I always talk about Family, Food and Farming…but there’s another very important ‘F’- Friends! Let me introduce you to Hannah & Vicki, 2 very special ladies that I first met back in a previous life at university. Since then we have all been through so much together, and grown up together. We have now accumulated 3 husbands and 6 children too! That’s one husband and 2 children per person! Since the most recent member of the gang arrived just 7 weeks ago (and the only girl in the younger generation) I decided it was time we got all 12 of us together for a Sunday meal.
As I’ve been doing really well losing weight and getting fit and healthy, I decided it shouldn’t be any ordinary Sunday lunch. It had to be a treat and a celebration. We don’t all get together often so it definitely was a special occasion, plus you don’t have a new baby to welcome everyday do you? So I wanted a meal where I didn’t worry about what I ate and I didn’t feel guilty for it. So I announced we would be having a 3 course lunch (has to be lunch as evenings out with kids are an impossibility), and it would be as swanky as possible with children in tow! So then I had this idea that I could blog about how it all went down…so here’s my recollection, which I hope you enjoy reading!
So what do you need to do in advance to plan an epic meal for 12 people (really only 11 as the baby won’t eat food yet, but 12 sounds better!)?
1. Clean the house, only to apologise profusely that despite a day of tidying it’s STILL a tip. I like to think my home is warm and welcoming, and relaxed, and people never leave hungry. If you are coming to look at a clean and tidy show home, however, you will be very disappointed! Luckily my friends know this. They know they are ALWAYS welcome. Unless they are judging how tidy it is!!
2. Decide ‘the gist’ of what I’m going to make. Luckily I have a bakery attached to the side of the house so I don’t need to decide exact puds, I just need to have a rough idea so I have got the right things in. I decided that kids wouldn’t sit still for 3 courses, and they would want to play together when everyone first arrived so an antipasti platter starter would be best. I thought a casual starter that we didn’t need to sit for would allow me to get the main course finished off, would start things off casual and at ease, and would please the free range children. Plus there was minimum preparation needed. So main course was going to have to be a roast because a) it’s Sunday b)kids like it c)it can be trailored to suit any low carb/high protein/lots of veggies diet anyone may be following and d)I can put all the food on my breakfast bar and people can serve themselves so I don’t have to dish it up! So the desserts? I didn’t make my mind up ahead of time but I did decide that I was going to do 2 or 3 different ones so there was a choice…or you could try a bit of all of them! I was going to make a bit of the food the day before, but in truth I ran out of time wading through the mess in my house! Also I know I have additional ovens in the bakery so that takes the pressure off, and one friend lives 2 hours away, so I figured that if she told me when she was leaving I knew I had 2 hours to get it all done!
3. Do the shopping. This involves sending a list to Ben who was at the Cambridge shop. This is where my preparation went a little off track! You see, I hadn’t told Ben (apparently) that there were 2 families coming. He thought there was 1. So he thought I was ‘making a fuss’ with the amount of food I had put on my list and scaled it back. Also the words ‘vegetables to go with a roast’ disappeared off the shopping list somewhere between me pressing send and the words arriving on Ben’s phone screen. Luckily we have an onsite butchery so a bigger piece of beef could be retrieved and I always have loads of veg at home. Disaster averted. We shall say no more about it!
So the day arrives. I used to get nervous to cook for a lot of people but these days I love it, and I’m much more confident.
I assigned Ben 3 responsibilities to take the pressure off-
1) Cook the meat, this is Bens speciality anyway
2) Make the gravy, because quite frankly I’m no good at it, and he is
3) Source and serve drinks (he did work in a pub for years after all)
My morning went down like this…Leo wasn’t awake yet and me and Arthur were up (Ben was out feeding the animals). I thought this would be a great opportunity to get potatoes peeled and in water ready to par boil and sweet potatoes peeled ready for sweet potato mash.
Next get Leo up and we had breakfast. By the time we are done it’s about 10:30, Ben’s home, and ‘far away’ friend Hannah is about to leave her house.
“Take control of the boys Ben, I’m disappearing into the bakery.”
“oh, and I know I said you only had 3 jobs but you wouldn’t mind par boiling and then straining those potatoes would you?”
How can he refuse, he’s trying to get back in my good books for not knowing how many people were coming? (Oops, mentioned it again)
Anyway, first job was to whip up some shortcrust pastry, this would be the base for 2 of the deserts; lemon meringue pie and sugar free apple tart. I had a bit left over so I thought I’d make my mum a lemon meringue too as I remembered the filling recipe always makes loads. Whilst they blind baked I made lemon meringue filling and got those in the oven and then made the sugar free apple tart filling. I didn’t follow a recipe for this I just winged it so I also spent some time hoping it turned out ok. Next I made a walnut brownie, this would later be plastered with homemade salted caramel. Final piece of baking before returning to the house kitchen was Yorkshire puds, which went a little like this…
“oh no, the batter has made 13, that’s so unlucky…oh well we are baking so I’ll just call it a bakers dozen”
Next roasties went into the oven as first friends arrived. I prepared the veg while we chatted. Then excused myself to make the salted caramel…pretending I’d left it till they were there because it was so quick to make but really it was because I’d run out of time! Rest of the group arrived so I got my starter platter ready…which was mainly opening packets and pretty-fying it! We had 2 kinds of cheese, charcuterie that ben had cured down the farm; bresaola, English Serrano style ham & paprika lomo (these aren’t ready for sale yet but what’s the point in having friends if it’s not to experiment on them?!), charcoal crackers, silver and green basil olives, and COBS Bakery Cambridge loaf and seeded breads. I was going to make my own bread but ditched this idea when I decided I wasn’t going to make anything the day before!
Whilst we picked at this, the children played and I was able to get the veg ready, whilst not feeling in a rush as nobody was waiting for food…they had a whole platter to get through! Then when all the roast beef meal was ready, I put everything on our breakfast bar so everyone could help themselves to what they fancied. And go back for seconds easily!!
After everyone was sufficiently stuffed we thought it would be best to go for a walk around the fields before dessert and coffee. This was to get the walk in before it got dark, and to let the food digest a little. It’s lovely to take the little ones for a walk. Until someone kicks off. This someone belonged to me. And the trouble was that he didn’t want to walk past the digger, he wanted a go on it. At least being a bit fitter I managed to carry an unhappy 3.5yr old across an entire field.
Back home we tested out the trio of desserts, and had hot drinks. I *may* have tried all 3.
Apart from the digger incident all the kids had a lovely time, and all played together so nicely. I think everyone went home with full tummies. I had a wonderful time. It’s easy when you are busy to avoid organising stuff, but catching up with close friends is something I have to tell myself to make sure I never put off. Thanks to my amazing friend for all traveling so far to see us, even when I told them I was going to blog about our meal. I went to bed happy that I achieved my brief; a swanky 3 course meal with children in attendance. And I went to bed even happier that I combined Family, Farming, Food and Friends into one great afternoon. See you again soon guys, for the next feast!