Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Thanksgiving (or Christmas) Dinner with Inghams Turkey

      Thanksgiving is not really something that we celebrate in Australia though some Christians do celebrate the occasion. The whole turkey Thanksgiving dinner is more of an American influence though us 'Aussies' tend to have our turkey for Christmas instead. The church that my parents attend did happen to have a Thanksgiving service last week with a feast to follow though I don't think there was anyTurkey or roast veggies in sight as it's a Vietnamese church and well, there was lots of Vietnamese food.
      The very first time I tried to cook a turkey it was a disaster. Our oven fan had broken a few days earlier and I was very reluctant to have our gas oven running over such a long period of time without a fan. Ryan and I tried cooking it on a kettle coal BBQ but it just didn't seem to want to cook at all. Mainly because I think both of us were a little clueless as to how to cook a turkey. We ended up slicing up the half cooked turkey and frying it off in a pan. I wouldn't call that one of my successful meals ever though the stuffing we made was pretty good. Luckily the turkey was only complimentary to a big BBQ spread my mum had put on for the family already.
      I didn't think I'd see another turkey again in my life until I received an email inviting me to sample some Turkey products from Ingham. I was definitely keen to give the turkey another go and was sent a Turkey Breast Buffe and a Whole Roast Turkey to try out.

     As it had been a long time since I last cooked a nice meal for my family, I decided that I'd cook a Thanksgiving dinner for my family with the Turkey Breast Buff. I wanted to keep the Whole Roast Turkey to use in a couple of weeks for a big Christmas dinner Ryan and I are hosting in a couple of weeks for some friends.
      Whenever I cook for my family it's usually been a meat and three veg kind of a meal. You might think it weird that such a staple western meal is considered special to us. Well, it is when you have a rotation of different Vietnamese noodle soups, braises, rice, and stews as your staple diet. I should be glad that my parents are willing to eat what I cook up, though I always have to put a bottle of soy sauce and chili sauce on the table for them. Generally my seasoning is ok but they always need their chilli kick from either some chilli paste or fresh chilli. It makes the food easier to digest for them as they are used to either rice or noodles for dinner.

      So about midweek I took the Turkey Buffe out of the freezer to defrost in the fridge. I decided that I was just going to make a nice stuffing and serve a simple gravy for the turkey. For my sides I was going to do my usual roast veggies - potatoes, pumpkin, beans etc.
      The Turkey Buffe comes pre marinated so all you have to do is pat it dry and pop it into the oven and cook according to the instructions on the packet. I did find though that my turkey required longer to cook, all up about 3 - 3.5 hours until it was a nice deep golden brown and the meat had reached the right temperature. I covered it in foil for the first hour and then took the foil off for the remaining cooking time. I also found that the water in the roasting pan evaporated so had to keep topping this up worried that my turkey would be too dry. While waiting for the turkey to cook I prepared all my veggies for roasting.
     An essential tool for roasting meats would be a thermometer, a digital one would give you the most accurate results. I googled temperatures to cook turkey and found that it should be about 77 degrees Celsius in the breast. The trick is to not constantly open the oven to check on the turkey, only often enough to replenish the water in the roasting pan. My turkey turned out perfect! I covered it in foil and let it rest while I popped all my prepared veggies into the oven to cook.

       For my stuffing, I tweaked this stuffing recipe from the Ingham's Turkey website. I didn't have raisins but found sultanas in the fridge but I didn't have enough sultanas either so substituted the remaining quantity for dried cranberries. I also used dried sage leaves as that's what I had on hand. As there was more stuffing than the amount needed for the turkey cavity I pressed the leftover stuffing mix into a baking pan and popped it into the oven with the turkey until it had turned golden brown on top. It had a nice drier texture in contrast to the stuffing that came out of the turkey which was a lot more moist from soaking up the juices. I loved this stuffing recipe, saltiness from the bacon, the sweetness of the fruits, fragrant sage, it went well with the turkey and gravy.

      My rosemary and garlic roasted potatoes are a big hit with the family so I make these for every family dinner I cook for. I tend to measure my ingredients by eye, dried rosemary (you can use fresh rosemary finely chopped), finely diced garlic, cracked black pepper and salt to season and also a small sprinkling of sugar to balance the salt (a very Asian thing to do but it works). Drizzle over some olive oil, toss the potatoes to evenly coat and then I roast them on a rack in the oven at 220 degrees Celsius for about 45-50 minutes.

