It has been over a year since I hosted a nice dinner with friends. In between pregnancy & looking after a little bub, it just hasn’t happened. As the bub gets older, he’s beginning to form a more predictable routine, particularly in the evening, which means I’ve started feeling like I can do normal adult things again, like host a dinner party. Whilst I’m still on maternity leave & have time, I decided to seize the opportunity to host a nice dinner party with a few friends.
I did make a few concessions with my meal planning for this dinner. In order for a dish to be on the menu, it had to be possible to make it ahead of time. I didn’t want to be worried about timing of things whilst trying to look after the bub if he was upset or hungry. Normally when I have a big dinner, I plan out a timetable for the day & cook to it. With a baby that’s still nursing that approach just isn’t realistic. Instead I wrote out a list of things I had to do, assigned priorities and then started knocking them off in between feedings or playing with the bub. I also started making a lot of stuff on the Thursday.
We started with some homemade breadsticks, Italian white bean dip & some Serrano Jamon a friend brought over. The recipe for the breadsticks & bean dip were from my new Delicious cookbook, At Our Table. Both were exceptionally simple to make & quite tasty. In fact the bread sticks turned out so well my husband assumed I’d bought them at the store. I’ll definitely be trying more recipes from this book.
For mains I cooked Gourmet Traveller’s Overnight Pork Shoulder. I got the pork shoulder from Farm Field Table in Ferndale. It was quite fatty (there was a good inch & a half of fat between the skin & meat, which worked really well with the long slow cook time. Basically as the fat melted it pooled in the pan & essentially became an oil bath. So after a few hours it was basically like cooking a confit. It also allowed the fennel to stay soft & silken whilst cooking. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of the pork, I forgot to tie it up & so when we tried to extract it from the pan after cooking it literally fell apart (a good thing for eating, not so much for taking a photo though). Also by this point in the evening the bub had gone to bed & I had drunk a whole glass of wine, and promptly forgot to take photos of anything. Anyway, the only real alteration I made to the recipe was to crank the heat of the oven to 220C at the end to turn the skin to crackling (what’s roast pork without crackling?!). For sides we had green beans, roasted mushrooms (a selection of different types, i.e. shiitake, oyster), and a light salad.
Finally for dessert we had a collection of small treats & for once I actually tried to make an effort to make it look nice. Normally I’m the type of person who puts a meal down & says ‘Trust me – it tastes much better than it looks’, but one of the things I wanted to work on this year was presentation, so I tried. I made blood orange & almond cakes, rolled in crushed pistachios, orange confit jelly & kulfi.
The blood orange cakes were made using Claudia Roden’s Middle Eastern Orange Cake recipe. I just substituted blood oranges & adjusted the cooking time for bite sized cakes.
Kulfi is an Indian ice cream made by condensing milk & flavouring with spices like saffron or cardamom. I was first introduced to kulfi in Melbourne at a restaurant called Bombay by Night. It’s still the best kulfi I’ve ever had. I don’t know what made me think of it but I thought I’d try to make it myself. I used this recipe for the kulfi (recipe is at the very end of the article). I added 5 cracked cardamon pods to the milk during simmering as I love that flavour. I think my method still needs a little work. The flavour was definitely there – the nutty, sweet flavour of the milk & the hint of cardamon but the texture wasn’t quite right – there were a few too many ice crystals & it wasn’t quite as chewy as I remember. I think I should have heated the milk a little longer & allowed it to reduce more.
The orange confit jelly was a cobbled together recipe from a few different sources, here’s what I ended up with. It worked out quite nicely with a real tang to it, which contrasted nicely with the cake & kulfi.
Orange Confit Jelly
2 oranges, thinly sliced
Juice of 2 oranges
Juice of 1 lemon
220g caster sugar (bakers sugar in the US)
Gelatin – refer to packet instructions for amount required for volume of liquid
Strain the orange & lemon juice through a sieve & heat together with the sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the sliced oranges & simmer for 10 mins. Remove from heat. Remove the oranges from the syrup & arrange in a tin. Measure the amount of syrup remaining & follow the packet instructions for the gelatin you’re using to combine the gelatin with the syrup. Pour the jelly syrup over the oranges & refrigerate to set.
P.S. In case you were wondering, the bub behaved perfectly. He smiled at everyone when they arrived at about 6:30, I started his bedtime routine at 7 & I rejoined the party at 7:30. Then he slept for 10 hours! I have no idea how I got so lucky.