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December 2010

Christmas Eve Traditions

December 29, 2010

Following on in a somewhat backwards fashion from my Christmas Day post, here is a snapshot of how I spent Christmas Eve. Ben finished work a few hours early on Friday, which allowed us to head down to Red Hill and arrive at my parent’s house by the early evening. Buzzing with Christmas cheer, the Merry Fun began!

Martini

We were greeted with a
“>Red Rum Martini
, made with homegrown redcurrents.

I just love the enthusiastic, sour burst of these tiny little berries. The cocktail was really delicious. Not too strong (I often require a half strength or diluted version of Dad’s concoctions), with a hint of cherry flavour. Aesthetically stunning, it was an absolutely gorgeous, vibrant festive red. Cheers.

Historically, Christmas Eve in our household involved present wrapping whilst watching Carols by Candlelight on the television. However, recently we have adopted a new tradition. My mum and older brother once spent Christmas in France with some lovely French friends. Aside from an unwavering, full-blown love of anything French, this trip left mum with a lovely little Christmas Eve tradition, which we have embraced for the past few years. It involves fish and vodka. Perhaps a Scandinavian tradition, mum is not 100% sure and neither am I, we have taken it as our own and put a personal spin on it.

I love learning about other cultures and their traditions. I happily lost myself reading what different cultures eat over the festive period – from Lithuanian Kūčiukai to French Bûche de Noël, from Bulgarian/Romanian Cozonac to Scandinavian Glögg, and from Venezuelan Hallaca to Portuguese Bolo Rei – it all excites me! (and leaves me very hungry.)

Scallops

Before our main course of fish and vodka, we had a lovely seafood entrée. Fresh seafood at Christmas seems to be a popular Australian tradition, particularly if it is cooked on the barbeque – the old ‘put a shrimp on the barbie’ saying really rings true. For this dish, Dad grilled scallops on the barbeque and served them with a mango salsa.

The recipe link is here – we all decided it could do with some corainder (which we added liberally) and extra fresh green chilli. It was a light and summery dish.

Clouds

The weather on Christmas Eve was gorgeous, as the sun glowed with festive cheer. The clouds danced in the sky, putting on a stunning show. We had never seen a sky like this before, with the clouds stretched out in a stunning display.

Enjoying the cloud display lead to my Dad revealing he is a member of the Cloud Appreciation Society. Based in Britain, you sign up online, pay a few pounds, and are privy to pictures of clouds. There is also a forum for discussions about particularly stimulating clouds. I found this rather hilarious. Dad is always astounding me with his nerd qualities. He signed Jackson up a few years ago too. This lead to me questioning dad as to why I was not a member. Apparently my membership is now on it’s way. I look forward to becoming a member.

Salmon

We cooked salmon steaks on the barbeque. They were simply grilled with not a lot of fuss, and were super fresh. Hence they were really delicious.

Mum made a beautiful cabbage salad to go with the salmon. She requested the recipe following a visit to Mr Wolf in St Kilda. It is made of cabbage, peas, parmesan, chilli and fresh mint. Ben and I really loved this and will definitely make it ourselves. It was creamy, light and fresh.

We also had a garden salad, with a little festive addition of redcurrents. It tasted very fresh and, well, festive.

We served the salmon with the salads and roasted kipfler potatoes. I adore roasted potatoes, and no one makes them like my mum. Although I am open to taste testing others, in the interest of being a well-informed foodie 😉

We begin our meal with a shot of vodka.

Sorbet

And then we finished our meal with some of my dad’s homemade sorbet.

Dad got an ice-cream maker for Christmas, a real fancy one. We have been enjoying his ice-cream for over a month. I am not quite sure how he wrangled opening his Christmas present so early, but whatever the reason I am thankful for this pink grapefruit and champagne sorbet (David Lebovitz’s recipe, so it is no surprise that it is fabulous).

And thus concluded our Christmas Eve festivities. Lots of fish, a little vodka, some last minute wrapping of presents and then we were off to bed. I quite like this tradition…

How do you spend Christmas Eve?

Heidi xo

* Note: the quality of the shots diminished as the evening progressed. This was due to the sun retreating, and not the vodka. I do not lie.

