Sunday, October 28, 2012

Homecoming meal: a colourful mix of influences

My lovely daughter Pippa was up home for the weekend, not only to see us but in her professional capacity as a literary agent, to give a talk and a workshop for the local writers' centre, and it was the occasion to cook her some special meals. I decided to do something last night that had a mix of a few influences from our trip away, and came up with some adapted, inspired-by dishes that worked really well.
After a simple aperitif of Tokay(probably my favourite fortified wine of all--this one's made in Victoria) and lovely goose rillettes brought back from a really great little shop in Toulouse, which makes them themselves(I bought a tin of course, customs wouldn't exactly let you bring back the fresh variety!), we had an entree inspired by Singaporean influences: a small piece of snapper, steamed in a mix of water, oil, a squeeze of lemon, and mirin seasoning, resting on a bed of spinach quickly cooked in a little wine-flavoured stock and fresh garlic sweated in a dash of olive oil. I then reduced the stock the fish had steamed over till it was a nice thick mini-sauce which went over the snapper, and then some delicious crispy chilli--a jar of which we'd brought back from Singapore, where it's a traditional delicacy--placed on the top of the fish. Looked great and tasted even better! (And spinach and garlic were from garden and had just been brought in to cook minutes before.)
The main course though was inspired by France, and particularly Southern France: lamb cooked in honey, thyme and olive oil, with a medley of roast vegetables--capsicum, tomato, onion--and a roast eggplant(aubergine) puree. I admit, none of those vegs were from our garden but sometimes you have to not be too hard-core about such things!
The lamb was meltingly tender, and the robust taste of the meat went so well with the herby honey sauce! The way to do it is first to cook some chopped onions in olive oil till golden, then add honey(quite a bit of it--I used four tablespoons) in a large pot on the stove, let it blend together for a minute or two, add three sprigs of thyme, then add the lamb and cook it for about fifteen minutes, turning it over from time to time. Then take off stove, add some stock--not too much--and some salt and pepper in the dish and put the entire thing--meat and sauce--in an oven dish with a lid(if you have a dish that can go from stove top to oven, even better). Cook in a moderate (180 degree approx) oven for about one hour and a half to two hours depending on the size of the piece(ours was about 700 grams). You can then make a gravy from the cooking juices and serve the lamb with the half-melted honeyed onions on top of it as well.
To make the roast eggplant puree, you first roast the eggplants--split them in half first and crisscross the flesh with cuts without cutting into the skin. Paint the flesh and skin with oil and on a top shelf in oven while meat is cooking(I roasted the capsicum as well during this time--tomatoes later). When flesh is soft, take the eggplant out, scoop out the flesh and mash with a fork. Cut up the roast skin into very small pieces and mix into the flesh as well. Add salt, pepper, cumin, chopped coriander, a slice of preserved chopped lemon(more if you have more than one eggplant--I only used one in this recipe) plus half a teaspoon olive oil and a teaspoon lemon juice. Sprinkle with fresh herbs and serve with the meat as a side dish. Goes beautifully!
For dessert, we had the rest of David's home-made brandy snaps which he'd made for the previous evening's dinner, with whipped cream and also some very tipsy prunes-in-Armagnac icecream he'd also made for the previous evening's dessert--luscious, and a real blend of English and French styles!

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