I'm getting a little addicted to throwing dinner parties. It's fun to challenge myself to make lots of different dishes, set to a deadline, and as I'm a show off at heart, I can't really get enough of the praise when my meal is well received. Plus, there's always lots of eating and drinking involved, and you may have noticed that I'm a fan of both.
My latest venture was an Indian themed dinner for our friends, and I went all out. I may have mentioned before that it's usually suggested to make a tried-and-tested dish when you have friends round for dinner, and I completely see the logic - there's far less chance of getting it wrong when you know a recipe like the back of your hand. But for those of us who like trying out new recipes, where's the fun in that? There's none. None at all.
Also, part of the reason for throwing this dinner party was because I had real, proper menus printed by Stress Free Print. I had to go all out, or it wouldn't live up to the MENUS. I didn't want to be judged by the menus, you understand. And that's how I ended up making eight different dishes for four people. Don't do things by halves, me.
Behind the cut is my review of the dishes I cooked, which I picked up from all over the place. Not everything went to plan, but it was all tasty and well received, so if you're planning on making any of the dishes, hopefully I've given you a few tips to manage it all a little better. I still considered the night a success - learning is all part of the process!
StartersI wanted to make some traditional Indian canapes, so I scoured the internet and my cookbooks for inspiration and found recipes for grilled paneer, beef samosas and onion bhajis.
I used this recipe for grilled paneer - it was pretty easy to follow, but the sauce was very thick and gloopy, and I felt that the paneer could have been cooked for longer - it was a little chewy and bland, and it went cold really quickly. I'm not sure I'd make it again, but I would like to try more paneer based recipes in future.
The beef samosa recipe was the first of two Jamie Oliver recipes I used. I cheerfully prepared the filling before Matt pointed out that using beef wasn't the most authentically Indian thing to do. GOOD ONE, JAMIE. But actually, these were really tasty. I got the recipe out of his latest book, Everyday Super Food - the samosas contain sweet potatoes, rice and beef so it's super filling, and they were pretty easy to assemble. However, I found that they weren't very crispy - I do wonder if a good samosa has to be deep fried?
Finally, the onion bhajis. I used this recipe and they were a huge success. I've never deep fried anything before due to my crazy, irrational fear of cooking with scalding hot oil (look, I saw season one of Spooks, okay?) but actually, it was kind of fun. I thought the bhajis would fall apart when I put them in the oil - they were little more than scoops of onion coated in a light batter - but they magically browned and formed bhajis almost instantly. They were really easy, and by far the most successful of the starters. We cooked them in oil on the Friday night, and then reheated in the oven for ten minutes when our friends got to us, and they worked perfectly.
We started out with another Jamie Oliver recipe, this time for lamb Rogan Josh. This was a good choice, as it needs to cook in the oven for two hours so we could prepare it ahead of time and then forget about it until the last minute. I cooked it in my big cast iron casserole dish too, which keeps food hot for hours. We cut out some of the chilli as both Matt and I are spice-wusses (and we'd be eating the leftovers, after all!) but popped a bowl of chillis on the table that people could add if they wanted. The only amend to the recipe I made was thickening the sauce after it came out of the oven - it was very watery. I added a cornflour slurry and simmered it on a high heat for about fifteen minutes, and then it was perfect. The leftovers were great too - this freezes really well.
Taking even longer to cook, though, was the chicken Tikka Masala, which was a slow cooker recipe - definitely a good bet if you have a lot of dishes to prepare as you can make it ahead of time (I actually prepared it the night before and then in the morning took the chicken out of the fridge, threw it in and turned it on) and don't need to worry about it for the next eight hours. I followed this recipe pretty much to the letter and it was... okay. I don't think it needed as much tomato puree (I'm still suspicious as to whether tomato puree is the same thing as the Americans' tomato paste) and it was a little bitter. I actually added about three tablespoons of brown sugar and about double the quantity of cream specified, which improved it greatly. But not a recipe that I'd do again - I think it could be so much better!
The lentil dhal WAS a recipe I'd made before, from my beloved Anna Jones book, A Modern Way To Eat. This is easy, full of flavour and low fat. I ate the leftovers for lunch the next day with a pitta - so tasty. I would heartily encourage you to buy her book, because it's my favourite cookbook ever, but if you want a taster, you can find the dhal recipe here.
One of the side dishes was also from her book - lemon chard aloo. I used spinach instead of chard, but this is a great recipe for sag aloo without all the oil traditionally associated with it. Here's the recipe (but buy the book!).
I also boiled some rice and heated up some naan bread - shopbought, I'm not THAT ambitious!
Ah, I had grand plans for dessert. I wanted to recreate the amazing caramelised peaches that I did for Matt's birthday last year, but turn them into a pavlova with a cardamom meringue. All the components worked perfectly. The peaches bubbled away cheerfully while I prepped the last minute dishes (the butter and the peach juices mean they're unlikely to burn), the meringue was a good bake and surprisingly tasty with the cardamom, and the cream... well, it's pretty hard to mess up cream.
However, you can't put hot fruit on a pavlova. The cream turns to liquid, the meringue buckles and it creates a big tasty mess. See?
The key word there is tasty, though. SO tasty. The cardamom worked so well with the peaches! So I would make this again, but next time I'd serve it in bowls with hot peaches on the bottom, a small meringue on top and a scoop of cream on the side. Then it would be perfect.
It was a great night, and we've definitely secured a dinner invite for ourselves with our friends for the future - hooray, free dinner! And the menus looked fantastic - great quality print, the team were quick and easy to deal with and their prices are reasonable too*. They even did the design for me - I'll definitely be hitting them up for any future printing requirements.
Disclaimer: StressFreePrint sent me the menus for free and gave me some supermarket vouchers for my dinner party menu. All opinions are my own.