Christmas Day

December 26, 2010

Christmas was always a special time for my family. Not in the pious sense – we are not Church goers by any means. And not in the superficial, exchanging of material goods sense. We do exchange gifts, yet it doesn’t define the day (although flash back to my seven year-old self and this statement may have not been true). Rather, this day is really about togetherness.

We all have a real glow inside us on this day, which I think relates to the fact that we are all together, joking, laughing, preparing food, eating said food and feeling lucky to have such a special family. This tradition has not changed as we have grown up, which I love. We may not still go on September family holidays to Noosa, we may not camp over New Years Eve at Depot Beach, however we are all together on Christmas and do things exactly as we did when my brothers and I were little kids. Although these years I am more of a help in the kitchen, rather than simply stirring the gravy (which actually does remain one of my favourite jobs).

Yesterday I woke up at 6am, as I always seem to do on Christmas morning. I love how the childhood anticipation of presents and fun still persists even into my twenties. My younger brother, Jackson, however was not filled with such excitement. As kids we would get up early and watch Christmas cartoons together until the rest of the house stirred. *Sniff*, it seems that my little brother has outgrown this tradition. I felt too guilty to wake him, so I went for a run instead. Upon my return, the house was still asleep. At this point I felt it prudent to jump on Jackson’s bed yelling, “Santa’s been here! Santa’s been here!” Naturally.

The house was now awake…

Christmas Morning

Ben and I prepared a fruit salad, as is our Christmas breakfast each year. I find that a lighter, albeit delicious, breakfast leaves more room for a bigger lunch 😉

On Christmas Eve, however, I did find a recipe for cinnamon buns. If it weren’t for lack of ingredients and time, my dear fruit salad may have been bumped from the menu. Perhaps next Christmas, or at Easter, I will make these buns, which look absolutely heavenly.

The fruit salad consisted of: mango, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, pineapple, nectarines and apricots. With a drizzle of lemon juice and a sprinkling of fresh mint, it was delightfully fresh and tasty.

The family gathered around the tree and opened presents, whilst eating breakfast.

Here is a snapshot of some Classic Thornton Christmas Morning moments.

Jackson actually cried when I bought him a Twinkie. True story. We have a personal joke about them going way back. He never thought he would see one. Best present ever, apparently. He his easy to please.

Dad with his Paella spoon, a present from Jackson.

I got a vintage 1940s dress. It is absolutely beautiful. I decided to dance around in it wearing an English hat from the op shop and holding a cane. Of course. Pictorial evidence.

Ben outdid himself yet again and bought me a gorgeous Veronica Maine dress without any help. Smart boy. He got it for half price, to boot. Such a smart boy.

I bought Ben David Thompson’s Thai Street Food (for half price too! Snap.). I also showered him with many other little vintage finds from op shops and brick-a-brack stores. We are going to have absolutely no trouble decorating our house when we buy one.

I was so spoilt, we all were. I received many gorgeous gifts. I will show the food related ones in future posts, no doubt.

Ben and I also bought an antique iron cooking pot for my brother, David, which will go in the garden. My parents want to fill it with water and have an orange water lily (orange was his favourite colour).

Christmas Lunch

On to the food preparations…

Each year, mum cooks the pork overnight, which means that on Christmas morning we wake up to the heavenly, fennel-infused sticky sweet smell of long braised pork. Mmmmmm. It is intoxicatingly good. The recipe mum uses is Jamie Oliver’s Overnight Slow-Roasted Pork. We are obsessed with this dish in our household.

Upon mum’s request, I prepared an entrée of prosciutto ‘sandwiches’ with a ricotta and pesto mixture as the filling, along with rocket and fresh basil. I wasn’t in love with these little sandwiches, I would have preferred the prosciutto sans all the fillings. Dad bought 5kg of proscuitto on the bone from Peter Watson (Bangalow Sweet Pork).

Dad also bought 9kg of their Dolce Ham.

That is 14kg of pricey pork purchases. True story. Mum used this as leverage to get her kitchen drawers re-done. Smart girl.

We then scrubbed up a little and got our festive dress on. I wore my green dress, which has a bow at the back. I love this dress, I bought it 3 years ago in Noosa. I originally planned on wearing my beautiful new white dress, however Ben reminded me that I always, without a doubt, spill food on myself. No dice.

