The Dinner Party History Blog

...a record of conviviality by a forgetful cook ...

Chowing Down Through History

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Attack of the Vegans!

The Vegans come from a tiny island off the coast of the Hollow Volcano. It is traditional to offer them suitable food and libation as a welcome when then visit. However, what to cook? I had planned on Lasagne for a weekend meal, so I just took out the meat and replaced it with Aubergine - or, as the Large People from the nearby continent like to refer to it, "Eggplant"......

  • 3 aubergines
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
  • a few sprigs fresh thyme, leaves picked
  • 1 dried red chilli, crumbled
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2x400 g organic tinned plum tomatoes
  • 1 splash balsamic vinegar
  • 1 bunch fresh basil, leaves picked and stalks chopped
  • 150 g Cheddar cheese, grated
  • 2 handfuls Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 6-8 fresh lasagne sheets

    Preheat the oven to 200°C/400ºF/gas 6. Steam the whole aubergines over a pan of simmering water for 30 minutes, then scoop out the flesh and cut it up roughly. Slowly fry the aubergine, garlic, thyme and chilli in the olive oil for around 10 minutes.

    Add the tins of tomatoes, chopping them up roughly with a wooden spoon, then add the balsamic vinegar and most of the basil leaves. Bring to the boil and simmer for around 10 minutes until the sauce has reduced and thickened. Throw in a little wine for flavour.

    Prepare a bechamel sauce, with plenty of nutmeg and then, starting with a layer of pasta, build alternate layers of sauce, bechamel and cheese, topping off with pasta, bechamel and cheese.

    Place in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes until bubbling and golden.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Seafood Paella!

Here in the Hollow Volcano, the Quartermaster sometimes has useful items. I recently raided his store (Motto over the door: "Look at what the LORD has done") and, under cover of darkness - avoiding the henchmen - I secured a Paella pan. Very handy. For Paella.

You would think that in the Tropics seafood would be abundant, but it isn't ( or rather it is, but it is expensive and imported from around the other side of the planet - what price Global Warming?) , so as a treat, my Paella is an infrequent guest at the table. It IS , however, extremely popular and usually involves a cheeky Sauvignon Blanc or a Pinot "to wash it down" (sluice, more like).

You will note that the following recipe has few measurements - that because it's almost all "hand and eye" ( a bit like the construction method used in the Hollow Volcano) , so if you make too much, anything left over can be heated up and used the next day - but watch out for those shrimp: don't reheat more than once and chill any leftovers quickly.

Arborio Rice (handful per person)
Saffron & Paprika
Chicken (thighs – bone in and skin on give most flavour)
Seafood (at least uncooked shrimp, but clams, mussels and white fish can be added as well)
Stock (about 500ml, more if needed)
White wine

Chop the Chorizo and fry in olive oil, leaching the red oil from the sausage. Add the chicken to the pan and brown on all sides. Remove, leaving the oil in the pan
Add chopped onion and sweat on a low heat until transparent, add garlic for a few minutes; be careful not to burn the garlic. Remove and add to meat.
Heat the stock in a separate pan and add saffron and paprika, stirring well
In the pan you used for the chorizo, using a little more oil, add the rice and – on a low heat – stir until it becomes translucent. Once the rice has changed colour (about three minutes), begin to add the stock. This takes a while but eventually the rice will thicken and absorb the stock. Throw in a glass of white wine. Stir until absorbed.
Add pimientos (chopped) and stir in with the meat and the onion. Keep stirring. Add white fish if using. Keep stirring or the mix will stick to the pan.
Add the peas and the shrimp. Keep stirring until the shrimp colour pink. Sprinkle with parsley, enjoy…  

Monday, 13 August 2012

Roast Beef and Chocolate

So, it seems that my blueberry cheesecake pots are getting a little passe. Time to move on, methinks....

How does a full-on Roast Beef Dinner sound, if I offered you Gordon Ramsay's 4-minute chocolate mousse, with a coffee "caviar" twist for dessert?

Thought you'd be interested!

Those little spheres are pure dark-roast coffee. Looks and tastes great!. The whole thing took about 20 minutes to make, but (especially with the "caviar") looked like I had spent the whole of the previous day in preparation.

Making the spheres is easier than you might think. First, prepare an ice bath, and, using oil (not olive oil) that you have chilled in the fridge overnight, create a bath of oil (using a metal pan or bowl helps keep it cold). Ice on the outside, oil on the inside.
Next, mix your warm, VERY strong coffee with some powered gelatine, until the gelatine has dissolved:
Then, let it cool a little, but not set. Because THEN comes the cool bit! Take a dropper/pipette (I actually used a marinade injector) and drop two or three drops at a time into the oil:
The cold oil (hence the ice bath) causes the gelatine to solidify. The liquid itself (because of this law of physics) forms a sphere as it sinks to the bottom. These are your coffee "caviar" or "pearls of coffeeness" :

The kitchen paper soaks up the cold oil, leaving little balls of coffee wonderfulness. Once chilled in the fridge for a short while, just before serving, squirt some whipped cream on the top of your mousse and place a handful of the "caviar" on the top. Each mouthful is a combination of the richness of the chocolate mousse, combined with tiny explosions of strong coffee as you bite into the little spheres ... Who needs molecular gastronomy...?

