When I lived in Melbourne, Eat With Me events were a big part of my life. At first, I mainly attended others’ events, too apprehensive to host my own. Eventually, though, I was ready to take the plunge, and after hosting my first event (a group visit to a microbreweries showcase at Fed Square), the ice was broken and I went on to host several more. Now that I’m back in Canada, the idea of hosting an Eat With Me event in my new community is once again a bit daunting.
Although the magic of Eat With Me events is in the people brought together, a great idea is generally what brings them to the table. If you’re ready to host your first (or fourth or sixteenth) event, here are a few ideas to get you started:
Make Your Own Pizza Night
You don’t need to be an ace chef to make this one work. Make your pizza dough from scratch, pick up pre-mixed, unbaked dough at a bakery, or just buy off-the-shelf crusts. What really matters is the toppings; ask your guests to bring traditional or gourmet toppings for sharing. My favourites: figs and/or pears with gorgonzola.
Tacos have come a long way since mince and shredded iceberg in a boxed hard taco shell. As Bon Appetit says, “From hipster food trucks to high-end restaurants, the humble taco is having a moment.” Bon Appetit has a terrific four-step guide to hosting the perfect taco night. For additional recipes, check out Martha Stewart’s decent collection. And to make the night an extra-big hit, consider making margaritas.
Have a fondue party, or better yet, a raclette night. Of course, you’ll need a raclette grill, but if you can get your hands on one, grilling meat, seafood, veggies, and of course cheese, right at the table makes for a very delicious and very social meal. Check out this Pinterest board for all kinds of recipes and ideas.
Wine & Cheese
While we’re on the topic of cheese, experience shows that Eat With Me members are crazy about cheese. Base your event around cheese, and people will show up. Ask each person to bring some cheese and some wine, et voila, your event will be a hit.
Although they’re much less decadent than cheese events, salad potlucks have proven to be a big hit among Eat With Me members. Salads needn’t be boring; check out our Pinterest board for proof.
Okay, this one may be a little juvenile for an adult gathering, but why not?
Try Something New and Original
The above options are all tried-and-true, but original ideas are always a hit. Melbourne member Theresa has had a Smörgåstårta (Swedish sandwich cake) party and a Dipsomaniac Dinner (a potluck at which every meal had to somehow incorporate alcohol). If you plan an event around an obscure international food holiday or ethnic food, people will jump at the chance to try something new.
Of course, we know that that not everyone has a home that can accommodate a large group of people, so next time we’ll share some ideas for events in restaurants and public spaces. Check back soon!
When I was a kid, and watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was part of most North American youngsters’ morning routine, being a good neighbour was cool. Mr. Rogers began each episode with a song that asked each and every viewer to do him the honour of being his neighbour. Back then, knowing those who lived in close proximity to you seemed important and customary; if they weren’t always friends, they were at least familiar faces who would say hello on the street and keep watch when you were away from home.
These days, we seem to live closer and closer with our neighbours, but we tend to be less likely to know them. A recent British study found more than half of those surveyed don’t know their neighbours, with one in four having no idea what their names are. In America, a Pew study found that only 43% of Americans know most or all of their neighbors; 28% didn’t know any of their neighbors by name. I’m ashamed to say that I currently fall in the latter group.
Good wants to change this trend. They’re calling for people worldwide to celebrate Neighbor Day on April 27 by getting together with their neighbours. They want us to follow Emily Coates’ lead: once a month, she and her husband turn their Brooklyn apartment into an impromptu restaurant that they call Neighbor. Of the first dinner, Coates recalls,
“The first dinner was nerve wracking. We spent all week preparing. We went through the schedule over and over and over and over again. We worried about everything. Who would come? Will they think it’s weird? Will they like the food? Miraculously, 12 of our friends and their friends showed up. We served mushroom toast, hazelnut & chard ravioli with butternut squash croutons, brick chicken with brown sage butter and root vegetables, and meyer lemon ice with shortbreads. We screwed up a few things. We definitely didn’t give a few people knives, and probably didn’t refill glasses enough. Small things that we just forgot. But they didn’t matter. People were meeting, talking, laughing and sharing. By the time we dropped that last dessert plate, it all felt perfect.”
