Invited the girls for dinner over the weekend. And my parents were out holidaying in Penang, so it really was the perfect time to get together. Four chicks, an empty house, tonnes of food, the lovely sounds of jazz and some good gossip. What better way to spend a Saturday night?
Even IF it took three hours to wash up after that.
I would put up pictures of the piles and piles of dishes that I had to scrub, rinse and dry but I think such visual roadkill would put anyone off ever throwing a dinner party ever again. Or at least, convince them to use plastic disposable plates at their next gathering, which would be a huge no-no. Don’t want to be burning holes in the ozone now, do we? And anyway, how tacky are plastic plates?
So there I was at my sink, elbow deep in soapy gunk-water, wondering if slaves had it this hard.
But there was a reason for the mountains of china in my kitchen and dining room. Here’s the menu for the night:
Cream of mushroom
Cranberry almond and spinach salad
Honey mustard chicken
Spaghetti with cream and shitake
Pan-fried asparagus with garlic and chilli flakes
Creamy mashed potatoes
Molten chocolate cake with raspberry coulis
Explains the three hours no?
Other than for a rather disappointing dessert (I should have tried out the recipe before deciding on it instead of relying on the reviews that accompanied it online), it was a good meal. The flavors were quite well-balanced and most importantly, I didn’t cook too much, which meant everybody could eat a little of everything without feeling the overwhelming urge to turn bulimic. I always have a habit of cooking as if I’m feeding a refugee camp, so it was with a lot of discipline that I managed to control my portions this time.
The only dish I made more of (and only because I wanted to have leftovers to stuff my face with the next day) was the salad. You know how sometimes, a dish is so beautifully presented that you just can’t wait to taste it? And when you do, you end up disappointed because you realize it’s all just surface gorgeousness? Well, this salad MORE than lives up to its beauty. With its golden brown almonds, juicy red cranberries and white sesame seeds resting on a bed of dark green spinach leaves, this is one salad that is as lovely to eat as it is to see. And it’s the perfect starter to a fancy dinner because it doubles up as table deco as well.
And just in case you think I’m being melodramatic, I’d have you know I hate salads. I believe raw greens are best left to rabbits, hamsters and other such rodents. Give me stir-fried, steamed or curried vegetables any day. But the great thing I discovered about raw spinach is that it doesn’t have any taste! No yucky vegetal-ness lingering on your tongue after eating this salad. And because they are virtually tasteless, the leaves take gorgeously to the sweet-tangy flavors of the dressing.
Cranberry almond and spinach salad
(recipe modified from original at www.allrecipes.com)1/2 tablespoon butter
1/3 cup almonds, blanched and slivered
1 packet Chinese spinach, rinsed well and torn into bite-size pieces
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
1/4 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/8 cup distilled white vinegar
1/8 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Toast almonds in melted butter until golden brown. Set aside to cool
Place toasted sesame seeds, sugar, onion powder, paprika, vinegars and oil into a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Screw on the lid and shake well, until sugar is dissolved*
Arrange spinach leaves on serving plate. Sprinkle almonds and cranberries on top. Drizzle dressing over salad and serve. Serves 5.*I made and stored the toasted almonds and dressing in the fridge a day before the actual dinner so that I wouldn’t be running around the kitchen like a hyperactive ostrich on the day itself. So when the girls arrived, we could concern ourselves with more important matters like how much chardonnay we could add to the punch before it no longer could be termed such, and my salad prep consisted only of sprinkling nuts, fruits and dressing onto arranged spinach leaves. Now, pass me that punch.