As a sort of early celebration, I figured I'd invite a few of her/our good friends around and I'd treat them to my style of dinner party. Usually, the kitchen is SWMSBO's (She Who Maybe Shall Be Obeyed) habitat, but I figured I'd annex it for the occasion.
The planning started a couple of weeks ago, sending out invites to the friends, investigating the choices for the menu, even looking at weather predictions to see if the menu would be suitable for a Cape winter's night.
Eventually I settled on a three course meal, as follows:
* Warm pasta, with pumpkin, butternut and broccolli florettes;
* Lamb shanks on a bed of sweet potato mash, with cauliflower, green beans and gravy;
* Baked apples, stuffed with apple pulp, sultanas, almond pieces and sour cream.
No, I didn't dream those dishes up myself. I conveniently downloaded them from the Masterchef competition website...very handy.
The only problem with the menus were that they were all designed for four servings, which meant I had to calculate the ratios of rations I would need for 10 people. For some ingredients, it worked perfectly, for others we still have excess in the fridge, to be used in normal daily meals.
On the Friday afternoon, under the pretext of the usual weekend "ping", I met a mate at the Red Herring at 16h30, had a couple of quick beers/Dutch courage, then headed off to Prick 'n' Pray for the shopping, figuring I'd have plenty of time before SWMSBO got home from run/Walk For Life (she runs the Fish Hoek branch, a new venture for her spare time).
Into PnP at about 17h30, in and out of the aisles like the trolley had a rocket on it, and out the checkout by 18h40. I was pushing it now, cos SWMSBO is usually home by 19h00. Twelve hundred bucks later....kaching!
That morning, I had switched on the camping fridge in the guest cottage, so it was nice and cool for me to dump the lamb shanks and other perishables into. And I managed to get it all done and closed up before SWMSBO arrived! Perfect timing!
We had a chilled out Saturday morning, with me asking SWMSBO what she had planned for the day, even though I knew what had been organised. My drinks mate's wife had arranged to have SWMSBO around at 1pm to help her prepare for a party her grown-up kids were having that same Saturday night and another mate was to ask her round for something else (reason escapes me just now), but again, the timing was perfect, with SWMSBO arriving at just after 6pm, to be greeted by all these friends who had come to celebrate with us. What a great bunch of people they are. True friends!
Getting back to the dinner preparation...
At 13h30, SWMSBO heads out to PnP for a couple of things and I am starting to sweat, wondering if I'll have enough time when she eventually gets off to help Mrs C with her preparations. As it happens, even that timing was perfect.
Just after 14h00, I greet SWMSBO at the door and pack her off in the 206CC. From then on, the afternoon was a blur.
Into the guest cottage, all the groceries into the house, and preparations got under way. I taped all three recipes to the kitchen cupboards, in front of where I'd be working, so that I could refer to them easily.
First thing on was the lamb shanks. They would take the longest to prepare and they had to be "falling-off-the-bone" done. Brown the shanks, prepare the stock, lightly fry the onions, chuck the shanks back in, and let simmer for an hour and a half.
Just after that, Mr C arrived and he took a couple of photos of me, resplendent in my "Naughty Chef" apron. It's just as well he did come around to lend support as I made a snap decision to also bake one of Nigella Lawson's chocolate cakes, but I didn't have all the ingredients and off Mr C went, back to PnP for chocolate and sour cream. While he was out, I sorted and sifted all the dry ingredients, tried to grind the chocolate I had in a processor, but found out I was using the wrong blade, and ended up waiting for Mr C to get back and then melted the butter and chocolate in the microwave...much easier and less swearing and frustration on my part.
The cake mix had to be split into two tins, but in their seperate units, they looked like big biscuits rather than what would turn out to be perfectly formed chocolate sponge cakes. I was astonished at how they turned out, perfectly baked, with only minor sticking to the grease paper-ed sides.
Even the icing turned out perfectly. By the time I was done, both Mr C and myself stared at the cake in wonder. All that was left to do to it was pop the Lindt dark chocolate ball on the top and stick it in the fridge to hide it for a couple of hours.
After that, I hollowed out all the apples, blasted their pulp in the food processor with diced dried apricots, ground (bashed with a mallet) almond pieces, sultanas and sour cream, then filled the apple rounds again, added a little sugar and put the tray of completed apples into the fridge to be baked while we were enjoying the shanks.
At this point, everything was going swimmingly. Mr C and I sat down for a few minutes to have a cold beer, and then I carried on sorting out the other ingredients for later: peeling 2kg of sweet potatoes, breaking down cauliflower and brocolli heads, cutting the ends of green beans...that sort of stuff.
