Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Entertaining is never a problem.

For 'parties' we don't always need to serve 'something special', as long as it can be 'something different' - and here the flavour, as well as appearance is paramount. A simple main dish can be followed by a more impressive pudding, so quite a few of those offered today. Some serve six because often this is the number when entertaining. Easy enough to reduce quantities if you so wish.
Melting Potato and Mixed Mushrooms: serves 6 (V)
The preparation can be done up to one hour ahead before baking.
4 oz (100ml) sunflower oil
2 lb (900g) Charlotte potatoes
salt and pepper
6 medium (or 9 small) tomatoes
walnut oil
2 red onions, thinly sliced
lemon juice
1 lb (450g) mixed mushrooms*
1 oz (25g) butter
2 tsp mustard (pref.wholegrain)
7 fl.oz (200ml) creme fraiche
1 lb (450g) cheese, Brie, Camember or goat's cheese.
2 tblsp walnut pieces
Boil the potatoes in salted water for 25 minutes - this is slightly longer than usual, but makes for a very creamy texture. Drain, halve lengthways and season to taste.
Meanwhile, halve the tomatoes and place in a baking tin, drizzle over the walnut oil and grill for 6-8 minutes until softened. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
Add the sliced onions to the potatoes, with a squeeze of lemon juice, cover and keep warm. Trim the mushrooms, wipe with a damp cloth and put them in a pan with the butter. Saute over high heat. Season to taste then add to the potatoes and onions. Stir the mustard into the creme fraiche, season and stir this into the potatoes and mushrooms. Spoon onto a heatproof platter and cover with thin slices of chosen cheese.
Bake at 220C, 425F, gas 7 until the cheese is melting and turning golden brown here and there. Arrange the cooled tomatoes around the edge and scatter the walnuts over the top.
Drizzle a little walnut oil over the top.
Note: Although the mushroom season, I do not suggest anyone goes gathering unless they know exactly what is edible and what is not. Packs of mixed mushrooms are sold, or just use mainly your average closed cap along with one open field mushroom and maybe one or two others. Farmers markets may sell varieties in smaller quantities.
Cooked chestnuts go very well with mushrooms, particularly ceps, so could be included in some of the dishes, but experiment on the family before serving to guests.

Ruffled Lasagne with Olives and Mushrooms: serves 4 (V)
8 sheets fresh (why not home-made?) lasagne
2 tblsp sunflower oil
8 oz each (200g) flat-cap and mixed wild mushrooms
salt and pepper
2 oz (50g) grated Parmesan cheese
2 tblsp balsamic vinegar
4 oz (100ml) olive oil
1 tblsp water
5 fl.oz (150ml) measure green olives
1 handful parsley leaves, chopped
6 sprigs marjoram/oregano, leaves only chopped
1 Peppardew or 1 dried chilli, chopped
First make the dressing by putting the balsamic vinegar, oil, water and chilli/Peppadew in a pan. Heat gently, then add the stoned and halved olives, and the herbs. Once warmed through, remove from heat and set aside to allow flavours to develop.
Thickly slice the flat-cap mushrooms. Heat the sunflower oil in a large frying pan and when very hot add the flat-caps. After one minute, by which time they are turning golden, add the mixed mushrooms and fry for 3 minutes longer. Season and set aside.
Simmer the lasagne sheets in a large pot of well-salted boiling water for 3 minutes only (if using dried lasagne, cook until al dente). Drain well and lay one on the bottom of each of four dinner plates, scatter most of the mushroom mixture over, then ruffle the second sheet of lasagne to lay over the mushrooms, tucking in the remaining mushrooms inbetween the folds. Spoon over the dressing, tucking olives wherever there is a niche in the lasagne, sprinkle over the cheese and serve immediately.

Salmon and Leek Paella: serves 4
This can be cooked on the hob using a large frying or paella pan, alternatively finish off in the oven.
3 - 4 leeks trimmed, washed and finely sliced
2 tblsp olive oil
1 tsp turmeric (or pinch saffron)
9 oz (250g) basmati rice
1 1/2pt (850ml) vegetable stock
salt and pepper
1 lb (450g) fresh salmon fillet, skinned
4 oz (110g) frozen peas
Put the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat and add the leeks. When softened, stir in the turmeric (or saffron), the rice and turn until the rice has been coated with oil. Pour in the stock and bring to the boil. Simmer for 2 minutes, then season to taste. Cut the salmon into 12 pieces and tuck these into the rice. Sprinkle over the peas. Simmer for 12-15 minutes or until the rice and fish are cooked and the liquid absorbed. Alternatively, after adding the peas bake in the oven 180C, 350F, gas 4 for the final time. Serve hot with spoonfuls of Greek yogurt.

