Come Dine With Me In Isolation - the beginning
23/04/20 - it is my turn to cook for Come Dine With Me In Isolation. Name we adapted due to Covid19 and national lockdown in Ireland and abroad.
The idea of the event started with one of our housemates who decided to throw a dinner party to celebrate the end of our mandatory quarantine following an unintended exposure. Claiming she does not know how to cook, she served an amazing dinner with two main options and a fabulous dessert - a three layer cake with vanilla frosting and raspberries on top. The table was not short of being transported from a fine dining hall of a retro restaurant - one look at it and we were already mouth-watering.
During the evening we debated and praised all the succulent flavours, indulging textures and those incredible scents. We transformed into those educated but humble food critics. We were amazed, especially considering how inexperienced the chef was (or at least from what she claimed). We immediately decided that we should score her efforts and do it again - and Come Dine With Me In Isolation was born.
Next up was Vini, who is the most experienced when it comes to cooking. He was on MasterChef Brazil and hosted numerous fine dining evenings for his family and friends, some we already had the privilege to attend. We knew we don’t stand any chance but rules are rules so we had to let him take part.
Without any disappointment we were treated to a truly fine dining experience with 3 courses, including 2 main options, and his signature white chocolate and strawberry cheesecake for dessert. I had the pleasure of tasting that cake before, but when the other guests had their first mouthful the noises of indulgence and excitement began. The crust is made with well known digestive biscuits, but it is accompanied by melted white chocolate to give it that extra chocolaty richness with every bite. The white chocolate also makes its way to the cheese filling, but that's not where this indulgence end. For even more sweetness and the uniquely silky texture he adds condensed milk - one of Brazil's favourite confectionery treats. But here comes the star of the show - the cake is topped and overflowing with fresh strawberries, making it one of the best looking cakes, all jokes aside. Everybody that night announced it t be the best they have ever tasted... now that will be fun to follow!
Fast forward two weeks and it is my turn to throw a dinner party to remember. I decided not to give up and being quite competitive I made it my mission to outdo my partner and create an even better experience. The biggest challenge I faced was the fact that my partner does not eat much meat apart from poultry, and one of his housemates is vegetarian. I very quickly decided I will not be offering two versions of any courses but wanted to serve a 5 course meal instead, so it had to be all vegetarian. I don’t mind vegetarian food, but don't have that much experience with it. On top of that I would never think of ordering non-meat dishes when at a fine-dining restaurant. If I’m paying good money for my dinner I want to get the most I can from that experience, so meat always seems like the best option. But is it?
I have decided to think of some of my favourite dishes and dinner experiences and try to recreate them in a fine dining fashion and without the use of any meat products. The starter was easy – mushroom dumplings served on a beetroot purée. A reversed Borscht Soup, which is my favourite Polish Christmas dish of all time and based on our long tradition cannot be made using any meat products, so it is all veggie. Both boxes ticked. For the second starter and to cleanse our pallets I decided to serve French onion soup with cauliflower whipped cream and crushed pistachios. Here I had to change the beef stock to a vegetable one. For our main I wanted to try a veggie steak, but after consulting a flexitarian friend of mine with impeccable taste I landed on beetroot burgers based on her recommendation. They were served on a carrot purée (for which I got praised in the past) with grilled seasonal vegetables, roasted nuts and mushroom mac’n’cheese.
The hardest part was done. Now to the dessert. To allow a short break from all the food, my guests were treated to an Italian upside-down cappuccino - you foam the coffee and add a bit of milk. Very interesting twist if you ask me and to make it even more exciting I added a splash of Baileys to complement the coffee flavour. For dessert I opted for Jamie Oliver’s Poached Pear. The fruit is poached over medium-to-low heat for 2h and soaked over night to soften it's flesh and soak up all the sweetness from the surrounding juices.
Unfortunately, due to the amount of cooking and time spent on food preparation I decided to change my starter. Instead of serving hand made dumplings I swapped them to Oscypek. It is the most traditional Polish smoked cheese from the Tatra Mountains region, perfect for grilling or frying. Complemented by the earthy taste of the beetroot purée it was still a hit.
My dinner was scored 10 out of 10. I was delighted with myself and the impression my dinner had on my guests. On top of that, I must admit, it was one of the most enjoyable culinary experiences in my life! All the creative work with traditional recipes and hunt for the perfect flavours made me think more and more... If my partner and I are both massive foodies and enjoy cooking for others, we ought to do something with our skills...
With special thanks to Kim and Florence.