Having a party? Do it the Pete Evans way, or with marie claire

Canapés and cocktails? Or drinks and nibbles?

By Robyn Lewis
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My Party by Pete Evans

My Party by Pete Evans [©Murdoch Books]

Drinks and Nibbles by Michele Cranston

 

Having a party? Celebrity chef and bestselling author Pete Evans has teamed up with mixologist Mark Ward, “to make the job of hosting a cocktail party as easy as choosing a theme”.

The media release promises that you can: “pair delectable chilli beef empanadas with the ultimate margarita, team strawberry shortcake with a classic Champagne cocktail, or enjoy Peking duck pancakes alongside tangy lychee martinis.

Each chapter offers an array of delicious recipes, accompanied by a selection of the perfect drinks to match”.

So, let’s have a look at the food and drink themes.

The chapter on ‘pool parties’ raises the bar considerably for weekend backyard entertaining: tartlets filled with Caesar salad and quail eggs, sushi, tempura (not a relaxing food choice for the cook), tuna tartare on (home made) potato crisps – although you could cheat and use thin biscuits – mini sandwiches, which Evan’s regards as ‘one of the highlights of any party’, seared scallops…. There’s lots of seafood, and not an inconsiderable amount of work.

Evans’ variant of Tahitian fish salad (aka ‘kokoda’ or ceviche) comes from a friend in Darwin, and it’s great when the weather’s hot, given lots of limes and ultra fresh, firm-textured fish. Along with the watermelon and feta salad, these are two dishes you can prepare ahead.

The cocktails are fruity, and also require last-minute effort. Hmm. I’d rather be in the pool personally, but for an evening poolside cocktail party, maybe, especially if you have help at hand or bring in the caterers and barman.

Next comes ‘Club Med’, a theme with flavours from the Mediterranean, from Spain to Turkey. Pumpkin fritters, lamb skewers, mushroom tartlets, crumbed lamb brains (not for your average party), Spanish croquettes, haloumi and mint parcels – all food suitable for a party in summer or when the weather begins to cool. The drinks selection is largely based on Mediterranean liqueurs like Campari and Chartreuse.

Spice nights’ covers Asian flavours: bites bursting with sour, salt, lime and spices like Melbourne’s Coda restaurant’s Adam D’Sylva’s recipe for crispy prawn and tapioca betel leaf (basically a tempura, i.e. don’t do this if you want to mingle with your guests, unless they are helping you).

Ah, I get it now – maybe it’s because I don’t live in Sydney – Pete Evans has a catering business, to go with his string of six Hugo’s restaurants. When you get past the tedious flash intro to his website, we learn that he and his team have catered for the likes of Collette Dinnegan, The Prince and Princess of Denmark, the Oatley family, the Lowes, Virgin, BMW…

So, these are caterers’ recipes, like his winning wagyu tataki and crispy garlic and shallots, fresh prawn spring rolls with nuoc cham, interspersed with easier/achievable ones like Peking duck rolls (which are great if you live in a large city, as you can buy everything ready-made in Chinatown), or fried crispy chicken with black vinegar dressing.

And so on, with the combination of spices and fresh produce that characterizes Evans’ cuisine, with chapters on ‘carnival’ (Mexican and South American inspired; bring on the margaritas and sangrita!) and ‘supper club’ – slightly more substantial versions of the canapé to serve mid evening party, such as sweet corn soup with mussels, basil and chilli; pork and fennel sausage rolls; beef and shiraz pies (to have with a glass of red rather than a cocktail), and steamed scallop won tons from Gilbert Lau, formerly of The Flower Drum in Melbourne.

Then there’s ‘black tie’. One of the recipes here is from Jimmy Shu of Darwin’s Hanuman restaurant, oysters with lemongrass, sweet basil, chilli and coriander, and is particularly delicious. Another is by Nick Hannaford of Lifetime Private Retreats on South Australia’s Kangaroo Island: barbecued baby abalone with orange honey and kaffir lime. Evans likes to borrow from his chef friends.

Others are from his own high-end parties: foie gras pâté on toasted brioche with sauternes jelly – perhaps with the sauternes jelly spritzer, made with pinot gris – and the classic smoked salmon blinis with crème fraîche and caviar, although for the latter my preference would be Champagne.

