Viognier and pork

Disclaimer: The booze which features in this post was supplied for free by WineSelectors. Make of that what you will.

If we’re friends and we’ve gone out to dinner together, you’ll probably know that I don’t like pinot noir. Because if we’ve gone out for dinner together, I’ve more likely than not ordered pork, I’ve probably ordered it for you too, and you’ve probably jumped to the conclusion that you should drink pinot with your pork. At which point, I’ll scrunch up my face, and declare that I don’t drink pinot. At least not Australian pinot. (I was coerced into trying – and subsequently liking – a French grand cru bourgogne at the Royal Mail Hotel a while ago.)

Anyway, when WineSelectors offered to send me some wine to try and review on this blog, I thought, “Free booze!” and then immediately caveatted that I was going to be bluntly honest about what I thought of the wine. To which they replied, “Well, that’s fine. Because you’ll be choosing the wines yourself.” Which basically meant that I was a bit screwed, because I don’t know that much about wine, I just know what I like. One of the things I know that I like is viognier, so I included a bottle of the Hugh Hamilton Loose Cannon Viognier in my order.

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And though I probably am an alcoholic, I’m not an anti-social alcoholic. So I invited a couple of friends over to dinner to help me ‘taste’ the wines (read ‘finish’). And because it wasn’t a Friday night, eating wasn’t cheating, so I made dinner. A roast rack of pork, no less. Oh yeah, that rant about pinot before wasn’t that random. This is what the rack looked like before (that’s salt, pepper, rosemary and sumac on there):

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… and after! (After 20 minutes in an oven on max, followed by an hour at 160c.)

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We had some green beans with goat’s cheese, a cannellini bean, pea and cavolo nero mash, and I made an onion jam.

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Damn I love it when meat blushes at me.

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But yeah, so, the wine. I discovered a few things about this Loose Cannon Viognier.

  1. It doesn’t really have any bouquet when it comes out of the fridge. This does change as it comes closer to room temperature, at which point it smells vaguely citrus-like.
  2. It’s DAMN FRUITY. (I mean that in a good way.)
  3. It doesn’t go well with hommus. (We had nibbles before dinner proper.)
  4. Mr J claimed he could taste quince in the wine, but I think that was more likely to do with the quince paste he was slathering on his crackers.
  5. The wine is kind of savoury, with orange notes.
  6. It’s pretty good with pork!

www.wineselectors.com.au

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? 😉

Baking the cover

I changed jobs about three months ago, and I don’t think I’ve ever been happier with my working conditions. I’ve got a stupidly large desk in front of a window adjacent to a tree where various native birds have turf wars with crows, presumably for nesting spots, I find the work I’m doing is actually engaging, and my team is full of bright, fun people. Who are obsessed with cake.

Whenever anyone asks, it’s a reflex action for me to deny having any particular skill in baking. It’s not that I can’t bake, I just feel that I’m more of a cook than a baker. To me, baking feels like a science, all about precise measurement and timing, whereas cooking involves creativity and a certain amount of flair. I’ve never been very good at following precise instructions. But as you’ll see, I’m getting better at it.

One afternoon a couple of weeks ago, my boss playfully suggested that she had a new project for me. I thought she was going to ask me to re-write some content for a website or something, but instead she held up the current issue of Delicious magazine and said with a huge smile on her face, “I think you should make this.”

I’m fairly sure she was just joking, but always up for a challenge, I decided to call her bluff. Thus I embarked on a two day process that pretty much rivalled the burger cake in terms of difficulty.

First of all, the cake wasn’t a single cake at all. It was a tower of four cakes, each of which were made up of two tiers: a shell of dacquoise and a ‘filling’ of a cake with buttermilk and shredded coconut. Then there was the fact that the measurements weren’t so much in cups and tablespoons, but in grams and millilitres; that made me a little anxious.

So let’s get to the making of. First up was beating the dacquoise, which is basically a meringue with almond meal folded through it.

imageIt ends up pretty thick, so to get an even covering of each of the four cake pans, you have to pipe it in. As you’ll see, I got better at this piping thing as I went along.