On Christmas Eve I got my nails done in a festive red! I never get my nails done, so that was a real treat. Here I am showcasing them, as I did throughout the entire day, along with my engagement ring, which I realised I have never shown on the blog. It was a ring that my nana bought as a present for her mother. So it was my great grandmother’s ring. I am a little in love with it.

Nana and Roo (we call my grandpa ‘Roo’, David gave him the name when he was 2 and it has stuck) gave Ben and I a hamper filled with foodstuff I feel too expensive to buy on a regular basis. It included black rock salt, organic natural peanut butter, saffron threads, Crunchola and some tea. It was such a great present!

My aunty and cousin arrived soon after, and it was so nice to spend some time with these two lovely creatures. It was a small Christmas this year, only 9 of us, but it was just perfect. We ate outside on our long table, which is a lovely perk of having Christmas during Summer. It was overcast but warm, and really very pleasant.

The Eats

Overnight Pork, which was accompanied by a Gravy made from all the pan juices, and Crackling. I can’t do crackling. The texture freaks me out, I despise it. This pleases the rest of my family greatly – more for them!

Rolled Turkey Breast with mum’s Cranberry, Blueberry, Apricot and Macadamia Nut Stuffing (with fresh herbs from the garden). Lingonberry Gravy accompanied the turkey. This gravy is really light and fruity. Mum uses this recipe for the gravy (step 8).

Each year mum also buys stuffing from Houghton’s. It is a Pork, Nut and Herb Stuffing that is beyond delicious. It is such good value and so scrumptious, hence we only feel the need to make our turkey stuffing.

The Bangalow Ham, which is free range, as well as antibiotic and hormone-free. You can really taste the difference between this quality ham and others. Just beautiful.

For the roasted veggies we had Potato, Carrots, Parsnip, Pumpkin and Onion. There were also Peas, for a little touch of green. The carrots were my favourite. So sticky and sweet. I love anything sticky and sweet it seems.

We drank Bleasedale Sparkling Shiraz as we filled our bellies with delicious Christmas eats. Ho Ho Ho!

Cranberry Sauce for the turkey

I went back for seconds of the turkey, pork and stuffing. I was all about the meat yesterday, which is so not like my usual veggie-loving self. Maybe the tide is turning for my taste-buds?

Lastly came the Plum Pudding. This pudding, which we made in November. Mum warmed it in the pot of boiling water whilst we were eating. We served it with Boozy Sauce. Yes, you heard me, boozy sauce. This sauce, my friends, is pure decadence and deliciousness. You whip thickened cream, which you then combine with port, sherry, egg, brown sugar and butter. I always request a double batch of boozy sauce. I would have requested a triple batch, but by the time we arrived on Christmas Eve, mum had already starting making the boozy component of the sauce. *Sigh*, I will have to wait until next year…

It was a really lovely day, filled with fun in the kitchen, delicious food and wine, laughter and family. Christmas is one of my favourite days of the year for these very reasons. Another fabulous reason to love Christmas? All the leftovers…

For those of you who celebrate Christmas, I hope your day was as special as mine. I really do feel very lucky. Merry Christmas!

Heidi xo

‘Tis the Season for Shortbread

December 23, 2010

Pistachio biscuits, to be precise…

On Tuesday, I visited my parent’s house in Red Hill for a family lunch. Mum bought these “Vanillekipferl” from the delightful store, Pier Provedore, in Flinders. They are a German and Austrian crescent-shaped festive biscuit. The flavour of the pistachio nut really comes through – they are lovely, light and delicate.

We also had some traditional, homemade Scottish Shortbread, which my mum received as a gift. Praise this time of year, when edible gifts abound.

I have never been a fan of shortbread, however I now realise why. I was forever associating shortbread with the heavy, stodgy, dry, store-bought, bright yellow blocks that come in those cheap yet highly fetching tartan tins. To date, those tins were the highlight of my shortbread experience. I kept hair ribbons in them and discarded the shortbread – what shortbread? However I am now converted…

So buttery and creamy, and surprisingly light – provided you stop at one 😉 I found them incredibly delightful, and did not miss the tartan tin at all.

We also had homemade Italian Amaretti, another edible gift from a friend – it pays to befriend bakers 😉 They were round and quite thin, with a lovely crunch to them and a beautifully rich almond flavour.

‘Tis the season for Shortbread and other cookies!

