NYE 2017

For New Years this year we hosted a big dinner party at home. Because it was New Years I wanted to go all out & make it completely over the top. I decided that in order for a dish to make it onto the menu it had to be bloody hard or very time consuming to make. I think most of my friends thought I was pretty crazy (especially since I had a one year old running round the house) but they were happy to enjoy the results.

There was a LONG list of possible dishes that I looked into trying to re-create at home from some of my favourite restaurants. I spent a few weeks researching them all. The criteria I ended up using to decide which dishes would make it was;
1. I could actually get the ingredients I needed for the dish (the Movida dish almost didn’t make it because I had a tough time finding a good quality dried beef)
2. I could make it without having to purchase any crazy expensive specialist equipment (the Croquembouche very nearly didn’t make it because of this – I ended up buying a giant traffic cone/witches hat from Amazon for $16 instead of the $200+ on a special mold)
3. I could find a recipe from a reliable source that looked like it would provide similar results, so that I wouldn’t have to make 10 trials beforehand, (quite a few dishes got crossed off the list for this reason).

Here’s what I ended up with on the menu;

Entree – Son in Law Eggs (Gingerboy, Melbourne) & Air dried beef with Truffle Foam & Poached Egg (Movida, Melbourne)
Main – Lavender & Honey Duck (Eleven Madison Park, New York)
Dessert – Croquembouche (Adriano Zumbo)

The Son in Law Eggs from Gingerboy ended up being the easiest both to make & to find a recipe for. Gingerboy put the recipe up on their website, you can find it here. I thought that these would be a lot harder to make, but the recipe was really good & provided detailed instructions on timing & temperature for the cooking of the eggs.

The beef with truffle foam & poached eggs was also pretty easy to make. I made the truffle foam in the morning on the day of the party & then poached the eggs just before serving. The truffle foam recipe I used you can find here.

For the Lavender & Honey Duck I found this article explaining the process they follow to make this duck at the restaurant & then tried to match a recipe to it. For the preparation & cooking of the duck itself I ended up using this gourmet traveller recipe for roast duck. To work out the ratios of the spice mix I sprinkled a teaspoon at a time of each of the ingredients onto a tray trying the match the appearance & distribution of each from the pictures in the article. Here’s the ratios I ended up with.

Lavender & Honey Duck Spice Mix
2 parts Lavender
5 parts Cumin Seeds
5 parts Coriander Seeds
2 parts Sichuan Peppercorns

The croquembouche was made using this recipe. But for some reason the Masterchef Australia website has left off the ingredients for the Creme Patisserie & Toffee, luckily though, this blog has the recipe on it. This was the dish that took most of my time & the one I was most worried about. It took me almost an entire day to make and at almost every step along the way I was paranoid it was all going to fail miserably! I’m very happy to report though that it all worked out & I only ended up with two minor toffee burns – success!

Filling all the pastries

Success! I got it out of the mold.

The finished product – complete with spun sugar!

The cooking & prep for this dinner party was seriously hard work, and I enjoyed every single second of it. It was a great way to round out the year, doing something I thoroughly enjoy to bring happiness to my friends. 🙂

Friday Night Feast – February 2017

It has been over a year since I hosted a nice dinner with friends. In between pregnancy & looking after a little bub, it just hasn’t happened. As the bub gets older, he’s beginning to form a more predictable routine, particularly in the evening, which means I’ve started feeling like I can do normal adult things again, like host a dinner party. Whilst I’m still on maternity leave & have time, I decided to seize the opportunity to host a nice dinner party with a few friends.

I did make a few concessions with my meal planning for this dinner. In order for a dish to be on the menu, it had to be possible to make it ahead of time. I didn’t want to be worried about timing of things whilst trying to look after the bub if he was upset or hungry. Normally when I have a big dinner, I plan out a timetable for the day & cook to it. With a baby that’s still nursing that approach just isn’t realistic. Instead I wrote out a list of things I had to do, assigned priorities and then started knocking them off in between feedings or playing with the bub. I also started making a lot of stuff on the Thursday.

We started with some homemade breadsticks, Italian white bean dip & some Serrano Jamon a friend brought over. The recipe for the breadsticks & bean dip were from my new Delicious cookbook, At Our Table. Both were exceptionally simple to make & quite tasty. In fact the bread sticks turned out so well my husband assumed I’d bought them at the store. I’ll definitely be trying more recipes from this book.

