meals in heels (chipotle meatballs + spiced chicken wings)

Anyone who regularly hosts dinner parties will know it’s a real juggling act – doing enough in the kitchen to impress, while remaining calm, poised and visible to your guests. Years of experience has taught me that the key to a successful gathering (especially when catering to large groups) is not to over-complicate things and choose dishes that can be prepped ahead as far as possible, leaving you plenty of time to mingle with your guests once they arrive. I was drawn to Jennifer Joyce’s compact ‘Meals in Heels’, as it embraces this exact philosophy – being full of simple, yet tasty do-ahead dishes to ensure your soirée goes without a hitch.

First impressions weren’t good – the cover annoyingly resembles the latest chick-lit read, plus (and this is the kicker), there is no food photography to speak of. At all. For most home cooks this would be a deal-breaker – who wants to chance serving their guests something that may look a complete mess? Interestingly, Joyce has a whole section dedicated to presenting your dishes with style and flair, yet there are no images to showcase said flourishes. Instead, in place of photos there are frilly illustrations that in most cases are totally irrelevant, like the one of a woman trying on glamourous gowns and shoes (next to a beef wellington recipe).

Not wanting to judge a book by it’s cover, I gave a few of the recipes a whirl and to be honest, they weren’t half bad. I decided on the enticing Chipotle Meatballs with Charred Tomato Salsa, and as Joyce suggests serving them with Middle Eastern Spiced Chicken Wings and Spicy Pickled Carrot, I made those as well. As it turns out the meatballs and chicken wings required different oven temperatures, a minor glitch that I resolved by putting the oven on 200°C, with the wings on the top shelf and meatballs on the bottom. Both meat dishes were a breeze to make and would make perfect finger food for a cocktail party – the sticky wings juicy and full of flavour, and the meatballs lovely and moist; if I made them again I would probably sear them in an oil pan before placing in the sauce to give them a nicer golden hue. The carrot pickle however was unpleasantly sharp and an unnecessary addition (garlic yogurt would make a much better pairing).

On the whole I found the recipes highly accessible and although the dishes aren’t exactly show-stoppers, they will keep your guests happy enough, and more importantly allow you to enjoy the party yourself. The book caters to all occasions with everything from canapés to barbecue ideas and sample menu suggestions. Joyce also includes useful prepping, presentation and pairing tips for each recipe in the book, which would come in handy when planning your shindig. Now if only it had some pictures…

Meals in Heels by Jennifer Joyce is now available on Amazon
(RRP £12.99, published by Murdoch Books).

Chipotle Meatballs with Charred Tomato Salsa
(makes 24)

300g minced pork
2 tbsp fresh breadcrumbs
1 small red onion, chopped
1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
2 tsp dried oregano
1 egg

tomato salsa:
6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
500g ripe vine tomatoes, halved lengthways
125ml (1/2 cup) vegetable or chicken stock
1 tbsp chipotle puree (optional)
1 tsp smoked hot paprika
juice of 1 lime

Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F).

First prepare the tomato salsa. Heat a small pan on a medium flame and the garlic cloves. Allow to blacken, turning occasionally, for 7-8 minutes. Remove and peel once cool enough to handle. Discard the skins.

While the garlic is cooking arrange tomato halves on a baking dish and season liberally with salt and pepper. Place under a hot grill and leave until charred on the edges (8-10 minutes). Place in a blender along with the garlic and other salsa ingredients and blitz till smooth. Pour in a medium baking dish and set aside.

Pop all the meatball ingredients into a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Combine well, then shape into walnut-sized balls. Lightly oil a frying pan on a medium high heat and sear the meatballs on all sides until coloured but not cooked through (this step is optional). Place them in a single layer on a baking dish and pour over the salsa.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, shaking halfway through to stop them from sticking, until cooked through and bubbling. Toss to coat then serve straight from the dish or on cocktail sticks.

Middle Eastern Spiced Chicken Wings

12 chicken wings, jointed
juice of 1 lemon
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp honey

spice mix:
2 tsp dried thyme
2 tsp sesame seeds
2 tsp ground sumac
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp salt

Place the chicken wings in a large bowl (or plastic bag) and mix well with the lemon juice, garlic and olive oil. Cover and leave to marinate overnight in the fridge.

Preheat oven to 200°C (400°F).

Toss the chicken wings with the spice mix, then roast on a baking tray for 20 minutes. Remove, shake the pan to loosen the wings then drizzle with honey. Pop it back in the oven for 10-15 minutes until golden and crisp at the edges. Sprinkle with a little extra sumac and serve with garlic yogurt.

Many thanks to Murdoch Books for kindly providing the review copy.

~ by gourmettraveller on April 29, 2010.

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