‘Tis also the season to make New Year’s Resolutions. Naturally, “befriending a Scottish lass or laddie who likes to bake and give edible gifts” is presently at the top of my list.

Heidi xo

Twirl Freely (carbohydrates are not the devil)

December 20, 2010

Pasta has always been one of my most loved foods. I find it dreamy and delicious, and at the same time nourishing and comforting. My all-time favourite meal would be ultra al dente linguini or spaghetti, with fresh mussels, clams and maybe some prawns cooked in olive oil, white wine and some garlic, and finished off with fresh parsley. On my most recent trip to Italy, I delighted in this dish whenever I got the chance. So simple, so fresh – practically perfect in every way.

I know that I am not alone in my linguini love. Many of you are passionate about paparadelle and squeal for spaghetti. Please, sir, may I have some more penne? Yet while fusilli fills many a belly with joy, it seems that lots of people engage in a love-hate relationship with pasta. Twirling delectable strands with a fork evokes feelings of both happiness and guilt.

Pasta gets such a bad wrap these days, what with carbohydrates being the root of all evil… It is so silly, really. It is unseemingly common for people to banish carbohydrates from their diet, in the hope of losing weight. This is quite troubling, in more ways than one.

Firstly, cutting out any food group is not advisable. You miss out on important nutrients and this restrictive behaviour encourages cravings and binge eating.

Secondly, the key to a healthy weight is everything in moderation. No gimmicks, no magic pill, no quick fix. And certainly no extreme, ridiculous diets whereby you eliminate entire food groups, develop foul breath and horrible mood swings, and then end up putting on all the weight you lost and then some.

Instead, aim to eat a wide variety of nutritious food, with the occasional indulgence, in appropriate portions. What is an appropriate portion? Well, that depends on many factors, including your activity level. However as a general guide, stick with 1-2 cups of cooked pasta, as opposed to 3-4. Opt for nutritious carbohydrates (such as wholegrains, fruit, vegetables, legumes and dairy) as opposed to overly processed, refined carbohydrates (such as lollies, soft drink and pre-packaged biscuits). It is quite simple, really…

Carbohydrates are not the devil.

Pasta is not ‘fattening’.

And eating a bowl of spaghetti bolognaise will not make you put on 5kg.

Rather, I find a bowl of spaghetti bolognaise to be incredibly delicious and ultra satisfying. Paired with a simple tomato based sauce, pasta can be a really easy, quick and nutritious weeknight meal.

If I wish to up the nutritional content of my dinner, I opt for wholegrain pasta. Granted, some wholegrain pasta tastes like cardboard. However there are some good brands out there. I like la Molisana wholewheat linguini for everyday wholemeal pasta – this is a brand that Ben will eat too. There are also a growing number of gourmet pasta makers, who make really lovely wholegrain pasta.

Below is a recipe for my Tomato and Tuna Pasta, which I whip up very quickly when a craving strikes. It is also delicious sans tuna. If I’m really lucky I will have some fresh basil on hand, which adds a beautiful fragrance and flavour – I am a fresh basil addict, I just adore it. If my vegetable intake has been a little low that day, I may add in some spinach leaves or peas, to green the dish up a little. However most of the time I stick to the recipe below.

If I want to mix things up further, I will swap the brown onion for red onion, cut into longer, thicker slices, which I sauté in some olive oil along with a good glug of balsamic vinegar. It gives the sauce a lovely depth of flavour and tang. I leave out the tuna and instead focus on letting the sauce simmer away, developing a rich tomato flavour. Roasted eggplant and red capsicum are lovely additions to this balsamic-infused sauce, as is a little rosemary.

Tomato and Tuna Pasta (a.k.a my easy, nourishing weeknight meal)

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 brown onion
3 cloves of garlic
(I love my garlic, add more or less as you wish)
1 x 400g tin diced tomatoes (I use laGina tinned tomatoes – you could substitue with freshly diced tomatoes too)
1 x 700g bottle passata – TIP: I swear by Bertolli Provvista Sugo Classica. It is divine – rich and fresh. The quality of the passata you use completely makes or breaks this dish. Yes, this brand is more expensive, but I see it as a very worthy investment)
1 x 425g tin Sirena Tuna in Oil (I only use Sirena tuna, for the same reason as I mentioned with the passata)
¼ cup red wine – or perhaps a little more if I’m feeling a bit cheeky (at the moment I’m using a cask of Stanley Wines Shiraz Cabernet in my cooking)
A handful of Fresh Basil Leaves
Sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste
Good quality Parmesan
500g pasta
(I use Barilla when not using wholemeal pasta) – this allows for leftovers. Normally I prefer spaghettoni or a similar, equally fun pasta – I love to twirl my pasta. However with this dish, I enjoy tortiglioni or rigatoni – tubes are such fun.

