a book promising otherwise because, well, they are trying to sell you a book.

Back to my dinner party, and all that’s really left to say is that I must be the only person, perhaps ever, to have served purple scallops. That’s not a swanky, exotic, rare species of shellfish – just the normal one, which I somehow managed to make look like giant buds of lavender. Appetising indeed. Needless to say, I earnestly hoped my guests didn’t rush to return the favour. It wasn’t their dubious cooking skills I was worried about – it was mine. What if I had to bring dessert, as most good invitees would offer to? Curdled custard would be a culinary slap in the face.

A few days later, however, as I stepped, flaccid fondant in arms, out of the lift and towards my now hosts’ home, my trepidation quickly evaporated. A tell-tale fog of smoke hung in the air, and suddenly my purple scallops didn’t seem like such a monumental failure. After all, at least they weren’t black...

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