Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Boxing Day Turkey Dinner

Roast Turkey

This year we did our Turkey dinner on Boxing Day, so that we could have the whole family together.  After previous turkey dinners, I think I've honed my family's perfect Christmas turkey dinner...

Turkey Feast

A Boxing Day Turkey Dinner for 8

Roast Turkey
Onion Gravy
Roast Potatoes
Red Cabbage
Cranberry Sauce
Chestnut Stuffing
Bread Dumplings

Christmas Cake

We did all the cooking over a leisurely afternoon, and then sat down and stuffed our faces, hehe!  I've blogged all of these items before, so I'll just show some brief "in-progress" pictures.

Here's our turkey, a 6.3kg free range beauty from Rendinas Butchery.  (They finally have a website!  Those of you who followed me during the Sarah Discovers How to Eat blog will remember that I would buy meat from them all the time).
6.3 kg free-range Turkey
I don't stuff or brine the turkey, but just rub it generously in butter.  (Nigella recommends a maple-syrup basting to help it crisp up, but you don't need that if your turkey isn't damp from brining).  And as you can see from the top picture, the turkey was ridiculously crisp and golden.  Or as my niece described it: "covered in turkey crackling".  And I baste the turkey in beer while it's cooking.  (Apart from adding moisture, it helps make fabulous pan juices for gravy later!)
Buttering up the turkey
The bread dumplings are a Czech recipe, which made their way to Germany.  I've blogged them before, and love making them.
Making Dumplings

Uncooked dumplings
I'm still working on getting my dumplings smooth and pretty, but I'm sure with time and practice I'll get better. (They already look better than last year's attempt!)
Cooked dumplings
You can't have turkey without gravy, and I like a good onion gravy.  This time I sliced the onions very very fine, and cooked them for ages on a low heat, so that once they were combined with flour, marsala, stock and pan juices, they melted into the sauce and didn't need to be whizzed in a food processor.  Super delicious.
Onion Gravy
Then there was chestnut stuffing (cooked in a separate tray)...
Chestnut Stuffing
... red cabbage...
Red Cabbage
... and of course, my specialty, roast potatoes!
Roast Potatoes
All that was left was to carve the turkey...

... and crack open the champagne!

Dom Pérignon 1996

Thank-you to my cousin Barry for the delicious DP.

We had Christmas cake for dessert, and that was that.

Merry Christmas everybody! Hope you've all enjoyed the holidays!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Icing my Christmas Cake

As promised, here are the photos of my Christmas cake!  This is the first time I've actually done the whole marzipan and white icing thing - usually I just enjoy my fruit cakes plain.  But I've really, really wanted to try the proper white Christmas cake thing for ages, so I finally bit the bullet this year and did it!

Let's have a look at the steps I took.  (N.B. This is not intended to be a prescriptive how-to guide, just a record of how I did it).  I did a double layer of icing - one of marzipan, one of that rollable white icing.  I used the standard supermarket packets, but I guess if you were so inclined, you could go to a gourmet shop and get yourself an expensive brand.  If that makes you feel better.  But I don't think anyone actually eats the icing anyway - blergh - so I don't see the point.

Here's the cake... it's interesting that after a couple of weeks all wrapped it, the top got a bit smoother than when it was first baked.

I think you're meant to slice the top flat, but I didn't want to lose any cake, so I left it as it was.  (You'll see that the finished product at the top is a bit bumpy, but I didn't mind).  I filled in some of the holes with little balls of marzipan...

... rolled out the marzipan...

...and draped it (rather messily) over the cake.  I wonder if having a bumpy layer of marzipan defeats the purpose of having marzipan at all.  Oops.

I let it dry out overnight, and then draped a layer of the white icing over the top.  You're meant to dust the work surface with icing sugar, but I was doing it at my parents' house and they didn't have any, so I used castor sugar.  It actually gave the finished cake a sparkly, shiny effect, like snow!

And as I was only doing an 18cm cake, there was quite a bit of leftover icing...
Cutting out shapes
The only festive cookie-cutters that my mum has are a bell, a Christmas tree, and a mini gingerbread dude, so I used them, attaching the shapes to the side of the cake with a little water.

And that was it!  I let it dry out for a bit longer, and we had the cake for dessert at our family's Boxing Day turkey dinner.  (To be blogged soon!)  My niece said the cake looked cute, not like one of those "classy cakes" that you'd be afraid to slice into, hehe.

