My first Christmas

Part of the problem with having about two months’ worth of eating adventures to write up is that some date faster than others. So in the interest of not being too obviously tardy, here’s a quick wrap up of my very first Christmas – that I hosted, that is! I may be a heathen, but I’m not ignunt.

My sister was overseas this last Christmas, and my parents have always been a bit blase about the holiday, so I took it upon myself to save Christmas for the family. Of course, that meant roasting a turkey! Let’s not half-arse here, we’re talking about the birth of some guy about two thousand years ago here. It’s a big deal, right?

So let’s start with the stuffing. Mine was a riff off a Jamie Oliver one from his Cook cook book. But I used dried cranberries and a few other things that Maggie Beer had in her stuffing recipe for goose. So yeah, bacon, onion, sage, celery…
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… remove from heat and add breadcrumbs, dried cranberries …

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… let it coolto rom temperature, then add sausage meat (I de-cased some pork and fennel sausages from my local butcher) and an egg …

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… mix thoroughly …

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… get to second base with your bird. You’re going to be putting it in your mouth later anyway, so no need to be shy …

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… and spread that stuffing all up against its breasts.

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Tie it up so you’ve got complete control of the roasting position… (and yes, that’s a bacon band aid for where the bird’s skin had split on the thigh).

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Wrap in foil and roast in a low oven for four hours. At Jess‘ suggestion, I brined my turkey overnight, in an apple juice and salt brine, but I probably should only have brined it for about 8 hours instead of 16, as the meat ended up a little too salty.

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But I was feeding seven people, and never one to under-cater – I am Chinese, after all – there had to be other dishes. I had chatted with Bryan about Christmas preparations, and he remarked that he was keep to try the port-braised beef ribs which I had made for a Game of Thrones themed dinner party earlier in the year. It was a pretty easy set-and-forget dish, so I thought it might be worth reprising for my family this Christmas, too.

I browned the ribs, and then left them on the stove simmering for about 4 hours in a braising liquid made up of port, beef stock, and various herbs and spices. I can’t remember exactly what went into it, but bay leaves, ground coriander, thyme and pepper are definitely in the mix.

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Then I thought I should have a starter, and given the time (and stove) constraints, I thought gazpacho would be a great option. One perk of a summer Christmas is that you can have those summery dishes too, then crank the air con and bring out the turkey!

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That’s still not enough food! Let’s gin-poach some salmon! (That’s lemon rind, dill and pepper, along with vegetable stock and Tanqueray in there.)

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And make a loose interpretation of salad Nicoise. With sweet potato of course, because of Dad’s Type II diabetes.

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Dressed with a home-made dill mayonnaise. Mayonnaise/hollandaise is so easy with a stab blender – thanks to Tammi for showing me the light.

So here’s what was on the table, in the end:

The salmon Nicoise salad.

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Port-braised beef ribs with carrots which were braised with the turkey.

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The main event: the bird!

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… deconstructed.

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Oh yeah, there was a nectarine, rocket and quinoa salad, too, but that came into being late in the piece, when I had shifted into anxious host mode, and forgotten to take photos.

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I think this may have been one of the most fun and rewarding Christmases I’ve ever had. It’s true what they say about the spirit of giving – or in this case, the spirit of feeding – being what Christmas is truly about. We all had a great lunch, Mum got a little tipsy, which is not very common, and I introduced them to Christmas crackers. Check out their matching paper crowns.

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Then after it was all over, and the folks went home, my housemate and I sat down and relaxed with a nice glass of bubbles.

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OK, it was more than one. There may have been drinking games involved. We may have gotten stupidly shit-faced. But that’s what Christmas is all about for Australians, isn’t it? 😉

Huxtaburger

106 Smith St, Collingwood
Phone: 9417 6328

Yeah, you’ve all heard about it. Well, you should have. Blah blah burger blah blah brioche blah blah wagyu.
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This is the Denise (the hot one).

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Just go eat it.
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Miss Chu

297 Exhibition St Shop 2, Melbourne
Phone: 9077 1097

I don’t want to dwell on the Melbourne/Sydney thing too much. Because apparently only Melbourne people do that, due to a chip on our collective shoulder about being the second largest, and probably not even the second most recognisable, city in Australia. It’s often said that Sydney has better Thai food, and better Japanese food, while Melbourne arguably has better Vietnamese food. I’m not sure whether that’s true, especially since food is such a subjective thing anyway, but if patterns of migration and migrant community populations are anything to go by, these assertions might be justified.

Which is why it seems a little strange that a Vietnamese restaurant from Sydney would open up a Melbourne outlet. Miss Chu opened early last year to some excitement, but probably just as much skepticism. Vietnamese food purveyors from Sydney? That’s almost like Hanoians setting up shop in Sai Gon. Which, for the record, has been quite successful in a number of cases. But I was definitely one of the skeptics when I first heard about it.

