Favourite dishes you don’t serve to guests

I’m reading a recently published book called Eating Between the Lines by Rebecca Huntley (recently written about by Neil at At My Table). It’s an irritating book (about which more in another post sometime soon), but one section about single people’s views of the food they prepare for themselves as not being ‘proper’ cooking is interesting.

Although most of the food I cook is quite definitely suitable for guests, there are one or two dishes which fall into a sort of ‘private comfort’ zone. People I’ve lived with have eaten them, but that’s the burden of the house-share, where all sorts of dubious food is cooked communally — Reis mit Scheiß (rice with shit) as one German housemate described things.

After I’d stopped living with my sister, she admitted some time later that she missed my ‘veg spag sauce’, despite having moaned and teased about it while living together. For me, my ‘veg spag’ is delicious. It’ll go in a cookbook one day. But it needs a bit of marketing spin to make it sound publicly viable.

‘A deliciously simple vegetable sauce for spaghetti, featuring the honest flavours of tomato, carrot and zucchini. Great for a quick, homely meal.’

Put to one side that it doesn’t look very pretty, and that its ‘honest’ flavours can require a little adjustment. This, ladies and gentlemen, is my favouritest simple no-motivation-to-cook accompaniment to pasta:

Duncan’s veg spag sauce

1 clove garlic, chopped finely
pinch dried marjoram
olive oil
250ml tinned tomatoes (unenhanced with gloop or flavours)
some coarsely grated carrot
some coarsely grated zucchini (optional)
salt, pepper and sugar to taste

SautΓ© the garlic in olive oil, add the marjoram and then the tomatoes. Break down big pieces of tomato and then add remaining vegetables and a little water. Simmer for about 20 mins until it has reduced to a fairly thick sauce. During that time, cook some spaghetti. Serve with grated cheddar or parmesan.

The consistency is thick and not very wet, because of the grated veg. Not pretty. I think it suits spaghetti best, because of it’s texture and the ratio of pasta to sauce in each mouthful.

The sauce must be tasted during cooking because, let’s face it, tinned tomatoes vary radically in tastiness, and carrot can often taste very ‘green’. Don’t be shy about the salt (the acidity of the tomatoes might mislead you), and a very small pinch of sugar can also lift the dish. If the sauce tastes too ‘honest’, you can add cream to improve it. It also tastes great with good black olives (chopped) through it.

I think the ur-sauce is actually something my dad made when I lived at home, involving chopped veg and slices of kabana or salami, but my memory is uncertain. Certainly, a little bacon can perk up the sauce too:)

Okay, so I’ve spilt the beans on a ‘private’ dish that I don’t feel comfortable serving guests or friends. What about you? If you write about it on your own site, please link back here and leave a comment.

31 thoughts on “Favourite dishes you don’t serve to guests”

  1. Honestly I can’t really think of something I cook that I wouldn’t serve to other people. I’m a bit of a special case, though, as I don’t cook the daily meals here, and am usually called upon for special meals or desserts. “Cooking out of tins” comes to mind (you know, beans, corned beef), but that’s not really a recipe πŸ™‚
    I guess it’s different for this country too, where a lot of people live in poverty. Fried whole tilapia might be considered extremely ordinary to some households, but I’ve been a guest in homes where it’s considered a luxury. Hospitality definitely overrides any other quality.

  2. Duncan puts his finger on it when he describes these dishes as “private comfort” food; for me the salient example would be tuna casserole….there are as many variants of that as there are Australian mothers, I suspect, and mine (layered rice, tuna mornay, frozen peas and frozen corn, with a top of grated cheese and sliced tomatoes) has been modified by cooking the rice with turmeric and adding prawn balichow to the mornay….but it’s definitely a dish for splendid isolation. But if you found yourself eating it you would know you were family, not a guest πŸ˜‰

  3. Duncan,
    Just reading at your list of ingredients, it doesn’t sound too appetizing for me, I don’t mind the zucchinis, but carrots? I’ll test your recipe, and report back to you. Most likely, I’ll take your suggestion by adding cream. I might add lots of tarragon instead of sugar, since tarragon is also very sweet. I’ll get back to you, ya!

  4. i think there are heaps of things i cook that I wouldnt share with guests because they seem to easy or plain. Spag bog, curries, stews, aglio olio, probably stirfries. Maybe its just me and i think i have to serve up something a bit more special?

