"Come Dine with Me"

Claudia Reeves

One of the things I have missed most throughout this year was eating out. I enjoy cooking, but I love going out to restaurants or friends’ houses for a meal. For me, not knowing what you will have is half the fun! And I do enjoy discovering new tastes or ways to present dishes, enjoying the ambience, the friendly banter, relaxing with a drink… While the summer was here, we managed to meet a few times outdoors, but I missed the whole sitting at a table, ordering from a menu and of course not worrying about doing the dishes.  Then, I remembered that “Come dine with me” show… best idea I had had in a long time! I promptly presented my family the challenge to do it among ourselves. The lockdown boredom (and a small monetary prize!) ensured a general “yes” and very quickly the competitive streak started shining through! I organised three teams of two and a task of preparing a full dining experience with starter, main course, and dessert, with points allocated for accomplishment, taste, and presentation. I allocated myself the judge’s badge and prepared myself for three days of culinary enjoyment… without the cooking!

I should point out that my youngest son is 12 and I paired him with my Husband for a more level playing field. The rest of the brood are in their late teens and early twenties and well capable of navigating the pots and pans without motherly assistance. Hailing from a family of foodies myself, I introduced all my children to baking and cooking skills from an early age, and I must say that’s something I’ve patted myself on the back repeatedly over the years. Result!

So, back to my narrative. Day 1 turned out to be a “Greek night”. My daughter went on holidays to Zakynthos last year and that inspired her menu (remember when you could simply get on an airplane to some fair weather destination? Well, don’t even get me started on that one… maybe on my next blog!) I can’t say I wasn’t a bit alarmed when she announced it – you see, as “The Plate Lady” Greek weddings is the only thing I don’t do! But I needn’t worry, the result was amazing and not one broken plate throughout the whole night! We had Vegetable fritters with tzatziki for starters, marinated chicken with a Greek salad and flatbreads for the man course and Frigania for dessert. A great start indeed to the whole competition!

On Day 2 our two male participants prepared an “Italian feast”. The simple but delicious menu included Garlic Bread balls with tomato sauce, slow cooked Spaghetti Bolognese with three cheeses and a Chocolate Panacotta to finish with. I must say at this point I started wishing I had spaced out the meals a bit more as I could literally feel the pounds gathering around my hips… Still, not one to complain but rather embrace the challenge, I persevered.

By Day 3, just when we thought the meals couldn’t get any better my younger daughters presented the most delicious and elegant Sunday lunch with Vegetable Soup and freshly baked rolls, Pork Fillet with asparagus and rice and Oreo Cheesecake for dessert. It was a real achievement and again loved by everyone!

From having simply wished for a few cook free days, all of a sudden I started feeling the pressure of having to pick one winning team when in fairness they had all risen so brilliantly to the challenge. Luckily, I had requested that – as in the tv show – each participant would provide their own scores to each dish and overall performances of the other teams as the competition went on, and so that made for a fairer and undisputable result!

Who won in the end? Well, does it matter? To me, they really were all winners, and they certainly exceeded all my expectations! I could tell you, but maybe you can pick your own winners - look at the pictures in my  Instagram feed and let me know which dishes you might have preferred to try!

If you think you like this “Come Dine with Me” idea, pick your own theme and go for it! I had hoped we would have a rematch at some stage with the brief being “Chic and cheerful – three course meal for under €10”. Post me your own suggestions or let me know if you ever organised a similar event and how it went!

Just to wrap up, play to your strengths! If your kids are younger than mine pick something easy like baking buns or making bread – kids love sticky fingers! And sweet treats! Teach them also how to lay a table for afternoon tea or prepare a Teddy Bear’s picnic (indoors is fine too!). Have fun and enjoy your time together!