There are so many things I love about living in London. However, coming from Australia, it's inevitable that we are frequently farewelling good friends who are headed home.
In a couple of weeks our fabulously gorgeous friend, Andy, heads back to Oz (although most of his friends are still clinging to the hope that he might get hitched to an Englishman in his final days ...). He's throwing a farewell bash next weekend. Andy came to a party I threw a few weeks ago and asked for details of the food I served so he could use the ideas for his party. So this post is dedicated to Andy. We'll miss you more than you know!
When I planned this party menu, I wanted to cook fabulous food for my friends but definitely didn't want to be slaving away once they were here. I also refused to wash up afterwards, so it was cardboard Chinese boxes and wooden forks all round. Here's the menu:
Spicy pepitas and roasted, salted almonds
Salmon with pistachio couscous
Braised pork and pineapple rolls
Vietnamese chicken salad
Coconut and jam squares
Cardamom and white chocolate brownies
This menu is perfect for a stand up party of 20. It's labour intensive in terms of preparation, but once the party's started all you need do is ensure your glass is always full.
8 days + out from your party
If necessary, order Chinese boxes for the chicken salad, buy plastic cups for salmon (I got pink striped ones from Sainsburys), order wooden forks for the chicken and salmon, order/buy napkins. White and/or brown greaseproof paper is also handy for serving, as you can see from my photos. Plastic cups for drinks.
4-5 days out from your party
Make jam and coconut slice
Make spicy pepitas
3 days out
Make pistachio sauce
Make dressing for Vietnamese salad
2 days out
Cook and shred pork
1 day out
Cook and shred chicken
Prepare noodles for chicken salad
Make pineapple salad
On the day
(this day is very light on, so is achievable if you have to work during the day. If you've got the entire day to prepare, then you can do some of the things from the 1-2 day out lists)
Assemble chicken salad
Buy fresh baguettes and assemble pork and pineapple rolls
Assemble salmon and pistachio couscous salad
Slice brownies and jam and coconut squares
I had little bowls of spicy pepita seeds and roasted, salted almonds for when people arrived.
Spicy pepita seeds
(based on Marcus Wareing's spicy popcorn recipe)
To make the spice mix, combine 1 tsp paprika (preferably smoked), 1tsp curry powder, 1/4tsp chilli powder, 1/2tsp coarsely ground black pepper, 1tsp sea salt.
I usually make several times this amount and keep it in a jar.
In a frying pan heat and toast pepita seeds/pumpkin seeds until they brown a little and start to pop. Then drizzle olive oil so they're coated and mix through spice mix. Add more salt if necessary.
Wait until they cool before keeping in an air tight container. The mix is also good with buttered pop corn. The seeds will keep for several weeks so can be made ahead of time.
Salmon with pistachio couscous (20 party portions)
(from Moro: The Cookbook)
You can make this sauce 3-4 days in advance and keep in the fridge. Use at room temperature and add a little more oil to make it easier to stir through the couscous.
300g Shelled, salted pistachios
Grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
2 tablespoons of orange blossom water (available from most Turkish food shops)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 small/1 large bunch of flat leaf parsley
1 small bunch of mint
200ml olive oil
Salt and pepper
Blitz all ingredients in a food processor (you may have to do it in batches) and mix. Add salt and pepper to season.
In a medium-large saucepan pan, cook 2-3 sliced brown onions in unsalted butter and olive oil with a little caster sugar until browned and slightly caramelised.
Add 4 cups of water to the saucepan and put the lid on so you can bring the water to the boil. Once boiling salt the water generously and stir through about 4 cups of couscous. Add more water if the couscous isn't covered. Put the lid back on the saucepan and take off the heat. Leave aside for the couscous to absorb the water.
After about 20 minutes the couscous should be cooked. Put some dollops of butter on top of the couscous and leave it to melt.
Next, you need to break the couscous up so it's not in big clumps. I do this in a large bowl with a combination of forks and my hands.
The couscous will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for a couple of days.
My friend, and Shed Likes Food blogger, Nicola, has this excellent recipe for poaching salmon on her blog. It's perfect and I'm lazy, so I've stolen it straight from her, word for word. I used about 2kg of Scottish salmon fillets - with that amount you will probably need to poach it in separate saucepans or in batches.