    I have a similar pasta dish Duncan, but i add a tin of tuna. Ate it heals as a student!

  5. A LARGE amount of what I cook I wouldn’t serve to guests, as for everyday meals I tend to cook from the fridge – adapting and tweaking recipes and ideas to what we have. Rather than what we should have. Mostly it works. Kind-of-ish. But we also have some odd meals.

  6. I know exactly where you are coming from! I will be (embarrassingly) posting one of my personal – don’t cook for guests – recipes on my blog. While I love good food – I also adore home cooked comfort food!

    And I think your pasta sauce sounds fine – it’s similar to one we often have too πŸ™‚

  7. I’m just going to mention (in case of any ambiguity) that I’m thinking of dishes which you don’t serve most friends either… the most-familiar inner-circle are the only ones who you might serve it to (ie, partners, kids, best friends who are cool about it).

    Anyway, love the resonance this is creating:) And Elra, it’s true that the carrots are the most variable element (in terms of flavour contribution), but they are an essential part of the sauce! πŸ˜›

  8. Oh that bloody spag bol! Yes, I remember it well. I must say, I was sceptical too, when I first saw the carrot going in. But it sort of works, in a not-for-guests kind of way :p

    As for me, while my cooking isn’t all that fancy, it’s usually good enough for guests. Otherwise, if I’m on my own, it just comes out of a tin or the freezer!

  9. I have a few “private” meals that I would never serve to guests, an example would be my pasta sauce which consists of chopped carrots, green/red pepper, tomatoes, onions and garlic, a sprinkle of dried basil and oregano and tomato paste (even tomato sauce if I am out of tomato paste!) BTW I do put a bit of sugar in my pasta sauce to balance the slight sourness of the tomatoes. Sounds weird but I love my sauce πŸ™‚

  10. Sounds like a very passable spag sauce – but this post reminded me of a curry in a cookbook we found once called Rob’s Slob Curry – the name has stuck for that sort of lacksadasical curry! I have been known to make food while on my own that I wouldn’t serve up – although I think part of it is feeling the freedom of just cooking for myself!

  11. I guess I wouldn’t plant to serve some dishes to guests but if they dropped in it wouldn’t bother me either. I really can’t think of anything I wouldn’t serve to guests. Perhaps I just have no shame *shrugs*

  12. I think my two, “no guests allowed” menu items would be the iconic snag in bread (for those nights when contemplating even the pantry door is too much work), and Sunday-night-in-the-middle-of-winter bowl of creamy mashed potato with pan-toasted herb bread soldiers. Both excellent comfort-food staples, but definitely not for guests!

  13. Duncan,

    I think i am little uncomfortable serving my own comfort foods to guests, normally it happens to me my comfort foods involves all types of experiments as i have passion for cooking.

    Your recipe veg spag sauce, is really a simple one. It think addition of beans is a good option.


  14. I think anything that looks unappealing (even if it tastes great) or has a strong odour.

    I have a couple of things that I really love but most people might find disgusting. I love spam pan fried with a bit of sugar sprinkled over it so it caramelises a tad. I also love this particular brand of canned sardines that comes in a tomato based sauce. Add some softened onions to it and it’s fantastic. But I don’t think I’ll ever serve anyone else that dish.

  15. I’ve blogged about a few meals I’ve made that fit this category. Probably the best example is what my mum refers to as “poor mans feast” (I’ve cleaned up the name somewhat) – it’s basically the same as your sauce here, minus carrot and zucchini, and add curry and brown sugar.

    I actually quite enjoy it, but have seen more than one housemate over the years look at it out the corner of their eye and quickly look away. But the few that’ve given it a go admit that it’s not a bad meal at all.

  16. Yep, SPAM in all it’s processed glory Cindy. You should try it. It has to be pan fried and with a sprinkling of sugar on both sides to caramelise it a touch.

  17. That looks like a basic pasta sauce to me, that most people would happily eat for dinner! I have an unhealthy obsession with pickles and sambal, eaten with rice – it’s not something I would serve anyone.. not even my boyfriend!

  18. By the way, Thanh, your comfort food sounds a bit scary! But I do like how much effort you put into something that is essentially fake ham πŸ˜‰

  19. Y, I know that most food enthusiasts would cringe at Spam, hence I wouldn’t serve it to anyone else. But I do like the way the sugar makes the Spam taste.

