A few weeks ago my two flatmates and I had a house date night. We ate delicious food, drank amazing cocktails and watched the classic Aussie film Priscilla: Queen of the Desert. My flatmates were both Priscilla virgins and loved it and for me, it was still amazing the millionth time ’round.
Our inspiration for our house date night came from one of my Christmas presents – The Sexy Vegan’s Happy Hour at Home by Brian L Patton.
That, and the fact that I was recently given a lovely cocktail set and it would be rather rude not to use it.
The Happy Hour at Home cookbook is filled with tapas-style canapés and drinks for the perfect mini gathering for four people. And just four people (Rule 4 of Happy Hour is “Happy hour is for four people. Any more and you’d have a dinner party and that’d be a whole different book.”). Rather than being laid out in traditional dish-type chapter format, each section of the book is a little three-dish internationally themed menu. From ‘Polenta Party’ to ‘Papadilla Don’t Preach’ to ‘Satay-Day Night Fever’, there is a happy hour menu to suit everyone’s taste.
We went with ‘Really Little Italy’ because the mix of dishes looked interesting and because the suggested liquid accompaniment, the Figgy Lifting Drink, sounded divine. Plus, I do love a good Roald Dahl reference in my menu.
Here’s how the menu went down:
Grilled Basil-Mint Watermelon Skewers
Watermelon is my all-time favourite fruit but I’d never cooked it before. Being Australian, I’ve had almost everything barbecued before, including fruit (pineapple on the barbecue = heaven), just never any form of melon so this recipe excited me. Unfortunately, we don’t have a barbecue in our London flat, nor a griddle pan, so these were done on the grill in our oven. Still good.
The basil-mint marinade was whipped up in a food processor then brushed over the skewered watermelon. It was a slightly weird sensation at first, eating warm watermelon, but once you got past that, the sweetness of the watermelon with the fresh and zingy herb marinade was really unique and really tasty.
Grilled Asparagus and Figs
I’ve just realised that this menu was quite fruit centric! Our next canapé was grilled asparagus with fresh figs, a fruit I don’t eat often enough. The figs were amazing grilled and paired really well with grilled asparagus. Adding balsamic vinegar to anything makes me happy and I learnt how to chiffonade fresh basil, so that’s a bonus!
These poppers were the favourite of the night. In fact, both my housemates told me to write that this was their favourite dish and well, I’d already written it! Seriously, they were a-maz-ing.
This was my first attempt at cashew cheese and I think I’m hooked. I used my super-duper Omniblend blender, so no soaking of cashews was required and we made a delicious cashew ricotta that was squeezed into the rigatoni pieces. They were then coated in a breadcrumb mixture so this was definitely the messiest dish to make but it was well worth the sticky fingers. I’m not big on deep-fried things but these were just briefly tossed around in oil and then drained. Dipped into warm marinara sauce, the crispy rigatoni pieces filled with melty, oozy cashew cheese were just… gah!
My only tip for those making poppers when their friends are over would be to make the cashew cheese in advance. Although it’s not difficult, it is a bit time consuming to make the whole dish on the night.
Figgy Lifting Drink
Obviously we needed a fruity cocktail to accompany our canapés so we whipped up a batch of the suggested Figgy Lifting Drinks. This was a gin-based cocktail made with figs, vermouth, agave nectar and hibiscus kombucha (which I’d never had before but which in a happy coincidence, had also been given for Christmas). After a slight setback where I got the mixing glass quite stuck in the cocktail shaker, the drinks were a fruity, boozy success.
We were really pleased with everything we made from the Really Little Italy menu but again, the Rigatoni Poppers were definitely the highlight.
I love the unique way the book is laid out and all of the little tips and tricks throughout the pages. At the end of each menu is a shopping list, which is such a simple yet brilliant idea. No going through each individual recipe, adding together quantities of the same ingredient, nor inevitably missing something from your list.
My only disappointment was that there are no colour pictures in the book but this is made up for by the fact that the pages are made of recycled paper and printed with environmentally friendly, soy-based inks. Yay environment! Plus, there is a QR code in the front of the book that you can scan to see a colour photo gallery of some of the dishes in the book.
I highly recommend this fun, original book full of inventive, interesting and tasty mini meals.
And although I’m not sure when I’ll next have a chance to whip up a full happy hour menu, I’m sure I’ll find time to test out a few more of the boozy offerings soon. All in the name of research, of course…