Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Christmas Celebrations - Part 2

Christmas 2006 was one to remember! We had been experiencing the usual hot summer weather leading up to christmas and lo and behold.. in typical Melbourne fashion the temperature dropped down to the 'teens on Christmas day and the change of weather came with patches of rain.

I suppose I shouldn't complain since everyone in the Northern Hemispheres are going through their winter season at the moment.

Anyway, we were fortunate enough to be able to join Deb's (Alv's sister in law) family for christmas this year (I still can't get over the fact that we're in 2007!) at their place. If it wasn't for that, we'd probably be staying home having instant noodles and water for christmas lunch. LOL.

Don't get me wrong, we had already planned on having Christmas dinner with a few friends who have also been left to fend for themselves this christmas. But christmas is a family celebration and it would have been a pity if it wasn't celebrated with family of some sort at all.. especially on the actual day.

My family is very traditionally chinese, in the sense that we don't celebrate christmas but my mum does observe the rest of the celebrations dictated on the chinese lunar calendar. So christmas has never really been big for me. I do however feel for people like Alv whose mum likes taking holidays in December and always leaving him to fend for himself. So we started a tradition last year where we would host a christmas dinner or lunch and invite friends of ours in similar circumstances to celebrate christmas with us. After all, friends are family too. :)

So off we went to Deb's parents (which I am embarrassed to say that I don't know their names) for a bbq christmas lunch and a game of cranium to complete the afternoon; then back home in time to start cooking for our own little christmas dinner. (Thank you Mr & Mrs K for graciously having us over for lunch and Deb, Jerome, David, Rachel, Nathan and Jo for the fun we had with cranium.)

Christmas Dinner - 25.12.2006
Seafood Stew w/ Garlic Croutons

Roasted Turkey Breast w/ apple, macadamia and cranberry stuffings

Roasted baby potatoes
Honeyed carrots
Garlic mushroom
Cranberry Gravy

Bittersweet chocolate tart w/ mixed berries
Pistachio-nut brittle, Chocolate biscotti and Almond Bread

Christmas Dinner
The dinner table

Decorations were a bit poor in comparison to what I whipped up for christmas lunch the weekend before. No one to blame but me... though I did think that the napkin colours more than made up for my lack of decorative effort.

Seafood Stew
Entree: Seafood Stew

Having lived in Australia for the last 10 years, I am convinced now that no Aussie Christmas is complete without any form of seafood on the menu. For peace of mind sake, I whipped up one of my usual favourites, Bill Granger's Seafood Stew. This time with only prawns and 'a mussel' each. I wasn't trying to be stingy or anything, it was just that 2/3 of the batch of mussels I purchased for this dish died enroute to the pot. :(

I had bought some mussels for this dish on christmas eve from Prahran market. They were a real bargain and I was extremely happy to have scored 500g worth of it for less than AUD$5. Little did I realise that the good people at the fish shop had already de-bearded and cleaned them for me. Doh! When I took them out of the fridge for cleaning more than half of the mussels were already cranked open and had to be thrown out. Out of luck, I was left with 7 mussels, one for each person joining us for dinner that night. I suppose I should really call it, prawn stew.. since it's largely made up of prawns with the mussels as decoration.

Baked potatoes and Roast turkey breast
Main: Turkey breast roll stuffed with apple, macadamia
and cranberry stuffings w/ roasted baby potatoes

Another thing that I was convinced we must have this year is turkey. It only made sense since I had already made roast lamb for an early christmas lunch the weekend before. I had to convince Alv that we should have turkey instead of roast beef since we had roast beef for christmas in 2005. For this, I have my friend Hoi to thank for convincing a.k.a bullying Alv into the turkey idea.

The turkey was purchased from Kevin's Fresh Poultry at Prahran Market. If you ever go to Prahran Market and you are in need of some chicken (or assistance re: poultry), I cannot highly recommend any other chicken shop than Kevin's. They're the most helpful and friendly people in the chicken business I have ever come across! The lady who served me was most helpful when I told her that I had never made turkey before and was unsure of which type (whole turkey or breast) and how much turkey I had needed for dinner.

We went through the usual questions of numbers attending and whether I was game enough to stuff my own turkey or would I prefer to buy the pre-stuffed turkey breast rolls. I chose the latter and when we found out that they had sold out of the turkey breast rolls for the day, she went.. "no worries darl, come back in 5" and got one of the other guys to make up a turkey roll for me. Now that is customer service!

Christmas Turkey Breast stuffed with apple, macadamia and cranberry stuffings.
A peek at the stuffing

2kg turkey breast, roasted at 180 deg C for 1 1/2 hrs, I think. It's been a while now, in any case, if in doubt, just ask your butcher/local chicken shop how long too cook it.

I pre-marinaded the turkey with a mixture of thyme, garlic, salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil; rubbed it all over the turkey and left it in the fridge over night. It was served up with some roasted baby potatoes that I roasted with rosemary this time round. The thyme gave the turkey a nice fragrant and the stuffing was delicious, a hint of apple, macadamia and the chewy cranberry raisins mm.. I usually pass on stuffings of any kind, but I ate up all of mine that day. All in all, a perfect turkey for christmas.

Honey Carrots side
Sides: 1. Honey carrots

For sides, we had some dutch baby carrots with butter and honey. This was courtesy of Clare - Alv's cousin.

Melt some butter and honey in the saucepan and cook the carrots in them until they're tender and serve.

Deliciously sweet and rich (because of the butter). Actually, it kind of reminded me of honey joys.. in a good sort of way of course.

