Thursday, July 28, 2011

Christmas in July: Roast Turkey


It was the night before Christmas and all through the house... was the scent of a 9 kilogram turkey roasting perfectly in the oven!


I had been somewhat organised the week before the event and had ordered a fresh (not frozen) bird from the specialist poultry store at the markets, thus saving myself the pain of finding room in the fridge to thaw it out over the preceding week.  I should have guessed from the raised eyebrows when I ordered a 9 kilogram monster, that this was going to feed me - lunch-and-dinner - for the next week... but when I told them I had 20 of my closest friends popping by for some glogg (mulled wine), ham and turkey, they nodded sagely and noted down my order.

When we went to pick her up, the monster bird was soon named "Tina Turkey", and the chicken, cranberry and dried apple stuffing roll concocted by the poultry-seller gained the appropriate title of "Ike".  Later that evening, after 6 hours of roasting time in the oven, both Tina and Ike were indeed "Simply the Best".


With the weather grey and icy and drizzly outside, it was the perfect evening for roasted meats (hams care of Ms CR), warmed red wine and our body weight in mashed sweet potato, creamy potato gratin (again, thanks Ms CR), beans with hazelnuts and stuffed mushrooms (the handiwork of Angel and Co).  And that's before the homemade, gluten-free Christmas Pudding (thanks to Sam) with delicious custard (thanks to the Red Avenger) made its appearance.


Having now used every "perfect turkey roast" tip I could find in every recipe book and online site in existence, I heartily recommend the following ways to ensure a super juicy bird:

-  put butter under the skin of your bird...lots of it
-  place it on a rack in the baking tray and fill the bottom with water to keep it nice and tender
-  heat the oven to 210 degrees celcius for the first 40 minutes or so, then turn it down to 180 degrees after that
-  baste regularly, at the very least it made the skin delicious
-  cover the whole bird with baking paper, and then foil on the breast, to keep the juices in and stop the skin from crisping too early
-  remove the foil and baking paper at the very end to allow the skin to crisp up
-  when it's done, cover it loosely with foil and then a tea towel (or two) and rest for at least 30 minutes before carving





But don't forget to enjoy some mulled wine while you're cooking, for best results!


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Bookplate Truffle Tasting Breakfast

Truffle breakfast

Scene setting

When one has twenty of one's closest friends popping around for a Christmas in July dinner (and a 9 kilogram turkey to roast), what should one do with a Sunday morning?  I suggest taking two hours out to attend a truffle tasting breakfast at the Bookplate Cafe at the National Library, for starters.

The Foodie Fairy Godmother (aka my Mum) organised a table for four at the breakfast hosted by Sherry McArdle-English (the lovely owner of the truffier - or truffle farm - I visited last month) and Mark Carmody, who you might know from our local ABC radio and the ABC news weather reports... he always wears very large flowers on his lapel, so you can't miss him!  As the four courses and champagne rolled out, Sherry talked to us about why and how she set up her farm, the life of a truffle farmer and, of course, stories of her super-cute truffle hunting American Cocker Spaniel, Snuffles.

It was a tremendous way to spend a Sunday morning, but the highlight for me had to be the truffle ice-cream with armagnac syrup.  Who would have thought that steeping shaved truffles in your vanilla custard base overnight could result in such an incredible, yet subtle, ice-cream flavour.  But I should probably start at the very beginning, rather than skipping ahead to the "dessert" of the breakfast.


We kicked off with an egg cocotte, with the egg having nestled overnight in a jar with the truffles from Sherry's farm and absorbed their flavour. Again, this was a delicate taste, merely scented with truffle earthiness, but a lovely way to kick off the event (even if it was a tiny bit undercooked for my liking). I forgave Bookplate any under cooking because they specially made me a cup of coffee even though it was not supposed to be served until the ice-cream - bless them! I am not ready to eat anything, let alone truffles, without my first cup of coffee of the day...

Coddled truffled egg

Now, caffeinated and full of eggy goodness, we moved onto the salad course. Fresh salad leaves with artichokes, pine nuts and julienned slivers of truffle and tossed through with a vinaigrette concocted with house-made truffle oil. (Incidentally, Sherry told us most truffle oil sold in shops is artificial truffle flavouring, which is rather like buying vanilla essence rather than using vanilla beans or even vanilla essence.)

Truffle and artichoke saladJulienned truffle

Next up, an old favourite - mushroom ravioli with shaved truffles and a butter-sage sauce. Sometimes classics are classics for a reason... I need say no more.


Finally, the previously mentioned amazing truffle ice-cream. All I can say is, if you haven't had truffle ice-cream and champagne for breakfast, you haven't lived!  And at that point, it was time to rush home to dress my turkey for the Big Dinner...  and for her six hours of roasting...but more on that in the next post.

Truffle ice cream with armangac syrup

Close up ice cream

Wednesday, July 20, 2011




There are so many things I love about Bali.  The warm air, the broad smiles of everyone you meet, the luxurious accommodation, the massages and spa treatments and pedicures... and the delicious little culinary surprises that meet you at every turn.

