Retro Party Food Catering For the Non-Cook

Carly and me and the Retro Seventies Pineapple ‘Horses Doovers’ Tower

“It is easy to decide on what is wrong to wear to a party, such as deep-sea diving equipment or a pair of large pillows, but deciding what is right is much trickier.” 
Lemony Snicket, The Slippery Slope


Are you a party-goer who can’t cook?

Or perhaps you are thinking of a retro-themed get-together with some family or friends? And you are also a domestic disaster or perhaps completely lacking any kind of kitchen equipment beyond a sharpish knife.

Never fear, we have the solution!

My dear friend Carly and I lost a friend suddenly some years ago. Kate was hilarious, madly individual, and the most horrendous cook I have ever met. Nothing she made ever turned out. She mostly lived on fruit, minute noodles, cheese and bread. But she has two dishes for which she was famous – a gala savoury creation she called her ‘Horses Doovers (Hors D’oeuvres)Tower’ which is a Retro 1970s pineapple studded with canapes, and ‘Cupcake Kebabs’.

In honour of Kate’s life and friendship Carly and I recently whipped these up for a very special celebration, and they were very well received.

So, if you can’t cook to save your life but still want to impress at your next party, try Kate’s recipes. You and your food will be a hit!

Sending big Retro hugs to you, Nicole ❤ xx


Horses Doovers Tower


  • one large fresh pineapple that stands up nicely without wobbling
  • cubes of cheese (Cheddar or Colby is good)
  • kabana cut into rounds
  • small pickled onions
  • stuffed olives
  • small dill pickles/cornichons
  • cherry tomatoes cut in half
  • tinned pineapple pieces
  • toothpicks


Thread toothpicks with a selection of ingredients, one of which must be cheese. Leave space at either end of the toothpick. Press toothpick into pineapple. Cover entire surface of pineapple and then add some additional filled toothpicks to the serving plate at the base of the pineapple. Serve with your favourite party drinks, music and disco dancing.

Cupcake Kebabs


  • assorted mini cupcakes
  • small wafer biscuits
  • jam roll cakes cut into slices
  • any other small cakes or cake pieces of your choice
  • marshmallows
  • kebab sticks

Thread cakes, wafers and marshmallows onto skewers. Pile onto a platter and serve with champagne or cups of tea.


Nana’s Gingernut Log Recipe

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A grandmother is a little bit parent,
a little bit teacher,
and a little bit best friend.
~ Unknown

I have been blessed to have grown up, and grown older, with two amazing women as my grandmothers. Now both of them are gone, although I feel them around me often, and I frequently draw on their wisdom and the things they taught me.

Marga, my mother’s mum, was the doyenne of style in our family. A stay-at-home mother and grandmother from a good family, we often referred to her home as ‘the Palace’. As a cook she was adventurous, passionate and into World Food long before exploring cuisine from other countries came into vogue. She was an amazing cook, and from that old-school tradition of elegant tables, dressing for dinner, candles and music.

Joycey or ‘Nana’, my dad’s mum was an entirely different grandmother.  She worked for much of her life, travelled extensively and was into plain home-style cooking.

Marga would serve an exotic Chicken Marengo, and Almond Torte with Praline and Coffee Cream, accompanied by Flamenco music.  Nana would cook Apricot Chicken and Apple Crumble with store-bought ice-cream, served up to the six o’clock news.

So who did I turn to for inspiration last weekend at the farm, when my husband announced that he’d invited friends to ‘pop round for dinner’?

It was Sunday morning when he mentioned it, and I was feeling less than my best. Dinner needed to be easy, and made from what I had in the cupboard. I managed lamb chops, home-made coleslaw and sweet potato mash for a main, but I was racking my head for a dessert.  Until I spied a lonely packet of gingernut biscuits at the back of the pantry. It inspired me to make Nana’s Gingernut Roll.  It was one of her ‘fancy’ recipes, that she taught me when I was about twelve. It’s easy enough for kids to master, but it’s a recipe that is enjoyed by everyone.  Here’s how to make it:


1 x 300ml bottle of cream (just over a cup), 1 x tablespoon of honey,  1 x packet of gingernut biscuits (ginger snaps for my American friends), 1/2 cup of fresh orange juice and 1/2 cup of sweet sherry (if making alcohol free use 1 cup of orange juice!)


There’s no cooking here – it’s a dessert that you assemble!

Firstly find a serving plate long enough to accommodate your packet of biscuits and then some.

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Whip your cream, adding in the tablespoon of honey.  When it is nice and thick, use a little to make a strip down the centre of your your serving plate.  This will help anchor your biscuits.

Pour your orange juice and sherry into a wide shallow bowl.  Working methodically, drop a biscuit into the bowl and allow it to soak for a moment or two. Fish it out, and drop the next biscuit in to soak as you smear a spoonful of cream on the first biscuit and place it in position at the edge of your cream strip.

2013-03-10 10.32.31Now keep going! Dunk, spread and stick in place.  *Repeat*…

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When you’re done, cover the entire assemblage in the remaining cream, smooth off and refrigerate for several hours so that the biscuits can soften and the flavours will amalgamate.