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imageThen came the ‘cradle cake’, which was more meringue, with plain flour, butter, buttermilk, baking powder and shredded coconut.
imageAgain, this was piped into the cake tin, and I guess its called the cradle cake because it’s cradled by the dacquoise.
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imageThey go into the oven for 50 minutes, and then cool in the tins. At this point, I went out to the last roller derby bout of the year, had my face painted, got a little boozy, and then stopped off for laksa on the way home.
imageSo by the time I got home, the cakes were well and truly cool. Then the sandwiching began. Cake, whipped cream, sliced mango, more whipped cream, then cake. Repeat.
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imageThis then gets covered in cling wrap, and sits in the fridge overnight. The next morning, it’s time to make it look pretty. Which is a process of piping – yes, more piping – meringue around the cake stack. Now for some reason, the instructions called for the sugar to be boiled into a hot syrup before it’s added to the egg whites. I’m not sure exactly why that is – I’m sure there will be more experienced bakers out there who know – but my best guess is that it forms a harder crust when you brulee it and then let it cool.
imageOh yeah, there’s bruleeing involved. Which is awesome, because I’ve been a bit of a pyromaniac since I was a kid. Big thanks to Agnes of Off the Spork for the loan of her blowtorch for this step. I was almost going to use this cake as an excuse to buy one for myself like that time when I organised a margarita night as an excuse to buy a blender, but inexplicably, this time I showed some uncharacteristic restraint.
imageAt this point, I started to get a little excited. I thought, “Hey wow! I might actually pull this off!” Of course, there was going to be the issue of transporting the cake to work, and because I didn’t own a cake container large enough to fit the completed cake, I decided to top it once I got into the office. I was a little nervous as I boarded first the train, and then a bus to get to work. Turns out I didn’t really need to worry, because the height of the cake meant it was perfectly wedged in the container, preventing it from moving.
imageFirst, I topped the cake with what I believe Nigella would call ‘lashings’ of whipped cream, then arranged thin slices of mango on top of that.
imageAdd some halved blueberries to that…
imageAnd some little teensy young mint leaves. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find any jasmine flowers, which the recipe called for, so this was my voila! moment.
imageAll in all, I think I did pretty well.
imageSo here’s what the cake looked like inside. It was an interesting cake; the dacquoise adds a nice chewy texture, and the coconut and mango are a pretty no-brainer flavour combination. The mint and blueberries gave a nice lift to the flavour too, but overall, I still felt the cake was a little too sweet. I think perhaps it would have been better if the mangoes had been less ripe, and a little more tart. Also, the cake came out a little dry. I think I’d add more cream if I were ever to attempt this again.
imageFinally, thanks to my workmate Eric for taking a proper photo with a proper camera of the cake. 😉

Arrivederci, il mio coinquilino!

I’m losing my housemate this week. He’s going back to Italy for a stint, and it’s not certain when he’ll be back. Hopefully sooner rather than later!

In any case, last night il coinquilino (that’s the housemate in Italian, for those of you who haven’t cottoned on yet) cooked up a farewell dinner for some close friends. A little unfair to have him cook his own farewell dinner? Perhaps, but he loves to cook – part of why we get along so well – and he’s also been gainfully unemployed for a few weeks, so he welcomed the distraction from online gaming and daytime television.

The dinner started off with some bruschetta. From the top, we had tomato and mint – with the interesting addition of Vietnamese mint – and some plain garlic-rubbed bread, which we enjoyed with good olive oil and salt, some mussels, and then below there’s a bruschetta topped with salsiccia and cream cheese. image

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imageFor primi, il coinquilino had made ravioli, filled with goat’s cheese and walnuts, with a sage butter.imageFor secondi, we had cozze – mussels – crumbed and stuffed with salsiccia and mortadella, with a side of crispy potatoes and tomato-braised silverbeet.imageFor dessert, @eatnik had made a chocolate mousse with a pedro ximinez gelee. imageIt was all so delicious, and washed down with some great wine, this was a wonderful dinner to remember. Hopefully il coinquilino comes back to Melbourne soon, so we can have more dinners like this! Also, because I haven’t just lost a great housemate, but a good friend.

Nothing says “I love you, #fatty” like a burger cake

It’s @eatnik‘s birthday today. Happy birthday #fatty!!

