Tag Archives: Dinner party

“Come to the fiesta!” chana masala

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I’m hosting a party!

This little blog has seen many parties – real and imagined – pass through its virtual doors. I’ve occasionally talked about dinner parties at Casa Gander. I’ve planned a middle eastern tent feast with Laura of Laura’s Mess (and she has done it, wow!). I’ve even gatecrashed a Sicilian cocktail party with Liz of Food for Fun.

This time, I’m co-hosting Fiesta Friday at Angie’s place (of the Novice Gardener) with Sir Johnny (of Kitschnflavours and Flours n Dainty Buns).

If you haven’t met Angie yet, you should – she is fun, witty, her blog is full of creative food ideas, she gardens and forages and makes the prettiest things from the foraged bounty. And Sir Johnny? – I can’t wait to see what he will wear, having come to previous Fiestas in fisherman’s waders, a black PVC ensemble, that magenta onsie with a white zip, and – it was rumoured – a chamois.

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As for this week’s Fiesta, get ready for madcap party tricks when you least expect – Sir Johnny and I are both in crazy time zones compared to State-side friends, so when you are blinking at the rising sun, we’ll be just getting the disco lights and cocktails started.

Fiesta Friday celebrates that best of weekdays with the funnest of parties. Please, please, come and join the party! Visit the Fiesta-goers’ posts, even better link up your own post! We may be rowdy, but we are a friendly bunch and always looking out for more people to share the fun. It’s a great way to get more people visiting your blog, and I’ve met some talented bloggers along the way. Have I convinced you yet? (actually, can you tell I’m not a salesperson??)

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And onto the food! This week, I’m bringing to Fiesta Friday a bowl of chana masala (or chole masala), a chickpea dish that is found in Indian and Pakistan cuisine. According to Sir Google, a popular version of chana masala comes from Punjabi cuisine, and has a distinctive sour and tangy flavour. There are also south Indian versions such as one from Kerala, and a version with black chickpeas.

I made the Punjabi chana masala, which has been popularised by Madhur Jaffrey (including via Smitten Kitchen). This was one of the most flavoursome and fragrant dishes I’ve ever made, and it looks like you’ve slaved over a stove for positively hours – when in fact it’s quick enough for a weeknight meal. Low fuss & high impact = win win.

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An imagined pie, lost splendours and a Sicilian timballo (macaroni pie)

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Update: recipe added!!

Recently, work has been intense, crazy-good-intense, plus I have been cooking for friends: lingering, laughing, food-laden, wine-tinted dinners where people meet old friends and make new ones. All of which means I’m catching up on the blogosphere this weekend.

The good thing about cooking for a bunch of friendly guinea pigs friends is that I can foist “out there” dishes on them. And unlike a family Christmas lunch, I run less risk of offending the mother-in-law-of-cousin-in-law.

Dishes like a macaroni pie from the novel The Leopard (Il Gattopardo), by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa.

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Like the Triumph of Gluttony, the idea of the pie has haunted my imagination since I read the book years ago:

“When three lackeys in green, gold and powder entered, each holding a great silver dish containing a towering macaroni pie, only four of the twenty at table avoided showing pleased surprise.

Good manners apart, though, the aspect of those monumental dishes of macaroni was worthy of the quivers of admiration they evoked. The burnished gold of the crusts, the fragrance of the sugar and cinnamon they exuded, were but preludes to the delights released from the interior when the knife broke the crust; first came a spice-laden haze, then chicken livers, hard boiled eggs, sliced ham, chicken and truffles in masses of piping hot, glistening macaroni to which the meat juice gave an exquisite hue of suede.”

Yes, another dish from a book, another Sicilian recipe. Must be something in the water there.

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A tale about kale: kale salad with raisins, walnuts and pecorino

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Here I am, on a Monday night, trying to think of a witty, captivating way to introduce a kale salad. I could wax lyrical about its impressive pedigree: from Barbuto in NY via Deb Perelman’s kitchen to yours truly. I could go all food anthropology on you and talk about the similar ingredients found in pasta or even bread from that island off Italy (disclaimer: only in the world according to Google).

Or, I can just sit back and tell you about this salad – the flavours, textures, ideas.

Because, this way, I won’t have to talk about how this is yet another kale salad. I can just say – this salad doesn’t make me feel like I’m eating grass. Grass is virtuous to be sure, and good for moo-cows, but I prefer my grass a little more mediated by cows, say in the form of pecorino cheese.

Then, I can tell you the salad is savoury, sweet, tart. These bold flavours complement (but not mellow) kales earthiness – think Ottolenghi’s way with radicchio in Plenty. The textures vary between lemon-softened kale, plumped raisins, crunchy walnuts and crumbly-creamy pecorino.

I’ve served variations of the salad at two elaborate dinners, a Moroccan/Sicilian epic, and our similarly epic Christmas lunch. Both times, it was hoovered up, with people asking about it as they peered into the salad bowl for more.

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A beachside Christmas, a recipe for spicy cranberries and raisins

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Christmas lunch has come and gone. Once again, I didn’t take photos during lunch, as I didn’t want to interrupt the festivities. This morning, I sat in a garden looking out over the ocean, in a white tee and white sun hat, writing down notes from the meal: what worked, what can be better next time.

I was peaceful, lulled into daydreams, detached from the comings and goings in the house, yet more aware, alert to the sounds and sights of nature around me. The sun was shining; turning the ocean shades of royal blue, deep sea blue, turquoise. The sun made dappled patterns through a tree. It was warm on my back, yet a sea breeze brushed across my notepad. The waves continually crashed on the rocks, again, and again. White clouds formed fantastical patterns on the edge of an equally blue unending sky.

