Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Preparing for Parties

When entertaining, it is always best to cook and eat a previously untried dish at least once before serving to guests, then problems have time to be ironed out. Also whenever possible, aim to serve a dish that can be prepared well ahead of time (today's savoury recipes come under that banner). What can make a dish look more expensive than it really is generally is down to the presentation rather than the cost of the ingredients.

It is not always easy to pick a menu at this time of year as one day it might be quite warm, another with real chill in the air. For lunch probably better to serve just two courses - a starter and a main, or main and a dessert. If serving soup, posh it up with a swirl of cream/sprinkle of fresh herbs and a MUST - hot crusty rolls. Most soups will freeze (as will rolls) so both can be reheated when the time is right. With a hot soup for starters, the main course could be 'something with salad'. Or begin with a cold starter, finish with a warm dish.
Now onto my selection:

Carrot Soup with Orange and Mint: serves 4 (F)
large knob of butter
1 1/2lbs (700g) carrots, peeled and chopped
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 3/4pts (1 ltr) vegetable stock
4 fl.oz (125ml) freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tblsp finely chopped mint
double cream
Melt the butter in a pan over a low to medium heat and gently saute the onion, carrots and garlic by placing over a lid and fry/steam (stirring occasionally) until the vegetables have softened but not coloured (this takes about 12 minutes).
Add the stock, bring to the boil and simmer for half an hour. By then the veggies should be very soft. Remove from heat and leave to cool for about ten minutes, then drain through a sieve, reserving the liquid. Puree the vegetables in a processor or blender until very smooth, adding a little of the reserved liquid to ease it on its way. If you want a really smooth soup, then rub this puree through a sieve then add the rest of the reserved stock, the orange juice (it can be frozen at this point). To serve, reheat, adding the mint, taste for seasoning and pour into warmed bowls. Garnish with a swirl of cream.

Twice Baked Salmon Souffles: makes 6
These can be made the day before then reheated to make a starter.
1 1/2 oz (40g) butter
1 1/2 oz (40g) plain flour
8 fl.oz (225ml) milk
4 eggs, separated
7 oz (200g) smoked salmon
freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 oz (40g) grated Parmesan cheese
1 bag rocket or mixed salad leaves
1 lemon
First make the white sauce by melting the butter in a pan, stirring in the flour, when this is combined whisk in the milk, a little at a time until the mixture is smooth and has begun to simmer. Cook for three minutes until a thick white sauce. Remove from heat and cool.
Add the egg yolks to the cooled sauce, beat with a wooden spoon until blended, then stir in the cheese. Finely chop half of the smoked salmon and stir this in with a pinch of black pepper to taste. Whisk the egg whites until stiff then fold them into the mixture.
Generously grease 6 ramekins (or could be teacups) with butter and divide the souffle mixture between them. Stand the containers in a deep roasting tin and pour in 1/2" (1cm) boiling water (turning it into a bain marie). Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 20 minutes until risen, then remove and cool. They will sink slightly.
Run a knife around each container and turn the souffles out onto a lightly greased baking sheet. At this point they can be kept chilled in the fridge for up to 24 hours (covered with cling film). To reheat, remove cling film and place in the oven (same temperature) for 2- 25 minutes. Serve with remaining strips of smoked salmon on a bed of rocket/salad leaves, garnish each with a wedge of lemon.
Tip: When serving a dish such as the above, it is much cheaper to purchase a pack of smoked salmon trimmings or pieces, especially when you have to chop the fish anyway. Smoked salmon freezes very well for a couple or so months, so buy when on offer.

