This summer in Sydney has been a scorcher, with temperatures well above average.  This is not the weather to be standing over a hot stove, getting hot and bothered in the kitchen. However, this presents a dilemma, as I love cooking and entertaining. There’s always the barbeque, but even that can be too hot to handle in this heat. So I came up with a challenge for myself:  create a 6 course meal that requires absolutely no heat on my part: no cooking in the preparation and all food to be served cold. Oh, and a meal that will please and satisfy a group of discerning foodie friends!

After due consideration, I came up with the following menu which is paired with appropriate beverages to ensure it is a full foodie experience:

Selection of Cold Canapés:
Smoked Salmon Spread in Pastry Cups
Prosciutto Wrapped Rockmelon
House Marinated Olives
Lychee Martinis

Hawaiian-Style Tuna Tartare (Ahi Poke)

Chunky Gazpacho
Sauvignon Blanc

Asian Duck Salad
Pinot Noir

Limoncello Semifreddo with Macerated Berries
Ice cold Limoncello

Almond and Rosewater Filled Fresh Dates
Pink Moscato

The guests:
The guests joining the heat-free feast were a group of like-minded foodie friends of my husband Paul and I, who enjoy and truly appreciate good food, wine and company:

Leah and Tom – great friends we have known for about 6 years, who both take pleasure in cooking and eating – we have shared many wonderful meals with them.

Leah & Tom
Leah & Tom

Trudy and Steve – we met this lovely couple 4 years ago when we were holidaying on Lord Howe Island (they had just gotten married there).  Similarly, they both enjoy and appreciate good food and wine.

Trudy & Steve
Trudy & Steve

Geoff – Pinot Noir connoisseur, Geoff shares my passion for food and I reckon he could give me a run for my money in the kitchen any day!

Leah, Geoff & Paul
Leah, Geoff & Paul

Ainsley and Missi – our four legged family members.  Ainsley is a golden brown Labradoodle (labrador x miniature poodle) and Missi is a black Spoodle (cocker spaniel x miniature poodle). They always enjoy a good dinner party too!

Ainsley and Missi
Missi & Ainsley

The Location:
The location is my home on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. Surrounded by bush and abundant wildlife, it is a delightful spot to entertain, particularly in the warmer months when we dine alfresco (as we did on this evening).

The Food Preparation:
As the theme of the meal was “cold” it meant that pretty much everything could be fully prepared in advance. My philosophy for entertaining is to have as much as possible done before my guests arrive, so I am free to enjoy their company and enjoy myself too. So this meal is in fact ideal for entertaining.

The secret to successful entertaining is organisation. When I am entertaining, on any scale, I put together a “Food Preparation Action Plan”, which is the order and times to prepare the food.

This was my Food Preparation Action Plan:

Several days before:
Make the Limoncello Semifreddo
Marinate the Olives

Up to 8 hours ahead:
Make the Gazpacho
Prepare the Smoked Salmon Spread for the Canapés
Prepare the Dates
Prepare the dressing for the Duck Salad

Up to 6 hours ahead:
Make the Ahi Poke

Up to 4 hours ahead:
Prepare the salad ingredients
Macerate the berries to be served with the Limoncello Semifreddo

Up to 30 minutes ahead:
Prepare the ingredients for the Lychee Martinis
Assemble the canapés

So all that was left to be done at serving time was:

•    Put out the canapés and shake and serve the Lychee Martinis
•    Ladle the Gazpacho into bowls
•    Serve the Ahi Poke into witlof leaves
•    Toss the prepared salad ingredients with the dressing
•    Slice the Semifreddo and spoon over the berries
•    Serve the dates

Olives marinated in fresh herbs, garlic, chilli and orange
Olives marinated in fresh herbs, garlic, chilli and orange

The ambiance:
The beautiful summer evening was a fitting end to summer (the 28th February is officially the last day of summer in Australia). It was not a scorching hot day, but perfectly pleasant to dine al fresco.

We had visits from colourful garden birds earlier in the evening, and the sound of cicadas added to the summer theme.

The table setting
The table setting

We commenced the evening with a selection of cold canapés, comprising House Marinated Olives, Smoked Salmon Spread in Pastry Cups and Prosciutto Wrapped Rockmelon. Lychee Martinis accompanied the Canapes, which all the guests were happy to partake.

The Prosciutto Wrapped Rockmelon was truly superb, as the rockmelon was perfectly ripe and the prosciutto first class.
The House Marinated Olives were well received, one of the guests remarking that they were the best marinated olives they had tasted.
The Smoked Salmon Spread in Pastry Cups all got gobbled up pretty quickly, so I’m guessing that these were appetising too!

