My birthday is coming up this week. Hurrah! I shall be 24! For the celebrations, I decided to eschew the usual drinks party at a bar, (I'm no longer hardcore enough to be drinking to the wee hours of the morning), and instead I invited some good friends over for a special dinner on the weekend.
A still life in passionfruit and pomegranates from our neighbour's tree. This was the centrepiece on the table.
I know, a "centrepiece"! I never thought I'd see the day when I'd be setting out places for dinner parties, let alone arranging fruit-based centrepieces. I mean, usually I just stack the plates in the corner and let everyone get their own. But I seem to have come over all Colin Cowie lately, and am totally getting into table settings, candles, flowers - basically any touches that can make the dining area look more inviting. My table (as you can see below), is quite basic, but that's the way I like it.
Setting the table before your guests get there lets them know they're expected, makes them feel welcome, and gives you one less thing to worry about as people arrive. Plates, cutlery, glasses, centrepiece, sparkling water, salt and pepper, cold side dishes and some nibbly nuts.
Sarah's 24th Birthday Dinner, for 8
The Union Square Cafe's bar nuts (Nigella Bites)
Blinis with smoked salmon, crème fraîche, dill, diced red onions and capers (How to Eat)
Eggplant involtini (How to Eat)
Lentil and Walnut Salad (Nigella Express)
Tarte chocolate au lait, ananas rôti (Foodbeam)
The menu I chose was very laborious - from the yeasted batter for the mini-blinis, to the griddling of the eggplant slices, to the individual chocolate tarts for dessert. For this gorgeous recipe, from Foodbeam, I made my own pâte sucrée, a milk chocolate ganache, and roasted pineapple pieces in a banana caramel. I started 3 days before the actual night, which I know might seem like madness to some, but we all know I love to cook, and enjoyed trying a whole range of new techniques. Having almost everything prepared in advance gave me less stress on the night itself.
I shall save the detailed, technical food talk for another post (and believe me, there is a lot!) and just show you the pictures. I set out the entrée of smoked salmon blinis on the kitchen counter so that we could all share them before we sat down. I put wine and champagne glasses on the counter as well, instead of on the table. Many of my friends my age don't drink very much, especially if they're driving, and whilst I wanted them to feel welcome to drink, I didn't want them to feel obliged to. (I'm still on my P's! I can't have a drop of alcohol when I drive!)
However, we all know that dinner parties are not just about food and table settings. Not the fun ones anyway. They are about catching up for fun with friends, chatting, and champagne! Lovely, lovely champagne!
Real champagne. What a treat. Thank-you to Markii and Tim! And the delicious Australian red wine (thank-you Jessie!) went perfectly with the heavier, tomato-based taste of the involtini.
Now, the food.
Smoked salmon for the blinis, folded in the same manner as those endless salmon platters I used to make when I was a buffet runner at a large hotel. Chef would be proud of me.
Blini station! Woah, I see that my days at the buffet haven't left me! And see what I said about laborious? Dozens of teensy blinis, finely chopped red onions, chives, and de-salted capers. Phew! I do think it's worth it though; I just adore that classic flavour combination.
We moved on to a more rustic main dish - Nigella's anglicised involtini, re-Italianified with provolone instead of the Lancashire that Nigella suggests. It can be made entirely in advance, and shunted into the oven when guests arrive.
Bubbly and crispy cheese...
Being vegetarian, and quite light, I felt that this dish could stand being beefed up with a substantial side dish - I chose Nigella's lentil and walnut salad, from Nigella Express, as well as a plain green salad.
I then brought out the dessert on plates, and brewed some tea and coffee. The dessert was a labour of love for me, literally! I made Fanny from Foodbeam's milk chocolate tarts with roasted pineapple, in heart-shaped tins! It's sweet pastry, filled with milk chocolate ganache, topped with diced pineapple roasted in caramel. I think they turned out quite special, but still looked lovingly homemade.
The only problem with these was that they were incredibly rich! It was difficult to get through them. In Fanny's original recipe, she uses fresh passionfruit in the ganache, which I omitted because I couldn't find enough. I think it would really cut through the sweetness. I'd love to try the original version once passionfruit are back in season.
Finally, for some general amusement and to keep y'all occupied until I finish the post about the long and involved cooking process, here are some things that us hip young things were talking about:
- Kevin Rudd, what's your opinion?
- "Steve Bracks is hot!" (Note the quotation marks, it wasn't me who said that!)
- Plasma screen TVs and output cables
- Best shopping spots in Tokyo
- Why Sex and the City is soo much better than Will and Grace
- Kylie Kwong: What kind of Chinese person eats pao with chopsticks?! And then puts it on the cover of their book? AIYO!
More to come soon...