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Inside the house, guests talked about local traditions over tea and slices of Sri Lankan Christmas cake. Every year, the local fire brigade dresses up as Santa and his helpers, drives a fire truck to every local house and popular beaches, and gives out lollies to children (and the young at heart). It is one of my favourite part of Christmas on the South Coast – anyone can go to a shopping centre and have their photo taken with Santa, but how many have caught a bag of lollies from Santa standing on top of a big red fire truck?  

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I digress.

Here is our Christmas lunch menu, which featured flavours from Sicily and Morocco rather than Ye Olde England. The recipe for spicy cranberries and raisins follows – halfway between a pickle and a chutney, a nod to tradition in an unorthodox Christmas meal. Recipes for a few other dishes will be posted over the next month or so.

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Dinner with friends, orange blossom water, saffron, mouhammara

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We had twelve people around our dinner table on Saturday night, with a menu – below – built around Paula Wolfert recipes. It was all about orange blossom water, cinnamon, saffron, mysterious peppers, and sugar. For one evening, we were in Northern Africa. Morocco.

There were dips scented with orange blossom water and cinnamon/thyme, hovering between dessert, salad and dips. Then, soup with gruyere and rye, home made stock, baked in a whole pumpkin, lightened with a touch of cinnamon.

The tagine was laden with cinnamon, saffron and turmeric. Slow-cooked lamb, onions slowly braised in the same liquid (Wolfert described the onion sauce as ‘unctuous’, so it was), finished under the grill with more cinnamon and sugar. It was aromatic, inviting, looked laden with history, and was magical.

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The mouhammara and a Berber bread stole the show.

Mouhammara, with the assertive flavours of pomegranate molasses, roasted capsicum (peppers), roasted chilli, thickened with walnuts, rounded out by the warmth of cumin. Everyone tasted, wondered, and asked for more. (Recipe at the end of the post)

And the Berber bread – made over 3 days, starting with a pungent garlic starter and ending with rounds of crusty, chewy-dense, savoury bread from the skillet – no oven! We kept tearing off chunks, burning our fingers and marvel that so much flavour could come from so few ingredients.

As for dessert? I made profiteroles, but all attention was on that cake – made by a friend’s mum who is a professional chef. It was the ultimate centrepiece – bigger than anything from a domestic cake pan, dense with liqueur and hazelnuts, covered with swirls of buttercream and chocolate.

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Chinese new year: a feast in words

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“What do we need to do?”

“Wear something red!”

This post begins with festive Chinese food, ends with baklava, and has a soliloquy about photography at dinner parties.

On Saturday night, 12 friends gathered around our 3 meter long dining table for a dinner spanning more than 7 courses. I think I got a bit carried away when planning a menu to showcase the festive food that I have loved since childhood, flavours from other regions of China that I have discovered as an adult, and the sneaky bit of non-Chinese food that I can’t live without.

This year, menu planning had extra challenges. One guest is allergic to anything in the family of shallots, garlic, onion and chilli. Another guest is vegetarian. As with other dinners we’ve hosted, I tried to minimise the number of ‘special’ dishes for these guests. After all, having dinner with friends is much less fun if you are left out, food-wise.

At the start of the evening, I looked at our kitchen, with every bench space and every shelf in the fridge groaning under the weight of food – and the palpable sense of excitement – and the seriously decent alcohol. We were starting the lunar new year on the right footing.

We had fun setting the table. There were, of course, red napkins and red chopsticks. Each guest also got a red envelope with sweets and chocolates (in lieu of money). Scattered around the table were dried chrysanthemum flowers, gold-wrapped chocolates, miniature new year cakes (nian gao) and mixed peanut candy that I’ve found seriously addictive since my earliest days.

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Before I knew it, the all-day cooking extravaganza had become an all-evening eating odyssey.

Here is the menu:

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Lunch, Christmas day

beach signIt is 8pm on Christmas day, in a 1950s style beach house. I am writing this lying on a couch that doubles as a day bed. We are still recovering from a lavish Christmas lunch that ended barely a few hours ago.

[this is posted one day later, when we got internet]

Every year, Mr Gander’s family and close relatives gather on the south coast of NSW for Christmas. The family bought land in this area before running water and electricity had made its way through the bush, before sealed roads and bridges had replaced dirt tracks and car ferries across the river. Each year, Christmas lunch or dinner have consisted of a surfeit of turkey and ham with all the trimmings, and a brandy pudding with all its trimmings. 

Last year, Mr Gander and I broke from tradition and stayed in Sydney (he had just moved up from a few years in Melbourne), where I cooked a seafood Christmas lunch just for him and his immediate family. This year, I made Christmas lunch for the extended clan.

Lunch is served

christmas flowersFor this occasion, I walked a middle ground between tradition and innovation.

Instead of turkey and ham, I made farsumagru again (I had made it earlier this year and friends loved it). Farsumagru is a renowned, old-fashioned Sicilian meat (and cheese and herbs) roll that is, for me, the epitome of festive rich decadence. It is also redolent of history and culinary tradition.

For dessert, I gave everyone a summery trifle scented with rose water, followed by a traditional Christmas cake (traditional except for the decoration, but more on that next time).

Here is the full menu. The recipes will be in the following posts.

Canapes
Dates stuffed with goat cheeses and prosciutto
Mixed nuts

Entree
Home made buffalo milk labne with pita, cucumbers, and young herbs

Main
Farsumagru
Mixed herbs and walnut salad, with tarrator and pomegranate molasses dressings
Orange, fennel and parsley salad
Smashed potatoes with duck fat and rosemary

Dessert
Rose water trifle, with watermelon, strawberries, pistachios and rose petals
‘Double happiness’ Christmas cake

Drinks
Lots. Responsibly served. (enough said?)

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