I have become quite conscious of trying to use up whatever ingredients I have left in the fridge to avoid throwing out perfectly good produce! I usually get a little overly enthusiastic when I do my weekly Sunday evening grocery shop and plan to make all these amazing different things. The truth is, that life happens and I don’t always get home in time to prepare what I had intended. Or I realise I don’t have a key ingredient and so the planned dish gets a review or put on hold for another day. And so as the week goes on, my veggies which had so much promise, start to look like their short lives are soon to be over
Last night was a great example. A week ago, I made a haloumi and crispy quinoa salad, which was amazing, but I had half a block of haloumi cheese to spare (I love haloumi!). I had also bought a punnet of fresh juicy figs at the beginning of the week which I wasn’t getting through. I had a variety of greens in my fridge and some lavender honey which I am obsessed with, which was calling out to me. So I decided to put this altogether into a deliciously light salad.
I am also trying to perfect a salmon dish before my next “Australian flavours” dinner in a few weeks time. I had what I needed in my pantry so it was the perfect opportunity to give it another go.
For this full nutritious meal, all I needed to buy was some baby rocket and fresh Tasmanian salmon.
So its 6.20pm. I had the puppy barking excitedly while trying to get all his food out of his “Kong” and then needing to be taken outside… oh the joys of puppy toilet training! I had Little B, needing a nappy change (again?) and waiting with diminishing patience for his dinner, and a tired husband who had just walked in the door to the chaos of me trying to produce a “gourmet meal” before rushing out in half an hours time! To his credit, he took over puppy duty and got Little B cleaned up too.
It was definitely an opportunity to practice my multi-tasking skills but in the end, Little B got his dinner early enough and played beautifully by himself while Daddy R and I sat down to our more adult version of the meal.
I knew my mad rush attempt at a gourmet “use what we have” dinner was worth it when Daddy R said “this is the best meal I’ve had a ages”, and my fridge was emptier with nothing going to waste!
Moral of the story… its not hard to make something delicious with what you’ve already got lying in your fridge in pantry.
Once a year, my mum puts on a lunch for over 50 people to celebrate Jewish New Year. This is no ordinary lunch… it’s a banquet, meticulously styled and planned down to the last basil leaf and elevated ceramic platter. I usually sit down with her weeks in advance to discuss the menu and the way in which we’ll do something special. It’s a process we both absolutely love and look forward to each year. Unfortunately this year, my grandmother became quite unwell and my mum cancelled her soirée two weeks prior. However,my gran’s condition stabilised and the lunch was reinstated, just 48 hours prior to the guests arrival. This obviously meant that the many hours of baking, shopping, chopping and setting up were drastically reduced and we had to come up with a new plan. But if you know my mum, that was never going to mean lowering her standards.
I was so inspired by how she managed to pull it all together at the last minute – here are some of the lessons that can be learned.
A salad bar was always the plan for the lunch, and this is mostly last minute work anyway. so the menu at large didn’t change much. But one thing I have learned, is to get help! Peeling, chopping and roasting is very time consuming, so where possible:
Prep tip #1: buy ready cut veggies (worth the extra cost when you are so short on time). also, specialised kitchen tools are very handy. My mum recently picked up this Chef’n® Stalkchop Cauliflower Tool in New York – its incredible and how much time and trimming it saves 🙂
Prep tip #2: getsomeone (or 2 people) to be your kitchen hands.
Style tip #1:food en masse looks great. My mum’s huge selection of large bowls and platters always look amazing filled with her gorgeous cooking and baked goods.
My mum artfully presented all the elements of the salad piled up on a long wooden board, with certain ingredients such as the feta cheese in herb oil and the grains, served on the board in bowls of different colours and textures, creating beautiful height and a bright array of colour, making the whole board look so appealing. This also helps to engage all your senses. Nothing was too preciously laid out and so people weren’t afraid to tuck in and help themselves.
Menu tip #1: make sure all dietary requirements are catered for. Quinoa and freeka, both gluten free, were the grains for the salad, alongside soft white bread for dipping and zesty za’atar bread (deliciously not gluten-free) soak up all the goodness. Dairy was kept separate and some salad without glazed salmon on top was kept aside for a vegan guest.
Menu tip #2: serve a selection of hot and cold food to really engage the senses. Combining temperatures in one meal enhances the flavour experience. A gorgeous kale, spinach and feta pie was served fresh from the oven to contrast the cold salad bar.
Prep tip # 2:accept help from your guests. My mum and I usually do the majority of everything ourselves. Baked goods and ice creams are usually frozen a couple of weeks in advance saving a lot of stress in the days leading up to the lunch. However, this year was different. My mum is lucky to be surrounded by beautifully caring, very generous friends, many of whom brought a dessert. It also helps that said friends are talented bakers, assemblers and ice cream makers!
On the menu was a creamy baked cheese cake, chocolate crunch ice cream, chocolate chiffon cake, caramelised mango and creamy yoghurt, peppermint crisp pudding (golden layers of caramel condensed milk, coconut biscuits and crumbled choc mint candy), double chocolate rocky road, two huge fruit salads – one “red” filled with fresh berries, watermelon ruby red grapes and pomegranate jewels, and another tropical “yellow” one of pineapple, paw paw, papaya, mango with a ginger, honey and mint syrup. There was also an array of mini chocolates and nougat, a variety of indulgent biscuits and biscotti and a huge tray brimming with a sugar rush of brightly coloured lollies. Lets just say I didn’t have much in the way of a savoury dinner that night with all this delectable dessert left over!
On another note, while decor and presentation is vitally important to creating the right atmosphere, there is nothing wrong with simple.
Style tip #2: grocery store flowers are usually good enough quality and reasonably priced. Instead of the annual early morning trip to the flower markets, a stop in the floral section at Woolies while picking up fruit and veg the day before was perfect for this last minute lunch. My mums stunning collection of vases and serving-ware ensured that style was not forgotten, ensuring that the visual sense was definitely well catered for in this multi-sensory experience.
At the end of the day, despite the aching feet and a lot of cleaning up to do, my mum was thrilled with her decision to host her lunch as usual. The most important thing at the end of the day is that all our friends and family were together, celebrating the new year in as we always do, and of course that no one was left hungry (for days to come!) and there was certainly enough sugar involved to send everyone off with blessing of a “sweet new year”. Well done mum, I’m always so proud of, and inspired by you!