Well, onto challenge number three then - host a luxury dinner party for a minimum of four guests.
Hold up a minute…say what? I’m not too sure about that luxury part. We’re the sort of family who prefers campsites to holiday resorts. We do road trips not cruise ships. What would I know about luxury?
Don’t get me wrong, I love to entertain, and enjoy having people over so I can feed them. But the guests invited to my home are usually close friends, the sort who won’t spend the evening scrutinising the creases in the tablecloth or noticing the silverware (or lack thereof).
Yes, there are creases in the tablecloth! Oops :) My decorating style is to do it simple - a bit of string, flowers from the garden and empty jam jars with sea glass and tea lights in the bottom. And I tend to always get white crockery, that way, I can mix and match odd patterns and shapes easily.
If I had to describe my entertaining style, it would be more Buzz Lightyear (falling with style) than Martha Stewart.
So, here’s my spin on what luxury means on my planet, and if there are any issues, just take it up with Star Command ☺
Luxury means the chance to cook for Nana and Pop hand (Mr. Kitchen Hand’s parents), we don’t get to see them very often because they live 275kms away (true number, I checked on the drive back). In case you're wondering, my previous post explains why I'm visiting them.
Cheers! The mini-critics, their grandparents and me - that's five for dinner. And that's the entree you can see on the plate, the oysters are served warm swimming in a garlic sauce, and topped with puff pastry "covers".
Luxury means seafood. For as long as I can remember, my family marked special occasion meals with seafood. I remember always wanting to frequent a specific restaurant on my birthday, and the chosen dish was always Chilli MudCrab.
Prepping the oysters for the entree. I made a garlic butter log with some diced parsley and lemon rind added to it. The whole thing is then capped with puff pastry.
For this dinner party, we had the added luxury of using fresh seafood sourced locally. Nana and Pop Hand live close to the Clyde River in NSW, an area well known for oysters.
Bridge over the River Clyde
Luxury means indulgent grandparents who turned over their kitchen and did babysitting duty so that I could prepare my challenge. (Thank you!).
Luxury is travelling by car so I could lug my massive cookbook along to help me decide on what to make. If I had to choose one cookbook to rescue while fleeing the house, I’d grab my (The) Cook’s Companion by Stephanie Alexander.
Shaping tuiles, and my desert island cookbook
And of course, I indulged in all sorts of other luxuries while preparing the meal – clean running water at the turn of a tap, electric oven that worked at the flick of a switch, shops that stocked (almost) every edible item imaginable. I lead a truly luxurious life ☺.
Well I suppose I better share the menu with you now. Let’s start with dessert first (quelle surprise! ;P). Seriously though, I always plan my entertaining menus working backwards from the sweet. I know it sounds a bit odd, but that’s the way we roll at the Skewer House. Dessert is usually something that can be made ahead, and needs to look a little bit impressive, or failing that, be very easy to assemble and taste great.
With dessert decided, I then work my way to the beginning trying to keep chosen flavours sympathetic with the ending. For example, I made a cinnamon/caramel parfait (an ice-cream of sorts) to be served with mango sauce and coconut tuiles. Working backwards, I decided on a barbecued snapper in a north African ginger marinade, to be served with a rice pilaf, and two simple but interesting salads.
I always try and prepare dessert the day/ night before the party, which leaves me lots of time for getting the other food ready. In this case, I made the caramel parfait and tuiles the night before, and the mango sauce on party day. All the components were kept separate and assembled just before serving.
That’s the extent of my “plating” though. I prefer to serve food communal style, where the dishes are placed in the middle of the table and everyone helps themselves. This way, I don’t have to worry about judging appetites and juggling portion sizes, everyone can have seconds or thirds as they desire. My greatest worry when serving guests is of underfeeding them and sending them home hungry! Communal eating is also ingrained in my psyche – it’s a very Asian style of eating, and I believe many other culture observe similar customs.
Party in progress.
I spread out the rest of the cooking tasks over the day of the party. Usually I write a list to help jog my memory, but not in any particular order because I’m just not that organised. I also shop for any fresh ingredients on the morning of D-day (D=dinner).
Usually, I concentrate on the food and the (very minimal) décor, and my wing-man Mr. Kitchen Hand sorts out the music, the drinks and the service. But he’s away at the moment, so I let the grandparents BYO ☺.
We start on nibblies, pour the wine, talk, eat, laugh, eat some more and the party gets underway.
You know it's a good party when the guests start wearing the decorations on their head.
Being able to feed the people I love? That’s a luxury I’ll always be grateful for. Thanks for coming to dinner with me ☺
The Test with Skewer dinner party featured the following dishes. This is such a long post I won’t type out recipes for each of them. One component of the most important dish (dessert) is featured on the Australian Gourmet Traveller website, and I’ve linked to it. A lot of the other dishes are based on recipes in Stephanie Alexander’s Cook’s Companion, so I’ll give you the page numbers for them.
Nibblies – toasted pita crisps – I used store bought bread (labelled Lebanese bread), which I split in two and then cut into triangles. The triangles were drizzled with a bit of olive oil, seasoned with salt and sprinkled with paprika, then baked until crisp. Store in an airtight container.
Black pepper pappadums – um, open packet, decant. (hey, a little cheating is allowed right?)
Garlicky yoghurt sauce – based on tzatziki minus the cucumber. I mixed finely chopped garlic and mint with yoghurt, then seasoned this with salt. Just before serving, sprinkle toasted sesame seeds over the top so it looks like you went to a bit of effort. (Falling with style, think falling with style).
Entrée – oysters with light garlic butter (pg 667, The Cook’s Companion)
Main – Baked fish in a north African ginger marinade (Pg 473, The Cook’s Companion) I barbecued the fish instead -getting to use the barbecue is a luxury because it’s usually Mr. Kitchen Hand’s domain.
Spices for the fish - chilli, cumin seeds, coriander, ginger, tumeric, garlic, paprika
Carrot salad (idea from The Cook’s Companion) – make carrot ribbons with a vegetable peeler (I used 2 carrots), stir through some diced parsley, dress with lemon juice and garnish with black olives.
Cucumber and tomato salad – Mix cubed tomatoes, cucumber and sliced red onions together, dress with lemon juice, then sprinkle with fried coconut (salad idea and fried coconut recipe – pg. 329, The Cook’s Companion).
Fried coconut (I made something similar here)
Rice pilaf – (pg 859, The Cook’s Companion)
Dessert – Caramel parfait
Coconut tuiles – pg 333, Cook’s Companion
Mango sauce – roughly chop flesh of one mango, cook over low heat with about two tablespoons sugar. Stir constantly until mango collapses and forms a sauce. Chill until required.
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