Friday, July 23, 2010

Announcing Christmas in July

The perfect Christmas in July soundtrack:
Jan Terri's "Rock and Roll Santa"

It's almost the end of July already, and we are well and truly in winter's icy grip. Given that the cold weather is perfect for open fires, hearty roasts and red wine, we thought we'd take yet another detour from our usual format by holding a "Christmas in July" dinner before the month is up.

And so, on July 31st, we are heading back to our friend Holly Williams' cozy inner west home to cook up a Yuletide feast, complete with traditional mulled wine. Now, mulled wine is something we haven't prepared before. In fact, no one can remember even trying it, since it is naturally never on the menu during our sweaty 30 degrees-plus Aussie Christmas lunches. But Holly assures us that mulled wine is delightful and that she has the perfect recipe. All we need to do is bring a bottle of red, ideally either a shiraz, cabernet or some sort of easy-drinking blend. At this stage we think we'll use De Bortoli's Windy Peak Cabernet Merlot because it has balanced berry and plum flavours that should be just the thing for spicing up.

Now we just have to decide whether:
a) to roast a stuffed turkey or do delicious pork with crackling?
b) to have a Secret Santa gift system?
c) get some mistletoe and have a "kiss in"?

Tough decisions. See you next week!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Cooking July

Potts Point is a relaxed sort of place on a Sunday morning. Cafes brim with city-dwellers lingering over brunch. People sun themselves for hours in Fitzroy Gardens while they read the newspapers. Others just mindlessly dawdle and daydream around the boutiques and shops.

Daniel and Natasha crack open the Rococo

But this Sunday morning, relaxation, dawdling and daydreaming were definitely not on the agenda for the Cooking Your Calendar team. For one, we were tackling our cooking nemesis, polenta, a dish we have failed to impress with so far this year. Even though Melissa De Bortoli’s Roasted Rosemary Polenta Chips recipe seems simple enough, in our experience you can never underestimate polenta. So we were already a bit nervous about whether we could do justice to Melissa's dish. We also had a series of “small plate” tapas-style starters to prepare by mid afternoon to accompany the polenta chips. Unexpectedly, however, it turned out we had a few crises to deal with first. To start with, Drew couldn’t find any fresh sardines fillets which he planned to lightly crumb, pan fry and then serve with a homemade gribiche sauce. After much pacing and deliberation at the fishmongers, Drew decided to make the recipe using fresh flathead fillets instead, and simply forge ahead.

Rachel re-enacts the meatball meltdown

Rachel had decided to bake a full round of Camembert cheese. But, in addition, she bought some pre-made gourmet meatballs from a local butcher to cook ahead of time, as a way of quite literally “beefing up” the meal. Oh dear, bad idea. After an hour of watching the meatballs disintegrate in the fry pan into nothing more than saucy mince (which, mind you, Daniel happily ate for lunch) Rachel was in an apoplectic rage. Livid and running out of time, she gathered up the remaining uncooked meatballs and marched back to the butcher to demand a refund. Witnesses later said they had spotted a furious Medusa storming down Macleay street with a Tupperware container of mince in her hands at about 1.20pm. So it was back to the drawing board for Rachel too.

Special guests arrive

With our menu plan hastily re-jigged, we arrived at the glorious Art Deco apartment of our friends Natasha, Michael and their adorable daughter Saskia in desperate need of a glass of wine. First stop was Natasha and Michael's roof top terrace for a glass of bubbles to unwind, catch-up and have a laugh about Rachel's meatball meltdown. Two rainbow lorikeets joined us to watch the sun set over the city from what surely must be one of the best vantage points in Sydney.

The baked camembert moments before its annihilation

Back in Natasha and Michael's apartment, Drew and Rachel then got down to business, turning out each tapas dish in turn. First we served the baked Camembert cheese with some warmed marinated olives. This was the first time Rachel had tried baked Camembert cheese, but it certainly won't be the last. It is essentially a fail safe and utterly decadent fondue that is worth every single calorie.

Drew rates his flathead fillets a perfect 10

Next came Drew’s delicious crumbed flat fillets with the gribiche sauce. Technically speaking, fish isn’t a dish you would serve with red wine, but since there are no rules when it comes to wine and food Drew wasn't worried about serving his dish alongside De Bortoli's Will's Hill Shiraz.