      I absolutely adore roast pumpkin (though not as much as I adore roast potato). I'd be happy to have a whole bowl as it is. Usually I'd toss the pumpkin pieces in some paprika, cayenne and cinnamon (about 2 teaspoons of each per kilo of pumpkin) with olive oil and salt and pepper before roasting but this time I decided to roast them with maple syrup and cinnamon instead. They were a big hit, especially with Ryan.

      I believe that there should always be something green and mum had bought some green beans so I sauteed them in some garlic. It's the only way I enjoy my green beans. Mum did complain they were a touch under cooked but Ryan and I loved the crunch they still had. Oh and did I tell you how much I love garlic too?

      I made sure that the roasting pan was topped up with water during cooking so that any drippings from the Turkey wouldn't dry out and burn so I could use it to make a white wine gravy. I used this gravy recipe from the Ingham's Turkey website. It's actually a really great website that they have developed with recipes, how to's and product information on the other turkey products in their range.

      It was not a fancy schmancy dinner but the important thing is that everyone enjoyed it. I was just really happy that I managed to cook the turkey perfectly and that the meat was juicy and tender. As usual, plenty of leftovers which were happily packed for lunch the next day or turned into sandwiches.

Happy Thanksgiving dear readers! Have you had your turkey yet or will you be having a Christmas turkey?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Step-A-Side Diner, Cabramatta

     You've got to watch out for this train, one blink and you might miss it! This old decommissioned train carriage shipped all the way from Melbourne, houses an American style diner inside it and has only been open for a couple of months. Step-A-Side Diner faces the busy Hume Highway in Cabramatta and can easily be missed, but I was on a mission to find it.

      A long overdue brunch catch up with a good friend meant that we needed somewhere to go (good food mandatory). I thought that I would venture out west to meet her and I'd heard of many great places popping up in Sydney's west but when I stumbled across this little diner on Urbanspoon, I was excited to go and check it out and so was Miss Tran after I sent her links to the website and to one of the blog reviews with photos.

      We instantly fall in love with the funky fit out inside. The vinyl stools and booths, the old records, the black and white photos of old rock 'n roll or movie stars. There's even a funky vintage juke box.
      We're a little wary as it seems as though we're the only customers, but we were there for brunch so either arrived after the breakfast crowd or were early for lunch. We noticed that there was one person ordering take away when we sat down and another two customers came in while we were dining but apart from that no one else came at all. It seems that not many people know about this place yet, but as I said, blink and you'll miss it.

There's tables with stools to sit at...

Or there's comfy booths, which we opt for.

The vintage juke box pumping out happy tunes.

Girls, Audrey Hepburn, or Marilyn Monroe?

     The inside of the train carriage has been kept intact in it's original state, apart from the addition of the tables and stools and decorations. The booth seats are the original train seats which have been re-furbished. You can even sit in the driver's seat and drive the train if you feel inclined to.

      All the essential condiments, including American mustard. I love how they recycled old vinyl records and turned them into holders for the condiments.

      The menu isn't huge but pretty much covers all your American basics, some classic burger options along with a few gourmet burger options. There's two PO Boy's, either a chorizo or prawn filling and a hot dog. Drinks include milk shakes, spiders and sodas. Dessert options consist of waffles, sundaes, melbas and a banana split.

Prawn Po' Boy - Sauteed prawns in a garlic chilli salsa, with lettuce, tomato and Tiger sauce. Served on a 12 inch baguette.

      The garlic chilli salsa grabbed Miss Tran's attention so we agreed to order one of these to share. I forgot that it was a 12 inch baguette but I am sure that what came out to our table was a lot larger than that.
      The baguette had just enough crunch on the outside and was soft and fluffy on the inside. The prawns in salsa were spicy enough without being too overbearingly hot offset by the cooling crunch of the lettuce leaves and the Tiger sauce was like a light mayonaise binding everything together. The more I bit into it, the more I loved it. We both agreed we could finish off an entire one.
     The only issue I had was that it got quite soggy towards the end with sauce dripping everywhere on my plate. But I think it's just that I am a messy eater as Miss Tran's plate was squeaky clean. I left the end bit of my baguette behind and ate all my prawns because I wanted room to try the burger.

