Monday, December 6, 2010

Cooking December

The final Cooking Your Calendar dinner party arrived amidst the avalanche of social events that make every December simultaneously enjoyable and exhausting. Hot on the heels of last month's beachside BBQ came a tricky little fried fowl dish that was to be our very last, and arguably most delicious De Bortoli dinner for 2010. For December, Tim Keenan took our taste buds to Italy with his recipe for Quail Saltimbocca and Sicilian Eggplant Caponata. We couldn't quite get to Sicily ourselves, but as it turned out, Camperdown was a perfectly acceptable alternative.

Quail choreography

Our hosts for December were the artist couple Robyn Backen and Ian Hobbs. Acclaimed curator of Aboriginal art Djon Mundine and his partner, theatre producer Annemaree Dalziel, also attended, along with Ian's young daughter Olivia. And let's not forget Max the dog.

Annemaree & Robyn lock in dates with the DeBo calendar

We made our way over to Robyn and Ian's home by cab, armed with bags of food and wine. In the taxi, Rachel began quizzing Drew and Daniel about whether all the key ingredients were on board. Quail? Check. Pinot? Check. Camera? Check. Etc? Check. What about the eggplants? Drew and Daniel, who had done the shopping for this event, couldn't recall buying those. Given the quail is served with Sicilian Eggplant Caponata, there seemed to be a problem. The cabdriver dropped Daniel off in search for eggplants, while Drew and Rachel headed to our host's home. Easily rectified, we hoped this would be the only mild crisis bearing in mind Rach's dramatic fall from grace with last month's "cretatta" meltdown.

Djon, Robyn & gratuitous product placement

A good half hour later Daniel arrived with three eggplants, drenched in sweat and with a mild case of cranky pants. But there's something about Robyn Backen's gorgeous laugh that melts the darkest of moods. There's also something to be said for a healing glass of bubbles! Rach and Drew got busy with the food preparation, while Daniel snapped away with the camera. Robyn augmented the wine supplies with a vodka punch, so the festive cheer was free flowing right from the get-go. When Djon and Annemarie arrived they were already totally blissed-out, having just had a massage nearby in Newtown. Daniel took that opportunity to shock everyone by showing his 'cupping' bruises on his back from a recent massage - truly horrible. Ian hastily tried to explain 'cupping' to a very bewildered Olivia.

Gorgeous Robyn poses with Gorgeous Us

Back in the kitchen there was still work to be done. Loaded with bones, but lean on meat, we feared the quail wouldn't satisfy everyone's appetites on their own. So Rachel came up with a side dish of Baked Tomatoes Stuffed with Caramelized Leek Risotto, teamed with a green salad and crusty bread. Drew had the job of cooking the quail, which was no mean feat, given there were eight delicate birds to took cook, each wrapped in prosciutto and a single sage leaf. Negotiating the fry pan with Max the dog trying to sniff his crotch, Drew managed to pull off the quail with style, grace and dignity intact!

Quail Saltimbocca and Sicilian Eggplant Caponata

At the table, conversation revolved around art world gossip and various art shows coming up - such as Robyn's participation in The Ghost Show, which Daniel curated for Hazelhurst Regional Gallery. We also had a laugh recounting to our guests tales from our year of cooking the De Bortoli calendar, along with all the general dinner party banter that is hard to recall the next day.

Food's up!

At midnight, Cinderella style, we took our leave. But we ended up back at Drew and Daniel's apartment, chatting about the highlights of the year we have spent and looking back over the blog. It was 2am till when the party finally ended. But the party never really ends.

Daniel, Drew & Rachel sign off from a year of wine, food, friends and hangovers

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Announcing December... And the Rosé Revolution

We source only the freshest poultry

This evening we are not just announcing our final December cook-up, we're also getting aboard the De Bortoli Rosé Revolution. Which means the good folk at De Bortoli mailed us a Rosé Trio Trail Pack and we agreed to get on Twitter and spruik the hell out of it. We all know social networking and drinking go hand in hand. How many times have we tweeted or status-updated fascinating insights into the human condition, that in the cold sober light of the day after are, in reality, embarrassing reminders never to mix alcohol and technology. "Don't text and drive", as they say. (And if you do, quickly delete the evidence the next day).

Meanwhile, as we spend the evening drinking complimentary rosé and discussing life and love in 140 characters or less, we'd also like to announce that, just around the corner, is our final dinner party for our Cooking Your Calendar project. Yes, December will be Magic Again, as Kate Bush once said. And that "magic" will be in the guise of what promises to be a delicious dish by Tim Keenan called Quail Saltimbocca with Sicilian Eggplant Caponata. Stay tuned as we hail quail in the coming week, and meanwhile strike a rosé.

