Tis time for a party…

The Patterned Plate Party Table

Good friends are the seasoning of life. They make my day, even in just the small things. Pals in Doha are routine victims of my pathological forgetfulness; they laugh at me and I join in. My best friend in Abu Dhabi gets bizarre photo messages, demanding her honest opinion of me in some florid outfit in a badly lit changing room – and honest it is. Another in Scotland, is besieged daily on Facebook, hounded on Skype and it’s at its worst when I am menu planning. And they still stick around. As deeply gratifying as modern modes of instant communication are for near-on cyber stalking, nothing beats a good ol’ fashioned get together, a shin dig, a party. I love to cook, yes, but, I love to cook for them even more. Plus, these are pals that roll up their pretty party sleeves and get stuck in stuffing peppers and topping bruschetta!

Since it’s well past forty degrees on any given day at the moment, I wanted the food to be light and decided to make it more vegetable based. The expat profile of Doha means people of several different nationalities come together and I wanted food that would have universal appeal. The Italian antipasti concept fits like a glove at such a gathering. Here are some photos I managed to get, even if I felt stupid lugging a tripod around the table, with a houseful of guests. Where applicable, I’ve put in links to recipes I’ve used.

Yotam Ottelenghi’s Caramelised Garlic Tart is an award winning worthy recipe. It’s unique, with such a sublime combination of flavour layers that it appeals to even hardcore meat eaters. This tart was the first dish wiped off the table, with only puff pastry confetti lying along the board’s edges. Now, there are two recipes circulating online. One is from his Guardian column, where he uses squash and one type of goat’s cheese. The second, is the recipe I used, published in the wonderful book Plenty. Here he specifies mature and creamy goat’s cheese and more garlic. I find people can be quite iffy about goat’s cheese so when I bake it for friends, I use milder, softer, creamy goat’s cheese only and just under the full amount the original recipe calls for. I also, tend to add more garlic, simply cos the ones I get here don’t pack as much punch per clove as you’d expect. Understand though, that the initial poaching in water and subsequent simmering in a herb-infused, sweet-sour syrup ensures that the garlic mellows, gets sweeter and it’s earthy flavours are released without any acrid bite. It reheats beautifully. This, is a sophisticated tart.

The Patterned Plate 01

Bruschetta is never going to be anything but a winner on the table. A day old french baguette does the job perfectly. I grilled them on the morning of the party – brushed with first rate olive oil, grilled till scorched here and there, and rubbed with a cut clove of garlic, it stayed beautifully crisp and fresh tasting in a ziplock bag. I decided to go with the evergreen classic of tomato and basil. You cannot get decent tomatoes here in Doha unless you’re willing to spend the equivalent of price of steak. Instead, I used mixed cherry tomatoes, as much variety as I could find, dressed them with extra virgin olive oil, heaps of basil and parsley, a pitch perfect glug of balsamic vinegar, sea salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Let that steep for a bit and top up the toasts before serving. Of course, mozzarella, the good stuff, wouldn’t go amiss either.

The Patterned Plate 03

Pedro and Sonia brought in these two incredibly delicious contributions to my table – Salted Cod Fritters (Pastéis de Bacalhau) and a dried, cured pork called Salpicon. It’s a good thing Pedro brought in such a large , fat chunk of this sausage as all the blokes went mad for this delicacy, and with good reason. It’s tangy somehow, moist, full of porky, garlicky, spiced flavour and look at that luscious pink colour!  Sonia made these light, herby, salted fish fritters which can be eaten hot or cold and oh, I could have had the entire bowl to myself! Salted fish is either a love or hate it thing, and the Indian versions are unapologetically and unappealingly full-on, in smell and taste. This was a much more subtle offering, and Sonia’s balance of fishiness and salt was spot on. What was heartwarming though, is the gentle yet passionate way in which Pedro and Sonia talk about their native food, how it’s made, where it comes from, how families and friends sit around a large table heaving with food, the time they take to consider which bottle of wine to pair with the plate, the longing they have for the smells and sights of home, and how much they look forward to the summer holidays spent in Portugal. It made me want to jump on the plane with them! Since I can’t, I asked them to hoike back some of that Salpicon for me!

