Sunday, February 12, 2012

Valentine's Dinner Menu

A couple of years ago on Masterchef Australia, the judges set the contestants a challenge to create a romantic meal. I thought it was a great challenge, and I expected to see all sorts of sexy dishes presented as a result. To me the basic ingredients for a romantic meal were obvious. First, choose anything you know has aphrosidiac properties. Chocolate should be what everyone thinks of first. Then oysters second. Then think about the colours of love, red for passion, and chocolate brown for chocolate! And then think of textures. I like lychees because they were introduced to me as the sexiest fruit on the planet, and I couldn't agree more. Then all that's left is to think about your beloved - what does he or she love the most, which, if you presented it, would win you the most favour?

So, given all of that, here is my Valentine's Dinner Menu, which I cooked for my husband. Apologies for the delay - I was so disappointed in the photos for these recipes that I just couldn't finish this post until now. I still don't have photos for you but I will endeavour to do them for you in the coming weeks.

Chili and Bacon Oysters on the shell

4 rashers short cut bacon
1/2 long red chili
1 tblsp olive oil
half a dozen freshly shucked oyseters on the shell

1. Finely dice the bacon into 2mm by 2mm squares. Slice the chili in half, remove the seeds and dice half the chili to the same size as the bacon.
2. Heat the olive oil in a teflon pan. Add the bacon and chili and sautee until the bacon is brown. Remove from pan and drain on paper towel.
3. Cover an interesting shaped plate with rock salt and arrange the oysters to sit in the salt.
4. Sprinkle a small amount of the bacon and chili over each oyster and serve immediately.

Rare Rump Points Ends, served with creamy mash and almond green beans

4 rump point ends
2 tsp olive oil
3 pontiac potatoes, peeled and diced
100g butter
1/2 cup milk
1 large handful of green beans
1/4 cup toasted flaked almonds
2 tsp butter

1. Take the rump point ends out of the fridge and bring to room temperature. Massage both sides of each rump point end with the olive oil.
2. Place the diced potatoes in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Heat on the stove top until the water comes to the boil. Cook until the potatoes are tender. Drain and mash with a potato masher. Switch to a spoon and stir in the butter and milk. Add a little extra milk if need be to produce a creamy mash.
3. Top and tail the green beans and steam in the microwave for 2 minutes and 20 seconds. Do not over cook! Stir through the flaked almonds and butter and transfer to a serving bowl.
4. Heat a teflon pan on the stove top and add the rump point ends. I like this cut of meat medium rare, so I very precisely time them in the pan. Cook for 3 minutes on the first side, then turn and cook for a further 2 minutes on the second side. Remove from the pan and rest on a plate in a warm place.

Note: these items cannot be cooked consecutively if you wish to serve a hot meal! There'll be a point where all three elements will be cooking so that they're all ready at the same time.

Diane Sauce
50g butter
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1/4 cup brandy
1/2 cup cream
1 tblsp fresh parsley finely chopped

1. Melt the butter in the same teflon pan you cooked the rump point ends in - do not burn the butter! Add the garlic and lightly sautee.
2. Add the brandy and cook for 2 minutes.
3. Add the cream and and parsely and simmer for a further 5 minutes, or until the sauce reduces and thickens.

White chocolate and raspberry cupcake

2 vanilla cupcakes
3/4 cup fresh raspberries
300ml cream, whipped
1/3 batch of white chocolate ganache

1. Split the cupcakes in half and place the wider half top down on a presentation plate.
2. Spread a heaped spoonful of whipped cream on the cake, then arrange a layer of raspberries over the cream.
3. Place the second half of cake on the raspberries so the slimmest end of the cake is pointing upwards.
4. Spoon white chocolate ganache over the top of the cake until it begins to drip down the sides. Set both cakes aside to allow the ganache to set.
5. Pipe a small star of whipped cream on the top of the ganache and decorate with a single raspberry.

Verve Champagne
1. Crack the champagne and pour into glasses!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Thieves in the temple

20 years ago I left Hong Kong, where I had lived for two years. It was an amazing time in my life, and I had never been back, so when I noticed how many years had gone by, I decided it was time for a visit. While I was there I took a trip out to Lantau Island to see the Po Lin Monastery. Originally a single Buddhist temple built in 1924, Po Lin expanded over the years to include other buildings until finally, in 1989, they began construction of a 34 metre high bronze statue of Buddha. Completed in 1993, this has been a major draw card for visitors to the monastery ever since. Of course it was an amazingly spiritual place - particularly since I was there on the second last day of the Chinese New Year period. People were lighting joss sticks, banging bells and drums, and off course paying tribute to the big Buddha , whose presence on the hill was ominous to say the least.

But a highlight for me was partaking of the beautiful vegetarian dumplings made in the monastery's cafe. The signs for each dumpling were in Chinese, so I just chose what looked delicious. The lady serving me was shaking her head and giving a quiet tsk-tsk, and once I began eating I could see why. I had selected an incomprehensible combination of sweet and savoury. No matter! It was all good, the best dumpling being the glutinous rice black sesame dumpling which I saved for last.
There was a bigger dining room where you could sit down to a meal of delicious Chinese vegetarian dishes, but this seemed to be designed for bigger groups. Since I was at the monastery on my own, I didn't think it was appropriate to ask for more food than I could actually eat.

If you are ever in Hong Kong, do make sure you allow a day to visit Po Lin Monastery. Give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the journey there, as well as everything there is to see once you get there. And of course don't forget to wave at the big Buddha - he is very welcoming!