For swinging sixties

The first big occasion Cas Clarke organised was her own wedding reception, so putting on a special spread for 40 guests at her mother's 60th birthday party did not faze her. Michael Bateman continues his series on different styles of entertaining
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
MOTHER'S 60TH

BIRTHDAY PARTY MENU

ORIENTAL PLATTER FROM

SUPERMARKET DELI

POACHED DRESSED SALMON

CORONATION CHICKEN

COLD MEATS PLATTER

SELECTION OF SALADS

RASPBERRY VACHERIN

MANGO AND ORANGE

CHEESECAKE

SELECTION OF CHEESES

BIRTHDAY CAKE

DRINKS

RED AND WHITE WINE

PINK PUNCH

ICED TEA

BEERS AND LAGERS

CHAMPAGNE WITH THE CAKE

FORTY into one small room won't go. But it's your mother's 60th birthday and you're determined to pack them in. Accordingly, you check out the size of trestle tables from a local hire firm.

This was the dilemma facing Cas Clarke. By measuring every alcove, nook and cranny she calculated a strategy to seat all 40 guests. Brilliant. But when the tables arrived, and this she couldn't have reckoned on, they were all too big. At this late stage it takes precious hours to reorganise all the furniture and seating.

"I have a short fuse," says Cas Clarke. "When one thing goes wrong, it makes me aware of the potential of everything else to go wrong. I suddenly thought of all the food and wine I had ordered. Would any of it be ready? What if the supermarket hadn't made up my order of dressed salmon for 40?"

Planning a party so ambitious as this requires some bottle. So, continuing our series on the varied styles of entertaining, we turned to Cas Clarke, famous for her seminal book for students, Grub on a Grant (it has sold 100,000 copies), and now the author of Posh Nosh, which tackles the problem of cooking for special occasions, from birthdays, Easter and Christmas to anniversaries, christenings and weddings.

Cas Clarke speaks with some authority; her first grand party was catering for her own wedding. Wasn't that nerve-racking? "If you can cope with doing it youself," she says, "you can produce a spread far superior to any that a caterer can provide for the same budget. It was the only way I could have the luxury dishes I wanted." Success on this scale gave her the confidence to tackle her mother's 60th birthday.

A sense of hospitality and entertaining is in her genes, she thinks. Cas (an unlikely diminutive for Carole) comes from Northumberland mining stock. Her uncle played football at school with Jackie and Bobbie Charlton (the royal family of the town of Ashington). Great grandma, who lived to the grand old age of 97, was a stupendous host, entertaining friends and family who'd trek from miles around for Sunday high tea. She accommodated them in three sittings. Cas was deprived of fulfilling a Northumbrian childhood, she says, because her mother eloped when she was 20 and wasn't accepted back into the fold for some years.

And so it was that Cas decided to organise a 60th birthday party, the first party since her childhood, for her mother in Milton Keynes, 100 miles from Cas's home in Surrey.

"It would have been too costly to hand the whole thing over to caterers," she says. "But it would also have been too difficult to do the whole thing myself at this distance." How to maximise the best of both worlds?

The key first step in planning is to assess numbers and then you can work to a budget. "It always costs more than you think," Cas says. She went through the Yellow Pages and got quotes from three companies.

"I'm not even going to tell you how much it cost me to hire the tables, tablecloths, serving platters, crockery, silver punchbowls. I haven't even dared tell my husband yet - although it wasn't that bad; luckily, it was a mid-week party, and not too difficult to arrange hire of things."

Cas's husband, Andy, volunteered to decorate Cas's mother's house. They ordered flowers. And yellow and white crepe paper (in the end Andy spent 12 hours dressing the house, including draping the crepe paper across ceiling and walls to create a marquee effect). They bought dozens of yellow and white balloons to fill every corner.

It wasn't difficult for Cas to decide on the food. There would be a mix of generations, but the greatest concern was to please her mother's friends. A couple of dishes, she finds, are such clear winners on these occasions they virtually choose themselves: a cold salmon mayonnaise, followed by coronation chicken.

Coronation chicken (cold chicken in a creamy, mild curry sauce) has been one of the most popular banqueting dishes of the last 40 years, but a certain snobbishness keeps it out of most recipe collections. Cas is not a snob. Her mother's friends will love it. It is quite time-consuming to prepare but has the advantage that it can be done the day before.

The cold dressed salmon mayonnaise she will buy in from Waitrose. It's fiddly work, cleaning, poaching, boning and dressing whole salmon; and you can order the exact quantity with no waste or worry.

This leaves her hands free to expend her skills on a choice of really tasty and traditionally well-received salads (Mediterranean pasta, brown rice and lentils, and three bean salad); some splendid desserts (raspberry vacherin, mango and orange cheesecake); and, of course, the birthday cake).

As this is no ordinary celebration, Cas chooses to throw in a few extras: cold ham, turkey and beef (the Northern high tea tradition) and a modern touch, an oriental platter from the supermarket (Safeway does one for either 18 or 30 people with spring rolls, samosas, onion bhajis, chicken, satay and peanut sauce).

"We're mad about blue cheese in our family and a lot of people don't like desserts anyway, so I ordered some Stilton and Roquefort and Gorgonzola, as well as Scottish Cheddar and Brie.

"Drinks. I ordered plenty of wine. I allowed a bottle a person, and a glass of champagne for everyone. Also beers, lagers, and soft drinks. I do two delicious non-alcoholic drinks - pink punch (with cranberry juice, spark-ling apple juice, orange juice and ice) and iced tea, which is a lovely drink for a warm summer evening (for an alcoholic version you would add some light or dark rum)."