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To serve the log you can dress it up with some shaved chocolate or toasted almonds, but I went for decadence and topped it off with home-made slightly salty caramel sauce. Yum!  Oh, and I suppose I should give you that recipe too…

Easy Caramel Sauce:

3/4 cup butter, 1 and 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar, 2 x tablespoons water, 1 x teaspoon vanilla, 1/2 to 1 cup of cream.

Put the sugar, water and butter in a saucepan over low heat and dissolve all together, stirring constantly.  Then raise the heat and bubble away for three to five minutes to reduce the sauce a little.  Please do stir during this time so it doesn’t catch on the bottom!

Take off the heat and add in the half cup of cream, stirring constantly. This sauce will thicken more upon cooling, so check your consistency.  Do you want it runnier?  If so, add more cream.  Finally give it a good grind of salt.  Or not, if you don’t like the whole salted caramel thing.

This sauce is magic over ice-cream, poached pears or just about anything else you can imagine.

Cool the sauce to luke-warm before pouring some over your gingernut roll or you will melt all your whipped cream.  If you wanted to be totally over the top you could add grated chocolate, toasted nuts or crushed up praline on top of the caramel sauce. As you can see, I didn’t quite go to that extreme.

Serve with a good ice-cream or on its own.

Hint: I know this is a simple offering, but boy is it good.  Just remember to dunk your biscuits long enough that they are properly moistened so you don’t get hard lumps of dry biscuit in your dessert!

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Easy Moist Boiled Fruit-Cake Recipe

With Easter coming up I shall have a houseful of people to feed. My easy Boiled Fruitcake is a wonderful treat to serve with  a cup of tea, or heated as a dessert with fresh cream, custard or ice-cream. Even non-cooks can make this cake!

I love this recipe because I can whip it up with ingredients I have in the pantry. It keeps well, and freezes well too. (The picture above also shows a batch of my Lemonade Scones, to which I added some dates and lemon rind.  Sorry, no tablecloth the day this picture was taken – we’d been out mustering cattle and were all a bit grubby for fancies.)


1.2kg mixed dried fruit (you can buy this as a bag of mixed fruit but I rather like using what is to hand), 250g butter – cubed, 1 and 1/4 cups water if using pre-packaged mixed fruit, 2 cups of water if using a combination where the fruit looks quite dry, 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda, 1 x 395g tin of condensed milk, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (or vinegar of your choice), 2 tablespoons rum or brandy, 1 teaspoon vanilla essence, 2 cups of plain flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, pinch of salt, 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves, 1/2 teaspoon allspice. Almonds and/or cherries to decorate if desired. *Note – if you wish, substitute strong tea for the alcohol, and gluten-free flour instead of plain flour


Place your mixed fruit into a large saucepan.  (For this cake in the picture I used 200g of dried peaches finely chopped, 100g of goji berries, 400g of dates and 500g of sultanas and a handful of chopped pecans as that was the fruit I had to hand. The gojis, dates and peaches were very dry so the extra water was needed!) Add the chopped butter, water and Bicarb Soda and bring to the boil, stirring often so nothing sticks to the bottom.  When it has begun to boil turn off the heat and let the mixture cool.  This takes a few hours and plumps up all the fruit beautifully.

After cooling it should look like this, with nice juicy fruit pieces.

When the mixture has cooled preheat your oven to 150 degrees celcius – you want a slow oven so the cake cooks through thoroughly without burning or drying out. Prepare a large round or square tin by lining it with baking paper, or choose two or three smaller tins. (I used three for this batch as I wanted to eat one, give one away, and have one to keep.)

While the oven is heating, add your condensed milk, vinegar, alcohol and vanilla, stirring well.  Just mix it straight into the big saucepan.  That way you only have one pot to wash up! The mixture will foam a little – don’t panic, this is normal. Then sift your flour, baking powder and spices into the mixture and stir through until combined. Taste the raw batter and adjust spices if necessary. You mixture will be thick and you’ll need a strong arm.

Spoon the mixture into the tin or tins.  Wet your hand and then press down lightly on the mixture to smooth it out and make the tin evenly filled, ensuring the mix is pressed in well into the corners.

You may then decorate the top with almonds or cherries if you wish. Place in the oven and follow the baking times below, using a skewer to test of the cake is done about ten minutes before the time is up.  If it comes out clean the cake is ready, if mixture still adheres to the skewer bake a little longer.

3 x 8cm by 25cm tins – bake for 50 minutes to one hour

2 x 12cm x 23cm loaf tins – bake for one hour and twenty minutes

1 x 24cm square tin – bake for two hours

When you pull the cakes from the oven pour a capful of extra rum or brandy over the top while the cake is still warm. Then leave them to cool in their tins before removing.

These ones are the date and goji fruit mixture I described in the method above, using rum.  They are rich and dark and divine:

And this batch was predominantly sultana, cherries and a little mixed peel with brandy, which gave a lighter texture and flavour:

These make great gifts, and the flavour is good enough to use them as a traditional Christmas Cake. Enjoy! ♥