My Shrewsbury editor Katy Rink tries her hand at the new upmarket 'hosting at home' business The Host's Pantry established during the pandemic by ambitious young Shropshire couple Jessica Beardmore and Scott Woodland.
All my hopes rested upon The Host's Pantry. After a super busy week and a full day at work, the last thing I wanted to do was to cook for Friday night guests. I just wanted to hang out, talk, drink wine. When it comes to cooking, I am neither experienced nor enthusiastic.
Fortunately, everything you need for this Shropshire-born, upmarket 'hosting at home' service comes in one neatly packed box, with immaculately presented instructions on how to make it. I had selected venison Wellington, cheese gougeres (French cheese puffs) with blackberry and ginger sponge puddings.
The first thing to note is that the ingredients are absolutely first class: a superb and apparently 'just picked' mix of the freshest looking mushrooms; the most tender and delicious loin of venison (and a very generous portion at that), plump shallots and garlic and top quality pancetta for wrapping.
The Host's Pantry ingredients were a cut above
I should say, up front, we're not talking ready-made here. As in, you will have to do the cooking yourself. Once I got over that rather shocking revelation (I didn't look closely enough at the instructions online), I began to relax into it and enjoy myself. The rest of the gang were out at a carol service and I enjoyed a quiet hour to myself to get ahead with the prep.The recipe sheets are super clear keeping you on track with timings throughout and instructions are split into 'prep', which can be done before guests arrive, and the 'serving' process, to ensure everything is cooked to perfection and on time.
Happily, the puddings were ready made, as there was already plenty to do. My advice would be to ensure you have a couple of clear hours before guests arrive, or ideally make the Wellington the day before.
The Host's Pantry instructions are very clear, with easy steps to follow
Trying to read instructions, prep ingredients, chill, mash, grate, wrap, fry, pipe... and keep up a conversation at the same time nearly did me in. Along with the pièce de résistance - the venison Wellington - I also made a Marsala, cream and mushrooms sauce whilst waiting for the Wellington to chill and shoved baked potatoes through a sieve ready to mix with egg yolk and cheese and then pipe into attractive swirls.
Thank goodness I had that first hour to at least break the back of it. Also ensure you have the proper equipment. I almost lost the plot shoving hot potato into a plastic piping set with a nozzle that didn't really fit, trying to hold it together (metaphorically and literally) as potato oozed from every orifice. A piping bag would have been much better. The instructions sheets, however, were super clear and recipes were broken down into easy steps. If you stick to it, all will be well.
Stick to the instructions and all will be well! (ish)
I somehow managed to pull it off. My eldest son, just back from uni, followed the instructions and made the cheese gougeres, deliciously light and puffy and pretty easy to get your head around. They kept us going whilst I finished the Wellington.
Our guests were very complimentary about the result, which really was delicious. The blackberries in the mushroom duxelles were an unexpected and flavourful addition, which no doubt helped to keen the venison beautifully tender, and the rich, mushroomy Marsala sauce balanced the dish perfectly. I'm not sure I would bother with the piped potatoes next time. They definitely communicated effort, which is nice for a special occasion, but I think guests would have been happy with roasties, or perhaps poshed-up mash, but nothing involving piping equipment!
The verdict :"It's hard to be nice to mum - but we have to give it the thumbs up"
I would definitely do the entire menu again. Being led by the hand through making venison Wellington gave me great confidence. It felt very special serving up elegant slices by candlelight. I was proud of myself. It was a blessed relief to have a pre-made dessert and I would recommend choosing one from the many options in the 'Build Your Own Box' section on The Host's Pantry website, unless you are more confident than me in the kitchen. I would also recommend (as they do) selecting a home delivery date for your box the day before you are hosting. That way you can read through all materials and do all of the prep in advance, to make life easier. This is how it is supposed to work!
I asked our guests (both good cooks visiting from the USA), if they would use a luxury 'dinner kit' delivery service if it were available near them and they both said 'absolutely yes'. There's no thinking that needs to be done, no seeking out of ingredients - everything you need comes in one box, with cooking by numbers instructions. You just need to be realistic about the input required from you. It's a bit like physiotherapy - they give you the sheet with the exercises, but it's up to you to do them!
The Luxury Wellington Recipe Box starts at £52.95 from The Host's Pantry - visit hostspantry.com
You can also choose from a raft of other curated recipe boxes or 'Build Your Own Box', or try one of their Italian small plates 'Chicchetti Boxes'.