I have sworn off New Year's Eve parties. There's always too much pressure and I've found that it always falls short of expectation. I've had memorable ones though, including one time many, many years ago Queen Viv, Miss America and some friends accidentally ate at the wrong restaurant from where we booked at, accidentally forgot to pay the bill and we lost Queen Viv (she was busy being sick from too much champagne a few streets away). And please believe me when I say that we have never skipped on a bill, eaten at the wrong restaurant or lost Queen Viv prior or since this incident.
This year we had intended to book into a restaurant and take advantage of Sydney's spectacular harbour views and let someone else cook. But then my friend M told me about Austrian NYE traditions and I was instantly intrigued. In Austria they use tin ornaments called Bleigießen as Oracles.
You choose a tin shape (there's a variety although they all weigh the same) and melt it on a spoon, and then cool it in a cup of water and you can tell your New Year's fortune through the shapes. Call it a Teutonic version of tea leaf reading! M's sister sent her 2 sets and M bought 2 sets on ebay. Sod the restaurant, we were having a party! Oops sorry, curse that word, we were just having a small get together.
We patiently burnt the red hot lead shapes and quickly poured the liquid into a glass of cold water and "read" our fortune using the key provided. My fortune, what sort of looked like a dragon signaled not to lose my temper (haha!); my husband's was "Don't get too full of yourself"; Queen Viv's was a Demon who warned against seducers; M's said that she was a good person; S's said that he will be spoilt (haha too late!) and In's said he needs to be patient for good fortune.
I thought I'd combine this with a Japanese NYE celebration (Ohmisoka). Even though I'm not Japanese I adore Japan and I have lots of fond memories of NYE Hatsum?de celebrations in Tokyo walking through Meiji shrine after midnight in the brisk cold with several thousand Japanese, with clouds of cold breath and the rhythmic crunching sound of thousands of feet against the tiny pebbles that lay on the walk. Bells ring 108 times to help ring away the evils of the previous year. Everyone was jolly, after all for Japanese it is a time to forget the old grievances and start anew. The idea behind Hatsum?de is the idea of experiencing things for the firsts of that year and this would be the first sunrise.
I recall reading in my trusty copy of Japan Times how noodles, longtime considered a good luck item in Asian cuisine, are eaten in Japan particularly the Toshikoshi soba noodle variety (Toshikoshi literally meaning "being close"). My Zarusoba (cold soba noodles with dipping sauce) was an attempt to combine the tradition of eating Soba noodles with a weather friendly option. During Japan's swelteringly humid Summer, cold Soba is the dish many turn to to cool them down. I know because I'd often eat this to help sustain me and it worked a treat.
Ozoni soup, an item I had at Iron Chef Michiba's fantastic Ginza restaurant is also served which is a clear broth with meat, vegetables and chewy mochi rice flour balls. Mochi pounding is said to be a holiday activity. Sadly the amount of the ultra chewy mochi eating over the break means that many elderly Japanese choke on it and in 2003 there were 6 people who died. The holiday mochi death toll is usually published in newspapers on January 2nd.
Tokyo Mart, Northbridge
Another New Year's ritual is Susuharai, or soot-sweeping - that is cleaning of the house. This was a bit harder to convince Mr NQN that it was actually part of a tradition rather than a ruse to get him to clean up. For our supplies we visited Tokyo Mart in Northbridge and whilst they didn't have any Toshikoshi soba or Kadomatsu (floral decorations for outside the house), we stocked up on ingredients for the Ozoni soup.
A NYE party, ahem... I mean gathering, always calls for a cocktail. A Pomegranate cocktail was on the order as with each year there's a New Year's Resolution to pay attention to health. The lovely people at POM Wonderful sent me some bottles, glasses and a cocktail shaker and I was more than happy to try these. Apart from the many health benefits (cardiovascular, antioxidant, erectile and prostate), I'd even spotted these in Rita's refrigerator on Dexter (Season 3 Ep 1) and if it's good enough for my favourite serial killer's girlfriend, it's good enough for me :) And as always Dexter was right, it's a sweet but tart and almost syrupy juice, like cranberry's healthier cousin (and better looking cousin-yes I'm a sucker for packaging).