For mains I cooked Gourmet Traveller’s Overnight Pork Shoulder. I got the pork shoulder from Farm Field Table in Ferndale. It was quite fatty (there was a good inch & a half of fat between the skin & meat, which worked really well with the long slow cook time. Basically as the fat melted it pooled in the pan & essentially became an oil bath. So after a few hours it was basically like cooking a confit. It also allowed the fennel to stay soft & silken whilst cooking. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of the pork, I forgot to tie it up & so when we tried to extract it from the pan after cooking it literally fell apart (a good thing for eating, not so much for taking a photo though). Also by this point in the evening the bub had gone to bed & I had drunk a whole glass of wine, and promptly forgot to take photos of anything. Anyway, the only real alteration I made to the recipe was to crank the heat of the oven to 220C at the end to turn the skin to crackling (what’s roast pork without crackling?!). For sides we had green beans, roasted mushrooms (a selection of different types, i.e. shiitake, oyster), and a light salad.

Finally for dessert we had a collection of small treats & for once I actually tried to make an effort to make it look nice. Normally I’m the type of person who puts a meal down & says ‘Trust me – it tastes much better than it looks’, but one of the things I wanted to work on this year was presentation, so I tried. I made blood orange & almond cakes, rolled in crushed pistachios, orange confit jelly & kulfi.

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The blood orange cakes were made using Claudia Roden’s Middle Eastern Orange Cake recipe. I just substituted blood oranges & adjusted the cooking time for bite sized cakes.

Kulfi is an Indian ice cream made by condensing milk & flavouring with spices like saffron or cardamom. I was first introduced to kulfi in Melbourne at a restaurant called Bombay by Night. It’s still the best kulfi I’ve ever had. I don’t know what made me think of it but I thought I’d try to make it myself. I used this recipe for the kulfi (recipe is at the very end of the article). I added 5 cracked cardamon pods to the milk during simmering as I love that flavour. I think my method still needs a little work. The flavour was definitely there – the nutty, sweet flavour of the milk & the hint of cardamon but the texture wasn’t quite right – there were a few too many ice crystals & it wasn’t quite as chewy as I remember. I think I should have heated the milk a little longer & allowed it to reduce more.

The orange confit jelly was a cobbled together recipe from a few different sources, here’s what I ended up with. It worked out quite nicely with a real tang to it, which contrasted nicely with the cake & kulfi.

Orange Confit Jelly

2 oranges, thinly sliced
Juice of 2 oranges
Juice of 1 lemon
220g caster sugar (bakers sugar in the US)
Gelatin – refer to packet instructions for amount required for volume of liquid

Strain the orange & lemon juice through a sieve & heat together with the sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the sliced oranges & simmer for 10 mins. Remove from heat. Remove the oranges from the syrup & arrange in a tin. Measure the amount of syrup remaining & follow the packet instructions for the gelatin you’re using to combine the gelatin with the syrup. Pour the jelly syrup over the oranges & refrigerate to set. 

P.S. In case you were wondering, the bub behaved perfectly. He smiled at everyone when they arrived at about 6:30, I started his bedtime routine at 7 & I rejoined the party at 7:30. Then he slept for 10 hours! I have no idea how I got so lucky.

Kyivskiy Dream Torte

Fresh cherries are always a part of our families Christmas meals in Australia. So when my in laws brought back a box of fresh sour cherries from the Red Hill Cherry Farm two days before Ukrainian Christmas I had the perfect opportunity to experiment with a version of one of my favourite cherry cakes, a Kyivskiy Torte. Basically it’s hazelnut meringue layered with cherries and chocolate buttercream. Whilst you can get versions of it in Detroit, none of them come close to what we used to get from Cakes of Fantasy in Ormond (Melbourne, Australia), and as a result I’ve been missing it terribly.

I didn’t really want to recreate that cake exactly, (it’s a lot of work) but I did want something with similar tastes and textures. 

I started with this recipe from Gourmet Traveller for a Lemon Dream Cake and this recipe from The Women’s Weekly for a hazelnut cake.

