Monday, September 27, 2010

Dinner party report: Russian salad, CSIRO eggplant moussaka, pork crackling and duck confit

I love dinner parties where people cook the food themselves.  It's like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates - you never know what you're gonna get!

So it was with great anticipation (did you know that the anticipation of a pleasure to come often creates more dopamine levels in your brain than actual participation in the pleasure itself? That's your basic Pavlov's Dog observation, and no Pavlov didn't invent the pavlova) that I popped around last night to the home of my personal trainer Tony and his Bulgarian wife Ati.  They also had Bruce and Xena over.  I love exotic names!!!  But I love exotic foods even better (yes, even when they aren't made of dubious animal parts!)

Tony had cooked a CSIRO eggplant moussaka deliciously gravied minced beef sandwiched between layers of egg plant, and Ati had made a Russian salad. a dense, richly flavoured affair of potatoes (hey it's Russian - but I bet Anzhela will reckon it's Bulgarianised), cream, and other colourful bits of plant material (it is a salad after all).  Both were so delicious that I wolfed down a monster-serving of moussaka and ate more than was wise of the heavy salad, which was surely expanding in my stomach as soon as it got there.  Who would have thought that a scientifically designed moussaka would taste so good?

Washed down with a 2004 Picardy Pinot Noir.  This is a subtle, refined and restrained wine - certainly not made in the big brash Antipodean pinot style, but leaning more towards your burgundian approach, albeit without the noseloads of aromatic perfume.  I do worry about my bottles of the 1997 and 1998 vintages - they may have faded away.

I alo brought a couple of things which had been knocking around in my fridge for the last couple of months, safely stored in a loving cocoon of duck fat - a sheet of pre-cooked pig skin, and a couple of duck breasts which had previously been stewed in duck fat on low heat (120 degrees Celsius) for a couple of hours.

The pork crackling, of course was my pride and joy. Based on a recipe from Fergus Henderson, chef of St John Bread & Wine, my favourite restaurant in the whole wide world, it requires one and a half weeks in the making. With most of the fat trimmed off at 3 different stages throughout the cooking process, this is a truly healthy dish, and I defy any naysayers to prove otherwise!  Given the fact that it is virtually pure protein, Tony thought it would be a great after work-out snack.  I agree, and don't care what anybody says.

Sorry - I forgo to take some photos.  When I next make my crackling for the Cook 2 Cure, I'll provide some photos of the whole process, and give you some details on the recipe too.

To wrap things up, we were treated to an ancient family recipe - Tony's mum's banana cake with chunks of organic chocolate mixed in, and made with organic butter (health is his business after all).  Delicious.  I'm munching on a takeaway slice right now, and I can tell you that it is superb.  A crusty crust (maybe that's why they call it a "crust".  Or is it because they call it "crusty"? Chicken and egg ...), with a chewy but moist interior, and a pleasant crunchy chocolate surprise with every 3 or 4 bites (of course, it was warm and thickly runny chocolate when it first came out of the oven - now that is a flavoural and textural delight!)

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