Monday, December 26, 2011

Just a trifle of trouble

As the designated baker and master of all things sweet in our family, I am traditionally responsible for the family's Christmas dessert.

Cupcakes for Mr von S's family Christmas
After baking for almost four hours straight to make Christmas cupcakes for Mr von Strudel's family Christmas Eve, I couldn't bring myself to do it all again for my own family. So I settled with an old Christmas favourite: trifle.

It's been a couple of years since I last made trifle, and with most of my possessions still in storage, my old faithful trifle bowl was out of action. Using something similar, but with less volumetric capacity, I layered my sponge rolls (after soaking them in cider!) with jelly, cherries and custard until I reached the very brim of the bowl. Thinking that some of the liquid would soak into the sponge, I covered the bowl with cling wrap and put it in the fridge to set.

Christmas morning arrived and I rushed to grab all my bits and pieces, loaded up the car and hit the road, destined for my Mum's place in Mount Martha.

Trifle on the passenger seat with my belt positioned to make it level (I was in such a rush I didn't put my belt on. In fact, that belt never actually made it on...) I cruised along the freeway with my festive Christmas CD blaring, singing along to the Bub. As I got closer to Frankston, traffic grounded to a halt as everyone headed for the coast struggled through a bottleneck. A trip which usually takes 50 minutes was already ticking on past 70.

Reaching a break in the traffic, I zoomed around the first in a series of roundabouts, feeling like I'd been released from my traffic jam shackles. Then I remembered the trifle. Taking a look down I could see custard fighting its way past the cling wrap, fighting for its freedom from the bowl! Grabbing my handy pocket pack of tissues, I swabbed at the breakaway custard while keeping an eye on the road.

Only ten minutes remained in my journey, so I glanced down at the trifle again, only to see more rogue custard dripping down the bowl onto the car seat. Panicking, I pulled over, grabbing handfuls of tissues and surrounded the disappearing trifle. With indicators on and distracted by the issue at hand, I didn't see the car waiting behind me until they sped past with an angry toot. With tissue stuck to my hand, I waved at them yelling 'can't you see I'm having a custard crises?!' And a merry Christmas to you too!

Despite losing some of the custard to the car seat, I finally managed to get to my Mum's where I was welcomed with open arms, a damp cloth and paper towel.

Merry Christmas to you all!


Friday, December 23, 2011

The great Turducken extravaganza

I’ve achieved something that only a handful of people ever manage to do. It may be because the sound of it is quite daunting and you may have to be slightly crazy to undertake such a task. But with backing from like-minded culinary colleagues, this weekend I created a Turducken.

The response was mixed when I told people my grand plans. Some knew exactly what I was on about (thank you television show, Poh’s Kitchen) while others told me that anything with ‘turd’ in its name couldn’t be good. It was great fun explaining to people just what we’d be doing, often repeating the order, ‘yes, the chicken goes inside the duck, which goes inside the turkey’.

After scouring the internet for recipes and tips on how best to make a Turducken, my search lead me to Hawksburn butcher, Peter Bouchier. Bouchier is the butcher to David Jones’ snobby food courts and somewhat an expert when it comes to stuffing birds inside each other.

Bouchier’s teams can create a Turducken for you, or you can do as I did and order the separate components; my recommendation is to have you butcher debone the birds for you, because there’s nothing fun about removing bones from three different types of poultry. Have the butcher save the bones for you to make a brilliant stock later down the track.

Knowing I would be cooking for a relatively small group (six people total), I asked for my birds to be on the small side. I ended up ordering a 4kg turkey, a 2.5kg duck (or ‘size 16’ as I was told) and two butterflied chicken breasts, rather than a whole chicken.

Making a Turducken doesn’t come cheap – the above cost me $107. Add to that stuffing, sides and assorted roasting-related miscellanea, and you may just have to smash your piggy bank.

Turkey in the brine
Twenty-four hours prior to oven time, I drowned the turkey carcass in a bucket of brine. Or nicely put, I bathed the largest of the foul in a solution of salt, sugar, apple cider vinegar and water. Better. Looking to the well-versed Not QuiteNigella for guidance, I used her adaptation on a traditional brining solution to ensure that the turkey was moist and flavoursome come cooking time.

