I love parties because they bring friends and family together. My 40th birthday last August was a special time as I was lucky enough to have a group of friends stay at Otahuna Lodge. I bought a handful of fresh local truffles and, with the help of my friends, I cooked up five delicious courses.
It was the first time I had used truffles and I was fascinated by their heady yet delicate aroma. To begin, I cooked little truffled egg custards with a crisp nashi pear salad and truffled potato wafers inspired by Thomas Keller at his restaurant, The French Laundry. Then came a three mushroom risotto using porcini, portobello and oyster mushrooms, a fantastic Blue River Curio Bay sheep’s milk cheese and fresh shaved Waikeri black truffle.
Next was free-range organic chicken, roasted with a little shaved truffle under the skin, served on truffled potato mash with wilted winter greens. It was divine!
We finished with a simple chocolate espresso cognac torte, using ground almonds instead of flour, which makes it gluten free. We served it with rhubarb sorbet. It was a fantastic way to finish; the sweet and sour rhubarb was a perfect match for the moist, rich cake.
If you are celebrating a birthday in April there are a number of delicious fruits and vegetables in season as the plants that needed the long summer months to ripen are now getting ready to harvest.
Globe and Jerusalem artichokes are at their best right now and will both be a welcome addition to any autumn menu. To make Jerusalem artichoke soup, peel them and toss with lots of garlic and parsnips, then roast them together with olive oil until they start to colour and are nice and soft. Then simply puree in a blender with water until smooth and creamy. Season with flakey sea salt and white pepper and serve the soup in espresso cups with a little drizzle of truffle oil or salsa verde.
If I could give you any advice on hosting a dinner party it would be to keep it simple. Make a series of simple dishes using good-quality ingredients; your success rate will be higher and you’ll have far less stress. Feel free to ask your guests to bring a plate or help out in some other way. Regardless of this, be prepared well in advance. Don’t start serving the food too late or your guests will quickly feel the effects of the alcohol and you’ll wind up feeling rushed. You are better off taking your time and having a relaxed, flowing party.