The hardest part about Ray’s dinner party inspirations is finding enough plates to serve it all on.
When I'm asked where the best food is to be had, I usually reply "at home". This doesn't mean I try to reproduce plated restaurant-style food at home — the 90s are over! Go easy on yourself. Large platters for everyone to help themselves to are much less pretentious. They insure a convivial atmosphere of sharing and talking and are traditional in most old cultures. Let the professionals do fiddly presentation, at home all I try to do is let the food speak for itself. Restaurant style food isn't superior to good domestic cooking, it is just different in style. With this in mind, a great, three-course dinner party can often be a case of good shopping. Usually it is the main course I spend the most time on, the rest is strictly retail therapy with some assembly and minimal cooking. If you haven't much time to cook, go to a restaurant and don't serve your guests food that you haven't cooked before — it's culinary Russian roulette. Try things on the family first to be sure; they are usually very forgiving if it turns ugly.
An Asian menu
An Asian inspired dinner party could start with duck rice rolls made from half a Chinese roast duck bought from your local Chinese restaurant, meat pulled off the bones and used to fill Vietnamese rice papers that have been soaked in warm water until flexible, along with sliced iceberg lettuce, grated carrot and mint leaves. Just put a little of everything on a soaked rice paper, fold the sides in and roll up like a spring roll. Serve with a dipping sauce of equal parts fish sauce and lime juice, sliced garlic and chilli and the sauce well sweetened with sugar so the salty, sweet, sour and hot flavours are balanced. The rolls can be made in advance and, so they don't stick, covered with a damp cloth until needed. Serve them halved, filling-side up, with the dipping sauce in a bowl on the side.
For the main, put some thick, skinned, boned fish fillets side by side in a baking dish. Sprinkle with Japanese soy sauce, ginger juice made by grating ginger and squeezing out the juice, a splash of Chinese black vinegar and a drizzle of sesame oil. Bake at 200C until just cooked. Serve sprinkled with prawns which have been lightly poached in salted water, halved cherry tomatoes (they transcend seasonality), sliced spring onions, coriander sprigs and a good dusting of bought fried shallots. All you need with this is baby bok choy quartered length ways, wilted in boiling water, well drained and tossed in a little oyster sauce, and a big bowl of steamed jasmine rice.
Pudding can simply be warm bananas which have been roasted in the oven in their skins until bursting, served with coconut cream and a chilled palm sugar syrup made by melting 160g grated dark palm sugar and 100ml water over low heat. Sprinkle with Fresh As freeze-dried lychees and toasted long-strand coconut.
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A Mediterranean menu
If you feel like Mediterranean food, start with a meze platter of kalamata olives, crumbled feta sprinkled with extra virgin olive oil, toasted sesame seeds and smoked paprika, a bowl of bean puree made with a can of drained butter beans pureed with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and garlic with chopped coriander and finely diced preserved lemon peel stirred into it, slices of your favourite salami, some paper-thin sliced prosciutto and sliced chargrilled red capsicums all served with warm Turkish pide bread.
For the main, roast or barbecue a large piece of eye fillet that has been trimmed of all fat and sinew and rubbed with extra virgin olive oil and lots of crushed garlic and cracked black pepper. Once cooked the way you like it, rest it and serve it thinly sliced on a big platter. On top put sliced leeks, slow-fried in extra virgin olive oil, chopped soft boiled eggs, capers, sliced gherkins, chopped parsley and anchovies mixed with a little e.v.o. and tarragon vinegar. All it needs with it is pommes anna — lots of thin-sliced peeled agria potatoes, layered in a buttered gratin dish with garlic, salt, pepper and more butter and baked for 45 minutes to an hour until tender. Serve a big green salad to follow.
Finish with peeled, cored, quartered pears that have been placed side by side in a roasting pan, drizzled with white wine, a little butter, muscovado sugar and coarsely ground cardamom seeds and roasted at 180C for 40 minutes or until tender and the liquid syrupy. Serve with small wedges of good ricotta (you can't go past the Zany Zeus brand) and liquid cream.
An eclectic menu
The eclectic cook could try a first course of updated Fijian kokoda. Slice very fresh firm white fish thinly on the diagonal and marinate in lime juice until it turns white. Drain, place on a platter in one layer and sprinkle with sliced red chilli, finely chopped ginger, a little finely chopped red onion, grated carrot and thinly sliced red capsicum. Dress with thick coconut cream, sprinkle with chopped coriander and serve with hot poppadoms and lime wedges for squeezing.
For the main, place thick pork chops side by side in a large baking tray. Sprinkle well with white wine, chopped garlic, not too many fennel seeds and some coriander seeds. Place some of those small lunchbox gala apples from the supermarket around the chops and bake for an hour at 190C or until the pork is very tender, the liquid evaporated, the fat crisp and the apples tender and collapsing. Make gravy with the degreased pan juices, more white wine, chicken stock and a light thickening of cornflour and water.
Serve with well-seasoned mashed agria potatoes that have been whipped with hot milk, lots of butter and chopped parsley, and steamed beans or sweet stem broccoli.
Finish with a loaf of bought gingerbread, warmed, sliced and served with vanilla bean icecream, caramel sauce, (made by boiling sugar with a little water until dark golden, to which— after it is off the heat — you carefully add cold cream to dilute to a pouring consistency; re-melt over low heat if there are any lumps) and whipped cream.