A birthday feast made easy

Last week was Mr T’s birthday. He wanted it to be a low key affair, as he doesn’t like to fuss over getting another year older, but I managed to convince him otherwise and have a house party instead. “Ok” he said “ but only a few people because I want to be able to talk to everyone “. That’s easier said than done, the close family alone adds up to 16 ( with kids, partners and grand kids! ), so when it came to invite friends as well we kept it intimate and asked his oldest mates over. By oldest, I mean people Mr T has known since childhood and kept in touch with his whole life. This is something that amazes me as I lost contact with nearly all my school friends in France, and have Facebook to thank for reconnecting with a few of them in the past 10 years.
So we had Ian, Bill and Phyllis, Ross and Carol, Alan and Sandra whose friendship with Mr T dates back to primary school, and have endured thru surfing days, motorbikes days, overseas postings, children and now grand-children…

Mr T was always a daredevil at heart and has tried his hand at various mechanical endeavours: from bikes to cars, speed boats, planes, yachts, he is a man consistently on the move and with a competitive inner streak pushing him to be the best at whatever he does. It makes living with him an exciting challenge, a mix of adventure and self-discovery, where one’s comfort zone ( especially mine ) is very often expanded…I managed to resurrect old photos and newspaper clips of his exploits past and presents, displayed them all on a timber pallet ( officiating as a frame ) as well as a tracking his journey ( so far ) on a cork world map.

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This turned out to be a fantastic trip down memory lane for the older folks and a fascinating discovery for the younger ones who had no idea Mr T was like a cat with nine lives.

We made the party an open-ended one, where people could come and go as they pleased. Some showed up at noon and left at 5pm, others joined us at 4pm and stayed till late…Knowing that up to 25 guests would pass thru my front door as they would thru a revolving one, I settled on a menu that included not only Mr T’s favourite dishes, but also food that could easily be served cold or kept warm for a while. Usually I would ask guests to bring a dish ( well, they always ask what to bring beside their drinks, it’s an australian thing ) but this time around I thought I would call on some of our local food providores to save time and effort.
Dozens of Coffin Bay oysters and a side of smoked salmon were ordered from Mrs Fish at the Sutherland markets. The french cheeses were supplied by Stephs Gourmet Foods, also from the markets. As for the main dishes, I called on Shire Foods catering who make a mean potato bake, delicious salads and supplied us with ready to cook chicken wings, lamb and chicken skewers.
I enlisted Mr T’s daughters for curry puffs, as they are his absolute favourite snacks ( actually I have not met anyone who doesn’t like these spicy morsels ) and the girls are experts at making them. They also volunteered to make chocolate cupcakes in lieu of a big birthday cake, an offer I gratefully accepted. This left me plenty of time to set up at a leisurely pace, prepare platters, and make an alternate dessert of individual lemon coconut creme brulees, as I was worried we would not have enough food.

The cold appetisers came out first:

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plump and briny oysters served natural with lemon slices,
smoked salmon with chive cream cheese and taramasalata to spread on fresh bread slices,

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Cheese platter and crackers,

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summer fruit platter of grapes, rockmelon, blood orange, strawberries, pineapple and passion fruit,

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followed by the Curry puffs with their dipping sauces

At that stage it was late afternoon and our first lot of guests elected to go home, not realising there was more food to come. Indeed we had lamb and chicken skewers in the BBQ as well as arancini and potato bake reheating in the oven, which our late comers enthusiastically dug in along with the pumpkin and spinach salad and chinese cabbage salad.

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There was much adult banter around the table while the kids split in groups of boys and girls, the former playing rough on the trampoline and the latter practicing their dance routine in our driveway.

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It was well and truly dark before desserts were brought out and Mr T was made to blow the candles strategically placed on the cupcakes. These were particularly popular with the kids and anyone with a very sweet tooth, while the creme brulees seem to appeal to the more healthy conscious. Not that it made a great deal of difference, once a big dollop of cream was added on top! And considering the enormous amount of food and drinks consumed beforehand, one could hardly argue it was a healthy eating day anyway. But it was such a fun one!

Lemon Coconut Creme Brulee

This recipe came about when I wanted a french-style dessert with some exotic flavour. It is lighter than a traditional creme brulee, as the mixture is not as custardy. As a matter of fact, it is more like a flan really, which happen to have hard caramel on top!

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Serves 4-6 for dessert

Ingredients:
4 large eggs
1 cup coconut milk, well stirred so that the cream is mixed with the liquid
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon zest
1 cup whole milk
1/3 cup caster sugar
1/3 cup soft brown sugar

  1. Preheat the oven to 165C
  2. Beat the eggs, coconut milk, vanilla, lemon zest, milk and sugar in a blender until well mixed. Strain the mixture into a jug
  3. Pour the flan mixture into individual ramekins. Place into a large baking tray and half fill the tray with water.
  4. Bake for 45 minutes or until firm. A little wobbly is ok, it will firm up as it cools.
  5. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely. Once cool, refrigerate until required.
  6. Once ready to serve, remove the flans from the fridge, sprinkle brown sugar evenly across the top of each to cover and broil under a very hot grill until the sugar is melted. Chill in the fridge for a few minutes before serving.
    Note: Watch the grill to ensure the sugar does not burn, a few of my flans did but luckily my guests didn’t mind the strong caramel flavour ( how polite !) Alternatively, you can use a blow torch to harden and caramelise the top of each flans

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