Cheeseburger - 100% beef pattie, with sauteed onions, lettuce, tomato and a side of chips.

      I thought we couldn't come to a diner and not have a burger. The burgers come in 2 pattie sizes, 120g or 180g. Beetroot is optional but Miss Tran says no. We opt for the 120g classic Cheeseburger so we could have room for dessert but we never had room for dessert :(.
      The burger was a little cold by the time I got through my share of the massive prawn po' boy but I still enjoyed it, what I could fit in anyway. I did find that the mountain of cheese on top was a little rich but the pattie was well seasoned and juicy and the hamburger bun was soft and fluffy. The chips were nice and crispy but even a potato lover like me couldn't finish them after the po' boy and the half burger I had just eaten.

Caramel Milkshake, Lime Milkshake.

      I had not had a milk shake in such a long time that with the opportunity right then and there before me, I jumped and ordered a caramel milkshake. I'm glad I did because I enjoyed every drop. It wasn't too sweet and had just the right amount of caramel.
     Even coming with empty stomachs we both struggled to finish our food, the servings are very generous (or we are just tiny eaters).

      As we are leaving, we're told by the owner to check out the other end of the carriage where it is a different set out. The kitchen separates the two ends of the carriage and one end can be closed off for parties and large group bookings.

It would be a pretty nifty idea to have a party in a train carriage diner.

      I came to this train carriage not really knowing what to expect but am glad that we decided to go. It might not be Jazz City Diner but for something that's all the way out in the western suburbs of Sydney, it's quite a unique addition for those who don't want to come all the way out into the city. Go on, go and try it out for yourself and decide wether or not you like it. I think they deserve a chance. I'm definately coming back to try the waffles!

Step-A-Side Diner is located at 40 Roebuck St, Cabramatta, NSW, 2166
(Corner of Hume Highway and Cabramatta Road)
Open 7 Days 11:00am - 10:00pm, 8:00am - 11:00am on weekends for breakfast.

Step-A-Side Diner on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Fancy Schmancy Dinner Party (Club)

Table settings on the 'adults' table.

     Back in January/February I blogged about this dinner, where a few of us had a bit of a fun cook off, cooking one course each as part of a fancy dinner. Well, that dinner has started something that we have dubbed 'The Fancy Schmancy Dinner Party' where a group of us from 3 different families all come together for a fancy home cooked meal every two months or so.

     The Fancy Schmancy Dinner Party Club currently consists of 12 people, unfortunately we are not opening for membership anytime soon as it is already a lot of work to cook for (and clean up after) 12 people. If we did want to expand we will probably have to start charging membership to help fund this dinner club, or open our own restaurant. There was one dinner where 12 became 14 as some members had some overseas guests, but if the numbers do drop from 12 there will always be a happy outsider/bystander to take that person's place.

     The 'kids' (plus one 'adult') take turns to cook one course each on a rotating schedule of sorts, and the 'adults' take turns hosting the dinner at their house. For some reason the 'kids' won't let them cook at all. I think it's the fear of being fed Filipino home cooking which isn't quite Fancy Schmancy enough for this kind of party ;). And it's a chance to return the favour since the parents are always cooking for the kids. At the end of each dinner, we decide on the date and location of the next dinner and delegate a cook(s) for each course. You might think that it's still another two or so months away but it's serious business for us. Since that first dinner, we have successfully planned three more with the last one being a couple of months ago in August. Sadly the next Fancy Schmancy dinner will not be until early January 2013 due to the crazy busy months of November and December.

Entree: Stuffed chicken breast with stuffed mushroom, and little smoked salmon tartlette canapes. By Chef Joy.

     For the second dinner in April, Ryan and I were not on cooking duty, though we did lend a hand with plating up and cleaning up afterwards. Being the second Fancy Schmancy dinner for the year I think we were still in the 'teething' stage as we weren't all sure if it was still going ahead or not as there had been no communication at all since we last saw each other in February. The date was marked in my calendar but I had to actually prompt everyone a couple of weeks before just to confirm if it was still going ahead.
     I decided to leave my DSLR at home that night but looking back now it's a shame that I didn't take any proper photos of all the effort that went into the dinner (check out the first photo on this post, all those table settings were HAND MADE).
     There were some canapes of smoked salmon tartlettes served before dinner but as we were running a little behind schedule due to parents arriving late to dinner, they kind of got forgotten and were served with entree instead.

