Friday, December 31, 2010

xmas lunch 2010

Let me ask you a question, are you a pineapple snob? Do you always tut-tut your friends when they put pineapple in their savoury foods, like pizza? Well, you might as well close this blog post and read my other posts, because I’m about to commit a cardinal sin with this one.

The day before Christmas, my older sister and I have made a date for us to have Christmas lunch together. What could be more perfect for an Australian Christmas to have prawns for lunch, so I went to the local supermarket and bought myself a kilo and a half of prawns (Australian this time, not foreign). I also bought a pineapple and some garlic to go with the prawns.

Seafood, but more particularly prawns, will always evoke in me the lovely feeling of summer, of holidays, festivals and parties. If I trace back why this is so, it’s partly because we don’t eat seafood every day, we consider seafood to be a relatively expensive food item and is therefore reserved for special occasions. But, it’s also partly because when I was young, my father always cooked us seafood on the weekend as a treat. He’ll make a big deal out of it too. He would go to the market himself early in the morning and meticulously picked out the seafood himself (in the case of our daily meals, we usually leave the cooking and shopping for the cook to do). When he got home, he’d tell us what he bought, but more importantly, if not painfully for us kids, he'd tell us the minutiae of why the crab was good that particular time of the year, or why we couldn’t have a particular type of fish that day, etc. After all that, he’d take a nap for an hour or two, then fully refreshed, he'd proceed to cook the seafood himself. Such is my father.

This would also be the case for every party that we ever had, but perhaps not as obsessive. He’d just supervise the cook very diligently and carefully, tasting all the dishes before they’re approved for consumption. For every party that my father organised at the house, there'd always be lots of food but the centre pieces for me were the prawns with pineapple and garlic, and the simply fried calamari with birds-eye chilli and soy dipping sauce. But, the prawns are the ones that are stuck to my psyche.

Christmas day, 11.20am, I arrived at the door, only to find out that my younger sister and her boyfriend were also coming to lunch. We didn’t plan it this way, but it turned out that each sister brought (and/or was cooking) a dish with them, so it was like a potluck Christmas lunch, which I think is brilliant. It means we didn’t have to burden one person with all the cooking herself.

My younger sister brought with her prawns that had been cut into small pieces, battered and fried. She also did a mayonnaise dip to go with it, which I didn’t get to taste. She did this beforehand, so she had time to play with (read: distract) our nephew while my older sister and I cooked our dishes.

My older sister wanted to cook us some pizza that day. But, she, in all her wisdom, had not, until that day, checked whether her pizza stone would fit in her oven or not. Lo and behold, the oven would not close with the pizza stone in it. Her excuse was that she hadn’t cooked pizza in her house before, she always cooked it in Mum’s house, so I guess we can forgive her this time. She had to improvise and used the bottom end of a heavy-bottomed pan to bake the pizza on instead. While, the pan is heating up in the oven, she proceeded to knead her previously-made dough to mini pizza bases and topped them with a combination of barbecue sauce, olives, pineapple pieces (oh, the horror!), salami, ham, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, and a whole lot of cheese. When the pizza came out of the oven, the bottom of the dough that was sitting on the heavy-bottomed pan was partially burnt, but the toppings and 90% of the bread was still yummy. If we can take anything out of this is that, when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.

While my sister was busy surviving the stone-pizza-crisis, I was busy de-veining and de-shelling the prawns. It occurred to me, a quarter of my way into this process, that there is now way I’d ever finish prepping and cooking by 12pm, so I enlisted the help of my brother-in-law. I de-shelled, he de-veined. I did think that it would’ve been so much prettier if I could de-veined the prawns without the de-shelling them, but somehow when I try to do just that, the black guts of the prawns always break halfway before I can pull the whole darn thing out. So deshelling we were. After butchering the prawns, I placed them in several bowls sized to fit the cooking pot. I seasoned the prawns with a pinch of salt. I tossed them with some of my-hand-crushed pineapple pieces and its juices, and a bulb of peeled, crushed garlic. I boiled the prawns shells and heads in the cooking pot a quarter full with water, and used that as the steaming vapour for cooking the prawns, remembering to stir the prawns around once every 30 seconds so that they're evenly cooked. The prawns came out very tender and moist. They were sweet, but only naturally so. And nothing goes better with them than our favourite condiment of Indonesian garlic chilli sauce with a splash of soy sauce.

My brother-in-law’s input to this lunch is to prepare us some desserts. He opted for the healthier version, which was a plate of sweet, sunshiny mango slices; a cluster of syrupy, tiny seedless grapes; and jewels of tart, maroon cherries. It was the perfect ending for a relaxed Saturday lunch.

You may be wondering why there aren’t any pictures of the finished products. Well, have you heard that Christmas is the silliest season of them all? I was definitely silly that day. Maybe my older sister's silliness rubbed off on me. My excuse would be after we sat down on the table and started eating, I realised how hungry I was and proceeded to eat without a care in the world, and so I forgot.

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