Monday, December 28, 2009

The Cookbook Challenge: Week 6: I Made a Christmas Dinner!!

I'm a rat, I'm a clever, clever rat...

Of course it says Week 6 in the title, because it is the sixth week of The Cookbook Challenge with a Christmas theme but to be perfectly fair this is my first um cameo foray into The Cookbook Challenge, having been unable to partake in the festivities prior to this week due to moving, inadequate supplies, and work, work, work!

The Family Roast Leg of Lamb

Insanely Impressive Dessert

Well no matter, here I am now and mostly because I couldn't resist showing off the three-course Christmas dinner prepared for G's extended family at the first-ever Christmas party that I (we) hosted! Oh the pressure, the pain...the trials and tribulations of suburban life!

And thus:

Course One (not technically a cookbook recipe):
Rosettes of Smoked Salmon with Brie Chesse & Crackers & Rocket Salad with Quail's Eggs

I know this is highly unprofessional, but in my excitement (nervousness and terror) over the entire dinner, I only succeeded in taking pictures of the salmon from this particular course. So I will just briefly run through the (very simple) processes that took place:

To make smoked salmon rosettes:
1. Fold a strip of smoked salmon in half length-ways (rougher edges outside, to form 'petals').
2. Roll at an angle.
3. Place on plate.
4. Use scissors (if necessary) to make little artistic cuts in the roll so as to have the 'petals' appear more palatable.

For home-made olive oil and lemon juice salad dressing:
1. Combine equal parts of fresh lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil.
2. Add crushed cloves of garlic (as many as you like depending on how much you like garlic - I love garlic, so I put in 8 cloves per cup of dressing.)
3. Add 1-2 tsp salt.
4. Add 1-2 tsp black pepper.
5. Sprinkling of parsley flakes (because it was there.)

For boiling quail's eggs for salad:
1. Put eggs in small pot, fill with water (at room temperature) to an inch above eggs.
2. Bring eggs to a small boil, cover pot with lid, simmer for 10-15 minutes (you want them hard-boiled, so it doesn't really matter as long as they're cooked through).
3. Peel. Chill.

Main Course: Garlic and Rosemary Leg of Lamb
Cookbook: The Australian Women's Weekly Great Lamb Cookbook

(Recipe adapted from the very basic garlic and rosemary lamb roast, which had no sides, and just the lamb - so I'm detailing the recipe here as I made it.)

You will need:

Basic lamb recipe:
  • A leg of lamb (I used a 1.75kg/3.88pound leg)
  • Fresh rosemary sprigs (2-3 minimum)
  • Wild rosemary from bottle (as cost of fresh rosemary can be prohibitive)
  • One bulb of garlic
  • Black pepper
  • Salt
  • Sprinkling of mixed Italian herbs (basil, thyme, oregano) for looks
  • Plenty of (extra) virgin olive oil
For sides:
  • Potatoes (baby ones are excellent for roasting, but you can use any size and cut them as you like)
  • 3-4 Carrots (or two if they're massive)
  • 4-5 Tomatoes (egg tomatoes if you can get them, but any medium or large ones will do very nicely as well)
  • One onion bulb
  • One garlic bulb
  • Black pepper, salt, (extra) virgin olive oil as above

The Night Before

  1. Pierce the lamb all over with small slits about 2cm long and a 3/4 inch deep. As many as you can. Place in roasting dish (you can just use a disposable aluminium one like I did without having to buy a huge roasting pan you'll only dig out once a year, if that).
  2. Chop up fresh rosemary sprigs. Reserve twigs.
  3. Peel one bulb of garlic and slice into garlic chips (not length-wise).
  4. Stuff each slit with a garlic chip and a pinchful of rosemary.
  5. Place excess garlic and rosemary, and rosemary twigs underneath the lamb leg.
  6. Drizzle with copious amounts of the olive oil, and black pepper. (Do NOT salt your lamb at this stage.)
  7. Generously sprinkle the wild rosemary from the bottle (or use fresh rosemary if you have it obviously) all over the leg of lamb (pictures below).
  8. Add a sprinkling of mixed Italian herbs over the top of the lamb if you have it.
  9. Glad-wrap, place in fridge overnight.

