Ok, Innernets. Wifey needs assistance.

I host a murder mystery dinner party, most recently for charity, for 11 of our closest local chums (yes, we cheerfully sit down 13 to dinner) at about this time of year. It is the one night of the year that I actually attempt Cuisine. Last year I succeeded in getting Harry babysat for two solid days in a  row, and hence served

Entrée local asparagus spears & poached quail eggs in homemade puff pastry boxes with leek puree

 Main roast lamb, roast pork, yorkshire puddings, roast parsnips parmesan, new potatoes, potato dauphinois, steamed cauliflower, carrots julienne, peas

Dessert trifle, white & dark chocolate raspberry tarts, individually decorated cheesecakes

 Cheese & Biscuits

 Coffee, Handmade Petits Fours, Chocolate Truffles & Mints

I decided against a fish course and felt a bit of a cheat so I will re-instate it this year. 

In 2007, I made the mistake of forgetting precisely whom I was feeding, and stupidly served a starter of terrine of 3 goats cheeses with pine nut salad and a beetroot sauce-type thing. Our farmer pals are, by and large, not foodies. They are strictly (lots of) meat + (lots of) carbs, preferably good solid potatoes + (lots of) veg + no funny business, please. Goats cheese was, sadly, mostly a lil’ way outside their comfort zone.

This year, the following factors apply:

  • My budget is considerably lower than last year
  • I will likely have rather less preparation time
  • I am bored shitless AND stressed by the prospect of cooking Yet Another traditional roast dinner with taties+veg. The saucepanage involved is horrendous, and although I have a double oven, my 4 sealed rings aren’t up to much.

I have to simplify things a little this year, and have decided to serve Roast Absolutely Nothing. 

  • I will do chicken breasts, thigh fillets or quarters (depending on how the budget holds out) in a (fairly conservative) cooking sauce of some kind, which I will bake in my largest oven dish. 
  • New potatoes hold their heat well and can be cooked in advance & kept covered, ergo, they’ve made the menu, too. My dauphinois is universally popular, but I can’t be arsed this year. There’s a recession on, so all that double cream’s practically immoral.
  • I can cope with bunging Bird’s Eye’s petit pois into a saucepan & turning the heat up while John serves drinks, as with this particular vegetable, frozen is pretty tasty. I refuse to serve any other frozen veg.
  • I am serving homemade soup for a starter, as that’s simple to re-heat with the rolls while everyone laughs at each other’s outfits. It’s a costume-charactered murder mystery, didn’t I say?


  • Hubby was, of course, the bearded lady at last year’s Psycho Circus. Our 6ft 4″ (+wig) clown worried 8 month-old Harry considerably. 
  • I am pre-preparing a cold dessert assiette, as this is my favourite part of the meal and I have recipes backed up to the moon I am dying to try.

So! What I really really need from you, oh wondrous innernets, are your tried-and-tested, tasty-but-not-outlandish recipes for

  • nice little fishy nibbley things, preferably salmon, that I can bung on a few salad leaves, or the like for a small fish course. Farmer happily recognise salmon. Suitable for pre-preparation in the morning, cling-filming and fridging. 
  • veggie/side dishes to complement a chickeny dish, new potatoes & peas. It is imperative that I can cook these in advance. The dish must either be happy with being kept warm in my hostess trolley for 4-5 hours (which by no means everything is, I’ve discovered over the years), be microwavably reheatable without hogging my microwave for 15 minutes, or be delicious served cold.

I wish I could promise you a taste of the eventual dish, but all I have to bribe you with is the vicarious pleasure of photos of us crammed into whatever ludicrous costume this year’s mystery dictates. I haven’t bought it yet, let alone re-written it for 13 characters and cast it. 

And now I must go, before the child eats the bird nuts.


30 Responses

  1. If you’re feeling exotic Delia has some brilliant chicken bung in the oven with rice dishes, a Moroccan Chicken from her summer book is beautiful and my Mum’s go to when she’s doing dinner parties. Also removes the need to do veg as all the veg are already in the dish.

  2. – fishey recommendation is mackerel. Get some smoked, then bung on said salad (rocket is ideal) with a lemon wedge. It’s a tasty (and cheap) fish, so doesn’t need much dressing up.