We’ve seen magical moments like this happen at many Eat With Me events: over food, strangers become friends. Why not get the people in your neighbourhood together on April 27 and potentially make some new friends?
For inspiration and tools, check out Good’s Neighbor Day resources. You could have an in-home ‘restaurant’ like Emily Coates, a block party, a backyard BBQ, or a picnic in a neighbourhood park. Let’s make neighborliness cool again!
Where I come from (Canada), we can usually count on getting to eat a roast turkey feast three times a year: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. Here in Australia, we don’t have Thanksgiving and Christmas is often too hot to have the oven cranked for several hours, so that leaves Easter. Turkey just so happens to be a relatively easy meal to cook for a group, so why not gather your nearest and dearest this Easter weekend (or any other time, really) and share a roast bird?
If you’re going to stuff the turkey (which you absolutely should), the night before your feast, cube a loaf of unsliced bread and leave it on a baking sheet to dry out a bit.
If you’re using a frozen turkey (see below), you’ll need to thaw it well in advance. If you have room, you can do that in the fridge overnight; keep in mind that it takes approximately 24 hours for every 2 kilos of turkey. Or, on the day of, you can thaw it in a sink/tub of cold water. That will take approximately one hour for every kilo of turkey. Make sure you change the water every 30 minutes.
When cooking time is nigh, you’re ready to make stuffing. This is my dad’s classic recipe; for more ideas, see below.
Chop a large onion and set it aside. Melt a generous slab of butter in a saucepan, and add onions. Saute until onions are soft.
In a large mixing bowl, mix bread cubes, butter/onion, salt and pepper, and a generous amount (at least 2 tablespoons) of sage. The stuffing needs to be moist, so add milk as needed to moisten. Add just a bit at a time; you want it just moist enough that it sticks together when you make a ball.
Once the turkey is thawed, remove the giblets bag from inside the turkey. Thoroughly wash the turkey inside and out, and pat dry. Place turkey in roaster.
Stuff the bird with bread etc. mixture into the cavity of the turkey. You can really jam it in; if there’s some poking out, that’s just fine.
Tie the legs together with butcher’s string if you have it, or unflavoured dental floss if you don’t. Rub the skin of the turkey with softened butter. If you are of the Julia Child You-Can-Never-Have-Too-Much-Butter school (like I am), you can also gently lift the skin of the turkey and put slabs of butter underneath. This will keep the meat moist while it roasts. Add 1/4 cup of water to the roaster, cover with (buttered) aluminium foil, and place in preheated 175-degree (Celsius) oven.
While it’s cooking, you can baste the turkey with the juices in the roaster. This will also help keep the turkey moist, but will prolong cooking time. About an hour before the turkey is done (check out this infographic to figure out approximately how long it will take), remove cover to allow the skin to get brown and crispy.
The best way to know your turkey is done is to use a meat thermometer. You want the temperature to be at least 73 degrees Celsius in three places: the innermost part of the thigh, the thickest part of the breast, and under the wing. If you don’t have a meat thermometer, slice deep into the thigh with a sharp knife; if the juices run clear, the turkey’s ready. You can also tell that it’s done when the drumsticks are loose.
Remove the turkey from the oven and let stand for 30 to 40 minutes before carving. You can use this time to make gravy: put the turkey drippings in a pot or frying pan and bring to a bowl. Add a couple of OXO cubes (beef or chicken). Add more sage. Thicken with a flour/warm water mixture (mix separately in a cup until mixture is smooth). Stir this mixture into the drippings gradually until the gravy is desired thickness. Add salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning to taste.
Carve the turkey (here’s how), and serve with cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and seasonal vegetables (I generally ask my friends to bring those, but you can also prep and cook while the turkey is roasting and standing).
Here are some ideas for sides to serve with your turkey:
We at Eat With Me are big fans of eating local and knowing where our food comes from, so we dig (pun intended) this year’s Melbourne Food & Wine Festival theme: the Earth. According to this year’s Gastronomy Guide, ”with this year’s Festival…we go back to the source: Earth. We’re thinking global as always, but we’re equally enamoured with the local, the stuff beneath our feet: the dirt, the soil, the good earth.”
So we’re pretty excited about March in Melbourne, which promises to be extra delicious. Below are some of the festival highlights as we see it.