Garlic Mushrooms side
Sides: 2. Garlic Mushrooms

Some mushrooms, cooked with butter, garlic, salt and pepper and parsley.

Broccolini side
Sides: 3. Broccolini

And some broccolini tossed with garlic, olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper.

Cranberry Gravy
Cranberry Gravy

This cranberry gravy sauce was another recipe that I found in the Celebrate Issue (Issue 30) of Donna Hay Magazine. (Can you see a theme going on here...??) I had a little bit of trouble here as the recipe asked for at least 1/4 cup of pan juices from the roast turkey. Well my turkey didn't even have 1/4 cup of pan juices to it, so I had to made do with increasing the chicken stock and cranberry juice amount. I also added some cranberry raisins to it for a change.

Here's the original recipe:

Cranberry Gravy
*Issue 30, Donna Hay Magazine

1/4 cup pan juices from roast turkey*
2 tsp plain flour
1/2 cup cranberry juice
1/4 cup chicken stock

In the same baking dish where the turkey was roasted, pour in the reserved pan juices and flour, stir over medium heat for 2-3mins until the flour is golden. Pour cranberry juice and stock into a heat proof jug and add in the pan juice/flour mixture and gradually whisk the mixture into the baking dish until smooth. Serve gravy in a jug or gravy boat.

Makes 1 cup of gravy.

Wii Tennis

After dinner, more of our friends came over and we had a ball with the Nintendo Wii. Though I strongly suspect that a lot of them came over just for dessert. LOL.

Bittersweet Chocolate Tart w/ Mixed Berries and pistachio praline
Dessert: Bittersweet Chocolate Tart w/ mixed berries

I bought some lovely dark cooking chocolate from Monseiur Truffe for this special occasion. They were a block of Felchin Madagascar 64%, Finest Swiss Dark Chocolate. The recipe I chose for this occasion was a Simple Chocolate Tart from Jamie Oliver's the Naked Chef book. It's one that I have made before and I highly recommend it if you're up for an easy but deliciously simple but special chocolate tart. I can honestly say, I decided on the dessert for this occasion wayyyy before I worked out what to cook for christmas.

Jamie's sweet pastry recipe is my favourite tart base recipe. It's deliciously light and crisp. Regretably, I did not use his recipe this time round. :(

I was a bit lazy and had some left over pate sucree from the almond tart I made for christmas lunch the weekend before. But I highly recommend trying it for yourself.

Simple Chocolate Tart
*From Jamie Oliver's the Naked Chef

1 tart shell, baked blind. (Jamie's sweet pastry)
315ml double cream
2 level tbsp caster sugar
the smallest pinch of salt
115g butter, softened
455g best-quality cooking chocolate
100ml milk
cocoa powder for dusting

In a saucepan, bring to boil - double cream, sugar and the small pinch of salt. As soon as the mixture has boiled, remove from heat and add the butter and chocolate.

Stir until chocolate and butter are well mixed and completely melted. At this point, allow the mixture to cool slightly and stir in the cold milk until the mixture is smooth and shiny*.

*If the filling looks like it has split, allow it to cool down further and whisk in some extra cold milk until smooth.

Pour mixture into the cooked tart and cooled tart shell. Shake the tart to even out the mixture and allow to cool for 1 - 2hrs until room temperature.

Dust with cocoa powder and serve.

Jamie says that ultimately the tart should be short and crisp and the filling should be smooth and should cut like butter.
And it does:

Bittersweet Chocolate Tart

Look at that! Smooth and cuts like butter! I love this tart, it's easily the best chocolate tart I have ever tasted. It's rich, smooth and creamy, I served it up with a dollop of mascarpone cheese, some mixed berries (blackberry, red currants and strawberries) that was mixed with a couple of tablespoons of caster sugar and also sprinkled some pistachio praline onto top of the cocoa powder. Though, no one really noticed nor querried what it was. Sigh..

snack plate
Front to back: Pistachio brittle, Chocolate biscotti w/ pistachios
and sour cherries and Almond bread.

In addition to dessert, I had a platter of my christmas baking goodies out for snacks.

All in all a very Donna Hay christmas and a fabulous christmas with friends and family.


Ellie said...

What an absolutely divine spread, and I'm totally digging the new layout! Good work :)

Jeanne said...

Oh WOW I-Ling! Can I just say that I will be gatecrashing your Christmas dinner next year!! Everything looks awesome - in fact, I think I might have to try my hand at that chocolate pie. I also love the idea of pistachio brittle.

All the best for a fab 2007!

neil said...

Wasn't it so good that Xmas day was cool enough to enjoy feasting, that spread looks sooo tempting. Btw, about the mussels, very often when you store them in the fridge for a while, they do open and stay stubbornly open for quite some time at room temperature until their internal systems get up to speed. The same thing happened to me with mussels from the same market once and not knowing turfed them. But later on I saw an interview with the owner of the Belgium Bar where mussels are a staple item and he said that mussels that remain closed after cooking can be safely eaten, if in doubt, just smell them. I have never thrown away an unopened mussel since. I suspect your mussels would have been okay too, for you kept them in the fridge.

ilingc said...

Ellie: Thanks :)

Jeanne: I'm always prepared for gate crashers :D

Neil: It was indeed perfect weather for turkey and roasts :)

Thanks for the tip about the mussels. I will make sure I check the cooked and unopened ones next time.

In fact, you've just given me a brilliant idea! I bet I could pull off some dares/bets next time I find a cooked and closed mussel! :D