Sunday, 29 April 2012

South American Banquet (*no llamas were hurt in the making of)

Yesterday a few of my friends were wandering about London, going to amazing exhibitions and hanging out.  I couldn't make it because I was hosting a banquet. ("Best excuse I've ever heard for not coming!") Every year, we hold a four course banquet as a fundraiser. This year the theme was South American, and I enlisted Middle B and Miss H as my sous chef and serving wench respectively.  We were also helped out by a friend of Miss H who was the most extraordinary dish washer I've ever seen (and went on to thoroughly clean the hob as well - it's like a work of art now, none of us want to cook in case we get it dirty again.)  So between the four of us, we served up four courses of deliciousness.

As the chef, I get to draft the menu.  This is one of my favourite parts of the whole thing: what will I serve people? what will people like? how is the balance of the flavours working out? what can I actually cook?! I accidentally made most of the dishes vegan and gluten free.  I'm not exactly sure how this happened but it meant I hardly had to modify at all. I took most of the recipes from World Food Cafe cookbook.  It's one of my favourite cookbooks in the whole world: it's vegetarian (so I don't need to modify anything too much), it's varied and it has travel tales and photography in it too.  What more could I want!  When I discovered that there is an actual real life World Food Cafe I was so excited. Carolyn Caldicott was working behind the counter and I told her that I use her recipes for our banquets and she was chuffed.  

We usually have a fair few people, but this year it was pretty small, with only 10 bookings.  On the day, a couple of people cancelled so we had even less.  It still worked out ok, I'm told that all the guests had a lovely time.  And I know that the kitchen hands had a good time - a little bit of music and a lot of laughter, and surprisingly some nice pauses where we got to sit down as a group and eat our food together too.

The food, the food, of course, the food. For the first course we had Potato Cakes with Cucumber Relish. (I used soy milk and soy spread instead of diary and they worked just fine). These were sticky and gooey and a bit of a pfaff to make but they taste lovely...  one of the guests said that as they came out they thought it was just potato with some relish, and then they bit into it and found the filling inside and it was like magic!  It did taste really good, but I think I'll leave this course for special occasions.  The relish was pretty spicy, so it cut through the stodginess of the potato wonderfully. 

For the second course I served up a Crunchy Salad from Costa Rica.  This has a bit of everything in it: crunchy cabbage, bitter watercress, creamy avocado and sour sweet mango, amongst other things.  The lime juice in the dressing gives it a nice little kick.  It's easy to make, and a delight to eat.  If you have any bring and shares/ pot lucks coming up this is a nice one to do because it's light and yet so satisfying on so many levels, and all you need to do is chop things up and throw them together.

The main course was a Black Bean Stew with Mango Salsa and rice.  This is a tried and tested recipe I've made time and time again and never once had a bad word said about it.  The fresh, crunchy salsa cuts through the heaviness of the stew.  Sweet potatoes are one of my favourite things anyway, combined with black beans makes a really heart warming dish.

Last but not least the desserts.  We had a choice of three desserts: there is always a chocolatey one, a vegan option, and a themed one.  So: we had individual portions of Chocolate Mousse Cake which I sprinkled with red and purple edible glitter and raspberries.  We had a fruit salad for the vegans: pineapple, papaya, asian pear, kiwi, persimmon and raspberry, which I garnished with cinnamon and gold glitter.  And the themed dessert was home made Alfajores.  When I spent time in Chile, I ate quite a few of these and I've long wished that I could get hold of them here.  These sweet, slightly crumbly, confections are a cross between a cake and a biscuit and they are usually filled with chocolate, fruit sauce or dulce de leche.  It never occurred to me that I could make my own until I sat next to a lovely girl on a plane once who said that she would email me a recipe.  She never did, but when I was planning the banquet I remembered that conversation and looked up a few recipes online to see if they were crazy difficult.  They're not! Hooray! Luckily for me, Middle B did a lot of the actual sticking them together and rolling them in coconut, so they were mostly intact by the time we had to serve them. All I had to do was sprinkle them with icing sugar and blue glitter and they were ready to go out. They tasted really good! One bit of advice though: make sure the dough is cold from the fridge when you roll it out, it makes everything a lot easier.  Yum.

In conclusion: I love cooking dinner for people, the more the merrier.  I will say though, that I couldn't have done it without help, the kitchen hands were superstars.  If you have any suggestions for future themes or recipes to pass on feel free.

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