On The Day of Reckoning


To Prepare Sides of Vegetables:
  1. Peel carrots, cut into slices.
  2. Peel onions, cut into slices.
  3. Peel garlic, chop roughly.
  4. Cut egg-tomatoes length wise, or if you are using normal tomatoes, cut into quarters.
  5. Peel potatoes, chop into required size (at least halve them). Try to make potato chunks as evenly-sized as possible. Parboil potatoes by doing the following steps.
  6. Place chunks of potatoes in a pot, fill with (room-temp/cold) water up to an inch-above the potatoes.
  7. Bring to boil.
  8. Cover pot with lid, simmer for 5-10 minutes depending on how huge your chunks are.
Back to the Meat:
  1. While waiting for potatoes to boil, get your lamb leg out of the fridge (it should now be about 4:20pm) because you need to bring it to room temperature before you roast it. Transfer lamb leg temporarily from roasting tray to your chopping board.
  2. Preheat oven to 220 degrees Celsius. Most ovens need at least a 1/2 hour to bring it's temperature up to this point, so be prepared. If your oven is slower than most, you can begin 45 minutes before, if it's faster, then 30 minutes should do, etc.
  3. Make a 'bed' for the lamb leg with the onions and carrots in the roasting tray.
  4. Drain potatoes in colander.
  5. Roughen them up by shaking your colander such that you can see all the edges of the potatoes becoming 'furry', and the surface is 'broken up'. This will give you crisp roasted potatoes.
  6. Place potatoes and tomatoes alternately around the lamb leg.
  7. Drizzle entire tray and all its contents with olive oil, black pepper, and rosemary. Rub the olive oil into the lamb to make sure its really coated. Sprinkle some salt over everything now.

This is the finished 'prep' picture:

It is now ready to go into the oven.

9. Place lamb in oven (now preheated to 220) and leave for 20 minutes. This step is to crisp up the skin of the lamb, much like searing.
10. During this time, cut out a sheet of aluminum foil about the size of the roasting tray.

9. Take lamb out of the oven. Turn temperature down to 180, and place the aluminium foil sheet loosely over the top of the roasting tray. No need to press down the sides as this is just to protect the vegs from burning, and you still want some air in there so the skin doesn't get soggy.
10. Place back in oven, continue roasting at 180.
11. Start taking the temperature of the lamb from about 6:00pm, using a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the lamb. You want to avoid opening the oven too much, so you can maybe do this once at 6:00 or 6:10.
12. Whenever the temperature of the lamb reaches 63 degrees Celsius (this occurred around 6:30pm for me, which is the second time I checked), take the lamb out of the oven and rest for 15-20 minutes.


The lamb was abso-bloody-lutely perfectly cooked, with the innermost meat closest to the bone about medium rare. If you like your lamb a bit more red, take it out when it reaches 60. I would not recommend cooking lamb any more done than this!

As you can see the entire leg was as moist as moist can be, and the juices from the lamb and veg combined meant that there was no need to make any gravy. Some store-bought mint jelly was served as well but many just had the lamb as good as it was on its own! *beams proudly*

Dessert: Gordon Ramsay's Chocolate Fondants
Cookbook: Gordon Ramsay Makes It Easy

You will need:
  • 50g melted butter , for brushing
  • cocoa powder , for dusting
  • 200g good-quality dark chocolate , chopped into small pieces (I used Lindt 70%)
  • 200g butter , in small pieces
  • 200g golden caster sugar
  • 4 eggs and 4 yolks
  • 200g plain flour

The Night Before
  1. First get your moulds ready. Using upward strokes, heavily brush the melted butter all over the inside of the pudding mould. Place the mould in the fridge or freezer.
  2. Place a bowl over a pan of barely simmering water, then slowly melt the chocolate and butter together. Remove bowl from the heat and stir until smooth. Leave to cool for about 10 mins.
  3. In a separate bowl whisk the eggs and yolks together with the sugar until thick and pale and the whisk leaves a trail; use an electric whisk if you want. Sift the flour into the eggs, then beat together.
  4. Pour the melted chocolate into the egg mixture in thirds, beating well between each addition, until all the chocolate is added and the mixture is completely combined to a loose cake batter.
  5. Take moulds out of the freezer. Brush more melted butter over the chilled butter, then add a good spoonful of cocoa powder into the mould. Tip the mould so the powder completely coats the butter. Tap any excess cocoa back into the jar, then repeat with the next mould.
  6. Tip the fondant batter into a jug, then evenly divide between the moulds. Chill or freeze.