The gleaming red plateful behind the fritters are a Jamie Oliver offering (scroll to the second post on the forum to get the recipe I used), from The Return of the Naked Chef and this one shall be on repeat. Mini bell peppers (though he uses chillies) are stuffed with a mix of parsley, rocket (arugulla), anchovies, capers and dressed with balsamic vinegar. Dress this as you think fit, as I found the specified amount of balsamic vinegar excessive. Folk kept pointing it out to me going, ” Mm, Carrie, that, that there, is so good!” There are different variations of this all over the net. Some of them can be made in advance – cooked, stuffed and bottled covered in olive oil. You can find an adapted version here.

The Patterned Plate 02

You’ll be fed up with me rattling on about another Ottelenghi recipe! Marinaded aubergines. Cut fat aubergines into wedges, roast in the oven, souse in a herby, chilly, lemon, olive oil dressing. Done. I also had sticky pork ribs, made with my mother-in-laws marinade. I didn’t end up getting a photo, the plate was pretty much emptied as soon as it hit the table, but a feature post is coming soon. Various bowls were filled with smoked trout dip, tapenade and olives. There were french breads, bloomers, more bruschetta and Socca. Know that Socca, that Italian chickpea flour based bread, goes wonderfully with the tomato bruschetta topping and is a fantastic gluten free alternative, whether you have to cater for it or not.

Dessert was Lorraine Pascal’s Mini Tiramisu Cakes and Flourless Chocolate, Hazelnut Pear Cake. I’ve been making this cake for years. I would suggest increasing the recipe by another half or even double it, or it will come out quite thin as it relies only on whipped egg whites as a raising agent. However, it is a wonderful gluten free cake, light, deeply chocolatey and can be made well in advance. Also, conveniently, tinned pears work perfectly. Of the two, the chocolate cake was definitely the one people went back to for seconds.

And there you have it! I had grand plans of walking around, taking pictures of people with piled on platefuls, but, there are times when you need to set the camera aside and just enjoy the moment. So we ate, we drank, we guffawed and ate some more. To my wonderful pals, thanks for a great night! x

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41 comments

  1. This all looks divine Carrie! Would’ve loved to be a fly on the wall….or preferably on the table. I finally got my hands on ‘Plenty’ and waiting for a chance to explore the recipes.

  2. Ah, yes! I think time for you to open a fine dining restaurant. BTW the top picture would be a fine FB cover page :)

  3. Luchair

    This spread looks superb.. I will def try the JO stuffed chilli recipe it sounds good and looks great on the table. I love salt cod fritters – well Portuguese food generally. Have made the garlic tart from Plenty and it is indeed a find. I am looking forward to the promised feature post on sticky ribs.

    • It shall be coming soon Luchair, the ribs that is. I had salt cod fritters before but sometimes they have been overwhelmingly fishy. This was just perfect. Sonia, has a 6 month old as well as a 6 year old, so I know how time is not on your side in such cases, so the fact she went through the effort of making them was really touching.

      JO’s recipe is a cracker for sure. It’s a perfect pick-eat-drink sort of food.

      • Rushi!

        Carrie, I tried salt cod fritters recently which was also made by a Portuguese friend. When he said it was salted cod, I expected a very fishy dish but was pleasantly surprised. Well I’ve only tried typical Asian salted fish which is well pretty salty.

        • Oh that’s lovely :) My mum used to make dried fish curry and the flat stunk for days, it was disgusting!!! My sister and mother love it, re-heating it the next day when it’s fishiest flavour was at an all time, stomach churning high. I will never get over it!!

  4. Rushi!

    What a gorgeous spread, fit for a king I should say :) Your pics are straight out of a glossy cookbook. Your posts never fail to impress and I’m so glad that you share these happy moments via your blog :)
    Big hugs

  5. sumitha MENON

    great pics. beautifully written!

  6. Love it, and beautiful photos! That garlic tart really is gorgeous isn’t it? It’s not always easy to find a dish that is both vegetarian and festive, but this ticks all the boxes.

