22 December 2012

Cranberry Christmas: Cranberry & Cumquat Glazed Ham

Not only have we survived the end of the working year, we have also survived the end of the world as the Mayans knew it! I for one am thrilled that I am still here to enjoy a Christmas ham with my family, my two favourite things of Christmas. Everyone has their own traditions, in our family we have our main meal on Christmas Eve, there is always a glorious glazed ham, golden roast turkey with stuffing on the side, a collection of colourful salads and at least three desserts, the selection of which is one of the most important decisions of Christmas. Then Christmas day we get up and head to the fridge for leftovers - salty ham slices, creamy potato salad with a dollop of chocolate mousse on the side (accompanied by a cup of good coffee), bliss. We then relax all day, nibbling at food, playing board games and opening presents...
This is my last post of the year as today we run around packing and cleaning then catch a plane home to spend time with my family. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and am looking forward to coming back next year full of ideas and recipes to try out here. Merry Christmas!

20 December 2012

Cranberry Christmas: Cranberry Coleslaw

Christmas at our house is a time of overindulgence so it's a welcome relief to have a selection of refreshing salads to go with your main meal, or to accompany left overs in the days after Christmas. Coleslaw can often be thick and heavy but by using cranberry juice in the dressing and dried cranberries in the mix it makes for a revitalizing salad, full of colour, flavour and energy.

18 December 2012

Cranberry Christmas: Cranberry & Caper Chicken

Christmas food should be no stress, full of flavour, have lots of colour and be easy to share. The one dish that comes to mind when I think of this is 'Chicken Marbella' from the never fail Silver Palate Cookbook, a cookbook must for every kitchen. The beauty of this recipe lies in both its simplicity in preparing and the sublime combination of sweet prunes, salty capers, tangy green olives and aromatic oregano. It looks and tastes sensational. Oh, and did I mention all you do is stick the majority of the ingredients on the chicken to marinate overnight, then pop it in the oven with a sprinkle of brown sugar and a splash of white wine? Entertaining does not get easier. 
Cranberries may seem like an odd choice for an Australian to focus on who has no access to fresh cranberries but they have become so entwined with the idea of Christmas food and they bring such a beautiful hue to cooking that this week it's all about the Cranberry for me. I have modified the Chicken Marbella recipe to make it into an easy Christmas dinner using dried cranberries and cranberry sauce in the marinade, I then cut down on the amount of brown sugar as the sauce brought its own sweetness. The result was absolutely delicious, the dried cranberries hydrated in the juice and made sweet, tart pockets of flavour, the perfect foil for the capers and olives. It presents beautifully as the centrepiece for Christmas dinner - pieces of glossy, saucy chicken studded with pale red berries and green capers, olives and parsley - Christmas food personified.

15 December 2012

Gift Toffee: Popcorn Balls

The decorations are out and hung on the tree,
There are people to visit, so many to see;
What gift to bring, just something small,
like toffee and popcorn made into a ball...

These toffee popcorn balls are easy to make and are very light and crisp, not densely packed, with the toffee threads merely holding the ball together. They always remind me of bringing them to the school fair, all tied up in crisp cellophane, when we were little and toffee was all we wanted. Kids would have their teeth glued together with the sticky toffee that come in colourful patty pans and we would crunch through the popcorn balls, jaw untethered!

12 December 2012

Gift Toffee: Pistachio and Cranberry Brittle

The children are nestled all snug in their beds,
While the adults collapse, tired and stressed;
With still more to do, I need a big coffee,
And a piece of that remarkable toffee...

Butter Crunch Toffee is always a crowd pleaser, but sometimes I want something a little different, a more sophisticated toffee if you like, so I came up with this Pistachio and Cranberry Brittle. My original intention was to have a red toffee with flecks of green, but on making it turned such a luminous deep amber I am even happier with the result.
This is a toffee to savour, from the deep notes of the browned pistachios to the astringent tang of cranberry juice infused through the toffee - a little complex and not too sweet. Brittle can be clear or have a little bicarb soda added to form bubbles making it cloudy but easier to bite. Because of the wonderful colour of this brittle I have made it clear and by tipping the tray when the toffee was hot, stretched it as thin as possible so it's not too hard to bite through and has a wonderful stained glass effect.

10 December 2012

Gift Toffee: Butter Crunch Toffee

'Twas two weeks before Christmas, and all around,
People were frantic with presents to be found,
For good friends and family and in-laws and more,
And a small Kris Kringle was also called for...

