Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Christmas Comestibles

Dare I mention how fast time is flying by? One week it's Christmas and New Year's and now suddenly, we are already gaining hair-raising momentum into the new year. Anyway we spent a quiet but nonetheless very pleasant Christmas indulging over food at the home of some lovely friends, fellow season's orphans away from family. The weather was unpleasantly hot so it was fortunate that plans had not included the traditional oven roasted meats. Plus there were only four of us and so there was no need to be overly extravagant. Despite those initial thoughts of restraint however, I think we somewhat were anyway...

Right from the start, we stood around agog at the multitude of different dessert contributions we were to be treated to. But that inspired the theme for our long afternoon-to-evening soiree. Although none of the food our hosts had in mind to serve were 'heavy', we decided to insert the savoury dishes around a sweet 'degustation', so as to allow each offering an equal chance of getting its rightful appreciation. Too often an initial mouth-watering array of sweet treats loses much of its appeal by the end of a gluttonous savoury feast, which is always a shame. We began with a cheese platter with quince paste and crackers and followed that with an antipasto of rolled prosciutto and marinated olives. Next our hostess, IK prepared a large briny pot of Moules Mariniére, local live black mussels tossed with oil, butter and herbs before being steamed in their own sweet juices and thickened with a dash of cream. Initial bowls eaten with fresh crusty bread had us clamouring for seconds!

A deliciously briny bowl of Moules Mariniére with local black mussels

Then our first 'dessert' of a Malaysian inspired Pandan (Screwpine) Sago Pearl Pudding with Palm Sugar Syrup and Coconut Cream. KB had spent the previous evening boiling up the green sago pearls till translucent, draining them of excess starch and allowing the lot to set overnight in a refrigerated mould. The chilled pudding was then overturned onto a serving plate and served scooped into individual bowls drizzled with plenty of palm sugar syrup and some coconut cream. Cool, refreshing, rich, sweet and caramelly flavours heavenly combined to dazzle the tastebuds and served as the ideal sweetener for a hot afternoon. Too bad we tucked in before anyone even thought of a camera!

A short rest and the centrepiece main was ready, a whole foil-wrapped wild-caught barramundi of around 2 kilos oven-baked with a light dressing of oil, lemon and herbs and served on a large platter with roasted potatoes and Mediterranean vegetables. The fish was cooked to 'just-done' perfection and yielded moist, tender flakes full of flavour. Compliments to the hosting chefs!

Oven baked wild barramundi with roasted potatoes and mixed Mediterranean vegetables

The second dessert round came in the form of IK's homebaked Tiramisu. One of the better versions I remember having tasted, delicately rich, moist and creamy and based on savoiardi biscuits soaked in Bénédictine liqueur and good espresso. I must remember to get the recipe! Again enjoyed suitably chilled for the warm weather. Then over strong teas or coffees, we further lured ourselves with a display of fresh baklava selections that I'd purchased that morning from one of my favourite Sydney Road Lebanese pastry shoplets (Alnada Quality Sweets at 160 Sydney Road, Coburg). Luckily it was one of the very few outlets that remained opened on Christmas morning! Under $10 for a generous buttery selection of various baked filo (phyllo) pastries and fingers filled with crushed pistachios, walnuts, pinenuts or cashews and sticky with sweet rosewater scented syrup; not to mention the generous and kindly shop lady who offered me a taste sampling of each and every different one before adding more to the tray. A preliminary overload of sugary bliss!

Mixed selection of Middle Eastern sweet pastries drizzled with rosewater syrup

Finally, what festive meal would be complete without a decadence of seasonal cherries as we sipped drinks over the final hours of yet another Christmas day. Plump Tasmanian grown representatives averaged $16 per kilo at Prahran Market during the pre-Christmas price hike.

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