March 21, 2010

Maleny - Part 1

Last year my friend Monique came up with a fabulous idea. Have a dinner party but get the people attending to make a course. The menu was Italian inspired and Nat got to do the appetiser, Brett (Monique's husband) got to do the entree, Monique got to do the main course and I got to make the dessert. It was a wonderful evening and really LOTS and LOTS of fun.

The other element of the meal was that there was going to be a wine tasting. Because Monique and Brett had just returned from Italy, we were tasting all different Pino Grigio style wines.

The night went so well, that we began thinking about making it a more regular event and possibly naming the group "The Supper Club". The group would consist of the original members and guests could then be invited.

As discussions evolved though, Brett's sister Kylie and her husband Neil wagered in and added their property in Maleny as a possible site for these cook offs...and so..."Little Dog Down" began.

We started off in the right way of course with cheese...

Cheese and olives

And wine...


And this time we were drinking Shiraz style wines. The dinner rotation was, me cooking entree, Kylie and Neil cooking the main meal and Monique and Brett cooking dessert. Originally Nat was supposed to join me on entree duties but her uni schedule clashed and she had to cancel.

Driving the whole Maleny expedition was a dream Monique had of a table. We did our best to recreate what Monique had in mind and I think it looked absolutely beautiful.

The table

Once that was all sorted...the girls retired to the kitchen.



The boys went out the back and got the fire going because Kylie and Neil were cooking their main meal in a camp oven.

I had spent a considerable amount of time deliberating over which would be the best entree to do, that would be reasonably easy and would knock everyone's socks off as a great start to our cooking adventures in Maleny. After moving on from souffle recipes I settled on a risotto recipe that I found in Delicious magazine.

Seared Scallops on Pea & Mint Risotto
(From Delicious Magazine March 2008 p. 68)

The Delicious magazine originally said that the recipe serves 6. It served 7 comfortably as a small entree, so I would say as a main it would serve 4.

Serves 4

1.25L (5 cups) chicken or vegetable stock
100g unsalted butter
8 spring onions, trimmed, thinly sliced
1 cup (220g) arborio rice
2 ½ tbs dry vermouth or white wine
225g shelled fresh peas or frozen peas
2 tbs chopped mint leaves, plus small leaves to garnish
1 tbs olive oil
18 large scallops, halved into 2 rounds or 36 small scallops (about 300g total)
1/3 cup (25g) finely grated parmesan

Bring the stock to the boil in a pan, then keep at a simmer over low heat. Melt 50g of the butter in a deep heavy-based frypan over medium heat, add the spring onion and cook gently for 1 minute until soft. Add the rice and stir for 1-2 minutes to coat grains. Add the vermouth or white wine and simmer until almost absorbed. Add the hot stock a ladleful at a time, allowing each to be absorbed before adding the next. Continue, stirring constantly, for about 20 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed and the rice is cooked by still firm to the bite.

Meanwhile, cook the peas in a pan of boiling salted water until tender (4-5 minutes for fresh, 2-3 minutes for frozen). Drain well, then pulse in a food processor with the mint and 30g of the butter until pureed but still chunky. Set aside.

When the risotto is almost cooked (about 4 minutes to go), heat a large non-stick, heavy-based frypan over high heat until smoking hot. Reduce heat to medium-high, add oil and remaining 20g butter and swirl pan to melt. In 2 batches, sear the scallops for 1 minute each side until golden and just opaque, seasoning as they cook.

When the risotto is done, stir in the parmesan and pea puree, then season to taste. Spoon onto warmed plates and pile scallops on top. Serve immediately, scattered with extra mint leaves.

I had cooked risotto before but I was still a bit nervous. You never know how well you cook something until people are trying it...and possibly critiquing it. And I was cooking in a kitchen I had never seen before. The key for me though was to make sure that the scallops didn't get over done. There's nothing worse than an over cooked scallop. It's such a waste of such a beautiful flavour and turns something delicate into the texture of an eraser.

Luckily it all turned out perfectly. I was so proud.

Entree Risotto

Next up, was Kylie and Neil's main which was Lamb Shanks cooked in the camp oven.

Main Lamb Shanks

The lamb in the camp oven was wonderfully tender. Neil had done the meat in a secret sauce concoction that involved sweet chilli sauce, and Kylie had done baked potatoes and prosciutto wrapped asparagus as sides...delicious!!!

Rounding out the experience was Monique and Brett who did a Macadamia Sticky Date pudding for dessert.

Dessert Macadamia Sticky Date Pudding

The individual puddings turned out beautifully moist and we had stopped at Colin James Fine Foods in Maleny to get some of the most gorgeous ice cream possible to serve with them.

Overall the flavours worked well together. Knowing the Kylie and Neil were doing lamb for the mains, I had chosen pea and mint risotto because I thought that they would all marry well together. Peas, mint and's a match made in heaven.

For the next event I have been assigned to do the main course. It's a challenge because I've never cooked in a camp oven before. I've been researching like crazy...and a good tip that I've had is to make sure that I have some sacrifice vegetables available. Sacrifice vegetables are veggies you put on the bottom of the camp oven that take the full heat and possibly burn. They make sure that the meal doesn't burn by providing that extra "cushioning". I am thinking that potato and carrot will make a good sacrifice layer.

But for this event, the most amazing thing was sitting under the stars in a pitch black night. For a city slicker like me, you don't realise how much the bright city lights take away from the night sky and from the surrounding environment.

The table in the dark

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