SARAH'S MOTHER'S BIRTHDAY DINNER FOR 11
Pea and Garlic Crostini
Roast Pepper with Green Olive Paste Crostini
Onion Tart with Green Salad and Sourdough Baguette
Roast Rockling, Pumpkin Purée and Mixed Mushrooms
A Moorish Cake
This is the birthday dinner I made for my mum. I spread out the workload over two days. Yesterday I made the cake, prepared the pastry and onions for the tart, roasted the pumpkin, and roasted the garlic for the pea crostini. And today, I did the rest!
48. Onion Tart
49. Rich Shortcrust (Basics etc.)
The first thing I did for this was make the pastry, following Nigella’s method in the Basics etc. chapter for rich shortcrust pastry. There’s really not that much to say about the pastry-making process, except that Nigella’s method is really stress free. (Although to be perfectly honest, sorry, I’ve never found making pastry to be intimidating, and I’m not exactly sure what all the fuss is about. Maybe I’ve just been very lucky and always come across very well written recipes, with clearly set-out instructions.) Ooh, but I did cut my finger opening the plastic crème fraiche tub.
Now, the onions. They’re sliced very finely and cooked to a fine brown mush. When you pour some Marsala over and let it bubble away, the smell is amazing.
Delicious Tangle of Onions
So, if you do this the night before, on the day itself, all you have to do is blind bake the case, add the onions, pour over a mixture of eggs and crème fraiche, and bake again. Easy! For blind-baking, I used an old packet of lentils which I bought a few years ago and never used.
50. Pumpkin Purée
The recipe says to wrap each piece of pumpkin, buttered, in foil and bake them. I had wrapped about half my pumpkin pieces when I ran out of foil. Disaster! But luckily we had some plastic Glad Oven Bags, so I put the rest of the pumpkin in them. I’d never used those bags before, but it says they’re ovenproof on the packet. They were fine, better than the foil, in fact.
Pumpkin in Glad Oven Bag. (Actually, it's butternut squash, because I'm too uncoordinated to chop up a large pumpkin.)
Once they’re cooked, you scrape the flesh out and beat it with a wooden spoon. I cooked the pumpkin last night, puréed it this morning, and re-heated it just before we ate it.
51. Mixed mushrooms
I cooked these this morning, and reheated just before serving. It’s a mixture of porcini, button, Swiss brown, shitake and field mushrooms, cooked in butter, with garlic, shallots and sherry. (I have no idea where to find chanterelles or trompettes de mort, despite a lengthy Google-search last week!)
Look at this enormous field mushroom in my hand!
After cooking it, it looked like an intensely-flavoured ugly black sludge, which was quite worrying, as I wasn’t sure how fussy my parents’ friends were. Or if they even liked mushrooms for that matter. Breathe, Sarah, breathe!
52. Pea and Garlic Crostini
All the crostini recipes (there are eight) involve thinly sliced, oiled-dabbed slices of baguette, which are toasted in the oven and then covered with a topping. My bread of choice was sourdough baguette from Laurent (bought yesterday), which I transformed into crostini at about 6pm (guests arriving at 7:30pm).
This filling is sorta like the upmarket mushy peas. But this one has oven-roasted garlic (done last night, with the pumpkin) in it. How I love peas!
Pea & Garlic Crostini – how very GREEN... it's a Miss Sixty shirt in crostini-form
53. Roast Pepper with Green Olive Paste Crostini
I chose this because my mum loves roast capsicum (aka peppers). And it’s supposed to be easy.(Nigella says to use store-bought roasted peppers and olive paste). However, I enjoy roasting peppers, so I did them myself. Furthermore, I couldn’t find any olive paste at Coles! I’ve since learnt that you can get it at Harrods, in London. Useful. It is my dream one day to be have the means to do all my food shopping at the Harrods Food Hall. But for now, I’ve got Coles Box Hill to deal with. What I could find, however, were these tins of green olives stuffed with anchovies, made by Carbonell. So I bought a couple of them, drained them and whizzed them up with a few teaspoons of crème fraiche (thus undercutting the sharp saltiness), to approximate what I imagine to be green olive paste. It looked khaki, and tasted fabulous.
