As all dinner parties have themes, this one is meant for occasions: a birthday, Mother’s, Father’s days and anytime you want to treat yourself with something special. I’ve picked recipes that are festive, yet can all be prepared in advance, as none of the dishes require last minute touches, so you have absolutely nothing to do, as long as you start cooking 4-5 hours in advance.
Before starting dinner preparations, when we were just carrying all the groceries back to the house, I was joking with friends that it will only take me about an hour to get everything ready (since I cooked it all once before for two). Needless to say, I was overly optimistic… Prepping for a dinner for seven takes a bit longer than for two, and if you add a few kitchen injuries and photographing (and the mess that comes with it) to the process, the timeline does extend considerably.
However, unless you’re planning to document the process, it will take about 2,5 hours of hands on preparation for dinner.
The dinner begins with a simple smoked salmon, avocado and horseradish – lime cream starter. Quick and easy to prepare and everything can be stored in the fridge till needed. This is a variation of salmon and horseradish lime cream canapes, I’ve posted years ago, but a little less labour intensive.
For the main course, is lamb braised in red wine with rosemary and garlic, served with Provencal tian with balsamic relish. Lamb requires at least 3 hours of braising time, but can even be prepared the day before and reheated. Provencal tian, which is a pretty looking vegetable bake, requires most hands on work in terms of slicing and arranging, but looks lovely on the table and goes perfectly with lamb. The tian can also be prepared in advance and reheated in the oven.
To finish the dinner is a flourless chocolate cake, topped with vanilla whipped cream and fresh strawberries. I usually spice up the cake with Grand Marnier, but this time used Crème de Cassis (blackberry liquor) for a bit of variety. I chose this cake as it’s very easy to make and who doesn’t love a good bite of chocolate at the end of the dinner?
Start dinner preparations with the cake (you can make this the day before). Heat the oven to 180C/356F. Measure all the ingredients before starting. I’ve doubled the regular recipe, so with more ingredients preparation will take about 20 minutes and another 40-45 minutes to bake.
For the cake of this mass it’s easiest to use 24 cm cake tin, but if you want it to be as high as mine, use an 18 cm tin, and after buttering line the sides with baking parchment allowing it to rise 5 cm above the tin, this will extent the tin and while baking, the chocolate cake will not go over sides.
Once your cake is in the oven, start with the lamb. Be sure to get all your ingredients measured and cut before you start. It will take about 30 minutes of preparation and hands on cooking, before leaving to simmer.
Don’t forget your cake, and once it is out reduce the oven temperature to 130C/266F.
Next start with balsamic shallot relish for the tian. While the relish is cooking slice all the vegetables and prepare your assembly line. Mandoline works best for slicing so thinly, but when working fast, take care for your fingers (two of mine were victims of the process).
Depending on how neatly you want to arrange your tian it can take between 15 to 35 minutes of arranging time (it took me around 30). Cover with a parchments and place in the oven to bake for 2 hours, after which remove parchment and bake for another 30 minutes.
Prepare your starter. Arrange the smoked salmon on a serving platter and sprinkle with lime zest. Slice and grill ciabatta and set aside. Mix all the ingredients for the cream and set in the fridge.
Peel and slice avocado, arrange on a serving plate or place it in a bowl, squeeze a little lime juice to prevent discolouring and keep in the fridge till needed. Take all the ingredients out of the fridge 15 minutes before serving, so they wouldn’t be too cold to eat.
The last on the list are whipping the cream and slicing strawberries. Keep them in the fridge till serving (just don’t put the cake in fridge, it’ll become dense) and enjoy the dinner!
- 1 ciabatta bread, sliced
- ½ kg smoked salmon
- 4 avocados
- 1 lime juice and zest
- 2 tablespoons of chopped cilantro
- Frisee salad (optional)
- 10 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 2 ½ tablespoons horseradish
- 3 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
- 3 lime zest finely grated
- pinch of salt
- Freshly grounded black pepper
- Arrange smoked salmon on the serving platter and scatter lime zest on top.
- Heat a griddle pan and quickly grill ciabatta slices, set aside.
- Mix all the ingredients for the horseradish cream, taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. Store in the fridge.
