“You won Jane. Enjoy the money, I hope it makes you very happy … Dear Lord, what a sad little life, Jane. You ruined my night completely so you could have the money but I hope now you spend it on getting some lessons in grace and decorum, cause you have all the grace of a reversing dump truck without any tyres on… So Jane, take your money and get off my property.”
…were the infamous words uttered by Peter Marsh in that viral scene, racking up to 247k views on YouTube and inspiring multiple parodies of his ridiculously bitter speech. And now my sister, giddy with excitement, rehearses these revered lines as she prepares to deliver the results of our very own ‘Come Dine with Me’ competition. Needless to say, I don’t think ours will be quite as awkward.
In our house, food and family have always gone hand in hand. With there being seven of us, we’ve each had our own priorities and activities to be getting on with, but as a rule, we will all try to come together every evening for dinner and weekly Sunday brunch. But with reoccurring lockdowns, it all became a bit much: we grew frustrated with the monotony, lack of space, and my mother’s endless question of “what shall I make for dinner?” After taking over the cooking for a few nights to give our mum a break, the natural competitive streak between us siblings resulted in debates over who cooked the best meal, and from this emerged the Hussain family’s ‘Lockdown Come Dine with Me’. The requirements – a menu released 24 hours before the night, a starter, a main meal, a dessert, a dress code, and an evening’s entertainment. The stakes – choice of next year’s holiday destination (dependent on if and when the pandemic ended).
I pride myself on being somewhat organised, i.e., preparing things that take minimal effort beforehand and winging the rest of it, but my gosh, I now fully appreciate the level of skill and labour it takes to make more than one dish at once. Never again will I take my mum for granted every time I see her flipping rotis on the tava (cast iron pan) whilst simultaneously making both subzi (veg curry) and salan (meat curry). As my dinner was on the first night, I think I underestimated quite how long making the food would take and for some unknown reason, I had decided to give myself a menu which involved elements that all needed to be done right before serving. Despite having done some of the more time-consuming components the night before, I was still well behind schedule. Much of the late afternoon was a frenzied rhythm of chop this, stir that, “Mum, is this oil hot enough?”, checking on the oven, “Are you sure it’s cooked through?”, and a lot of “oh, this actually tastes good!”. The suffocating heat of the oven, the deafening fan of the cooker hood, and the lack of counter space did not help to ease my stress but eventually I did accomplish a full three course meal.
In other ways, the chaotic energy of the household was fuelled into making these evenings memorable, if not fun. For one night the dress code was black tie, so I dug out my four-year-old prom dress, while my brothers came down suited and booted, and my mother, who rarely liked to dress up, looked shyly stunning in her traditional shalwar kameez. Another night, we decided to dress like each other, which certainly revealed exactly what we thought of each other. The entertainment too was interesting, to say the least. Mine was a quiz night full of questions about niche family knowledge and subtle jokes, which quickly prompted discussions about what the exact correct answers were, with my mother as the unquestionable adjudicator. There was a passionate night of charades that became very competitive very quickly, while on another night we were tasked in making TikToks within the hour. (My dog was very excited to be involved in the latter.)
The food, of course, was the main event and was surprisingly good. Perhaps most astonishing was my dad’s night. After having not cooked anything beyond a fried egg for twenty-seven years, he managed to conjure up an edible aloo gosht salan (meat and potato curry), accompanied with a choice of rice or pitta bread. However, when asked how he achieved it he proudly declared ‘I just added a bit of everything’, gesturing to the spice drawer so maybe this was more luck than culinary skill. While my dad stayed true to his Desi roots, my oldest brother transported us back to our holiday in Morocco, cooking a lamb tagine complete with butternut squash, potatoes and pomegranate in a terracotta tagine pot, with m’semen and labneh for our starter. My other siblings ventured further across the world, with Spanish tapas and French crepes, Italian alfredo pasta, pizza and homemade gelato, as well as Indian falooda and kulfi. My own night was more eclectic. Nachos with homemade tortilla chips, sauce and various toppings for my starter, while I chose American cuisine for my main, making southern fried chicken, and then finishing the evening in France with orange cream profiteroles and a chocolate ganache glaze.
I can honestly say that these were some of the most entertaining, if somewhat absurd, evenings we’d had in a long time. The combination of new food coupled with exciting games and nights riddled with comments and not so subtle shade thrown at each other, reawakened both our love for food and fondness for each other. As sentimental as it may sound, it was a nice reminder to be grateful for what we have and make the most of situations in which we find ourselves.
Chocolate Orange Profiteroles
The perfect light dessert for sharing (or just for you!)
Serves 6 to 7
[Recipe adapted from BBC Good Food.]
· 50g unsalted butter (cubed)
· 2 tsp caster sugar (or granulated if unavailable)
· 75g of strong white flour (sifted)
· A pinch of salt
· 2 eggs (lightly beaten)
For the filling:
· 230ml double cream
· 2-3 tablespoons of granulated or icing sugar
· Zest of one orange
· 1 tsp of orange juice
For the chocolate sauce:
· 60g chocolate (milk or dark)
· 60ml double cream
1. Preheat the oven to 220C / 200C fan / gas mark 7. To make the choux, place the butter and caster sugar in a medium size saucepan with 150 ml of water and place over a low heat. The butter and sugar should melt and then bring to the boil.
2. Remove the pan from the heat and add all the flour, beating vigorously with a wooden spoon until the dough starts coming away from the sides cleanly. Leave to cool for 5 to 10 minutes.
3. Beat the eggs into the dough a little at a time until you have incorporated it all and the mixture is stiff and shiny.
4. Line two baking trays with parchment and rinse them in cold water, shaking off the excess so the trays are slightly damp. Using a piping bag or two teaspoon, place small blobs on the dough on the trays, leaving a few centimetres between them. Bake them for 18 – 20 minutes and they should be well risen and golden brown. Remove the profiteroles from the oven and cut a small slit in the base of each one so they don’t collapse. Cool on a wire rack.
5. Once they’re cool, place the cream and zest in a bowl and whip using a whisk (electric whisk is much easier). Once you’ve reached the soft peak consistency, add the icing sugar to taste. I tend to add between 1 ½ to 2 tbsp. Either slice the profiteroles in half and fill them with the cream and sandwich them together or pipe in the cream by created a small opening at the bottom of each profiterole. Only do this near to when you serve them otherwise, they’ll become soggy.
6. For the ganache sauce, place the cream and chocolate in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave in 20 second bursts, stirring in between each burst until it comes together as a silky ganache. Do not leave it in the microwave for too long. Let cool for 5 minutes and then drizzle over the profiteroles or serve on the side as a dipping sauce.
[Edited by Anoushka Chakrapani, Food and Drinks Editor]