If Kate says "December will be Magic Again", you better believe it.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Cooking November

Calm before the storm

Yesterday, down in beautiful coastal Coledale, we held our second last Cooking Your Calendar event of the year with Margot De Bortoli's Salmon, Mascarpone & Dill Crepes and Spinach & Filo Tarts on the menu. To take advantage of the summer sunshine, we decided to host a classic long leisurely lunch, kicking off with the crepes and tarts as starters, then progressing into a relaxed BBQ later in the afternoon. Our guest list included graphic designer David Corbet, Art in Australia's Managing Editor Michael Fitzgerald, interior designer Sean Morris, art teacher Iain Wallace, architect Craig Casey, artist Michael Keighery and his partner Vic, Wollongong City Gallery public program coordinator Vivian Vidulich and Memphis the dog. Most of our guest list are, what Vivian describes as, "art casualties" living on the south coast, as well as a couple of Sydney friends who'd made the drive down from the city.

The wheels fall off!

Trashing the "cretattas"

With our guests arriving at 1pm, we began our preparations mid morning. All we had to do was whip up a batch of crepes, make a few filo tarts, then knock together a few salads for the barbie. How hard could it be? Well, thanks to Rachel's vagueness, very difficult as it turns out. At about 11am, Rachel started on both Margot's appetizers. Dutifully following the two separate recipes, Rachel first prepared a batter for the crepes, then set that mixture aside for the required half an hour to allow the batter to bind. In the meantime, she started on the filo tarts. After placing the filo pastry into muffin trays, she mixed the eggs, spinach and two cheeses for the tart filling. Everything was going to plan. Still an hour till our guests arrived... easy. But that's when things went very badly wrong. Instead of pouring the eggy-cheesey tart filling into the filo cases, Rachel inadvertently used the crepe batter instead. She protests it was a simple enough mistake. After all, both mixtures looked much the same, sitting there side-by-side on the kitchen bench. Happily unaware of her mistake, Rachel popped the "crepe-tarts" into the oven and watched them cook. Then she turned her attention to Step Two of the crepe recipe: frying lovely thin crepes that any French cook would be proud of. And that's when, with horror, she realised her error. No more crepe mixture, a batch of wasted filo tarts, and all she had left was a bowl full of raw egg, spinach and cheese. But, as Daniel pointed out, she had invented a totally new recipe: "cretattas". Panic set in and with only one hour to go, we had to cook another batch of tartlets, another batch of crepe mixture and still finish all our side dishes for the BBQ. Yes, Rachel does get the prize for being the biggest space cadet in Coledale, and perhaps the entire eastern seaboard of Australia.

Spinach and Filo Tarts

Salmon Mascarpone & Dill Crepes

Amazingly, everything came together quite literally at the last minute. When our guests arrived we had elegant salmon crepes and delicious warm tartlets plated-up, with chilled De Bortoli's Rococo Blanc de Blanc ready to pour. We were certainly in need of a glass of bubbles by that stage. After catching up with friends over drinks, we headed to the table for a BBQ feast where we lingered for hours. Very generously, our guests had brought with them a mouthwatering selection of cakes. So dessert was a "cake off" of a beautiful custardy fruit flan, a dense banana and mango gateaux and the most spectacular white chocolate mousse cake that looked like some sort of sculpture. Lunch turned into dinner as we kept grazing and drinking well into the evening.

Salad Days

BBQ King

"Art Casualties"


Food's Up

Calculating the calorie damage

More Piss-Elegance

Michael contemplates cake

Walking Memphis

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Announcing November

Will pumpkin be served at the next DeBo?

We can’t believe it, but on Saturday 13th November we will be hosting our penultimate Cooking Your Calendar dinner party. Is it just us, or has 2010 just evaporated before our eyes? We know that time flies when you are having fun, but this is downright spooky (or was that Halloween, which we celebrated at the end of October - see pic attached). It's officially "silly season" again. To usher in the pre-Christmas partying madness (that we all know starts on Melbourne Cup Day…) we are heading down to Daniel’s dad’s beach house on the South Coast to make the most of its beautiful beachside location.

