The occasion for a dinner party does not arise often, particularly when you work a very busy schedule. When food is part of your working day the idea of putting a lot of effort into a two or three course meal, for fun I’ll add, is more exhausting than you can imagine, and instead the sofa and Netflix is a great deal more appealing. However, when the moment does come along, and accompanying it a load of enthusiasm on your part, you need to jump in with abandon.
Dinner parties for me can consist of a mere three people; as long as it’s more than just me and Calum then it’s a dinner party. In this case our friend, Holly, was invited, as well as our flatmate, Brian, who’s usual repertoire includes a weekly slap-up roast for one (so I am eager for this favour to be exchanged…). Four is plenty, especially at last minute when I could only find three forks. Calum ate dinner with a knife and spoon, and luckily we don’t have many other friends.
Even with a small guest list, the best idea is to keep things simple. I have learnt the hard way! A recipe from Leiths: How to Cook has constantly caught my eye but I always have to push on past it, rifling the pages in aggressive dismay as we need more than two people to eat it. Thus, tonight was the night! The recipe is for honey-baked seabass with lime and lemongrass. The impressive sea creature is laid out on ruffled foil, scattered in spring onions and ginger. The finished result is so breath-taking, no one can believe the process is effortless. The hardest part was buying the fish.
Near the Roundabout of Death is an enormous Sainsbury’s where we do our regular food shopping. Now we have a car it is even more tempting to drive down for some milk or bread, and return with half the shop including the nine pack of toilet rolls no one ever wants to buy if they’re walking.
Yesterday, I drove down to examine the fish selection. And what a disappointment it was. The recipe requires a 1.5kg sea bass, and the heaviest fish Sainsbury’s sold was 300g. This was not acceptable. A quick internet search showed me the nearest fishmongers so off I dashed, into the rain and wind, for an appropriately sized fish.
Out of the Blue fishmongers in Chorlton smells of the sea. Cascades of fish in all colours sit sparkling on mountains of ice. I quickly spotted a sea bass and what a whopper it was. The length of my whole arm and weighing 1.8kg it didn’t take me long to decide to splash (hehe) out and buy the spectacular specimen.
To accompany my Thai-flavoured fish, I bought pak choi to season with ginger, chilli and soy sauce, and rice which I cooked after sweating a couple of shallots and pouring in coconut milk, giving a mild cooling aroma to the zesty dish. For the fish marinade, I finely chopped lemongrass stalks, chillies, ginger, garlic, and zested and juiced two limes before mashing it all up in a bowl with a potato masher (as a pestle and mortar substitute). I poured some runny honey over both sides of the fish and then stuffed it with the crushed aromatics and smothered its skin.
The fish was then baked in a foil parcel – that is if the foil was big enough to cover the fish, more like a random patchwork of foil cuttings – and after half an hour, and then an extra fifteen minutes for the extra 300g of fish, I poured over the dressing of soy sauce, lime juice and zest, sugar and fish sauce with slivered spring onions, and dinner was served. First I had to take a photograph – much to Calum’s satisfied grumblings and mockery.
And then to finish it all off, dessert, of course. Pineapple upside down cake basted in pineapple caramel sauce until the top is syrupy and soft and the sides are caramelised and crunchy; served with a dollop of whipped cream.
Pineapple upside down cake
Adapted from BBC Good Food
I originally intended to serve this with a few small sprigs of sage nestled between the pineapple slices. Even though the flavour is pleasant and works surprisingly well, it isn’t for everyone! Sage immediately puts in mind Christmas stuffing which isn’t ideal for a summery dessert. However, if you want to try it certainly give it a go – place a couple of sprigs amidst the pineapple before you top with the cake mixture. Make sure they are small as the flavour goes a long way.
Serves 8 (or 4 if they want nice, big portions)
50g brown sugar
1 tin of pineapple rings in juice (reserve the juice!)
100g caster sugar
100g softened butter
100g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
50g granulated sugar
Reserved pineapple juice
- Preheat the oven to 180°C and adjust the oven shelf to the middle. Grease a 21cm cake tin with butter. I used a square brownie tin.
- Cream together the brown sugar and butter for the topping and spread over the base of the tin. Lay rings and segments of pineapple on top.
- Mix the caster sugar and softened butter until light and creamy. Add the eggs, self-raising flour and baking powder, mix until all is incorporated and pour on top of the pineapple.
- Bake for 30 minutes until the sponge is gently springy, consistently soft across the whole surface and smelling deliciously cakey. Leave to sit in the tin for 5 or so minutes.
- Run a knife around the tin and tip out the cake onto a cooling rack.
- Put the sugar and half the water in a pan and gently heat and stir occasionally until the sugar has dissolved. Turn up the heat and, without stirring, bring to a boil, turning the syrup to caramel. Once it becomes deep brown, immediately pour in the rest of the water – carefully, as it will spit! Return to low heat to dissolve all the caramel. Pour in some of the reserved pineapple juice and taste (without burning your mouth..) then baste the top of the cake with the warm syrup. Baste every now and then until the top is soft and the sides are sticky with the caramel.