A Dinner Menu from the Diffident Hostess

We’ve all done it – accepted dinner invitations from fantastic cooks and had wonderful meals.  Then reality hits home.  At some point we have to invite them back … horrors.


  • manage the  guests’ expectations by mumbling about an informal rustic meal
  • select a menu that can be prepared in advance so that you don’t look deranged when you open the frontdoor
  • try to avoid shouting at the other half within earshot.

We had two couples over for dinner on Saturday evening and this was my menu:

  • beetroot carpaccio with mozzarella and pine nut salad, served with brown bread
  • fish pie with carrots and samphire or lamb stew and dumplings
  • strawberry cheesecake with strawberry sauce or apple crumble and custard.

It’s not going to blow anyone’s mind with its complexity but you won’t disgrace yourself.  I don’t drink alcohol but the others had wine; red and white.

Carpaccio and marinade ingredients:

  • beetroot (cooked)img_20170114_161034
  • red onion
  • garlic oil
  • olive oil
  • walnut oil
  • balsamic vinegar
  • Dijon mustard
  • lemon juice
  • honey
  • seasonings


  • Mix to taste and put the ingredients into the marinade overnight
  • Make a stack of the beetroot and onion on each serving plate
  • Serve with spiralised courgette and carrot on a bed of mixed leaves with pine nuts and mozzarella pearls and a simple vinaigrette dressing.

Fish pie ingredients:

  • Mixed fresh fish; comprising salmon, smoked haddock, cod and prawnsimg_20151107_174251003
  • green beans
  • onions (two)
  • peas
  • courgette (one)
  • sweet corn
  • leek (one)
  • baby spinach leaves
  • hard boiled eggs (six)
  • dill
  • seasoning
  • Worchester sauce
  • white sauce (butter, flour and milk)
  • potatoes (sweet and white)


  • seal the fish (leaving aside the prawns) in a frying pan and place in an ovenproof dish
  • pop veg, herbs and seasoning into frying pan until tender and transfer to dish
  • add prawns to dish
  • descale frying pan with white wine
  • make white sauce and add liquid from frying pan plus Worchester sauce and slosh over ingredients in dish
  • slice hard boiled eggs and layer
  • place washed spinach leave on top of eggs
  • cook potatoes for five minutes, grate and mix together
  • layer over the top of the fish and egg mixture
  • cook in a moderate oven for an hour-and-a-half
  • serve with samphire and carrots.

Stew ingredients:

  • neck of lamb
  • root vegetables of choice plus celery
  • herbs (to taste)img_20170114_092410
  • stock
  • red wine
  • tomato ketchup
  • brown sauce
  • Dijon mustard
  • seasoning
  • suet
  • flour (self-raising)


  • fry off lamb
  • add everything else and cook for several hours
  • make dumplings – half the amount of suet to flour, salt and herbs or mustard
  • add twenty minutes before serving
  • check consistency when adding the dumplings and thicken gravy if it’s a bit thin.

Crumble ingredients:

  • apples (or other fruit)
  • mixed spice
  • raisins
  • flour
  • butter
  • sugar
  • oats for the topping


  • stew apples and a bit of sugar to taste if they’re tart, add raisins and mixed spice
  • mix together flour and butter then add sugar – half the amount of butter to flour and half sugar to butter
  • sprinkle with oats for topping
  • half-an-hour in a moderate oven when you take the main course out.

You could make your own custard or cheat and use a carton … guess which I did?

Cheesecake ingredients: (I’m usually pretty vague with quantities but for the cheesecake you do need to get the balance right)

  • soft cheese – 600g (I made a mistake and used cottage cheese; my first effort ended up on the compost heap; Mascarpone is great)
  •  icing sugar- 100g x 2 (sieved) – 100g for cheesecake and 100g for strawberry sauce
  • double cream – 284ml
  • lemon juice and zest if you have a fresh lemon (or just juice if it’s out of a bottle)
  • vanilla extract or pod
  • strawberries
  • biscuits for the base
  • butter (melted)


  • make base by crushing biscuits and mix together with melted butter, chill
  • mix cheese with icing sugar, vanilla and lemon juice/zest
  • beat in cream
  • spread over base and chill
  • use half the strawberries to make sauce by liquidising with 100g of icing sugar and a splash of water
  • pass strawberry mixture through a sieve
  • add remaining strawberries to the top of the cheesecake just before serving.


  • if you don’t own a loose-bottomed tin, put double strips of greaseproof paper under the biscuit base to use as a ‘lifting-out’ device
  • made sure you make the cheesecake filling when you’re alone so that you don’t have to share the remnants of the mixture with anyone.


If like me, you’re a no frills cook, try this menu; everything can be done in advance so avoiding a meltdown is (almost) guaranteed.

PS: I asked my daughter for a spiraliser for Christmas. She was delighted that I’d finally grown up and was attempting to cook.

However, as you can see, I didn’t fair too well. It felt like a lot of effort for salad presentation. Courgettes worked well but carrots kept breaking, cucumber might have been better.


About jhbooksblog

Hello - I'm Julie Haiselden, an occasional NHS med sec/practice administrator. Mother of three, wife of one, a chaotic cook and published crime/thriller novelist who blogs a bit about books, life and food. School alumna. Occasional am-dram actress/director. I enjoy walking and photography (although my enthusiasm outweighs my skill set). I've recently joined the reviewing team at Whispering Stories and can be found via the following social media sites: http://whisperingstories.com/meet-the-team/ https://twitter.com/juliehaiselden https://www.facebook.com/juliehaiseldenbooks https://www.goodreads.com/ I also accept a few hard copy novels to review.
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