This month we are cooking two of Margot De Bortoli's recipes, Salmon Mascarpone & Dill Crepes and Spinach and Filo Tarts which we will serve as appetizers alongside De Bortoli’s Rococo Blanc de Blanc. Both recipes look delicious and thankfully easy to prepare so we aren’t predicting any major stumbles this month. After that, we’ll be cooking a big eclectic BBQ with a variety of different side-dishes and salads. Joining us will be an equally eclectic group of friends who we'll introduce you to in the wash-up for next Saturday's big event. If the weather is sunny it might just turn into a beach party so don't forget the board shorts and bikinis. Oh, and fake tan. See you next week!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Cooking October

Ferghal the Masterchef

Little Hughie meets the meat

Well, a day ago we faced the most daunting of our Cooking Your Calendar recipes - the suckling pig. Pulling off a whole beast is something that none of us have ever done in our lives and we approached the task with justifiable trepidation. 24 hours on and we can say without hesitation that Locale's head chef Tim Keenan's suckling pig recipe served with spiced apple puree is one of the most delicious dishes on the 2010 De Bortoli calendar. And we can also say with confidence that our BBQ'ed version of this dish would rival any that Tim Keenan has done in the past. Unfortunately, none of the Cooking Your Calendar team can take any credit for last nights' runaway success. Instead we have to throw bouquets to Rachel's brother-in-law Ferghal for taking the reins.

Rachel makes a fist of seasoning the pig

Babe on the barbie

But let's just rewind a bit. This month's Cooking Your Calendar dinner party took place at Rachel's beautiful old family home in the Blue Mountains. We were joined by Rachel's sister Meg, Meg's husband Ferghal and their kids and a collection of close old school friends, most of which made the drive up from the city.

Karen balances the baby and the booze

Daniel shows Meg how much he needs botox

Nervous of the task before us, the day started early. Daniel did a phone interview about the anticipation around the night's dinner party with Melbourne radio station Joy FM on Pete Dillon's foodie segment Cravings. Meanwhile, Rachel went to the butcher to collect our pre-ordered suckling pig. When the butcher hauled the pig out of the coolroom, Rachel, her sister Meg and other fellow shoppers took a collective gasp. Here was a much bigger pig than we'd anticipated. It certainly wasn't Babe. It certainly wasn't pretty. And it most certainly wasn't going to fit in the oven. What had we been thinking? Worrying that we couldn't find Sardinian myrtle was suddenly the least of our problems.

20 year reunion for Campbell and Karen

Finnian's tango in the night

Thank god, once we got the pig home, Ferghal took over. He cranked up the BBQ, put the pig on a spitroast rack and even scored the meat for us. We helped seasoned the skin, but otherwise the suckling pig was Ferg's show.

You wouldn't think Jane just had twins a few weeks ago

Justin shows off one of the twins

Once the pig was on the BBQ, it was time to do the side dishes. And those, at least, we can take some responsibility for. Rachel got started on the apple sauce spiced with cloves, cinnamon and star anise. Drew prepared a mountain of roasted pumpkin, chickpea and cous cous salad. Meg helped out with one of life's favourite comfort foods, a sexed-up version of cauliflower au gratin. Daniel played with the kids.

A crackling success

Rip it to shreds

Get some pork on your fork

By the time our guests had arrived, things had really come together. It was time to enjoy a few glasses of wine, wander around the garden and catch-up on old times. And there was a lot of catching up to do. Jane had recently had twins, Karen and Campbell hadn't seen each other for twenty years and we'd all seen and done a lot since school. But before long conversations had to come to a pause, because it was time to take the pig off the BBQ and serve dinner. All we can say is that it's a pity Jane is vegetarian because the standout was Ferghal's succulent sweet pork. After gorging on our main meal, we still managed to demolish our dessert which was an Armenian spice cake, made by Drew and Daniel's neighbour Jennifer Cufar.

Seconds anyone?

But the night didn't end after coffee and cake. No. We all gathered around Meg's fire and spent the evening drinking more wine and talking until 3.30am in the morning. By that stage, Meg had given Campbell, Drew, Daniel and Don each a facial. Ferghal had sensibly gone to bed by that time. We hadn't planned this at all. We've all woken up feeling a little on the delicate side this morning but at least the guys have radiant complexions.

8 Little Pigs

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Anouncing October

Suckling Miss Piggy fighting against the rotisserie

Well, October is suddenly upon us and, with it, brings our hardest challenge yet: cooking Tim Keenan's suckling pig served with spiced apple puree and De Bortoli's Yarra Valley Reserve Release Chardonnay. We're confident we can manage spiced apple puree (even Daniel could be trusted with that part) but cooking a whole beast? We're nervous. Really nervous. It's a first for all of us, so we're going to need a few glasses of the Chardonnay just for courage alone! The much anticipated "Day of the Piglet" is scheduled for Saturday 16 October, and preparations have already commenced. Rachel has ordered the pig which is coming from a farm in Bathurst. Sourcing the Sardinian myrtle is proving to be harder, so we are now wondering about possible alternatives? Maybe a quick email to Tim Keenan is in order?

