Virtual Dinner Party No. 9 – Cauliflower Soup, Garfish, Ranch Dressing, Latvian Layered Cake

Robin Boyle Dessert, Dinner, Dinner Party, European, Fish & Seafood, General Interest, Main course, Soup, Vegetables

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(Update: For VDP No. 10, click here)

Coronavirus Lockdown

Well in Melbourne we were out of lock down for about six weeks, though still with social distancing in place. But then the virus got away from us and so for two weeks we have been largely confined to our homes again. However, that only applies for the state of Victoria; other states are moving back towards a free lifestyle.

Our two Melbourne friends were keen to have another VDP to cheer us up. So last Saturday night was VDP No. 9 when we were joined by our friends from Adelaide, who had just returned from a two-week walking with camels trip around the Flinders Ranges. How envious we Melbournians felt as they described the wonderful scenery, sleeping in swags in the open air, camp cooked food and how they developed friendships with the camels.

Here is the link to the first of our VDPs: Virtual Dinner Party No. 1. From there you can link through to subsequent ones.

Our Melbourne friends developed the menu, aiming for a series of dishes that did not involve too much pressure to get up and ‘perform’ during the evening. Thus, much of the preparation was done beforehand.

Following is the menu – an interesting mix of dishes. (We also had a running sheet to make sure we were all ‘on the one page’ in terms of timing, cooking and serving.)

(If you think you might give a VDP a try, at the end we give four useful web links that are worth reviewing.)

The Menu for Virtual Dinner Party No. 9

Our aim is for a menu that is easy to prepare and finish off and for dishes that are not too heavy or rich (though the dessert failed to meet that requirement). Except for the Latvian cake, only part recipes are given.

(Some of the links below might not open if there is a paywall.)

Choice of whisky or gin based

Curried cauliflower soup – Adapted from – (Recipe: see comments below)

Main Course
Karen Martini’s garfish with herbed pistachio crumb – Recipe

Sugar snap pea salad with chèvre ranch dressing – – Recipe

Mel’s Latvian cake – Recipe below


A dry, cool climate Riesling followed by a dry Italian-style white wine. A sticky white for dessert.

How it all panned out

With three couples on the link there was plenty to talk about. We Melbournites were keen to hear about the camel trek. Our Melbourne friends gave a virtual video tour of their renovations while our Adelaide friends gave a tour of their holiday house at Goolwa, South Australia. We ran well overtime, starting at 7.30 pm Melbourne time and logging off at 11.30.

The soup was fairly standard: vegetables softened over heat, curry spices and cauliflower added, pureed, served with a dollop of yoghurt.

The garfish is a great recipe to try, or use another flat fish like John Dory. It shows how easy it is to cook fish fillets perfectly. It isn’t even necessary to have the crumb topping. Dredging the fillets through some olive oil before cooking helps keep them moist.

The sugar snap pea salad was also a revelation. If you have been searching for a good, creamy white ranch dressing it is worth reviewing the recipe. It uses goat milk in three ways: milk, yoghurt and cheese. It might be hard to find goat’s milk and goat’s yoghurt but chèvre is common and an interesting addition. Even without the goat influence, the recipe is a good starting point for improving your own version. Try buttermilk and normal yoghurt as substitutes. The combination of ranch dressing with the sugar snap peas was terrific.

The dessert looked spectacular. It seems they love layered cakes in Latvia, and this is a version given to our Melbourne friends many years ago. Again, it is a recipe to try as is or to vary in some way. We found that our butter wasn’t quite soft enough, so some small lumps ended up in the cream. Perhaps icing sugar would work better than caster sugar. It is a cake worth making two days ahead as it softens over time. The full recipe is given below.

In this post we include some photos taken on the night – of the garfish and the cake. Forgive the poor quality of composition and plating as it does become rather hectic trying to keep up with everyone and still take photographs. We don’t always bother to plate the dishes in a fancy way as there is no one else but us to see the results, and it does save on washing up! And because it gets a little hectic, we don’t remember to photograph every dish, or don’t have time.

Mel’s Latvian Cake

This makes quite a large cake, so consider reducing the quantities. There will be three layers of biscuits and three layers of the cream mixture (the last one being on top). And you will need some cream mixture left over for the sides of the cake.

The cake has clear layers when cut open – a feature of many Latvian cakes. The recipe calls for 15 biscuits per layer – see last photo. We made a version with 9 biscuits per layer (requiring just one packet of biscuits) – see other photos.

Make at least 24 hours, if not 48 hours ahead to allow all the flavours to meld.


  • 375g pitted prunes – small dice/pieces of 5mm
  • 250g dried (but not hard) apricots – small dice/pieces of 5mm
  • 250g unsalted butter, softened (not melted)
  • ¼ cup caster sugar (or icing sugar)
  • 300g sour cream
  • 2 pkts morning coffee or Arnotts malt o’milk biscuits (about 33 per packet)
  • 15 whole almonds (one for each biscuit rectangle) or toasted flaked or slivered almonds


Have ready a platter or similar big enough to assemble the cake. Alternatively, assemble it on foil.

Cream the butter and sugar.

Mix in sour cream and then the small pieces of fruit. The cream needs to be soft enough to spread.

Arrange biscuits 3 wide and 5 long. You will make two more layers, requiring 45 biscuits in total.

Spread the cream mixture over the biscuits. The cream will help stick the biscuits together. Use your fingers if necessary.

Repeat with another layer of biscuits and cream. Then another layer of biscuits with cream on top. Smooth extra cream down the sides of the cake.

Place the 15 almonds over the top, one in the middle of each biscuit layer. Or decorate with the flaked or slivered almonds.

Refrigerate until required.

To serve, remove from the fridge 10 to 15 minutes to allow the butter cream to soften.

Serves 15 or fewer, depending how hungry people are.

Difficulty: 3/5 (Moderately difficult).

Some Useful Links

Dinner parties go digital during coronavirus outbreak: ‘We lock in every Saturday night’

How To Throw A Virtual Dinner Party

How to have a virtual dinner with friends or loved ones

Here’s How to Have Your Own Virtual Dinner Party During Coronavirus Quarantine

Contributions welcomed!

If you have had your own VDP (virtual dinner party) or virtual foodie or wine experiences, we are happy to hear about them, including the menu, wines, etc (and good quality photos if you have any) and why it turned out so well.