Sunday, December 07, 2014

My Book Club Goes Down Undah

For my book club this time around, we read this terrific book by an Australian author named Liane Moriarty. It was very well done, and a real page-turner. Even though I am in the thick of finals, I still managed to read it in a week. I could hardly put it down! So for our food theme, of course, we headed Down Under.

For an appetizer, I brought a shrimp ring, but I chucked the pre-packaged cocktail sauce, and fashioned a sauce with mayo, BBQ sauce, and hot sauce. Shrimp in a Barbie Sauce, get it?? Ha ha.
Other appetizers included these little puff pastry cups  with baked brie (bottom left) and sausage rolls (bottom right--something a hostess serves at a party in the book). At the top right was some crusty bread spread with a sundried tomato pesto, and also appearing in this photo (top left) was a delicious lamb curry pie that one of the book club members bought at a pie shop in Montreal. It was DELISH!

Because I knew there would be several other meat dishes at this affair, the entree I brought was a vegetarian cottage pie with lentils, butternut squash, and mushrooms. Everyone loved it, and I got several requests for the recipe. I honestly think it would fool carnivores, as it has a very "meaty" flavor and texture. Here's how I made it:

Vegetarian Cottage Pie with Lentils, Butternut Squash, and Mushrooms

Mushroom, Squash and Lentil Filling:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 large carrot, diced
8 oz. sliced crimini (Baby Bella) mushrooms
10 oz. frozen cubed butternut squash
2 cups cooked brown lentils
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons double-concentrated tomato paste
1 generous teaspoon red curry paste
1/2 cup beef gravy (or two tablespoons corn starch, plus one cup of beef broth)

Potato Topping:
3 1/2 to 4 cups mashed potatoes (already prepared on the drier/chunkier side)
1/2 cup cream
1/2 cup shredded cheese of your choice (I used an Italian blend)
garlic and herb seasoning, to taste
pinch of paprika
sprinkling of grated parmesan

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and saute the onions, celery, carrots, and mushrooms until the veggies are tender. Stir in the squash, lentils, thyme, pepper, tomato paste, red curry paste, and gravy. (If you don't have gravy, after the initial veggies are tender, stir in two tablespoons of corn starch and a cup of beef stock and cook until thickened, then stir in the rest of the filling ingredients.) Put the filling into an ovenproof baking dish.

Combine the mashed potatoes with cream, shredded cheese, and seasoning. Stir to combine. Spread evenly on the top of the veggie filling, rake all over with the tines of a fork, and sprinkle with paprika and grated parmesan cheese.

Bake at 350 F for about 30 minutes until GB&D.

Here are just some of the dessert offerings (clockwise from bottom left): Anzac biscuits, mini cherry cheesecakes, and some sort of chocolate bars with chopped-up biscuits in them called Hedgehog Slices.
The dessert  brought was a baked rice custard with cinnamon and nutmeg (that all swam to the right because of my wonky oven, no doubt) and orange-infused dried cranberries in place of the traditional (but icky, IMHO) raisins. It was fine, but not mind-blowing or anything.
The real showstopper of the evening was this pavlova (also featured in the book). I look how the chef decorated it with strawberries and kiwis--red and green for Christmas. How festive!

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