Catering for an 18th Birthday Party. Beginner’s Guide

Back in the day, many of us celebrated our 21st birthday with a big Shebang Hooly Dooly party with birthday cards and cakes embellished with keys ( key to the door symbolising adult independence) pewter tankards (you can ‘officially’ drink now. Oh really?) and other emblematic gifts denoting our newly acquired status as adults. Does this still go on?

Mr Contract Lawyer Tranquillo used to ask this of his 20 something year old students. Who had a 21st birthday party? What did it mean to you and why? He was often met with blank stares. In Australia, 18 year olds can vote, go to war, drive a car, drink, sign contracts, own credit cards, buy houses, marry, and do all the other things expected of an adult. The fact that many ‘adults’ still live at home and behave like children is beside the point. Some will continue at home well into their 30s and, if Australia copies Italian trends, become Mammoni ( mummy’s boys). I note here that there doesn’t seem to be a language equivalent for women.

mini quiche
mini quiche

My  son-in-law, Kyle, who sometimes calls himself ‘that tool in the toolbox’, was inclined to agree with this view, especially after the home catered 18th birthday party held on Saturday for Mischa Belle. There will be no 21st party as far as he is concerned.  And really, why should there be? The event was costly, even with home cooked food and Aldi alcohol. The decor took days to set up. The hire of the security and DJ/photographer cost $800 alone. It was a fun and happy event but not one that should be repeated in a mere three years time. We will see!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACatering for an 18th birthday is full of surprises. This is what I found out:

  • young people do RSVP, especially now that security doormen are employed to check the party list. Great, you will have a fair indication of the numbers and so can cater sensibly.
  • young people come, but they don’t necessarily stay. They arrive in a big tsunami, and then leave a few hours later.
  • young people don’t eat much at parties.
  • if they do eat at all, they prefer simple, recognisable, easy to handle, fodder food. Nothing flash or foody!
  • those who get to stay, the inner circle, drink a lot. Those who drove to the party can’t have a single drink. That may explain the early exodus of some guests. Many walk or come by public transport. They are adults so drop the concern.
  • it’s good to have a few older folk around, at least they eat all the food you have prepared. They also like to drink wine, not shooters. Well, most do…..pass me a Cowboy!
  • a DJ, although expensive, is a good idea even if you hate doof-doof.
  • tell all the neighbours about the party well in advance.
  • having a few cooks on the job, other than the hosts, is a great idea. If cooking, wear sensible shoes. No one will notice your runners, I promise.
  • have a few spare mattresses for the over- nighters and some buckets. I’ll spare you the graphic details.
  • and, remember, they are really kids, despite their new legal status. Be nice and a little vigilant but have fun too.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The catering went well, although our family has a tendency to over cater. This time, not much food was wasted.

  • pizze were made ahead and frozen. Pizze were baked on rectangular trays and cut into squares, producing 16- 20 per batch, depending on tray size. Making the dough in a bread machine makes things easy. As a new dough is mixing and rising – taking 90 minutes- the previous dough is rolled out, anointed with chosen toppings, cooked, cooled, sliced, wrapped then frozen. Repeat this all day until you fall over and yell “Hold, enough” and reach for the wine.
  • Make sure that all the toppings are cut, sliced and ready to go. Also make sure that there is an equal mixture of meat and vegetarian and a dairy free version such as a Pissaladiere. Eight trays will produce a goodly amount. On the night, bring them from the freezer and gauge demand. Leftovers make a great after party pick me up.
  • Mini Quiche. These were really popular with the hungry older adults. Use commercial short crust pastry sheets. These make the job much easier. One packet of five sheets will yield 60 pies, less the ones you eat along the way! Use left over caramelised onion from the pissaladiere, tasty cheese, chives, herbs, hot smoked salmon, pesto, whatever is on hand.  Save the scraps of pastry for a post party jam crostata.
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  • Sandwiches cut into points. Everyday fillings were popular, such as, shredded chicken ( store-bought roasted chicken) with mayo and chives, ham and cheese, hard boiled egg, herbs and mayo. These need to be made on the day and boxed in airtight containers. Search out a bakery that will cut a block loaf of white bread into sandwich slices. Have you noticed the size of the supposed sandwich slices from Coles bakery bread? They are just too fat for dainty point sandwiches. This was a major disappointment, and as the sandwich maker and general caterer, really annoyed me. Never again! At least bakeries can adjust their slicing machines. There were 17 slices to the Coles packet, often with one wasted as it was partly crusted. My chooks enjoyed the waste.  So 16 slices of bread alla Coles =32 points x 4 packets of sliced bread= 128 points. Most of these were eaten, and those with mayo were better, given the nature of that bread.