Here's what it looks like on the inside...

The cake was good, not great.  I found it very sweet, and slightly too fruity.  I prefer my Christmas cake to have a bit more crumb to it.  (I do realise this is in direct contrast to my comments on our Christmas pudding this year, which I thought was too cakey and not fruity enough!)  I guess I like my cakes and puddings to be true to their original nature.

Even though I can't say I'm a huge fan of Nigella's classic Christmas cake, I'm glad I tried it once.  Next year I am definitely going back to Nigel Slater's wonderful Christmas cake.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Ricotta Waffles

Mmm... waffles!
For our Christmas morning breakfast, I'd planned to make ricotta hotcakes.  I'd bought ricotta and berries in advance, but those plans were all thrown out the window when I unwrapped this gift...

Ooh.. shiny!

Ta-dah! My dad got me a new waffle iron!  We've had an old Breville one at my parents' house, but it's quite old, and only has small indentations, so the waffles it makes are quite thin, and are hard all the way through by the time they're crispy on the outside.  And I prefer them fluffy!  We had a great industrial waffle maker at this restaurant where I used to work (we made waffles to order for the arvo tea buffet), which was huge, had deep indentations and got super hot - perfect for fluffy waffles with crispy edges and heaps of room for the all-important syrup to pool!  But, it also weighed about a zillion kilos, so definitely not good for home use.  But now I have my own waffle iron!  It's a Cuisinart, that the lady at the shop recommended.  It has pretty big indentations, and makes 4 square waffles at a time.

My go-to waffle recipe is from the Roux Brothers (the one I use to make my beloved Taiyaki), but I didn't want my ricotta to go to waste, so I got a-Googling, and found this recipe for ricotta waffles, from the Cook Almost Anything blog.  The batter only took about 5 minutes to mix together - easy peasy.

When using a waffle iron, I always find it a bit tricky to get the right amount of batter.  The instruction book says "a scant 2 cups", but I was a bit afraid of leakage, so I went very scant.  The first batch of waffles looked like this... D'oh!

With this waffle iron, I think you also have to spread out the batter yourself, rather than letting the lid squish it to the edges.  It didn't seem to spread out very much.  Oh well, I guess I better practise making more waffles! Hehehe.

But anyhoo, once they were flipped over and showered with a snowy dusting of icing sugar they looked fine.  More than fine, in fact!

It only took 2 rounds to cook up all the batter - a lot faster than using my old, smaller iron.  This means faster waffle gratification!

Today's accompaniments were maple syrup, some fabulous raspberries, some blueberries (healthy healthy, right?) and the rest of the ricotta.

Yum yum

I quite liked the recipe, especially the chunky bits of ricotta that were inside the fluffy dough.

I don't know if I'd go out of my way to buy ricotta for waffles again, as I'm sure normal waffle dough would be delicious too.  Cindy from Where's the Beef made some delicious-looking vegan Rum-Banana Waffles recently.  In fact, it was her post that got me thinking that I really wanted my own waffle iron, one with nice deep indentations.  (Their one is a Sunbeam, which makes me think that it's not necessarily the brand that's important, but the shape and size of the cooking plates that affect the finished product).  I'd like to try making pumpkin waffles (like my previous pumpkin scones, and pumpkin pancakes), or even chocolate waffles for a decadent dessert.  Watch this space...

Christmas Eve Dinner

Christmas Pudding

Merry Christmas everyone!  I hope you're all having a fabulous day.  We had a Christmas feast last night, and I've spent today just relaxing and watching junk TV.  (Although I did make waffles for lunch, with the new waffle iron that my dad got me for Christmas, hehe!)  I also got the new Karen Martini and Bill Granger books, so there will be lots of cooking coming up in the new year!

A Christmas Eve Dinner for 4
Baked Ham
Grilled Lobster with Garlic Butter Sauce
Macaroni Cheese
Petits Pois à la Française

Christmas Pudding

You'll see that last night's dinner was pretty much my standard pre-Christmas ham dinner, minus the spiced peaches I usually have.  No reason for me omitting them, I just forgot!

