The ball-and-chain began a tradition back in the 1970s of having friends round on General Election night. Since I arrived on the scene, I've taken this further and made it grander, as one might expect.For 2001 and 2005, I prepared a great buffet – no mean feat when there wasn't a kitchen to speak of in this house. For 2010, not only was there a kitchen but it was my kitchen, so the food went from 'buffet' to 'hot buffet' – quite a step forward. Whilst 2011 isn't a General Election year, for shame, the AV referendum and the other elections around the UK were enough of an excuse to have friends over and flex my culinary skills. For the night before, I needed a simple but high-quality dinner for an elastic number of people. I settled on bangers and mash. I made bangers and mash as a main course for Kate and Jonathan last Christmas, so I know it's a popular dish. But I wanted to take it even further up-market this time. Fortunately, there had been a "Local Food Fayre" in Hoylake last month. Whilst their definition of "local" needed some work (Anglesey: well, perhaps; Birmingham: no) there were some lovely things to be had including a whole stand devoted to taking ordinary food and smoking it. I love smoked food. Virtually all meals can be improved by smoking them, or adding something smoked to them, or just slopping on some Smoked Hickory-Style Bar-Be-Q Sauce concoction. In this case, the smokers were Derimon of Anglesey. Yeah – it's local as the crow flies, but if you don't want to fly, it's quite a round-trip to get across all of north Wales to Chester, then up the Wirral to here; as I say, the definition of "local" needed work. Derimon had a stall where anything that couldn't run away had been smoked: chicken fillets, herring, mackerel, ham, cheese, butter… yes, smoked butter. I was intrigued. Imagine smoked butter! Sold vacuum-packed, it would last until I thought of a good recipe for it. As it turned out, that was the mash for Wednesday night. Everybody loves mashed potato. Even crappy mashed potato is good. But good mashed potato… oh, dreamy, smooth clouds of buttery goodness. And smoked buttery goodness too. Lots of smoked butter, a good grate of nutmeg and served steaming for people to help themselves. Fab. The bangers were high quality too. My favoured local butcher (we have three, within 5 minutes walk of each other, plus Morrisons), Graham Clarke's, has now gone. Or, they went, then they came back, then 24 hours later the landlord changed the locks and they went again. Now it has reopened as Brian Clarke's, although the signage gives nothing away as to what the relationship might be. It's a bit less posh than the old Clarke's, but still very high quality and still with staff who know what they're doing behind a counter – something they've got over Morrisons, where the "qualified butchers" could use also being taught to do more than grunt at you. I pitched up on Tuesday afternoon and asked for sausages, of which they had a fair few. When I explained the gourmet bangers and mash idea, they sent me away. "Oh, don't have these, they're ordinary! Can you come back tomorrow afternoon? We're making a batch of sausages tonight and they'll be perfect for you!". How could I refuse? I went away and came back the next day, buying 4 different types of sausage (pure pork, Cumberland, pork and leak and 'ordinary' breakfast bangers that I used on Thursday morning for guests' breakfast). I slow-cooked the sausages under the grill at quite a low temperature to bring out the flavour and get the casing crispy but the middle cooked through. People often cook sausages too quickly on too high a temperature, leading to a black outside and a pink (and potentially poisonous) middle; or else leading to the bangers living up to their name and a lot of oven cleaning being required later. For those wondering – and thank you for your concern – I went to Holland and Barrett on Monday and bought a selection of Redwood veggie sausages for me to have. They were fantastic. One more thing was needed to make the gourmet bangers and mash very gourmet: a good gravy. I'm sure I could've done something with reduced red wine and herbs and all of that, but I don't think such subtlety is needed, even for a gourmet night. I fried off a sliced onion, then made what was in effect a roux by putting onion gravy granules into the pan (to soak up and bind the fat so it doesn't float on top) and slowly adding hot water. It looks very special, tastes wonderful and takes 2 minutes to do, all a sauce really deserves. There were no leftovers.