    Lots of sandwiches to go
    Lots of sandwiches to go
  •  Sausage Rolls are always a winner and, predictably, they all disappeared. They were made using a traditional recipe and did not include carrots or any other vegetable matter except onion. Commercial puff pastry – 9 sheets to a packet and one kilogram of sausage mince – produced 148 mini sausage rolls with one sheet of puff pastry left over.  My daughter- in- law hoovered a few before the party!
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  • About that Costco purchased pre-made stuff. One packet of tiny pre-made blini at around $6.00 were disappointing and inedible, despite their lovely mascapone and smoked salmon topping. The pre-made frozen arancini were not good either. So it’s back to ‘made from scratch’ for this old party animal!
Rach does the blini. Where's the dill?
Rachael does the blini. Where’s the dill?

There were lots of other treats. Some beautiful stuffed mushrooms, met with disdain by the young adults, but welcomed by the older ones. Lots of helpers with cooking- thanks Sunshine, and bar people extraordinaire- Rachel B and Co. Lots of cleaners and sweet makers and dancing queens.

Happy Birthday Mischa Belle! Ma chère petite fille and to you too Rachael, daughter and best friend.

  • mischa party
    The birthday girl and her oldest friend.

Dreaming of the Prom

The Prom, that’s what the locals call Wilson’s Promontory. Located on the South East tip of Victoria, the southern most point of Australia’s mainland, Wilson’s Prom is a place of exceptional beauty. Many visit for the wonderful walks outdoors in the national park or for annual camping holidays with family and friends.

Tidal River
Tidal River

Others travel to Wilson’s Prom in times of quiet reflection and dreaming. Its beauty pervades our being. It is beyond words.

Dusky Coral Correa
Correa Dusky Bells
The track to Oberon Bay
The track to Oberon Bay
Pacific Gull at Oberon
Pacific Gull at Oberon
Tidal River
Tidal River Beach
Rock Dreaming
Rock Dreaming

For Ian and Rosalie- lovers of the Prom.

Ephemeral Rolls

I am surrounded by beautiful ephemera: a spent fine feather of a King Parrot recently found, the golden leaves of the Gleditsia begin to fall, this morning’s Autumn haze slowly lifts. Yet in my kitchen stands the ultimate ephemeral icon: the sausage roll.

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How long will 150 mini sausage rolls last at a teenage party tonight? Pass the sauce!

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<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_photo_challenge/ephemeral/”>Ephemeral</a&gt;

Chinese Fish Fry. Everyone’s Friday Favourite.

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Have I mentioned before how much I love fish? These days, the onus is still on the purchaser and consumer of fish, both for home cooking or when ordering fish in restaurants, to ask a lot of questions. As fish lovers, we need to protect our endangered species and to eat more fish that are considered sustainable. Ms Sandra, aka the best cook in Melbourne, of Please Pass the Recipe, informed me of the sustainable seafood guide phone app- a handy thing to have on your phone when shopping for fish. http://www.sustainableseafood.org.au/pages/download-the-free-app.html. I also like this site, Good Fish, Bad Fish http://goodfishbadfish.com.au/ which is a very user-friendly site for home research within Australia.

