I blame Nigella. Ever since her ?wouldn?t-you-like-to-be-me? TV series with her finger-licking food and kitsch kitchen suppers, I?ve rather fancied trying out the domestic goddess look for myself.
I didn?t realise dinner parties would be such hard work though. No wonder the Come Dine with Me contestants always look so frazzled; it took me ages to compile a list of suitably decorative dinner guests ? and that was before I started shopping for the essentials; Cath Kidston apron, quirky placecards and a scented candle from The White Company. It was only when I was strolling home from work with my packages that I remembered I?d forgotten the essential ingredient for any dinner party? the dinner.
Thankfully I was right next to the brand new COOK shop and in a couple of minutes, I?d picked up Cheese Soufflés with Red Onion Marmalade for everyone, a huge tray of Moroccan Spiced Lamb Tagine, Minted Couscous and a couple of Monkfish Wellingtons for the vegetarian, as well as plenty of vegetable sides that I would never have had time to chop, roast and sprinkle with caraway seeds. There was even dessert ? a gorgeous Raspberry Pavlova that I just had to leave alone while it defrosted. Now, that?s my sort of dinner party preparation.
All I had to do when I got home was make a list of the timings so I knew when to slip away and slide the COOK meals straight from the freezer into the oven, and then it was onto the important business of Getting Ready. By the time my guests arrived, I was checking my manicure, putting the final touches to my artistic table decorations, and cracking open the Chablis. Everyone was so busy tucking into the olives I?d picked up from COOK, they didn?t notice me unwrapping the cheese soufflés and decanting the frozen lamb tagine out of its plastic tray and into a COOK oven dish so it would look as if I?d spent hours slaving over a hot stove, instead of? Robert Stevens. Those kind COOK people print the name of the chef who cooked your meal on the pack, so you can raise a glass to them ? when nobody?s looking of course, you wouldn?t want to give the game away.
You can imagine the look on everyone?s faces when I took six perfect cheese soufflés out of the oven. ?Oh do you like them?? I said nonchalantly, ?filo pastry, mature cheddar, feta, some caramelised red onions and voila! It?s simple really?? Which of course it was. For me, anyway. Thankfully, when it was time for the main course, everyone had got into a wine-fuelled controversial debate about the waterfront, and didn?t notice me disappearing to microwave the vegetables. The minted couscous, oven-roasted vegetables and cabbage, bacon and pinenuts all cook straight from the freezer and are ready in five minutes flat. Of course, I had to introduce some impromptu karaoke to cover the microwave ?ping?, but really, it was a small price to pay. The lamb tagine with apricots and dates was divine ? aromatic, sweet and melt-in-the-mouth. I wasn?t surprised. After all, it had been marinated and then slow-cooked for hours? just not by me! The monkfish wellingtons were a huge hit with my fussy, sorry meat-intolerant friend Rosie, who was convinced I?d personally wrapped the perfectly-cooked fish parcel in lattice-cut puff pastry just for her. The piece de resistance though had to be the Raspberry Pavlova ? an incredible ?swish? roll of melting meringue and golden cream studded with jewel-pink raspberries. ?How did you make that?? gasped the guests. ?It?s easy when you know how?? I said, doing my best Nigella eyelash flutter. You know, I rather think I?m getting the hang of this domestic goddess business.