Dispatches from a Dinner Party #2

It started with a conversation in a hall way. They were our new neighbours, next to our old flat. Within thirty seconds I knew I liked them. Within two minutes, I knew them. And not just because they were warm, and funny and had similarly flattened vowels. But because we did. We shared not only an accent, but an education. She was a few years below me at a high school  on the other side of the world. Her best friend is my best friend’s younger sister. And he played on a basketball team with my godmother’s son. I knew of him only by his nickname; Jupiter. And here we all were. The world is a very small place sometimes.

We lived next to them for 18 months. They helped taste test most of the recipes from the books. He was pretty chuffed on the night I knocked on his door bearing half of the second version of the Chicago inspired Deep Dish Meatball Pizza. They loaned us power tools and bean bags for Star Wars parties. We shared Oscars nights and the Olympic Opening Ceremony in their castle in the clouds. We’d open our doors to each other in pyjamas in the morning and drop in at 10.30 pm after dinners with other friends, when we felt like ‘just one more drink’.

We’re now only five minutes walk away , but if feels much further.

So this is another dispatch of a dinner-party-to-be, before the wine muddles the memories and there’s a pile of  plates that need to be dealt with. It’s a catch up and belated celebration of Jupiter’s birthday. This time we’re not going to be a night of half formed recipes handed over in tupperware. We won’t wear our track suits. It’s a proper grown up dinner, inspired by all of us;  our first homes back in Sydney, and our second, here in Borough.

The main thing about this menu is that it can be all prepared ahead of time.

Unlike our old flat, here the kitchen is another room. It’s bigger, but it’s much harder to be part of the conversation while getting dinner ready. I don’t want to miss a thing, so everything, except dressing the salad and assembling the side for main course has all been done.

As always, there are a few flavour threads to link it together. This time it’s the light acid of red fleshed soft fruits, the caramel tan of toasted nuts and the heathery softness of thyme.

It starts:

Plums, roast hazelnuts,  oat cake toasts and two friends.

The two friends are one pot of chicken liver parfait, sweetened with a touch of port , red onions and some thyme and another pot of goat curd and ricotta, gilded with thyme honey and some hazelnuts.

While the chicken liver parfait may not be everyone’s bag of fun, it’s the taste of childhood comfort to me.  When I grew out of my ice berg lettuce sandwich days, a pate sandwich was my next step- not the most logical of progressions, but I liked it.

This is a flexible combination of finely diced red onions softened in a knob of butter and olive oil. The livers need to be well trimmed of any sinew and any suspicion of bile and dried before they’re sauteed for a few minutes, until the outside is bronzed but the interior still blushes. Add some port and ignite the pan- stand back unless you want to singe some lashes. Then season with salt and pepper and pepper and blend until it’s as smooth as you can make it.

Both the parfait and the goat cheese are going to be livened up with some fresh plum slices and a pot of spicy plum relish, picked up for a song from the markets this morning.

It’s not really a dinner party for an Australian if there’s not roast lamb involved. We’re so keen on it that in 1990  they even created a beloved advertising campaign where Naomi Watts turned down a date with Tom Cruise because her Mum was cooking a lamb roast (the fact that her best friend then went on to marry him seemed a little serendipitous).

20 hour lamb shoulder with green and white

This is a new standby for me. It’s a lamb shoulder, roasted for as long and low as you dare. I put it in the oven with some garlic, bay leaves and a splash of pink wine at 10 pm last night. I covered it with a tent of foil and left it to roast at 70 C /160 F while we slept. This morning I was woken by a lamb-aroma-alarm. At around lunch today I added some more garlic cloves and some red grapes for gentle acidity, before returning it to the oven.

By the time dinner comes around the meat will shrug lazily off  the bone. I’ll serve it  family style with a green slurry of parsley, garlic, mint, thyme and olive oil, brightened with a little red wine vinegar and apple cider vinegar.  On the side we’re going to have some white beans, cooked with a little thyme and white wine and a sharp salad of bitter leaves with coin slices of fresh red grapes.

And dessert?

Coffee, Nuts and Choux

Australian males can usually be trusted to bond over two things; espresso coffee and things with wheels. A Paris Brest seemed about right.

Inspired by the famous bicycle race from Paris to Brest, it’s a large circle of choux pastry, stuffed with creme patisserie, chantilly cream-  and nuts. The creme pat here has been flavoured with espresso. I started with two shots and then realised that for these fellows, no meek coffee flavour would do. Another two soon went in.

The coffee custard fills the hollow where the choux pastry has puffed and left spindles of soft dough. Over that there’s some almonds and hazelnuts made into praline and some puffs of whipped cream flavoured with vanilla. A true Paris Brest would have billows of cream, but since we’re all going to have to wear our togs at the beach sometime soon, I’ve kept it a little lighter.

The top of the choux has been ready sliced and then reassembled so it forms a jointed circle.. That’s a nifty trick care of Jacques Pepin.The cuts are largely hidden by a shower of icing sugar, but it means that when it comes to slice it, the filling won’t be squelched out the side.

Everything is set. I should be tidying the flat. I should be putting some decent clothes on. But really,  it’s fine. For this menu, I’ve got plenty of time.

(and besides, they’ve seen me at much, much worse).


Origins and Inspirations

The parfait is loosely based on this one from Food 52, without the cream, capers and a little less butter.

The slow cooked lamb is loosely based on this one, from Jamie Oliver, but cooked lower and for much, much longer. It’s a pretty forgiving piece of meat.

The green sauce is my chimichurri, but with mint and thyme instead of coriander and oregano, 3 fewer garlic cloves, no orange zest and the vinegars instead of orange juice.

The Paris Brest is based on Jacques Pepin.

  1. That Paris Brest looks like just about my perfect dessert! Amazing. Sounds like a lovely dinner party.

  2. They sound like fabulous friends! And thanks for my copy of your ebook. I was about to buy it but I had a minor Halloween related crisis involving a gingerbread castle but it was on my list! 😀

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