Oh , I nearly forgot... the Roast Beef was courtesy of St Jamie of Oliver. This meant cleaning out the fridge of celery, carrots, fresh thyme, onions, and just about anything else I could find to make an alter onto which the beef was reverently lain. Two hours (and a bit) in the oven and the flavours were immense ... again, there's no secret - its easy!

Sunday, 10 June 2012

What it's all about ....

Hidden away in the Hollow Volcano, my entertainment options can be somewhat limited - there's only so many sun-kissed, idyllic, beaches you can sit on, after all. As you know, I love cooking for friends, but, well, ingredients (and motivation) have been in short supply up until recently, mainly because I didn't even have a matching set of cutlery (quelle horreur! I would never live down the social shame!).

My Island Muse appeared in the form of SugarAppleBlog , whose lobster salad (using fresh lobsters bought from a Rasta man at the side of the road ) inspired me to get back into it. So, here it is: "what it's all about"- my first "proper" meal for friends since being imprisoned here. (note: I had to swim out to the wreck and salvage some plates, napkins and a salt and pepper set, just so Friday could make the beach hut look civilised).

L & S get fed. These two have been lovely since they got washed up on the beach here. They fed me when Friday was away, and they took care of my pet monkey so Friday and I could meet with the Henchmen on the other side of the Hollow Volcano. The least I could do was feed them back.  My nationality DEMANDS that I serve a snifter of G&T at the start of any formal meal, but I gave it an island twist with some Boozy Watermelon Stars.

These are simplicity itself but, I'm sure you'll agree, they look impressive; just a star-shaped cookie cutter into about 5mm slices of fresh water melon. The stick is held in by a 'lock' of a blueberry pushed into the centre (I used an AA battery to make the hole) and then liberally drizzled in Finlandia Mango Fusion Vodka . Frozen for an hour, they start the old tastebuds going, and they're really refreshing; L liked them so much, she had three (but don't tell anyone!).

I ran the old "crostini starter" trick: there's plenty of goats on the hollow volcano, so a nice goats cheese on a slice of baguette banged in the oven until the bread crisps and the cheese melts, accompanied by a Rocket and Pomegranate Salad and drizzled with some Balsamic Vinegar:

...mmm great finger food, if you're short of cutlery! The pomegranate arils (the red bits) are just sweet enough to offset the sharpness of the cheese - for some reason they all go really well together. If I had  grill, I'd actually get them a bit browner on the top, but the campfire doesn't stretch to grilling...

As a main course, I had marinaded some very fine fillet steak (many thanks to Neils The Butcher at the Quartermaster's Cave lower down the beach) . For the (4-hours-in-the-fridge)  marinade, finely chopped fresh island chilli (hot hot HOT), garlic, fresh ginger, lime zest, lime juice and about half a bottle of Soy Sauce. As St Jamie would say, "boshed" onto the hot griddle to sear and served on a bed of pak choy (bok choy here) with some Thai Fragrant white rice jazzed up with some lemon zest. Clean plates all round.... For S, who eschews meat, I did the same thing with fresh tuna, BUT, don't marinade the Tuna in the same way, because the citrus will 'cook' the fish like a Ceviche and make it tougher than you want ... I merely cooked the tuna IN the marinade in a separate pan.

Finally, dessert: the Blueberry Cheesecake pots I get so much feedback on - in fact, recently, one of the Hollow Volcano Henchmen was adamant that I had bought the last lot in, which simply isn't the case (and which I took as a compliment). I served them in some Martini glasses that had washed up from the wreck, so they looked terribly sophisticated...

Thunderbirds are go! The 'real' Tracy Island, said to be located somewhere further south in the Pacific, secret home of International Rescue
Afterwards, we sat out watching the stars, with some fairy lights illuminating our considerable stash of vinho plonko ..... not bad for a palm-roofed beach hut inside a Hollow Volcano on the edges of the known world ....

Sunday, 29 January 2012

A quick burger recipe

Here in the hollow volcano, resources are scarce. It can be hard to get some items that you might regard as 'normal' for a chef (such as a good range of fresh herbs for example!). On the other hand, sometimes all you want to do is rustle up something simple with what you've got.

'Simple' needn't mean 'boring'...

I had some ground beef , some onions and a few storecupboard staples. What to make for Saturday night? BURGERS. I'm on a low carb hit at the moment, recovering from Christmas, so no bread rolls, baps, fries, rice or nachos , just honest to goodness fresh meat on the griddle, backed up with some spicy sweetness. :

500g ground beef
large white onion
teaspoon (respectively) cumin, coriander, ground black pepper and mixed herbs
Worcestershire Sauce to taste

and then...

about 25% of a jar of pickled jalapenos chopped REALLY finely.
  (Jalapenos, in a jar, waiting to be chopped finely)

mix it all up, roll it into little patties and slap it on the hot griddle/skillet and thats it...really, who says they can't cook? How hard can it be?

I topped mine with a fried egg and, do you know what? They were fabulous (ahem, if I say so myself). I think the sweetness and slight spice of the chillies really makes a depth to the taste. Next time, I'm going to make them a day in advance and see if the flavour deepens - I bet it will!