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I love mussels and squid and fortunately, both these seafoods are highly sustainable, but not everyone fancies these two species, especially the little visitors and some of the grown ups too!  When it comes to a sustainable, sweet tasting fish, that everyone in the family adores, I can’t go past flathead. If prepared as part of a Chinese banquet, a little goes a long way.

Kids love this uncomplicated dish.
Kids love this uncomplicated dish.

For this recipe, choose a fish in your area that is boneless when filleted and not too strong in taste and of course, sustainable.  If buying fish whole, a better choice really, have the fishmonger fillet it, then ask for the head and carcass to make some excellent fish stock to freeze, then you have the basis for some wonderful fish risotto or seafood paella or seafood soup. A fish can go a long way.

This recipe comes from China the Beautiful Cookbook, 1986. I have only ever made this single recipe from the book. The recipe has done the rounds of my extended family and I hope it suits yours too. It uses commonly found pantry ingredients so, once you have the fish, you’re up and running.

Zhua Chao Yu – Grasping and Frying.  A fried fish dish from Beijing. ( Quantity for two if served with another dish, such as stir fried bok choi)

  • 315g white fresh fish fillets
  • 1 cup cornflour
  • oil, preferably peanut oil for frying.

Sauce

  • 2 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 2 slices ginger, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon brown vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Shaoxing rice wine
  • pinch salt/pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
  • extra spring onion for garnish.

NOTE- I often double the sauce ingredients for a richer, thicker coating.  The first two ingredients will be stir fired. Pre- mix the rest in a large cup to speed up the last stage of cooking.

Method

  1. Cut the fish into long thin strips. Mix the cornflour with enough cold water to make a paste. ( you could use tapioca flour or rice flour for the coating)
  2. Heat the oil in a wok to smoking point the reduce the heat. Dip the fish slices into the cornflour paste and deep fry 8 pieces at a time for around 2 minutes until golden and crisp  and cooked through.  Lift out and drain  on paper towel and keep warm while making sauce.
First stage of the dish- fry the fish in a light paste of cornstarch and water.
First stage of the dish- fry the fish in a light paste of cornstarch and water.

Making the Sauce.

Very finely chop the spring onion and ginger. Heat the wok and add a little of the used oil, then stir fry the onion- ginger mixture for about 45 seconds then add the rest of the pre-mixed sauce ingredients and heat through. when the sauce begins to thicken, slide in the fried fish and stir fry, turning the fish carefully until coated with all the sauce.

second stage of cooking
second stage of cooking

Serve at once, add more spring onion, as part of a banquet or with rice.

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For Rachael and Louise, who used to make this often.

Celia’s Pancakes for a Miserable Day.

This summer was so cool that most of the tomatoes died off last week and the eggplants won’t have time to mature. Now Autumn feels like winter. Here we are midst the best month of the year and today the temperature plummeted to 12 c. What happened to my Keatsian season of mellow fruitfulness, close bosom friend of the maturing sun? Time to light a lovely wood fire and renew my acquaintance with baking, butter and wonderful winter treats.

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Like many others around the world who received a gift of sourdough starter from Celia, of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, I have religiously fed mine, (who is also named Celia ) since last July and have often been forced to throw out the excess, especially during summer when bread making wasn’t on the agenda.

Today’s cold produced a spate of frenzy in the kitchen, with soup stock on the boil and a batch of sourdough pancakes for afternoon tea, using Celia’s recipe which can be found here.

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After cooking, I simply piled them on a plate, dotted them randomly with dabs of butter and drizzled them with cherry jam. I made about 25 and there are only 2 left. Who needs dinner?

Daisy loves food, any food that is home made!
Daisy loves food, any food that is home made!

If you have an excess of sourdough starter, I highly recommend Celia’s recipe. Don’t waste that sourdough starter: pancakes (or pikelets ) never tasted so good.