It's a little bit like My Kitchen Rules in the house.

Main: Roast Beef with Sauce Dianne, Roasted Root Vegetables and Asparagus. By Chef Celine.

Dessert: Apple and Caramel Cheesecake. By Chef Jessica. Recipe from the Magnolia Bakery cookbook.

     As it was St Patrick's day, I thought I would bake a few Irish inspired Baileys Chocolate macarons as a token for our hosts. They got served up alongside dessert because some people couldn't resist them, though those people already snuck in a few before dinner too ;). I think this was my favourite part of the dinner though I think I am a bit biased because of my massive sweet tooth. But I've gotta admit that it was a pretty awesome cheesecake ;).

The 'kids' table - totally retro table settings from Ryan's mum!

     The third dinner was in June and was hosted by Ryan's parents. It was our turn to cook again with me on the main and Ryan on dessert as he wanted to try his hand at something different since he hasn't made many desserts yet. I can't always be the dessert queen in the relationship now can I? Though he does have the upper hand when it comes to creme brulees and crepes. One of the other girls was in charge of entree.

The 'adults' table.

Silver tea and coffee set.

     Even the fancy silver ware gets taken out from under safe guard! Ryan informs me this set is older than he is - some antique stuff there. I think the parents secretly try and outdo each other each time with all the dinnerware. Though I think we secretly do the same when it comes to our cooking ;). The fancy dinner ware wasn't an expectation in the beginning but it's good to see our hosts go the full mile to make the dinner a little bit more special.

Menu for Fancy Schmancy Dinner Party #3.

Parmesan Paprika Twists.
     These Parmesan Paprika Twists were made from leftover and offcuts of puff pastry from making my main dish. Strips of puff pastry brushed with beaten egg and then sprinkled with grated parmesan and paprika and then baked until golden.

Crusty Wholemeal Bread to go with...

14 bowls of soup!

Entree: Pumpkin Soup served with Crusty Bread. By Chef Celine.

'L' is for Lamb.

Sweet Potato and Parsnip Gratin.

Main: Individual Pie (Chicken, Pea & Leek, or Lamb, Mushroom & Rosemary), served with Sweet Potato & Parsnip Gratin, and Sauteed Brussel Sprouts with Bacon & Almond Crumble. By Chef Angie!

     For the main, I chose to use lamb as it was requested by some of the others at the last dinner party. As we already had 2 roasts in a row, and as tempting as a nice warm roast leg of lamb would have been perfect for a cold winter night, I wanted to do something a bit different. I knew that not everyone would eat lamb so had to think of an alternative for them but I didn't want to change my protein altogether for a one fits all dish.
     A few weeks before the dinner, all my thoughts and ideas, and a hankering for a flaky pie with a hot rich filling, resulted in this dish. With options for the lamb eaters and the non lamb eaters. I also thought I would use brussel sprouts for one of my sides as I had only recently tried them and quite liked them. No one apart from Ryan had tried Brussel sprouts before and they surely received a mixed reaction all around. Everyone did appreciate the opportunity to try something different though. The only thing I wasn't happy with was that my bacon and almond crumble wasn't much of a crumble as I over crowded the saucepan in a rush to get the brussel sprouts cooked so it went soggy. And my gratin could have been a bit thicker, I forgot to allow for shrinkage.

Ryan's Chocolate and Lime Gateau. One of two.

Now that's a blow torch!

     It's tricky serving up 14 desserts with multple components, especially when there is one that is temperature sensitive.

Dessert: Chocolate and Lime Gateau with Saffron Pashmak and Espresso Granita. By Chef Ryan.