All sounds very yummy, but for black tie, I’d rather be out than at home.

My sort of party is one where much of the preparation is done in advance. It’s thus the ‘high tea’ (really, dessert) section I find most appealing. You can easily pre-make the grapefruit and Campari granita, the cannoli with pistachio and ricotta filling, the mini lemon tarts or tiramisus, the vanilla panna cotta with peach jelly, or the yoghurt gelato with berry fruits, and assemble them just before serving. These are desserts that you could serve at any occasion you have guests.

Evans finishes this section with recipes for iced teas, evoking lazy, humid Southern belle summers, and two royales, one made with sparking rosé, the other with sparking white wine, followed by handy tips, a sort of glossary with interesting recipes for ‘signature sugars’ (chilli, lemon, vanilla, etc), homemade brews (ginger beer and lemonade), and jellies and foams.

I’m not surprised that in the credits he says it’s been the most enjoyable book he and his team have worked on: “we basically had our own small party every day”!

In these days of the computer-generated index, it seems too much to hope for a separate index for food, and another for drinks, but surely there’s an easy way round this? It would have added considerably to the ease of use of my party. And how did mint julep and Kentucky ice cream end up under B? Someone forgot to press the indent button under bourbon, I guess.

My party would be excellent inspiration for someone planning a wedding, or if you are either running or thinking of setting up your own catering company.

Certainly, my party will whet your appetite for an afternoon or evening of canapés and cocktails, but whether you aspire to make the recipes yourself or to bring in the caterers – well, I know which I’d prefer. Or you might dine at one of the Hugo’s restaurants in Sydney, with a barman at hand to whip up a cocktail or two while you savour Evans’ canapés in situ.

 

Similarly named but somewhat more achievable at home without masses of kitchen help are the recipes in drinks and nibbles by Michele Cranston. The book starts with really easy party food ideas – such as mini pizzas topped with prosciutto and figs (in summer) or roasted red peppers and goat’s cheese – and then follows with simple but stylish recipes such as fried green olives, seared tuna with kaffir lime leaf and peanuts (on cucumber rounds) or soy beef with pickled ginger.

There are also some DIY biscuits like pistachio and orange crackers, bread sticks with black sesame and cumin, and the old standby parmesan biscuits. A number of recipes utilize mini savoury tart shells, which Cranston advises to buy ready-made (look up a recipe on the internet if you want to make them yourself). The globe artichoke filling is quick, easy and excellent.

There’s another ceviche (yes, raw fish really is delicious), a sushi and a tempura; in general the recipes are a degree or three less complicated and time-consuming than those in my party – they still show you’ve made more effort and style than opening a tub of dip, some nuts and chips, but recognize that in the majority of Australian homes, kitchen help is non-existent, and most of us have plenty of other things we’d rather do before or during a party.

This doesn’t apply to the vegetarian-friendly salt and pepper tofu: for anything deep fried, you can’t do this and mingle at the same time – when you see ‘serve immediately’, turn the page. (You could also do as one of my friends does in summer, take the deep-fryer outside and set it up next to the barbecue).

The recipes (and photos) are stylish as befits the marie claire brand, but designed ‘with the needs of busy people in mind’; the drinks are similar. You needn’t have a degree in mixology for these, and several can be made in a jug-quantity rather than individually. Once again the index jumbles both food and drinks together; I’ll just have to live with it and use different-coloured sticky tabs, I guess.

Although the book has a light air of summer, most of the nibbles could be served year-round. So, if party time is coming soon to your house, and you want to do it yourself – especially if you are on a budget and/or with limited time – you won’t go far wrong with drinks & nibbles for your canapés and cocktails.

 

My party – canapés and cocktails by Pete Evans is published by Murdoch Books (NSW 2010; hc, 256 pp) and retails for RRP A$49.95

Check the latest online prices at Booko.com.au here >>

 

Drinks & nibbles by Michele Cranston is published by Murdoch Books for Marie Claire (NSW 2009; sc, 160 pp) and retails for RRP A$27.99.

Check the latest online prices at Booko.com.au here >>

You might also be lucky, and find one at half price in a bookshop.

 

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