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The Costco Virgins

When my daughter/best friend/shopper extraordinaire decided to make her maiden voyage to Costco in Ringwood, I volunteered to go with her.  She was about to cater for a large party on the weekend, so a foray seemed like a wise tactic. I  donned my sensible walking shoes in readiness for the mission. I added one smallish basket to the car boot, and Rachael packed a few cold freezer bags.  Nothing could have prepared us for the shopping overload that was about to occur.

Domaine Chandon, $22.00
Domaine Chandon, $22.00. Lovely bubbly from the Yarra Valley.
Crab Claw meat, $9.95
Crab Claw meat, $9.95 a tub. Mini Crab quiches?
Adelaide Hills Brie. $11.95
Adelaide Hills Brie. $11.95
Lots of blinis- just add smoked salmon, mascapone, dill.
Lots of blinis- just add smoked salmon, mascapone, dill.
Perffect for making our own slab of gravlas. tasmanian salmon fillet.
Perfect for making our own slab of gravlax. Tasmanian salmon fillet.

My son, her brother, sent plenty of amusing texts along the way about buying toilet rolls in bulk, prompting plenty of jokes about gastro and pausing for the obligatory photo shoot in front of the 48 roll packets ($20.00). Apparently everyone succumbs to these.

Rachael and the gastro pack!
Rachael and the gastro pack!

There were some wonderful bargains to tempt us and plenty of deviation from the list. What list? Rachael forgot to bring her spreadsheet which covered all the elements of the party, so $400 later, and she still hadn’t acquired all the party ingredients yet managed to fill the car boot just the same. That’s the problem with Costco.

Large 500gr tubs of mascapone at a bargain price.
Large 500 gr tubs of mascapone at around $6.00 Perfect for a big Tiramisu.

We spent four hours in the place, and only left because our trolley was full, our legs and backs were aching and we were dehydrated and slightly deranged. A desperate phone call was made to Rachael’s in-laws to organise a kindergarten and school pick-up as Costco had hijacked our day.

I'm trapped in Costco, please pick up my children.
I’m trapped in Costco, can you please pick up my children?

Rachael is a funny girl. She found a handy party pack of plastic wine glasses for $12.69 which contained 99 pieces. ” Why 99 pieces? Just to f.. with your head?  And what’s with the random price?” Other jokes were made about buying sanitary products in lots of 200, but we won’t go there. Only these outrageous little distractions kept us sane in this shrine to American commerce. That, and singing the old song Moscow, with Costco thrown into the chorus lines. Next time we might wear our Eurovision costumes and carry a large water bottle to stay level headed.

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The amusing women on the exit gate commented on the length of our stay and I promised never to come back ever again. They laughed loudly, knowing that I probably would.

Blue Mussels, 2 kilos for $9.95
Blue local Mussels, 2 kilo for $9.95

The Fine Print. Rachael paid a $60 annual membership fee to shop here. There were some bargains in the deli section but these reduced prices are offset by the ‘unauthorised’ purchases that most people will make. Most of the pre-packaged bulk food items would probably taste ‘industrial’, and these turn up on many a cheap cafe menu, I suspect. Although it was a fun day out, it is a bit like Ikea, overwhelming and just too big.

Revisit the Moscow tune here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hDnLIYd0hZY



It’s all Greek to Me. Briami Me Fetta

In Autumn, hearty Greek dishes form a harmonious bridge spanning summer and winter. Many vegetables are at their peak, particularly eggplant and peppers (capsicums) and summer vegetables, such as zucchini, still linger.

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I have noticed my Greek neighbour Anna, who loves Olive oil, kasseri and fetta, and fish straight from the Vic Market, cooks differently each Autumn, in keeping with the dietary restrictions of her church during Lent.

