Sunday, December 11, 2005

DINNER PARTY

Now this really is the “look at me I’m so fabulous post”. Excuse me while I wallow in my own crapulence. During my exams, (which I passed!), I took a break from cooking and blogging. To this entry, the lovely Ilana posted a wonderful comment of encouragement…


awww, sarah, i'm going to miss your posts... but school comes first, girlie! best of luck and you will do GREAT!!!!!! don't worry about catching up; you are a trooper and you could knock off six recipes in one dinner party!
ilana xoxo

I wouldn’t say I did “GREAT” in my exams, but she was right about the dinner party. Last night, I did SEVEN recipes. On reflection, I actually have no idea how I pulled it off, but somehow it all came together. I suppose some things just work out better when you don’t think about them too much.

When I got my roster for work last week, I noticed that I was working seven nights straight! Like, hello? I mean, yay for pay but what how bad would this be for my recipe count? But wait, on closer inspection, I noticed that I was working on Saturday during the day, not at night. Could I perhaps arrange a dinner party for that night? It was tenuous; Saturday’s a busy night, but there was a chance…

I emailed my friends Georgina, Mark and Tim, on Tuesday, inviting them for dinner at my place on Saturday. George told me yes Wednesday, and Mark and Tim told me the same on Thursday. Yay! I’ve wanted to cook for Mark ever since his birthday in September, and I knew the perfect menu.

SUMMER DINNER, WITH WINTER POSSIBILITIES, FOR 6

196. Chicken Liver Crostini
197. Grilled Pepper Salad
198. Marinated, Butterflied Leg of Lamb
199. Garlic Potatoes
200. Watercress & Raw Mushroom Salad
201. Poached Peaches
202. Sauternes Custard


I slightly scaled down quantities for 5 of us (Me, Mark, Tim, George and Mum).

Mark messaged me the day before, asking me what wine he should bring. This was very exciting, a serious dinner party guest! Most friends my age don't even think about wine or dinner party guest ettiquette. They usually just rock up, sometimes with nothing in hand, somtimes with flowers (good move) or chocolates (bad move - it ruins my menu!). Once, one of my friends asked me if I "would be requiring assistance in the kitchen". HRMPH. Needless to say, she hasn't been invited over again. "Requiring assistance", my ass.

But about the wine, I just said "well, it's lamb, so I'd guess red... but in the recipe book they suggest a rich white burgundy or Californian chardonnay.... your call". I'm not really fussy about wine, and actually, this was the first time I even noticed John Armit's Wine Recommendations which accompany each Dinner menu. I'll pay closer attention next time.

So, dinner was scheduled for 8pm on Saturday night, and I was working Friday 5:30 – 10:00pm, and Saturday 9:00 am – 6:00pm. One advantage of this menu was that most things could be done in advance, and everything else could be done on the night itself.

Friday:

After lunch on Friday I made the sauternes ice-cream, which is a runny custard that you can make in the oven (i.e. no stirring on the hob, and less fear of curdling!) Dammit, I wish I'd discovered this back when I couldn't make custard. Because now that I have the ability and confidence to make custard on the stove (as normal), this whole oven thing seems like a bit of a palaver. You warm the cream and sauternes in separate pots, and then whisk them into eggs and sugar. However, at this point, rather than stirring the mixture over a low heat until it thickens, you put it into a bain marie, cover it with foil, and bake it for 1.25 hours. The whole foil-water-dish fandango seems a bit complicated compared to 15 minutes of unenergetic stirring. But, if you are afraid of custards, or have a tendency to curdle them, like I used to, then this method is definitely the way forward.

Whilst the custard was in the oven, I walked up to Rendinas Butchery and bought the lamb leg, which I got the butcher to bone and butterfly. I can't tell whether the butcher likes me or hates me. One one hand, I spend a shitload of money there. On the other hand, I'm always buying weird cuts of meat (lamb neck, lamb shoulder, beef flank, un-minced topside) and asking them questions and making them do things to the meat. Stuff like, "Look, can you bone and cube the lamb shoulder? What's your sausage skin made of? Do you have any bacon with MORE fat on it? Can you score the pork rind, then cut the fat and rind off in one piece and drape it back over the meat?". This time, I asked for "a small lamb leg, and could you please bone it and flatten it out?" He looked at me funny and asked me if I wanted the fat removed from it. Sarky bugger.

Anyway, I brought it home, marinaded it as per the recipe - olive oil, lemon zest, garlic, rosemary and peppercorns - and shunted it in the fridge.

And shortly after it was time for the custard to come out!


Baked runny custard

The ironic thing is, even though this method is supposed to alleviate the fear of splitting and curdling, when I took the thing out of the oven and poured it into a fresh bowl to cool, it had started to split and curdle anyway! This was alleviated by plunging the bowl into a larger bowl of iced water and whisking furiously. Phew, crisis averted.


Custard - cooking it in the oven meant it got thicker than I'd ever dare let it do on the stove. However, because of the fact that it almost curdled, it ended up slightly grainy. At this point, I put it in the fridge to cool completely, and put it in the ice-cream maker when I got home from work on Friday night.

I delegated the task of roasting the peppers to my mum, and marinaded them myself when I got home.


Saturday:

I awoke at the ungodly hour of 7:00am, so that I could get to work in the city by 9:00am. The city is practically deserted at this time - all the normal people of the world are at home, in their nice, comfy beds. Anyway, there weren't very many customers, so my manager said I could leave early - instead of staying until 6:00pm, I left at 3:30. SWEET. This meant I had time to make crostini! I'd defrosted the livers the night before and bought a baguette just in case, but if I hadn't finished work early, I wouldn't have had time to make them.

