Sunday, November 22, 2009

Aussie Thanksgiving

I'm not very good at history. I seem to have learned historical facts, only to have quickly forgotten them again. Whilst I'm not completely bad at Australian modern history- It seems that B.C to 1880 is one big muddled up blur in my mind.

It just so happens that a number of my co-workers are history buffs and I find myself trying to remember exactly who the Hapsburgs were when they seem to be able to argue which resource they think is most historically accurate for reasons a,b and c. It's not that I don't want to know- it's just that my brain seems to have a problem retaining the information.

I recently discovered that when food is involved, I found it easier to piece history together. Maybe not what year something occured or details of a particular battle but I could probably tell you about the people of the day because it seems to me that I am able to remember what they were eating. Whilst this is unorthodox it makes sense for me. I'm more about the people and now I have found a new way to learn that legitimises the year I am planning i.e. celebrating at LEAST one food based celebration every month! yeh yeh!

It seems to me that food has been something that has been unifying people since the beginning of time so therefore is the perfect way to help me learn and put things into historical context!

So to start off my education I decided to do Thanksgiving. My friend is visiting Australia and mentioned that she was getting a little bit sad thinking about Thanksgiving because it is such a big deal. There's nothing like a meal reminiscent of home to cure some of the homesickness blues and being selfish, I also want to learn as much as I can about traditions like this.The fact that Thanksgiving is focused around food and friends meant that it as a definite bonus!

Once I propsed this to Irma we both started to get silly with ideas and the planning started.

Events are so exciting. Who do you invite? What do you serve? Table decorations? Accompanying wine/cocktails? Do you risk hosting outside even though it is summer storm season? Oh goodness! The possibilities are endless.

I (my friend) and I (me) sat down and worked out who we would invite- obviously it would be fab to have about 40 people but our little apartment and our even so littlier, so small it's ridiculous kitchen just wouldn't cater for that. We narrowed it down to about 10 people with room for a couple of extras if necessary. Because I(my friend- ohh this is too confusing- let's just call her Irma) was the guest of honour for this celebration, she invited some of her friends, whom I didn't know, which was an exciting but daunting prospect.

I was a little stuck with the menu but ended up getting some great suggestions from Gourmet Rabbit as she grew up in the States and also hunted around on some U.S bloggers sites. Although I didn't get to cook any of the suggestions from Gourmet Rabbit- they were fab. She is going to post them on her blog soon and even had some interesting suggestions for Thanksgiving with an Aussie twist.

I've popped in a couple of the table decos so that you( if you can even make out the photo) may be able to get some idea!

I have some photos of the evening, however, regrettably, there aren't as many as I would like- to be precise there are none of the food when it was first cooked. So you have missed out on seeing the food in all it's glory! Sorry!!! I'm such a bad food blogger. And I haven't even got any shots of the table setting which was really nice! eek.. Damn. Anyway.. I woke up the next morning and snapped some of the leftovers. I guess I can only blame it on the fact that I spent the WHOLE day cooking and poor C had to run around and gather supplies I had forgotten and spruce the house up! I think it was his 5th trip when he decided that it would be the last. I'm going to give you a little rundown of the food we had and will pop in as many photos as I can!

The Turkey:
So according to Irma, we HAD to have turkey. I'm a fan of turkey but I did underestimate how hard it is to get fresh turkey when it's not the week before Christmas. Luckily I tweeted and some kind people tweeted in reply- Beeso from Mother Foccacia seems to have a good relationship with the Butcher at James Street Markets but I ended up going to Meat-ing Place in Paddo Central just because it was closer. Then came the problem- should I get a whole turkey or just turkey breast? I ended up going with 2kgs of turkey breast, only because not only am I a big fan of breast meat- but my little oven was getting a real workout and I needed to conserve as much space as possible. The butcher was really helpful and provided me with string and I ended up stuffing the turkey under the skin and then through the middle and tied it up nice and tightly.