     Ryan was actually inspired by Heston Blumenthal's Exploding Chocolate Gateau for his dessert choice. Though he added lime to the chocolate ganache to cut the richness and add another flavour element to the gateau. I suggested he serve it with some Saffron Pashmak which we bought from Essential Ingredient when I went to spend my birthday voucher there and he also made an espresso granita to go with it with hints of lime zest in it. Unfortunately the granita didn't set in time and was more of an espresso slushy.
     The most fun part about this dessert was that apart from Ryan and I, absolutely no one knew about the popping candy embedded in the biscuit base of the gateau. The first sound from the first spoonfuls around the table was the popping candy reacting in everyone's mouth. Then came the sound of giggles and squeels as everyone tried to figure out what was going on. And then we heard the loud cackle of laughter coming from the other room where all the parents were dining. At that point Ryan thought he should reveal to everyone what the secret ingredient was. It was great fun watching and listening to the reactions of everyone around us, everyone absolutely loved it. It was a great dessert, and I was so proud of Ryan that night :) Though, I am still the dessert queen :p

     After dessert, Ryan's mum passed around some dried figs which she picked up in Dubai on her trip to Israel. I love the figs from that part of the world, they are so delicious!

Espresso Granita (with Lime).

     The next day Ryan and I had some of the leftover granita which had finally frozen. It was amazingly refreshing and the coffee wasn't too strong at all and I loved the bursts of lime coming through. It tasted almost like Cola, did we just discover the secret recipe to Coke? ;)

The 'kids' table settings.

     Our fourth and last dinner for 2012 was back at the house that started it all. Ryan and I were supposed to be relieved of cooking duties but a couple of weeks before the dinner, our dessert chef had to pull out so that role was open for grabs. I thought 'why not?', and it was a chance for Ryan and I to collaborate and make a dessert that had multiple elements which meant it would be a little bit more special than something we would make if it was just one of us cooking. So I put my hand up for the job.

Individual place setting on the 'kids' table, and the dinner menu.

Entree: Pumpkin and Rocket Arancini with Roast Garlic Aoli. By Chef Jessica.

     It's quite a task to serve up each course, clear the tables, and then repeat all over again. It's usually all hands on deck to get it all out.

Main: Stuffed Chicken Breast, Served with Pumpkin Puree and Truffled Peas. By Chef Jeanne. A recipe from MasterChef/Matt Moran.

Dessert: Pandan Pannacotta with Vanilla Coconut Tapioca Pudding served with a Banana and Coconut Turon (Sweet Filipino Spring Roll). By Chef Ryan and Chef Angie.

     The inspiration for this dessert came from a recipe out of one of my dessert books 'The Dessert Architect'. Some changes were made to it though, I used a different pannacotta recipe which used gelatine powder instead of leaf (which I tweaked anyway), and it was meant to be garnished with some caramelised bananas and coconut tuilles which we decided last minute to change to banana fritters but that ended up being changed again to banana and coconut turons instead thanks to Ryan's creative thinking.
     We wanted to keep the contrast of the smooth and crisp textures but we also wanted to introduce a hot element to go with the cold of the pannacotta so thought freshly fried turons would be perfect. They also tied the whole Asian/Filipino theme together even more which really impressed the parents, and possibly ignited some nostalgia for them.

     It was a great finale to the year for The Fancy Schmancy Dinner Party Club. It still amazes me how without much effort we have managed to keep this event continuing for the entire year. It's been a great opportunity for the parents to catch up regularly rather than once or twice yearly and have a gossip session together and a great chance for us kids to also catch up and hangout together more regularly too. And what more could the parents ask for? They just have to rock up and be fed by their kids where it's usually the other way around for most of the families ;)

     At the end of the last dinner, the parents gave all the chefs a small donation so that we could invest in some sets of dinnerware for the dinner parties. It's a bit of a struggle to find 12 matching sets of anything when it comes time to hosting but I think the mismatching dinnerware and table settings adds a bit of character to each dinner table. We should probably ask for donations towards ingredients too as it can get expensive feeding twelve people, three courses each. I think all of the cooks do it out of a love and passion for cooking though, I know I definitely do. And all the tiredness and stress from cooking disappears when you put those plates on the table and everyone is enjoying themselves. It makes it all worthwhile. And it's not like we have to cook at every dinner so we get a break every so often and can come to dinner simply as a guest which is nice too.

     Looking forward to another year of eating fellow Fancy Schmancy Party Club members! Perhaps this will inspire you, my dear readers, to start something similar?