Monday, 8 April 2013

The First Dinner Party of 2013

I absolutely love dinner parties, hosting them at our shack and going to friends. As no-one ever has any money for a big night out like we seemed to be able to manage in those fabled days of our early 20's, it's the perfect solution to eating good food, 'punishing the red grape' as my gorgeous friend Branchy says, and seeing lovely people without breaking the bank.

I have long relied on a slow-roasted lamb shoulder as my dinner party staple, so it was time to switch it up and attempt something else. I also decided to take the chance of some well-needed days off to make my own cheese. My bro got me a cheese-making kit for Christmas and after reading and re-reading the instructions, I thought I could manage it. 

Good old Jamie has a tasty little marinated mozzarella recipe, which is really nice in the summer (optimistic). Never mind the weather, this was an easy 'recipe' that I can do before everyone arrives and the Prosecco starts flowing. 

Ricotta is up next...
It actually took two hours to do this - but it is easy. You need 8 pints of milk but everything else is in the box. The instructions are really clear and it did work. It looks pretty disgusting after the rennet (vegetarian) has worked it's cheesy magic, but as the instructions say, persevere. My main issue with it was that it wasn't really stretching like it shows in the instructions, so I kept microwaving it - I think this meant I got rid of too much whey and it became a bit hard.

About as stretchy as a pair of Spanx
I bought some back up Buffalo mozzarella at my local farm shop, as this did not turn out as well as I was hoping. Everyone enjoyed the dish, but my mozzarella left something to be desired (despite one of my overly-kind buddies telling me he preferred mine. He's far too good a liar). 

Next on my list was dessert - I'm really no baker but to be honest who needs to be with big Betty C helping you out? I grabbed the ingredients for Slutty Brownies and decided, thanks to Sarah from A Million Dresses, I added some Rolos. I couldn't find the salted caramel sauce, but I think we would have all fallen into a food coma. 

Yes that is cookie mix on the bottom, a layer of Oreos and Rolos and I was about to add the layer of brownie mix. I got this all ready so that by the end of dinner, I can throw these in the oven and carry on punishing the red grape (and punish it we did).

For main course, we had a standard menu change. Even the gorgeous Sambo commented on her excitement at the change - I really should try harder. My infamous Chorizo & Fennel spaghetti made it onto the menu - The Scouser's favourite.

Here comes the science part: 

It's a Jamie recipe, no surprises there - it does require proper chorizo sausage, which I get from Aldi. You may frown at Aldi, but once you get passed the random offerings of garden ornaments and deep fat fryers (yes I do not lie), there is some amazing stuff in there. A large chorizo sausage is £1.99, and this is comparable to at least £3 in M&S.

I've also started buying slightly better quality spaghetti as I think it actually makes a real difference. So you need 100g of spaghetti and I would say half a chorizo sausage per person. You'll also need a bulb of fennel which can be expensive unfortunately. Finally you'll need two tins of chopped tomatoes, teaspoon of fennel seeds, chilli flakes and garlic.

Slice the garlic and crack the fennel seeds in a pestle & mortar, through them into a pan with some olive oil - not too much as the chorizo will render it's own oil into the pan in a sec. For the chorizo  cut it into slices, then in half again. You'll need to cut up the fennel too and I try and make it the same size as my chorizo (long thin pieces). Let the garlic fry gently, then throw in the chorizo with the chilli flakes - as much or as little as you like. Turn the heat up so the chorizo fries and then add the fennel after say 3-4 minutes. Stir it all up and let it fry for another 3-4 minutes. Turn the hat down and add two tins of chopped tomatoes. Leave to simmer until you are left with a nice thick silky sauce, normally about 30 minutes.

Obviously you'll need to cook your spaghetti. Always best not to drain this too much until it's bone dry, as the excess pasta water loosens up the sauce and makes it mix well. Thanks to my lovely mum, I now have a large pan that I can do the mixing in - sometimes I serve the pasta then throw the sauce on top, but with this it's better to mix it all then serve. I kept some chorizo to the side to make sure everyone got plenty of the good stuff.

As a final fancy schmancy addition, you can add the green fennel tops to the dish. If you really want to, you can make pangrattato - fried crispy breadcrumbs which sounds completely odd on top of pasta but I tell you it works. You need some chunks of bread, made into breadcrumbs. You can add to that whatever you like - I whizz mine up in a food processor/blender, so add some herbs like rosemary, dried chillies, anchovies, garlic, lemon zest, whatever you fancy. Fry the breadcrumbs in a splash of olive oil until crispy, then drain on kitchen paper and just sprinkle over the dish.

No pictures of the food, so here is Pippa the dog waiting for the guests to arrive
My love for dinner parties continues and soon it will be time for BBQs - homemade burgers, chicken eaten with your fingers and beers in buckets of ice. This weather needs to be buck it's ideas up.

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