Monday, December 14, 2009

Dinner guests

My very first dinner party was many, many years ago; I had purchased Floyd's cookbook and decided upon 'paupiettes of beef with lemon stuffing'. I was excited to be making my first grown up meal and took everything Floyd said literally so when he recommended using your own beef stock and gave a recipe on how to make it, I took his advice. I soaked up everything he said completely and utterly, even phoning the butcher with my order ahead of time.

The butcher was very pleasant when I arrived, his patter constant; he handed me many bags, much to my surprise and told me the cost with a big grin. I falteringly smiled back as I paid him, dropping my purse and trying to stay calm. I walked out the door and round the corner, stumbling towards a wall, hyperventilating at the amount of money I'd just handed over. The meat alone had come to over £100. This was the 80s when I was still a teenager but one with a flat, bills and a budget.

I hadn't even thought to question the recipe, why would I... but the stock alone was enough for around five gallons and it used braising steak amongst other choice cuts for the best beef stock ever. The meal in question turned out pretty well although my kitchen looked like a bomb had gone off; pots and utensils lined not only the surfaces, but the floor too.

My guests seemed to have a lovely night but what they didn't know was that I had to walk the couple of miles into work and back every day for a few weeks and I had soup for dinner every night for ages-the only thing I could afford, once the beef from the freaking stock ran out.

But such is life and we learn from these things, albeit second dinner party taught me not to drink until the dessert was on the, after a further 20 years, I can safely say that I'm relaxed and comfortable and have stopped calling the dinner party stress route. No more £100 stocks, no slurring my words before the starter's even begun. No crazy, six course, complicated works of feat involving scallops and jus, although scallops and jus have their place! just good food organised well.

We had friends round on Saturday evening and I decided on the following menu:

Antipasti with pesto and Parmesan bread

Braised corn fed chicken leg with honey and five spice, potato rounds, parsnip mash with honey, cinnamon & nutmeg, crispy courgettes, onion confit and a white wine cream sauce

Baked Brie with pecans and a brown sugar caramel

The bread used the hearthbread recipe and was sprinkled with olive oil before topping with homemade pesto, tomato halves and basil leaves.

Once baked, a little drop of extra virgin olive oil was drizzled over the bread and some Maldon sea salt sprinkled atop.

One hearthbread was sprinkled with olive oil, grated Parmesan and some thyme and lemon thyme. Once it was ready, extra virgin olive oil was drizzled over with a good pinch of sea salt and a fresh grating of Parmesan.

The antipasti plate; a selection of meats, slices of Parmesan and cucumber with mint and salt, oven roasted tomatoes as well as sun-dried, olives and fresh pesto.

Olive oil and balsamic vinegar accompanied the plate.

Lyn and Ken; "stop taking our freaking picture, hurry up and let us eat!"

The chicken legs were corn fed and free range; I couldn't believe the size of them though, they were huge! That was one big chicken! They were pan fried in spices before being gently braised for 45 minutes. This is a Gordon Ramsay recipe from Cooking for Friends.

Potatoes were boiled and mashed with butter and milk before being pressed into rounds and placed in the oven when we were ready for them. It makes for an easy life!

Onion confit Hilary Brown's recipe from La Potiniere; onions were cooked in butter and then simmered gently for 2 hours with sugar, sherry vinegar, creme de cassis and salt. The exact recipe to follow. I really love these; there are always loads left over and I can use some for the next week or so, reheated and some have been placed in cute little jars for gifts. It lasts ages.

The main course; the steam, my angle and the gin made for a fuzzy piccie! The parsnip mash sits under the potatoes and on top is the crispy courgettes....delicious. The stock from poaching the chicken was spooned over the plate before adding the wine and cream sauce.

A whole Brie was used for dessert; the rind was removed from the top and then baked for 20 minutes in the oven. While it was cooling...20 minutes...pecan nuts were crushed and toasted for around 8 minutes. Half of these were sprinkled over the Brie. I then made a caramel with Muscovado sugar and maple syrup although any sugars could be used.

The remaining nuts were sprinkled on the top before the caramel set and it was served with broken oatcakes.

Anyone want to come round?

I've started preparing for my hampers and below is the toffee I made yesterday, thanks to inspiration from my lovely bloggy friend, Carolyn at Backyard Eden.

You'll find the recipe on her page; I poured the toffee into rounds rather than a baking tray. I ate some....of course!! It is delicious!

The toffee, bagged up and waiting for a label. This particular bag is going with some lovely champagne.