Free and Almost Free
Go West, ‘Mother Earth’ - ”Join Gary Mehigan and the area’s top restaurants, organic producers, winemakers and brewers at twilight to celebrate the best of Melbourne’s west, with tastings, cooking demos, live music and art.” Free. Friday, March 1, 6:30-11:00 p.m. at The Maribyrnong Boathouse.
World Street Food Festival - “The sights, sounds and tastes of the earth will be showcased on Melbourne’s doorstep when Queen Victoria Market hosts the much-loved World Street Food Festival. Free to attend, this event is a tantalising fusion of street food and entertainment from Europe to South America, Africa, Asia and home again.” Free to attend festival; food prices vary. Sunday, March 3, 9:00-4:00 at the Queen Victoria Market.
Picnic in the Vines - “The picturesque vineyard setting is the perfect place to relax with friends and to meet new ones. While being serenaded by a local musician, delight your tastebuds, soak up the sunshine and breathe the fresh Pyrenees air.” Free to attend; food prices vary (from $10). Sunday, March 17, 11:00-4:00 at the Redbank Winery.
AASCA Coffee Championships - As an admitted caffeine addict, I’m extra excited about this one. “State champions will compete to become the next Australian Barista Champion, Latte Art Champion, and Brewer’s Cup Champion, winning the chance to represent Australia on the world stage. Celebrate the ultimate drink of the earth and watch baristas compete live under the careful scrutiny of a team of certified coffee judges.” $5 to attend. Friday, March 1 - Sunday, March 3, 8:30-5:00 at the Melbourne Showgrounds.
Celebrate Our Apple Heritage - “Taste: rare variety apples bred and grown over centuries, specially selected ciders, food and wines, including Attica’s unique apple dish. Learn: from Ripponlea’s horticultural experts. Grow: take home a heritage apple tree.” $5 to attend, refundable upon purchase of a heritage apple tree. Saturday, March 9, 10:00-4:00 at Ripponlea House & Garden.
A Little Pricier ($10 - 49)
The Food-Preneurs- “Get to know some of the smart people and innovative approaches reshaping the future of food and farming at an event with great speakers, important stories and local spirit.” $25 admission (for $40 you can also get a copy of The Field Guide to Victorian Produce). March, March 13, 6:00-7:30 at The Edge, Fed Square.
Restaurant Express - Kind of like Bar Express, but with lunch. Restaurants include Libertine, Mamasita, and Red Spice Road. $40 gets you a two-course lunch, plus a glass of Victorian wine, a coffee, or a tea.
PVOYT: Cellar Door & Artisan Market - “Explore regional Victoria in the heart of Melbourne at Put Victoria On Your Table: Cellar Door and Artisan Market in the grand surrounds of Como House and Garden as winemakers, brewers and producers from all corners of the state come together for a festive garden party in the heart of Melbourne.” $45 adult with tasting ($20 without). Sat Mar 2 - Sun Mar 3, 11:00-6:00 at Como House & Garden, South Yarra.
Chan’s Dumpling Festival - “Our first-of-its-kind Dumpling Festival will honour traditional Cantonese cuisine with delicious handmade delicacies and dumpling lovers from around the globe visiting Melbourne to share the World’s Biggest Outdoor Yum Cha.” $20 includes a five-course yum cha, take-home pack of steamer and ingredients for the home chef. Sunday, March 3, 10:00-3:00 in the Treasury Gardens.
Discover Abbotsford Convent - “The magnificent Abbotsford Convent will be the scene of a farm-to-plate seasonal lunch presented by Bursaria Fine Foods, with all food sourced from from the local slow food market & surrounding areas.” $45 includes canapes, two-course lunch and wines. Sunday, March 3, 12:00-3:00 at Abbotsford Convent.
If Money Were (or is) No Object…
The Earthly Temptation of Beer - What can I say, I love a good beer, especially when it’s paired with good food. “Grain, hops, yeast and water are the real heroes of beer so put the Lenten fast on hold for an exclusive Temple beer-gustation, featuring five beers and matched courses.” $95. Saturday, March 2, 6:30-11:00 pm at Temple Brewery & Brasserie, Brunswick East.
