Tag Archives: dinner party

Mid-Autumn in Spring

The moon’s an arrant thief,
And her pale fire she snatches from the sun.
~ William Shakespeare

Spring is whizzing by in a blur of tulips, work and windy sunshine… and I nearly forgot all about Mid-Autumn / Mooncake Festival! Luckily, Jeremy didn’t – and him and Char prepared a delicious celebratory feast for us lucky folk last weekend :-)

It was a blustery blustery busy busy Saturday for me, so walking through the doors to see and smell ALL THIS was especially amazing!

Tofu with a sweet chilli marinade, deftly stacked into an inviting tower…

Mussels with melting cheese and bacon bits… mmmm!

Prawns, corn and greens tossed in a pretty stir-fry:

Jeremy’s version of san choy bau (生菜包) – traditionally made with chicken / pork mince and water chestnuts, with the cooked mince rolled up in fresh lettuce leaves immediately before consumption. Classy finger food :-) This (addictive!) version incorporated lamb mince, bamboo shoots, tinned baby corn, carrots, oyster sauce, and a host of other ingredients.

Roast duck – bought, but made to look homemade ;-)

Of course – the necessary mooncake. I’ve heard that each one carries approximately 1,000 calories, but the truth is I am clueless about calories so I eat them even though 1,000 sounds like a lot. Growing up, I tried mooncakes with all sorts of crusts and fillings – yam, red bean, lotus paste, snow skin… they are different in each region of Asia and even now the sight of mooncakes makes me smile and intrigued to know what is inside.

This one hid within itself pandan and salted egg yolks. Pandan is a happy scent for me, don’t often get to inhale it now – and I loved this!

Mooncake on its own would have been sufficient for dessert, but out popped a second surprise – mango pudding, made from scratch! Creamy, rich and so mangoey, for lack of a better adjective! I asked Char for the recipe she used, which she kindly sent to me – see below :-)

    Ingredients:
    3 cups Alphonso mango pulp
    3 tbsp plain gelatin
    2/3 cup cold water plus 2/3 cup boiling water
    1 cup evaporated milk
    1 cup superfine sugar
    1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    Method:
    Place the gelatin into a bowl and stir in the cold water. Add in the boiling water and stir until the gelatin is thoroughly dissolved. Set aside to cool a few minutes.
    In a bowl, add sugar to the evaporated milk and stir until sugar is completely dissolved.
    Place the mango pulp into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the gelatin mixture, then add the sweetened evaporated milk and vanilla extract. Give everything a good stir, then pour into 8-9 custard cups or bowls (we used plastic cups, as shown in the picture above).
    Chill for at least 3 hours, or until set. Serve with a garnish of fresh fruit and evaporated milk poured gently over the top.
    Yields 8-9 servings.

Thank you Jeremy and Char, and happy Mid-Autumn Festival, everyone :-)

P.S. Somehow I’ve missed eight rounds of Sweet New Zealand! Grazie mille Alessandra for reminding me (incidentally, she is also the gracious host of this month’s Sweet NZ!). Don’t forget to send in your entry if you are a NZ food blogger and haven’t already…

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Dinner for seven

Precisely the least, the softest, lightest, a lizard’s rustling, a breath, a flash, a moment – a little makes the way of the best happiness.
~ Frederich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra

In pursuit of succulent prawns for our dinner party, Kath and I visited Auckland Fish Market on Saturday morning. Mmmmm seafood… there was a generous selection. Big and little fish. Spiky kina. Creepy lobsters, looking quite far removed from the beautiful, creamy white flesh encased in orange shells that I much prefer ;-) Looking at the lobsters, I thought of Julia Child clutching them and dropping them into scalding water… and my body itched with discomfort. :-o

We didn’t buy prawns here in the end, because the prices were a little higher than we wanted to pay – but we had a good time wandering around the shops in any case. The kind man at the smoked food section gave us samples of orange roughy roe… the wedge I put in my mouth morphed into a rich bittersweet bouquet, lots of depth, wonderful! (Though I am not sure Kath enjoyed it as much as I did). I also picked up some smoked broadbill steak which looked too enticing in its golden/orange glory to pass up.

Second stop: Sabato. When you first walk in, it doesn’t appear to be a dangerous place. Don’t be fooled – only ignorance and a very blocked nose could save you. This place forces you to smile, grin even. For the first few seconds as your eyes scan its interior, the words ‘gourmet’, ‘ridiculous’ and ‘food for rich people’ may float into your head and do a little dance. You’ll think you’re safe. But then you venture to one of their taste stations, carelessly take a bite – and suddenly the mist clears, and you realise you won’t be escaping for a while!

