I've never been in the habit of asking friends around for dinner - at my tiny little flat, it didn't seem very practical. Now that I have a dining table and a decent-sized living area, I can finally offer a meal to friends like Lauren and Tom, who have had me around for dinner more times than I can count.
Cooking for one has its benefits, but it does give me a tendency to flounder a bit when I'm providing a meal for others. I didn't want to be stressed out making what was supposed to be a casual dinner, so I selected my recipes carefully, and (most unusually) examined them carefully in advance, planning out the best way to get it all done.
The dishes I chose were pork fillet, Chinese style (p129) and Chinese stir-fry vegetables (p159) for a main, and fruit flan (p203) for dessert. I'd gone out and got the necessary ingredients in my lunch break, so I was in the kitchen as soon as I got home, making a start on the flan.
Ordinarily I'd make sweet short pastry myself, but I figured I had enough on my plate, so I just used the bought kind. The recipe is for a single 20cm round flan, but there's also a picture in the book of little mini ones made in patty tins. I decided to make a size somewhere between, lining four medium-sized tart tins with pastry and blind-baking them for about 15 minutes.
While my flan bases were in the oven, I mixed up the marinade for my pork fillets, combining soy sauce, honey, brown sugar, garlic, ginger, spring onion, and red food colouring in a shollow dish. Then I just coated the fillets in this mixture, and placed the dish in the fridge.
The flan bases had come out of the oven looking golden-brown and tasty, so I put these on a wire rack to cool while I made up the custard filling, stirring a combination of milk, egg yolk, sugar and custard powder over a low heat until it thickened.
I wanted to get the flans out of the way, so I sat the saucepan full of custard in the sink, and surrounded it with cold water to cool the custard down more quickly. Meanwhile, I sorted out the glaze. This required a couple of spoonfuls of apricot jam, and a small amount of water, heated together and strained. I decided to use muslin to strain it, thinking this would save the hassle of cleaning a sticky sieve. The muslin, however, presented problems of its own,and I had jam all over the place before I was done. My advice: don't bother straining the glaze. It doesn't make enough difference to be worth the hassle.
By the time I'd cleaned up the apricotty spillage, both custard and bases were cooled and I was able to construct my flans. I filled each tart with custard, then arranged canned peach slices and grapes on top. Finally, I brushed the fruit and the edges of the pastry with my apricot glaze.
The finished flans were looking quite impressively delectable. Hoping that I would have equal success with my main, I turned my attention to the vegetables. I didn't intend to begin stir-frying until the meat was in the oven, but there was a lot to chop up, and I didn't want to be doing it last-minute. Chopping and slicing through the long list of vegetables, I separated the prepared vege into bowls, depending on which stage of the stir-frying they were to be added.
The first bowl had onions, carrots and cauliflower. The second: capsicum, courgette, beans and celery. A third bowl contained cabbage and bean sprouts for adding at the last minute.
The meat had been marinating for a couple of hours, so I drained off the marinade and placed the pork fillets on a tray over a roasting dish, ready to go in the oven. With all my preparations made, I had time to get a few dishes out of the way and tidy up the kitchen.
After a few minutes, I added the next bowl of veges, and attempted to mix it through. The pork was looking better and better each time I took it out to baste, and the meal was almost ready by the time Lauren and Tom arrived. I just had to add the cabbage and sprouts - an addition which filled my pan almost to overflowing, and in taking too long carefully mixing it through the other ingredients, I slightly overcooked the cabbage.
The final addition to my stir-fry was a sprinkling of chicken stock powder and a dash of soy sauce, plus a garnish of chopped spring onions. I filled my serving bowl to the brim, and still had more left in the fry pan.
As I sliced the pork fillets, I realised why it's described as 'Chinese style': it looks exactly like the red-edged pork you get from a Chinese takeaway. In fact, the whole meal looked a bit like I'd picked it up at the local takeaway on the way home! Lauren and Tom were quite disappointed to find out that the mysterious redness of the marinade was created by something as banal as food colouring - they'd anticipated a more exotic ingredient.
The pork may have looked like a cheap takeaway, but it tasted a hundred times better. I couldn't get over how tender the meat was, and the marinade was full of flavour. The veges were pretty much your standard stir-fry, though I noticed the chicken stock (both powder and liquid) had added extra flavour, particularly to the otherwise bland cauliflower.
My pretty little flans were received with appreciative comments, and tasted as good as they looked. The pastry had somehow acquired a slight caramelised flavour, complementing the custard, which in turn contrasted nicely with the tang of the fruit topping. The only difficulty was that they were hard to eat with a cake fork - we ended up eating with our fingers.
I would definitely recommend you try the pork fillet, and though it's nothing spectacular, the stir-fry goes well with it, and is easily made in the 20 minutes it takes to cook the pork (assuming you've chopped your veges in advance). One word of warning: both recipes state that they feed 4-6. I think the pork would feed four comfortably, but not more, while the stir-fry vege recipe could more accurately read 'feeds 6-8'. Certainly the three of us didn't make much of a dent in it!
So that's one very successful dinner made entirely out of the Edmonds book. I wonder what I can make next time?
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