Lychee Martinis
Normally I would make my own sugar syrup, but as I had set the “no heat or cooking” rule for this menu, I substituted lychee syrup from a can of lychees.

Lychee Martinis lined up, ready to be enjoyed!
Lychee Martinis lined up, ready to be enjoyed!

Ingredients (for 4):
200ml chilled vodka
75ml lychee syrup from a chilled can of lychees
25ml fresh lime juice
8 lychees (either fresh or from the can of lychees)

1.    Place the vodka, lychee syrup, lime juice, 4 lychees and ice in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously.
2.    Strain into martini glasses and garnish with the remaining lychees threaded onto cocktail sticks.

Prosciutto Wrapped Rockmelon
Prosciutto and rockmelon (cantaloupe) are a match made in heaven: the saltiness of the prosciutto marries perfectly with the sweetness of the melon.  This dish is all about simplicity, and the success lies in the use of the best quality ingredients you can afford.

Best prosciuttowrapped around beautiful ripe rockmelon
Best prosciutto wrapped around beautiful ripe rockmelon

Ingredients (makes 16):
½ ripe and fragrant rockmelon (cantaloupe)
16 slices thin slices of best quality prosciutto (parma ham)
Freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

1.    Cut the rockmelon half into 8 wedges and remove the peel from each wedge. Then cut each wedge in half across ways (so each piece has a blunt end and a pointy end).
2.    Wrap a piece of prosciutto around the blunt end of each rockmelon piece.
3.    Place the rockmelon pieces on a platter, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and grind over some black pepper.

The first sit-down course was Hawaiian-Style Tuna Tartare (known as Ahi Poke in Hawaii and the US). This is a lesser known dish in Australia (although Japanese sashimi is extremely popular here).
I served it in witlof leaves, but I’m not sure I would do this again as the leaves were quite bitter and tended to overwhelm the subtle flavour of the tuna.
Trudy, who had never eaten raw fish before and was a bit sceptical, enjoyed it immensely (as did all of us!)

Hawaiian-Style Tuna Tartare (Ahi Poke)
This recipe is my take on the famous Hawaiian Ahi Poke. Buy best quality sashimi –grade tuna (ahi) for this recipe and allow it to marinate for at least an hour  in the refrigerator for the flavours to develop.

Hawaiian Style Tuna Tartare
Hawaiian Style Tuna Tartare

Ingredients (serves 4 as a starter):
500g sashimi-grade tuna, cut into small cubes
1 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon mirin
¼ cup chopped shallots (scallions)
1 ½ tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
1 clove garlic, crushed
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

To serve: witlof leaves
To garnish: finely sliced shallots and toasted sesame seeds

1.    Gently combine all ingredients in bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 6 hours.
2.    Serve the tuna in witlof leaves and sprinkle with finely sliced shallots and toasted sesame seeds.

Next to come was Chunky Gazpacho, the chilled Spanish soup.  This colourful soup is perfect for summer entertaining. For the best flavoured soup, ensure that the ingredients are top quality. My version is a chunky one, as I like some texture rather than a pureed soup. Click here for the recipe.

Chunky Gazpacho

Asian Duck Salad was next on the agenda. To stick to my theme of “no heat” I purchased Chinese barbequed ducks. My foodie friend Geoff arrived early and helped me construct this salad, which I must say turned out beautifully. The dressing was the perfect balance of sweet, sour, salty and spicy. Apart from his culinary assistance, I was very happy to have Geoff there as when we removed the Chinese Duck from the packaging, we discovered the head and beak of the duck was intact – not something I could have dealt with!

Asian Duck Salad
You could use any combination of salad vegetables, such as cucumber, capsicum, carrot, lettuce, snow peas and cherry tomatoes.  Everything can be prepared in advance, so at serving time you only need to pour the dressing over the salad and toss.

Fresh and lively Asian Duck Salad
Fresh and lively Asian Duck Salad

Ingredients (serves 4):
1 Chinese barbequed duck, meat removed and shredded
Large handful bean sprout
1 small red onion, thinly sliced into half-moons
¼ Chinese cabbage, shredded
100g fresh shitake mushrooms
Leaves from half a bunch fresh coriander (cilantro)
Leaves from half a bunch Thai basil

4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 Thai chillies, chopped
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon grated palm sugar
2 kaffir lime leaves, spine removed and finely shredded

1.    Make the dressing: Using a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic and the chillies until it resembles a paste. Transfer to a bowl and add the fish sauce, lime juice, palm sugar and kaffir lime leaves.
2.    Place all the salad ingredients into a bowl and when ready to serve, add the dressing, toss and pile onto serving plates.

