Sunday, September 16, 2012

Spring Lunch with Friends

Today I had the great pleasure of catching up with Miko, an old friend from Japan who I met when she came to my school as an exchange student when we were seventeen years old. Yes, that's twenty seven years ago folks -  a hell of a long time in anyone's language!  Well, through the magic of social media we found each other last year and when she announced she would be coming to Australia for a short holiday, we couldn't pass up the chance to get together. My first thought was to take Miko and her husband Nao out to lunch somewhere by the harbour, but she has always been such a great fan and supporter of Gourmet Goddess, that I thought I would cook for her instead.

I wanted to showcase some really excellent Australian produce, but with the lovely Spring weather, I also wanted the menu to be a bit of a celebration of the season. We were blessed with a beautiful warm Spring day, so location wise we ended up alternating between the back garden and the dining room. It soon became apparent that we all shared a love of food, and there were lots of conversations about cooking and ingredients and the produce from our respective countries. Definitely culinary cultural exchange. Drinks wise, we enjoyed a bottle of Penfolds Eden Valley Traminer which we bought back from our trip to South Australia last year, along with a few glasses of Gekkeikan Sake - just so that both countries were represented of course!

We started our lunch with an entree of handmade crab tortellini, served with a delicious light lemon, chive and butter sauce. I used herbs fresh from my garden and good quality salted Danish butter for the base of the sauce. I wanted to keep it really simple, so that the silky texture of the pasta and the great fresh crab flavour could shine through. I originally considered doing a larger version of this dish as the second dish on the menu, but decided to make Australian beef the focus of the main course.

 Crab Tortellini
with Lemon Chive Butter Sauce

I know that beef is extremely expensive in Japan, so I wanted to treat Miko and Nao to a really good peice of grass fed, aged, top quality Australian meat that they would not have the chance to eat at home. We made a special trip to the wonderful Victor Churchill  for some top notch beef fillet to serve our guests. I cooked the beef nice and rare, in one large fillet piece - searing it first in a hot pan, then transferring it to the oven for about 15 minutes, resting it for ten minutes and then slicing it into four thick steaks. I find cooking the beef like this keeps it super moist, especially if you are using a fillet piece. The meat was ridiculously tender and so flavoursome.

I served the beef in a very simple French style, with a crisp on the outside, soft in the centre potato galette, some gorgeous new Spring asparagus and a rich mushroom sauce, made with Swiss Brown, Porcini and White Button mushrooms. Instead of pouring the sauce over the beef, I served it seperately to allow people to put the sauce where they wanted to put it, and to also give the dish a really clean presentation. The beef was a huge hit with our guests.

Rare Grass Fed Beef
with Potato Galette, Three Mushroom Sauce and Spring Asparagus

For dessert, I decided on a semifreddo, but with a bit of a twist - using a yoghurt and cream base instead of the standard cream and egg yolk base. The result was a velvety, slightly tangy semifreddo which I made up in a flexible silicone muffin pan to make moulded individual serves. I flavoured the mixture with some beautiful golden Hunter Valley honey which we bought at a roadside farm stall on a weekend away recently. Really fragrant and beautiful, with just the right amount of sweetness for the cream and yoghurt.

I teamed the semifreddo with an almond and pistachio praline (I made a batch of this a few weeks ago and had a nice big jar full, ready to use) and some sweet Queensland pineapple, which I caramelised with brown sugar in a hot pan. I served the final dessert with edible flowers from the garden to go with the whole Spring theme.

Honey Yoghurt Semifreddo
with Almond and Pistachio Praline and Caramelised Pineapple

I really enjoyed putting this Spring lunch together and sharing it with our lovely visitors from Tokyo. Imagine my delight when Miko presented me with a parting gift of good quality Wasabi and a supply of Bonito flakes she had brought all the way from Japan for me. What a fabulous gift! I see a whole lot more Japanese inspired dishes in my future. We are planning on getting to Japan in our travels eventually, and it will be fantastic to have Miko and Nao to show us where all the good food and Sake is! It was fantastic to catch up after 27 years - and sharing a meal together was the perfect way to do it.