Sunday, 18 December 2011

Celebrating Summer: A Dinner Party

You know Summer has well and truly arrived if you find yourself running into such delectable characters with an alarmingly increased frequency:

A few Wednesdays ago, on one of the first bona fide Summer days this year (blazing sun, blue skies, hot breezes), my housemate and I decided to celebrate and invite a couple of friends over for dinner. To make the most of a beautiful day, I opted out of work and paid a visit to the South Melbourne Markets for decent produce. 

For starters, we had peach, prosciutto and goat cheese croutons, baked with a few sprigs of fresh rosemary (nicked from a nearby bush). No shortage of flavour or textures here: salty, sweet, crunchy, creamy. I tried both a hard and a soft goats cheese - the former melted into a pleasant ooze, while the latter remained unscathed by the baking process. At any rate, both tasted excellent, particularly when accompanied by a glass (or three) of sangria. 

Awaiting oven treatment
Post-oven: melted cheese!

Main course consisted of lamb racks with a pistachio and mint crust, served with balsamic-glazed cherry tomatoes and a pea, mint and feta salad. Being my typical self, I duly went overboard entombing the lamb. I acknowledge it sounds mildly disturbing, but there's something oddly satisfying and soothing about rubbing and patting marinade/coating onto slabs of raw meat.

Naturally, my overzealous entombing efforts came back to haunt me when the paste refused to transform into a magically crispy crust in the recommended roasting time. I was forced to prolong the cooking time, but thankfully, the lamb was still tender and juicy. The crust, particularly the mint component, provided a refreshing complement.

I had a stupidly fun time making the salad as it was my first experience shelling peas. Maybe I'm the last soul in the universe to be gifted this knowledge, but it blew my mind to discover that there are more than two peas in a pod...

'As alike as five peas in a pod'
doesn't quite have the same ring to it...

Idioms aside, the salad was super fresh and crammed with peas, snow peas, sugar snap peas, snow pea sprouts, a shocking amount of mint and Persian feta, which is a bit creamier and less saltier than its Greek cousins. 

My current housemate is a bit of a whiz when it comes to desserts and baking, so it was a no-brainer that she should take care of the final course. And deliver, she certainly did:

H produced her famous pavlova, which uses a sweet version of Ras-el-hanout (a traditionally savoury Moroccan spice blend) and cocoa. You might think it an odd combination - I certainly did - but the spices gave the meringue a really distinctive flavour which cut through the sweetness brilliantly. The aroma was also incredible; as H had baked this the night before, it took all the measly willpower I possessed to prevent myself from taking a sneaky piece while I was in the kitchen. Rest assured, I later rewarded my superhuman effort with seconds (and thirds).

Here's a close-up, just 'cause.

Fresh food, simply and lovingly prepared, plenty of laughs and great conversation as the sun lingers in the sky  - that's what Summer is all about!  

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