The dessert of Limoncello Semifreddo was well received by all. The macerated berries that accompanied it added colour and texture to the creamy semifreddo.

Limoncello Semifreddo
Semifreddo means “half-frozen” in Italian and this creamy yet light dessert has the texture of a frozen mousse. It’s not complicated to make and unlike many frozen desserts you don’t need an ice-cream maker. You’ll need to make the semifreddo earlier in the day or the day before, as it requires 6 hours to freeze. The macerated berries need about 4 hours to macerate.

Limoncello Semifreddo
Limoncello Semifreddo with Macerated Berries

Ingredients (serves 6-8):
4 eggs, separated
1/3 cup caster sugar
Finely grated rind of 1 large lemon
500ml thickened cream, whipped until medium peaks form
½ cup limoncello (Italian lemon liqueur, from liquor stores)

Macerated berries:
500g assorted fresh berries (eg. strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries)
3 tablespoons orange liqueur (Grand Marnier or Cointreau)
3 tablespoons caster sugar

1.    Line a loaf pan with plastic food wrap, allowing the sides to overhang.
2.    Place the egg whites in a large clean bowl and beat with an electric mixer until medium peaks form.
3.    Place the egg yolks, sugar and grated lemon rind into a second large bowl and beat with the electric mixer until pale and thick, about 5 minutes. Fold in the whipped cream followed by the limoncello. Add the beaten egg whites and combine gently using a large metal spoon.
4.    Spoon the mixture into the prepared loaf pan and cover with a layer of plastic food wrap. Freeze for at least 6 hours or overnight.
5.    To macerate the berries: Toss the berries with the liqueur and sugar. Cover with plastic food wrap and leave to macerate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours.
6.    Allow the semifreddo to soften in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before serving.
7.    To serve, cut into slices and serve with macerated berries.

To conclude the meal, I served Almond and Rosewater Filler Fresh Dates with a Pink Moscato.

Almond and Rosewater Filled Fresh Dates
These Moroccan-inspired morsels not only look pretty but are a lovely way to end a meal.

Almond & Rosewater Filled Fresh Dates
Almond & Rosewater Filled Fresh Dates

Ingredients (makes 16):
16 fresh dates
100g blanched almonds
¼ cup icing sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons rosewater
2 or 3 drops of red food colouring

To serve: sifted icing sugar

1.    Cut into each date lengthways (but not all the way through) and remove the pit.
2.    Place the almonds, icing sugar, rosewater and food colouring in a food processor and process until a paste is formed.
3.    Take small teaspoonfuls of the almond mixture, shape into almond shapes and insert into each date.
4.    Serve the dates on a pretty plate and sift a little icing sugar over the top.

In Summary
A lovely evening enjoying fantastic food and wine and spent with great company. Preparing the food without heat was a welcome change, and the best part was that because all the food was served cold, there was almost nothing that needed doing once my guests arrived, which meant I was free to have as much fun as them!

The party (excluding hubby Paul who took the photo!)
The party (excluding hubby Paul who took the photo!)

P.S. I will be away for a couple of weeks – having a holiday in Maldives with my husband to celebrate our 10 year wedding anniversary!  Please leave your comments below and I promise I will respond upon my return, mid-March.

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  1. What a great idea, and a great meal! Congratulations on being chosen for a 24, 24, 24 dinner. Looks like it was a lot of fun.

    Hawaiians eat poke just served plain in a small pile on a plate or in a small container. Don’t normally see garlic in it, but scallions (green onions) sometimes. Usually it’s thinly sliced white onion but the shallots is an interesting take on it. Nice job!

  2. CONGRATS! That’s a wonderful idea! All these dishes sound appetizing. But I’m especially curious about the duck salad.

  3. Hi Nate, I tried Ahi Poke many years ago in Hawaii and loved it. This is the first time I’ve made it and was pretty happy with the result.

    Hi Zerrin, do try the duck salad – it was really delicious. The following evening I used the duck skin (which I had saved) to make Peking Duck pancakes.

  4. Now this is a great menu for an intimate dinner party! Wonderful 24 post.

  5. Thank you! It was a lot of fun creating the menu and putting it together.

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