Saskia minds the bar while the grown-ups toast

For our third course, in lieu of meatballs, we served slices of panfried chorizo speared with warmed dates together with the crispy Roasted Rosemary Polenta Chips. And this time, hurrah, our polenta was a success. We all agreed that the herby flavour of the chips went particularly well with the soft and rounded Will's Hill Shiraz.

The Roasted Rosemary Polenta Chips are served

But it didn't stop there because Natasha and Michael had very kindly prepared dessert. This was beautifully sweet marinated strawberries served with rich vanilla ice cream, as well as a cheese plate of gorgonzola cheese and crackers. Our humble night of wine and tapas had turned out to be quite a feast.

Saskia presents her playlist of cabaret showtunes

By the end of the evening we had been treated to some Liza Minnelli cabaret classics and collectively tried to revive John Farnham's career, thanks to two-year old Saskia's very mature taste in music. After tucking Saskia into bed, the grown-ups debated the merits of the current "Paths to Abstraction" exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW and pondered that age-old question - can a good book ever be made into an equally good film? Drew's suggestion that The Exorcist was a better movie than it was a book, was perhaps the only example that didn't warrant debate.

But waking up this morning, another question loomed large in our minds. And that is: Where is Will's Hill? Does it have nice view? Can it cure our shiraz hangovers?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Announcing July

Bring it on!

So July is here and we can't believe we're now half way through the calendar! To mark the midway point De Bortoli kindly sent us another shipment of wine, as you can see in the picture above. This month we are keeping things close to home. Definitely no more trips to the Wild Wild Inner West for us. Instead, on Sunday 18th July, we are simply sauntering across Darlinghurst Road to the beautiful apartment of fellow "Potts Pointilists" and art-lovers, Natasha Nadj, Michael Scheib and their gorgeous two year old daughter Saskia. And for a change we have decided to meet in the late afternoon so we can enjoy the simply jawdropping city view from Natasha and Michael's rooftop terrace. The recipe this month is Melissa De Bortoli's Roasted Rosemary Polenta Chips teamed with the De Bortoli Hunter Valley "Will's Hill" Shiraz. So far, we've had very little success cooking polenta, so the pressure is really on to deliver something impressive. We're also planning to throw in a variety of other "small plate" tapas-style dishes suitable for afternoon drinks. We're not sure what though and are currently workshoppping some ideas. Drew thinks he might try cooking sardine fillets, while Rachel is keen to try baking a full round of baked camembert cheese. Feel free to leave a recipe suggestion because we're still definitely open to ideas. See you on the 18th of July!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Just Desserts

Well, we promised we would post the recipe for the Deconstructed Baklava, Poached Pears and Walnut Praline dessert which Todd Robinson prepared at our last dinner party, so here it is. It's an absolutely superb dish but not as easy to prepare as we first thought. Don't be put off though. If you have a sweet tooth, you are going to be in heaven when you knock this recipe together. All we can say is "Masterchef, eat your heart out!"

Actually, given how delightful Todd's dessert is, we couldn't resist recreating it ourselves tonight. So, in a deviation from the usual format, we've added this non-scheduled, "just because we felt like it" blog entry to document this impromptu dinner amongst just us, the Cooking Your Calendar team.

We thought long and hard about what De Bortoli wine we should team with Todd's dessert, and ultimately decided that the lovely, slightly sweet bubbles of De Bortoli's Pink Moscato would be perfect. The Pink Moscato is a beautiful celebratory wine too, making it a good choice to congratulate ourselves for getting halfway through the De Bortoli calendar without any major cooking disasters!

Like before, Todd's dessert was a mouthwatering mountain of flaky pastry, sweet crunchy praline, warm pears and drippy icecream. And while we're embarrassed to admit it, just like last time, we fought over the last serve. Good thing it was just us this time. As it turns out, it was great to get together amongst ourselves to make plans for the next six months, and have a laugh about the year so far. And, all we want to know, is what happened? Weren't we just celebrating New Years Eve a few weeks ago? Basically, we need to start shopping for Christmas again. A trip to the Hunter Valley anyone?

Crushed Nuts anyone? Stay tuned... in a few days we will announce July's dinner party.