For a few weeks, @jeroxie and I had been scheming and planning a birthday cake for her, as she’d been the kind purveyor of awesome birthday cakes for us both (a crazily rich milo cake upon my request, and an impressive Words with Friends cake for Penny) as well as a team effort with @meatnik to make a croquembouche – that shat all over any masterchef contestant’s – for @th0i3‘s 30th.

So whatever we came up with, it was going to have to be plucked from the clouds of awesome. Initially, we’d toyed with the idea of a rainbow cake. They seem to be a little en vogue of late, and the flavour possibilities seemed exciting. Then we though something a little more personalised might be a better idea. I floated the idea of a ‘pork belly’ cake, with layers of strawberry sponge meat and white chocolate mousse fat, topped with a bruleed layer of ‘crackling’. I still think I’ll get around to that one day. But when @eatnik announce last week that her birthday celebrations were going to be “burgers and beers” at Thousand Pound Bend, it was time for a cake rethink.

With a little research, and some very helpful advice given by professional cake decorator @sweet_libertine, the burger cake seemed feasible, and actually easier than the pork belly monstrosity we’d been dreaming up.

Now I didn’t take photos of the cake making process, but in essence, this is what the cake was composed of:

  • an orange chiffon cake (for the top of the bun) – from Poh’s recipe, with extra orange essence for a super-charged zing)
  • a chocolate pound cake (for the patty) – from a recipe sourced from @essjayeff, with added cocoa and Hershey’s chocolate syrup – props to @th0i3 for co-baking this with me!
  • another variation on Poh’s chiffon cake, without the orange, but with hazelnut meal added (for the base of the bun).

This was also my first attempt at working with – and making my own – fondant icing. It’s kind of fun, but gets a little messy! I used this recipe, but found I needed to add a lot more icing sugar than they had suggested, partly because I was using liquid food colouring instead of gel colour.

Anyway, to assemble it, I created a skirt of fondant icing for the burger base. Given the amount of icing I was going to be using for everything else, I only wanted it around the edges, for presentation. There’s only so much sugar in a cake that even I can stand! That gooey stuff seeping out is a sour cream frosting that I was using as glue for the fondant.imageA thicker layer of the sour cream frosting went over that, to form the mayo, and then some ruffled green fondant for the lettuce.imageOnce the lettuce layer was done, I added some atomic red fondant tomato slices. See that chocolate pound cake waiting patiently in the background? It’s up next!imageI shaved the top and parts of the edges off, so it woud be more of a patty shape.imageThen, following @sweet_libertine’s advice, I covered it all with ganache – made with Lindt dark Chilli Intense chocolate and sour cream – and glued bits of crumbled pound cake on top, to give it that rough burger mince look.imageThe patty goes on, and I start getting excited about how well it’s all turning out.imageOf course, there’s a reason ‘I can haz cheezburger’ is a meme, and ‘I can haz burger’ is not. I made the fondant cheese Swiss because, well, it looked more obviously like cheese. There’s nothing subtle about a novelty burger cake OK, people?imageThe trickiest part with the fondant was probably laying a huge sheet of it over the top of the bun. To do this, I rolled it out on a sheet of baking paper, then flipped it over onto the cake. Ad thankfully, it came off without a hitch! I don’t think I could really have tried it a second time without making more icing, because once it hits the frosting, the icing can’t really be moved or re-used. And yes, for those continuity geeks playing at home, yes, I did this bit before assembling the rest of the cake. It just seemed more logical to show you the process from bottom to top.imageThen I shaped some novelty sesame seeds out of white fondant, and glued them on using the sour cream frosting.
imagePlace the top on, and voila! Novelty burger cake success!
imageHere’s a shot of how the cake looked on the inside. Try as I might, I couldn’t make it look like anything other than the mess you dread to clean up, with a hangover, the next morning after a big party.imageHappy birthday #fatty!

