Post Christmas grazing

What happens when Christmas is over and you’ve had the post Christmas Boxing Day veg out – late start to the day (or it’s already afternoon) and you lie about reading, watching movies a and grazing on leftovers: smoked salmon and ham. Lots of ham. So sandwiches and rolls with homemade habanera mustard. What do you eat/cook next?

This time of year – between Christmas and New Year  – always feels like quintessential holiday time. It’s hot and there’s absolutley nothing to do. So it should follow that meals will be simple and easy and quick. I cooked for and hosted two Christmas functions this year: Christmas Eve dinner – for friends of my daughter and my folks – and Christmas Day. I cooked a lot. Which means I planned and shopped and prepared a lot. On Christmas Eve we had:

  • seared tuna wrapped in nori with a lemon soy dressing and wasabi mayonnaise
  • pork loin (marinated in soy sauce, fish sauce, mirin, ginger, garlic and chilli) with freshly pickled cucumber and a watermelon, coriander and fried shallot salad
  • basil pannacotta with raspberry jelly and fresh raspberries and blueberries.

On Christmas Day it was a long, languid event with many breaks in between:

  • champagne jelly with white peaches and raspberries
  • oysters with a red shallot reduction
  • smoked salmon with tahini soy dressing
  • seared scallops on black pudding with a minty pea puree
  • bloody mary prawn rolls
  • baked ham with a waldorf(ish) salad
  • pork and green mango salad
  • sticky Orange Christmas pudding with whisky

Turned out we’d all had enough after the ham so the pork salad was left to another day.
Boxing Day however got the better of me and we opted for leftovers. So the pork was the next night’s meal. Simple and quick. So far so good. We’ve made do with everything on hand and there was no need to leave the house, except for a movie on Saturday and another on Sunday, which inevitably led my mind to thoughts of food: what to eat/cook next?

Try as I might, I cannot go for very long without thinking about food and what to make next. It isn’t just the eating, its actually about the making of food and the anticipation of flavours and textures. Cooking is not a chore for me, its a pleasure.  It is something that I genuinely take enjoyment in. And its a great thing to do to clear my mind; while I’m cooking I’m totally focussed.  That’s not say I don’t enjoy a conversation and a glass of wine when I cook: yes I cook with wine and sometimes I even put it in the food! (apologies, I couldn’t resist) Just don’t get me distracted – it never ends well.

And so to New Year’s Eve with a special friend who comes visit this time of year to indulge in all things Sydney.  What to cook?  Drunken prawns with wood ear mushrooms and mung bean noodles; duck salad with pomelo and lychees; tomato and lemon salad (courtesy of Ottolenghi) and seared tuna; oysters; freshly smoked trout and black russian baby tomatoes that are growing in our garden, and burrata. For a picnic: schnitzel and coleslaw and dill pickles in fresh bread rolls.  Mmmm…  food, glorious food.

Bon appetite and Happy New Year.

Jellies for adults

Today I went and packed up my office.  Having just been made redundant at work – effective immediately – I had no opportunity to think about ‘what’s next’ or about what I would do with all the things I had accumulated in my office , my personal space for the last 5+ years.   It was where I spent the majority of my time.  Full of paintings, books, reference material, a pinboard with postcards I had collected on my travels and from colleauges from theirs as well as momentos from exhibitions and celebrations.  The usual stuff.  And my Bose stereo system. A quick half hour and a station wagon loaded and I was gone.  So much for 5+ years work.

The thought of just going back home to unpack was unappealing.  I needed to do something nice – a drink and nibble somewhere.  We headed to 4Fourteen (or is that Four 14?) in Bourke st – Colin Fassnidge’s place where at first opening it was difficult to get a seat. A few years on and its just walk in and not a fashionista in sight.  Pretty empty by the time we got there at 2.30 but kitchen staff all working hard.  Its an open kitchen so you can see everything.  The place is large and bright and beautifully set up – the banquettes at the back are gorgeous tan leather, they serve wine in proper glasses and the place has the feel of a NewYork loft.  But its the food that really makes this place worth coming to.

