There’s something magical about having friends over for dinner. It’s a great chance to catch up and spend some time with the people you care about. Growing up, my parents would host these fantastic parties where everyone in the family was given a special role. Mum usually handled the food while dad poured the wine. My sister and I were in charge of serving the appetisers. Dressed in our best clothes, with hair combed back, we’d carry glass platters of spiced nuts and dried fruit. Sometimes there would even be samosas or crisply fried vegetable bhajis, battered vegetables, to enjoy. I’ve invited the Grapeshot team over for a special dinner of my own. I’m serving a classic winter menu that will hopefully impress them. I’m trying my very best to source organic produce for these dishes. Most supermarkets have improved their range of these products and they taste so much better than the rest. I’d like to share the recipes with you so that you too can have a special dinner of your own. They serve four. So go on! Invite three of your best mates around, pull out your good set of plates and a fancy bottle of red and get ready to enjoy a great night in. Special thanks to Rosemarie Cruz for the photographs.
The Amuse Bouche course is so-called because it provides that little burst of excitement to get the evening rolling. I’ve got a magical chicken broth that will transform before your guests eyes as they stir it into their bowl. The secret is in the cream which is set in a thin layer at the bottom of the bowl. Of course you could substitute with vegetable stock for a vegetarian option.
4 tsp thickened cream
1/2 tsp gelatin crystals
Salt and pepper, to taste
500 mL chicken consommé
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 fresh bay leaves
4 sprigs fresh parsley
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
12 button mushrooms, brushed to remove the dirt
Have four white bowls ready. We’re going to begin by making a cream gel to sit at the bottom of the bowl. Place the cream, salt and pepper in a saucepan over a medium heat. Stir to combine, then add the gelatin. Continue to stir until the gelatin is dissolved. Divide the cream amongst the bowls, spreading it in a thin, flat layer at the bottom of each. It should only be a couple of millimeters thick. Place in the fridge to set.
Slice the Mushrooms. Pull off the stems and slice the mushrooms in half along the cap. You’ll end up with two round halves of the mushroom.
When almost ready to serve, heat the chicken consommé, over a high heat, in another saucepan with the herbs. Heat 1 tablespoon each of olive oil and butter in a small frying pan. Add the mushrooms and sauté for 10 minutes till brown. Allow to cool slightly, then arrange the mushrooms and garlic chips in the bottom of each bowl. Pour the piping hot chicken broth into little pots.
Invite your guests to pour the broth into the bowl and stir and watch as it magically transforms into a creamed chicken soup.
My top 5 tips for throwing the perfect dinner party:
Plan ahead: Make a list of all the things you need and buy them at least 2-3 days before the party.
Cutlery and Crockery: You don’t need to spend a fortune on fancy plates. Borrow a set from mum or check out your local op-shop. You can get antique cutlery for a very good price.
Fresh is Best: Use the best quality ingredients that you can afford. Trust me on this, the food will taste great.
Spend time with your guests: Do as much of the prep beforehand so that you can actually get to talk to your guests. You can also ask them to help you set the table or dress the salad while you wait.
Have Fun: It’s okay if there are a few dilemmas in the kitchen. Just remember to keep laugh them off. A stressed host makes for stressed guests.
Writer’s note: A version of this article was first published in Grapeshot Magazine Issue 5|Volume 5| Memories
Keep Smiling and Happy Cooking,
Brendon D’Souza a.k.a. The Smiling Chef 🙂