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Planning for a birthday party

"Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning." Gloria Steinem

June is a month of birthdays in our family - mine, David's and my daughter-in-law's - spaced five days apart and so this weekend it has been decided that this year we will celebrate with a party here. The granddaughters are doing the cake so dessert is taken care of. Although I might make some baklava too as I have some filo that should be used and it's actually pretty easy to do and can be made the day before as well.

Anyway this afternoon I have been spending a pleasant hour or so browsing through a pile of books looking for inspiration for some vegetable sides, a snacky starter and a vegetarian dish. The main event has already been chosen as David is insisting on making his very delicious slow roast lamb, which I shall supplement with a slow roast brisket - because there is a piece in the freezer that should be used and I don't think one leg will feed 10 people. Well I worry that it won't anyway.

"The worst thing that can happen when you cook for others is that you don’t make enough: trust me, this is more important than anything related to what it looks or tastes like. With raw animal instinct, everyone can assess instantly that there will not be enough; they start polite, taking miniature servings that shame you to the core and trigger a catastrophic psychological reaction in all of them. Now they have had a tiny amount, they are ravenous, and nothing will satiate them. Plus they are quickly drunk, and so are you." Zoe Williams/The Guardian

I don't think anyone will be drunk - we are a fairly abstemious family, but there would certainly be some muttering if there wasn't enough. Hence the brisket - I'm just not prepared to risk feeding ten with one leg of lamb which will shrink in size as it cooks.

However. I do think the choice meets Nigel Slater's criteria for cooking a roast for guests:

"if we are taking the simple route (and we are), then it must be more than just the roast we do week in, week out - something more intriguing, something to stir the senses, a dish that smacks of generosity and looks like you gave it a bit of thought."

And yes I am looking for shortcuts and things that can be done in advance - hopefully the day before. Hence the browsing exercise which ended up in a short-list pile of six books and possibilities.

So what was I looking for? There will be Greek roasted potatoes, so I was looking for two, maybe even three accompanying vegetable dishes, bearing in mind that we have one vegetarian in our midst. And she is, perhaps my major problem as she is also a fussy vegetarian. I also need something for people to snack on as they arrive. I don't know about your family, but in mine, the male members at least, do a kind of open the fridge and see what's in it, by looking for something to nibble on whilst the rest of the family arrive and the rest of the dinner is finished. Arrival times are sometimes somewhat fluid because of soccer matches which don't end when they should, so it's best not to have the main dishes ready for the arrival time. Which means something to nibble on must be there. Impatience tends to creep in if not. Calculate at least half an hour later than the notional arrival time I reckon.

So starters. The frontrunner at the moment is this Grilled bread with tomato and fried garlic. It's hardly a recipe and not quite online - just this from it's creator Noor Murad on Instagram:

"Very rough how-to: Grill some stale bread (I used ciabatta). Grill a handful of cherry tomatoes at the same time. Use a box grater to grate some ripe vine tomatoes, discarding the skins. Drain grated tomato and discard watery liquid. Combine grated tomato with crushed garlic, chilli flakes, a splash each of red wine vinegar and olive oil, some salt and pepper. Fry some sliced garlic in olive oil until golden and crispy. Put grilled bread on pretty plate and spoon over grated tomato mixture, grilled cherry tomatoes, fried garlic and it’s oil and top with herbs (I used oregano). Eat as a side- this would go great with lamb or some grilled manouri cheese!"

The text explains that it's a variation on that Pan con tomate which Jill Dupleix tells you all about on her website. And I did a thing on it way back as well. Anyway it looks doable.

Or I could do Ixta Belfrage's Giant cheese on toast - again. I have made this for the family before to great acclaim and I know that all the advice is that you shouldn't experiment on guests, but it's a bit boring doing the same thing again isn't it? Besides it's really not healthy. Lots of cheese and butter involved. But it was easy. And very, very moreish. The tomato dish, on the other hand involves toasting the bread on a griddle which always makes a lot of smoke which is is not desirable. I suppose I could grill it, in the oven but I suspect my two ovens will be taken with roasting meat and vegetables. Which would hold for cheese on toast as well I suppose. But I guess it's just a logistical problem. Decisions, decisions. I guess there are always dips and dukkah. And if I'm panicking nearer the time that's probably what I shall do.

Or - Beverley Sutherland Smith has a recipe for a Cheese onion slice with semi-dried tomato, the recipe for which is not online, but I'm guessing it would look a bit like this one. Although I suppose I could also make any kind of quiche I care to think of, because basically this is a kind of quiche, so it also might be an oven problem.

The vegetarian granddaughter. As I said she is fussy. Cauliflower, eggplant, mushrooms are out which is a pity because I was going to go for Ottolenghi's Curried cauliflower cheese filo pie, which I'm sure I have raved about before - and I do have that filo that needs using. This is a five star dish for me and not that hard to make either. It's tempting to wonder whether it would convert her to cauliflower, but I guess I shouldn't risk it.

So after this afternoon's browsing this leaves me with the OTK M.E. mac'n' cheese with za'atar pesto which is utterly delicious but I've also made that before - so - boring, and besides it doesn't really fit in with with everything else.

But no I have just remembered that I had actually decided to make Glamorgan sausages for her. They are called sausages because of the shape and the fact that they are at least partially, fried. There is no meat involved however, as they consist of just leeks and cheese with a crumbed coating. Actually I had originally considered these as a starter for everybody, but I think they would be too tricky to eat in your fingers.

I had thought of them as something to try and found that Felicity Cloake had made 'perfect' ones, so I shall use her recipe. They will go much better with the vegetable sides which will also provide her with some extra vegetable options to boost the 'sausages'. Some home-made chutney on the side perhaps, and if I get into a last-minute panic then somebody else can step in and finish off the cooking thereof. But I shall have to make enough for everyone to have a taste. They always do try the vegetarian option.

So what about those vegetable sides? Well Greek roast potatoes because we love them. My other options are mostly versions of roasted vegetables - carrots from Jamie or Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall:

or a Tunisian-style mix from Greg Malouf - no, the flavour is not appropriate. Mind you I could just roast some vegetables with my own flavourings, or actually Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has a recipe too and now that I think of it so does Delia.

I'm also tempted by two roast onion recipes, Roasted red onions with port and bay from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Roasted, pickled and fried onions from Ixta Belfrage - no recipe online I'm afraid - but it's an assembly job of onions slowly caramelised with turmeric, spring onions tossed in oil and salt before roasting, topped with pickled red onions.

Perhaps not. Perhaps I'll just do a mix of roasted vegetables including the onions. Which perhaps means I should also do some greens - brussels sprouts perhaps. Maybe braised. I might look online for them, which will be another pleasant half-hour or so of browsing..

Whatever I decide I have had a fun afternoon thinking about it and will probably have a fun couple of days preparing at a leisurely pace as well. And writing this has focussed my ideas a little bit more as well. I'm down to four books now and fewer bookmarks. I shall report back when I have decided.

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