    Also, I have a really unhealthy obsession with pickles too. I eat pickled cucumbers with most sandwiches and love jalepenos in a lot of things.

  20. Thanh, I used to always have a jar of jalepenos in the fridge at all times. These days I’ve moved on to kimchi though πŸ˜€

  21. Lamb’s Fry. I love it. My flatmates love it too. But I would never serve it to guests. My Mum just taught me to cook it about a month ago. I hate every second of having to prepare it – so the comfort is definitely in eating it.
    Come to think of it – anything that I would normally serve with mash potato is something that I would never serve to guests. I guess mash is the ultimate comfort food for me.

  22. Y, we are two jalepenos from the same jar. I always have a jar of that in the fridge at all times too. I also love kimchi and went through a kimchi phase where I ate it almost everyday for about 6 weeks.

    Sorry to hijack the comments Duncan, I promise this is my last comment about pickles. It’s just that you don’t find a fellow pickle lover every day. πŸ™‚

  23. Eggs often fit into the solitary meal for me. As for dishes never served to guests, spaghetti with bacon and eggs done one of two ways. Either very garlicky and olive oiled or perhaps more oddly with curry powder and sweet soy. My family favour the sweet soy version, but I love the garlic and oil one more. Also, sometimes I’ll make latkes and top them with a fried egg.

    I still love bubble and squeak, again topped with an egg – that’s not ‘guest food’ *ever*.

    Leftover stew on toast for breakfast is a completely solitary meal for me:)

  24. No probs, all you pickle people. This post was meant to elicit exactly such secrets, fetishes and follies!

    Coby, you’ve reminded me of something we’d eat when i was growing up — stew on toast!

    I think the mentions of mashed potato are interesting… you know, i hardly ever make mash, and the thought of it as comfort food isn’t me — immediate reaction is “too much effort”, yet of course my pasta or other people’s eggs and soldiers, or tuna bakes or whatever all take about the same time. Secret comforts reflect the inner something?

  25. lol. great question! I do a similar veg spag, including carrots (which, like my mum, I even put in spag bol, makes it sweet + ups vege quota – I don’t know why people find this addition strange at all!) but I think I’ve happily served this to guests before πŸ™‚

    exclusively private dishes for me: bowl of mashed potatoes (garlic, herbed, fetta sprinkled or plain), 2 minute noodle ramen soup (chock full of veges, meats, herbs etc, but if serving guests I would swap the noodles for something less cringey), spaghetti with olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper and Parmesan, bubble and squeak, and a variety of horrors with leftovers – like mashed potato sandwiches! pan-fried leftover anything! leftovers on 2 minute noodles! *hides face in hands*

  26. @ zoe / puku : try those mashed potato sandwiches panfied in a little butter – magnificent! (Especially if made on ciabatta or turkish bread)

  27. There’s my super-lazy meal when I am the only one at home but don’t want to eat total rubbish. I pour myself a glass of white wine, oil the Le Creuset gratin dish and heat it in the oven then throw in a chicken breast, a couple of tomatoes, half a red capsicum (possibly covering 2-3 mushrooms so they don’t dry out). I sprinkle all with one of those herb or rub mixes. Sometimes I cover with foil. Sometimes I add a slosh of wine. Sometimes I take the cores out of the tomatoes and push in some basil leaves. Occasionally I might add beans or asparagus towards the end of cooking. I’m sure it could be made in any sort of dish but the 35-y-o gratin dish is part of the ritual as, of course, is the wine…

  28. Tuna patties. I can’t persuade anyone that they’re amazing without actually forcefeeding them. First, make fluffy mashed potatoes just as you normally would – plenty of butter and milk, even cream, if you have it on hand. I hate dry flavourless patties. I’d rather they’re a little gooey and tasty than bland and solid. Add one egg, a handful of fresh grated parmesan, finely sliced spring onion, salt, coarsely grated pepper, a good squeeze of lemon juice, and chopped fresh herbs (parsley, or whatever you have). Add a can of tuna in brine (drained), and combine. I like to break the tuna up pretty finely. If you refrigerate first, they’re easier to shape, but I don’t always have time. Form patties, and roll in breadcrumbs, then fry in a pan lightly coated with oil until toasty brown and crispy on the outside. They’re great on their own as “bowl food”, but my secret pleasure is to put one in a crusty roll with lettuce and mayo. Mmmm. Tunalicious.

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