Wednesday, 8 February 2012

reveling in retirement

It being the year of the retirement, and not to be left out, my own family has had not one but two retirements this year. First off my dad retired in September after many years of hard service in the music business. This passed by with little fuss on the part of his loving family and I'm not even sure he got a card to mark the occasion. Sorry Dad.

Then my Mum retired just before Christmas and in true 'kids can be so thoughtless' fashion, we made a huge fuss of the event and threw her a big retirement bash, not giving a second thought to the fact  that Dad hadn't had so much as a cup of tea. Again, sorry Dad. I could blame the unbalanced nature of my reaction to the two milestones on being caught up in the Christmas spirit, or having too much time on my hands, but I suppose different people warrant different reactions. Dad doesn't like fuss, Mum kind of does. So that's what they got. I like to think I gave Dad exactly what he was looking for, that being nothing. Here's what Mum got.

I approached Mum with the idea of throwing her a retirement party whereby all she had to do was invite people and turn up herself. I would do all the cooking and decorating and possibly even some of the cleaning up. She was thrilled with the idea and quickly put a guest list together and I got busy planning canapes and treats to feed the hoards. I had initially wanted to throw a vintage tea party and had all sorts of fancy ideas which would put to good use my vastly increasing and underused collection of crockery. Long tables filled with tiered cake plates, fancy cocktails in tea pots, retro canapes. Think tablecloths, lace, frills and flowers. I was getting very carried away. So, I toned it down, trying to bear in mind that this was a party for my mum and not for me. The tea-party will have to wait for a more appropriate client! The tea pots went, the cocktails stayed, and the tablecloths and frills likewise went out the window. I did put to use some of my nicer plates and even made a few cake stands to add to the mix so I was at least sated on that score.

As for the menu. My Mum has a dairy allergy so anything with butter, cream or milk was off the menu. I didn't want her to have a whole load of food she couldn't eat at her own party, so I replaced any dairy I did need to use with goats milk and goats cheese, which worked out great.

This was the menu. Everyone had cocktails and canapes on arrival and dug into the rest of the food at their leisure. It pretty much all got scoffed so I assume it was enjoyed. Judging from the amount of singing around the piano the cocktails certainly were anyway.


smoked salmon
beetroot chutney and goat's cheese

savoury treats:
homemade sausage rolls
honey and mustard cocktail sausages
salmon tikka wraps
leek and blue cheese (goat's cheese) tarts
mushroom and chestnut tarts

some sweet treats

strawberry and cream swiss roll
lemon and passion fruit swiss roll
mince pies
mini christmas puddings

I stuck to party favourites for the most part. You can't beat a few sausage rolls and with Delia Smith's guidance you can't really go wrong. Likewise the old honey and mustard cocktail sausages always win the men over. My biggest challenge was making 80 or so mini tartlets which were very time consuming and fiddly but well worth the effort. 

It was a lot of work.  I've never cooked for that many people before and I think the oven was going for pretty much 24 hours. I had the brilliant help of my cousin Fi to sort me out and keep me on track, which I wouldn't have survived without. The definite hit of the night were the salmon tikka wraps (recipe below). They were the easiest thing to prepare and incredibly tasty. The flop of the night was the panettone. I had a lot of baking fails over Christmas (not least of all the discovery of mouldy Christmas puddings, might want to rethink this recipe, the search continues) and my self esteem was taking some serious knocks from the kitchen and this didn't help. I tried to make them twice and both times were a disaster. They tasted delicious, but each time they refused to rise so turned out incredibly dense and solid. It was a delicious looking recipe from Lily Higgins' gorgeous cookbook but I just couldn't make it work. Maybe the yeast was dead, who knows. I'll try them again when I recover from the disappointment.

everyone needs a helpful christmas elf

I don't know if it's a specifically Irish thing, if it's just my world or if people are like this the world over, but for all the effort and stress that went into the planning, the cooking, the decorating, the cleaning, it was all entirely upstaged by the fun and laughter that the guests brought to the house on the night. I could have served them tayto and red lemonade and they would have been just as happy and just as complementary. So I say the salmon was the hit of the night, I actually think , corny and all as it is, it was really my Mum and her incredible friends. May we all be so full of laughter and love and surrounded by such good company when we get to their age. (Not that they're old...oh dear.)

Salmon Tikka Lettuce Wraps from I love Curry by Anjum Anand
for the tandoori marinade:
50g plain yoghurt
6g fresh root ginger grated
2 garlic cloves grated
2tsp gram flour
1tsp paprika
3/4 tsp chilli powder
1 and 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
3/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp creme fraiche

for the wraps:
2 small, skinless salmon fillets
8-10 baby gem lettuce leaves
2 tbsp capers
shredded red cabbage

for the topping:
30g Greek yoghurt
30g creme fraiche 
10g finely chopped onion
10g finely chopped coriander
1-2 green chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
salt to taste
ground black pepper to taste

Mix the marinade ingredients together and season. Add the salmon and leave for a few hours.

Mix the topping ingredients together.

Grill the fish on a high heat until cook. It should be slightly charred in some places.

To serve simply break off bits of the fish and lay in the lettuce leaves. Top with the yoghurt dressing. Scatter with capers and the shredded cabbage. Can be served hot or cold. 

I used plain yoghurt throughout instead of the Greek yoghurt and creme fraiche for the sake of ease and left out the gram flour because I neither had it or knew what it was. It seemed to work just as well without. I don't even like salmon and usually hate my own food but I loved this. I can't recommend it enough.

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