- Peel, core and slice avocado, arrange on a serving platter, squeeze a little lime juice on top to prevent discoloring and keep in the fridge till needed.
- Take everything out of the fridge 15 minutes till serving, to come to room temperature. Scatter the chopped cilantro on top of avocados before serving. You can also serve with some frisee salad.
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2,4 kg in pieces of lamb shoulder
- 2 large onions, diced
- 5 medium carrots, peeled and cut in 3-4 pieces
- 1-heaped tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 bottle red wine (750 ml)
- 2 x 400 grams canned tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- large bunch of rosemary
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- freshly grounded pepper
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 5 shallots, peeled, halved and sliced
- 7 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 tranche of thyme (optional)
- pinch of salt
- 2 small courgettes (zucchinis), thinly sliced
- 1 summer squash, thinly sliced
- 2 small eggplants, thinly sliced
- 5 tomatoes, thinly sliced
- 5 garlic cloves, halved
- few oregano springs
- handful of basil leaves
- 250 grams cherry tomatoes, halved
- extra virgin olive oil for drizzling on top
- freshly grounded pepper
- Heat as large heavy bottomed pot with 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
- Season the lamb with salt and pepper and quickly brown on all sides. Depending on the size of your cuts, you may have to do it in several batches. Set aside.
- In the same pot sauté the onions for a few minutes, till they soften, add garlic and carrots and cook for another few minutes.
- Stir in tomato paste, coating all vegetables, followed by balsamic vinegar.
- Finally, pour in red wine, canned tomatoes, brown sugar and stir.
- Add rosemary, bay leaves, cover and simmer for 3 hours.
- After 3 hours you can either drain the liquid and boil it down rapidly to reduce by half – two thirds, or after 2,5 hours take the lid of and increase the heat for the liquid to reduce.
- It’s essential to reduce the sauce in order to concentrate the flavour.
- Return the meat to the pot to warm up, it will be very tender and falling of the bone.
- Heat the oven to 130C/266F.
- Heat the olive oil in a heavy based pan and sauté the shallots for about 5-10 minutes.
- Pour in the balsamic vinegar, sugar and continue cooking until the vinegar is almost gone, which will take another 10-15 minutes.
- Spread the shallot relish on the bottom of the baking tin and layer courgette, squash, eggplant and tomato slices. It took me about 30 minutes to layer them this way, but if you don’t care about the looks you could probably do this faster.
- Scatter cherry tomatoes, garlic halves and fresh herbs on top. Season with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil on top.
- Cut a circle out of a baking parchment, big enough to cover the vegetables and bake for 2 hours. Then remove the parchment and bake for another 30 minutes.
- 400 grams good quality chocolate (14 ounces)
- 160 grams butter (2/3 cup), plus extra for greasing baking tin
- 8 eggs, separated
- pinch of salt
- 100 grams sugar (2/3 cup)
- 4 tablespoons Creme de Cassis (optional)
- 250 ml cream, cold (a bit more than 1 cup)
- 1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 250 grams fresh strawberries (about 2 cups)
- Heat the oven to 180C/356F.
- Melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl over simmering water, stirring once in a while. It will take 5-7 minutes for the chocolate and butter to melt.
- Note: be sure the water is not boiling or touching the bowl with chocolate, or the chocolate may cook.
- While the chocolate and butter are melting butter 24 cm baking tin and set aside.
- Once chocolate has melted, remove the bowl from simmering water and stir in the sugar.
- Next, stir in the egg yolks one at a time.
- Finally, add Creme de Cassis, if using.
- Quickly whip the egg white with a pinch of salt to stiff peaks.
- Gently fold in the whipped eggs whites into the chocolate batter. Starting with ⅓ of egg whites to thin the batter then gently adding the rest. Do not overmix.
- Pour everything into the buttered tin and bake for 35-45 minutes.
- Once baked, let it rest 5-10 minutes before serving.
- To make the perfect whipped cream, be sure to not only use very cold cream (straight out of the fridge) and if possible chill the bowl before whipping. You can place it for 10 minutes in the freezer, or in these weather conditions outside will do just fine.
- Whip cream with sugar and scraped vanilla seeds until stiff peaks form. A step beyond that is butter. If not serving directly keep it in the fridge till needed.
- Serve with fresh strawberries.