Saturday, July 30, 2011

How to Truss a Chicken

Hello my pretty little chicken!  Look at its plump breast, and its crisp, burnished skin!  I was so super-proud of it!  I roasted it on Sunday night for dinner with my parents - the menu was sage-and-garlic Barossa chook with gravy, roast potatoes and carrots, pear and avocado salad (Appellation style), and a bottle of Heggies Vineyard '09 Chardonnay - lovely!

You may notice that this particular chicken is a lot neater and prettier than my previous efforts, and the secret is: trussing!  Yup, just tying up the chicken with a bit of string and a couple of simple knots gives you a beautiful, presentable chicken.  Of course, it's not strictly necessary to truss a chicken when you roast it - the taste is the same - but if you're going to splash out on an excellent chicken (which indeed I did), why not go to the tiny extra effort to make it look even more special?

Before I go into the step-by-step of "How to Truss a Chicken", I have to tell you what happened when I went shopping for dinner.  After having met Maggie and Saskia Beer, of course I wanted a Barossa chook!  According to the Barossa chook website, Thomas Dux grocer is their main stockist, so on Sunday morning I drove down to the Armadale store to pick one up.  They had about 10 chooks there, and when I went to choose one, I noticed that the bags were leaking and the labels were peeling off.  Upon closer inspection, I saw that all of them were past their use-by date, and some were nearly TWO WEEKS PAST USE BY DATE!  What the hell?!  I have no idea how a shop can let their raw chickens get that far past use-by without someone noticing.  How absolutely feral and disgusting!  I let one of the staff members know about it, and then I swiftly left.  No way am I ever buying anything from Thomas Dux!  

I made a short drive down to Prahran Market, and luckily D&J Poultry had (fresh) Barossa chooks in stock. Yay!  Moral of the story: always check the use by dates on your chickens!

Ok, so back to the chicken and the trussing!  I really struggled to find a clear, comprehensive set of illustrated instructions - and everyone seems to do it a little differently anyway - so I've cobbled together my own.  Don't say I don't look after you!

How to Truss a Chicken

If you want to stuff the chicken, or put anything under the skin, do that first.  I stuffed my chicken with a bunch of herbs (parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme), half a lemon and some chunky onion slices.

Under the skin I put a mixture of butter, chopped sage and garlic.  The good thing about Barossa chooks is that they have very resilient skin so it's easy not to rip it.

When you buy the chicken, the wings will be pointing upwards (like the one on the right).  Tuck that pointy bit under the chicken (like the one on the left).  This prevents the wing tips from burning, and gives the breast more access to heat.

Now, you need some kitchen string, approximately 80cm.  (If in doubt, use slightly more than you think you'll need - it's easy enough to cut away the excess string; more difficult to start again!)  Place the centre of the string under the front end of the chicken, like so:

Bring the string up behind the wings and between the body and leg...

... then cross the string over at the back.

Pull the string tightly.  This will plump up the breast (ooer!) and make the skin nice and taught.

Bring the legs together, and loop the string around the ankles.  (This may take a bit of practice; it took me a couple of goes the first time to keep everything together!)

Tie a nice knot.

Then simply trim away any excess string, and there it is!  A beautiful trussed chicken, ready for roasting.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Barossa: Teusner Wines

Teusner Wines
Cnr Research Road & Railway Terrace
Nurioopta SA 5355
(08) 8562-4147

During my week in the Barossa, I started following and being followed by a lot of Barossa wineries, businesses and restaurants on Twitter - one of those being Teusner Wines.  They weren't on our itinerary, but when I drove past the winery one day, I recognised their logo from their Twitter account and sent them a howdy message.  They promptly replied and invited us to pop in and see them!

Teusner is a small, relatively new winery (established in 2001), who produce mainly red wines (shiraz, grenache, mataro etc.), as well as a chardonnay, a sauvignon blanc and a rose. Mmm... rose.

During a (rare) bit of free time on the trip, we popped into Teusner and met the super-nice David Brookes, (AKA Brookesy) brand manager and head-twitterer at the winery.  He introduced us to the Teusner dog (see above!), and took us through a tasting of the wines...

As I was driving that day, I spat the wine out rather than drinking it - in the top photo you can see my (not-so-elegant) spitting technique, haha.  Quite daring, I know, to spit red wine whilst wearing a white shirt, but luckily it didn't get any stains. Phew!

Our favourite was the Riebke Shiraz, and we were generously given a bottle to take home - thanks Brookesy!

We then went to taste some wine straight from the barrel...
Brookesy between the barrels
... and got to see some grapes being pressed.  None of the other wineries I'd been to were actually producing wine whilst I visited, so it was really interesting for me to see the equipment in action!

We also got to try some freshly pressed grape juice: David just stuck a cup under the running juice and handed it to us - sweet and refreshing!

Sarah and Sandra visited Teusner Winery as guests, with thanks to David Brookes for the invitation.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Nigella Lawson's Devil's Food Cake

I know, I know.  It's a huge icing-to-cake ratio.  But don't judge me - love me! Or rather, love Nigella's Devil's Food Cake.

