Sunday, 19 August 2012

Plating Up

“One of the nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop what we are doing and devote our attention to eating.” Luciano Pavarotti
The anniversary of our move to Melbourne was cause to gather together friends both new and old for a celebration feast. In the whirlwind of a working life, it is so enjoyable to visit a friend’s home and share a meal. My parent’s dinner parties, both hosted and attended, were a regular fixture of my childhood Saturdays. Despite the increasing interest in food, the rise in Masterchefs and documentaries of extraordinary culinary feats, it appears that people have become more hesitant to play host and instead choose to meet out. Whilst this is good for the ever increasing restaurant scene, the art of entertaining is a fading star.
In my view, having friends for dinner is similar to a piece of string – the piece of string is as long as you like, and you choose how complicated your knots are. In reality, a dinner is really all about planning. I rarely have free time during the week, so my planning and preparation took place on weekends.
My preparations began one month from the date, with the setting of the menu. The existence of my extensive collection of food magazines and cook books was justified, as the merits of recipe after recipe were weighed up. The dinner party was a good reason to explore cooking with a new ingredient (hello truffle!) and also to make a new purchase (Kitchen Aid Ice Cream attachment). In constructing my menu, I searched for wintery flavours, but also sought to avoid building an overly heavy menu. I also focused on recipes which could be prepared prior to the evening which would mean the labour during the evening could be reduced.
 A Celebration Menu for Fifteen
·         Scallops with Saffron Crème
·         Mushroom Broth with Truffle and Tuscan Cabbage
·         Beetroot Ravioli with Sage Butter
·         Beef Cheek with Celeriac and Potato Mash
·         Lemon Orange Creamy Ice Cream and Blood Orange Sorbet
·         Chocolate Truffles and Cheeses
For the above, I based the broth on a Jacques Reymond recipe from his book ‘Cuisine de Temps’, Beetroot Ravioli mix from the SBS food magazine, ‘Feast’ issue 12, Maggie Beer’s beef cheek recipe available online here, Kitchen Aid ice cream recipes found in the Ice Cream attachment manual, and Gourmet Traveller’s chocolate truffles from their ‘Slow Food Cookbook’ of 2011. Scallops and saffron crème, Tuscan cabbage chips, mash and winter salads of my own creations.
The setting of the menu also involved the preparation of the shopping list. This is important, as it controls costs and portions, and ensures you don’t rush to the market and buy one of everything “in case you need it”, you don’t! Don’t partake in the last minute ingredient grab, this isn’t the ‘Price is Right’.
I broke down the dinner into the following tasks:
·         Ordering the beef cheeks from T.O.M.S and arranging delivery. This was necessary as I needed to marinate the cheeks the day before cooking;
·         Sourcing ingredients and items that would last the week, for example, potatoes, mineral water, pasta flour etc;
·         Picking up table decorations (in my case place tags, serviettes);
·         Making the ice cream and the sorbet; and
·         Making the chocolate truffles.

Fantastically orange fresh yolks

Lemon and Orange ice cream cooking away

Churn baby churn!

Truffles ready for refrigeration

Thursday – Friday

·         Beef cheeks are delivered, and marinating commenced Thursday night; and
·         Friday night, table is set up, cutlery and glasses washed and set out.

Marinating cheeks

Fantastic reason to use some lovely wedding gifts - Georg
Jensen water jug and salad bowl,
antique brass candles holders

Set and ready to go!

·         Early trip to the South Melbourne Market for the fresh items predominately from Georgie’s Harvest and Aptus Seafood for the scallops, mushrooms, beetroots, crème fraiche, truffle, salad leaves etc;
·         Beef cheeks on to slow cook (from approximately 11 am);
·         Prepare the mushrooms broth;
·         Drinks on ice;
·         Make beetroot filling and pasta;
·         Mix the saffron and lemon juice into the crème fraiche;
·         Prepare potatoes and celeriac, and leave subsided in water (as late as possible, so you don’t lose too much flavour)

Browning, in preparation for slow cooking

The most amazing Victorian black truffle,
exclusively stocked at Georgie's Harvest

Slice, slice. Honey Brown Mushrooms from Tasmania
also from Georgie's Harvest

During the Evening
·         Grill the scallops, pipe on the saffron crème;
·         Oven bake the Tuscan cabbage;
·         Warm the mushroom broth and slice the truffle onto it;
·         Cook the ravioli and the sage butter;
·         Make the mash; and
·         Prepare side salads of mixed leaves and sliced radishes.

The end result
Plating up the scallops, slightly messy as the heat
melted the creme

Plating up, loving the truffle!

And on the table, dinnerware also wedding gifts -
Royal Doulton Signature Platinum

Beetroot ravioli

Beef cheeks

The beef cheeks worked perfectly, as Maggie Beer recipes normally do! The mushroom broth was delicious, but does require many mushrooms and much slicing. 

Lemon Orange Ice Cream and Blood Orange Sorbet

The army of dessert at the ready!

I was also happy with my ice cream and sorbet, for a first attempt with my new Kitchen Aid attachment, they were a little icy, but I was happy none the less. Chocolate truffles were also a hit. I really enjoyed the buzz of rapidly ‘plating up’ the dishes, working in a professional kitchen must be stressful and exhilarating all at once!
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what food is on the table, it’s the act of gathering friends in your home which is the fun part.  So next time, don’t meet at the local pub for a meal, get a little organised and host your friends. The effort is well worth it, and you’ll be repaid tenfold in the joy and appreciation of your guests.
What I’d change: I would not try to make 30 perfect beetroot ravioli again. Although delicious, it was very time consuming to make for fifteen people, even for a regular fresh pasta maker.
What I loved:  Having so many friends, from various walks of life, in our home. The deafening jokes and laughter. Laughing hysterically at a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ reading by a guest taking the stage.


Anonymous said...

Great write up - can I say, this dinner was hands down one of the best I've been to and seeing the amount of preparation, I now know why. On a scale of 1-10, what was The Husband's participation (excluding pouring dessert wines and encouraging a public reading of 50 Shades)?

Arnold said...

Sounds amazing! I'm kind of jealous I wasn't there ;)

I love having people over for dinner now I just need to renovate my kitchen so I have the space to actually cook!.

P.s. I can't believe you've lived in Melbourne for a whole year, time has flown and I must visit soon. xo