When people ask me what I want for Christmas I always say something edible or useful. The same goes for giving presents, you are either going to get the Bureau of Meteorology Calendar (I always get one for myself too), or you are going to get a homemade treat that you don't get all year round. It is a personal gift that tastes good, doesn't take up space after Christmas and most of all - it is made with thought and care. My mum taught me the joy of homemade candy making and even more, homemade candy eating, from a young age. Part of our Christmas tradition is to set aside a day to make candy - fudge, divinity, penuche, the occasional marzipan fruit and always a crunchy buttery toffee. Half of the candy would be piled onto gift plates nestled in cellophane and tied with ribbon to give to family and friends, the rest was for us.

7 December 2012

Sinterklaas: Speculaas Ice Cream Sundae

By now Sinterklaas is well on his way back to Spain after another year of cautioning the naughty and rewarding the nice. My clogs will go back in the cupboard for another year and my Stap voor Stap (Step by Step) Dutch cookbook will slip onto the shelf until winter makes me think of Europe and meatball soup. Even so, I am not yet ready to put away my Speculaas Spice and as the Northern Hemisphere heads deep into winter we are finally getting  summer with 37 degrees expected in Melbourne on Saturday. It is definitely a time to be rewarded for a year of hard work and what better reward than Speculaas ice cream.

5 December 2012

Sinterklaas: Speculaas

Sinterklaas marks the beginning of winter festivities and while it may not be winter in Australia (although Melbourne is trying) it still heralds the oncoming celebrations of flavour and warmth throughout December. More than any other biscuit I adore Speculaas. The combination of perfumed spices, creamy salted butter and deeply sweet brown sugar all in a crisp biscuit is phenomenal, but before you can begin to make Speculaas you must first summon a breeze from the East Indies laden with spices. While you can buy jars of Speculaas spice it is far more fun to blend your own personal mix, which incidentally makes for a great gift along with a recipe for Speculaas and some freshly baked biscuits (if you can part with them)!
Tonight is Pakjesavond and like children all over the Netherlands and Belgium my childhood clogs are set out with a carrot for Sinterklaas horse. Unlike when I was a child, I have filled my own clogs with chocolate coins, walnuts, oranges, and little pakjes of Speculaas tied up with string to give to my friends (and in that tradition of my family I have even bought myself a new toothbrush to counteract my sugar intake!)

3 December 2012

Sinterklaas: Pepernoten

Sinterklaas is the time of year when it’s OK to throw biscuits into the corners of the room for children to scavenge and for naughty children to be carried off in hessian sacks. It’s a time to gather with family and close friends to exchange small gifts along with a teasing verse about something you did during the year (which you would usually rather forget). For me it is a time for fantastic baked goods, all of which have that heady combination of spices the Dutch have had a love affair with since the 16th century when the Golden Age of exploration sent them across the globe, in search of fortune and glory through nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and black pepper. As valuable as gold and worth dying for.

30 November 2012

Macaroon vs Macaron: Walnut Cheesecake Macarons

French macarons have certainly been the 'flavour of the month' for considerably longer than a month. It seems like every café, bakery and patisserie has them in a myriad of hues, they have become such a phenomenon you can even get packet mixes for them in the supermarket (not highly recommended). The problem with such a glut of macaron is that not all macaron are created equal, nor is it easy to tell without tasting them all (not such a bad way to do it)!
They may have good 'feet', a smooth shell and an exotic pastel shade with notions of lychee or violets, but this is no guarantee of flavour and the *Wow* factor. I have been seduced by too many 'Meh' (with a shrug of the shouldersmacarons that unless someone says emphatically, 'You HAVE to try the salted caramel macaron from... or you HAVEN'T lived!', I am content to admire their neat rows in pretty rainbow shades of compact perfectness while ordering a coffee éclair or something oozing chocolate.

28 November 2012

Macaroon vs Macaron: Coconut Macaroons

Taste is such a truly individual thing that you will find for anything you are cooking there are an infinite number of variations out there. Only through trial and largely delicious error will you find out which one becomes your never fail, go to recipe. Coconut macaroons are no exception, they can be chewy, "meringuey", with a glacé cherry, dipped in chocolate, with desiccated coconut or moist shredded coconut … you may end up with several recipes that are just right depending on what mood you are in.