Halfway Through Main Course
  1. Heat oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6. Place the fondants on a baking tray, then cook for 10-12 mins (takes about 20 minutes from frozen) until the tops have formed a crust and they are starting to come away from the sides of their moulds. You will be able to see the butter 'bubbling' at the sides as the crust comes away. Remove from the oven, then leave to sit for 1 min before turning out.
  2. Loosen the fondants by moving the tops very gently so they come away from the sides, easing them out of the moulds. Tip each fondant slightly onto your hand so you know it has come away, then tip back into the mould ready to plate up.

Serve with ice-cream of course - I used Haagen Daz Macadamia Nut to great effect!

And there you go, my first dinner party and first Cookbook Challenge post! I am so proud!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Hey-Ho, To The Farm We Go!

The Farm Cafe
Collingwood Children's Farm
18 St Heliers Street
Abbotsford VIC 3067
Telephone: 03 9415 6581

Opening Hours: Mon-Fri 9am - 4pm; Sat-Sun 8am - 5pm

Finally, my last 21st for the year, and boy did BFF J want a 21st with a difference! Eschewing fancy dinners and function rooms, she decided she wanted an 'outdoors' coming-of-age party. And not just outdoors, but 'properly' outdoors with "trees and animals and sunshine"!

And no prizes as to who was left with the task of planning this party with an Amish desire - on a tight budget!

The Farm Cafe seemed a logical choice of venue, given that there is no 'indoor' area - it is all open, rustic, 'properly' farm-like. You have been warned - pick your footwear with practicality in mind! (I initially had on a pair of heels, this being a '21st' and all, but ended up slopping around in the Japanese slippers I keep in the car to drive!)

I spy with my little eye a friand beginning with Dench...

To the credit of the staff, they weren't put out at all when we arrived without warning in a group of 20, having been informed the week before that they had a 'no-reservations policy', even for groups. See for yourself!

In retrospect, we maybe should have called them up the day before. But given the rainy weather at the time, BFF J was contemplating calling the whole thing off even until 30 minutes prior. Luckily, the drizzle dissisipated when we arrived, and anyway there were great big umbrellas and shades for all!

And now, on to food. A short note before you cast your eye on these - I don't feel like I can fault the staff for the fact that the meals took ages to arrive, given the sheer numbers that were in attendance. However, I would say that this isn't somewhere you'd go especially for the food (I'm thinking of Mart 130 or Tempura Hajime when I say this - places 'off-the-beaten track' but worth trekkin' for!), because it didn't taste particularly amazing nor was it in any sense imaginative. However (again), portions were hearty (and as you will see - they look fantastic!), everything tasted 'satisfactory', service is great (a difficult commodity these days in the trendiest of breakfast places) and heck, I've got cows at ma' side, and peacocks at ma' feet!

Your menu goes here:

Your animals go there:

Being that I am:
a. shameless; and
b. happy to use my blog as an excuse for blatant gluttony,
I got to sample a bit of everyone's dish - and drink!

(Before I forget, one the best drinks here which I don't have a picture of unfortunately is a frozen apple juice, much like an ice blended apple juice slushie. Just what the doctor ordered!)

These are the other drinks that people had:

Good ol'-fashioned chocolate milkshake ($4.90)

Friend B had to top that, obviously, with a decadent ice chocolate ($4.50)

And the food:

This was my order, a gob-smackin'ly gorgeous-looking scone. With jam and cream of course. ($6.00)

The taste? Alright. Not as light as a scone should be, nor as creamy/buttery as one should taste. In fact, it tasted rather like plain bread, and I'm not complaining but by the time I was done with the scone, it looked liked I'd barely cracked into it. I'd settle for a little more quality over quantity! Jam was lovely though, I love it when I get seeds in my jam!

