I’m lucky. I get invited out for meals quite often, so every now and then comes a day of reckoning when I need to reciprocate.
I am not a confident cook. My home economics teacher when I was 11 and 12 had a visceral and vicious dislike of me and reduced me to a trembling jelly more or less weekly. Lifelong trauma. Only a couple of months back, old school friends who witnessed her Hitler-like tirades against me all those years ago recalled these with shudders, so it isn’t just my subjective memory. I could sew and embroider well, so she wasn’t able to destroy my pleasure in those handicrafts. But cookery was a nightmare, even though I wasn’t really so bad at it. I was very happy when I was allowed to give up the subject, and heaved a sigh of relief that my Nemesis never discovered how incompetent a knitter I was.
My cooking is hit and miss. I have some friends who have been fortunate and only experienced my triumphs, so they sing my praises. Others have been unfortunate and been served a quiche with an almost raw pastry base (I forgot to bake it blind first), or a curry so hot their mouths blistered. There was also the memorable occasion where I took a bottle of what I thought was olive oil and drizzled a liberal amount of rum into the couscous. Different.
However, I managed to provide adequate meals for my family for many years and they survived, though possibly more by good luck than anything else. When my ex-husband remarried, it was to a cook. Maybe that should tell me something.
Yesterday it was my turn again to play hostess, and once again the food was a mixture of triumph and disaster, though my guests didn’t actually experience the disaster because I had the good sense for once to try and make the dish in advance. It was a Delia Smith recipe for red onion tarte tatin, which sounded delicious and ought to have been easy. The only tricky moment is when reducing the juices and you have to make sure that the onions don’t burn. I thought I had succeeded, but the moment of truth when I turned out the beautifully baked tarte revealed very black onions instead of nicely caramelized reddish-purply-brown ones. So my guests got a carrot and ginger homemade soup as starter instead.
My real triumph, though, was the salmon-broccoli-pasta bake main course, and credit for that goes to BBC Good Food. So simple, no stress and delicious. I used up the remains of my pastry from the tarte tatin to make a good old-fashioned apple pie like my mother used to bake, and that too was a success. So a very plain menu, but my reputation remains intact!
Sorry I can’t post a photo of the food (the salmon bake did actually look like the one on the website), but everything disappeared too quickly. So instead here’s a picture of the pretty bouquet I was given. If it looks blurred, blame the wine another guest brought!