There was a mismatch between the cooking times of the hazelnut cake and the original cake. So I tried to offset this by cooking the cake by itself for a little first. This also helped with the differences in consistency of the cakes, the dream cake batter is much stiffer and easier to spread the meringue on, while the hazelnut cake batter was quite sloppy.

Unfortunately this step, meant that the meringue didn’t really ‘stick’ to the top of the cake like it does with the dream cake. The other problem was that I used tins that were probably a little small so the cakes were VERY thick and took longer than expected to cook through. It was also not possible to layer them how I normally would.


Instead of layering the cakes with the cream and cherries in between I chose to fill the area under the meringue with cream and cherries. Unfortunately this meant the ratio of cherries and cream to cake was a little low.


For the cherries I simply cooked fresh sour cherries together with sugar and water (1 tsp of sugar for every 4 cherries). I also added a little gelatine to thicken it but I didn’t want it to be jelly so I didn’t add too much. I think next time I might try using something like Xantham gum for a better mouthfeel. I want it to be more like the texture of a lemon curd but don’t want to make a curd as the butter and eggs in the curd make it a little rich. If you have any suggestions for how I can best achieve this let me know in the comments.

For the cream I mixed double cream with a bit of nutella. Next time I think I’ll just use regular whipping cream as this mixture ended up a bit thick. I might try a couple of different ways of combining them together too so I can get a nice smooth texture.

On the whole this was a pretty good experiment. For all the issues I listed above the cakes tasted quite nice, I just need to to a little more work to get the ratios and textures right. The flavours were definitely spot on so I was really happy with that. I’ll definitely be making this one again sometime soon.

Cranberry Curd Tartlets

I’m a sucker for a good lemon tart, so when I saw this NY Times recipe for a Cranberry Curd Tart I just had to give it a go.

I tried a couple of different variations of the curd & pastry but still haven’t found a combination I’m completely happy with.

First off I made the curd exactly as specifed & used the shortcrust pastry I had in my freezer (made using this Jamie Oliver recipe  – I find it’s always handy to have a tart case or some pastry in the freezer). For me the curd was too sweet & the tartness of the cranberries didn’t come through as I’d hoped. For my next try I halved the sugar. This time was better, but I think I took a little too much of the sugar out. If I was to make it again I think I’d try 3/4 of the sugar. In the second try I also changed the pastry to more of a gingerbread. I used the same Jamie Oliver recipe but replaced the icing sugar with dark brown sugar and added a ton of dried ginger. This was a much better match. If I were to make it again I think I’d try the hazelnut pastry from the original recipe & see what that’s like.

Tiramisu

At the end of 2008 I travelled to Germany to visit some friends of mine, Per & Carol. Per & Carol showed me around in Germany & we travelled to Vienna & Paris. We saw so many beautiful places & yet one of my most vivid memories is of a friend’s Tiramisu.

One day we went on a day trip to the castles of the Black Forest, with a couple of Per & Carol’s friends, Massimo & Stefania. The sky was clear & the sun was out but it was bitterly cold. We spent most of the day getting lost in the hills looking for the castles, in the end I think we only visited two. We ended up back at Massimo & Stefania’s apartment for dinner. Dinner was nice, a walnut pasta I think, but what I really remember is the dessert. Massimo had made two full trays of Tiramisu for us to eat. We ate maybe half of one tray for dessert & we were full. Massimo insisted we take the other tray home with us for later, we tried to argue that we had to catch the train to Paris the next morning. He insisted we take it anyway, telling us it would make for the best breakfast we’d ever had.

He was right. I still remember standing next to Per & Carol’s fridge at 6am scofffing Tiramisu, before heading off to catch the train to Paris.

To this day that was the best Tiramisu I’d ever had. The sponge was moist, but not soggy. There was a clear coffee flavour, but it wasn’t overpowering. This was helped by the fact that it was alcohol free. The marscapone was soft & light & fluffy. I’ve been searching for a recipie that comes close ever since.

This Gourmet Traveller recipe for Tiramisu did come close. It does use a small amount of booze, (Marsala), which I halved. That worked quite well, you still had the flavour from the Marsala but without the sting of the alcohol. I used store bought sponge fingers instead of the ‘make-your-own’ variety, but that’s mostly because I was lazy.

I may never find a recipe that produces the same Tiramisu & if I did I’d probably be disappointed because the moment would be lost. But this one came pretty close.