It’s not just ‘cos their offering sounds fancy (though incidentally, they do the fancy thing well. Truffle oil, aged balsamic, porcini crema, anchovies, orange blossom water – you name it!)… It’s the fact that (based on what I tried in their store) whatever they possess in ‘gourmet-ness’, they actually match in deliciousness too.

And if that ain’t convincing enough, they also have drool-inducing recipe cards scattered in various nooks and crannies, friendly staff who offer you a complimentary coffee while you browse, oh… and might I just casually mention that they have a tall shelf stocked with Valrhona (only the best chocolate ever?!) goodness! Eventually, I exercised some restraint and walked out with just a bottle of orange blossom water and a jar of sweet, sexy anchovies (the latter were at one of those tasting stations). Kath got a bottle of rose water.

We then stopped at a friendly vege shop which had very attractive-looking produce – see golden tamarillos above! Picked up fruit, herbs, miso paste.

Finally, we went to the supermarket to pick up everything else that we needed.

Back at Kath’s apartment, we put away the food that needed refrigeration before sitting down for a quick lunch: impromptu platters of smoked broadbill salmon from the Fish Market, avocado, tomato, black pepper and bread.

At some point, we rose from the dining table and got to work. I dawdled for ages, wanting to take photos of everything and talk and all; luckily, Kath is WAY more organised than I am and so our guests got to eat dinner before 8pm ;-)

Everything really smelled so good as we pounded, blended, fried – my nose was pretty happy while we cooked. Sizzling garlic. Sweet gingersnaps. Toasted seeds and spices. Chilli and chocolate. Ginger and miso. Etc.

Here is our mole in its infant state – containing onion, garlic, toasted seeds, cumin, fennel and more… believe you me, it was potent!

This is Kath, blissfully unaware of me snapping a photo of her whipping up a storm!

This is Kath again, aware that she wasn’t going to escape my camera and making the wise decision to smile.

Mmmm… it was all going along nicely and I was still thinking “yay we have plenty of time”, when all of a sudden I realised we did not afterall have much time left! Somewhere in the middle of the time speeeeeeeeding by and the stove on full throttle I stopped taking pictures of the food.

Sure, we had a few mini disasters along the way… this cracked egg being the least of those mistakes…

AND, at dessert time, we had a case of “our tart runneth over” (aka liquid mascarpone) and Ben was assigned the guest duty of being Tart-cutter:

But we managed to serve dinner, and eat with a bunch of fantastic people (including the very cool Kimberley, whose presence is every bit as delightful, interesting and thoughtful as her writing). It was great! And everyone was still smiling and talking at the end, so I think we can call everything an overall success! Our menu was as follows:

    Prawns with lemon, chilli and feta – served with crusty baguette
    Baked baby carrots with orange, ginger, miso and tamari – recipe here
    Chicken mole (our sauce comprised garlic, seeds, spices, tomato, chilli and chocolate)
    Wild rice with sliced almonds and raisins
    Berry and mascarpone tart

Thank you Kath, Ben, Komal, Quinn, Kimberley and Kirsty for a very full and fun Saturday evening (we missed the few people who couldn’t come along this time, and look forward to having you come next time)!

Dinner party #2

Blest be those feasts, with simple plenty crowned,
Where all the ruddy family around
Laugh at the jests or pranks that never fail
Or sigh with pity at some mournful tale.
~ Oliver Goldsmith

Following our recent dinner party debut, Kath and I held our second dinner party last night at Kath’s place. 9 of us this time, different guests – and again an excellent evening.

Cooking can take a fair amount of time and is a lesson in coordination – but I love it and I find it funny when people say “oh I would never bother with that” or “what? I can’t believe you went to all the trouble of preparing this”… because… well, I wouldn’t have it any other way. (Admittedly, there is no way I would have stayed sane and served any decent food last night if I had to make everything myself – yay for Kath who calmly did more than half of it ;-))

To start, we served two tarts – a leek, caramelised onion & feta tart, and an asparagus and pesto one.

Because stuffed vegetables would be bright and fun, we stuffed these capsicums and tomatoes with a rice, herb, chilli and pistachio nut mixture (thanks Jamie Oliver for this recipe) and baked them in chicken stock with a dollop of tomato puree stirred in…

I like how veges go charred on the outside and meltingly soft on the inside after some time in the oven.

Kath threw together a very pretty (and yummy) salad with tomatoes, avocado, cucumber and celery…

I seared some lamb chops with random sprinkles of worcestershire sauce, white wine vinegar, salt, pepper and oregano… forgot to take a picture of the final product oops!

And lovely dessert comprised lemon panna cotta which Kath prepared before I got to her place (pity, I am regretful that I didn’t get to watch this!) with a mixed berry sauce dotted with black pepper. The panna cotta was so delicious that I noticed people going silent while they ate it and then simultaneously exclaiming :-) It was so good. Silky smooth creamy-ness topped with a sweet red coat and tangy berries.