Pistachio and dried cranberry stuffing
To save myself stress on the day, I also prepared two different stuffings and put them in the fridge overnight. I made the third stuffing on the day.

Taking into account the rule of 45 minutes for every kilo of Turducken, it’s a good idea to estimate just how long those birdies need to roast for, and then work back from your intended serving time. Our beast weighed close to 6.5kgs once it was fully formed, meaning the Turducken would cook for a bit over 5 hours. With this in mind, we knew we needed the birds in the oven no later than 1:30pm on the day of serving.

Assembling the Frankenstein of birds required several pairs of hands, and my two gourmet-minded friends, Lady Bike-a-lot and the Poster Girl were on hand to assist.

Patting the turkey dry, we laid the bird flat, completely splayed, and using our hands moulded the first layer of stuffing (cranberry and pistachio). Doing a similar thing with the duck, we rotated the bird so that the turkey breasts were roughly in line with the duck thighs and vice-versa. This ensured the respective breasts nice and juicy (as thighs have more fat than breasts, as the birds cook, they release the rendered fat, and voila, juicy breasts).

Turkey with pistachio and cranberry stuffing

Duck with apricot and brandy cream stuffing lying atop the turkey
Layering the duck with its stuffing of apricot and brandy cream, we then positioned the two butterflied chicken breasts flat and spooned onion and sage stuffing over them. 

The next step was when being an octopus would have come in handy and I was Glad Bike-a-lot and poster Girl were there.

Pulling together the two sides of the chicken breasts to form a football shape (uh, that would be Aussie Rules Football) I lived out dreams of being a surgeon, and using butcher’s twine and a really big needle, sewed together the chicken.
Getting my Nip/Tuck on
The sewing process was repeated for the duck. Using a running stitch, as recommended by the butcher, I sewed the meat together, encompassing the already-sewn-together chicken and stuffing inside. The duck’s flesh was more difficult to get the needle through than the turkey and chicken, and the combination of raw meat with fatty duck made gripping the needle difficult to do.

All sewn up
It was time to close up. As the two sides of Frank (the Frankenstein Turducken) came together, the beast finally started to look like a turkey should. Finishing off with a good rub of olive oil, salt and paprika, we positioned a poultry thermometer, put Frank in the oven and went to lunch.

At the two hour mark, we checked on Frank. Although only roasting at a relatively cool 150 degrees, the skin of the turkey was browning faster than we liked, and even after two hours, there was no sign of any juices in which to baste our beast. With a generous glug of olive oil, we gave the turkey’s crisping skin a good drink and promptly covered it with aluminium foil to halt any further browning. A check of the poultry thermometer gave us no reading. Puzzled, we wondered whether it was broken, or if the birds simply weren’t heating up because of their many layers.

And so, we plugged Frank back in and let him cook for another hour.

Meanwhile, we prepared a whole host of side dishes: candied yams, crunchy roast potatoes, green beans, roast beetroot salad, and our entrée, baby bocconcini and roasttomato tart with pesto. 
A further hour on in the roasting journey, the Turducken’s juices were finally flowing, and we reinvested the dividends, basting the bird to ensure a beautifully moist specimen once done.

And “done” took a bit over five hours. Keeping an eye on the poultry thermometer, we were looking for the magical number: 72 degrees. With the oven at 150 degrees and with the thermometer reading in the low 60s, we cranked the temperature to 250 for the final half an hour. Success! Thirty minutes later, bing bing bing, we have a winner, 72 degrees.

Leaving the bird to rest for half an hour, we busied ourselves with adding final touches to the table, preparing the entrée and clinking our champagne cocktails with shouts of Merry Christmas.

Champagne cocktail? You heard me right! A mix of 25ml sloe gin, 10 ml Chambord, 10 ml lime juice and topped up with the fizzy stuff, the Sloe Soul as it’s called is a lovely, fresh and fruity aperitif for an Australian Christmas.

Carvin' it up!
Finally, it was time to dissect Frank. It was a glorious moment, and despite the heat in the kitchen, my skin puckered into goose bumps at the amazing cross section of three different types of meat layered with three different stuffings. It was a proud moment – we had pulled it off! – and at last, it was time to taste the efforts of our hard work. Delicious!