About 15 people ordered this one:

The Farmer's Breakfast - poached eggs, bacon, sausage, roast potato stacks,
mushroom, apple tomato chutney on sourdough toast ($17.00)

You can't see it, but the poached egg was overdone, so much so that the yolk was no longer runny - things like that can really kill a spectacular brekkie. And it was served lukewarm, erring on the side of 'cold'. Again, I'm not sure whether I can fault them on this given we were such a large group to cook for, but as all the food came out meal by meal anyway, rather than altogether - can that really be an excuse? Other than that, everything was pretty good!

A very classy breakfast choice, ironically named The Ploughman's Lunch:

The Ploughman's Lunch - board of ham off the bone, aged Gippsland cheddar, fresh
fruit, house pickles & chutney with sourdough bread ($17.00)

I was assured this was good, it definitely looked pretty fantastic! And I had a bit of the cheese, it was tasty and dry the way good cheese should be!

And finally - the special of the day, so there wasn't really a name for it.

I'd say....poached egg on spinach and corn chutney? It was not bad at all, though again the egg was overdone. The chutney was not bad, but it was both sweet and savoury if you know what I mean, which isn't really to my taste.

All in all, an adequate breakfast. Would I go again? Maybe yeah, for the novelty. And a small entrance fee gets you into the farm after - see details here. (Note that this is much more a petting farm, as opposed to an actual 'farm' farm.) I also really liked that we were allowed to linger at the cafe and the surrounding area for ages and no one harassed us at all to leave. But there are definitely better breakfast places if it's just food you're after! (If you do go, parking is $4.00 per entry, and it's got be paid upfront into a machine, entirely in coins.)

And finally - a picture of Jen's birthday gift from me! Come January 30th 2010, my industrious friend and I will be undertaking the daunting task of learning how to construct this Chocolate House masterpiece from Master Chocolatier Arno Backes (formerly of Koko Black) at Ganache!

Expect triumph! Expect pictures! Oh and don't you like the poem - silly J made everyone write in a 'scrapbook' and I felt a bit awkward doing it since I've known her about 8 years now so this came out instead...

Happy 21st Birthday, Fatter! And thanks.

Farm Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 4, 2009

Hawker's Cafe - Chicken Rice

Hawker's Cafe
213 Russell St
Melbourne Vic 3000
Telephone: 03 9662 1867

Opening Hours: Sun - Thurs 1o:30am - 11:30pm; Fri - Sat 10:30am - 5:00am

I've had this intermittent craving for chicken rice ever since witnessing Poh pull off the most gourmet version ever in the Masterchef final. Now I know everyone's got their own favourites so I'm not going to get into a lenghty dispute over whose assertion is the most accurate. Suffice to say the most convenient (and yummiest!) place to get chicken rice in Melbourne in my opinion is Hawker's Cafe.

Yeah I know, how often does a place serving street food have its own website, hey?

Anyway, here is the menu for your perusal - and you can take it home with you! I haven't tried, but it also says you can call in beforehand to place your orders for take-out, which is very convenient if you are speeding through the city and need to grab a pre-theatre meal toute suite!

I know for a fact that this place is pretty popular so you can imagine my surprise when I dropped in at 7pm on Friday night and it was, well...a ghost town.

I'm guessing that it's because this is a supper haunt for everyone else given that they close at 5am(!) on weekends.

There were exactly two other customers, one a lady who was loudly dispensing unsolicited advice to everyone in the vicinity (apparently I should eat as much chicken rice as I can while I'm young and can't get fat - oh how little you know, O Wise One), and the other an incongruously well-dressed man clutching a bouquet of flowers (think you might've gotten the wrong place, sonny!). This didn't deter me from placing two orders for chicken rice - one 'large' for G ($11.80), and one 'regular' for me ($8.80), though it did deter us from eating in.

Front of house and The Wise One

Other House Specials

And so - after some of the most efficient and friendly service I've ever had in a Chinese take-out, I gingerly carry my orders back home.

And what a reward for my effort! Generous servings of silky chicken, fragrant (though admittedly oily) rice, and a fantastically sour and spicy chilli dipping sauce that packs a real punch so make sure you don't get an entire mouthful of red banana chilli. And I really like it when places go the extra mile - we received an extra (unrequested) container of chilli sauce above the two individual ones we got with our meal.

Would I come here again? I have, and more times than I'll admit! Here's a parting shot:

Hawker's Cafe on Urbanspoon