Melbourne’s Six Sister Cities - Did you know Melbourne has six sister cities? Get to know them all as “Trocadero, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Arts Centre Melbourne…celebrate …Osaka, Tian Jin, Thessaloniki, Boston, St. Petersburg, Milan, in both food and song.” $180 includes six courses with wine and a recital by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. Saturday, March 2, 1:00-4:00 pm, at Hamer Hall.
Thai Jungle Curry Cooking Class - If you want to cook Gingerboy-calibre curries in your own kitchen, “roll up your sleeves for an intimate masterclass in the Gingerboy kitchen preparing a traditional northern Thai jungle curry before enjoying your work with a glass of wine over lunch.” $235 includes cooking class, lunch, Gingerboy apron, and recipe booklet. Saturday, March 2 & Saturday, March 9, 9:30 am - 1:00 pm, at Gingerboy.
Hook, Lunch & Sinker - You definitely know your food is local if you catch it yourself. If you’re not averse to getting up at the crack of dawn, “join head chef Ollie Gould and Reel Time Fishing Charters on a fishing trip in Port Phillip Bay, before enjoying your own catch-of-the-day back at the Stokehouse.” $190 includes fishing trip, lunch, and wine. Sunday, March 3, 6:00 am - 3:00 pm, meet at Stokehouse, St. Kilda.
Are you planning on attending any MFWF events? If so, which ones, and can we come?
We’d love to see you at Bar Express/Gingerboy Upstairs on March 3. If you’re interested, you can sign up here.
When I started travelling as a wide-eyed (and broke) 19-year-old, food wasn’t exactly a central part of the experience. Of course, in Italy I ate pizza and gelato daily (or thrice daily), and in France I consumed vast amounts of pungent cheese on baguettes. But my travel style was mostly about getting as far as I could on my meager budget.
That’s changed in recent years. After eating my way through Southeast Asia a few years ago, I realised how much better travelling is when you’re well-fed. As Don George points out in Lonely Planet’s A Moveable Feast,
Travel and food are inseparably intertwined…One truth is clear: wherever we go, we need to eat. As a result, when we travel, food inevitably becomes one of our prime fascinations—and pathways into a place. On the road, food nourishes us not only physically, but intellectually, emotionally and spiritually too. I’ve learned this countless times all around the globe. In fact, many of my finest travel memories revolve around food.
I couldn’t agree more. And it would seem that Melbourne filmmaker Rick Mereki agrees too:
EAT from Rick Mereki on Vimeo. (Check out his MOVE and LEARN travel videos as well; they’re terrific).
But as we all know, not all food destinations are created equal. So what are the best places to travel if food is a priority?
Happy New Year! We hope you had a fabulous Christmas holiday, wherever you happened to be. I was fortunate enough to spend my Christmas on a working cattle farm in New Zealand. It was great fun, and my host family took excellent care of me (read: fed me very, very well…and often). Each day, dinner (‘tea’) was followed by dessert (‘pudding’) and then, a little later, a second, smaller dessert (‘supper’). Other than the terminology, this eating pattern isn’t really anything new. What is new is that, Down Under, the great season of gluttony is situated right in the middle of swimsuit season.
Now it’s 2013, I’m back in Melbourne, and my clothes are all tighter than they should be. So, although I don’t consider this a NY resolution per se, I have resolved to forgo refined carbs and embrace salads this month. In a big way. But as I discovered at Eat With Me’s December Taste of Summer salad potluck, this needn’t be a sacrifice. Salads have come a long way since the iceberg lettuce-and-carrot mixes of yore.
Really anything can go into or onto a salad, but if you’re craving inspiration, here are some of my favourites:
The New York Times has 101 simple salad recipes here.
For these and other good-for-you recipes for the new year, check out Eat With Me’s Pinterest board.
And since food always tastes better shared, why not have a salad night with friends or start a salad club with your colleagues at work?
Have you made any resolutions for 2013? Whether you want to eat better, make some new friends, or try new things (or new places), Eat With Me would love to be part of your year. If you’re in the Melbourne area, might we suggest that you challenge yourself to dine with strangers?
Top photo from here; middle photo by Liisa Vurma from Eat With Me’s Taste of Summer event; bottom photo from the New York Times.
As a native of the Northern Hemisphere, Christmas in Australia has been a bit of an adjustment. Although sundresses, champagne, and beaches are all well and good, to me, Christmas has always meant woolen sweaters (sorry, jumpers), hot cocoa, and snow. I love summer and I love Christmas, but experiencing the two together still doesn’t quite feel right.