26 November 2012

Macaroon vs Macaron: Moroccan Almond Macaroons

In recent years the French 'Macaron' has become so popular and all pervasive that the 'Macaroons' of the rest of the world have taken a back seat. While it may seem like semantics to debate Macaron vs Macaroons - there is a difference (for which we should rejoice in all their delicious variety). They all have in common the base of egg whites with icing sugar but after that they diverge into an array of widely varying flavour and texture... so please, let's call a Macaron a Macaron, and a Macaroon a Macaroon and enjoy them all.
Morocco has two versions of the Macaroon, one is an almond based thin chewy biscuit, often with a whole almond on the top while the other is still almond based and chewy but is more dense with a hint of cinnamon, and usually lemon zest and rose water. For me, this second version is a wonderful representation in bite sized pieces of some of the influences evident in Moroccan culture and cuisine through centuries of diverse colonisation. Amongst the colonizers there were the Arabs who brought spices to the table, while the Moors cultivated citrus and the French shared their love of sweet pastries and biscuits.

23 November 2012

Peanut Butter: Biscuits

It's that time of year when everyone wants to catch up, it HAS to be before Christmas and you end up rushing around, bringing plates to gatherings or entertaining people at home when all you really want to do is collapse in a heap on the couch and eat sugary buttery food!

Peanut Butter biscuits can combine these facets of pre-Christmas frenzy as not only do they taste delicious, the dough keeps really well in the freezer so you can have it on hand to whip up a batch of bikkies whether you need to entertain or just satisfy your sugar and butter cravings! Even better, if you did make the PB ice cream and on the off chance you didn't finish it all in one go, you can slather the ice cream on the still warm biscuits for the ultimate PB ice cream sandwich of joy (scroll down to the end to see the photo)!

21 November 2012

Peanut Butter: Ice Cream

I finally got all organised before the night before posting, worked out the whole "schedule" thing and was sitting back feeling pretty pleased with myself when I somehow managed to delete the whole content of this post! Aaarrgg. So, armed with a big bowl of peanut butter ice cream I am re-writing this week’s second peanut butter binge recipe the night before posting - a custard based super creamy ice cream with a good dose of peanut butter goodness *AMAZING*.
Peanut butter always makes me think of being a kid - celery sticks covered in PB as an afterschool snack, PB sandwiches and PB running down the wall... yes, that's right - the wall.

19 November 2012

Peanut Butter: Satay chicken

One of the girls from work has just come back from 3 weeks of sunshine and satay sticks in Bali looking brown and relaxed... meanwhile it rained overnight in Melbourne and I am still very Vitamin D deficient! While I have to wait for the warmer weather, and even then it can be unpredictable, I can make satay sticks as aromatic and moreish as those found in Bali so at least that's something...

16 November 2012

Lemons: Moroccan Preserved

Last New Year's we were in sensory overload eating our way through the souks of Morocco. One of the flavours that captured the vibrancy, intensity and colour of Moroccan culture and cuisine was the preserved lemon. From the hint of preserved lemon in steamed couscous to its perfect pairing in a tagine with chicken and green olives, the jars of preserved lemons in the markets and taste on your tongue stay with you. With my glut of lemons and the oncoming sunshine I knew I wanted to make preserved lemons to have on hand to add to summer salads, or slowcook with meat.

14 November 2012

Lemons: Lemon curd

I have tried so many recipes and trawled the internet in order to find an easy, no fail lemon curd recipe that is super lemony (there is nothing worse than insipid curd), but should really have looked no further than Stephanie Alexander's The Cook's Companion'. I am often heard saying in the kitchen, "what would Stephanie do?" and she has certainly never let me down. Stephanie debunks the 'whisk continuously in a double boiler and never let it boil or it will curdle' myth, which makes 'lemon curding' a whole lot easier.

12 November 2012

Lemons: Limoncello

Everywhere you look at the moment there are bags of golden lemons going cheap. On a recent drive in the countryside we stopped at a roadside stall and picked up several bags of Eureka and 'Improved Meyer' lemons. I like having lemons in a huge bowl on the table for easy use and decoration and use them a lot in my cooking. That said, I now have an awful lot of lemons to get through so I am putting some away for another day... and this weekend I got to work making limoncello, an Italian digestivo usually served icy cold in small glasses at the end of meal.

9 November 2012

Omelette: Japanese Rolled 'Tamagoyaki'

Last year on a visit to Kyoto we spent a day in the kitchen with Mariko, who teaches Japanese cooking from her home. For me, food tells you so much about a country's culture, its historical influences and its modern traditions so whenever I travel I try and find a local cooking class. Mariko was a wonderful teacher, explaining all the different ingredients, cooking utensils and the specific uses for a mutitude of soy sauce varieties! One of my favourite things we cooked, and something I make regularly at home, is Tamagoyaki a Japanese rolled omelette with "Kyoto" green spring onions.

