Amanda Liann is a 21 year old college student in her second year at the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London. I have known her, and her cooking for many years –she’s my younger sister!
I was always a test-subject for the magical creations that came out of the kitchen, and savored this role with relish until I left for college in the United States. She was really excited to share her wisdom about cooking, hosting and drinking and I was keen to introduce her to Big Girls Small Kitchen so that American students have a sense of what it’s like to eat, drink and socialize in the UK.
Betsy L. Mead: So you like to plan dinner parties regularly, I hear! How far in advance do prepare, and what do you do to make sure all goes according to plan?
Amanda Liann: I usually plan dinner parties a week in advance. I invite the guests a week ahead of time so all is well, then I plan to cook a few days ahead so that I have time to do all the shopping – I don’t want to leave it until the last minute!
BLM: Wow. That’s pretty organized. Does it always work out, or have you run into any unexpected difficulties?
AL: Yes! When you host as often as I do, you’re bound to encounter some kind of problem. The last dinner party I threw, I tried to cook a posh “mac-and-cheese” with cauliflower and bacon, herb and breadcrumb topping. The dish I was cooking it in smashed just before I put it in the oven, so there was pasta and sauce everywhere. Then the fire alarm went off and everyone came into the kitchen to see what had happened. It was such a mess!
BLM: That sounds like a horrible experience! How did you salvage it?
AL: Well, luckily I had prepared a bit too much so I was able to bake the rest of it in a different dish. I rustled up some pasta, added some béchamel sauce and turned it into a white-lasagne-mac-and-cheese. Still, I would have preferred the original idea, but you’ve got to be creative.
BLM: It sounds like you enjoy hosting.
AL: I do! I really enjoy cooking and I think it is a very British thing to have dinner parties. We all like to drink wine and eat good food (and we’re students, so going out to eat all the time is expensive.)
BLM: Do you have a favorite menu, or did you particularly like a selection of food that you cooked recently?
AL: Well, I really like all my food. I only cook food I’d want to eat! But I remember around Thanksgiving, I cooked chicken with a goat cheese, mushroom and bacon stuffing, accompanied by potatoes and beans, and followed with some chocolate fridge cake. I had salad as a starter. I admit that I bought the fridge cake, but that was because the chicken took more time I’d anticipated.
BLM: I don’t blame you. We’ve all got to cheat sometimes. Do you ever feel overwhelmed by hosting?
AL: It is taxing when you’re cooking and everyone is arriving – but mostly when you run out of wine! That is a serious problem. The more drunk everyone is, the better the party.
BLM: What got you into cooking, and hosting, in the first place? Do you have a culinary background?
AL: Yes, I do. I did a Leith’s cooking course [well regarded British culinary school] for 2 years, and have been cooking everyday for myself for the past 3. As for hosting, well, I like company and it is nice to have friends around so I can show off my skills. Plus, having a nice kitchen in my apartment helps.
BLM: Do you have dinner parties regularly, or do you save that for special occasions only?
AL: Mostly for special occasions, like birthdays, Halloween, Christmas parties, or when my roommate and I haven’t seen a group of people for a while and I feel that it’s time for a get-together. In fact, I’m throwing a party for my roommate’s birthday today. I’m cooking lamb shank shepherd’s pie [British pie made with minced beef and potato topping]. That’s basically a posh version of shepherd’s pie. I like to make comfort food with a twist. It’s become my signature style.
BLM: What about for Valentine’s day?
AL: My boyfriend is taking me out for dinner, so I’m getting an all-expenses paid day off. No hideous double dating or anything like that.
BLM: I see. Sounds like you need a break! Do you have any final advice for U.S. college students seeking to cook more, or hone their skills in the kitchen?
AL: Make friends with someone who has a house. As for cooking skills, I have now incorporated Jamie Oliver’s 30 minute meals TV show into my daily routine. It shows you how to cook buff [UK slang for “delicious”] meals quickly, so in terms of brushing up on your culinary knowledge, I’d say just watch lots of cooking programs!
Betsy is a recent grad who loves Boston’s dessert cafe, Finale, as much as she loves life itself. She craves sugar in general all the time and staves off the effects of her habit by running.