I actually made this the same night I baked the chocolate mudcake slab for the infamous Shoe Cake.  I knew I wouldn't be able to eat any because it all had to go into the shoe, and I did not want to spend the night baking without a chocolatey reward at the end!  I'd had my eye on Nigella's Devil's Food Cake ever since I got Kitchen, and since I had all the ingredients in the pantry, I knew it was time.  (It was a weeknight, but that's just how I roll - hardcore late-night baker, hehehe!)

The original recipe is a double-decker sandwich cake, (in the style of Nigella's chocolate fudge cake, or her malteaser cake), but I halved the recipe, making a single 20cm round layer.  For some reason, whenever I bake in my non-stick sandwich tins, the batter rises really unevenly, with such a huge dome that I can't slice it flat without wasting half the cake.  Has anyone got any tips for getting my cakes to rise evenly?

Of course, the uneven rising isn't really a big deal unless you're actually making a double-layered cake, so I left my humped cake as it was and splodged the icing on top.  And before you ask - yes, I did halve the icing quantities as well.  The recipe is just very generous with its amounts!

The icing was so luscious and smooth, with a serious dark chocolate hit, and the cake itself was incredibly moist - just fabulous.  I think it's my new favourite chocolate cake.  (Usurping, or perhaps tying with, Nigella's chocolate fudge cake, and her quadruple chocolate loaf cake).  I loved it so much that I made it again, in full quantities, a mere four days later, for my friend Kristine's birthday party.  Delicious!

The recipe is available here, on Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Barossa's Table: The Wine Flight Dinner at Appellation

Seppeltsfield Road
Barossa Valley SA 5352
(08) 8562 4144

Out of all the foodie activities on the amazing itinerary that Tourism Barossa put together for me, my most anticipated was, without a doubt, dinner at Appellation.  Appellation was named South Australia's Best Restaurant in the 2011 Australian Good Food and Travel Guide, and any time I mentioned the restaurant to locals, I would be greeted with hushed, reverent tones.

Jaci and Paige from Tourism Barossa, Sandra, and I arrived on a Friday evening, just as the sun was setting.  Appellation is part of The Louise, a small luxury hotel on Seppeltsfield Road.  It's so gorgeous!  Apparently the rooms have outdoor showers - I'd love to stay there next time I visit the Barossa!

We headed out the back before dinner, enjoying the lovely views and sunset.

You can see on the right the little garden, where they grow herbs and other vegetables that they use in the restaurant.

Joining us for dinner that night was Executive Chef Mark McNamara.  I must say, it was such a treat having him dine with us.  It was great talking with him, getting insights into the menu, the restaurant's philosophy, food, and the restaurant industry in general!  (Of course, I grilled him for cooking tips too!)

You can order drinks on the back patio, but it was getting a little chilly, so we retreated inside for our pre-dinner cocktails.  After a big winey week, it suddenly struck me that cocktails weren't widely available in the Barossa.  (And y'all know how I love a cocktail!)  But funnily enough, I went for a wine-based cocktail anyway! 
This cocktail was made of Spätlese wine, put through a nitrous oxide cream whipper.  It comes out as foam, and you wait a minute or two for the foam to settle: when the ratio is three-quarters liquid to foam, it's ready to drink. Delicious!

Sandra ordered a Baileys, and Chef Mark had a cocktail whose name I, ashamedly, cannot remember.  (Only one thing to do - book another flight back, hehe!)

We were treated to the Wine Flight dinner, Appellation's signature offering.  It features 10 courses based around 7 different wines.  Unusually, when creating the menu, the wines are selected first, and the food is crafted around the wines.  It takes about three hours to enjoy the meal in its entirety, and no substitutions are possible!  (Luckily for us, there was only one seafood course, which Sandra skipped).

Ok, let's go.

Before each course, the sommelier would come to the table and serve the wine, before giving a little spiel about each one.  I thought it was wonderful that they eschewed the big-ticket glamour wines, and went for some really unique wines, with interesting stories behind them.  (The 2010 Lobo Royale Cider which accompanied our dessert was actually very new, and hadn't even been labelled yet - exclusive to Appellation!)

Our first two courses came with the same wine, a rich, fortified wine made from Verdelho grapes, similar to Madeira.

Jellied master stock with crispy pork skin
NV Bleasdale 'The Wise One' Wood Matured Verdelho- Bremer River - Langhorne Creek

The jellied masterstock was a savoury little mouthful, with contrasting soft and crunchy textures.  The crispy pork skin was similar to a prawn cracker, and was made by: boiling pork rind, cutting it into small pieces, dehydrating them and then deep-frying them. Wow!  This, of course, led into a discussion about crackling, and (yes, I'm a dork), I was absolutely thrilled when Chef Mark agreed with my crackly pork belly method.

Smoked duck breast and pickled carrot cold roll

This cold roll was similar to a Vietnamese rice paper roll, but with a strongly smoky flavour from the duck.  It was really interesting how the two dishes brought out different flavours from the wine.