7 November 2012

Omelette: Tortilla de patatas 'Potato Omelette'

Tortilla de patatas is as delicious hot as it is cold and is perfect for picnics, snacks, breakfast, lunch or dinner... hmmm, it may be just right at any time actually. The trick is the poaching of the potato slices in olive oil! The oil should be good quality but not heavy virgin olive oil, and just hot enough to bubble as it cooks the potato but not hot enough to turn them brown. (Apparently, poaching the potato in oil this way is also the secret to the incredibly silky potato 'fondant' you get in restaurants.)

5 November 2012

Omelette: Classic

I don't overly like horses (already nervous around them, I was once on one that stepped on a snake and took off...) but I love the Melbourne Cup, mainly because as Victorians we get an extra public holiday. For me, long weekends mean sleeping in, cooking, catching up with friends and eating breakfast at any time of the day. Omelettes are quick and delicious and can be as simple or as fancy as you like making them great for lazy breakfasts or to share with friends for a weekend brunch. 

3 November 2012

Silverbeet: Tortellini

I love pasta in all its forms - from packet angel hair that cooks in 2 minutes to a pasta bake that warms and fills... but nothing beats home-made pasta. It really is a completely different experience to dry pasta and can have super simple toppings yet still taste incredible.
I sometimes make ravioli with the filling below but had never tried making tortellini before, the 'belly button' shaped filled pasta. It was a learning curve and my first few looked like no belly button I have ever seen (or hope to see for that matter) but it did use up a lot of silverbeet and once I got the hang of it they turned out beautifully! 

31 October 2012

Silverbeet: Tart with Blue Cheese

A tart or quiche is a great way to use up lots of leafy green vegetables - silverbeet, kale, chard, spinach (or anything green dying in the fridge), combined with cheese and cream they take on a whole new level of YUM. Tarts can be quite rich so you don't need a large piece to be satisfied, and served with a big salad it is just right for a spring time lunch...

29 October 2012

Silverbeet: Baked eggs with Silverbeet pesto

This week is all about silverbeet (Swiss chard for those of you in the UK)- for breakfast, lunch and dinner...
We spent last weekend at a friend's house in  St Andrews, a 45 minute drive from Melbourne and one of our favourite places to get out of the city and relax. St Andrews has a fantastic community market every Saturday come rain, hail or shine, and let's face it, you may get all of those in one day, set amongst the eucalypts with stalls selling seasonal organic produce, home made jams and cakes, as well as anything from old farm tools to massages, what more could I possibly want?  

26 October 2012

Strawberry Jam: BBQ Sauce Ribs

As far as I'm concerned fruit and meat go hand in hand, blending sweet and savoury to create balance, (the acid in the fruit also helps to tenderise the meat if used as a marinade). Some of my favourite foods from around the world have this sweet/savoury combination... Duck a l'orangeMoroccan lamb tagine with apricots, or chicken with olives and prunes... So why not strawberry jam and ribs?

24 October 2012

Strawberry Jam: Doughnuts

I love fried doughy food and could eat my way around the world seeking out different types - from churros in Spain to beignet in France or New Orleans, and it just wouldn't be New Year's Eve in Holland without visiting every neighbour and sharing oliebollen (literally 'oil balls'). There is a strong theory that suggests American doughnuts originated from oliebollen recipes brought to the States by early Dutch settlers, so with an American mother and Dutch father I think doughnuts must be in my blood.

22 October 2012

Strawberry Jam: Scones with jam & cream

My good friend Belle's mum (the lovely Erica) makes amazing strawberry jam, full of large chunks of sweet, soft fruit - it tastes like real strawberries have turned to nectar basking in the spring afternoon sunshine... I do not exaggerate.

So at our last weekly catch-up when Belle casually said, "oh, I almost forgot, I have something for you", then pulled out a jar of homemade strawberry jam I was so excited and rushed for the spoon drawer and cracked it open. Bliss! Just like her mum's. It finally feels like spring is here...

21 October 2012

Introducing Three Bears...

Hello ether...
... this is a blog about my culinary adventures in a small Melbourne kitchen, it's all about looking at a dish or ingredient three ways. If everything goes according to plan (so, wishful thinking on my part) I hope to post three recipes a week either exploring different versions of the same dish, or different recipes with the same key ingredient.