Canapés and Craziness

OK so maybe there wasn’t so much craziness (not until about 1:15am at any rate) but there were certainly canapés.  Yes, I have been having a birthday week and as far I am concerned, the only natural conclusion to a birthday week is a party.  I am pleased to report that I was thoroughly spoilt with delicious cakes from the Hummingbird Bakery and Champagne in the afternoon in the office and then dinner at the Artisan Restaurant at the Westbury Hotel.

Dinner at the Artisan Restaurant was delicious and owing to the genius that is Taste London, I assume that it was reasonably priced! It is a proper dining experience; every member of staff has a specific role and the service is attentive but not obsequious.  There was an excellent bread selection including a walnut and raisin bread which is one of my favourites so everything was starting well.  After the bread there was a selection of canapés which on paper were disastrous for me – goat’s cheese with sundried tomatoes and black olives, smoked salmon and beetroot, and vegetable crisps (nothing wrong with that one).  Unfortunately amongst the items of food that I do not eat are goat’s cheese, olives (I keep trying with both of these items), and smoked salmon… My boyfriend is also not enamoured with goats cheese, olives and in his case, beetroot so on the face things, not a roaring success for the two of us.  However, I would say that we were both brave and decided to trust the chef.  I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the goats cheese canapé – it was an incredibly mild goats cheese, to my mind a bit more like a sheep’s cheese in terms of flavour and I genuinely enjoyed.  I did decide to pass on the salmon but don’t worry, no canapés were wasted! The canapés were followed by a delicious little amuse bouche of a pork belly and celeriac of which I would gladly have eaten more.  Then I went for two fish courses which is most unlike me; scallops with parsnip puree (two of my most favourite things), parsnip crisps and a jelly which for some reason I have in my mind that it was ginseng but this could purely be a figment of my imagination.  If I am honest I did not really think that the jelly added an awful lot to the dish and was actually rather put off by the texture and ended up leaving the majority of it.  I did however thoroughly enjoy the scallops and parsnips.  For my main course I chose the halibut with langoustine and samphire, and of course, a foam.  Is a dish complete without a foam? I think not.  I must confess that I hardly glanced at the dessert menu as I was far too full and a little bird had told me that a further cake was awaiting me at home.  It was a beautiful chocolate creation from Patisserie Valerie with a fondant chocolate rose on the top.

Come Saturday however, it was my turn to start creating and give something back to everyone who has so kindly bought me cards and presents.  I will be honest, as I have been before, and say that my birthday party is always a bit of an excuse for me not only to show off but also to test myself.  I had a guest list of about 25 people and had decided that the only fitting way to celebrate the occasion of my illustrious birth was by throwing a drinks and canapé party.  Things did not start amazingly well on Saturday morning because I was so exhausted from an incredibly intense week of work combined with getting to bed at 2am the night before that I got up an hour behind schedule.  Fortunately however I do tend to allow myself rather more time than I need so I still had hours ahead of me.  I had planned the canapés that I intended to make a full week ahead and so there was no panicking about what I would be making and knew exactly how much time I was going to need.  I had also taken a small trip to the supermarket earlier on in the week when I had purchased the necessary beverages!

With the menu set and shopping list written (this was definitely an occasion that called for a list!), I headed with shopping bags in hand for the market in Lewisham.  The market is not the most convenient place in the world to get to from my flat but at least it is a single bus from outside of mine to the shopping centre.  You will probably be asking yourself why I chose to take precious time out of a busy day to travel to Lewisham but the truth is that I quite like the market there.  I also find that it is incredibly reasonable – far more so than the supermarket which never has everything that you want anyway.  Where else can you buy 30 large eggs for £3.50? Certainly not in my local shops, or 10 limes for £1? I could also have purchased a whole box of mangoes for £2.50 but seeing as I only actually needed one for a small garnish it seemed a little excessive so I restrained myself.  I was however disappointed to discover that the market did not have any figs, not even for ready money.  It seems that on every other occasion I have been to Lewisham market that you cannot move for figs but this was clearly not the day and there wasn’t a single fig to be had.  After a quick stop off at my sister’s house to collect a few additional plates that I was borrowing for the event, we headed back to my flat to start the preparations.  It was fantastic having my sister there to help with everything; her help was invaluable and although my flat was reasonably clean and tidy, she hovered and tidied like a demon before attacking the decorations.  I say decorations, that is probably a slight overstatement as the decoration consisted of my birthday cards, many candles, white fairy lights and flowers.  The flowers looked fantastic – individual stems were placed in jam jars and empty aluminium cans in the window and they looked stunning.

I spent my day in the kitchen.  The canapé menu consisted of the following:

Tomato and basil crostini

Smoked salmon and dill crostini

Asian beef salad in lettuce cups

Honey and sesame coated cocktail sausages

Baby new potatoes with sour cream and lumpfish roe

Gingered chicken cakes with lime mayonnaise

Humous

Mozzarella, tomato and basil sticks

Pears wrapped in Parma ham

Figs wrapped in Parma ham

Pea and parmesan tortilla

Mini chocolate truffle cakes

Mini lemon cheesecakes

I had the foresight to make the crostini bases the weekend before as they will keep in an airtight container for two weeks so I did not have to do that on Saturday.  Although it is incredibly simple to make it is quite time consuming, surprisingly so really.  The canapés were easy enough but there is always so much to do at the very last minute and I did work right up until the last minute more or less.  (I would recommend that you make sure that if you attempt a similar thing yourself that you make sure that you take the time to eat and drink properly in order to avoid having to take an hour out from your own party feeling dehydrated and generally a little bit rubbish).  I do always think that for a party it is worth making your own humous, it tastes far superior to shop bought humous and I like to add a touch of lemon juice to mine.  In addition to the canapés that I had made there were kettle chips, cashew nuts and olives, as I mentioned earlier, I don’t eat olive myself but I always feel that they should be there.

I think that overall it was a success.  I think that the last guests left at about 2am, the music selection was excellent and all the food was eaten so I am taking this to be a good sign.  I was initially concerned, as always, that I might have over-catered but apparently not.  I always hate the first moments of a party where no one is touching the food and you start to worry that you have badly misjudged the situation.  However once the wine has started to flow, everyone starts to relax and the food soon starts to disappear!

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