In addition to Canada and Australia, I’ve been in Vietnam, the Canary Islands, Costa Rica, and Paris during the holiday season, and no matter how different Christmas feels in each place, there are certain things that remain pretty constant. The same versions of the same songs play in packed shopping centres worldwide. The decorations and paper goods are remarkably similar, including snow and reindeer motifs in places that have neither reindeer nor snow. And most importantly, no matter where you celebrate the Yuletide, it’s almost always centered around good food and great company.
Here’s a little round-up of what’s being served on Christmas tables around the world.
According to MyCzechRepublic, dinner is traditionally served after the first star has come out and consists of a fish soup starter, followed by carp and potato salad. ”Christmas carp is specially raised in manmade ponds and then sold from large tubs placed on the streets and town squares a few days before Christmas.” Some families keep their carp in the bathtub for several days as a temporary pet for their children; however, others will purchase a live carp from a vendor, who will bludgeon and hack off the fish’s head “in full view of passers-by.” How festive!
As we wrote about in our latest blog, Japan has some fantastic food. But Japanese people typically don’t celebrate the Christmas season with sushi or teriyaki. Instead, they leave the cooking up to Colonel Sanders—yes, that Colonel Sanders. Kentucky Fried Chicken takeaway is such a common Christmas meal that families reserve their $40 family buckets up to three months in advance, and line-ups at KFC are often 2-3 hours long. The tradition originated as the result of a wildly successful 1970s ad campaign, and is still going strong forty years later.
Christmas in Mexico begins on December 16, when ‘Posada’ (Spanish for ‘inn’ or ‘lodging’) processions begin. The processions represent Joseph and Mary’s search for a place to stay after being turned away from the inn. For each Posada, children carry candles and painted clay figures of Mary and Joseph and walk from house to house, singing a song about Mary and Joseph’s search for a room. At each house, the children are turned away, until they are told that there is a room and welcomed into the house.
There is a Posada each night until Christmas Eve, when there is a final posada and celebration, with food, fireworks, games (pinatas!) and a midnight church service. The meal includes traditional Christmas fare like Ensalada de Noche Buena, or Christmas Eve Salad, which usually includes lettuce, beets, apple, carrot, orange, pineapple, jicama, pecans or peanuts, and pomegranate seeds. Another common dish is Bacalao (dried salted codfish), which begins showing up in markets as Christmas approaches. It’s often cooked into a fishy stew combining tomatoes, onions, green olives, chilies, and garlic.
Serbian people have a badnjak, which is an oak log or branch brought into the house and placed on the fire on the evening of Christmas Eve, much like a yule log. A member of the household spreads an armful of straw over the floor of the house and often imitates a hen clucking (“Kvo, kvo, kvo”) while the family’s children imitate chicks (“Piju, piju, piju”) and pick at the straw. A handful of walnuts is then sprinkled over the straw, and Christmas Eve dinner can begin.
According to this article, in some regions it is customary for the head of household to go out into the yard and call by name pest animals and personal enemies, inviting them, “Come to dinner now and again in a year, God willing.” This is intended to protect the household from them for a year.
Dinner includes ačesnica (which is derived from the noun čest, which means “share”), a ceremonial, round loaf of bread that is an indispensable part of Serbian Christmas tradition. A coin is typically baked into the bread, which is rotated around the table three times counterclockwise before being broken amongst the family members. The person who finds the coin in his or her piece of will supposedly be exceptionally lucky in the coming year.
Wherever and however you’ll be celebrating, we at Eat With Me hope you have a safe and happy holiday season filled with delicious food and terrific people.
We at Eat With Me are all about sharing, so we’re delighted about all the small plate and food-sharing options available in restaurants these days. Spain gave us tapas, the Mediterranean gave us mezze, and Japan’s contribution to culinary sharing is Izakaya.
Last weekend, our friends at new South Wharf eatery Akachochin were kind enough to offer an Izakaya masterclass to Eat With Me members. Head Chef Kengo Hiromatsu showed us how it’s done in Japanese kitchens, and best of all we got to try every delicious dish.
And because we love to share, we want to pass on some of Kengo’s tips and suggestions so you can have your friends over for an Izakaya sushi party. It’s actually pretty simple. Trust me—if I can do it, you can do it.