Peach and Honey Tart: Cookbook Challenge (Stone Fruit)

So I’m trying my hand at this cookbook challenge again. I think I managed to cook one item last year. Maybe I’ll do two this year?
Anyway, the idea behind the challenge is to actually use those cookbooks which we buy, and then promptly never look at, but sit proudly on our bookshelves. A better explanation of the challenge from April. This year, the onus has been lessened, and we’re only required to cook one recipe every fortnight. Phew! Also, Penny has set up a forum over at jeroxie.com for those participating.
The first theme: stone fruit. I received a cookbook from my new house-mate for Christmas. He’s quite the baker, and had noticed a gap in my cookbook arsenal (though to be fair, I don’t think he perused the complete Margarret Fulton book – lots of baked goods there! – so he found a baking cookbook which he thought might be suitable. He said something along the lines of “the recipes aren’t too hard, and the chef is a good-looking guy!”. Eric Lanlard even has an endorsement from Liz Hurley on the cover, so he must be the bomb, right?


I decided to make the Apricot and Honey Tart, only apricots have been rather lacklustre this season, so I thought I’d just substitute peaches. The interesting and strange thing about this recipe – and I read it three times over to be sure – is that there is NO HONEY in it!?!? I’m thinking that might be some sort of glaring error. Because seriously, the title says Apricot and Honey. Anyway, I followed the recipe, except for the fruit substitution.


The other confusing thing about this recipe is that it calls for a baking sheet, but then the picture is in a rectangular tart tin. Quelle bizarre! Again, I followed the recipe, only the filling was clearly not solid enough, so I built extra walls out of puff pastry to contain it.


To be honest, it didn’t taste that great. The cream cheese mixture was too cinamon-ny, and although there was a nice punch of peach, it lacked sweetness. Perhaps it needed honey?

Yigit Pura’s Chocolate SoufflĂ©

For those of you who don’t follow me on twitter, you might not know that I’m an avid viewer of Top Chef. Top Chef is the show that Masterchef should have been. It’s actual chefs, competing Next Top Model style, cooking through a series of themed challenges and being eliminated one by one until one is left standing – the Top Chef.

Recently, the show had a spin off – Top Chef Just Desserts [NB: spoiler in link]. Same format, only with pastry chefs and bakers. So of course I was going to watch – desserts! And pastry chefs! Hot. Gay. Pastry chefs. Well, one.

In any case, @jillianjtl and I spent the best part of three months swooning and mooning over Yigit, so when it came time to pop our respective soufflĂ© cherries – as we were both soufflĂ© virgins until recently – we knew we wanted to be in Yigit’s hands.

Now the recipe was a bit more involved than just the souffle, but the ice cream was a little beyond our reach at the time, so we just thought we’d tackle the souffle first.

As you can see, the little soufflĂ©s rose beautifully!We paired it with store-bought vanilla ice cream and passionfruit. I really liked how dark and bitter the chocolate was in the soufflĂ© – it was interestingly rich and light at the same time. And paired beautifully with the sweetness of the ice cream and the tartness of the passionfruit.

om nom nom nom nom!

Cooking with Mum: Loh Baak Gao

When I go to yum cha, one of my favourite items is the loh baak gao (that’s my Romanisation, in case you’re wondering; it might be wrong, but that’s how it sounds to my ear). It’s often referred to as radish cake in English. Something is lost in this translation, because goh in Cantonese refers to something creamy or gelatinous in consistency. It’s used variously in the words for cream, toothpaste, and various (usually steamed) desserts involving glutinous rice flour.

But enough with the language lesson. Loh baak gao is a savoury dish, with a dense texture, not unlike a flourless chocolate cake, but not as heavy, and not quite so heavy. It’s usually cut into tiles and pan-fried at most yum cha services. And while I love it there, not surprisingly, very few restaurants make it was well as my mother, in my opinion. So imagine my surprise – and I’ll admit, disappointment – when mum revealed to me that she didn’t have some arcane family recipe for the dish, but rather her version came from a Chinese cookbook!

Anyway, here’s the recipe (adjusted slightly by Mama cloudcontrol).

– 600gm rice flour (mum says the red packet, not the green packet – that’s glutinous!)
– 60gm potato starch (you can use cornflour instead if you want)
– 1.5L water
– 1kg white radish/daikon (I really still don’t quite get the difference some days)
– 4-6 Chinese sausages
– 150gm dried shrimp
– 100gm shiitake mushrooms (optional – a good alternative if you’re making this for vegetarians)
– 1 small knob of ginger
– 2 tbsp vegetable oil

You’ll need a wok, and a big steamer. Also a deep metal dish, or a baking tin. A spring-form tin here is very useful.

