Christmas Classics

Having grown up in cooler climes and despite the heat in Brisbane I can’t help yenning for a little tradition at Christmas. So every now and again I test the nether limits of our air conditioner and yield to a little yuletide indulgence.

Beef FilletThis year it was Manu’s roast beef with red wine reduction (from Manu’s French Kitchen) that had me hanging out for some of those perfect little puffy pillows of heaven – aka Yorkshire puddings. By Manu’s own admission, the French stole their roast beef from the English, so the two work stunningly together and despite being ridiculously easy, it’s a perfect Christmas dinner-party pleaser.

Be warned though – it’s all about the timing. Trust Manu when he says DO NOT cook your beef past medium-rare. And absolutely DO plate your beef before slicing (general rule is to plate for half the time it took too cook). I served mine with simple roasted pumpkin and baby peas soaked in boiling water (I never actually cook them).

IMG_0861So if you’re in for a little post-Christmas last gasp (or if it’s your turn next year), here’s my bullet-proof, easy as Yorkie recipe …

Ingredients (makes 12):

vegetable oil

285 ml milk

115 g plain flour

a pinch of salt

3 eggs

Preheat the oven to 230°C and mix the batter ingredients together.

Preheat a Yorkshire pudding (or muffin) tray with 1 cm of oil in each section.  After 10 minutes, remove from the oven and divide the batter into the tray. Don’t be alarmed if it looks like it’s curdling – this is dead right.  Cook for about 30 minutes until crisp. Do not open the oven door before then or they will not rise. If you want to save yourself the trouble (and don’t have a pyrolitic oven), a handy tip is put wax paper on your full-sized roasting tray and place your muffin tray on top of it so it catches any oil spillover.

Manu's French KitchenYou’ll find Manu’s roast beef recipe on page 117 of Manu’s French Kitchen. This is one of my favourite recipe books, albeit French cooking is generally loaded with love (aka butter), every now and again there’s nothing like it. You can get Manu’s books  here. His latest (Manu’s French Bistro) is number one on my wish list and if you haven’t seen any of the Boy’s Weekend series, they’re great fun to watch.

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L’etoile – Paddington, Sydney

Le'Toile WindowWhy did I wait so long for this exquisite experience? From the lovely little walk along Glenmore Road to the quaint old terraced houses and the rare boutiques surrounding L’etoile – I’m immersed in the European finesse which the French so rightfully lay claim to.

I am greeted at the door by the thoroughly French and fabulously attentive Didier. He delights me with a little window table in the corner … perfect for the lone diner and better yet for one with a penchant for observing life. As I sit down the sun breaks through the clouds and glistens on the drizzle.

I am the first diner to arrive and so have the restaurantScallop Sausage with Crustacean Bisque – and Didier – all to myself. I order a glass of Champagne and the Boudin de St Jacques to start – the silkiest scallop sausage with crustacean bisque. The sausage is unimaginably light but given a balanced depth with the fullness of flavour from the bisque. The roe pops delicately in my mouth and for the first time I get what all the fuss is about.

Le'Toile TroutI’m tempted by everything on the “plats principaux”, but settle on the rainbow trout fillet with Grenobloise sauce. Did you know there are 20 variations of butter sauces in French cuisine? One for each of the proteins or vegetables they accompany. This one is a butter, parsley, lemon, caper and crouton sauce. The trout is pan-fried with crispy skin and the most delicate flesh and so I’m pleased the butter is gorgeously nutted, served with adequate restraint and cut through sufficiently with the lemon. I also love the little pop from the capers and the peppery finish of the watercress.

Le'Toile Citroen TartBy now it’s started raining again and I decide there’s nothing for it but a little coffee and dessert. Didier ably predicts my choice (Crème Brulee – of course), but gently steers me towards the citron tart instead. I’m not sorry.

A gorgeous champagne and lychee gremolata cleanses my palate and prepares me for the sweetness to follow. The lemon tart is smooth, creamy and um … tart. The meringue reminds of me of marshmallows melted over a fire and the pastry is flaky decadence. Again, it’s all about balance and the raspberry and rhubarb sorbet is just the ying for the yang.