For the Greek Orthodox Lenten fasting means abstaining from foods that contain animals with red blood (meats, poultry, game) and products from animals with red blood (milk, cheese, eggs) and fish and seafood with backbones. Olive oil and wine are also restricted. The number of meals on each day is also limited.  Vegetable margarine, shortening, and oils are allowed if they do not contain any dairy products and are not derived from olives.

This is a bit tough! No Olive oil or cheese? Apparently oil may be had on Saturdays and Sundays only. This dish, Briami Me Fetta, Μπριάμ με φέτα, or vegetable casserole with fetta cheese, is not in keeping with Greek Lent dishes. It includes plenty of EV Olive oil and includes a lovely topping of fetta cheese. It is similar to Ratatouille but the layering method makes for a lasagne style vegetable dish, with the potatoes and fetta adding more interest.

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Briami Me Fetta – Vegetable Casserole with Fetta ( Serves 6)

  • 500 g eggplants
  • 500 g zucchini
  • 500 g potatoes ( I use yellow fleshed ones such as Nicola or Dutch Creams)
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 red pepper
  • 2 or more cloves garlic, chopped finely
  • 425 g can of tomatoes, chopped, undrained
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • freshly ground salt, pepper
  • 2 large onions, sliced
  • chopped herbs- parley, dill, oregano
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 250 gr fetta cheese, thinly sliced.

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  1. Preheat Oven to 180c.
  2. Cut eggplants into thin slices. If they are fresh and young, there is no need to salt and disgorge them. If they are older, sprinkle with salt and let stand in a  colander for 1/2 hour or so, then wash and squeeze dry.
  3. Slice the zucchini, onions, peel and slice the potatoes, seed and slice the peppers.
  4. Combine the garlic with the canned tomatoes, tomato paste and sugar in a bowl.
  5. Lightly oil a large oven dish or a heavy metal casserole, Arrange the eggplant, zucchini, potatoes, peppers in layers, seasoning as you go. Then cover with a layer of onion rings, tomato mixture and chopped herbs.
  6. Repeat these layers until all vegetables are used, finishing with tomato and herbs. Pour oil of the top and down the sides of the dish, cover with foil ( and a lid if using a heavy casserole) and bake until vegetables are tender or about 1 1/2 hours.
  7. Remove cover and place fetta on top. Bake uncovered for another 15 minutes.

    Briami served with spelt spirali and spinach
    Briami served with spelt spirali and spinach

Serve with one of the following: crusty bread, small pasta shapes, rice or bulgar pilaf.

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This dish is even better the next day.

Based on a Tess Mallos recipe, The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook.1996

Fresh Autumnal Days by the Sea.

The March equinox occurred in Melbourne at 8.45 am this morning, just as I crawled out of the dark canvas cave of my camper trailer. Magpies and Wattle birds sing, celebrating the gentle day ahead.

Coastal Banksia
Coastal Banksia

In harmony with the date, the temperature will reach 21 degrees celsius, ( 69.8 F) – too cool to swim, yet perfect weather to walk along wild beaches. Autumn in Victoria, Australia, is my favourite season. The days are fresh but warm, the nights a little chilly. Birds sing and hunt, plants enjoy the overnight moisture and flower anew.

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Kookaburras have become rather friendly this Autumn.

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The wild back beach of Gunnamatta forms part of the Mornington Peninsula National Park. It is hard to believe that this wilderness is only 75 minutes drive from Melbourne. We are the only visitors.

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In response to two prompts this week, Spring at Where’s My Backpack and Fresh at Daily Post, WordPress.

Cool sunset on Port Phillip Bay
Cool sunset on Port Phillip Bay

<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_photo_challenge/fresh-2/”>Fresh</a&gt;

 

Mind your own business.