We just wanted a drink and something light: seared bonito with ginger ale jelly and apples accompanied by a glass of Duval Leroy champagne. It was a perfect match – more so because my husband had ordered the champagne before we had considered what to eat – champagne being the  drink for all occasions, and in this instance, to toast the end of one phase of my life and the start of something new.  What that new is, I don’t yet know.  But the dish was certainly one that suggested good things to come. When did jellies become so adult?  The flavours and textures just sang in my mouth.  It was so playful – beautifully cooked slices of just just cooked bonito scattered with the jelly and grated green apples in a dressing I couldn’t really figure out, but absolutely perfect. It was joyous.  How do people think of these dishes?  Its what makes the difference between just good food and really exciting food. Food worth celebrating and food for celebrating.

Our other dish was a chargrilled lamb tongue – and I’ll bet if this was presented to you without knowing what it was you’d just think it was perfectly cooked meat that your knife sliced through like butter – tender and succulent. Accompanied by a glass of Spanish red, again a perfect match and a perfect way to farewell 5 years of dedication and welcome my unkown future.

Occasions are worth celebrating, no matter what the event.  This quick meal did that for me.  Good food, good wine, good company.  Life’s OK.

The geese have gotten fat

Christmas Day began with some white peaches poached in lemongrass syrup. I’d made the syrup for martinis we were going to have later in the day so it seemed easy enough to use some of the syrup to poach the peaches in. Accompanied with a bottle of Lamandier champagne they were beautiful. Some fresh mangoes and perfectly ripe cherries followed.

And then it was time to prepare. Snapper carpaccio with shaved fennel, clementine segments, salmon pearls and shiso leaves. A white wine of some description to accompany.

I had planned on searing some tuna and serving it sliced with a jalapeno dressing and garlic mayonnaise but the range of fish available at the fishmarket the day before was limited. Apart from the ubiquitous prawns, crayfish, lobster etc. there was very little in the way of either whole or filleted fish. We did indulge in some prawns with a lovely presto of coriander, green chilli and preserved lemon the night before. And a most interesting bottle of champagne: Pierre Peters (there are so many good French champagne houses that I haven’t heard of.)

So Plan B became scallops seared with ginger and soy/mirin and served in their shell on a bed of finely grated cucumber and radish and topped with shredded nori and toasted black sesame seeds. Truly delish. The delicate texture of the scallops is a perfect match for the crisp and crunch of seaweed and seseame seeds and the mirin/soy dressing added just enough flavour to enhance the experience of these equisite sea creatures. I never knew how good scallops were until I tasted them just cooked. Why is it that so many people over cook them? They loose all flavour and become rubbery and dull.

And then it was on to the ham. Glazed with maple syrup, brown sugar and mustard it was warm and unctuous. To accompany I made a variation on a waldorf with celery, apple, red grapes, walnuts, witlof and raddichio. I cant’ remember what we drank with this. There was another bottle of champagne (Mumm) at some stage (earlier I think with the scallops) but it paled into insignificance compared to the Lamandier. I do recall drinking a rather nice French pinot (yes, they’re called burgundy over there). And then we had the lemongrass martinis. And then it was time for a nap. Which turned into a sleep. I woke at 8pm. It was time to get the feast going again.

I had marinated a neck of pork in some wonderful smoky chillies that someone had told me about (from northern Thailand) and palm sugar, fish sauce and galangal for about 48 hours and it had been slowly cooking for about 2 hours. It was the most wonderful flavour experience – all those sharp, salty, sour and sweet Thai flavours with the succulent pork served with chopped peanuts, fried shallots and fresh coriander. Oh, and a green mango salad. A lovely bottle of Vouvray set this off to perfection.

And then it was time for desert. I had made basil pannacotta and raspberry jelly. As I was straining the raspberries through the sieve I wondered why? I recalled that you could buy raspberry jelly in little packets in the supermarket. All you had to do was add boiling water! However, the taste, is not the same. Trust me. It was like eating gelatinous raspberries. I know that doesn’t sound very appetizing, but it was like mouthfuls of flavoured fun.

More drinks and then more couch time with videos till finally slices of American fruitcake and glasses of sauternes appeared. Our Christmas feast took well over 13 hours. It was quite a day. Relaxed, companionable, full of good flavours, tastes, sensations, easy going conversations and veg out times. All Christmases should be like this.