All of a sudden, time disappeared. When I looked at the kitchen clock again, it was 17h30 and guests would be arriving shortly. Next thing, it's 6pm and the doorbell goes off. WTF? Who said time stood still in moments of blid panic? Not a fuck! It positively gets sucked down the big black hole of life, leaving you in a cold sweat.
Anyway, Mr and Mrs H arrived a little before 7pm just as I was about to start on the starters, the warm pasta dish. All the ingredients, with the exception of the pasta itself, had been orgnised beforehand. This was where the wheels looked like they were going to fall off.
I promptly plopped two, 900g packets of pasta spirals into one pot, creating no space for the water to continue to boil and, ultimately, creating a gelatinous mass/mess. I realised what I had done, and without thinking twice, promptly turned the entire pasta ball into the bin and announced to everyone that I had fucked up the pasta and we would therefore be starting with the main course. This was where Mr C stepped in again, and calmed me down by asking if we had any plain pasta. All I could find was a packet of plain spaghetti and half a packet of pasta ribbons. They would do, he says, and we got another pot of water on to boil.
Mr C tosses the pasta into the boiling water and I start to relax a little more, beginning with the preparation of the rest of the ingredients: par-boil the pumpkin and butternut, brown off the onions, and keep it all warm, waiting for the pasta to be drained and arranged onto the plates. When I had forked sufficient pasta into each of the ten plates, even considering the vegan guest we had and took her veggies out of the mix before I added the Ideal Milk to the veggies to create a sauce, I spooned the rest of the ingredients over the pasta (in my best Masterchef style) and enlisted Messrs C and H to assist in delivering the plates to the table. All that remained now was the taste test. I did not even taste the mixture before I served it!!
I had to make a quick speech before we started eating and thanked everyone for coming around and sharing this auspicious occasion with us...blah blah blah...then we began eating.
It could have been horrible, but the feedback was amazing. Everyone exclaimed that the dish tasted really good and, I have to admit, it didn't taste all that bad. Round 1 over, looking better. Whew!
I know those portions were a little big for a starter, so I took my time in getting the main course ready, only putting the sweet potatoes on to boil when everyone had done with their starter. The veggies went into the Chinese bamboo steamer, on top of another pot of boiling water and turned out fantastically.
After arranging the nine (minus one as the vegan wasn't eating meat) dinner plates on the kitchen table, I hauled the lamb shanks out of the warm oven, spooned a pile of mash into the middle of each plate and then gracefully plonked a shank on top of each, flanking them with the still steaming veggies. I strained and put some of the meat juices back on to the boil in a small pot, added some corn flour to thicken it a little, then served that as a yummy gravy.
Again, Messrs C and H assisted in getting the plates to the table and cries of "ooohhh" and "aaahhh" were heard from the dining area. Sounds good, I thought. I was relaxed now cos I thought there was no way I could fuck this simple dish up as I had done it before.
And the shanks were amazing. Fall-off-the-bone soft, gravy not too salty or rich, the choice of veggies made a colourful addition to the dish, and again the feedback was gratifying, with everyone expressing tasty delight. Epic success!
Just before everyone had finished the main course, I popped the apples into the hot oven to bake for their required 35min time, after confirming with Mr C that it should be enough time to give everyone's meal time to settle and to have another glass or two of wine. I added a yoghurt-coated rice cake to each dessert plate before I served the apples, and set a litre of custard onto the table, to be added to the bowls as individually desired. Only one guest wanted the custard warmed up, so the group decided to rather leave it cold.
Again, the feedback was amazing. Everyone expressed how tasty the apples were, even though my initial impression was that I could have left them to bake a little longer seeing as some of the apple was still unbaked. Still, another success.
While the guests were delving into their apples, I hauled the chocolate cake out of the fridge and announced it onto the table. SMWSBO's eyes lit up in astonishment. In all the years we have been together (nearly 10) I have never baked a cake and she was amazed that I had baked this one from scratch, even icing it, and how perfectly it had turned out.
For the rest of the evening, the plates were tidied away, a bunch of wine was drunk and the chatter around the table included all sorts of topics, even about my experiences in the kitchen. Copies of the recipes were called for by some of the guests, so I'll scan and email them out to everyone when I get a chance.
By the time everyone left, around 11pm, I was exhausted. I had been on my feet for close to 10hrs and they were killing me. SWMSBO and I packed a few things away, I reloaded the dishwasher, and then we sat down for a nightcap of that fine old Laphroaig 10yr Qtr Cask...yummy.
Naturally, I have to thank Mr C, without whose support and assistance, I would not have been able to complete the cake, or dish up the starter. I also have to thank all our friends who were at the dinner and, on bahelf of SWMSBO, thank you for her gifts. She appreciates every one of them, as well as you as her/our friends.