16th July 2012 Helen 0Comment

These days when we say the party starts at 2 it’s not an after-pub affair and the only people falling over are toddlers.  What different times we live in!

At our son’s 3rd birthday party we were feeding the usual medley of friends and a smattering of family. Its nice to keep the food casual but tasty. We may not have a chair or a table for everyone but, lets be honest, with almost everyone  holding / feeding / wiping a child at some point, finger food is the order of the day!

The menu was beef burgers; chickpea and coriander burgers; crusty bread rolls; variety of dressings and dips; and the usual salads.  I have barely any photos of the finished items as they were all eaten – a great complaint, but the recipes are below. In the meantime, the kids happily grazed on homemade mini pizzas and sausages (and a sampling of the burgers!) before being unleashed on the sweet treats.

So as to avoid complete chaos I like being able to prepare a good amount of the food the day before.  At least that means I don’t spend the run up to the party ushering kids and husband out of the kitchen and shouting. Well that’s the theory anyway! Some stressful experience has also shown there’s nothing worse than standing over a sweltering hob while everyone else is enjoying the party, so being organised ahead of time saves me lots of stress.

Homemade Beef Burgers

I’ve tried a fair few recipes for burgers but this is my favourite and is largely based on one from Rachel Allen’s excellent book Food for Living with a few minor tweaks.I mixed up the ingredients and made the individual patties up, the night before and stored them in the fridge – and this helped the patties hold their shape when cooked.  About an hour before everyone arrived I seared the burgers and placed them on a large, deep baking tray covered in tin foil. Then, with about half an hour to go I just popped them into the warm oven, knowing they won’t dry out but will cook through.

Ingredients
Makes about 12 medium sized patties

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 small onions,peeled and finely chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper
800g minced beef
4 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely crushed
1 large egg
50g breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons of Worchestershire Sauce

Instructions
1.Pour the olive oil into a warm frying pan and add the onion.  Season and cover.  Sweat over a low heat for about 10 minutes until cooked.  Set aside and allow to cool completely.

2. Mix all the ingredients together and season.

3. Scoop up portions of the mixture and shape into patties. Put into the fridge for at least half an hour so patties will hold their shape when cooked.

4. To cook, place on an oiled frying pan at a medium heat and cook on both sides for 6-8 minutes.  Alternatively cook until seared – about 2 mins, on each side and put on a baking tray. Cover with tin foil.  Put  in an oven preheated to 180C for 20 mins, until cooked through.

* two notes from the recipe worth considering:
(1) if you want to check the seasoning, cook a tiny bit of the mixture on a hot pan as you go along, and add more if necessary.
(2) you can freeze the patties individually from the end of step 3.

Chickpea and Coriander Burgers

I got this beautiful recipe from the BBC Goodfood website – which has a great back-catalogue of recipes.  As a ‘reformed vegetarian’ I often forget how amazing vegetarian food can be – and how cheap it can be to serve up for a crowd.  Again, I made up the mixture and the patties the night before, seared the burgers beforehand and cooked in the oven until ready. The recipe is largely the same as the BBC one though I like pre-cooking the onions for a really sweet, carmelised taste.

Yumm…recipe and photograph compliments of  BBC Goodfood

Ingredients
Makes about 10 medium sized patties
400g can of chickpeas, drained
zest of one lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
small bunch of coriander, chopped
1 egg
100g breadcrumbs
1/2 medium red onion, chopped finely
1 tablespoon olive oil

Instructions
1.Pour the olive oil into a warm frying pan and add the onion.  Season and cover.  Sweat over a low heat for about 10 minutes until cooked.

2. Mix all the ingredients – except the breadcrumbs and onion, in a food processor, and whizz to a fairly smooth ‘paste’.  Mix in a bowl adding the onions and 80g of the breadcrumbs.

3. Scoop up portions of the mixture and shape into patties. Coat both sides of the patties in breadcrumb.  Put into the fridge for at least half an hour so patties will hold their shape when cooked.

4. To cook, place on an oiled frying pan at a medium heat and cook on both sides for 4 minutes.  Alternatively cook until seared – about 1 min, on each side and put on a baking tray. Cover with tin foil.  Put  in an oven preheated to 180C for 20 mins, until cooked through.