Mushroom and Chestnut Wellington: serves 4 - 6
This can be prepared ahead of time and can be kept in the fridge for a few hours before cooking.
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1/2 oz (15g) butter
12 oz (350g) mushrooms
12 chestnuts
pinch dried thyme
1 tblsp plain flour
2 tblsp sherry
4 tblsp double cream
1 x 500g pack puff pastry
1 egg, beaten
If using fresh chestnuts, pierce and boil for 15 minutes. Cool, peel, halve and reserve.
Melt the butter in a frying pan and add the onions and garlic and cook over a low heat until the onions have softened. Slice the mushrooms thinly, add to the onions, cover and cook for a few moments until softened. Stir in the flour, herbs and chestnuts and cook for one minute, then remove from heat and stir in the sherry and cream.
Roll out the pastry thinly and cut into six 8" (20cm) squares. Brush the edges of each with egg, Divide the mushroom mix between the squares and press together the edges, sealing well. Brush the pastry with the egg and bake for 20 - 25 minutes at 200C, 400F, gas 6 until the pastry has risen and is golden. Suggest serving with the next recipe.
Note: This could be made in one long piece to be cut into (larger?) portions. If so, roll out the pastry thinly into one long strip, place the filling down the centre, egg the edges, fold the sides over, then fold over and seal the ends. Bake with the folded sides under, but keep the layers of pastry (mainly the ends) to a minimum underneath as too many layers won't cook as crisply as the top.

Halloumi Stuffed Peppers: serves 4
4 large bell peppers (suggest red and yellow)
1 tblsp olive oil
salt and pepper
2 oz (50g) couscous
3 1/2 oz (100ml) hot vegetable stock
9 oz (260g) halloumi cheese, cut into cubes
2 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
2 tbslp chopped sundried tomatoes
Cut the peppers in half, leave on the stalks but remove seeds and membrane. Put the peppers in one layer, hollow side up on a baking sheet. Drizzle the peppers with the oil and season with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Bake for 20 minutes at 200C, 400F, gas 6 until the peppers are just tender. Meanwhile, put the couscous into a bowl and pour over the hot stock. Cover and leave to stand 15 minutes, then fluff up with a fork and stir in sundried tomatoes, halloumi and the parsley. Season to taste, then spoon into the pepper shells, return to the oven for 15 minutes until the cheese is golden. Serve with a green salad and/or the recipe above.
Note: halloumi cheese, unopened has a very long shelf life. Instead of halloumi, you could use goats or feta cheese.

Leek and Goat's Cheese Tart with Tapenade: serves 6
2 oz (50g) butter
4 medium leeks, washed and thickly sliced
5 fl.oz (150ml) white wine
1 x 375g pack of ready-rolled puff pastry
1 x 90g jar of tapenade*
7 oz (200g) goat's cheese with rind, sliced
1 tblsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
salt and pepper
Melt the butter in a frying pan and add the leeks, stir to coat evenly and cook over a low heat for 10 minutes. When the leeks have softened, add the wine and simmer for 2 - 3 minutes until the liquid has evaporated.
Unroll the pastry onto a large baking sheet, marking a 1/2" (1cm) border with a knife and slash the centre all over with a knife. Bake at the top of oven 220C, 425F, gas 7 for 12 minutes. Remove from oven and brush centre of pastry with tapenade, spoon over the leeks and top with the cheese and thyme. Season, return to oven and bake for a further 10 minutes until the pastry is cooked and the cheese is bubbling and golden.
Note: Look for jars of Green Olive Tapenade with lemon and garlic. Check the ready-rolled puff pastry is the sort that is sold in rounds, some are oblong. The oblong can be baked in the same way. It just ends up a different shape.

The Quickest Creme Brulee: serves 4
1 x 500g tub fresh custard
1 x 200ml tub creme fraiche
24 seedless green grapes, halved
4 tblsp demerara sugar
Mix together the custard and creme fraiche. Divide the fruit between four ramekin dishes and cover with the custard mixture (there may be enough to make six puds in all). Place in the freezer for 30 - 45 minutes until firm to the touch, but not frozen. About half an hour before wishing to serve pre-heat the grill to high and sprinkle each pud with a tblsp sugar making sure the top is covered. Cook under and close to the grill for 2-5 minutes until the sugar is bubbling and beginnng to blacken. Cool, then return to the freezer for 20 minutes to chill before serving.
Tip: other fruits could be used instead of grapes.

