One of the things I like most about food is the way it brings people together. Food’s ability to be shared and form part of the social fabric of life is central to my ongoing passion for it. Countless occasions and important events are marked and defined by what people eat and drink at them. I am at my happiest when I cook. It’s one of the ways I tell people they mean something to me. Whether it’s a simple omelet for The Beloved on a Sunday morning, a fresh and fast weeknight meal for a few friends or a carefully planned and balanced dinner party, I am in my element in the kitchen; chopping, prepping, cooking, stirring, tasting, plating. Give me a special occasion to cook for and, well, it just doesn’t get any better!
Last weekend I went to a birthday soiree for a friend. It was one of those birthdays that end in a zero. Quite the milestone. An accomplished and adventurous cook, she will be spending her actual birthday weekend dining in some rather fabulous restaurants in Sydney. But her clever husband decided a milestone doesn’t really feel like a milestone unless the celebration is shared, so he put the word out to her nearest and dearest and told her she was having a little party! To help her acclimatise to the idea and stop her from doing too much at her own party, I was asked if I would mind doing some finger food. “Mind??!!” I replied, “I would love to”. Here is what I made.
Smashed broadbean tartlets with ricotta and chorizo
Cook young broad beans and baby peas until just tender. Roughly mash with a for, season with lemon juice and pepper and stir through some ricotta. Served in my rather rustic looking shortcrust tart shells and garnished with red garnet amaranth. Doesn’t get much easier.
Mini papadums with tandoori chicken and mango
These use potato papad. Still crispy and crunchy and wafer thin like pappadums made from rice or lentils or chickpeas, but made from potato. No messy deep frying, the microwave works a treat to cook them and is obviously more health conscious. Topped with some grilled chicken that I marinaded in tandoori paste and yoghurt and a mango, coriander and chilli salsa and you have a mouthful of yum.
Goat’s cheese crostini with beetroot and blood orange marmalade
Lightly toasted sourdough, a brush of extra virgin olive oil, a smear of ashed goat’s chevre and a spoonful of beetroot marmalade. It tasted surprisingly good for my maiden effort. In a saucepan mix two medium beetroot finely diced, one pink lady apple finely also finely diced, a cup of fresh blood orange juice, a generous tablespoon of honey, about half a teaspoon of cinnamon, some grated ginger and a few cloves. Bring to a gentle boil then turn back down to a simmer and forget about it for an hour. The liquid should almost be gone and the beetroot getting a slightly sticky consistency. Not at all a fan of the tinned beets of my childhood, when beetroot can taste as good as this, I am an easy convert.
Red curry fish cakes with pineapple relish
I love these fish cakes. A bung it all in the food processor recipe that is yet to fail me. You can check it out here. It evolves every so often, this time with the accompaniment of a simple pineapple relish. Quarter of a pineapple, cored and chopped, two red chillies, 1/4 cup each of rice wine vinegar, water and white sugar. Fifteen minutes on medium heat, let cool, then pulse in the food processor until its chunky. I served them with thick slices of cucumber.
Asparagus “cigars” with white anchovy cream and jamon
Fold a sheet of filo in half and brush one end with anchovy cream (made by combining 4 good quality anchovies, 1/4 cup cream, pepper and a good squeeze of lemon juice in a mortar and pestle), layer a piece of jamon or prosciutto – I halved my slices lengthwise, place a blanched spear of asparagus on and wrap up. I got two “cigars” from each sheet of filo and sealed the ends with a little brush of olive oil. In a 200 degree oven for 8-10 minutes and you are done.
All in all, not a bad offering. The birthday girl followed my little starters up with a mouth watering pork curry. The meat melted in your mouth, there was just the right amount of heat and spice and the addition of Vietnamese and pea eggplants gave an extra burst of flavour. I’m going to want to eat that one again. To finish, she recreated the mango meringue birthday cake from the cover of the 10th Birthday edition of Delicious Magazine. She more than did it justice – it was delicious. Happy Birthday Lan!