Some time back in July, we were sitting around a table eating dinner with friends when invitations were casually given for a home-cooked gourmet dinner prepared by highly passionate casual-turning-professional-cook Casey . That's the dedicated eater's life, planning meals in advance while present one is not yet eaten.
But, the weeks and months came and went but the invitation did not evolve into anything concrete, so much so that we thought the event has been called off, or worse, happened without us.
Then, in late November, unexpectedly, Casey announced that he was ready, and he would cook, and our friends the ever-generous Mr and Mrs L graciously offered up their home to host the a-promised fine meal. Over the weeks, the anticipation built up as Casey revealed the menu and we prepared ourselves for a fine multi -course meal that would take him three days to cook up.
On the day itself, we tried to get to the host's place early in case Casey needed help but were surprised to find a quiet and very clean kitchen. There was only a duck warming in the oven. For a moment I thought I got the dates wrong. No, Mrs L assured me, Casey has prepared everything in advance and dinner only needed to be heated through. Mr L poured chilled wine for everybody and we sat down to eat.
Singapore Stir-fried mystery noodle : The surprise was there wasn't really any noodle in this dish, although the texture of shark's fin can approximate noodle somewhat. Actually it was an updated version of the retro wedding dinner starter dish of egg-fuyong (shark's fin omelet), only this time it was jazzed up with julienned vegetables and tossed with a fresh citrusy dressing.
Buddha Jump over the wall: Very luxe with abalone, sea cucumbers and Chinese mushrooms. Casey informed us that the soup was blended from three types of stock- duck, chicken and seafood, making it richly layered with umamilicious flavours while maintaining a fairly clear colour. It was served slightly cool, but this oversight paradoxically enhanced the taste in a very good way, for me at least.
Crayfish Angel Hair : just a pretty twirl of pasta tossed with pesto, accompanied by a chunk of tender lobster.
Tequila Oyster: Fresh oyster in tequila batter with seaweed and tobiko. Briny and appetising.
Mystery Crab: First, we didn't know it was crabs because what was borne to the table was covered with a big piece of lotus leaf. The second surprise was that the crab was hairy crabs. Which was difficult to procure so late in its season. Casey said he got lucky, there were some at Chinatown market where he shopped for the ingredients. The crabs were marvelous, scented ever-so-delicately with the lotus leaf which it was wrapped in after being steamed.
Dong Bo Rou: It was his first attempt, and he has never tried the China versions before. Not quite the rich, unctuous porky treat that the mainlanders are known for, it was nonetheless a very tender and juicy pork rich with the flavours of spiced dark soya sauce.
Imperial Herbal turtle: Made into a full-bodied soup that reputedly puts hairs on one's chest and is magnificient for boosting libido. Not actually a turtle, more like a big terrapin. The surprise was the eggs, which at a hawker centre one would have to pay extra for as they are harder to come by, but like Casey nonchalantly told us, he was quite lucky at the market that day.
Thrice-cooked duck: The classic stuffed duck cooked Chinese style, i.e. bathed first in hot oil, steamed for 3 hours and then roasted. His version was fab, says I who hogged the plate; well-executed, with crisp skin and lean, tender meat stuffed with an aromatic mix of chestnuts and yams.
Prawn dumplings : Deep fried dumplings for a little break. His reluctance to inconvenience our host and mess up their kitchen meant this little snack was not as crispy as it should, but the sweet juicy fillings more than compensated for the soggy exterior.
Poached grouper cheek: He managed, lucky him (and us), to also purchase another rare find, i.e. a grouper head wider than my shoulders. Only the very tender, delicate and sweet cheek was poached in a delicate sauce. The rest of the head ? I think he saved up for curry, maybe.
Yang Zhou fried rice: In case anyone was still hungry.
The lavish meal ended with two equally indulgent desserts by Jeremy- rich chocolate cake and my favourite lemon cheesecake.
Husband said I should mention the wonderful wines too, special bottles that everyone brought out in honour of the occasion, but he only remembers a few:
- Petit Mouton Rothschild1997
- Duhart Milion Rothschild 2001
- Ridge Lytton Springs
- Monbousquet 1998
- Jacob's Creek vintage white
- Brown Brothers dessert wine.