1. Soak the dried shrimp in a little boiling water.

2. Peel and julienne your daikon. It doesn’t have to be super-fine, but this will affect the texture of end product. I’d recommend you need it at least as fine as 5mm, if not finer. But it’s a preference thing. Some people like the end result a bit chunky.

3. Dice the Chinese sausage and/or shiitake mushrooms.

4. Add about 1L of the water to the rice flour.

5. Using a broad knife or cleaver, smash the knob of ginger, like you would a clove of garlic before you skin it.

6. Heat the wok (med-high heat) and add the vegetable oil. When it starts smoking, add the knob of ginger. A few seconds later, add the Chinese sausage. Fry this off until the sausage starts to brown.

7. Drain the dried shrimp and add to the wok. Also add the shiitake mushrooms now if you’re adding them. Continue frying for another 30 seconds or so.

8. Add the daikon, as well as the remaining water. Turn the heat down to medium, and continue to cook, stirring regularly. You’ll need to cook this through for about 5-10 minutes, until the daikon has softened a bit. It doesn’t need to be fully cooked yet, just kinda limp and a touch translucent.

9. At this point, remove the ginger and then add in your glutinous flour mixture. Be careful to continue stirring as you add; you don’t want it to cook on impact with the wok.

10. Continue cooking, stirring constantly. When the mixture takes on the consistency of a runny dough, it’s ready. Remove it from the heat.

11. Use a spatula or chan to transfer the mixture into a greased metal dish or tin. Transfer this dish to the steamer, and steam for about 45 minutes.


You can check if it’s done like any cake: an inserted skewer should come out clean.

Let it cool, and then slice it up. It’s easier to cut if you’ve refrigerated it for a few hours. You can just heat it up in the microwave or steamer, or you can pan fry it. Use a pan on a relatively high heat – no-stick is good, or else don’t skimp on the oil. You want the edges a bit crispy.

The way I was brought up eating it (which I still maintain is the best) was in the Vietnamese bot chien style, pan-fried with eggs and diced pickled radish and spring onions.

Melbourne Food Blogger’s Dinner – post mortem (post partum?)

Last Monday heralded probably the most momentous event of my short food blogging career. If you could call eating food and ranting about it a career. Some people do.

I was part of a crack team of food bloggers who took over the kitchen of Miss Jackson cafe, to cook for an audience of 45 paying guests. I guess the aim was to experience what chefs go through in running a busy kitchen every day. Flipping the coin, if you will.

Taking the lead from the Sydney Food Blogger’s Dinner, Penny had approached the kind folk at Miss Jackson to see if they’d be interested in hosting the same sort of event. They said yes, and the roller-coaster ride began!

Initially I was going to be responsible for designing the pre-dessert, which felt like a manageable and fun challenge. After another blogger was forced to pull out, I eventually ponied up and agreed to take on main course. Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid, right?

Thus began my great porcine experiments of 2010. I embarked on a heavily pork-laden diet about a month, which surprisingly didn’t result in massive weight gain. During this month, I would learn how to properly tie a rolled pork loin, then render that technique redundant with the discovery of transglutaminase (thanks to Penny), as well as learning how to produce Dong Po-like gelatinous pork skin. I also taught myself to ‘turn’ vegetables, though I remain still something of a hack. My intention in participating in this venture was always to push myself and learn new things, so I was already ahead. Yet the biggest lessons were still to come!

A couple of weeks into my porcine studies, we had our team trial dinner. We each produced the ‘draft’ version of our dishes, and critiqued one another. It was such a helpful experience, and I only wish I had a team of tasters and a dry run before every dinner party I hosted! With notes made, and adjustments planned, we all went our separate ways, and honed our recipes in isolation again for the next two weeks.

I think it was a couple of days later that I started re-purposing pork into other meals. Congee became the default go-to when faced with a cooked loin of pork I didn’t know what to do with. When all else fails, double-cook it, right? Another week later, I started giving away my experimental pork, as I couldn’t face eating yet another meal of pork.

It was about this point that I thought I had the project in hand. Of course, this was a naive and foolish notion. Because although I may have perfected my recipes, cooking at home is spectacularly different from catering for a crowd of 45 in a commercial kitchen. I use the word catering here because in hindsight, the event was more like a catering event than running a restaurant kitchen. And while I think I’ve gained something of an insight into what’s involved in running a restaurant or cafe, I’ve learned a lot more about the logistics of event catering through this adventure.

