Gourmet- The Easy Way
When it comes to cooking food, I am just like the Professor in Power Puff Girls, except I would add chemical X on purpose and think …”I wonder what this does?” I am seldom satisfied with doing things the same way as they have been done. Why not change it up, switch it up, or try something new? So when the opportunity came up to do an article on recipes, I thought, I am going to do a six course dinner with tastes from all over. Why not?
Now I am not the best person to write a recipe. I often say things like a dash of this or a just enough of that. I am terrible at measuring or weighing or being specific. Cooking to me is more an art than a science. However for the sake of this article and you my unsuspecting audience, I will attempt to make this as easy to follow as possible.
Tips for Planning a 6-Course Meal
I did a lot of research before embarking on this particular activity. There are people that take this very seriously (restaurants and food societies) and others that treat it as a fun endeavor (food enthusiasts, DIY-ers and me). But the same general rules apply.
1. The point of this tasting menu is to highlight different ingredients, cooking styles, types of food, etc. so get creative with what you have to offer.
2. The key is variety so nothing should be repeated. For example do not serve fish and rice then chicken and rice. Do not serve grilled chicken and grilled steak. Make each dish different and stand-alone.
3. Keep the portions small. You want your guests to have room for everything, so no one course should be extra filling. Dish about a third of what you would were it a single course meal.
4. Do not go overboard or try to be too elaborate. At the end of the day, the most enjoyable meals are often the simplest. Choose one course to make a splash with but alternatively keep the rest simple.
5. Choose dishes with easy, healthy recipes. I collect healthy cookbooks. There is no point cooking an unhealthy meal and there is a wealth of options in these books. Plus they are all written to be quick and easy.
Course 1 – Hors d’oeuvres (or starters for the laymen)
This is usually something fresh and light that hints at the coming meal.
Sautéed Beef Lettuce Wrap
1 kg of lean beef, cut into thin strips (for lean beef just ask your butcher for ‘top side’ which tends to be less fatty)
1 large carrot
1 large cucumber
Loads of fresh lettuce (you will need at least two for every wrap so plan according to your guests)
Onions, garlic and ginger all diced, Seasoning.
1. Use spray oil to lightly coat a non-stick fry pan. Put in the diced onions, garlic and ginger. Fry for about 30 seconds until they start going brown.
2. Put in the beef strips
3. Add seasonings to taste. I suggest your favorite stock cube, fresh or ground pepper and basil. You are aiming for a simple and light taste.
4. Make sure you cook the beef really well until it is very soft. This could take up to 25 minutes.
5. Add a splash of soy sauce to the mix for added flavor
6. Using a potato peeler (or the second largest holes on a cheese grater) thinly slice your carrot and cucumber into long slices.
7. Lay out your lettuce leaves, overlapping two to make a wider surface. Scoop out a spoonful of the beef into the middle. Place a few slices of the carrot and cucumber on top.
8. Fold the lettuce from the stem up. It takes a few tries to get this right. Secure with one or more toothpicks.
Course 2 – Soup
Soups are usually used to tease the taste buds and temper the hunger. They can be of any variety but should generally be uncomplicated in taste and texture.
Chicken and Vegetable Soup
Chicken bones (usually free from the butchers and make for excellent stock. Otherwise go for leg pieces)
½ kg of chicken thigh
1 carrot, diced
Onions and garlic
1 cup of cooked rice
1. Make sure you wash your chicken bones thoroughly, using salt if you have to. Combine all the chicken, the onions, the garlic and the seasoning in a large pot. Add enough water to more than cover the chicken. For seasonings I suggest simply salt and a bit of curry powder.
2. Boil the chicken on a low heat for about 30 minutes or until it is thoroughly cooked. Add more water and seasoning if needed and boil for another 10 minutes. Remove from fire. Sieve the stock into a separate container.
3. For an added healthy twist, and if you have time, refrigerate the stock for about 2 hours. Once it cools the fat will form a solid layer on top. Use a spoon to scrape this away before returning it to the fire.
4. Shred the chicken thighs into pieces. Add those pieces to the boiling stock
5. Add fresh chopped onions and the diced carrot.
6. Add the cooked rice. Allow everything to boil.
7. Make sure to season to taste. Serve hot.
Course 3 – Entrée
Traditionally the entrée was not the main course of the meal, but rather the course that signified the real eating was about to begin.