According to Stephanie Alexander, butter is the way to go, so I basted in butter and then when the time came- popped it into the oven at about 220 for 20 minutes, took the oven back down to 180 and cooked for a further 80 minutes. I was really worried about drying it out and kept checking it, but eventually when I cut it, the meat was still beautifully moist and was cooked perfectly through. Woo Hoo! The only problem was- was 2kgs of breast meat going to feed 12 hungry people?!

Earlier in the day I had prepared a number of other dishes including mini corn and bacon quiches. A little bit boagn, but they are easy and oh-so-popular and I didn't have time to prepare the corn pudding I had intended on serving. I have made these little delights a hundred times before, but the first batch came out of the oven and tasted wrong. C, as always, was sneaking about the kitchen to try and snavel any morsels of food and had to break the news to me. I thought he was joking, and may have even let some expletives out when he told me- Sorry C- it wasn't you- it was me, but even now, I still can't figure out what went wrong. I went ahead and made a new batch which turned out perfectly(thank heavens) and everyone gobbled them down.
The quiches are pretty good if you need savouries. They are not especially sophisticated and use a lot of cheats like ready made puff pastry but they are really yummy! I got this recipe of a friend of my mum's and it's always well received. If you wanted to be extra cool you could cream your own corn and make your own pastry but I did cheat!

(makes about 36 +) But they will be devoured in no time.
1 packet of puff pastry
350 g bacon
500 g of cheese
250 ml cream
1 tin (or about 350 g) of creamed corn
plus anything else your little heart desires

1. Pre-heat oven to about 180 degrees
2. Cut out pastry with a circular cookie cutter and place into greased shallow muffin tins (not sure what they are called but they aren't the deep tins)
3. Mix all ingredients in a bowl and spoon into the pastry. Make sure you only put two teaspoons of filling into the pastry to avoid the quiches spilling over.
4. Cook for about 25 minutes or until cooked through and pull them out of the oven. Make sure you get the quiches out of the tins straight away to avoid the bases burning. Easy peasy (says me who stuffed up the first batch)

For the greens, we had a 'man' salad made by Irma's boyfriend J. It was very yum and there was really none left over! It contained bacon, feta and a couple of other secret ingredients. We also had cold beans with balsamic and garlic dressing. I blanched a massive pot of beans (maybe a kg at least) and then refreshed them. The dressing was a 1 part olive oil to 3 parts balsamic vinegar and had four cloves of crushed garlic mixed through. The beans were really easy- and were prepared well before everyone arrived. They had a bit of bite (if you don't like garlic, reduce the amount by 1/2) but were really refreshing. I tried to cook as much as I could before hand, and use as many different cooking devices as possible to get around the small oven situation.

I had also planned to cook broccolini with lemon, honey and walnut dressing, but this one just didn't happen. It sounded like a good combo though so may try it out another time.

In true style we had lots of corn! Corn plants were very important in the inception of thanksgiving and so I parboiled some corn cobs and then wrapped them individually in foil (and a lot of butter and salt) and bbq'd them. Nothing better than bbq'd corn and the individual foil packets meant that each corn cob was well seasoned.

Sweet potato is also another Thanksgiving favourite. I aspired to make sweet potato chips with sea salt and rosemary but ended up eating the whole tray whilst I was cooking, and didn't have enough oven space to cook the other 4+ trays, so I served mashed SP with lashing of butter and cinnamon to add some orange to the table.

Potato bake, another rather yummy but boganish dish took care of the potato element for the evening. I cut the potatoes into really thin strips and parboiled them, then layered them in a dish with lashing of bacon, cream, french onion soup stock, cheese, onion and stacks of fresh herbs. This dish was not that great in the end, because it didn't have enough time to cook through properly. It still tasted ok and I have to admit, I did eat the leftovers yesterday and it was better cold. Next time I might try something less creamy and go with scalloped fennel potaoes or some such variation.