Not pictured: cooked lamb chops and Italian loaf/butter.

Thanks Kath, friends and friends’ friends who made for a very enjoyable evening :-)

Dinner party

Well let’s face it, who on earth besides antique dealers and gay couples actually still give dinner parties?
~ Nigel Slater

Nigel, I adore every piece of writing I’ve read by you save one (see above) – on this front, I hope you stay wrong for a long time to come!

May I be so bold as to say that everyone should host at least one dinner party in their lifetime? It doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated… all you need to do is gather friends, cook something and share your food. There’s just some kind of magic about taking the time to cook for others and filling your home (or your friend’s home in my case this time ;-) with cooking smells and friends/friends-of-friends…

We hosted a dinner party for 10 on Saturday night, at Kath’s place. Between Kath’s efficiency and preparedness and my groggy state of existence after a rather busy week, we launched our informal dinner club!

Most people knew just Kath or myself, and it really didn’t matter. Midway through the evening, it seemed that we didn’t need the background music; everyone was chatting, laughing… and Katherine and I looked on from the kitchen feeling pretty good indeed!

We had gone shopping in the rain on Saturday morning, at La Cigale and at a supermarket, before meeting up again in the afternoon to prepare dinner for our guests.

Before dinner, we served slices of fresh French batard from the market, dukkah from Zarbo, fresh tomatoes and Kath’s homemade basil & balsamic pesto. Guests contributed a very generous amount of wine too.

Dinner was chicken, ricotta and spinach cannelloni swathed in a bubbling sauce of tomato puree, spices, and a light sprinkling of grated cheese – and an impromptu green salad with olives, capsicum and whatever else we could find. I had never attempted to make cannelloni before, and it was an exercise in patience stuffing those tiny tubes! All worthwhile in the end :-)

Dessert was Bosc pears poached in spicy syrah, cinnamon, star anise, lemon juice and sugar, served in ramekins with a melting scoop of maple walnut ice cream… and the requisite tea and coffee.

Altogether a great evening, I hope we hold our next dinner soon!

Dinner party @ Nish’s

I hesitated about writing this post, because not long after Nish and I held this dinner party in Christchurch, the earthquake happened. The morning I awoke to news of the quake striking the lovely city I’d been in only days before, was not a calm morning until I ascertained that just about everyone there was alive. Shaken, but alive.

It was very surreal viewing the photos, watching it flash on the news, reminding myself that this was happening in my country… in my previous line of work I dealt with disasters etc so much, that sometimes I thought I was becoming numb to all of this – and that my heart had turned to stone, because I no longer always reacted with emotion. Sometimes my mind willed it all to disappear, or to let it wash over.

Except, really, you can’t just push it away entirely.

You can’t pretend that people aren’t suffering, because they are, and you can’t pretend disasters aren’t striking – all over the world – more than you realise – because they are.

The only thing you have the freedom to determine is the way you live your life, and the way in which you respond to things beyond control, and the way in which you love, I guess – and I don’t mean in a cheesy way!

Which is where I am coming from as I write this post. Yes, the quake left devastating effects. But the night we had this dinner party, we were focused on feeding friends, eating together and enjoying life for what it was – and now, post-quake, there lies something undeniably horrible, without a doubt! – but a chance to build something better too, hereon.

Here’s one thing we can do… donate to Christchurch earthquake relief efforts here:

Nish and I had fun preparing all the food (well, I did anyway, since most of the work was done by Nish, hehe!) and we were waaaayyy exhausted by the end of the night… but it went well, and we had leftovers a’plenty to last us all of the next day!

Our menu in short:

    Garlic prawn & vegetable skewers
    Green salad with Thai dressing (not photographed)
    Portobello mushrooms with garlic & red wine vinegar
    Potatoes with creamed spinach
    Pumpkin with cinnamon and brown sugar (not photographed)
    Chocolate tart with gingersnap crust
    Sticky date pudding

In which we dined like kings

Laughter is brightest where food is best.
~ Irish Proverb

It took a few wrong turns in Martin’s car, and some squinting at the map with the light from my cell phone – but oh, our little effort was well rewarded indeed.

Martin, Sally, Nish and I found our way to Graeme & Daph’s charming place on Saturday night, stepping in gratefully to their warm lounge where we were met with two smiling faces. I met this lovely couple not too long ago at a cooking class, and in the lucky way you sometimes meet people whom you like immediately and have the pleasure of meeting again, here I was, in their house for dinner! They had a lot of ravioli to get through, I was told, and in an act of crazy generosity – more than they realise, probably! – I was invited to come… and bring friends!

