Since unveiling my new kitchen I’ve been on quite the entertaining streak.
I’m not afraid of a mid-week dinner party, because a) it’s cheaper than going out and b) I can control my protein/fat/carb intake.
So, I’ve had some requests from my dinner guests to share some tips for knocking up a midweek feast with maximum taste and minimal cost (to both your wallet and your hips). Even if the word ‘dinner party’ strikes fear into your heart, I promise you can nail these meals.
1) Everything is better roasted
When I say everything, I mean vegetables. Somehow, roasting takes them from humble to sublime in less than an hour.
My fave roasting subjects are:
- Cauliflower – cut into florets and sprinkled with sumac (a fancy spice that you can buy at the supermarket)
- Brussels sprouts – cut them in half first for extra crispiness
- Zucchini and carrots – cut in quarters or eighths lengthways, depending on size
- Broccoli – yep, roasted broccoli is a game changer. Just be careful as it usually cooks the fastest.
- Beetroot – peeled and cut into segments. Take mental note that you’ve eaten them though, so you don’t pee the next day and think you’re dying cos there’s blood in your urine.
You can also roast the usual suspects like potato, kumara and pumpkin. Spray everything with olive oil, and salt it after its cooked.
I also use a silicone baking mat to make cleaning easier and avoid the waste of baking paper. The key is to give them a bit of space between each other so they crisp up – jamming them all up close means the air doesn’t circulate enough.
If you want to go one step fancier, put them all together on a platter, sprinkle crumbled feta, drizzle over some caramelised balsamic glaze, and call it a warm vegetable salad.
2) Fresh salsa makes everything fancier
What to serve with the veggies? I’m fond of salmon fillets with fresh pico de gallo salsa. But you can add the salsa to anything, like steak or chicken.
I get my salmon from Aldi because it’s close to home and I can buy it fresh. Comes out about $4 per person, which is pretty cheap really.
I either pan fry it for a few minutes each side, or wrap it in baking paper and do it in the oven (while our little veggie friends are cooking). Pan frying is easier if people have different preferences – I like mine fairly pink inside but others find that gross.
For the salsa, it’s basically:
- Tomatoes – I prefer cherry or grape tomatoes because they are sweet and firm
- Red onion
- Fresh jalapeno (optional)
- Fresh lime juice
- Olive oil
Dice them all up as finely as possible and throw them together in a bowl. Simples!
How much to use? Just guess. Probably half a punnet of tomatoes, quarter of a red onion, handful of coriander, one lime and a splash of oil. I deseed the jalapeno to take the heat out, but that’s also optional. Basically, it’s flexible depending on how many people and what’s in your fridge.
This salsa is also what they serve with corn chips at nice Mexican restaurants, so don’t be afraid to make a bunch of it and eat the leftovers.
If you have hungry guests with carb-a-licious expectations, you can also cook up some rice to have as a side dish. Although I would argue most people won’t notice the lack of carbs if you load up the veggies.
3) Pre-cook your way to dinner party triumph
One of my go-to, make-ahead dinners is a pasta-free lasagne. Ok, it’s more ‘inspired by lasagne’, but who cares about labels. You can make a vegetarian version or a meat one, depending on guest preferences.
Ingredients (they don’t have to be exact, you can just wing it)
- 500g Mince or 2 x tins of lentils
- 1 onion
- Cumin, coriander, paprika, cayenne pepper
- I jar passata or tin of chopped tomatoes
- Half a butternut pumpkin
- 2 x large zucchinis
- 1 x eggplant
- Olive oil spray
- 1 x tub ricotta
- 1 x tub cottage cheese
Make the filling:
- Chop and sauté and onion in a frypan. Add either 500g of beef mince, or a couple of cans of lentils, and any spices that take your fancy. (Try paprika, cumin, ground coriander, cayenne pepper or some combo of those).
- Add a jar of tomato passata, or just some tinned chopped tomatoes. You don’t want it too sloppy, so add about half the jar and see how it looks, then add a little more at a time. Add some salt and pepper.
You can also add some chopped frozen spinach if you’re thinking about your leafy green intake. Which I often am.
Make the layers:
Slice up eggplant and zucchinis lengthways, as thinly as possible (about 0.5cm-1cm is fine). Peel and slice the butternut pumpkin into thin discs. You can always add some big pieces of capsicum if you have one.
Place them all on a baking tray and spray with olive oil. You want to roast them for about 15-20 mins or so, just to soften them. They will be the equivalent of your pasta sheets.
Make the sauce:
Take a tub of ricotta and a tub of cottage cheese and mix them up together. That’s all for this step!
Assemble the layers:
Grab a lasagne tray, casserole dish or whatever you have. Start with the vegetables – I find eggplant is a good base. Then simply alternate the layers between meat, cheese and veggies. It’s best to end with cheese on top.
It’s totally freeform. I made one this week with no eggplant and only a small tub of cottage cheese (bit of a grocery shopping fail). But I added a bunch of fresh spinach and it was all good in the hood.
And that’s it kids. Just serve it up and let the conversation flow.
PS: Yes, that is my table in the pic. Those are the flowers I rescue when they get rid of them at work every week. The placemats are from Kmart. Fierce, I know.