Planning a menu ,especially for a party is something I enjoy doing. Keeping in mind what my guests prefer is how I get started on deciding what dishes to cook. Now , once that’s done and looked over a couple of times ,the attention is focused on each individual dish. I always look for a balance in colour , flavours , cooking technique and finally presentation. A fried food will be complemented by a fresh salad , a steamed dish with a buttery sauce and so on. A selection of everything makes for an ideal menu. I also like to keep it simple by way of execution and taste. But even simple food can be ‘made to look ‘ like it’s something more ! That’s where the most fun comes in. To plate a dish in a manner that delights the diner. I so enjoy that part, especially.
It’s more than just pulling out fancy flatware and coloured glass. I like to look at the very ingredients that I’m cooking with and turn them into platters ! When I was little , my mother set aside orange halves , emptied of all the pulp. Washed and cleaned she used them to set jelly in. They were called jelly boats , an idea inspired from a Woman’s weekly cookbook. Years later ,it was my turn . For the little jelly loving pirate in my home , coconut shells were cleaned and set aside. The then 8 year olds were beside themselves to eat blood red jelly off a coconut shell boat ,complete with a pirate flag in the middle. Those coconut shells got washed and were reused over the years ,by the kids for various things , once even for a cookery competition at school.
Since then , at every point of time , I look at an ingredient with just not a recipe in mind but also for the “oomph” it can add to a table setting ! Most fruit and vegetables that have a cavity are suitable to be experimented with, for presentation. A must on my menu for summer is a watermelon salad. For a March luncheon ,our guests were delighted when we served the salad ,using the watermelon as a bowl. The easiest way is to cut the fruit in half. It’s best to choose one with a preferably slightly flatter base. Using a melon baller scoop out little rounds into a empty bowl, until only the paler edge remains. Add the remaining salad ingredients to the fruit . Chill the fruit and the casing separately. Spoon it in just before serving, otherwise it tends to give off a lot of water. Tender coconuts are also great for not only serving but for cooking too. Just empty out the coconut water and set aside. I made a prawn curry by adding all the ingredients into the tender coconut cavity , closed it with it’s own lid and let it cook in a steamer for 25 minutes. Then it went straight from the steamer to the table ! You can imagine the aroma that wafted out ! Delicious.
This sort of effect can be achieved on a smaller scale too. I often do that at home , for just the family. Individual portions of onions , bell peppers , tomatoes can be hollowed out , stuffed with a yummy filling and served. One thing that I always stick to is using the actual ingredient. The pulp is never wasted. It is very much a part of the dish and I believe adds to the overall flavor. The same can also be done with lobster and crab shells. A portion of crab shell , filled with sweet crab meat and grilled just before serving is one of my all time favourites. Good Food magazine , had on it’s cover a few months ago , a yellow pumpkin that was used as a fondue pot. The bubbling cheese and the toasty bread on the sides were droolworthy ,to say the least !
A meal that the family loves is one where the big purple aubergine is the hero of the dish. Not only are the insides cooked to buttery perfection but the shell is roasted just enough for it to hold it’s shape. Then the halves of the aubergine are scooped out and the belly of it , filled to bursting point with a delicious pasta.The tagliatelle that is coated with strands of creamy aubergine flesh ,fresh parsley, finely diced garlic , sundried tomatoes and chilli flakes adds the perfect note of richness . The skin goes from a leathery shine to being softly edible . The grilling adds a smokey element, to the skin that blends beautifully with the olive oil and rock salt. You can just imagine the excitement that preludes the actual eating. It is devoured on sight ,for first it’s visual appeal and only there after for it’s taste. A rather fun way to make a weekday meal more interesting , don’t you agree ?!