Evoking fond memories

If I’m not spending time out on the bike, there’s no where else I’d rather be than the kitchen. After my cheffy attempts last week end to impress a couple of French guys, I’m cooking for a bunch of friends tomorrow evening. I’ve no need to impress, they know what I’m capable of in the kitchen. We have dinner together on a regular basis;  sometimes in one another’s homes, sometimes in restaurants. Whose place we eat at tends to depend on the time of year.

One couple have a delightful flat in Beaulieu sur Mer, close to the beach. This makes them our go to location for beach picnics. The other couple, who have two teenage boys, live like us in an apartment with a wonderful view of the sea. However, they have a much bigger terrace and an adjacent garden where they can easily accommodate eight or more. I, on the other hand, have the largest dining room, so I tend to be the hostess of choice in winter.

Many moon’s ago, one of the guy’s first trip from behind the then Iron Curtain was to Austria where he ate Kaiserschmarr’n, a well-known and popular dessert. On subsequent trips, when he’s been racing in the Giro or Tour of Austria, he’s enquired as to its availability at each hotel and has been disappointed. Largely, I suspect, because it’s a dessert which needs to be made to order. It’s a thick, souffle pancake studded with plump rum soaked raisins, dusted with icing sugar and served with a slightly tart fruit compote. I promised him that the next time he came to dinner I would make it for him. Accordingly, I’m serving everyone a traditional Austrian meal.

We’re starting with a few nibbles including smoked salmon and caviar, washed down with champagne. Then, I’m serving tagliarini with a truffle butter sauce. The main course is an Austrian colossus, “Tafelspitz” with all the trimmings. It’s boiled beef, but not just any beef. I use ribs of beef but have the butcher take them off the bone to make it easier to carve. The beef is slowly simmered in a vegetable stock to which I have added the bones. When cooked, it just melts in the mouth. I’m serving it with traditional accompaniments: creamed spinach, saute potatoes, chive sauce and horseradish. Dessert will be the afore-mentioned Kaiserschmarr’n with spiced plum compote and apple strudel with vanilla sauce.

You might think that two desserts is somewhat over the top but, don’t forget, the one couple have two teenage sons with the obligatory hollow legs who can easily consume their own body weights. I should add that there’s also home-made bread and petit fours, plus a cheese course. No one’s going to go home hungry and we’ll all need a long ride on Sunday morning.

The key to enjoying dinner parties, IMHO, is planning and preparing as much as possible in advance. I’ve done that and stuff’s either in the fridge ready for tomorrow or sitting in the freezer waiting to be defrosted at the last minute. I just need my beloved to decide which wine and champagne he’s going to serve in his capacity as Chief Bottle Opener.