Blackberries with Lemon Curd Ice-cream plus: serves 6 (F)
1 lb 2 oz( 500g Blackberries
3 oz caster sugar
3 1/2 fl.oz (100ml) sloe gin
300-400g jar lemon curd
10 fl.oz (300ml) creme fraiche
10 fl.oz (300ml) thick yogurt
First make the ice cream by blending together the lemon curd, creme fraiche and yogurt. Churn this in an ice-cream machine, or freeze in a rigid container for four hours, whisking from time to time until set then blitz in a food processor to make a really soft finish then re-freeze to set (this can be frozen two days ahead of serving - if kept longer it loses flavour).
Put 8 oz (225g) blackberries into a pan with the sugar and the sloe gin (the gin is optional but if you have it - flaunt it), and bring to a simmer over a low heat, cooking until the fruit is very soft. After about 10 minutes it should have a syrupy consistency. Whizz in a blender and strain to remove seeds and fibres. This coulis can be made a day ahead and kept in a covered bowl in the fridge.
A few hours before serving, scoop the ice cream into balls and place them into individual serving dishes, return these to the freezer ready for serving. To serve the dessert, tip remaining blackberries into a pan together with the coulis and warm through. Remove serving bowls from freezer and spoon over the blackberries and coulis. Lovely served with fragile biscuits such as Tuiles.

Now for the pears:
Pear and Chocolate Pavlovas: makes 8
8 meringue nests
8 pears, peeled
2 tblsp runny honey
1/2 pt (300ml) apple juice
1 cinnamon stick
chocolate sauce (see below)
cream filling (see below)
Using a sharp knife and working from the base of each pear (leaving on the stalk), scoop out the cores. Place in a pan, one layer only - they should fit tightly - and add the honey, apple juice and the cinnamon stick. Bring to the simmer, place a fitting piece of parchment over the fruit, then put the pan on the lid and cook at the 'burp' (low simmer) for a good half hour until the pears are tender (the timing depends upon the size and the ripeness of the pears). Remove the lid and the paper and raise the heat to a low boil so that the liquid can bubble away and turn to a stickly glaze. Do not wander off at this point - it could burn. Leave to cool.
At this point the pears, in their glaze, and covered,can be kept in the fridge for up to two days before serving.
Make the chocolate sauce by dissolving 100g bar of dark chocolate (broked or grated) in 284ml double cream (best done in a basin standing over hot water or bring the cream to nearly a boil and stir in the chocolate). Serve warm.
Make the cream filling by stirring together 284ml of whipping cream with 8 oz (200g) Greek yogurt. It will thicken up without beating. Serve chilled.
To serve, place the meringe nests onto a serving plate, and top with the cream filling, place one glazed pear on top of each and drizzle over the warm chocolate sauce. Surplus sauce can be put into a gravy boat or similar and handed round.
Tip: you could, if you wish, spoon some cream into the hole left when the pear core was removed.

Pear Conde: serves 4
4 oz (100g) pudding or short-grain rice
1 1/2 pints (900ml) milk
2 oz (50g) sugar
1 oz (25g) butter
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
6 egg yolks (use the whites to make meringues)
1 1/2 lb (675g) pears
5 oz (125g) raspberry jam
zest of one lemon
pinch nutmeg
2 tblsp water
2 tblsp brandy
glace cherries
Originally this recipe would be made from either canned or bottled pears. To make from fresh, prepare pears as in above recipe, and poach in water in the same way until just tender, then remove stalks, cool and slice.
Put the rice into a pan with the milk, sugar, butter and vanilla and cook over a very low heat until the liquid has been absorbed. Stir in the egg yolks, and cook/stir for 2 - 3 minutes. Remove from heat and leave to cool.
Sppon one third of the rice mixture into a serving dish and cover with one third of the pear slices. Continue layering ending up with pears on the top. Decorate with halved glace cherries (optional). Cover and chill in the fridge for 1 - 2 hours.
Meanwhile, make the sauce. Warm the jam and sieve to remove pips, put the strained jam into a pan and add the lemon zest, nutmeg and water. Heat gently for a couple of minutes then stir in the brandy. Cook for one more minute then cool. Pour into a sauce boat and chill. To serve, cut the Conde into wedges and pour over the sauce.