The Sunday night before the dinner, the team turns up to start the prep work; stocks are prepared, meat is marinated, and about a thousand shallots are peeled. Three hours in, I have a diva meltdown moment when I realise the pork loins that the butchers have butterflied for me have been cut too thick. It was really the stuff of reality TV, though I’m really glad it wasn’t captured on video! It was completely my own fault when passing on instructions to the butchers, but a jarring setback nonetheless. But the show must go on, and I continued to roll the pork loins anyway. They ended up about double the size of the ones I’d been making at home, so cooking time was about to become a guessing game.

After a night of fitful sleep, I headed back in on Monday morning – the main event was about to begin. Having the most prep work left to do, I was the first to arrive, and was extremely grateful and relieved to find that we’d have some help from the kitchen hands at Miss Jackson. So I set to searing my pork belly and beginning the braising process, while palming off the task of peeling carrots.

The team turned up as the day rolled on, and the kitchen became quite the bustling hive of activity. We definitely gave the stove and ovens quite a workout! And at the behest of Miss Jackson’s chef Sarah (with much hearty agreement from Jess and myself, but utter disdain from Mat) the kitchen’s work anthem quickly became Willow Smith’s Whip My Hair. Think what you will, ‘cos we don’t let haters keep us off our grind.

The afternoon quickly disappeared, and before we knew it, it was 6:30 and guests had started arriving. Mat and Jess kicked into high gear, knocking out platter after platter of awesome canapĂ©s. CanapĂ©s so awesome that people were quite obviously too busy eating to take photos of, as I haven’t been able to track down any! Though I’m sure Henry (our official photographer) has some, because he took over 2000 shots over one and a half days. In any case, I think my favourite thing I ate all night was still those sage and white anchovy fritters. There was also a pea veloute with slow-cooked quail egg and crackling crumbs, and bresaola with goat’s cheese and cornichons on sourdough.

Good reviews started rolling in, and the pressure was on. As soon as they were done serving, Penny set up to lead the team in plating the entrĂ©e course. Ox tongue was sliced, sauces were brought to temperature, polenta was vigorously – and unendingly – stirred in shifts, and the assembly line kicked into gear. It was really quite a marvel to see everyone working together as a team, and it still fills me with pride to think back on how well we rallied together when it came to crunch time.

Penny’s entrĂ©e was a double braised ox tongue with polenta, parsley puree and apple and sourdough crumbs. It truly was a memorable dish, and I’m fairly sure it would convert many an offal-averse punter.

 Photo courtesy of @mutemonkey (Melbourne Gastronome).

Once the last plate of Penny’s entrĂ©e was sent out, the team swiftly moved to clean up and get my main course ready to go. My adrenalin was pumping, and the stress level just hit an eight. The Jurassic pork loins came out of the oven, which had somehow crept up from the 150 degrees where it was supposed to be to 180 degrees in the fifteen minutes since I had last checked on it! Yeah, commercial ovens don’t have thermostats. Stress level nine.

I started the beets and carrots glazing, and left them in the capable hands of Mat and Ed. I moved to slicing up the pork belly, while the rest of the team had a last minute pow-wow about how to plate the dish. Evidently, I don’t deal well with stress level nine. My ability to multi-task goes out the window, and a wall of silent grumpiness raises itself around me, partly to shield myself from further anxiety, but I think mostly because otherwise I’d likely explode. And I don’t really do the exploding thing.

Somehow, while I was intently portioning pork belly, everything else started to come together. Remember those mighty forces? They manifested in the form of my fellow food bloggers. Swiftly executing the (overly ambitious?) boldness that was the main course I had devised. Penny, Ed and Mat managed to portion and plate the side dishes, without me needing to do any more than to check the portion sizes. Penny then set to slicing the loin. It was very much the moment of truth, and I breathed a massive sigh of relief when Penny announced that they weren’t overdone. Though in truth, I think she was just being supportive, and I would have preferred them a little less well done. Sarah and Jess started composing the plates, and they started disappearing out into the dining room.