For a change of scene, we'll be heading up to Rachel's beautiful family home in the Blue Mountains where we will be joined by Rachel's sister Meg Roberts and her young family, as well as a collection of friends, including Sydney personal trainer extraordinaire Campbell Bannerman, film and ad man Don Cameron, and old school buddy Karen Muir. We're also hoping for a special guest appearance of another of our "nearest and dearests", Jane Renneberg, who has recently just had twin boys. We'd love it if Jane dropped in for a well deserved glass of bubbles so we could all celebrate her new additions! Pity Rachel's dad Gary is away because he's a dab hand at cooking full beasts. Oh well, we're just going to have to wing it. One way or another, being surrounded by family and old friends is bound to be a good thing. If we stuff things up they're more likely to be forgive us!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Media Tarts

The Area News, Monday 20 September 2010. p.3

We're in the media again... This time for local paper for the Griffith region called The Area News. Journalist Alexis Carey interviewed Rachel about our modest project, which you can read above. (Alexis forgot to mention how much Pete has been missed from the project since he moved to Melbourne - but he's moving back to Sydney soon, so we hope to have him back as a very special guest).

Monday, September 13, 2010

Cooking September

The Divine Miss White gets the party started

So the year is steamrolling on and here we are, well into September. With 9 months of De Bortoli dinners under our belt now, we have a pretty good formula for getting each night right in terms of guests, locations and working out who will do what in and around the kitchen.

This kitchen ain't big enough for two egos

As usual it was going to be a bit of a joint effort, but Rachel had set herself a slippery and smelly individual task that no one else was keen to challenge her for. Tim Keenan is Head Chef at the De Bortoli's Yarra Valley Estate and this month he took us into our first fishy feast with his delicious recipe, Pan Fried Trout Fillets with Fennel, Potatoes, Marjoram & Capers.

Rachel toasts her creation

Alcohol may well kill brain cells, but fortunately, fish is brain food. So we figure that everyone was a winner this month as we indulged in generous helpings of both. The De Bortoli Emeri Sparkling Pinot Grigio was the weapon of choice in the assault on our grey matter, but on the defensive was a frontline of succulent Trout fillets, each one more Omega-rich and bursting with essential oils than the last. Now I'm no neurolgist, but I can still competently compose a semi-logical blog entry, so I think it's safe to say that our friend the fish was the victor on this occasion.

Diva central

With brains largely intact we enjoyed a kind of celebratory evening, toasting our guests; artist and performer Liam Benson who is currently gracing the cover of runway magazine, and social media Queen, Catherine White (aka The Divine Miss White), returning from 3 months in New York. Starting with some drinks on the roof overlooking Potts Point, we indulged in a quick photo shoot. Despite the warm Spring day, once the sun was lost behind Sydney's skyline we had to retreat to the warmth of the apartment where, conveniently, the rest of the grog was.

Daniel and Liam swap hair
(Photo: Catherine White)

But it was pretty much straight into the kitchen for trout-wrangler Rachel, who had already spent the afternoon engaging in the masochistic labour of pin-boning every fillet of fish. Tim's recipe may be to die for in the culinary sense, but certainly not literally. So with almost an obsessive-compulsive fervor Rachel delicately removed every tiny bone, brandishing only a set of tweezers and the mouth of a wharfie. Then with the choking hazards taken care of it was on to the actual cooking, a much more pleasurable part of the process. From here on in Rach was salting lemons, frying fennel and blanching potatoes to make a wonderfully tasty combination of flavours. The trout came up deliciously crispy and we all cleaned our plates feeling a little bit smarter.

Rachel pretends Heath is Leo Sayer

Armed with her fancy camera, Catherine earned honours as guest photographer when Daniel and Heath weren't snapping away. Rachel revealed her secret passion for Leo Sayer. Liam dazzled with a gift of homemade lemon butter (a family recipe). Heath did the dishes like a good boy. As the night went on, the bubbles kept doing the rounds despite the fact that it was a school night. The recycling bin was quite healthy come morning, as was the lingering scent of trout in the apartment.

Liam poses with his artwork Bleeding Glitter from Daniel & Drew's collection (Photo: Catherine White)