Fast Feast

4 May

This is not, as the title might imply, a recommendation that you eat quickly. This is my combination of a few recipe ideas, that represent a template for a simple yet sumptuous buffet that will comfortably feed a crowd, without sending you into a stressed host(ess) meltdown.

These tried and tested recipes can be prepared ahead, and require only minimal supervision in the kitchen, allowing you to join the party and share a drink and nibbles with your guests while the main course is cooking.

This particular menu was borne out of my usual knack of over scheduling our weekend. We had planned to meet friends for brunch, on the same day that I had offered to host my brother’s 30th birthday get together for the entire family later in the day (8 adults and 6 children ranging in age from 11 to 4 months old). As I was short on time, I decided to provide only one main course that would be suitable for all.

As we were going to be out for a good part of the day, nearly all of this was prepared ahead. In total (aside from cooking times) the preparation took about 1 hour.

PARTY MENU

FOCACCIA WITH A SELECTION OF ANTIPASTI

RICOTTA AND HERB STUFFED CHICKEN, NEW POTATOES, GREEN BEAN SALAD

3 TIERED CHOCOLATE BROWNIE ‘CAKE’

SARAH’S LIME AND GINGER CHEESECAKE

The amount of food that I prepared here, was far too much. I do however, follow Nigella’s mantra of ‘never knowingly undercatered’. And there is a distinct upside to over catering. The leftovers will provide a couple of meals that can be assembled in moments for a couple of days after the party, freeing you from the shackles of the seemingly endless meal preparation production line.

FOCACCIA AND ANTI-PASTI

I have for the past few weeks, been making focaccia at home. I used to go to the farmers market and buy a fairly small oblong loaf, studded with rosemary, or tomatoes, or onions, paying £4.50 a time. Obviously if you are feeding a crowd, this can be a pricey addition to the menu if you need 3 or 4. After discovering how easy it is to make, I have not looked back. This takes less time to make that it would for you to find your credit card, coat and keys and leave for the supermarket. The recipe I follow is not my own, but provided by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, provided in his book River Cottage Everyday. For obvious copyright reasons, I have not re-produced it here, but if you want to make your own, there are numerous versions available on the net. You simply measure out the flour, dried yeast, water etc, leave it in the mixer with a dough hook for a few minutes, then leave it to rise. If, like me you are going out and wish to make this ahead of time then you can put it in the fridge for a few hours where it will rise slowly. When it is ready to go in the oven, stud the top with whatever you have to hand (I did cherry tomatoes and rosemary on one, and red onion chutney and goats cheese on the second), then a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of sea salt. 15 minutes in a hot oven later and it is ready.  You may have neither the time or the inclination for this step, in which case most of the supermarkets offer this bread in one form or another.

RICOTTA AND HERB STUFFED CHICKEN

This is dish that both Jamie Oliver and Bill Granger offer a recipe for. I was a bit pushed for time and therefore didn’t have time to look up a recipe, but here is a link to Bill’s version if you want something more specific to follow.

INGREDIENTS

3 free range/organic chickens, spatchcocked. (you do this by cutting out the backbone, the squashing it flat. If you are a bit squeamish about this part, then buy from a butcher and get them to do it for you)

2 x 250g tubs ricotta

2 tbsps chopped chives

2 tbsps chopped parsley

1 tbsp thyme leaves

zest of half a lemon

salt and pepper to taste

Mix herbs, salt and pepper with ricotta. Using your fingers (or a wooden spoon if you have sharp nails) loosen the skin over the breast and thighs. Push ricotta mixture under skin over breast and thighs. Drizzle chicken with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. I cooked this hot and fast. The cooking times are much more reliable if you cook from room temperature. You can make this ahead but I would advise taking it out of the fridge about an hour before you cook it. I started it off with about half an hour on 210 degrees then turned it down to 180 degrees for the last 15 minutes. If the chicken looks like it is browning too much, then cover with foil.

The first time I tried this method I was hooked, so I would urge you to try it at least once. The result is tender juicy moist chicken, complemented by the light, delicate taste of the ricotta and herbs. I left this to rest under foil for 15 minutes once out of the oven, then served on platters, with carving knife and forks for guests to help themselves.

The new potatoes were steamed then dotted with a little butter and salt and pepper.

The green bean salad, is another recipe from Bill Granger. You can, as I did, make this ahead then leave in the fridge, then dress it at the last minute.

BROWNIES AND CHEESECAKE

Dessert I prepared the evening before. I made Sarah’s Lime and Ginger cheesecake, and a double batch of my five-minute brownies.

To serve I arranged the brownies on 3 glass cake stands, placed one on top of the other like a tiered wedding cake, then added a few candles.

The best part of this meal for me, was the fact that I had the chance to relax and join in. And, the children all loved the chicken and cleared their plates.

And, you may have guessed that I used banqueting roll to cover the table, so when the party was over, the table was cleared in moments, and the dishwasher (and Mr Mummyinahurry) did the washing up, giving me a chance to put my feet up and read this month’s copy of delicious magazine.

Home made focaccia bread

Three tiered brownie 'cake'

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