    • Oh definitely Joost. I am just so glad I know this recipe as it’s a great party food choice for vegetarians themselves, rather than the usual veg lasagne! And it looks so pretty ;-)

  7. Oh my, what a gorgeous spread!! As always, of course ;-) I love reading about your dinner parties and the amazing food you serve to your guests. I have never attempted a large spread of food like yours but you keep inspiring me! I really ought to try Ottolenghi’s caramelised garlic tart soon – it sounds so delicious.

    • You haven’t Thanh?? Shocking ;-) You won’t regret it and it’s incredibly adaptable. As for the food spread, I have to say that having the girls (guests), get stuck in helping was a huge, HUGE bonus. Or I’d have been in the kitchen for ages. Everything was done, but up to a point. I didn’t want to top the bruschetta before cos the bread would get soggy and for the peppers, the herbs would go stale in so much vinegar. So, I think the key is to let your guests help you, they are usually more than happy to get involved :)

  8. Ohh all of it looks so delicious :)

  9. Ali

    It was indeed as delicious as the photo’s and Carries descriptions would have you believe. After naming the caramelised garlic tart as my pick of the night I then went on to rave about every dish on the table. We know how truly fortunate we are to be able to share in the amazing offerings from this talented lady’s kitchen.

  10. Katy

    We were truly spoilt. The garlic tart was my favourite too and Iain has been raving about the stuffed peppers (honestly!) so I will need to look up the recipe. Loved the Chocolate and Pear cake – I will be attempting it too. You really are an inspiration x

  11. All of this look amazing!!!!

  12. Unfortunately, I have read this right before lunch. Now, my meager attempts at food for my next meal are going to pale in comparison. Everything looks divine and now I will go eat my measly sandwich and dream. DAF

  13. Beautiful post on what looks like a divine party. I have been making my list for an upcoming event – I think I just got some ideas!

  14. I wish I was at this lovely party!

  15. Delicious, what a party menu!

  16. How does one wangle an invite to the next party?

  17. Stunning spread. Your guests are so lucky. I live in Bahrain and this inspires me to have such dinner parties with my friends rather than doing takeaway! :-)

  18. Carrie you are the hostess with the mostess! What a divine spread.I love the little toothpick flags. And the candle holders are so pretty. I’m hungry now!! Those marinaded aubergines look really, really good. I have read so many great things about Ottolenghi’s books, I shall pick one up real soon :) Stunning display again!

  19. The pictures are so colorful and all the dishes looks yummy….. Wonderful post…..Lovely and unique blog !
    Do check me out at http://foodpeopleloveandstuff.wordpress.com/

  20. Pingback: When It Rains, It Pours | Masala Art

  21. Amazing spread Carrie!
    And beautiful shots. Really beautiful.

  22. Hey I looked up the recipe for the marinated aubergines and found one on Delicious Days and made it, with some tweaks of course. They were still great, though!

    • Yup thats where i got it…love that recipe. Courgettes could be given the sAme treatment, though I’d grill rather than roast them to give some more flavour. What were your tweaks then?

  23. Beautiful food! Do you usually use white paper and a pen for labels? I’m going to start labeling my food at gatherings and not sure if I should take that more basic approach or perhaps use some thick off-white paper stock. I don’t want my food to look “sophisticated” necessarily, though– just well-presented and delicious!

    • Thank you Daniel. I do tend to write, just to give an idea of things. Plus there were vegetarians and a gluten-intollerant guest, so I kind of feel it’s necessary to label them (I put V for vegetarian and GF for gluten free, if needed). Another thing is that I don’t want to have to repeat what everything is again and again!

      For this it I hand wrote on slightly thick paper (120gms as opposed to 80gsm printing paper) and skewered it onto toothpicks (or sometimes those knotted wee bamboo skewers…so pretty!), which I placed directly on the food. Other times I fold the paper in half to sit like a triangle. If you wanted to get a really clean cut look then print it out and cut. But, with everything else that needed to get done, I took the easy route!

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