1 medium garlic clove, peeled
40g Parmesan, grated
50g fresh basil leaves, some stalk removed
40g pine kernels
Quarter to half teaspoon salt
3fl oz/75ml good olive oil

Place everything in blender and blend to a puree. Continue to blend whilst pouring oil through the top. Stop, scrape down and blend again. Pour into a jar; this will keep for weeks. Don't worry if it changes colour, it is the air hitting of the basil but it will still taste lovely and will be an unctuous green under the darker colour atop.

Onion Confit
40g butter
2 pounds/900g onions, finely sliced
100g demerara sugar (or other brown sugar)
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1.5 tablespoons Creme de Cassis
2 teaspoons salt

Melt butter and when it turns light brown, add onions. Stir and coat, cook gently for five minutes, stirring now and then. Add all remaining ingredients, stir and simmer uncovered for 1.5-2 hours, depending on your pan. Stir occasionally, keep your eye on it now and then, tipping the pan towards you to see how much liquid remains. When no liquid left, you really need to watch it but this will take at least 1.5 hours. The finished confit will be dark, golden and sticky. Yum.
This will keep for ages and goes great with meat, fish and cheese. Reheat gently in a saucepan.


5thsister said...

Oh my goodness! What a delight it must be to be a guest at your home! I'm loving the basil bread, the onion confit, all of it! And you are correct...those are meaty chicken legs!

Beth said...

Everything looks wonderful! I will come round!! ;)
The brie might be my favorite....oh....and the onions!

Yum on all of it.

Merry Christmas!


SamiJoe said...

WOW! PLZ invite me next time!
Sounds soooo yummy!

ps--i love Baked brie!

Laurie said...

Beautiful!! Very impressive Helen!

Even at age 48 I still panic a little before a dinner party. It always seems like ONE thing always goes wrong! No matter how well prepared I am ...

Your story made me smile :-) It reminded me of two things: 1) Bridget Jones and her birthday dinner party (remember the blue soup?) and 2)the following story ...

One time I made Marinated Ham Steaks for a dinner party which I'd made once before and which had been totally delicious (served with Cheese Spoonbread). Yum!!

But since this time was "special" I went to the butcher instead of the grocery store and waved my recipe in front of the butcher. He asked me if I wanted the ham steaks fresh? I'm thinking, well, duh, of course I want them fresh and I tell him "yes".

So at the party, I served everyone else first. They were eating happily when I finally sat down and took a bite ......and realized, it was PORK!!!!!!!!! I yelled out "THIS IS PORK!" and everyone looked at me completely startled!

I learned the next time the butcher asks me if I want it fresh, I'm gonna say "H*ll no!!!"

I will keep these tried & true recipes in mind for my next dinner party .......thanks Helen!

mise said...

God bless Lyn and Ken for their patience, and that baked brie is entirely new to me. I must give it a go, but I'll practise before I invite anyone over.

Protege said...

I am about to go to sleep, but I might have to get up and make myself something to eat after reading this!;)
I enjoyed the story of your first dinner party.;) Wow, you really gave up a lot for your guests.;) Amazing!

Little Ms Blogger said...

Isn't it funny how the first real dinner party one throws we follow instructions to the T. I would have made the stock, but know better now.

I have my food pantry dinner party on Thursday and like a crazy nut am trying Julia Child's Beef Wellington. Should be interesting as I've never made brioche which she uses to wrap her beef wellington (trust me, some puff pastry will be in the fridge just in case needed.

The menu sounds wonderful and I loved what you did with the mashed potatoes.

I am also intrigued that you served brie for dessert. I would never think to do that, but love this idea and will probably do in the future.

Grannymar said...

I know who will be the elected Chef when the Consortium all gather in one place. Someday.

ER said...

Please adopt me! :)

mimbles said...

Right, I'm coming over to your place! *checks flights* ...Ok, maybe not :-)

Everything here sounds and looks divine - I can practically smell that bread!

I don't tend to do fancy dinner party catering, we seem to either have relatives over for simple family meals or 50 people for a party.

Carolyn @ My Backyard Eden said...

What a lovely party! That brie looks fantastic! I've never done a fancy dinner party. I think I definitely would have to have a drink long before dessert was served!

Thanks for the mention!

Merry Christmas!

tommy said...

So I see all these pictures of the awesome food you make...I can't figure out when you actually get to leave the kitchen though, lol.

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Marie said...

It all looks sooo good....I would love to be invited to dinner at your house. :)

Reluctant Housewife said...

You're a dinner party pro.

I could not even begin to produce a meal like this. Wow. Beautiful.

You make your own pesto?

Apryl said...

You have some very lucky dinner guests! What a beautiful meal - it all looks and sounds delicious. I haven't thrown a dinner party in a few years - once the hubby and son and I are back in our own house (instead of living with the folks) I think that would be a lot of fun!

Laurel said...

YUM! I so want to come over to your house!

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