* This sauce makes enough for at least 5-6 serves, however I always make this quantity so that Ben has leftovers for work lunches.

Method

Dice the onion. In a heavy-based saucepan heat the olive oil over low-medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for a few minutes until soft and coloured slightly. Crush the garlic into the pan and cook until fragrant. Add in the tuna (drain off most of the oil however leave a little), diced tomatoes, passata, wine and fresh basil, season to taste with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, and let the sauce simmer for as long as possible (I always end up simmering for ~30mins).

Cook your pasta in boiling salted water according to packet instructions, until al dente.

Serve the pasta into bowls. Top with sauce, and freshly grated parmesan.

I always serve pasta with a big salad. It ensure you fill up on this instead of a second helping of pasta 😉 I love a simple salad, made of mesclun greens, cucumber and tomato, with a dressing made with extra virgin olive oil, seeded mustard, a squeeze of lemon juice, sea salt & pepper.

So there you have it. Carbohydrates are not the devil. Rigatoni tubes are not the spawn of Satan. If you’re struggling with your weight a little, look at your whole diet – everything that you’re eating (i.e. you total kilojoule intake), and how active you are (or may not be). Don’t blame that conservative bowl of pasta. It is simply striving to be incredibly delicious, whilst at the same time, nurturing. How could you hate on that?

Heidi xo

Blood Orange and Lemon Cake

December 17, 2010

As a rule, I try not to post about food I (or loved ones) have cooked unless I have an accompanying recipe link, or unless it is easy enough to create yourself sans instructions. I find it an utterly shameless tease otherwise. “Here, look at this outrageously delicious dish I made but no, oh no sorry, no recipe – you can’t possibly make this at home yourself…” see, I couldn’t possibly taunt your tastebuds like that.

Or could I…

My friends, I am deeply sorry, but today I must tease you a little. Ok not a little, a lot. This post contains something divine, heavenly…but I do not have a recipe link. I looked online, honestly I did, but to no avail.

So here it is, in all it’s glory, sans recipe…forgive me, but it was simply too captivating not to share…

Blood Orange and Lemon Cake


There is hope, however, that I have not completely and wickedly teased you all…

If you are at all like me, you will have a backlog of Sunday Life Magazines – saved in the hungry hope that you’ll one day get around to making the recipes you’ve bookmarked. If this is the case, flick back to the November 14th 2010 issue, and you will find a delightful cake nestled in the top right corner of Karen Martini’s cooking column.

Two weeks ago, I fell in love with this cake when mum made to celebrate Ben’s birthday, and it has officially nestled it’s way into the top right corner of my heart. A citrus cake will do that to me, I’m a real sucker for citrus. Cut me a slither (or two) of moist lemony cake, ever so sweet with a delightful citrus zing, and I am a happy girl.

Another reason to fall in love with this cake (forgive me for teasing you further) is that it uses extra virgin olive oil. I love cakes made with olive oil – I really enjoy the flavour and the fat profile is greatly improved compared to if you used butter. Bring on the unsaturated fats! If I had to think of a misgiving about this beautiful cake, it would be that the sugar syrup was really very sweet – perhaps too sweet. Next time I may reduce the sugar content of the syrup. A favourite addition was the vibrant, caramelised blood orange rind that sat pretty and proud on top of the cake. Whilst aesthetically pleasing, I was more in love with the tang and textural adventure it offered.

The tune Summertime played in my head as I ate this lovely, moist cake. Citrus flavours danced delicately on my tongue, and at once I felt elated and content. It tasted like summer.