So I grabbed Martin, Sally, Nish, a bottle of Bridge Pa syrah, and over the next few hours on a wintry night – we celebrated. In a big way. Celebrated food, life, humour; in a fantastic way, especially since I was with friends who don’t yet know each other well, and of course none of the others had met each other before. Yet, we exchanged stories, laughed and shared delicious food together. This is one of the best things that could ever happen to strangers, acquaintances, friends.

It was a beautiful scene, the cute cats by the fire, the labelled spice jars on the shelf, the coffee machine, the nicely set table with red napkins. It was wonderful to listen, talk, laugh, eat… Oh, did we eat! Graeme had baked spectacular bread – seriously, there is not a thing I would change about it – it was soft, comforting, flavourful – I think I exclaimed at my first bite. The wine – Yealands gewurztraminer, Bridge Pa syrah, something else I’ve forgotten now – we had a very delicious selection. The ravioli, of course – we had 2 types to indulge in: pumpkin & mustard fruit, spinach & ricotta – with a wonderful smoky tomato & bacon sauce and showers of parmesan to accompany them. Graeme spoilt us all with his very yummy creme brulee, perfectly torched – a deep caramel crust that we cracked with our teaspoons, then custard we all fell into, sighing. Dessert wine. Coffee. Chocolate. It felt like the feast would never end, except my body was certainly telling me that I should end it soon before I burst. All my winter sickness melted away…

Mmmmmmmmmmmm! It was a delicious night, which I won’t be forgetting in a hurry! Look forward to hosting them sometime in the near future too (hopefully with a decent menu too, though it sure is a high standard to try to match!)

Dinner for 10

If the divine creator has taken pains to give us delicious and exquisite things to eat, the least we can do is prepare them well and serve them with ceremony.
~ Fernand Point

At my friends’ wedding a few weeks ago, a few of us came up with the idea of having a dinner party sometime. And it happened tonight! In a way that these well-intentioned “we should do…” discussions often never lead to. :-)

Thank God for the power of words, and super friends.

We had an amazing dinner party tonight. 10 of us for dinner, 4 of us to cook (Tim, Matt, Claire, myself). Nice, modern, sleek apartment kitchen to cook in & lounge to dine in (thanks Tim!).

7 dishes were cooked and served, all from the cookbook – 1 repeat (gotta stop repeating the oven-baked fish) and 6 new attempts.

Oven-Baked Fish with Tomato & Parsley – Page 105 (repeat)
and
#18 Chicken, Coconut & Cashew Nut Curry – Page 352
#19 Rice with butter & lemon – Page 356
#20 Carrot Salad with Cardamom, Ginger & Lemon – Page 357
#21 Prawns with Lemon, Peri Peri, Garlic & Feta – Page 102
#22 Lachmajou – Page 159 (topping only, as I have made pitta before)
#23 Lemon Creme Brulee – Page 262

We all did bits and pieces of everything, but I admit I stayed FAR away from the creme brulee, because the recipe was just a little intimidating… so full credit for the wonderfulness of this goes to Tim and Claire (the only thing I dared to do was separate some eggs for the 16 egg yolks required). Matt made the fish tonight, and it looked better than the picture – I certainly did not manage this in my last two attempts of the recipe!

Getting rid of prawn excrement for around 1kg of prawns was probably the most tedious part of the entire cooking process for me. Above is a picture of a prawn sitting perched on the grater…

We decided on who would do what pretty quickly, and then it was a flurry of chopping, frying, whisking, etc…

So it all went well, and time went by fast but not too quickly. And there were moments of relaxation, spilling a few things on the cookbook, laughing, feeling tired… and eating of course. All things necessary for life.

I feel like I want to write so much, about the sound of my friends’ voices and laughter, the sunset outside the window, the way the pools of rainwater splashed the car windows from the ground as we drove through town today, my fear of making creme brulee, the way it felt crumbling feta between my fingers (onto the prawns), the nice focus this cookbook project brings, the way I feel like my friends support my madness of cooking through a book…

About the earthquake that’s happened in Haiti, about the world at large, about the way it makes me feel alive each time I drink plain water, about the seductive nature of cooking, about the great satisfaction I find in feeding people…

About art, psychology, womanhood, books, walking, nature, dreams, thoughts…

But it is getting quite late… and this post already looks so long.

I am gratified to have received a few comments, online and in-person, about this blog – and to see on the blog stats page that I have around 20 readers on average daily!

I was going to share my (slightly modified) version of Tessa’s prawns… but I think I might fall asleep here on my laptop, sitting on the ground – so better roll into bed…

Good night! And have a splendid Sunday.

PS. Re last post, the milk tart turned out OK. :-) Almost like Dan’s.