Sushi recipes and ideas are easy to find on the net (here’s some to try), but many don’t go into detail about how to prepare the rice for optimal sushi making. Here’s how to do it, according to Kengo:
Buy the right rice.
Make sure it’s short-grain, not long- or medium-grain.
This is essential. Put rice and plenty of water in the bowl and rinse the rice. Drain water and wash rice with a finger-rubbing motion (also known as polishing) until the water changes to a white colour. Do this quickly about 20 times. Dispose of dirty water and rinse rice. Drain water and wash rice again with rubbing motion described above. Repeat this action until water is clear. Make sure you do this quickly to ensure that rice doesn’t absorb dirty water.
Soak and dry rice.
Soak washed rice in a lot of clean water for 15 minutes. Drain water. If you want to be uber-professional, dry rice, which helps rice cook evenly and with the best texture.
The correct ratio is 1 part rice to 1.1 parts water (e.g., if 600 mL rice to 660 mL water). Put rice and water in a pot with lid on. Cook on high heat until boiling, then reduce heat to low and cook for additional 20 minutes. Do not remove lid during cooking! Take the pot off heat and leave to steam for additional 15 minutes.
Mix rice and vinegar.
You can purchase sushi vinegar at the supermarket, but you can also make your own (which Kengo recommends!). Mix 180 mL rice vinegar, 45 grams sugar, and 18 g salt until sugar and salt have dissolved. This lasts for 6 months, so feel free to make a big batch.
The ratio of rice to vinegar is 10:1 (i.e., for 600 mL of rice, use 60mL of vinegar). While rice is hot, mix rice and vinegar with a rice paddle. Use cutting motion, not a stirring motion as this will make rice sticky. Immediately cool rice to room temperature, allowing vinegar to soak into rice.
If not using rice immediately, put in a bowl and cover with a wet teatowel so it doesn’t dry out. Don’t refrigerate, as sushi rice is meant to be ‘human temperature.”
Don’t buy smelly or bad quality fish
Do not overwash fish
Debone with tweezers, scale, and remove skin (or buy pre-filleted and deboned fish from your seafood shot)
Trim the fillet to make cutting easy
Use a very sharp knife to slice fish. Do not use sawing motion.
Always cut against the fish line.
Wrap fish in kitchen paper and cling wrap to keep it airtight and fresh.
As for the actual rolling part, here’s a video to help you with the basic procedure:
You’ll notice that the sushi chef wet his hands with lukewarm water before working with the rice. This is essential, as I learned during our demo at Akachochin. If you don’t have wet hands, the rice will stick to your heads instead of sticking to the nori (seaweed wraps).
We hope you’re inspired to get your friends together for a homemade sushi night. It really is delightfully simple, but if you’re still not convinced, might we suggest that you check out Akachochin (hint: order the Hiramasa Namerou. It’s unreal) or an Izakaya restaurant in your city?
Anyone who’s ever looked for a new job knows that there’s often a frustrating catch-22 attached: you can’t get a job without experience, but it’s difficult to get experience without a job. Imagine, then, the job-search challenges facing refugees and people from disadvantaged backgrounds. These groups encounter employment barriers such as language difficulties and lack of confidence, knowledge, and connections, according to a recent article on Women’s Agenda.
Jess Moran and Hannah Colman wanted to help remove these and other barriers, and two years ago, Scarf was born. The non-profit organisation provides ten-week hospitality training programmes to people who are likely to face challenges entering the industry. The programme ”includes wine education, formal service practices, cocktail training, beer education and coffee making, which is followed by a dinner service on Monday nights.”
These Monday night dinners are hosted at ‘borrowed’ restaurants around Melbourne. Mentors work with trainees as they put their new skills to use and serve guests a delicious three-course meal.
It’s great food for a great cause. What’s not to love?
And know what else is great? Eat With Me member Leanne is hosting a Scarf Dinner next Monday at the National Hotel in Richmond. There’s still space at the table, so head over here to reserve your spot. It’s the final Scarf Dinner of 2012, so don’t miss out!
See you there?
If you’re unable to make it on Monday, be sure to follow Scarf on Facebook or Twitter so you’re in the loop when Scarf starts back up in 2013.