    – Veggie type dish – do you really need another one? With Birdseye and new potatoes, I’d say you’re all set, actually. Otherwise, I’d do a side salad that people can then help themselves to, as that goes well with chicken dishes. If you do that, then swap the salad under the mackerel for just a handful of rocket. I always hideously over-cater on the side dishes. If you’re keen on another one, though, I have a stellar sausage and sweet potato casserole that you bake and then would be perfectly happy to hang out in the hostess trolley. Hit me up if you want the recipe.

  3. And not to throw a spanner in the works, but what about instead of chicken AND new potatoes, you do a shepherd’s pie? People go nuts for a little home cookin’, after all.


    I’ll bugger off now.

  4. My favourite easy fish dish is grilled salmon on salad with a raspberry mango salsa. Super easy and looks and tastes DELISH!

    For veg I love carrots baked in foil with white wine and butter but it really depends on the flavour of the chicken sauce in my opinion. I instantly thought morroccan or indian when you mentioned it and if you were doing either then either broccoli with spicy yogurt sauce or curried cauliflower. Email me if any of the above interests you and I can get you the recipes!

  5. That is by far the most complicated dinner I’ve ever heard of. However, I mostly entertain family, and only throw hors d’oveures(?) parties. My throwback is a huge pan of lasagna with super cheese and homemade tomato/meat sauce! Best I can do! Please post more pics and tell us how it turns out!

  6. I have nothing constructive to say food-wise, but if John is ever willing to part with that fantastic dress (or, say, you want to make a little money to increase your food budget) it’d make a really excellent base for a belly dance costume! 😉

  7. I’m with Helen on the mackerel. My mackerel pates is a piece of piss and always works. Tins of John West peppered mackerel filets, mix with cream cheese and lemon. (Could add a bit of flat leaf parsely or dill) can make in advance and pretty up on the plate.

    Hmmm, veg, what a sort of roast, mashed aubergine, tomato and garlic type thing? Good for soaking up the sauce.

  8. 13’s a lot of peeps, so the question is how to get away with using Salmon offcuts and what do you stretch them with? Ramekins of home made Salmon pate would be just too much.

    How about mini quiches? Shortcrust pastry in the sort of baking trays you make mincemeat pies in – or pre-made if you can get them. Salmon off-cuts. Generic quiche-mix (egg and cream or egg and soft-cheese or egg and milk).

    Make ’em the day before or in the morning, and there you are.

    With the veg – how about just shed-loads of good bread. Or a sauce that includes visible veg like peppers or cherry tomatoes?

    Good luck.


  9. You might make a patty of salmon bound with some mashed potato and seasoned with a little onion etc., and then saute the small patty and serve with a sauce of yoghurt with capers, mustard, mayonnaise, and a little tarragon. The salmon could be served cold or hot, done well before. This would look hearty enough for manly eaters, but would be economical. The question is whether the yoghurt sauce would be too much sauce with a chicken in sauce. Would depend entirely on the chicken. I think your side dish has to wait on the chicken sauce question too. I am partial to gelled salads that are aspic-like, whether sweet or savory, but a tomato aspic, for example, would also depend on the chicken’s sauce. This sounds like a very promising dinner though, that would not break the bank.
    Hope to see all the pictures.

  10. I swear I am coming to live in your shed, just so I can hang around the back door and sit up on my haunches with my tongue hanging out and my best big-eyed pleading look on every time I hear you in the kitchen.

  11. This post makes me feel inadequate in oh-so-many ways. I’m going to crawl back into my hole of fish fingers and fruit cups, thank you very much.

  12. I have a good recipe for blinis that are delicious with salmon offcuts, a little cream cheese and a sprinkling of fresh dill. They are easy to make way ahead of time and look pretty. Let me know if you want the recipe, its one of my mum’s tried and tested and I used it last year when catering a party for 35, to great success!

  13. Can’t decide whether to come and live in your shed with May and join her in begging for scraps, or crawl into a deep hole of shame with MsPrufrock! Wish I were that ambitious in the kitchen – I am what the victorian’s would describe as “a good plain cook”. I vote with the smoked mackerel btw, and depending on the sauciness of the chicken, a ratatouille might work well

  14. That’s it; I’m booking the next flight over there.

  15. Could chicken caccitore (sp?) work?

  16. PS – with any luck the 2 meter clown-man will put Harry off MacDonalds for life. Score 10 for Machiavallianess.

    *slopes off to join May and Lynne in the shed – thoughtfully bringing wine*

  17. Any room in the shed for one more?

  18. delurking to offer recipe suggestions (I’m an innernet friend of Flicka, by the way)…

    The Pioneer Woman’s butternut squash puree is our favorite side dish for special meals. Everyone loves it, it can be made in advance and re-heated, and it will complement your chicken nicely.