Roast Pepper with Green Olive Paste
So, people arrived around 7:15-7:40, and were standing up, talking and munching on crostini until about 8:15.
Uncle Eric: You know ah, I don't like this green thing... peas. And I don't like capsicum.
Er, thanks Uncle Eric.
Uncle Richard: Aiya, you should try it. You don't know what you're missing. These are nice... munch... I like the capsicum, I like the peas.
Aw... let's invite Uncle Richard over more often!
Then, it was time to eat the pie. I stuck the eight grown-ups in the dining room, whilst the “children” – my brother (23 years old), our friend Tim (22) and I (21), were a bit more laid back in the kitchen. Stashing the guests in the dining room instead of the kitchen (which is where we usually eat) also meant that I could prepare the main course without being under the watchful eyes of my parents’ friends.
Aunty Ee-Ling: Sarah, you cooked all of this yourself? Wow, we should introduce you to my sister-in-law's sons, quite cute you know.
Dining room table set for grownups (8 of them) – baguette & bread rolls, onion tart, salad with basic dressing
Onion Tart close up
The onion tart is nice. The pastry is quite light and flaky, if a bit floury (my fault, probably), and the onion flavour is lovely. Also, because there were eleven of us, we only got small pieces – which I think was a good move, as I think it could get a bit rich in larger quantities. Mum absolutely loved it though - success!
Anyway, whilst everyone was eating my pie, I got started on the main course.
54. Roast Monkfish (I used rockling fillets)
According to the recipe, you fry the fish on either side before chucking it in the oven. I tried frying the first couple of pieces, and after two minutes of painful oil splatters and my fish not getting brown at all (so what’s the use in frying?), I gave up and just bunged all the pieces straight in the oven.
Removing fish from oven... check out my shoes
OK, so huge apologies to everyone… I was so frazzled (moi, frazzled?) but I didn’t get a picture of the whole table with the fish, pumpkin and mushrooms on it. And it did look lovely. Imagine me, graciously placing down the plate of white fish, the dish of orange pumpkin and the dish of black mushrooms on the table, smiling, saying “Enjoy your meal!”, and teetering delicately back into the kitchen in my high heels…
…then picture me, thirty seconds later, running from the other end of the kitchen, bursting into the dining room, exclaiming, “OH SHIT! I FORGOT TO TAKE A PHOTO! Mum, quick! Your plate still looks good! Give it here!”, and yanking it from her to quickly snap a pic.
Fish with parsley, mushrooms, and pumpkin puree
One plate - love the colour combo
Fish good. Pumpkin good. Mushrooms… incredible! It’s all about the porcini flavour. Despite my earlier doubts about our guests’ possible reactions to the mushrooms, they were the most popular thing all night. Everyone went back for seconds, and the dish was cleared. The clearing of a plate is always a good sign, and it’s even better when Nigella-quantities are finished!
Ooh, and don’t forget when you make this yourself, to use bread to mop up the black and delicious mushroomy juices. Preferably do this alone, straight from the pan once you’ve transferred the mushrooms to a serving dish – cook’s treat.
Dad: Oh that fish was fantastic. But you know what was really good? Those mushrooms! You know me and mushrooms, I can either take it or leave it… but those were good!
Aw, shucks Dad!
So after eating, everyone just sat around, talking, drinking and laughing. And then it was time for cake. The cake was very moist, and absolutely delicious! I actually think it's better than the Clementine Cake. And that blood orange syrup is absolutely insane...
Look at that red, red syrup
Mmmmmm – how I love that syrup.
My brother was unusually quiet all night. Well, he was up til 4:30 last night playing Tekken 5(tsk tsk), and had to get up early this morning for our tradition of birthday breakfast noodles, and then had an eight-hour shift during the day. But when he ate that cake...
Daniel: AWWWWWESOME cake. Well done.
So, despite all the "adventures" of trying to get all our supplies for the night, it was a fun and relaxed dinner! Phew!
Mum & I – Happy Birthday Mum!