Sandra received this beautiful organic ham from her work (they received chocolates and cherries too - jealous!), which formed the base of our meal.
5.3 kg organic ham from Donati's
Of course, being 5.3 kilos, it was way too much for 4 of us, so we sliced off what we wanted to eat and heated the slices in the oven.  Not as resplendent as a huge glazed ham, but the remaining ham lasts longer if you don't heat and let it cool again.  So speaking of which - any ideas for what to do with the leftover ham? Apart from sandwiches, of course.
Slices of Ham
Apart from the lack of spiced peaches, it wasn't quite a standard dinner, because we also had - say what?! - lobster tails!  Oooh... pretty!

Shiny lobster tails
Earlier that day, I went to Rendinas Butchery to pick up our Boxing Day turkey, and saw these gorgeous lobster tails in the window.  The nice lady at the shop told me they were $100 a kilo - OMG - and that each of them weighed about 400g, so I thought I'd give them a miss.  But when I came home and told Dad about the lobster tails - from the pictures I think you can guess how this story ends - he went up to the butcher and splashed out on some lobster tails. YAY!  It was about $120 for three, so definitely a once-a-year treat!

I'd never cooked lobster before, but after some googling I cooked them like this:

I sliced through the middle of the soft shell underneath the tails, flicked them open and cut them off.
Preparing the lobsters
Then I stuck a couple of skewers lengthwise through each of the tails (to prevent them from curling), and boiled them until the shells were red and the flesh was opaque.
Boiling lobsters

Boiled lobsters

While all that lobster and ham was cooking, we made some French style peas...
... and Mac and Cheese! Mmm... pure comfort food.
Mac & Cheese
It's not a celebration without Champagne!
You can see a small bowl of sauce under the lobster - that's just a mixture of melted butter, garlic and parsley.  However, when we sliced into the lobster we saw that it wasn't cooked all the way through (oops!).  So while we were eating, I sliced the lobster tails in half, basted them with that garlic butter sauce, and grilled them. The smell was divine!


Grilled and buttered
So delicious.

For dessert, we dug into that Christmas pudding I made at The Langham's Pudding Making Class.  I'd steamed it for 2 hours, and served it with custard.

Mmm... custard

The pudding was very different from my normal Roux Brothers' Christmas pudding.  The Langham's was very light and cakey, with a low proportion of fruit to dough.  We all liked it (I think my folks loved it!) but I found myself craving a traditional rich and fruity, boozy and suet-filled Christmas pudding.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Parties

We had such fun hosting Christmas parties on Sunday (yes, that's right - 'parties', plural).  Seeing as we have limited space, I thought it'd be a good idea to do two Christmas parties on one day: a 'lunch' party in the arvo, and a 'dinner' party in the evening, with about an hour in between.  It was fabulous, but a lot of hard work.  The three days leading up to the party were a blur of cleaning, cooking, trips to the market and lots of late night baking. Phew!

All my friends were in a very festive (and hungry) mood, which made the day so fun, and filled with great memories.  So, in that spirit, I've decided to use a retro filter for the pictures, the type that seems so popular right now.  Thanks to Sandra for showing me how!  (You can also read about the lunch party here, at Food Rehab - thanks Adrian for the awesome blog post and the yummy coconut macaroons!)

Christmas Lunch Party for 19 (!)

Roast Pork Belly
Cured Salmon
Spinach, Cracked Wheat and Triple-Cheese Pie
Garlic-Butter Roasted Mushrooms
Rocket Salad
Baguette, Corn Chips

Apple-Maple Cakelets with Mascarpone-Calvados Cream
Chocolate Cranberry Cake
Venetian Carrot Cakelets

Christmas Dinner Party for 10

Roast Pork Belly
Cured Salmon
Garlic-Butter Roasted Mushrooms
Rocket Salad
Baguette, Corn Chips

Apple-Maple Cakelets with Mascarpone-Calvados Cream
Chocolate Cranberry Cake
Venetian Carrot Cakelets

As you can see, the menus for both parties were pretty much identical, except we didn't have the spinach pie or guacamole at night (no vegetarian contingent in the evening).  All the other dishes were things that could be prepared at once and split up easily between the two parties - slices of cured salmon, slices of cake, individual cakelets and so on.  None of the preparation was particularly difficult in-and-of-itself, but needed quite a bit of advance planning and some logistical juggling.  And of course the preparation was long and tiring.

I'll be blogging the dishes individually in the upcoming weeks, but for now let's just enjoy some pretty pictures!

Cured Salmon
The salmon (a Nigella recipe from one of her old Christmas programs) was prepared a few days in advance, and all I had to do was slice it just before people started arriving.  (Sliced some in the arvo, and the remainder in the evening).

