Dinner Partying and Your Weekend Menu
Lately I’ve been breaking the cardinal rule for dinner party hosting. That is, any domestic goddess will tell you it is never wise to try a recipe for the first time when you’re having guests over. That if there is ever a time to return to something tried a true, this is it. Well to that I say, to hell with it!
My friends never know what to expect when they come to my experimental kitchen. And I trust they will love me no matter what happens, so long as everyone lives to laugh about it later. It’s not like the Queen’s coming over.
I was recently daydreaming about cauliflower and fresh corn and got that itch to be creative, so I invited a few people over to help me test some very simple recipe ideas and techniques.
- Deep Fried Cauliflower with Aioli Dipping Sauce
- Grilled Corn with Parmesan Cheese
- Slow Roasted Baby Back Ribs
- Simple Green Leafy Salad
- Fresh Cherries & Dark Chocolate
Deep fried cauliflower with aioli dipping sauce
This recipe was inspired by the fried cauliflower at one of my most favourite restaurants, Hawksworth. That dish is like crack for vegetarians. This is a much more pedestrian version, not nearly as addictive as Hawksworth’s, but still good. The plate was quickly empty, so that has to count for something.
- 1 head of cauliflower
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- Sea salt
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 cup hot sauce (I like Frank’s Hot Sauce brand)
- 4 cups vegetable oil
- 2 small gloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup Vegenaise or Hellman’s mayo
- 1 lime
- chopped fresh chives for garnish
Pour oil into pot and heat on stove to about 350 degrees F.
While oil is heating, cut up cauliflower into bite sized florets (remember they’ll grow a little in size when coated and fried). Dump flour and 1 teaspoon salt into large plastic re-sealable freezer bag.
In a bowl, whisk eggs then stir in hot sauce. Coat cauliflower pieces in egg mixture, then transfer to flour. When all the cauliflower is in the bag, seal it and gently shake so all pieces are nicely coated.
Working in batches and using a slotted spoon, fry cauliflower until it’s starting to turn golden, about 4 minutes. Remove to a plate lined with paper towel.
To make the dipping sauce, combine garlic with Vegenaise (an eggless mayonnaise. If you can’t find it use Hellman’s. The eggs just make the sauce a bit heavier). Stir in fresh lime juice and salt to taste.
Arrange cauliflower on a serving platter, scatter chives on top, squeeze fresh lime juice and sprinkle salt over top and serve with dipping sauce. We found we liked this best when it wasn’t too hot, so don’t worry about cooking it in batches. Anyone who likes popcorn shrimp should like this.
Grilled Corn with Parmesan Cheese
I wanted to take simple corn on the cob up a notch. This is dead simple and delicious.
- Half an ear of corn per person
- Salted butter
- Ground Italian parmesan
- Sea salt
- 1 lime
- Chopped basil, for garnish
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Snap each ear of corn in half. Boil corn for 3 minutes.
Meanwhile heat barbeque to medium high heat (I was using a gas grill, but if you’ve got charcoal it’ll be even more flavourful). Grill corn for a few minutes until it is nicely charred on all sides.
Roll hot corn in butter, then parmesan. Squeeze fresh lime juice over top, sprinkle with salt and chopped basil. Serve.
Slow Roasted Baby Back Ribs
Ribs and the best way to cook them is a hotly contested matter. Every recipe has a different method, and supposed experts on the subject abound. But I don’t think it needs to be so complicated. Start with good quality meat and a great sauce. You need to decide how you like your ribs; baby back ribs will more easily become fall off the bone tender. Spareribs on the other hand are better for those who like to chew away at their bones. I’m in the former camp. And I decided the key is to cook them long and slow in the oven.
With ribs, the sauce is key. I have always made my own from scratch, but on this occasion I was rushing down the aisle collecting my ingredients (my own sauce is really just a combination of other sauces; ketchup, soy, molasses, etc), when I stopped in front of the prepared bbq sauces. The selection is huge. And many appear to be from small independent producers specializing in this very thing. So I Googled “best bbq sauce” and chose a brand called Stubbs. People said they were the best ribs they ever had. Thanks Mr. Stubbs!
- 1/2 baby back rack per person
- salt and pepper
- Your favourite bbq sauce
Pre-heat oven to 250 degrees F. Season ribs liberally with salt and pepper and cut into pieces of two or three ribs each. Put ribs in shallow roasting pan and cover with a double layer of aluminum foil. Roast for about 2 hours.
Remove ribs from oven, uncover and drain as much of the fat as possible that’s pooled at the bottom of the pan. This step is critical! (Sauce won’t stick if you don’t do it.) Brush a generous amount of sauce over the ribs. Roast for another hour, uncovered, then turn ribs over and baste with sauce again. Continue to roast for a total of approximately 4 hours basting and turning as you go.
Turn the temperature to broil, and move ribs to an upper rack. Broil until ribs are a bit charred, about 10 minutes.
I may never make my own barbecue sauce again.
Simple Green Leafy Salad
When lettuce is at it’s best nothing beats a very simple, leafy green salad. Don’t even think about using the box kind as this is entirely about the lettuce.
When washing lettuce I use a salad spinner, then I put the ripped up pieces in a salad bowl in the fridge, uncovered for an hour or so. That makes the leaves extra dry, which allows the dressing to stick. Trust me on this one, the extra step is worth it.
- An assortment of lettuces, like bibb, green leaf, arugula and watercress
- Sea Salt
- Good quality olive oil
- 1 Lemon
- 1 t Dijon mustard
Wash and prepare lettuce as per above. To make the dressing, squeeze half a lemon into a small bowl and slowly whisk in dijon mustard and about 1/4 cup of olive oil. Stir in salt and adjust amounts to taste. Toss well with lettuce leaves.
If this salad is just too simple for you, add one ingredient, like thinly sliced fennel for a little extra oomph. But the whole idea is to keep it light and simple.
Fresh Cherries & Dark Chocolate
This one isn’t a recipe at all. I rarely make desserts, unless I really have a lot of time on my hands. Or the Queen is coming to dinner. By the end of a meal I think people just want a bite of something sweet and a great deal of effort gets wasted on something complicated and time consuming.
At this time of year, cherries are at their best. I serve them over a big bowl of ice alongside good quality squares of dark chocolate.
There were no major disasters for this meal, thankfully. And that’s partly due to one rule of dinner partying I do swear by: To accept help where help is offered. If I’ve learned anything it’s that most people like to get involved. Being interactive with guests is way more fun for all than when everyone just stands around watching you sweat, regardless of the results. So do as much prep as you can in advance (that’s what’s known as “mise en place”; the measuring, chopping and organizing of ingredients an experienced cook does before the actual cooking), then get anyone who wants to to roll up their sleeves to do so.
Each of the above “recipes” was tested by my 18, yes 18, dinner guests (not sure how I get myself into these things). All amounts are approximate!