Jellied Fruit Fizz: makes 6
These need to be made a day ahead of serving. Make from scratch using gelatine leaves or the required amount of vege-gel. Although this version is made using red-currants, other fruits would do, try raspberries. The sparkling wine could be alcoholic (champagne?) or not according to choice, but it must have that magic fizz.
4 leaves gelatine
12 oz (300g) redcurrants
8 oz (200g) caster sugar
1 pint (550ml) sparkling white wine
Soak the gelatine in ice-cold water. Keeping back a handful of red currants, put the rest in a saucepan with the sugar and 2 fl.oz (50ml) of the wine. Bring to the boil and cook for about 5 minutes until the fruit has collapsed and turned into a sticky pulp. Cool slightly then rub the pulp through a sieve. Remove the gelatine from the water and squeeze out excess liquid then add to the hot recurrant puree. Stir until dissolved. Carefully and slowly pour the remaining fizzy wine into the gelatine mixture, skimming off any foam from the top. Pour a little of the mixture into 6 dariole moulds and place in the fridge to set. Share the berries between the mould and cover with more jelly. Chill again, and when set top up with remaining jelly. Leave in the fridge to set overnight.
To serve, dip each mould into hot water then upturn onto a shallow dish, place a few of the reserved berries on the top of each and serve with a spoonful of clotted cream. Alternatively offer a jug of pouring cream for everyone to help themselves.

Frozen Fruit Terrine: serves 8 (F)
This will sit quite happily in the freezer for at least a month, and for entertaining a small number of people could be made in two containers instead of one. Although made with raspberries, this would work very well with blackberries.
12 oz (350g) raspberries
3 eggs
4 oz (100g) caster sugar
284ml pot double cream
2 meringue shells, crushed
Mash half the raspberries, and rub through a sieve to remove seeds. Put the puree to one side. Put a large bowl over simmering water and add the sugar and eggs and beat continuously until doubled in volume and very thick. Remove from heat and continue whisking until quite cold - this can take at least 10 minutes from start to finish. To speed things up after the initial whisking, either stand bowl in cold water - be careful if using an electric whisk- or wrap the bowl with chilled damp tea-towels.
Whip the cream until thick, fold the egg mixture into the cream and fold in the meringue (crushed to small pieces, not to a powder). Pour a little of the raspberry puree in a zigzag on the base of a cling-film lined loaf tin (2 lb/1ltr size), then top with a little of the egg/cream mixture. Fold the remaining puree into the rest of the mix and spoon into the tin. Cover with clingfilm and freeze for a minimum of four hours. Or up to a month. To serve, turn out and serve in slices with remaining raspberries.
Note: If wishing to freeze for longer than the one day, use only half the quantity of berries and puree them all.

And for those who have a pear tree:
Pear and Lemon Chutney: makes about 4 lb
4 lb (2kg) pears, peeled, cored and chopped
1 lb 500g) onions, chopped
12 oz (175g) raisins, chopped
2 oz (50g) stem ginger, chopped
grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
8 oz (250g) soft brown sugar
2 tsp salt
2 pints (1.2ltrs) distilled vinegar
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
6 chillies, crushed
4 whole cloves
To speed things up, the first four ingredients could be blitzed in a food processor to roughly chop. Place these in a pan with the lemon zest and juice, the sugar, salt and vinegar. Tie the remainng ingredients in a muslin bag and add to the pan. Bring to the boil and simmer, uncovered, for two hours, stirring from time to time. When the mixture is thick and no excess liquid remains (draw the spoon across the base of the pan and it should leave a dry path). Remove the spice bag and spoon the chutney into sterilised hot jars and cover immediately with vinegar proof lids. Store for 2 - 3 months before eating.
Tip: made now it could just be ready for Christmas, also would make a good offering in those hampers we give as gifts.

Spiced Pears:
2 lb (1kg) firm pears, peeled, cored and quartered
15 fl.oz (450ml) cider vinegar
half a pint (300ml) water
1 lb 500g) granulated sugar
1 cinnamon stick
10 whole cloves
1 small piece root ginger
Place the prepared pears in a saucepan, cover with boiling water and simmer for five minutes until almost tender. Drain. Into a pan put the vinegar, water, sugar, ginger and spices and heat gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved, then boil for five minutes. Add the pears and continue simmering until the pears have turned transparent. Remove pears with a slotted spoon and carefully place them into sterilised hot jars. Strain the vinegar syrup then pour this over the pears, making sure they are covered. Seal the jars immediately with vinegar proof lids. Spiced pears are delicious eaten with cold turkey.

Pear 'Tiramisu': serves 6 - 8
12 firm pears, peeled, and cored
18 fl.oz (500ml) perry
3 tblsp caster sugar
2 oz (50g) butter, pref. unsalted
4 oz (100g) dark muscovado sugar
4 tblsp brandy
half a pint (300ml) thick cold custard
1lb 2oz (500g) mascarpone
7 oz (200g) pack sponge fingers
8 gingernut biscuits, crushed
Chop half the pears and put into a pan with 1/4 pt (150ml) of the perry and the sugar. Heat gently, stirring to dissolve the sugar and simmer until the pears have broken down to a puree. Leave to cool. Cut the remaining pears into thick slices or wedges and put into a pan with the butter and cook over a high heat until the pears are golden but still hold their shape. Remove pears, leaving the butter in the pan. To this butter add the muscovado sugar and heat until the sugar has dissolved. Add the brandy and ignite. When the flames have died down the result should be like a toffee sauce. Return the pear slices to the pan and toss to cover.
Put the custard into a bowl and stir in the pear puree then fold in the mascapone and beat until smooth and light.
Cover the base of a glass serving bowl with the sponge fingers, and spoon over half the remaining perry. Once this has soaked in, layer half the custard/pear/mascarpone mixture on top, followed by all the caramelised pears, then repeat with more sponge fingers, sprinkled with the perry, and finally finish with the remaining custard mixture. Sprinke the ginger crumbs over the top and chill before serving.