My preconceptions of the place weren’t helped by the buzz around Miss Chu serving wagyu pho. Seriously? That’s almost as nonsensical as Spice Temple’s wagyu brisket. Braised brisket is about slow cooking, releasing flavours from tough cuts of meat, and breaking down the flesh until it melts apart. To me, it seems like both a waste and a ruination of wagyu. Similarly, the beef in pho tai (rare beef pho) should have a certain springiness to it, something which is utterly lacking in (ironically) good wagyu. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Miss Chu touts herself as the ‘Queen of rice paper rolls’. And in this, I’m quite happy to agree. Well, she’s a high Lady in that arena, in any case. I have had better, but I lived in Viet Nam for a year, so you would expect that to be the case. Nonetheless, the rice paper rolls at Miss Chu were pretty special. I ordered the tiger prawn and green mango ones, which while pricey, were well worth the extra cost. The sauce bottle was cute, but not really that functional; a little dipping plate would have been useful. The sauce was a little overly sweet, too.

imageOnto the main event: the wagyu pho. A few things distressed me about this whole situation. First of all, the fresh basil and bean shoots were already applied for you by the kitchen. Which is a minor travesty, because it takes something integral away about the ritual of eating pho; the tearing of the basil leaves from the stalks, the topping of your owl with a mound of beanshoots, and the dunking and stirring of all the fresh ingredients through the steaming hot soup. These are all a part of the experience which I love about having pho, and this was denied to me at Miss Chu. So things weren’t off to a good start.

Another part of my ritual is to try the broth before adding anything (lemon, chilli) to it. Again, Miss Chu’s pho fell flat. The broth was on the bland side, with neither the ‘beefiness’ nor the warm spices which typify good pho broth coming through. I was a little hasty in pre-judging the use of wagyu, as the soup was served at a cool enough temperature that the beef didn’t fully cook. Which might leave some people screaming salmonella, but is fine by me. Wagyu – and any good cut of meat, really – should be eaten rare, in my book. In this case, it helped the beef retain a bit of chewiness, which pho needs, texturally.imageUnfortunately, things don’t get any better when it comes to the actual pho noodles. I’m not sure about this, but it seems like Miss Chu is using re-hydrated dried ride noodles instead of fresh pho noodles. The noodles were thin, totally slippery, and worst of all, broken and short. I ended up having to eat most of them with my spoon, rather than slurping them off my chopsticks. That’s another point deduction, experientially. Oh, who are we kidding, points? This dish was a monster fail. Of course, me being me, I still ate it all. imageAnd proceeded to order dessert. A custard bun. Which was yet another let-down. The custard inside was on the dry and crumbly side, and the dough was a bit heavy. imageI know I’m pretty spoilt when it comes to Vietnamese food; I live in Footscray, after all. For the most part, Miss Chu just wasn’t up to scratch for me. But perhaps that was to do with my selection. There are many good Vietnamese restaurants that serve pho – mediocre or bad pho – but that excel in other dishes. I think Miss Chu might be one of these. The rice vermicelli salads looked pretty good, and the rice paper rolls were excellent, too. I could probably be convinced to go back – the atmosphere is fun and bustling, and the service is brisk, but friendly –  I’d just avoid that woeful pho.

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African Taste

124 Victoria St, Seddon
Phone: 9687 0560

I first heard about this place not long after I moved to Footscray. One of the neighbours mentioned it at my housewarming. Then I heard about it again from Lauren not long after that, and also Deb wrote about it around the same time. All of the reviews were positive.

Yet it took me well over a year to finally get down here. And it’s only a short walk from my house, too. For shame. Anyway, I finally did make it, with my housemate and a big bottle of French cider in tow. It was a Sunday night, and the place was super busy. It’s a pretty small restaurant, and every seat was full when we walked in. Thankfully a couple was about to leave, so we put our dibs on it, and wandered down to the nearby bottleshop. That’s where the cider came in.

The waitress (owner?) informed us that there may be a bit of a long wait, as we’d been seated just after two large tables. We didn’t mind, as we had cider and gossip to keep ourselves amused. We pretty much finished the cider before the food arrived, but thankfully, African Taste has a selection of African beers. Which we naturally hoed into. Which will explain why I don’t really remember what this first dish was.
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I remember it being pretty good, and it was my housemate’s first encounter with injera. It’s always a bit tricky to describe injera; lots of people call it a flatbread, but to me, it seems more like a crepe made with fermented flour (hence the slight tangy taste). I remember liking this dish, in any case. Anything you get to eat with your hands is A-OK with me!

Then came the Genfo African Fufu. When ordering it, I pronounced it “foo-foo”. When the waitress read it back, she pronounced it “fyeu-fyeu”. Then we spent the next minute or so trying to imitate her pronunciation and giggling like idiots. Anyway, Africa Taste’s fufu is like gnocchi, except it’s made with bulghur flour. And then pan-fried, and coated with a tasty sauce and a healthy dollop of yoghurt. We had it with fish. It’s amazing, and I’d totally go back for more of this.
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We also ordered a Moroccan chicken salad – I think it was Moroccan? – with a bed of couscous, which was nice, but decidedly less interesting than the other two dishes.
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With so many African restaurants in the area, it’s hard to know which ones to visit. Interestingly, I never hear reports of bad experiences about any of them from friends. Is it because we’re all too inexperienced to know what to expect, or is the standard just generally high in the area? I’m not sure. But I’m going to keep trying more places to figure it out!

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