COUNTDOWN

B-day (birthday) minus two weeks: Bake the birthday cake. Start feeding it with Cognac and Cointreau.

B-day minus one week: Get mother to clear house to permit arrival of hired goods. Make numerous shopping lists and checklists.

B-day minus 3: Descend on mother for three-day blitz. Put the marzipan on the cake.

B-day minus 2: Do all the shopping. Make the coronation chicken (boil four chickens, cool them, strip the meat, put on the mayonnaise dressing). Ice the cake.

B-day minus 1: The Big Cook-in. I make the three salads and start on the two desserts. Andy puts up the decorations. That evening we order a Chinese takeaway.

B-day: I finish making the desserts. My brother goes off to collect the salmon and ice. Everyone helps to lay the buffet table. The white wine is put to chill. Open some red wine. Get dressed. Then have a little drink.

CORONATION CHICKEN

Serves 30 as part of a buffet

This is a very easy recipe to make and it is also very useful, as the preparation is all done in advance - one reason why we made it as part of the main course at my mother's birthday bash. Do be warned, however, that it is time-consuming. Two days before the event my mother and I spent a merry afternoon cooking, cooling and shredding the chickens and making up the sauce - we also quaffed a fair amount of wine in the process!

Place the chickens in large saucepans with boiling water. Divide the carrots, sliced onion, bay leaves and peppercorns between the chickens. Cover the pans, bring to the boil and then simmer for 1-114 hours unti lthe chickens are cooked. (If pricked the juices will run clear.) Cool in the liquid. When cool, remove the skin and bones and cut the chicken into bite-size pieces. Refrigerate.

To make the sauce, cook the chopped onion in the butter until soft. Add the apricots, saffron, lemon rind, honey, curry paste and wine. Simmer uncovered for 1 hour until mixture has thickened and reduced. Cool and refrigerate. Up to this stage, the recipe can be done two days before the event.

A few hours you are ready to serve the dish, mix the sauce with the mayonnaise and cream, then stir in the chicken. Serve on a bed of watercress.

MEDITERRANEAN

PASTA SALAD

Serves 10 (or 20 as part of a buffet)

This is an extremely popular recipe in our household. Not only is it included in buffets when we are entertaining, but it is an integral part of our summer meals. It goes particularly well with grilled or barbecued meats and it also makes a regular appearance at Sunday lunchtime.

Cook pasta bows until "al dente" and drain. Meanwhile mix together the oil, vinegar, tomato pure and red pesto. Season well. If the sun-dried tomatoes are whole, cut them up into small pieces. Now mix the pasta, dressing, sun-dried tomatoes and olives (if using) together and top with basil leaves. This salad can be made the day before you need it.

THREE BEAN SALAD

Serves 10 (or 20 as part of a buffet)

Mix together the beans and then stir or shake the rest of the ingredients together. Season well. Now stir everything together. (Handle the beans gently, as canned beans can sometimes fall apart if roughly treated). This salad keeps well overnight.

BROWN RICE AND LENTIL SALAD

Serves 10 (or 20 as part of a buffet)

During the winter months this is a salad that can be found most weeks in our fridge. We serve it as an alter-native to potatoes with grilled meats and fish, but I also serve it as a main course with a garlic or salsa sauce. I always find it amazing that something that is so healthy and quick to make can taste so good.

Mix together the lentils and rice, stir in 112 pints/750ml boiling water, cover and cook until tender, but not mushy. Drain if necessary, and leave to cool. Add the carrots and pumpkin seeds. Stir or shake the rest of the ingredients together and mix them into the lentils and rice. Can be made the day before serving.

Chill all the ingredients before using. Just before you are ready to serve, mix all the ingredients together in a jug or punch bowl. Use plenty of ice.

Make up the tea with the teabags, caster sugar, boiling water and half of the mint. Leave ti infuse for 20 minutes and then remove the teabags and mint. Leave until completely cool and then add the orange, lime and lemon juice with the rest of the mint. Add the sliced orange and ice just before serving.

Pre-heat the oven to its lowest setting. To the stiffly beaten egg whites add half the caster sugar and beat until glossy. Gently fold in the rest of the caster sugar and the sieved tablespoon of cornflour.

Using the base of a 9in/23cm springform cake tin, draw two circles on some non-stick baking parchment. Spread the meringue on those circles so that you have two rounds of meringue that will eventually fit inside the cake tin. Level the circles and cook them in the pre-heated oven for 2-212 hours, until they are completely dry. These meringue circles can be made in advance and kept in an airtight container.

On the day before you wish to serve your raspberry vacherin, put one meringue circle in the bottom of your 9in/23 cm springform tin, melt the chocolate and pour it over the meringue. Reserve half of the raspberries and sieve the rest into a bowl. Mix in the sieved icing sugar. Melt the raspberry jam and add with the cassis (if using) to the sieved raspberries. Spread or pour 2 tablespoons of the mixture over the chocolate. Mix 2 tablespoons with the reserved raspberries. Now add the remaining mixture to the whipped cream.

Make up the gelatine as directed on the packet, but using 3 tablespoons of water. Stir the dissolved gelatine into the raspberry and cream mixture. Spread this mixture over the meringue. Now top with the other meringue circle. Chill until set (I like to leave it overnight).

To decorate, carefully unmould the vacherin and spread the beaten double cream around the edges. Using your fingers or a flat knife, gently press the almonds over the cream. Top with the reserved raspberries in raspberry jam and cassis mixture.

!`Posh Nosh' by Cas Clarke is published by Headline Books at £5.95

Comments