The stuffing was great in the turkey, but the bit that was cooked just in foil was a bit dry. Nothing a bit of butter wouldn't fix and I do love my mum's stuffing recipe which is very simple- but really yum. Chuck a whole load of butter in with lots of salt and pepper, fresh herbs (whatever takes your fancy- we had sage, thyme, flat leaf parsley, onion chives, garlic chives, with some day old, torn up bread and stuff into the cavity. I am such a stuffing fiend- I literally eat more stuffing than meat at Christmas time, and I have to say that Thanksgiving was no exception. I know this is something I seriously shouldn't admit- but I have been known to eat the stuffing raw. I have another friend who also loves doing this, but most people shake their head.. Anybody?!

For nibblies, we had a cheese platter also brought by Irma and J which had a nice brie and blue cheese, with quince paste ! We also had sour dough with dukkah and balsamic and olive oil. Of course there was other additions like cranberry sauce, which was store bought because cranberries are NO WHERE to be found in Brisbane for at least another three weeks.

Ally from EatDrinkBrisbane has become my buddy and came along with a PUMPKIN PIE! I know, I know, the essential element of Thanksgiving dessert. Ally's Mum is Canadian so she is well heeled in tradition and I have to say that my first taste of pumpkin pie was great. She served it with lashings of cream and whilst pumpkin pie conjures up weird images- it was a delight.

Cheesecake was also on the menu- and an addition of lots of lemon and a touch more vanilla through the filling meant it was even better than last time. Plus I'm getting quite good at baking cheesecakes.. Maybe the baking curse has left me.

My worries about too little food now seem ridiculous, especially when the guests came bearing so much to offer too!

The hit of the night award is awarded to the "Gobble-Tini" cocktails made by Irma and her friend Kelly. They consisted of cranberry juice, raspberry vodka, chamboard, a raspberry rimmed with salt and tajin- a mexican spice that Irma brought from Mexico. It added the perfect kick and was oh so right for the night.

Irma also cut out some cute turkey and pilgrim hat cut outs and pasted the story of thanksgiving on the back for all the Aussies- very cute!

Part of the protocol of Thanksgiving is that everyone tells one thing they are thankful for. On the night I said that I was thankful for new friends and old friends - and - I meant it. I'm also happy that I'm fortunate to have enough food to eat, enough food to share with friends and enough food to even have leftovers. I think too often we think about the things that we don't have, the things we want and not the things we are thankful for, so a moment of sober reflection about how lucky we really are was rare but lovely in our consumer driven world.

I think I'm going to like my year of celebrations- aside from learning to cook and eating some fabulous food, I hope it is going to give me a greater understanding of different cultures and the significance of their celebrations.

So tell me, What is your favourite celebration readers? Is it Easter or Christmas or something special your family celebrates? Let me know!

5 fabulous comments:

mademoiselle délicieuse said...

Congratulations on your fabulous efforts =D My favourite celebration, in Sydney, would have to be Mid-Autumn (aka moon) Festival. Although Chinese New Year is a much bigger event, the traditional foods don't suit the hot weather of the southern hemisphere. Come mid-autumn festival time however, the weather is much more similar. Mind you, although not celebrated as a child, I now have a thing for Christmas as an adult - everything's just so happy and sparkly!

beeso said...

Bogan though it may be, i love a good potato bake.

I will be starting a new tradition this year at Lantanaland, a midwinter meal featuring my home killed meat. This year will be chicken, home grown roast chicken. Maybe i can co-opt you as assistant cook.

I have a dark and white chocolate cheesecake recipe that is better than any baked cheesecake i have every had.

Ally said...

Why wait until midwinter? Stroll down to Woolies and grab one of their finest chooks!

GG, I sure hope you put some of that delicious stuffing on a sandwhich the next day. And the cheesecake was really bloody good! I could go a Gobbletini right now...

SOL's view said...

The menu sounds divine. I remember my first taste of pumpkin pie too. Tasted a lot better than it sounded, especially with vanilla icecream. We don't have a special day to celebrate with food. Even Christmas is just a cold salad day and I try not to bake anything because it's just way too hot. This year though my MOTH wants a roast pork or something. I might just show him the kitchen and let him have his way. :)

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Happy Thanksgiving! I'd love to be in the US for Halloween and Thanksgiving one year. They sounds like great times for a feast!

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