Crusty Bread Rolls

These rolls are simply beautiful.  It was extra handy to be able to make these the right size to fit the burgers. I made about 60 and was left with, I think, 3! A vote of confidence I think!  These were made fresh the morning of the party – but are well worth it!  This recipe is from Nigella Lawson’s strangely great (in so far as its a complete mash up of everything) book Feast.  There’s a fairly similar one in my favourite River Cottage Bread Book but the lovely photos in Nigella’s book won me over!

Sesame and poppy seed covered rolls

Ingredients

Each batch makes about 25 to 30 rolls.

500 – 600g strong / very strong plain flour

3 teaspoons (1 sachet, c.7g) quick acting yeast (i.e. the type you’d use in a bread machine)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon caster sugar

375ml milk

20-25g butter

For the toppings:

1 egg, beaten, 1 tablespoon milk, 1 pinch salt, Sesame seeds, Poppy seeds

Instructions

1. Sift 500g flour into the yeast, salt, and sugar in a large mixing bowl.

2. Warm the milk and add the butter so it just begins to melt.

3. Pour the milk / butter mixture into the dry ingredients and mix (by hand with a wooden spoon or in a mixer using a dough hook) to make a rough dough.  Add some more flour if the dough is too wet – I found I had to add about 50g more.  Knead by hand or with the mixer until the dough is smooth and silky. Using the mixer, I found this takes about 5 minutes.

4. Place the dough in a greased, deep bowl and cover the top with clingfilm. Put in a warm place to rise until about doubled in size – this takes about an hour.

5. Tip the dough out onto a floured surface and ‘knock it back’ punching the air out of it with well-floured hands.

6. Prepare baking trays by lining with greaseproof / silicone paper.  Pull / cut off walnut sized pieces of dough, and shape gently into a round. Place onto the tray about 5mm apart so that, as the dough rises, the rolls will be touching.

7. Set aside, covered with a tea towel and leave in a warm place to rise for about half an hour.  Preheat the oven to 220C while you wait.

8. When the rolls have risen, beat together the milk, egg and salt.  Paint gently across the rolls to glaze.  Scatter seeds across the top.

Proven and glazed rolls just before cooking

9. Bake for 15 minutes.  The rolls should be golden brown and all joined together.

Pull apart, smother in butter and enjoy!

Dips and Relishes
I made three dips / relishes – Avocado Guacamole Dip; Cucumber Relish; and Homemade Tomatoe Ketchup.  Again, I made each of these the day before the party and stored in the fridge in airtight jars.

Avocado Guacamole
Ingredients:
2 ripe avocados, peeled, stone removed
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander
salt and freshly ground pepper
juice of 1/2 lemon lime
Tabasco sauce – added to taste

Instructions: simply, mash the avocado flesh, and add all the other ingredients, adding the lemon / lime juice and the Tabasco Sauce a dash at a time, to taste.
Note: to keep the Guacamole from ‘browning’ overnight, make sure you add the olive oil, and store in an airtight jar / container in the fridge.

Cucumber Relish
Ingredients
300g unpeeled cucumber, thinly sliced (I used a potatoe peeler)
1 small onion, peeled and very thinly sliced
100g sugar
1 teaspoon salt
75ml cider vinegar or white wine vinegar

Instructions: mix the cucumber and onion in a large bowl, adding the sugar, salt and vinegar.  Mix well. Store in a jar fr at least an hour before eating.

Tomatoe Ketchup
This is the same sauce I used on the kids pizzas. Handy!

Ingredients:
600g ripe, fresh tomatoes
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
5 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons balsalmic vinegar
salt and freshly ground pepper
sugar (added to taste)

Instructions:
1. Chop tomatoes in half. Place on a baking tray cut side up, adding the garlic. Drizzle with oil and balsamic vinegar. Season and add a generous sprinkling of sugar.

2. Bake in an oven, preheated at 180C for about an hour.

3. Whizz in a food processor.

4. Strain through a sieve. Season to taste – I particularly found another sprinkling of sugar was needed probably because the tomatoes were not fully ripe.

5. The sauce should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. If it is not, reduce over a medium heat.

6.  Cool before serving.

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