Monday, August 22, 2011

Let's have a dinner party!! ...with crispy golden potatoes

Since I mostly cook for dinner parties and most of the heavy duty cooking that I do centers around the dinner parties that I have at home, I thought I'd talk a little bit about that.We have at least one a week or one a fortnight, and it's a whole heap of fun for me. I'm even known to be crazy enough to do two a week, if it takes my fancy. So far, people seem to be willing to come and eat. :-)

I recently had a dinner party that consisted of a starter of nachos, followed by a main of meatloaf with a red wine and mushroom gravy, crispy golden potatoes and Vichy vegetables (a variation of the classic French Vichy carrots, I just used a combination of frozen peas, carrots and corn). Fortunately, a friend was bringing dessert, so I did not have to worry about it.

The tricky part of this dinner was that not much of it could be prepared in advance, it was all cook and eat immediately. It was also my first attempt at a meatloaf, so I was rather nervous. I had to make sure that I had the dinner timed perfectly so that what was cooked ended up on the table piping hot. To that end, being the project manager that I am, I put together a little time line to help with the cooking prep and getting food to the table. I'm not saying do this for all dinners, but there are some dinners that need a bit more help thinking through the timing than others.

Here's what I ended up putting together:
  • 4:00pm - make guacamole and refrigerate
  • 5:00pm - set out ingredients for all dishes
  • 5:30pm - assemble meatloaf
  • 6:00pm - make gravy
  • 6:30pm - put meatloaf into oven
  • 6:30pm - peel potatoes and put in water to be ready for boiling
  • 6:45pm - assemble nachos
  • 7:00pm - serve nachos
  • 7:00pm - start boiling potatoes and vegetables for Vichy dish
  • 7:30pm - check meatloaf, take out of oven, heat up gravy
  • 7:45pm - finish cooking potatoes and vegetables
  • 7:50pm - serve dinner

This is the only time that I've made up such a detailed (and anal) plan for my dinners. The reason for it was mostly timing the potatoes and Vichy vegetables. I wanted to serve them hot from the stove rather than re-heated. It was certainly a great learning experience for me in terms of getting timing right. One thing that I did learn was to figure out how much of the dinner can be cooked in advance. That just makes life a whole lot easier when it comes to putting a meal on the table.

My favorite dish for the night was the crispy golden potatoes, which was a Jamie Oliver recipe, out of his 30 Minute Meals cookbook. By the way, that's an excellent cookbook, and if you're ever stuck for meal ideas, just pull one of those out of the book and make it. Fabulous!

Here's the RECIPE for the crispy golden potatoes:
  • 500g red skinned potatoes
  • 1 lemon
  • 4 sprigs of fresh thyme or rosemary
  • 1 bulb garlic

  • Wash the potatoes, leaving the skins on
  • Shape into 2cm chunks and throw into a large frying pan
  • Cover with boiling water, season with salt and cover with a lid
  • Turn the heat right up and boil for 8 minutes or until just cooked
  • Check the potatoes are cooked through, then drain and return to the same frying pan
  • Leave on a high heat and drizzle over some olive oil
  • Add a pinch of salt and pepper, speed in strips of lemon zest and add 4 sprigs of thyme or rosemary
  • Halve the bulb of garlic widthways and squash each half with the back of a knife and add to the pan
  • Toss everything together, then roughly squash down with a masher
  • Toss every 3 minutes or so until golden and crisp

I had too many potatoes in the pot and it took too long for it to crisp (I made more than the recipe) so my potatoes turned out not as crispy all round as I wanted it to, but they tasted fabulous. My lessons learned from that was - fewer potatoes and more time over the heat. Instead of stirring regularly, it's actually a good idea to just let the potatoes sit for a few minutes (just like the recipe says, possibly more) on the heat before turning. I was just too used to stirring or tossing regularly to prevent burning and this was the opposite.

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