Category Archives: dinner party

A versatile beef and red wine stew.

A stew for a dinner party. Could I make it work. Yes. I had been reading the book Secret Suppers on underground restaurants, and inspired by the tales within it, decided to hold a ‘secret’ dinner party. The concept was that I would invite three couples to dinner and then two of those couples would each invite a couple, making 12 guests. It meant that not only would the guests be unfamiliar with one another, but so would we and this added a heightened sense of pressure for me to come up with a dish that would be enjoyed by all. Instinctively I chose a beef and red wine stew recipe, one I have made many times before, that I know is easy, but enjoyed by everyone. I also had an idea up my sleeve on how to present it for dramatic effect, to elevate the dish from easy week night meal to dinner fit to entertain a crowd.


The night of the dinner, the table was laid, the fire lit (Thea was in bed!) and as soon as I heard footsteps outside our front door, I hastily pushed granny smiths through a juicer. The gloriously green juice was added to shots of vodka and apple schnapps, that had already been decanted into martini glasses and the cocktails were handed out to help break the ice. After several requests for a second martini had been satisfied and introductions were over, it was time to sit down and eat. The entree was an entirely simple selection of plump and juicy, freshly shucked Tathra oysters (seriously the BEST oysters I have ever tasted) and marinated Meredith chèvre. The hands on starter created a mellow and easy atmosphere, as people passed and shared the dishes.


Next came the main event. The beef and red wine stew. A very straightforward recipe to follow, made special simply by slowly cooking the meat over a low heat until it’s truly a melt in your mouth dish. And to make it extra special and fit for the occasion, I was able to recreate an idea that I had seen on the kitchen, and present it on a two metre long plank. Secured in place by a moat of buttery mashed potatoes and garnished with mushrooms and green beans, it was placed in the middle of the table for everyone to admire.  The plank caused exactly the effect I had hoped and everyone loved both the beef and red wine stew and the way it was served. Plates were repeatedly filled and conversation flowed as the two metre platter grew empty.

Beef and red wine stew for a dinner partyBeef and red wine stew for a dinner party

DSC_0868The evening was punctuated by a large creme caramel, inspired by one similar that I had eaten at Kitchen by Mike. The custard was silky smooth and generously spiked with millions of vanilla dots. It swam in bitter caramel, the making of which is always an adrenaline fuelled task, waiting until the last minute to remove the sugar from the heat, before it turns from a deep, rich colour with an astringent sweetness, to just plain burnt. A little less wobbly than I would have liked, as I only removed the dessert from the oven when I was sure it would turn out in a cohesive shape, no one seemed to mind. Fingers were dipped into the caramel and plates were scraped clean. The evening was a huge success and as I went to bed, I was already wondering to myself, what might be on the next secret dinner menu…


Beef and red wine stew

This is an amazingly versatile recipe that could be used as a stew with polenta or a pie filling topped with puff pastry, to go with thick pasta ribbons and lots of parmesan, to make nachos with the addition of kidney beans and chilli or to fill a baked potato with a dollop of sour cream and a snip or chives. Double or even triple the quantities outlined here and freeze into portions for an assortment of dinner options

  • 1kg shin beef cut into large 5cm cubes
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 sticks celery, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • good sprig of fresh thyme
  • couple of sticks of fresh rosemary
  • few fresh bay leaves
  • 2 x 400g tins tomatoes
  • 2 tbs tomato puree
  • 1 bottle red wine
  • 500ml beef stock
  • couple of star anise
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • Sea salt, to taste

Add the onion, celery and carrot to a large pot. Cover with the lid and sweat over a very low heat for about 20 minutes. Stir occasionally to make sure that the mixture isn’t burning.

When the veggies are very soft and translucent, add the beef, increase the heat and cook until the beef has changed colour, from raw red to light brown. At this point, add the herbs, tomatoes and puree, wine and stock, cinnamon, salt and pepper.

Bring the liquid up to a temperature where it bubbles slightly, then turn it right down and let the beef simmer until it is meltingly tender and the sauce reduced and thick, anywhere from two to six hours.

The meat should have a stringy, fall apart quality and the sauce should be rich and flavoursome.  This dish is even better made a few days in advance, as I did, and then reheated. It will sit happily in a pot over a very low heat on the stove until you are ready to serve it.

Enjoy this recipe? Then you might like to make pavlova for dessert with these top tips to help.

How to make date syrup.


Recently I held a dinner party for all of our friends to celebrate mine and The Contemporary Builder’s 35th birthdays. It was an excuse to go all out. 30 guests, table linen, flowers, fairy lights and four courses. Plus celebrating the sale of my business and having friends over since the birth and homecoming of Thea months earlier was dramatically overdue. As a group our lives have  changed intensly over the past few years, as we have paired off and become units of three and four, with the welcome addition of tiny versions of ourselves. The tiny people in our lives  can make it tricky to meet up en masse, especially in the evening. So the date was set, the baby-sitters booked and the planning commenced. For the entree I wanted to put together an array of visually stunning canapés, presented on a long board that would run down the centre of the table. Something that would wow guests from the get go and set the scene for the evening.


I found inspiration for my entree among other places in Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem. A picture of a dip drizzled with a dark, glossy syrup and freckled with black and white sesame seeds caught my eye. Upon reading the recipe, the dip was butternut pumpkin, the method seemed straightforward, but the garnish. Date syrup. The combination sounded intriguing and I could imagine how the rich date liquid would set off the pumpkin dip. As it was an all out dinner party, I decided to challenge myself and have a go at my own homemade date syrup.

Date syrup

With only two ingredients, making date syrup is a simple process that requires time rather than action. I have successfully teamed it with my morning porridge and grilled goats cheese on toast. It transforms into a deliciously sticky salad dressing to go with a green salad, liberally tossed with sautéed sliced red onion and toasted, chopped almonds, when whisked together with some extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar. I reckon over ice cream with some smashed nuts or rolled inside pancakes with cream would hit the spot too.

Date syrup

Ingredients-1 cup dates and 1 cup boiling water

DSC_0888Method-soak the dates in boiling water overnight. In the morning, place a fine mesh sieve over a bowl and line it with a piece of cheese cloth or a Chux. Pour the date mix into the sieve. Bring the corners of the cloth together and squeeze out the liquid. To make sure I got all the liquid from the dates, I secured the cloth with an elastic band and then weighted it with a mortar and pestle, again overnight. In the morning, simply reduce the resulting liquid in a pan over a low heat (too high and the syrup boils over) for about 10 minutes.