An invitation to a dinner party can often be met with trepidation. Whilst it is always lovely to be invited, unlike a restaurant, there is no real way to check ahead for what to expect, unless your host has thrown so many that they merit their own page on Tripadvisor.
A dear friend recently threw a dinner party that featured some old-school Gastrotastic recipes. This is perhaps the number one element of ensuring your dinner party remains a chilled affair and delicious experience for all: tried and tested recipes that you know work. I have witnessed hosts work themselves up to the point of nervous collapse, trying to master a new recipe or follow a recipe book, whilst guests arrive, try to engage them in conversation and finally begin to hover as they can telepathically feel the meltdown going on in the kitchen. If you are doing the cooking by yourself, then prep as much as you can earlier. And if you are catering for more than four, try and get another pair of hands involved. Trust me, it will make all the difference. The other consideration is the table itself. Dress it up! This is the time to bring out the charger plates, the good crystal and the candelabra and make the table and your guests feel special. The simplest dishes immediately look luxe with good cutlery and linen helping them along the way. And your guests will feel all the more special for it: A case of moderate effort for a massive return.
Because of my new Lagos location, there was an element of improvisation and a theme. The theme was Voyages of Discovery, with flavours and inspiration taken from around the world, but fish and seafood being the protein of the day. Improvisation was necessary in terms of ingredients, but this in itself created for exciting new flavour combinations. Coconut Red Lentils, that I have previously made as a vegetarian main course, were accompanied with baked Croaker a fish local to the area and with the pre-starter of sesame coated prawns, another throwback Gastrotastic recipe, green beans replaced sugar snap peas. As with the best dinner parties; the aim was for food that looked great but that wasn’t too fussy or difficult to prepare, allowing everyone, chef in the kitchen included to fully participate in the merriment at the table.
Gastrotastic Recipe: An Extra Course In No Time
On the day of the dinner party I was fortunate to get hold of some squid, about a kilo in total. I wanted to include the squid as a new course, still make it festive, and be quick to make.
Baked Peppers with Seared Squid and Courgette
Difficulty Rating: Super Simple
6 Bell Peppers
1 Kilo of Squid
2 Cloves of Garlic
2 Fresh Green Chilli Peppers
Juice of a Lemon
Salt (to taste)
Black Pepper (to taste)
3 Tablespoons of Flat leaf Parsley
Cut the top of the Large Red Bell Peppers and remove the seeds inside. Coat the cavity and the outside of the bell pepper with Olive oil and a pinch of salt and put in a pre-heated oven at 200degrees Centigrade for approximately 30 minutes. If you are in a real hurry, and have the equipment, you can blow torch the outside of the bell peppers only for a similar result.
About half way through your bell pepper cooking process, assuming one is using an oven, heat a searing pan or a griddle to a high temperature . Sear your courgettes, which you would have sliced for 30 seconds on each side. The key is for them to still have bite and for their centres not to have completely collapsed. Put aside on a plate and dress with a teaspoon of oil and a sprinkle of black pepper.
Next sear the squid. If you have bought whole squid from a fishmonger you can ask for it to be cleaned and the beak, which contains the squid’s ink to be removed. The main body of the squid is then cut horizontally, creating rings and the remaining tentacles are best not cut as in the cooking process they will curl and can make for attractive shapes. When searing the squid, take care not to overcook and turn the flesh into a rubbery confection. As a rule of thumb no more than one minute on each side. If you are using a searing pan, you will get the striped charring marks, which look particularly ‘cheffy’. Put aside in a bowl.
In a separate bowl press your garlic and add pulsed green peppers which can be pounded in a mortar and pestle or in a blender. A two table spoons of Olive oil and the juice of the lemon and pour over the Squid.
By this point, the peppers should almost be ready, and when they are put an individual pepper with its respective lid on a plate. Fill the cavity of the pepper with the squid and courgettes and put the lid on top. Sprinkle fresh leaf parsley and serve. Your guests will think they are getting a roasted bell pepper but when they open the lid they will discover a lovely Mediterranean flavoured piscine surprise.
For pudding I did a riff on Eton Mess, renamed Adesoye Mess, in honour of the hostess’ alma mater, substituting strawberries for apple bananas and incorporating minced ginger and melted chocolate. Sadly there are no snaps of pudding as it was gone too quickly, even for a camera phone! Suffice to say, many cups of speciality tea later, we called it a night, happily full and content, chilled and ready for the next chow down.