Thursday, September 30, 2010

Slow cooking, 1950s style

One thing I'm enjoying during this ...

...sabbatical? career break? period of involuntary unemployment (I think I'll go for career break, that sounds very strategic and like I actually know what I'm doing) .... focusing on the things I never had time to do when I was in full-time work.
Dinner parties, for starters.

I love the 1950s domesticity of preparing for a dinner party. Writing a menu, shopping for ingredients, dressing the table, arranging flowers - everything bar handing My One True Love a martini when he walks in the door after a hard day at work, a ribbon prettily arranged in my hair.
Usually though, the schedule of full-time work gets in the way (and it does though, doesn't it?) and the plan ends up more like this:

Rush to the train station after work, anxiously wait for the train which will inevitably be cancelled or late, shoulder my way in through the crowd, endure yoof talking at the tops of their lungs on their mobiles, get to my destination after suffering an unexplained pause for 20 minutes within sight of the Clifton Hill station during which the train driver will make no announcement at all and my heart rate will increase exponentially, dash up the street and in through the front door, pile all the dirty laundry into the washer and pull the door closed to hide it, run a wet rag over the bench, ignore the cat fur floating around on the floor, and pull together some kind of sad pasta dish made out of cannellini beans, old gherkins, and whatever else happens to be unopened in the cupboard.

Nice, huh? So relaxing.

So it's lovely to be able to have friends around for dinner, like we did the other Friday night, and NOT go through that rigmarole.

I started on Wednesday, reading through cookbooks to find some interesting menus. I wrote a shopping list for:
  • pan-seared scallops wrapped with pancetta and speared with rosemary shoots, on the half-shell, with a bed of white bean and celeriac puree
  • slow-roasted pork belly - 4 hours, this takes - with caramelised fennel, roast potato done with duck fat, and broccolini
  • coconut pannacotta accompanied by pears poached in lemon, ginger and saffron

On Thursday I went shopping for the supermarket ingredients, and the pears. I took myself home and made the pannacotta in advance so it had time to chill in the fridge overnight, and then I gently poached the pears for an hour until they were soft and luscious and a wonderful toffee colour. Into the fridge with them too, for the flavours to deepen through the next 24 hours.

On Friday I went to the market early, to see my favourite butcher, who provided me with a wonderful pork belly and even scored the skin in readiness for it to become crackling. Yum! I found the perfect scallops, and bought the rest of the vegetables.

By 630 when our guests arrived - The Headmistress and Charismatic Dave - the house was spick and span from top to bottom, the mouthwatering scent of roast pork was floating down the hallway, and I was the picture of the perfect hostess - calm, well dressed (I wore my pearls, I though it was appropriate), ready to pour glasses of wine for everyone.

Poppies artfully arranged in a glass vase? Check. Candles lit? Check. Smug, self-satisfied smile on face? Check. I swear, if I had hair long enough, I might even have considered the ribbon.

THAT is the kind of dinner party I've always wanted to have, not the sad little effort I usually manage. And even though time did get away from me slightly and I had to forget the white been puree, the rest of the meal was spectacular.

I can definitely see the appeal of unstructured time when it means I can spend three days preparing for a meal. I loved it.

Now, where's that martini shaker?


Isabella Golightly said...

Yum! Beautiful food and glamour - beats the cheese toasties I made for dinner...

Mountaingirl said...

YUM YUM YUM! So glad you're getting the chance to do this. I wish I could be there!