King prawn, red pepper pasta, climbing spinach and corn
2008 Yalumba 'The Virgilius' Viognier - Angaston / Eden Valley 
The prawn dish was absolutely beautiful: an enormous, perfectly cooked prawn with a ever-so-slightly creamy sauce.  As I previously mentioned, our non-seafood-eating Sandra skipped this course.  The waitstaff were very nice about it, and even asked if she wanted them to bring the dish out for her, just so she wouldn't feel left out while the rest of us were eating! She said no, but now that I think about it, I could have probably taken her one if she'd asked for it, hehehe.  Oh well!!

Zucchini, ripe fresh tomato, oregano, garlic and sheep milk curds
2009 Wild Fox Shiraz/Merlot Organic Rose - Lewiston, Adelaide Plains

Similar flavours to ratatouille in this dish; a lovely light combination of vegetables and mild sheep milk curd.

Candy coated Maltara Kalamata Olives stuffed with white anchovy
2010 Massena Primitivo - Greenock, Barossa Valley

The olives were an absolutely fascinating course: two juicy olives in a crisp candy coating.  The candy was made of maltose, and was crunchy without being tooth-shatteringly hard.  I thought the presentation was super-cute too!

Salad of fresh pears and soft lettuces with toasted sunflower seeds

Aah... and then a palate cleanser.  Chef Mark explained that he prefers to use salads as palate cleansers, rather than, say, sorbets, because degustations tend to be protein-heavy, and it can be a struggle to get any greens into the meal.  I absolutely adored this salad - the sunflower seeds were toasted, intensifying their nutty flavour, and the zingy, mustardy dressing was so addictive.  Chef Mark generously emailed me the recipe for the dressing the week after, and we've made it a zillion times!  (Although we never present it quite as prettily as they did at the restaurant!)

Seared Coorong Angus Beef, watercress and hard shell almonds
2010 Lucy Margeaux Vineyards Jim's Vineyard Pinot Noir - Uraidla Valley, Adelaide Hills

This, my friends, is what we would call: "a very Sarah dish": super-rare beef sprinkled with ground almonds, watercress and a little olive oil and salt. Heaven!  Paige and Sandra are certainly not rare meat-eaters, and only tried a small piece each.  I then, courageously, finished up Sandra's plate.  Aah, the sacrifices we make... 

Roasted pigeon and mushroom layered with pastry wafers
2005 Murray Street Vineyards Gomersal Shiraz 'museum release' - Gomersal, Barossa Valley

Look how perfectly pink the pigeon pieces are! Such a gorgeous little stack.

And then it was time for dessert!

Caramelized peacharine tart, apple and berry cream ice
2010 Lobo 'Royale' Cider - Lobethal, Adelaide Hills

Dessert was an incredible peacharine tarte tartin served with a scoop of creamy apple and berry ice-cream.  So delicious!  The ice-cream was actually without any sugar, but was sweetened with reduced apple juice.  The accompanying 'wine' was a fabulous, refreshing apple cider - such a wonderful combination!  I was rather full by this stage, but just had to finish the whole thing.

Then, we had coffees (espresso for me) and a couple of petits fours to round off the meal.

Little tartlets of fresh lime curd and meringue 

Wattleseed Macarons

And then, Chef Mark took us out back to have a look at the kitchen!  Squeeee!!  Despite the fact that it was getting late, and that we'd eaten and drunk quite a lot, Mark was super enthusiastic and energetic, answering all my fan-girl questions and showing us all these cool things in the kitchen! 

Chef Mark: This is the system I use to manage my kitchen operations, ensuring the evening runs smoothly and that all staff have visibility of the progress of each table's meal.  This also means I can trust the kitchen to run like clockwork in my absence.
Sarah: You... are... awesome.

He also showed us his awesome Pacojet ice-cream machine, which makes sorbets and ice-creams in record time!  

The Pacojet has a really fast rotating blade, that purees frozen ingredients to an extremely fine consistency, making an ice-dessert that can be served immediately.  Apparently you can chuck fruit or vegetable in the machine, and ice-cream or sorbet will come out just a few minutes later.  The one below is a basil sorbet!   

This one is cherry sorbet.  It had such an intense cherry flavour! I can imagine pairing it with chocolate sauce for a frozen Black Forest dessert, yum yum!

And then we went into one of the fridges...
You can see the raw tartes tatin on the orange mat, and cured meat hanging on the back wall.

I love the below photo: Chef Mark is looking at the pancetta (?) with such admiration and pride in his handiwork.  And I'm all like "Mmm... more food!"

They've got a mini-smoker out the back too!

And finally, here we see some duck breasts being sprinkled with salt and juniper berries for curing.

We then rolled back home, full, sleepy and very contented.  Massive thanks to Chef Mark McNamara for an absolutely stunning evening!

Sarah and Sandra enjoyed Appellation's Wine Flight Dinner as guests of Tourism Barossa, as part of the prize for winning the Barossa's Table competition.

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