This week, we will be cooking up some ‘entrees’. Starters are setting the expectations for the rest of the meal. They can be cold, warm, spicy but never filling. That is where most hosts go wrong. They dish up a big starter and are surprised that so much food is left over at the end.
The advantage with cold starters is that it can be well prepared in advance. I would never ever offer a soufflé as an option for any dinner party. You will put yourself under too much pressure and disappointment if it doesn’t work out.
A good tip – always ask your guests for any allergy they might have. You might be surprised what some people can’t eat. There is always a way around it. Everything is better than to have a guest who can’t eat your food that you prepared with so much passion.
Today’s starters are very simple. We have crab cakes which can be prepared in advance and kept warm and there is no need to buy a full crab and try to get the meat out of it – these days you can buy very good quality crabmeat at any fishmonger. The tartar sauce sits happily in the fridge for a few hours. The goats’ cheese can be marinated up to 2 days in advance. It even benefits from it. The salad is best assembled just before serving.
The pancakes can also be prepared in advance – make the pancakes up to 2 days in advance. Assemble them a few hours prior to the dinner in an oven dish and make the sauce. Basically, follow the steps up to the cooking stage. The dish will sit quite ok for 2-3 hours.
So you see, there is no need for any panic. I have given a wine recommendation for each dish. It is up to you if you want to serve a different wine with each course or if you go for the same wine throughout the dinner. A money saving tip: tell your guests a few days in advance what type of wine would match the food – each can bring a bottle and you save on the drinks. Wine can be more expensive than the ingredients for the dinner.
Marinated Goats Cheese with Pear & Walnut dressing
2 goats cheese crottins (round individual cheeses), available at IAGO in English Market or Supervalu,
75g salad leaves,
handful of walnuts (slightly chopped),
1 pear (cored & thinly sliced),
|Marinated Goats Cheese|
For the marinade: 2 tbsp olive oil, ½ tsp fresh thyme, ½ tsp rosemary, garlic (crushed), seasoning
For the salad dressing: ½ tsp Dijon mustard, 1 tbsp honey, ½ tsp white wine vinegar, 1 tbsp hot water, ½ tsp thyme, seasoning
Mix the ingredients for the marinade together. Add the goats cheese and coat in the marinade. Cover with cling film and leave in the fridge for up to 48 hrs. Turn them at least once.
For the dressing, put the mustard, honey and vinegar in a bowl and whisk together. Add 2 tbsp from the marinade along with the hot water and thyme. Season to taste. Toss the salad leaves along with the sliced pear and chopped walnuts on a bowl with a little of the dressing.
Place the cheese on plates, garnish with a little salad and drizzle a little extra dressing over.
Wine: - A medium bodied Chardonnay goes very nicely with this dish
Crab Cakes with Tartar Sauce
600g crab meat (try not to use the canned ones – it’s too wet) I buy my crabmeat from the Good Fish Shop
2 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp sherry
2 tbsp fresh parsley
1 tbsp chives
1 cup breadcrumbs
salad leaves for plating
1 egg yolk,
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 cup vegetable oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
4 tbsp spring onions, finely chopped or minced
2 tbsp capers, drained and chopped finely
4 tbsp gherkins, drained and chopped finely
For the crab cakes – remove all shells that might still be in the meat. In a bowl, combine the egg yolk, mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, sherry, herbs and breadcrumbs. Season to taste. Add the crab meat carefully – you don’t want the crabmeat too small. Divide the mixture into 8 portions or more if you want them smaller. Form the mixture into rounds and place on a tray on waxed paper and cover with another layer of paper. Chill for at least an hour.
For the tartar sauce: In a bowl, whisk the egg yolk until smooth. Add the vinegar, mustard and season well. Whisk until well combined. Slowly whisk in the oil. Combine well. Add the lemon juice, finely chopped spring onions, gherkins and parsley. Mix well. Season to taste. Cover and chill.
Heat the olive oil in a frying pan. Place the chilled crab cakes carefully in the pan and fry until slightly browned and turn carefully to brown the other side (you can also brush the cakes with oil or melted butter and place under a hot grill)
Serve the cakes with a dollop of tartar sauce and some salad leaves.
Wine: A German Riesling
Pancakes filled with Ricotta & Spinach (6 person)
For the pancakes:
Pinch of salt
Margarine, butter or oil for frying
salt and pepper
half a litre of milk (warmed)
For the pancakes, mix all ingredients together and combined well with a whisk (an electric whisk is best to use). Leave the mixture to stand for at least an hour. When ready, heat the fat in a shallow frying pan or crepe pan and pour a small ladle of mixture into the pan, swirl the pan so that the bottom of the pan is covered with the pancake mixture (you don’t want it thick but thin). Fry until set on the bottom but not too browned and turn. Fry until slightly done but not browned. Repeat with the rest of the mixture.
Boil the spinach in salted water, then drain and finely chop. Add the ricotta, the egg, 3 or 4 spoons of grated Parmigiano, some nutmeg and salt and pepper.
melt the butter in a pan, add the flour and then the milk slowly, mixing continuously so as to avoid lumps. Season and add a little nutmeg and leave to simmer on a low heat till the mixture has reached the right consistency.
Heat up the passata and bring to a slight ‘bubble’ until sauce thickens a bit. Season to taste.
Butter a small ovenproof dish. Fill the pancakes with the spinach and ricotta mix and roll them up into long tubes, like cannoli. Place them in the dish, cover with Bechamel sauce and a little tomato sauce and cook in a medium oven for 15/20 minutes. Serve 2 per person for a main course or one for starter.
Wine: A crisp Pinot Grigio