Grilled Lemon Fish with Peppers
1 Tilapia tail per guest (I don’t enjoy fish head but you can easily use that instead)
Lemon marinade – 1 whole lemon, curry, thyme, fresh diced pepper, stock cube
Sliced bell peppers of different colors
1. Combine ingredients for the lemon marinade in a bowl. Use a juicer or a spoon to get out all the lemon
juice. Use enough seasonings to form about three tablespoons of paste.
2. Use your hands to rub the marinade into the fish. Really massage the flesh to get it inside.
3. Put all the fish into a Ziploc bag and put it in the fridge for at least 45 minutes
4. Using foil, create a pouch by folding a sheet in two and pinching the edges closed. Put one fish in each pouch with excess marinade.
5. Broil in the oven (use the grill setting) at 180C for about 20 minutes or until the fish is fully cooked.
6. In a fry pan, heat spray oil and add the bell peppers. Season lightly with salt so the sweet taste can still come through.
7. Serve warm with the fish and a small helping of the peppers.
Suggested wine: Riesling – a crisp yet light white wine
Course 4 – Palette Cleanser
Right before the main course you offer a palette cleanser to remove the earlier tastes and get ready for the next one. This tends to be slightly sweet and cold. It can simply be sliced fruit.
Frozen strawberries (these were available at my local supermarket. Alternatively you can either freeze fruit yourself or use fresh fruit and ice cubes. If exotic fruit is unattainable, I suggest using watermelon.)
Sweetener or sugar
1. Pour the frozen fruit into a blender. Add a little bit of water.
2. Blend until you form a puree
3. Add the sugar or sweetener to taste. Try not to make it too sweet as this is not a dessert in itself.
4. Serve immediately
Course 5 – Main Course
This course is usually the heaviest and most elaborate course of the meal. By this stage your guests are ready for a real meal so feel free to dish slightly larger portions for this course.
Hearty Pork Stew
2kg Pork medallions (buy pork legs and trim the skin and fat away leaving round pieces of meat around a bone. Buy 2 pieces per guest)
5 or 6 Irish potatoes, peeled and chopped
4 whole large tomatoes (or one can of peeled plum tomatoes)
Diced garden vegetables – I used carrots, peas and corn but a host of other vegetables can be used
Cooking red wine
1. In a lightly oiled pot, fry the pork medallions until they are brown on both sides and cooked most of the way through. Season lightly with stock cubes or salt.
2. Add about 2 cups of water to the pork and bring to a boil.
3. Add the potatoes, tomatoes and vegetables. Season generously to taste. I suggest stock cubes, ground pepper and sage or rosemary.
4. Boil on very low heat for about 30 minutes. Add a splash (about 2 tablespoons) of cooking wine.
5. Continue boiling for another 45 minutes on very low heat. Check every twenty minutes for water level. It should be thick but it should not dry out.
6. Serve alone or with warm crusty baguette slices.
Suggested wine: Merlot – a rich dark wine good with stews
Course 6 – Dessert
Everyone’s favorite course, this acts as a pleasant finish to a long meal.
Ice Cream Sundae
Blue Bunny Ice Cream (is there any other kind) in your favorite flavor
Chocolate sauce (can be bought or made by melting dark chocolate in the microwave)
Chocolate candy bar (Dairy Milk, Galaxy etc.)
1. Crush the Digestive biscuits into a coarse powder. Use it to line the bottom of an attractive glass
2. Pour the chocolate sauce, about 3 tablespoons, unto the biscuits
3. Add two to three scoops of ice cream
4. Use a cheese grater to grate the chocolate bar unto to top as a garnish
This entire meal took me about two hours start to finish. The key is to be prepared and be bendable. Roll with whatever gets thrown at you. For example I had a very elaborate dessert planned but a case of misplaced eggs meant I went for this quick number instead, and it was a hit. Also I put the main course on fire just as the first guests came in, so by the time we got around to it, it was just perfect.
As long as you are having fun and being creative, this cannot go very wrong. And if all else fails, open another bottle of wine!
I would like to thank my intrepid friends for lending me their time, their stomachs and their comments!