A boy sits at the back of a pizza shop. It’s lunch time and the cavernous place is almost empty. He is sobbing, his blue eyes wet with fear. He is a short lad with sandy coloured hair and wears a hat, army fatigues and a soft backpack. I sit down to have a chat with him, hoping to allay his fear, to gain his confidence and offer some maternal consolation. He is only 13 years old and has wagged school to hang out with his 15-year-old sister who he rarely sees. The cops have been called as his mate nicked the tip jar of coins from the front counter of the pizza shop. His mate ran off  with the money but he was caught standing there, an accessory to the crime. He claims he has done nothing wrong. Maybe that’s so, maybe it isn’t. The cops are on their way. I ask for his mother’s phone number. He says he doesn’t know the number because he is not good at remembering those sorts of things. He just wants to be with his sister as she has his Myki travel card. He continues to sob.

I meet two policemen outside. They have arrived in full combat gear, with padded vests, ready to deal with an armed gunman or terrorist. They say they will be taking him to the station. I ask it I could sit with the boy while they interview him at the pizza shop, as his mother won’t be home. Their response is aggressive. While the words  ‘Fuck off Lady’ are not uttered directly, their comments about being an independent third party were delivered with some malevolence.

This little bloke is perhaps a petty thief and a school avoider. A year ago he was in primary school. His voice hasn’t broken. The police will frighten the living daylights out of him, but something tells me this will make matters worse. Something tells me that his treatment today will not be fair or just.

Wall art, Hosier Lane, Melbourne
Wall art, Hosier Lane, Melbourne

Super Fast Thai Mussel Curry

I used to refer to myself as a Pescetarian, a fish loving vegetarian, but have now adopted a new appellation, Vegacquarian, to sum up my preferred regime.  I stole this new moniker from the lovely signorina at Napoli Restaurant Alert.  Mind you, I’m not too holy grailish about this diet I adopted 37 years ago after travelling through India and Nepal. Mr Tranquillo, often calls me the evil veggo as, on occasion, I like to bite the end off someone’s chorizo and am rather partial to an overdone baked chicken wing, free range of course. The skinny end of a crispy bacon rasher is a wonderful hangover cure and life is too short not to have a slice of prosciutto on Christmas Day. Maybe I’ll just steal a slice of that paper thin sorpressa that I bought for the visitatori. These fleeting incursions into the land of carnivore make me quite happy. Am I on the cusp of conversion? Or will my Lenten life always be peppered with pleasure from these meaty raids?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Given my partiality to flesh of the fishy kind, it can be a job in itself sourcing sustainable and cheap seafood. When a lovely bag of freshly harvested black mussels turns up, it is a happy day for many reasons. Mussels are the ultimate fast food. They are sustainable, cheap and organic. They contain omega -3 oils, selenium ( an anti- oxidant), and iodine, as well as a being a source of protein and iron. Very good news for a Vegacquarian on a budget!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA This simple Thai styled recipe comes from Charmaine Solomon: it’s fast and easy to prepare. Put your rice on first, as this dish takes around 10 minutes to make.

Mussels in Red Curry sauce. Serves Four.

  • 1 kilo mussels
  • 185 ml coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons Red Curry Paste ( bought or home-made)
  • 2 kaffir lime leaves
  • 1-2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 red chilli, finely sliced
  • 2 spring onions, sliced diagonally.

Method. Clean mussels and de-beard them. Place in a saucepan and add 185 ml or 3/4 cup of water. Cover and cook over high heat, shaking the pan occasionally. When the shells open (they only take a minute or so), remove them with tongs. Do not discard those that don’t open:there is nothing wrong with them. Remove the top shells, then strain the cooking liquid through a fine sieve or muslin.

Heat 125 ml of coconut milk in a saucepan until oil appears around the edges, mix in the red curry paste and cook, stirring, until fragrant. Stir in the remaining coconut milk, the reserved cooking liquid, lime leaves, fish sauce, and sugar. Stir until the mixture simmers. Simmer for 5 – 10 minutes. Add the lime juice, red chill and spring onion, and ladle the sauce over the mussels. Serve with rice.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Recipe from The Seafood Book, Charmaine Solomon, Hamlyn, 1993.