Nicola: You need a cooking liquor made of 3 parts water and one part white wine, a handful of fresh tarragon/parsley/lemon thyme/all three, a finely chopped white onion and a finely chopped celery stick, loads of black pepper, a teaspoon of salt, and a couple of whole star anise.
You want enough of the above to generously cover your salmon. Start heating the liquid over a medium heat, and as soon as it's tepid, add the salmon portions skin side down. Put on a lid, and when the water starts to ripple - a minute or two before boiling point - turn off the heat and forget about it. THAT'S IT. It will take at least 15 minutes for the fish to finish cooking, but will remain eating temperature for around an hour, giving you plenty of time to faff about elsewhere. Easy peasy, and cooked to perfection.
To assemble the pistachio couscous and salmon:
Check the seasoning of the couscous and add some salt if it's a little tasteless.
Stir 2/3 of the pistachio sauce through the couscous.
Flake the salmon. Mix 2/3 of it gently through the couscous.
I served this salad in plastic cups lined with greaseproof paper. It makes about 20 servings. Divide the couscous mixture between the cups. Then top with a little of the remaining flaked salmon, and then a dollop of the pistachio sauce.
Braised pork with pineapple salad in fresh rolls (20 party portions)
(from Bill Grainger's Feed Me Now!)
3 kg Pork belly (or any other cut that is fatty and good for slow cooking)
6 Shallots , peeled
6 Garlic cloves, peeled
5 cm piece Fresh root ginger, grated
3 tbsp Soy sauce
4 tbsp Kecap manis (sweet soy)
1 tsp Ground white pepper
2 tbsp Extra virgin olive oil
4 Red chillies
1 Cinammon stick
3 Star anise
500ml Chicken stock
1 pineapple, sliced into small pieces (you're effectively making a salsa so you don't want big chunks)
1 handful Coriander leaves, finely chopped
1 chilli, finely chopped
1 tbsp Fish sauce
1 tbsp Brown sugar
2 tbsp Lime juice
Fresh baguettes - approximately 4 long ones.
Cook the pork 1-2 days before. It will only taste better!
Preheat the oven to 220C (alternatively skip all these cooking steps and throw the pork with all these ingredients in a slow cooker for 9 hours). Place the pork in a roasting tray. Put the shallots, garlic, ginger, soy, kecap manis, pepper and olive oil into a food processor and blend to form a paste. Rub all over the surface of the pork.
Add the chillies, cinnamon and star anise to the roasting tray and pour in the stock. Cook the pork for half an hour, and then turn the temperature down low to about 160C and roast for 4-5 hours - you're roasting it on a very low heat, so it's hard to over cook it.
Once the pork is cool, save and strain the cooking juices. Shred the pork or cut into small pieces. Put pork in a bowl/container and cover with the strained juices/liquid. Leave in the fridge to sit in the liquid overnight or until ready to use.
You can prepare the salad either the night before your party or on the day. Just make sure to give it a good mix/shake before serving.
Combine the pineapple, chilli and coriander leaves in a bowl. For the dressing, mix together the fish sauce, sugar and lime juice, then pour over the salad and toss to mix.
Keep in an air tight container in the fridge. Serve at room temperature.
To assemble the braised pork and pineapple salad rolls:
Slice each long baguette into approximately 6 smaller baguettes and slice each horizontally, almost the whole way through.
Pile pork into each baguette and top with pineapple salsa. I served mine lined up on a wooden board with napkins at the ready!
Vietnamese chicken salad (20 party portions)
(from Stephanie Alexander's Cook's Companion)
I used 3kg of chicken drumstick thighs, skin on, on the bone. Alternatively you could just use thigh, but not breast as it's too dry. You can cook the chicken 1-2 days before.
Preheat your oven to 180C. Place chicken in roasting trays and drizzle with sunflower/vegetable oil. Roast for about 25minutes, or until the juices run clear when skewered.
Once the chicken is cool, pull off the skin and discard (except for the parts which have turned particularly brown and crunchy, which you'd obviously eat). Pull off as much meat as possible and either shred it by hand, or chop into small pieces. Keep in an airtight container in the fridge.