Heidi xo

p.s. Here are some recipes that I found to be similar to this cake, so as to not leave you with a craving and nowhere to turn.
A beautiful Marmalade Cake by the equally beautiful Molly Wizenberg.
And a few more cakes that I found when googling the key ingredients – these all look delicious!
Meyer Lemon Olive Oil Cake (Meyer lemons are a true love of mine, I eat them like oranges off my parent’s tree)
Blood Orange and Olive Oil Cake
Orange and Lemon Olive Oil Cake
Lemon Olive Oil Cake
And this Olive Oil Cake by Matt Armendariz that took my eye – love the addition of a citrus liqueur!

p.p.s ATTENTION: We have the recipe! Andy made it on his blog and he informed me that the recipe is there. Pop over to his blog, Andy’s Patch (link here) to make this delicious cake for yourself.

Stay Fresh

December 14, 2010

Towards the end of last week, I picked up some fresh rice noodles from a Vietnamese grocer on Victoria Street. I was very excited to come upon them, as every time I go out for Pho I adore the beautiful, slippery noodles. For years I have been buying the dried rice noodles, which re-hydrate to some extent in water but are never as texturally pleasing as fresh noodles. Now I don’t think I can ever go back to dried, fresh is best!

On Saturday night I decided to make a chicken soup and add some fresh rice noodles. They were beautiful in the soup – perfectly soft and slippery, just as they should be. This soup helped me Stay Fresh after an absolutely fabulous, fun and delicious work Christmas lunch – which involved a few glasses of wine, naturally.

I used the same stock recipe for the soup as I used in this post, however I added a few slices of fresh ginger. After draining the stock, I added in fresh carrot, celery and peas along with some chicken breast. I poached the chicken until cooked through, then removed it and once cooled, shredded it.

The chicken was a little tough, which I am thinking was because we used breast. Next time we’ll use thigh meat, or perhaps put in a whole chicken and use the leftover meat for sandwiches. Pray tell, what part of the bird do you use when making chicken soup?

Just before serving I added some chopped spinach to the soup and let it wilt slightly, as well as the shredded chicken. Once served into bowls I topped it with spring onion, matchsticks of fresh ginger and a generous dollop of chilli garlic sauce.

This soup was really delicious, despite the tough meat. The noodles were just delightful. I feel like a whole world of noodley possibilities has opened up to me, now that I have discovered fresh rice noodles. I find the flavour and texture are far superior than dried rice noodles. Sorry, dried noodles…it’s true.

Heidi xo

Ben’s Birthday Bake-a-thon

December 9, 2010

On Wednesday it was Ben’s birthday. He was working all day, and I had a busy work afternoon myself, but I was able to take advantage of the time I had free in the morning and get my bake on. I went a little bake-crazy, actually. I tend to get carried away at times 🙂

Muffins

My initial baking-specific plan for my man on his birthday involved getting up extra early and making fresh muffins for his birthday breakfast. What better way to show how much I love him than with a warm muffin, straight out of the oven?

I went with a flavour that I know Ben absolutely loves – berry and white chocolate. Whenever I ask what flavour muffin he wants me to make, this is what he always comes out with. I tend to health-i-fy my muffins a little (actually, a lot – see here), so any suggestion Ben makes tends to get lost somewhere beneath my chia and oat addiction. To tell you the truth, I initially opened the cupboard and picked up my packet of chia seeds. However on Ben’s birthday, I was determined to bake precisely what he wanted. So I dropped the packet and slowly backed away with my hands behind my head – “step away from the chia seeds, ma’am”.

I took the broken one, such a shame ;), as mine for breakfast. They were super moist. The tart berries cut through the sweetness of the muffin and chocolate. Absolutely delicious! Is there anything better than a fresh muffin in the morning?

I used Stephanie Alexander’s super easy Blueberry Muffin recipe, from her book, The Cook’s Companion. I actually made 6 giant muffins, as my muffin tin is gloriously big-boned, for Ben to take in and share with his work colleagues. Upon hearing my plan, Ben proposed, with a sly smile, that rather than share his muffins, he keep them all for himself and instead bring in something different to share. Ben’s work colleagues, take note – Ben is the reason you were muffin deprived on Wednesday morning. Punish him as you see fit.

Amused by his request, and happy that he loved his muffins so much, I got to planning. I knew I wanted to make something myself rather than buy a whole bunch of goodies for him to take to work. There are many people on his floor, so I thought that lots of little bites would be appropriate.

Cupcakes

When it comes to baking (without a health edge), my current favourite book is the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook. Such beautiful recipes, and oh so sweet. I attempted the Vanilla Cupcakes, but I was distracted by some work calls and so they didn’t quite turn out like they should have.