Stuffing, chicken, stuffing, duck, stuffing, turkey.
Within the ranks of the work-friend-foodie army, Lady Bike-a-lot teamed up with the Boggle Champ to create our dessert. And what better dessert to match a Turducken that a Bombe Alaska? It keeps to the theme of something within something within something (cake, ice cream, meringue). To top it off – literally – we flambé’d the whole thing with brandy, which was almost as exciting the eating!

The bombe!
The question I’ve fielded most since the Turducken Extravaganza was ‘would I do it again?’ Put simply, yes – but only once a year. The Turducken is really a special event kind of meal, and the effort involved cannot be repeated too often, save risking foodie burn-out. The novelty of having three different kinds of bird in one slice is nice, but at the end of the day, it really is just roast meat (of the most delicious kind, of course!) So, come 365 days, watch this space as Turducken 2.0 may just become a reality.

Lots of love and Merry Christmas!

Fifi von S xox

Monday, December 5, 2011

A journey of a different kind

Hi friends,

Not sure if anyone's still lurking out there. You'd be forgiven for assuming I'd abandoned my blog. I suppose I've needed some time to get back into the rhythm of things. (*cough* excuse).

I'm still writing and I'm still eating - one more than the other, naturally.

On the writing side of things, a certain right-wing Melbournian newspaper has been running a travel story competition over the past couple of weeks. I've entered twice but not deemed worthy of publishing; although I'd love a detailed list of their criteria given some of the most recent 'winning' entries. Not that I'm bitter (*cough* maybe I am).

Anyway, sometimes writings are too good to be left unpublished - by newspapers or otherwise.

So I give you my travel story - of a different kind.


Fifi xo

After a 14 month sojourn in Europe, I’ve been put on the ‘No Fly’ list by my parents, and I’m Australia bound for at least the next few years. I’m back to the daily grind: commute, work, commute, and sadly those 14 months of eye-opening, exciting and unpredictable adventures have begun to feel like a distant memory.
The thing about memories is that they’re inextricably linked to things – sounds, smells, items of clothing, and they can pop up any time. Rather than grit my teeth through another peak hour city loop, I take another journey, to a place much nicer than the 8:08am express to Flinders Street.

It’s winter and my boots aren’t doing a very good job battling the slush of Berlin’s first snow of the season. In my ears, ‘Basic Space’ by The xx is playing, and I grip my chai with mittened hand as I make my way down a street in trendy Prenzlauerberg. Although it’s 10:30am, the sky is grey and heavy, not dissimilar to my chosen soundtrack. I’m surprised when I open my eyes: the grey sky is still there, but I’m a world and eleven months away; still The xx wail on.

I’ve missed the 8:08 and have to wait for the 8:12. With iPod on shuffle, my mind wanders back in time with the randomly chosen song: Blur’s ‘Country Sad Ballad Man’. We’re hurtling through rural Poland on a feat of Soviet engineering – a feat because the train is still running. As the honey-colour fields zoom past, I see tepee-shaped bales of hay which no piece of farm equipment could ever make. Those poor, sad country men, I think, as the Soviet train of my memory is replaced with the pale blue Metro variety.

Upon boarding the train, my shuffle function takes an interesting route, pulling out DJ Ötzi’s ‘Hey Baby’. How did this even get on my iPod? Suddenly, I smell it (or is that my neighbour?) - yeasty steins of beer, doughy pretzels and hops, strung from the rafters of a tent at Munich’s Oktoberfest. People are standing on benches, singing the cheesy song in unison. By this stage of the night, the simple lyrics are manageable even for the most inebriated, and the long heeeeeeeeey baby, followed by a satisfying ‘ooh, ah’ seems to be doing the trick. My neighbour grabs me, and we clink steins and cheers “Ein Prosit!”

Another day, I’m pushed right up against the train door, my personal space left behind on the platform. I think I’ll take a ‘Walk in the Park’ with Beach House instead. Immediately I’m back to Alicante in Spain, lying on a perfectly white beach, the Balearic Sea nibbling at my toes and the gentle European sun affording me the tan I could never earn in Melbourne. For five and a half minutes, I float away from the condensation-fogged windows of the train, which threaten to drip morning-breath-dew upon my jacket. Another morning, another journey – of a different kind.
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