‘Be nice’, my mother warned.
‘Since when am I not a nice person?’ I interjected.
A little over a year ago, I was anxiously preparing to host someone I’d been dating for 2 months at my apartment for dinner. He would be the first to dine at the new IKEA table I’d painfully spent 2 weeks assembling by myself. I may have an Engineering degree, but I always feel inclined to mention that I’m not the kind of engineer who works with their hands. Having been chosen to christen the (somewhat shoddy) fruits of my labour, you can imagine that he was pretty special.
The first challenge (second if you count playing Bob the Builder) was designing the menu. At 2 months in, I was straddling the border between effortless fine dining and pretentiousness. I needed him to be impressed, blown away, swept off his feet and ready to get on one knee (not that I’d have said yes right there and then). At the same time, I didn’t want to come off as a poser, or worse, someone who was desperate for his affection. The menu had to be something I could execute flawlessly; it wouldn’t be very attractive of me to be frustrated over a pudding that didn’t set in time. Think less 50s housewife slaving over a hot stove, more tv chef serving up smiles and deliciousness.
Enter our daring dinner debutante, Baja prawn and sweetcorn fritters with mango and jalapeno salsa. Prawn and sweetcorn fritters dolloped with spicy jalapeno salsa, sweet mango to cut through the bite and a perfectly cooked whole prawn speared through the top. The perfect starter: minimal prep work but maximal wow factor.
Having galloped gracefully over the first hurdle, it was time to take on the main. Lamb marinated beforehand, I could easily maintain my momentum – there’s nothing worse than a long wait between courses. I used this recipe for the lamb, but chose to serve on mashed sweet potatoes for these photos. The yoghurt made the lamb cold by the time I had finished serving, perhaps the only hiccup of the night.
I could relax now, the finish line was in sight! A life lesson my dear reader, if you’re making any kind of pudding that requires setting in the fridge e.g. mousse, crème brûlée, panna cotta, ALWAYS do it the night before and have a backup plan in case it doesn’t work out. Luckily in this case, it did. Garnished with Aperol Granita, it was the perfect light finish to what had been a relaxed romantic evening.
Thankfully, we’ve had many more romantic dinners at that very same IKEA table which has surprisingly held sturdy in the year since.
Starter: Baja prawn and sweetcorn fritters with mango and jalapeno salsa
Main: Zaatar lamb chops with salted yogurt, sweet herbs and pomegranate molasses
Dessert: Aperol Spritz Panna Cotta (recipe coming soon)