    Simple, inexpensive, but fancy-seeming salad: mix dark greens (spinach, red-leaf lettuce, mesclun, whatever suits your fancy) with dried cranberries and toasted (or candied) pecans and crumbled goat cheese (which you could offer on the side for the pickier types), with a balsamic vinaigrette.

  19. Boy could you and I hang, as my husband would say. We do this kind of thing fairly often, and I totally enjoy the whole meal planning thing.

    You could do a ratatouille which you can make in advance and then reheat. Or you can make a courgettes. The recipe below is a Robert Carrier recipe, and I have one of his for ratatouille as well if you want it.

    Courgette en Salade
    Source: Great Dishes of the World, Robert Carrier

    8 courgettes (4 inches long)
    ½ Spanish onion, finely chopped
    1 clove garlic, finely chopped
    well-flavoured French dressing
    4 tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped
    ½ small green pepper, finely chopped
    ¼ Spanish onion, finely chopped
    1 tablespoon capers, finely chopped
    1 teaspoon each finely chopped parsley and basil
    salt and freshly-ground black pepper

    Simmer courgettes, unpeeled, in salted water for about 8 minutes. Cut them in half lengthwise, and carefully scoop out seeds. Lay courgettes, cut sides up, in a flat dish. Combine finely chopped onion and garlic and cover courgettes with this mixture. Sprinkle half the French dressing over them; cover with aluminum foil and allow to marinate in this mixture in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours.

    When ready to serve, remove onion and garlic mixture and drain off the marinade. Arrange courgette halves on crisp lettuce leaves and fill the hollows with remaining French dressing to which you have added finely chopped tomatoes, pepper, onion, capers, parsley and basil, and salt and pepper, to taste.

  20. Sorry forgot to say that my mum used to make the courgette salad all the time. It’s really really good. I’ve started making it now too.

  21. am gob smacked. sounds fantastic.have nothing to add, sorry but wish you all the best and look forward to hearing how it goes…

  22. Sadly I have nothing helpful to add food wise but look forward to the photos! Am utterly in awe of your cookig skills. Good luck, sounds fantastic!

  23. For the chickeny dish, I was going to suggest coq-au-vin. As it was a staple of my parents’ dinner parties in the 1970s, I would imagine local farmers would recognise it.

    For fish, how about buying some smoked salmon (or smoked trout/mackerel) pate and putting it on nice crackers?

  24. Would they go for curry – thai green or some indian one? Then you can fill them up with mounds of rice?

    Otherwise I would go with the ratatouille option suggested above as additional better when cooked in advance veg.

    Need photos!

  25. You do know, don’t you, that I am now on tenterhooks until I a) see the costumes and b) find out how the Possibly Salmon Course turned out?

  26. Mmm, but the longer she doesn’t tell us, the more of the wine we can swig in the shed eh?

    *waves the bottle around happily*

    Anyone want some? It’s rather good!

  27. I usually get so monstrously stressed by the whole thing (and yet strangely, I keep doing it!) that I shall also be in the shed, having liberated the entire wine rack.

  28. […] he doesn’t like it, then none of them bloody will. I learnt my lesson over the goat’s cheese incident. Hubby pulled some mighty funny faces when I was preparing that, but I pressed on and served it […]

  29. […] Rancid coloured chicken Coq au vin has now been replaced with a bland chickeny-whitewiney-mushroomy-tarragony thing, and a beef bourguignon. I hope this is ok with the shed. […]

  30. How about individual salmon coulibiac parcels? It’s just puff pastry with a bed of rice, shallots and onion topped with salmon. I’ve done it with out flaking the salmon. I also reduce white wine with shallots, remove the shallots and add creme fraiche and dill for a sauce. You can make them ahead and refrigerate them and just pop them in the oven. I can’t seat 13, but I’ve done them for 8.

    Here’s Delia’s recipe

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