Pork two ways: Roast pork loin with a miso panko crust with a pickled ginger aioli and cider-braised pork belly, served with baby beetroot and carrots.

 Photo courtesy of @mutemonkey (Melbourne Gastronome).

From rear, clockwise: Radish and cucumber slaw, rosemary and duck fat roasted potatoes, asparagus with anchovy butter.

 Photo courtesy of @mutemonkey (Melbourne Gastronome).

Was I happy with what went out? Maybe 75% happy. There was a lot of room for improvement, and of course now with hindsight, there are many things I would have done differently. They say you’re your own worst critic, and that might be true.

But I digress, because there were still two courses to be served. Most of us set to cleaning up the tornado-struck kitchen after the last main course left the kitchen, and Ed moved to prepare his avant-dessert: a green tea and mint granita soused with gin.

 Photo courtesy of @mutemonkey (Melbourne Gastronome).

Not having sampled this before it went out to the customers, I was really impressed with how refreshing this little shot of granita was. It really was a great palate cleanser after all of the flavours I’d managed to pack into my main course.

At this point, we were encouraged to actually leave the kitchen and face the music, though none of us were really that eager to. It was a little daunting to meet the people you’ve just fed. When we finally did go out into the dining room, there was nothing but praise – some more muted than others – but when you’re cooking for such a supportive audience, I wonder if we could really have expected candid feedback. I for one welcome it, so if you’re reading this and you were complimentary on the night, but perhaps had some suggestions to make, please make them (anonymously if you feel the need) below. Like I said, this was meant to be a learning experience for us all.

Sarah started composing her epic three-piece desserts, comprising a trifle with strawberry liqueur and white chocolate mousse, a creme brulee tart, and a strawberries and cream semi-freddo sandwich.

 Photo courtesy of @mutemonkey (Melbourne Gastronome).

I think many people struggled to fit the desserts in, because we’d fed them a lot of food up to this point. Which was a shame, because each of those desserts was delicious.

I’d like to thank everyone who came and supported our crazy cooking experiments, especially those who didn’t even know us before the event, and were brave enough to take a punt on a team of culinary unknowns. I’d also like to thank my fellow bloggers for being such an awesome crew to work with, and especially for steering me through my moments of incapacity and self-doubt. Finally, I’d like to thank the team at Miss Jackson for all of their support, patience and guidance throughout the whole process. It may have come together in a single night, but there was a lot of work leading up to that point, and it wouldn’t have happened without a lot of courage, diligence and faith from everyone involved.

If you’ve made it through this far, then you’ll probably be interested to know that Miss Jackson are planning on running this event on an annual basis after the amazingly positive response. I look forward to seeing what the next crop of food bloggers comes up with, and it’ll certainly be a much more relaxed night next year in the dining room. Because I’ll definitely be there!

So what have others had to say about the night?

Penny’s take
Bryan’s recollection

Melbourne Food Blogger’s Dinner

So after just over a year of this food blogging business, a year of judging others, the time has come for me to let others judge me. Along with a few other local food bloggers, I’m part of a rag tag team who will be putting our food where our mouths (? that mixed metaphor didn’t really work) are. We’re getting our cook on, and inviting the public to test our mettle in the kitchen.

We’ve dreamed up a five course menu, and we’ll see if we’re able to bring that dream to life on the night. Here’s hoping! The menu will include ox tongue, pork belly, anchovies, gin and strawberries, and there will not be any variations – no, there are no vegetarian options – so if you have any food intolerances, please mention them in your email when booking, so we can make sure we won’t be poisoning you!  

The team:
Penny (aka @jeroxie
Ed (aka @tomatom)
Jess (aka @thatjessho)
Mat (aka @cookinwithgoths)
and myself, with a bit of help from the crew at Miss Jackson, of course.

So, the details:

Where:            Miss Jackson
                         2/19 Grey Street St. Kilda (enter via Jackson Street)
When:              6:30pm Monday 8th November
Price:               $100 for 5 courses with matched wines
Bookings:        missjackson@missjackson.com.au

The fine print:

Please note that bookings will be taken by email only, for a maximum of four per booking. Payment will be by direct deposit, required within 1 week of confirmation, and will be non-refundable.

So come along and support and/or heckle us – seats are limited, so get in quick!