You can make the dressing 2-3 days before hand and keep in a jar in a cool place.
8 fresh red chillies, seeded and finely chopped
12 cloves of garlic, crushed or finely chopped
8T brown sugar
4T rice vinegar
1 cup lime juice
1 cup fish sauce
3/4 cup vegetable oil
Combine all ingredients. Taste. You may need to play around with the dressing as you want to taste heat (chilli), sweetness (sugar), saltiness (fish sauce) and sourness (lime juice). So add more of anything you think is lacking. You want a lovely fresh dressing.
You can prepare the noodles the night before. Get one large packet of rice vermicelli noodles. Cover with boiling water. Once cooked, drain. With kitchen scissors, chop through the noodles so they're not too long. Mix a little vegetable/sunflower oil through the noodles so they don't become sticky. Refrigerate.
To assemble the Vietnamese chicken salad:
4 cups very thinly sliced Chinese cabbage
1 large bunch of mint, either using whole leaves or roughly chopped leaves
1 medium sized bunch of coriander, roughly chopped
1 medium sized bunch of basil, using whole or ripped leaves
Mix these ingredients through the noodles with the dressing. Mix through the shredded chicken (it may be easier to use your hands).
A bunch of spring onions finely chopped
Deep fried shallots (either in the Asian section of most supermarkets or speciality Asian stores - worth having to sprinkle on nearly anything)
Divide the noodle mixture between Chinese boxes and top with spring onions and fried shallots.
You'll need forks for the chicken salad (or use chopsticks) and the couscous.
Both these cakes can be made up to 5 days in advance and kept airtight in a cool place.
Narni's jam and coconut slice
This is my great grandmother's recipe. It's super easy, delicious (try reheating and serving it with ice-cream for dessert) and makes me feel closer to my mum and grandma, Neen, who have both made it many times!
I made 2 batches. The ingredients are just for one batch.
1 1/2 C self raising flour
1 cup raspberry jam (I used my own rhubarb and pink grapefruit jam, so use whatever you fancy)
Method: Beat butter and sugar together and add egg. Add flour. Press mixture into greased tin (rectangular or square slice tin) and bake for about 10 mins on 180C making sure the base is browned. Spread with raspberry jam.
Topping: 1 egg
1/2 C sugar
1 C coconut
Method: Beat egg, add sugar and coconut. Spread on top of jam. My mum says to use a damp knife or hands to spread it easily (no doubt this was the advice given to my mum by her mum, and which she in turn received from her mum). Bake for 20 mins at 180C till browned on top.
Leave to cool and keep airtight.
White chocolate and cardamom brownies
(Based on Nigella's recipe)
This recipe makes 2 lots of brownies if using square tins, or one large batch using a tin measuring 33cm x 23cm.
375g best quality dark chocolate
375g unsalted butter at room temperature
1 tablespoon real vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
225g plain flour
1-2 teaspoons of ground cardamom (you have permission to taste the batter and add more if you wish)
1 tablespoon good ground espresso coffee (optional)
250g white chocolate, roughly chopped
Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4/350F. Grease and line the tin(s) with greaseproof paper.
Melt the butter and dark chocolate together in a large heavy based pan.
In a bowl beat the eggs with the sugar and vanilla.
Measure the flour into another bowl and add the salt.
When the chocolate mixture has melted let it cool a bit before beating in the eggs and sugar, and then the flour, cardamom and coffee.
Fold in the white chocolate. Beat to combine smoothly and then scrape out of the saucepan into the lined pan(s).
Bake for about 25 mins if making one large batch, or 20 mins if using 2 smaller tins. The brownies are ready, when the top is dried to a paler brown speckle, but the middle is dark and dense and gooey still; remember that they will continue to cook as they cool so err on the side of undercooking, as no one likes a dry brownie!
Once cool, keep airtight (you can keep these slices in snap lock/resealable plastic bags if you've run out of containers!)
To assemble the brownies and slice:
Slice the cakes into small, bit sized squares. I had some cream on offer to dollop on the jam and coconut slice.
All the food can be laid out before guests arrive so you have NOTHING to do except enjoy yourself. Have a ball!