Spinach, Cracked Wheat and Triple-Cheese Pie

For the pie, (Nigella again) I'd mixed up the filling and made the pastry the night before.  About an hour before my friends were due to arrive, I assembled the pie and popped it in the oven.  Those of you with sharper memories will know that I previously made this pie about a year ago, and it was good but very bland.  This time, as per my previous suggestions, I doubled the seasoning ingredients and added cubes of feta.  (So glad that I have a blog, otherwise I would have forgotten about this).  I also made it in a much larger tin, and let the pastry make a rough border, instead of covering the pie totally.  I think it looks more attractive this way. If you were so inclined, I suppose you could cut out a festive Christmas tree shape out of pastry and place it on top.  But... I'd run out of pastry.  Anyway, kitsch decoration or not, it was a success!  Much tastier than my previous attempt, and the large flat shape meant it was easier to share amongst a big group.

Garlic-Butter Roasted Mushrooms

I got this recipe for garlicky, buttery mushrooms, from one of my favourite blogs, Smitten Kitchen.  (She does them in the oven, but I cooked it on the stove).  Apart from being delicious, it's similar to something they serve at German Christmas markets, and is suitable for veggoes and coeliacs!  A winner all around.  One of my friends (who came to the evening party) is new to being gluten-free, and I wanted to make sure she had some nice things to eat.

And now... the main event.  The PORK BELLY!

I had 2 pork bellies - I slow roasted both of them the night before, and as people were arriving, I blasted the bellies in a hot oven to get them hot and crispy.  (Again, one during the day, and one in the evening).

Slab o' Pork

Cut into bite-sized pieces for easy consumption!

And just to prove that I really did two in one day... here is the second pork belly, roasted about 5 hours after the first.

Pork Belly #2
Let's have a look at the desserts!  Apart from the Vanillakipferl, I'll give each of them their own post soon, so I won't explain them in too much detail here.

Apple-Maple Cakelets (Donna Hay's Seasons) with Mascarpone Calvados Cream
Chocolate Cranberry Fruitcake (David Lebovitz' Recipe)
Venetian Carrot Cake - gluten AND dairy free! (Nigella's Kitchen)

Duncan made and brought the most delicious Stollen, with homemade almond paste inside.  I do believe he said I was "mercenary" in my insistent requests for him to bring one to the party.  But look at it!  Wouldn't you be mercenary too?  Hehehe.

Yum yum yum.  I daresay I like this Stollen even more than his delicious macarons.  Shhhh...!  (Except maybe those delightful passionfruit ones).

With homemade almond paste on the inside. Oh, you've Stollen my heart! (Puns FTW).
My friend Matt brought homemade marshmallows (for realz, he made marshmallows from scratch - I didn't even know you could do that), which looked like big square heavenly clouds.

I normally don't even like marshmallows that much, as I find them a bit sweet, but these were wonderful, especially with their coating of toasted coconut.  Our attempts at toasting them didn't work out so well though, as they didn't develop a burnt crust on the outside, but rather just melted and dripped straight onto the stove. D'oh!
Check out my Wusthof carving fork of awesomeness!

The only special drink we made was a "Pig" cocktail (inspired by the fabulous one down at Spice Temple), which is made of sparkling wine, gin and lychees. Dee-ricious, and we went through heaps of them!  For some reason we ended up with more alcohol than when the party started... a nice surprise.  I guess we have generous friends!  (Or maybe they're just huge lushes, hehe).
Drinks station. When did that happen?
Carnage (the red paper cups and plates are from Ikea)

I think the double party idea worked quite well - at this time of year people tend to be quite busy and will pop in and out of parties anyway.  The evening party happened to be a bit smaller than the lunch party too, which made things easier.  It also helped that I'd had a couple of days free beforehand to prepare, and that I'd planned all the food logistics with reasonable specificity.  I didn't do a military-style list with timings like Nigella does for a roast beef lunch, but I knew, for example, that I'd be buying the salmon on Thursday morning, baking the apple cakelets on Saturday arvo, and slow-roasting the pork bellies on Saturday night.  Finally, I'm not the most motivated person when it comes to cleaning up (Hah! Not by a long shot!), but I think it is so important to clean-as-you-go, so that the mess doesn't get the better of you.  (Not easy after a few drinks, but you know, give it your best shot).

Merry Christmas and happy holidays everybody!