As for the fireworks, we get a lovely view of all 4 sets of Sydney fireworks from our place. Happy 2009 everyone! I hope it's a year filled with much love, luck, happiness and food :)
Lots of love,
Cold Soba (Zarusoba)
500g/1 pound dried Soba noodles
400ml/13.5ozs bottle of Soba dipping sauce
1/2 cup finely sliced Spring onions/shallots
2 tablespoons Sesame oil
1 Dried seaweed sheet (Nori) cut into little matchsticks
3 tablespoons Sesame seeds toasted in a dry pan until golden
A small amount of Wasabi according to taste
Step 1 - In a large pot of boiling water (no need to salt), cook soba noodles as directed on the packet (about 4-5 minutes), just al dente, not too soft on a simmer not a rolling boil like pasta). Plunge in a bowl of ice water to cool immediately and once cooled, strain OR just run cold water over them immediately until cold and strain. Ensure that the water runs clear, you may have to rinse this a few times.
Step 2 - When ready to serve, place soba noodles on a dish and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and sliced seaweed strips with wasabi on the side. In a separate bowl, place Soba dipping sauce, sesame oil and thinly sliced spring onions. Dip the refreshingly cold soba into the sauce and slurp heartily.
NB the Soba can be cooked ahead of time earlier in the day and chilled until ready to eat (ensure all water is strained). As long as you've washed out the starch it should be ok. Just re-rinse under cold water and drain to refresh.
Recipe makes 4-6 servings if served with an entree
4-6 teaspoons dashi powder (or stock powder)
1/4 cup soy sauce
1.5 litres/1.5 quarts of water
1 stick of Naruto Maki Fish cake (available at Japanese grocery stores)
1 packet of Fried Age Fish cake ("Age" means fried not old, available at Japanese grocery stores)
2 medium carrots sliced into flowers
18 snow peas
18 dried shiitake mushrooms
12 mochi rice cakes (I prefer round for a soup)
Shallots/spring onions to serve
Step 1 - Soak shiitake in a bowl of warm water until soft. Reserve soaking liquid.
Step 2 - Slice carrots into a flower shape or whatever shape you wish and top and tail snowpeas. Slice stick of Naruto Maki Fish Cake into thin discs.
Step 3 - Put 1.5 litres/quarts of water to boil and add dashi and shiitake mushrooms and soaking liquid.
Step 4 - Cook carrots and mochi and add fish cake slices. When mochi is soft throughout (about 3 minutes if cooking from frozen), serve soup with a scattering of green onions on top.
One of the very few times that Nigella steered me wrong was with her method of extracting the seeds from the Pomegranate. She suggested cutting it in half, getting a wooden or heavy spoon and thwacking the shell hard to have the seeds rain down. They did rain down - sort of, but some steadfastly refused to leave the relative shelter of the shell and whilst I had some fun whacking at it, when I looked down at my clothes, I saw something similar to what a serial killer looks like after a night out... well, serial killing. My husband has never forgiven me for ruining his favourite tshirt and even now whenever we buy Pomegranates he is hesitant, asking me suspiciously how I'm going to take out the seeds.
The best way I've found is by cutting the Pomegranate in quarters. Then using your fingers or a small teaspoon prise out the seeds. You can bend the shell back and the seeds wil uncover themselves and you can slip them out with your fingers. For this cocktail, try and remove all traces of the cabbagey white folds that the seeds cling onto as it will detract from the rubied drink.
3 ozs/85ml raspberry vodka
6 ozs/170ml Pom Wonderful juice, chilled
6 ozs/170ml lemonade, chilled
Seeds from 1 pomegranate
Step 1 - Combine vodka and juice in a cocktail shaker and shake to combine. Top with lemonade and serve in martini glasses with Pomegranate seeds.