Ask the Past: Uber Eats

I moved in with my partner a couple of months ago, and we are having their parents round to dinner next weekend. I'm not a very confident cook, and I want to make a good impression, so I thought I'd get the main course from Uber Eats and then just make a few side dishes or appetisers myself so it doesn't look too suspicious. What can you suggest that's easy but spectacular for a small dinner party?

This setup, although beloved of old sitcoms, is bound to end in tears. You might be better off just inviting them round for appetisers and side dishes instead of setting yourself up for a scenario where you're sneaking into your favourite restaurant at four in the morning to find their recipe for steak Diane. If you must do this, though, you'll want to make sure that the dishes that you do cook are so memorable that nobody asks any questions about the main course.

For all questions on dinner parties, I turn first to Helen Cox and The Hostess Cook Book. Her advice is to start things off with a savoury cocktail - apparently "the extra work is negligible and they certainly do something for a dinner." She has a couple of options that sound like they might be suitable, or you could go nuts and make both. Firstly, there's this Jellied Chicken Boullion:

Allow 1/2 cup chicken consomme per serving. Bring to the boil. Mesaure and add 3/4 level desertsp. gelatine for each cup of liquid. Stir until dissolved, adding a dash of nutmeg, 1/2 teasp. celery salt, and extra salt and pepper if necessary. Allow to set, then chop roughly and serve chilled if possible. Serve in glasses with a stem. Two or 3 tablesp. port or sherry is a delicious addition. Add when the soup has cooled to lukewarm.

If your guests are vegetarian, then this Fruit and Berry Heartbeat might be better:

Line cocktail glasses with slices of pear, apricot, peach, or papaw. Fill centre with cherries, raspberries, strawberries, or any other berry. Mix equal parts sherry and berry juice and pour into each glass.

If you want to serve solid food alongside your savoury cocktails, a simple plate of cheese and crackers is always a popular choice, and you can give it a little extra pizzazz with some homemade chutney, like this Banana Chutney from The New Zealand Women's Institutes Cookery Book:

Twelve bananas, 2 onions, 1/2 lb. sultanas, 1 oz. curry powder, cayenne pepper and cinnamon (1 teaspoon), 1/2 lb. sugar, 3 tablespoons salt, 1/2 pint vinegar. Peel bananas and cut in pieces, simmer in vinegar till soft and pulpy. Add sugar while hot, leave to cool. Chop onions and sultanas finely. When bananas are cold mix everything together, allow to stand 12 hours, then bottle.

If you feel brave enough to cook the main course after all, French cooking is always very classy, and Lady Hackett's Household Guide includes a whole section on the subject, including a number of recipes inexplicably written in French only. This Timbale de Macaronis sounds classy enough that if you read the recipe to your guests in advance, and if you have plied them with enough savoury cocktails, they might be so impressed that they won't notice that it's just slightly fancy pasta:

Fair blanchir des macaronis à l'eau les égouter y ajouter peu de sel, poivre, beurre, fromage râpé, de la crème et des champignons sautés au beurre, jambon découpé en petits morceaux, quenelles, truffes et un sauce tomates. Bien meler le tout et servir dans un moule à timbales.

Finally, The National Encyclopædia of Business and Social Forms has this piece of advice, which should smooth over any other difficulties.

Where the dinner is very small, it is sufficient to provide port, sherry, claret (which is more in vogue than ever) or a Rhenish wine: a bottle of Champagne may be added at discretion.

I'm sure that will help.

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