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Five courses for a bank holiday dinner party

August 29, 2011

There isn’t much I like doing more than planning for a dinner party.

I have a little notebook beside my bed, so that when I wake up in the dead of night, brimming with ideas for dishes and combinations, I get to note them down before I fall back asleep and forget the lot.

A Sunday afternoon before a bank holiday is a great time for a dinner party.  You get the Saturday to prep and clean, the morning to do everything you can before your guests arrive, and then the Monday to clear up!  So, we took this opportunity to invite my boyfriend’s family over.  Whilst this might be some people’s idea of hell, I love cooking for them – they love food, booze and a good natter – the perfect guests.

So, here’s what I did:

1. Individual Onion Tarts, topped with Lemon-dressed Rocket and Parmesan Cheese shavings.

I adapted the tart recipe from one by Simon Hopkinson, published in his Bibendum collaboration with Matthew Harris.  Instead of doing one big tart, I used 12cm cases and cooked them separately; I think individual servings look so much more dainty.  I also gave me the added advantage of making sure I didn’t have any ‘soggy bottoms’; the likes of which the nation has recently witnessed on Great British Bake Off.  Nobody wants a soggy bottom!

The lemon-dressed rocket was simply a case of dressing it with some good quality extra-virgin olive oil, a few squeezes of a lemon and some grinds of the salt and pepper mills.  Pile this on top of the warm tarts, use a potato peeler to shave over some Parmesan and away you go.

2. Beetroot and Goat’s Cheese Mousse stacks with baby Watercress and Tarragon

This was one of those things I woke up thinking about; which is weird because I don’t really like beetroot or goat’s cheese!  Last week I pickled some beetroot, so I keep a few big bits in the jar, knowing I could use them in this recipe.  Washing off the vinegar, I then used a round cutter to give me perfect rounds of beetroot, which I then sliced as thinly as I could.  I chopped the remaining bits up into nice little chunks, to sprinkle in amongst the watercress.

The goat’s cheese mousse was super easy!  I took 300g of soft goat’s cheese and crumbled it into a bowl.  Then, using electric beaters, I beat in enough whipping cream (probably around 150ml) until I got a piping consistency.  Then I added in some finely chopped parsley and a generous grind of black pepper and covered it – leaving it out of the fridge to remain at room temperature.  When I was ready to assemble, I popped the mousse into a piping bag.  One little dot of mousse in the centre of the plate holds the beetroot firm.  Then I built the stacks up layer by layer, adding a couple of sprigs of tarragon on top.  I have to say, I think this dish looks suitably impressive, but is actually pretty easy to make.  And if you’ve got some fresh beetroot, use that instead; it’ll work even better.

3. Tomato Bruschetta with grilled Sardines

Sardines and tomatoes work well together, as the acidity of the tomatoes balances out the oilyness of the fish.  I was going to serve this with a quenelle of black olive tapenade too, but then I discovered my big jar of olives only actually had about 20 olives floating in it.  So I dressed the plate with chopped olives, corchichons, capers and olive oil instead…a sort of de-constructed tapenade!

My bruschetta recipe varies, depending on what ingredients I have available, but it always contains fresh tomatoes (this time they were fresh from the garden), chopped garlic, seasoning, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  I always try to add fresh basil too, but on this occasion, I found myself without any.  Instead I added chopped spring onions, a little chopped red pepper and chopped parsley.  Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl, then add a generous splash of balsamic.  Cover ingredients with extra-virgin olive oil and season generously.  Stir and then cover with cling film and leave in fridge until you are ready to cook.  I often do this in the morning, to give the ingredients time to mingle.

I filleted the sardines and when I was ready to serve, I griddled a slice of sourdough per person.  Then I topped this with generous amounts of the tomato mixture and popped it all under the grill to warm through.  Meanwhile I cooked the sardines on one minute each side. I served the sardines on top of the bruschetta and dressed the plate with all my little bits, drizzling the whole lot with good quality extra-virgin olive oil.

4. Pork Saltimbocca on crushed Mustard New Potatoes and butter Rainbow Chard

Taken from Delia’s Summer Collection (page 118), the Pork Saltimbocca is basically just pork medallions, topped with Parma ham and a sage leave, cooked in Marsala wine.

I made the crushed new potatoes in advance, by boiling them until cooked but still firm, and drained. Then, using a potato masher, I broke them up a little, mixed in a few knobs of butter, a good gulg or three of olive oil, some chopped parsley and chives and a teaspoon of whole grain mustard.  Then I seasoned to taste and put to one side.  When I was ready to cook the pork, I gently warmed through the potatoes, adding more olive oil to loosen them up a little.

The chard was even easier to cook.  I snipped some fresh from the garden (I would highly recommend growing this vegetable if you only have a small patch – it’s the gift that keeps on giving!) and separated the stalks from the leaves, chopping both.  Whilst the pork was cooking, I melted a large knob of butter in a saucepan and added the stalks.  After four minutes, I added a sliced clove of garlic. After another minute, I added the leaves and cooked until wilted.  Then I seasoned generously.  Done!

To serve, I placed a small pile of the warm potatoes into the centre of each plate, and topped with two pieces of pork.  I then heaped a little pile of the chard on top and spooned over the Marsala sauce and cooking juices from the pork.

5. Pistachio Soufflé with Dark Chocolate Sauce

Or at least, this is what I had intended to cook!  Taking this recipe from Olive Magazine (September Issue, page 34) I picked it as my dinner party finale because of the lightness of the soufflé – nobody wants a big stodgy pudding after five courses.

I don’t usually have cooking disasters, but as I frequently cook new recipes without any practice, I guess they are going to have to happen sometime! Whilst preparing the base for my soufflé, I took my eye off the pan, allowed it to get too hot et voila! Sweet scrambled eggs.

I did offer to start again, but four full guests just waved the suggestion away.  Luckily for all the sweet toothes amongst us, my Polish neighbour had brought round a little chocolate torte a few hours earlier, so I had a pudding reserve!  I also had a box of chocolates as a back up! (you can tell I was in the Brownies – I took my ‘be prepared’ oath very seriously!)

So there you have it, five course for a bank holiday dinner party…right, must go and finish the washing up now!

  1. Took me time to read all the comments, but I genuinely enjoyed the post. It proved to be Pretty helpful to me and I am sure to all the commenters here It is always great when you can not only be informed, but also entertained Im certain you had fun writing this write-up.

    • Thank you very much – I’m really glad that you emjoyed it. And you’re totally right – I had lots of fun writing it :o) I hope I can keep you entertained and informed through future posts too!

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