One way or another it has been something of a busy week what with work, several social engagements and most importantly of all, planning last night’s dinner party. The dinner had been in the diary for weeks and I had been thinking sporadically about what to cook although most of my thoughts were; “I really need to decide on the menu”, without actually making any firm progress towards a conclusion. Eventually however, last Sunday evening I sat down and surrounded myself with cook books and determined not to move until I had made a decision.
I decided that because the only invitees to the whole affair were my boyfriend, my best friend and her boyfriend who for the purposes of this we will call Chris, so that we could discuss plans for our forthcoming ski trip, that it should be a relaxed affair. So no napkin swans then. I’ll be honest, informal does not come naturally to me; I can always be relied on to be over dressed for any occasion and my dinners are usually somewhat formal. In an attempt to achieve this relaxing dining experience, dinner with friends you might say, my first step was to scrap the idea of a starter and just serve a main and a pudding. However, the more I thought about the whole thing the more worried I was that people would leave hungry so I decided that a few canapés were in order to kick the whole thing off with either a glass of something bubbly or with a good strong gin and tonic. As is often the way, I chose the pudding first. Sometimes I do think it is important to do this especially if, like me, making puddings is one of your favourite things to do – you do not want your guests to be too full to fully appreciate the beauty of your carefully and lovingly created dessert. I settled on a bitter chocolate tart with a lime ice cream, homemade of course but the main course was much trickier to choose. The result was that we eventually decided to go with a slow roasted shoulder of pork with an apple and chilli chutney served with parsnip puree, potatoes with parsley and garlic and some roquette for colour (it did also work rather nicely with the rest). I also decided that in keeping with the relaxed theme, that I would not serve the meal but rather present all the food on the table for my guests to help themselves to.
Menu planned (with the exception of the canapés), all that remained was to confirm the time and purchase the necessary items, before of course putting my game plan into action. As I mentioned, in my previous post, I really do believe in planning. It is for this reason that I didn’t experience even a hint of stress yesterday. I started preparing for things on Friday night by purchasing as much of the food as I could, it is always tricky trying to carry everything, and by starting the ice cream. I made the custard base for the ice cream but did not freeze it until Saturday morning. I also started to lay the table in as much as I put the plates and the cutlery out.
By a stroke of luck, the limes in the supermarket were much larger than they usually are; I would have said that they were more the size of medium lemons. I usually follow recipes but I was unable to find a recipe for lime ice cream that I liked the look of so I adapted a recipe for lemon ice cream. The recipe called for 6 lemons so I thought that just to be on the safe side I would go for 10 limes. I must admit that I did feel slightly embarrassed buying 10 limes; perhaps I wouldn’t have felt quite so embarrassed if it wasn’t for the couple of lemons and 2 bags of satsumas that I also purchased – I think that I probably looked as though I had a bit of a citrus problem.
Anyway, back to Saturday morning’s plan of attack. I rose at an acceptable hour for a Saturday morning, not ridiculously early but still early enough that I had plenty of day left to complete all my tasks. So the first thing I did was to churn the ice cream in my ice cream maker before transferring it to the freezer. Then I made the pastry for the tart so that it could have a couple of hours to chill before using, before turning my attention to the parsnip puree. After boiling the parsnips until soft I drained them before putting in the food processor and blitzing until smooth with a couple of large spoonfuls of sour cream (you can also use crème fraiche) and lots of seasoning. I find that the parsnip puree needs an awful lot of seasoning otherwise it is really quite bland. I then transferred it to a bowl and left it, it just needed a couple of minutes in the microwave later on in the evening to re-heat it prior to serving. Then I made the bitter chocolate tart before turning my attention to the pork which couldn’t have been easier really seeing as you essentially put it in the oven and leave it to its own devices for about 7 hours. So the pig was in the oven by about 2 o’clock leaving me to finish laying the table and with the apple and chilli chutney to make, the canapés and the potatoes to prepare.
I chose incredibly simple canapés with one of two ingredients only – the idea being that they should be more an amuse bouche with a little burst of flavour. I went for figs wrapped in prosciutto with a shaving of parmesan, tomato crostini and a little medley of mozzarella balls with sundried tomatoes and fresh tomatoes. I was really pleased with the tomato crostini and they were so easy to make. You make the crostini by thinly slicing a baguette and then brushing the pieces with a little olive oil before baking in the oven until crisp. For the topping I used cherry tomatoes cut into quarters, salt, pepper, a splash of balsamic vinegar, a crushed clove of garlic and a little olive oil. I did this in advance but didn’t put the tomatoes on to the crostini until just before serving so that they wouldn’t become soggy.
The potatoes were also delicious –again I prepared them in advance so I peeled them and cut them into small cubes before boiling in hot water. I then put them to one side until about twenty minutes before serving the main course when I heated 7floz of olive oil in a large, deep frying pan with 9floz of white wine before throwing in the potatoes and leaving for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes cooking time I placed in a large bowl for serving and sprinkled chopped garlic and parsley on top.
I think that the evening all went rather well. I wasn’t remotely stressed, my kitchen was sparkling and the rest of the house looked lovely with lots of candles and my specially created playlist for the evening on in the background. My guests, because they were properly brought up, came armed with a bottle of wine and were beautifully dressed which secretly I was rather pleased about. Although I would of course have been happy for them to have turned up in their jeans, I did think that it was lovely that they had made the effort for me. There was plenty of witty banter and I think that a good time was had by all; they didn’t leave until midnight which I am inclined to consider to be a good sign. What was so lovely was that the four of us all know each other quite well, my friend is one of my oldest and dearest, we went to school together, and Chris is really rather funny (although we don’t like to say this to his face in case it goes to his head). I can’t wait for us to go skiing when we will also be joined by my brother. The pudding really was a triumph, the tart was, to quote Gordon Ramsay, “Delicious” and the ice cream was very refreshing but still had a creamy texture because I chose to make ice cream and not sorbet. One of the things that I liked the most about the ice cream was that it wasn’t green; instead it was a creamy colour and looked just like a vanilla ice cream so it was a bit of surprise as I think that my friend and Chris were expecting vanilla but instead got lime. My new napkin rings did not go unappreciated either – thank you!
Although I am not convinced that I managed to create quite the relaxed evening I had in my mind, I do still think that it was a great evening. There was absolutely no pressure surrounding the whole thing and no stress. Everything was very easy, including the conversation, and it looked and tasted lovely. I can’t wait to the plan the next thing and to try some more new recipes.
Lime ice cream:
7 limes, zest of 6, juice of 7
1 1/3 cups golden caster sugar
6 eggs yolks (best to use very fresh eggs)
1 1/3 cups whipping cream
1 1/3 cups double cream
1 1/3 cups whole/full-fat milk
- Whisk the eggs yolks with the whipping cream until well combined.
- Measure the caster sugar out into a saucepan and add the grated lime zest, the double cream and the whole milk. Simmer over a gentle heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
- When the sugar has dissolved remove from the heat and whisk into the egg yolk mixture before returning to the saucepan.
- Heat the mixture gently in a saucepan stirring constantly until it is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon. Remove from the heat, transfer to a bowl and leave it to cool. It will keep for 48 hours at this stage.
- Before freezing, add the lime juice. You will need at least ¾ cup of lime juice which I found was the juice from 6 limes but I was fortunate enough to find large limes in the supermarket, otherwise I would think that you would need about 10. I also added the juice of an additional lime, 7 limes in total, because I wanted a zingier ice cream but this was a personal preference.