I sliced up and toasted the baguette, and then worked on the topping...

I chopped up the chicken livers, and cooked them with onion, celery, garlic, parsley, tomato ketchup (I'd run out of tomato purée, and had to improvise, but don't tell anyone!), then whizzed them up in a processor, and cooked the mixture in butter with anchovies and capers.


Raw chicken liver - now, I'm not one to be squeamish or precious, but these were pretty bloody gross.

In the meantime, I chopped up the potatoes, tossed them in the marinade that the lamb had been sitting in, chucked them in the oven, and lighted the barbecue for the lamb. You can cook the lamb in the oven if you want, but let's not forget that it is summer, and I am Aussie Sarah, mate. I then assembled the roasted pepper salad and sprinkled it with parsley. (And I should mention that whilst I was cooking, my mum, the doll that she is, cleared up the kitchen and made it presentable for company. This is no mean feat, considering what a grub I am).

Then I assembled the crostini, and just as I was finishing them off, Georgina arrived!


Crostini - soon-to-be-poached peaches in background

She was shortly followed by Mark, with whom came something quite lovely - the wine! Oh yeah, and some bloke named Tim. Hehe. The wine was a delicious Evelyn County Estate "Tierra Negra" 2004 Tempranillo.

Mark: Oh my god, you MADE paté?!

The crostini, despite my fears of gross-out factor, went down very well.

I chucked the lamb on the barbecue outside, and got Mark to chop up the mushrooms for the watercress and mushroom salad. I actually substituted rocket for watercress, because they both taste peppery, and only rocket is available in ready-washed supermarket packets. All it is is the salad leaves with mushrooms, tossed through a dressing. Nigella says you can use the marinade from the lamb, but the idea of eating the oil that raw meat had been sitting in turned me off, frankly. So, I just used oil and lemon.


Mark & I

The lamb was taking longer than expected, so I poached the peaches too - in a mixture of sugar, water and sauternes. I found these cute, cute little mini peaches, which I thought would be perfect, and only needed a bare couple of minutes poaching. You have to let them cool before peeling them, so I decanted them into a bowl...


Poached peaches

... and finally it was time to eat! I brought the lamb in off the barbecue to a round of appreciative oohs and aaahs from my patient friends.


MEAT


Dinner - with a chux cloth to catch delicious drips


MEAT sliced

Me: Oh, I hope these potatoes aren't too hard.
Mark: No! You know chips, the dark, crunchy hard ones are the best! This is like a WHOLE BOWL of them.


George


Mark & Tim

Dinner was so awesome! And by "dinner" I mean the company and the atmosphere, not just the food. You know how sometimes, just preparing the meal is so draining that you have no energy left to talk to your friends? This totally did not happen tonight! It was just very relaxed, with good atmosphere and great conversation. (For some reason, we started talking, in great detail, about mosquitos and other bodily parasites, which was hilarious... and luckily no-one got turned off the food!)

After we finished eating, I got up and peeled the peaches, whose skins slipped away easily, revealing the gorgeously toned pink and white flesh beneath.


peeling peaches

To finish them off, you boil down a ladleful of the syrup until thick and sticky, and pour it over the peaches. I couldn't believe how beautiful they were, just like a stained-glass window.


Peaches


Peaches and sauternes ice-cream

I just loved how lovely and perfect they looked! With their blushing pink colour and peach shape, I thought they looked just like the mythical peaches that Monkey Magic ate in heaven to give him immortality. And the combo of peaches and ice-cream was just wonderful.

After dinner we came into the loungeroom to watch some Futurama (why is it that all the best dinners/lunches end with us watching Futurama?) before calling it a night.

And what a great night it was! It was so awesome just to relax after 6 hard days of work with good food and in good company. I dare say this is the best menu out of How to Eat that I've made so far. All the elements just complement each other so well - the peppery rocket, the sweet and soft capsicums, the crunchy potatoes, the juicy lamb - and it wasn't too heavy. For once, I wasn't left in an uncomfortable "topor of post-prandial bloat"! Furthermore, this menu is perfect for the hot weather, and it's deceptively simple to put together!

Nigella, you rock!

5 comments:

Ilana said...

Aussie Sarah, YOU rock!!!! Perfect meal honey! And for once I don't mind being wrong with my amount of recipes prediction!
But you do know, sweetie, that all of us "northerners" would mumble 'BITCH' under our breath when you insisted on bbq'ing the lamb.... It's ok, when I'm taking long walks on the beach this summer, you'll be wrapped up in a throw.. Muwahhahahahahah! Love ya, gal! Great work!!! Sooooo proud of you!

Lisa said...

Yeah, Sarah, YOU rock!! Everything looks incredibly delicious & beautiful. WOW, what a great dinner! Everything looks perfect -- I'd love to try the peaches & sauternes ice cream.
And were you using your mom's chopping board again?? Does she know?

domesticgoddess said...

speaking as someone who experienced "preparing a meal is so draining that you have no energy left to talk to your friends" today (shit, isn't it?), i'm so happy for you that this all went fantastically well. i love the idea of people around in the kitchen as you prepare bits and pieces relaxedly with a glass of wine.
and that dessert looks soooooooo pretty. i can imagine it tasting wonderful.

(i'll say it too) YOU rock!!

p.s. chicken livers are the best

Sarah said...

Yeah Lisa, that's an awesome board! And don't worry, Mum knows about the board! She was eating dinner with us.

It only took 2 years and at least 2 dozen roasts to convince her to let us use the board for more than displaying bread!

xox Sarah

markii said...

Such a great evening hun! Thanks a bunch for having us over..

I had a perfect time. Can't wait to do it again. The pressure is now on me to prepare a fabulous feast next time!! Eeeek!!