Right from the start of the day - a two-course breakfast extravaganza at our villa - you are off and eating.  I visited all my favourite spots and shared them with my friends, from La Lucciola (an Italian restaurant on the beach with sarong-clad waiters) to char-grilled seafood eaten with our feet ankle-deep in the sand on Jimbaran Bay.  Oh, and the champagne bar that sits smack-bang in the middle of my favourite shopping strip, Jalan Laksmana - oh, how convenient for a mid-shopping trip rest.

But there were a few surprises and discoveries on this trip too.  For instance, this cute little store in Ubud which stocked locally-produced flavoured sea salts and tropical jams... their milk caramel jam was incredible and a pot has made its way home with me.  The store was called Kou Cuisine and I was rather gutted that they don't take overseas orders.





Then there was the bike ride where we stopped for a spot of coffee tasting...including kopi luwak - coffee.  Kopi luwak - possibly Indonesia's most famous coffee export - is coffee which has previously been digested by a civet, although washed (we were assured) before it's brewed.  It did actually taste significantly smoother than the other coffee we tasted.  And we got to meet a civet.  He was snoozing, but apparently that's quite normal.  I felt rather sorry for it, being prodded by tourists eager for a photo.  But this little fellow is responsible for an incredibly expensive coffee, so all credit where credit is due.  Plus he's pretty cute.




Finally, one of my favourite new discoveries was the tiny gelato store on Monkey Forest Road where they served up wonderfully creative and creamy ice cream made on the premises. This photo shows the spicy speculaas flavoured ice cream (speculaas are a crispy Dutch gingerbread), but the hands-down winner of a flavour was pumpkin and hazelnut. Oh, my, GOD - I am definitely going to try to recreate that one.  Watch this space!




Slow-Cooked Lamb Shanks with Balsamic Vinegar

Hello my fellow foodies - it has been too long!  I blame the siren charms of Bali for my break from the blog.  I spent a blissful week in Ubud and Seminyak, followed by a much less blissful week of catch up at work.  This has actually been my first night in pjs on the couch since I got back to chilly Canberra.  What better way to catch up on home time than tapping at the computer keys while rugged up in my ugg boots and fleece!

In reparation for my long absence (oh, the spa treatments, oh, the martinis and oh, the sumptuous two-course breakfasts!), I present not one, but two blog posts.  The first is a slow-cooked lamb shank recipe just perfect for the incredibly cold winter nights we are enduring in Canberra at the moment.  This recipe was one my Mum sent me when I was living in Jakarta.  Believe it or not, we actually had access to some high-quality lamb shanks there.  It took just a moment to slip out to do some shopping at lunch, purchase a few shanks, and then cook up this wonderful dish for a crowd of friends.

Serve these babies with creamy mashed potatoes to sop up the sauce and enjoy the tenderest of meats as it flakes off the bone after almost four hours of cooking.  I remember when Mum first told me the recipe involved half a bottle of balsamic vinegar and another of good quality red wine - I couldn't believe it would turn out so well.  The vinegar adds a piquant undertone, while mellowing so beautifully over the long cooking time that it's hard to believe it started out so tart.


Slow-Cooked Lamb Shanks with Balsamic Vinegar

- 4 large lamb shanks (or 6 smaller lamb shanks)
- plain flour for dusting
- salt and pepper (I LOVE Maldon salt...)
- olive oil (around 2 tablespoons, but don't be too stingy)
- 4 small red onions (or 2 large red onions), diced
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
- 6 dried juniper berries
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 150 ml balsamic vinegar
- 300 ml red wine (make it good quality, and don't be afraid to add a bit more as it cooks down)


First off, preheat your oven to 175 degrees Celcius and dust off your cast iron casserole pot.

In a nice broad, flat bowl (something like a pie dish), mix your flour with your salt and pepper.  Next, roll your lamb shanks in the flour, tapping on the bottom of the bowl to knock off the excess flour.


Now, heat up your oil in your pan and, when it's nice and hot, brown off your floured lamb shanks.  Just do them one at a time, and don't add too many at once, then remove from the casserole pot and put aside.  Lower the heat a little.  Now, add the diced red onions and cook, stirring, until they are light brown in colour.  Throw in your rosemary and garlic, and cook for a couple more minutes.



Add the balsamic vinegar and red wine - beware the initial burst of steam - and allow to reduce for around 2 minutes.


Next, add the shanks back into the pot, reduce your heat and then, before you pop your lid on, place a sheet of baking paper which you have moistened with water on top.  Then put your lid on and put the pot in the oven.  This can also be cooked on the stove if you are out of oven space, but I much prefer the results with a nice, long, steady bake in the oven.

At this point, pop a DVD on the telly, turn up the heater, dust off your novel or (heaven forbid) set up the ironing board.  The shanks will take approximately 3.5-4 hours.  Check them every thirty minutes or so, basting them in the juices or adding more red wine if it's starting to look a little dry.  You'll know when it's ready - the house will be smelling amazing and the meat will literally be falling off the bone.

Like I said earlier, this is at its ambrosial best served with mashed potatoes and maybe some steamed green beans.  I get nothing but rave reviews...