It’s day one and I am the first amateur chef to dish it out in a competition among friends based on the popular TV series “Come Dine With Me“. At stake is 600 dhs and the title of “Ultimate Dinner Party Host.” At the beginning of the contest I had no idea how I would spend the money if I were to win but now I have my eyes set on a KitchenAid food processesor so “Show Me The Money!”
At Chez B’s, my guests will be treated to a three-course dinner menu that will hopefully impress and score me big points: Each of my five guests tonight will rate my culinary and hosting skills on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the most desirable). The scores will be placed in a secret ballot box, er, vase in our case, and will remain there until the final dinner where we’ll tally up the points and announce the winner!
By the time my first guest arrived, I had just about finished all the prep work and felt in good shape. I had enlisted the help of Scotch to play the part of the Debonair Husband – yes, I was trying to score brownie points by capitalizing on his sexy Scottish brogue. I wonder if I would have scored even more points if I had had him dress up in his kilt and show some leg? Drats! Why didn’t I think of that earlier?
Scotch did a marvelous job meeting and greeting my guests and ensuring that the champagne was free-flowing. Once his charming duties were over, he grabbed a few rations of beer from the fridge and retired to the bedroom. Unlike the TV series, there was to be no rifling through the bedroom drawers by the guests as one room was occupied by my husband and his beer and the other by a sleeping baby.
As my friends arrived, they snacked on crudités with French onion dip. Now you are probably thinking why I didn’t whip up something more elegant?
Well, I wanted something light so they wouldn’t fill up on food which wasn’t going to be scored and also something that I could make the day before. As a full-time mom to a very demanding 15-month old toddler who has unlimited energy and who constantly tugs at my pant legs to get me out of the kitchen to play – I needed all the time I could save for the actual day of the dinner.
Starter – Bouillabaisse
After a bit of chit chat and catching up, my guests sat down for dinner and I began to plate the starter. A classic French seafood stew originating from Marseille, Bouillabaisse is comprised of a variety of fish and shellfish. My version did not contain any fish but had mussels, clams, shrimp, and squid. The stock was made the day before to allow for the flavors to meld and develop.
I love Bouillabaisse and was very happy with the flavors of this dish – seafoody, tomatoey, and yummy. I just hope my guested loved it as well.
Main Course - Sweet Pea Risotto with Scallops and Shrimp
Now we come to the disaster of the night. I had finished making the risotto just before my first guest arrived. It was slightly on the undercooked side but I figured it would continue to cook on the stove as we enjoyed our starter. But then I panicked that it would get too cold on the stove so I stuck it in the oven at 190 F to keep it warm. Whoops. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
I’m afraid the last minute decision to pop it into the oven might have been my downfall of the night. I should have just left it on the stove. When I pulled the risotto out of the oven, it looked like there was a crust on top and I was afraid that the whole thing had dried out. Now there is nothing worse than overcooked risotto because there is nothing you can do to it to to make it al dente again (unless you are like Cher and can turn back time). After a quick stir, it didn’t look too bad but after tasting it, it was certainly overcooked and more starchy than I would have liked. Grrr.
Well, no choice but to forge ahead. I plated the risotto while sauteing the scallops and shrimp in butter. As I served the risotto to my friends I made no mention of the goof-up and polite as they all were, said many complimentary things about the dish.
Although I was extremely unhappy with the texture of the risotto, I think the dish turned out pretty tasty – it makes such a huge difference in flavor to use home-made chicken stock rather than stock cubes. The sweet pea puree was creamy and lovely and the seared scallops and shrimp were just delish.
Dessert – French Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream
Now I very very rarely make dessert as I much prefer savory to sweet items and would normally choose a glass of wine over anything on the dessert menu (although I do have a weakness for creme brûlées and chocolate brownie souffles). Probably the only dessert I’ve ever made was a Philadelphia 3-step cheesecake. 3-steps = not very difficult.
So trying to find a dessert that I liked and could make was the most challenging part of this competition for me. Luckily, I had recently been invited to a friend’s house where she make a wonderfully moist and delicious chocolate cake. Since I rarely encounter a chocolate cake to my liking, I immediately asked her how it was made and the next time I saw her I begged for the recipe.
It was certainly a big gamble to make something I had never made before for a competition – especially dessert! But luckily it was a cake that could be prepared the day before so I purchased double the ingredients in case the first one turned out to be one big dud of a dessert.
Well, I think my guests enjoyed the French chocolate cake more than the first two courses so there may have been some redemption for the risotto disaster! The cake turned out exactly how I wanted it – dense, delicious, divine. Served with vanilla ice cream to cut the sweetness, it was a perfect ending to the night.
Actually, more wine and champagne was a perfect ending to the night
I hope my friends enjoyed my “Come Dine With me” experience and I hope I didn’t get points deducted for forgetting to offer tea or coffee but all that matters to me now is that my night of cooking and hosting is over and I can relax and enjoy the next five dinners.
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Recipe for French Chocolate Cake
200 g (7 oz) dark chocolate (I used van houten baking chocolate)
70 g (1/2 cup) caster or superfine sugar
4 eggs, separated
100 g (1/2 cup) butter
1 Tb flour
powdered (confectioner’s) sugar or cocoa powder for dusting
Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C). Remove butter from fridge to soften at room temperature.
Line the bottom of a 9 in (23 cm) cake tin with wax paper and grease the paper and sides of the tin with butter. Break the chocolate into small pieces and melt it with butter in a double boiler over medium-low heat. Stir occasionally until mixture is smooth.
With an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks with half of the sugar for several minutes until pale and doubled in volume. Add flour and continue to whisk. Fold in the melted butter and chocolate mixture. Beat egg whites until frothy; gradually add the remaining sugar, beating until stiff peaks form. Fold the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture.
Wrap bottom of cake tin with aluminum foil to prevent water from seeping through (if using cake pan with removeable bottom). Place cake tin in a roasting pan filled with boiling water and bake for about 40 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Allow cake to cool for one hour and then remove from tin and allow to cool for several more hours or overnight. Can make one day in advance to allow cake to completely set.
Dust with powdered sugar or cocoa powder right before serving.
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More Come Dine With Me Dubai:
The Culinary Battleground is Set!
Come Dine With Me – Day 1 – A Risotto Disaster?
Come Dine with Me – Day 2 – Ceviche, Ceviche!
Come Dine With Me – Day 3 – A Grand Feast
Come Dine With Me – Day 4 – A Taste of Sweden with No Meatballs
Come Dine With Me – Day 5 – Kilawin, Kilawin!
Come Dine With Me – Day 6 – The Winner is Announced