They were quite dense and very moist, almost like a brownie. I did take liberty with the recipe, and added white chocolate chips (wanting to use up the packet I opened for the muffins). While yummy, they were not amazing. And they weren’t quite cupcakes, rather pseudo-cupcakes.

I didn’t have time to frost them, so I instead sprinkled some icing sugar and called it a day. Or not quite. The recipe only yielded around 17 pseudo-cupcakes, so, in order to avoid any office punch-ups over who gets a treat, I needed more goodies.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I was keen to avoid a visit to the shops for ingredients, as whilst this was a morning bake-a-thon, I was simultaneously getting organised and taking calls for my busy work afternoon. Yet I only had one egg left… I did have chocolate though, white and dark. My mind turned to cookies, and I as googled I came across a recipe which sung perfectly to what I had on hand. Chocolate Chip Cookies from David Lebovitz’s Great Book of Chocolate. You can always trust David Lebovitz. My interpretation of his recipe made nearly 40 cookies – wowsa! There would have been a few more cookies but some of them mysteriously disappeared. I have no idea what happened there, honestly. I haven’t a clue where they got to…

It took a lot of batches to bake all of these cookies. Usually when I bake, I have a tendency to rush things towards the end and plot the mixture on the baking tray too close together. This leads to Siamese Twin cookies, and, whilst delicious and amusing, they are not pretty – not birthday cookie material. So this time I was more careful and liberal with my time, and they turned out wonderfully.

I now adore this recipe. I don’t think I have had a better chocolate chip cookie ever. The chocolate melted perfectly and was deliciously gooey, and the walnuts provided a welcome break from the overall sweetness. But they weren’t too sweet. My cookies didn’t turn out like the picture provided (why is that always the case when I bake?), they were far thinner. I actually liked the wafer-like proportions. It made it easy to eat three of them warm from the oven *cough*, I mean, I still don’t know where those few missing cookies went? Weird…loco…

Once all the baking was completed, I packed up the cookies and pseudo-cupcakes and took them into Ben’s work – I’m gunning for fiancé of the year. He was, of course, very appreciative and excited. I know that I will be making these cookies again. I absolutely loved them. Judging by the response from Ben’s work colleagues, I am not alone in my praise.

And thus concludes my bake-a-thon in celebration of Ben’s birthday. Happy birthday, gorgeous pie. Thanks for being you. The amount of fun we have together is ridiculous. Thank you, also, for taking advantage of the fact that you know I can’t say no to you when you request I cook/bake something. It led me to this beautiful cookie recipe, and for that I am very thankful.

Heidi xo

p.s.
In this bake-a-thon, I used my new Kenwood Chef Mixer for the first time. Actually it is not new, it is nearly 30 years old. It was my mum’s, and recently she handed it down to me after she got a bargain on a newer model at a garage sale. Snap! I have such fond memories of baking with this mixer as a child. I can’t believe that it is now mine. Each time I walk into the kitchen and see it on the bench, I squeal in delight!

A little more than Beef and Black Bean

December 7, 2010

I have a confession to make…until I met Ben, I thought that Chinese food was Beef and Black Bean. Sweet and Sour Pork. Honey Chicken.

Yep.

I grew up in a place where almost everyone was Anglo-Saxon. There was not a lot of cultural diversity in the schoolyard – white-bread sandwiches as far as the eye could see!

We weren’t sheltered, not at all. My parents were quite learned in other cultures, especially when it came to cuisine. Although we come from English and Irish backgrounds, I grew up eating lentils, French stews and couscous along with my English and Aussie staples. Our palates were quite diverse. Except for when it came to Chinese food.

As a child, we rarely got take-away. The nearest McDonalds was not for 20km, and so any place that possessed a pair of those golden arches was so ‘city’ to me. If we did get take-away, it would be Fish & Chips from Balnarring. I have such sweet memories of our fish and chip nights, with the Skipping Girl white vinegar always on the table – you have not lived until you have tried chips with white vinegar. Very occasionally we would get pizza, also from Balnarring. In fact on reflection, Balnarring, being a tidy 10km away, appears to have been the hub of all our take-out experiences.

Once, maybe twice, a year we would go to the Balnarring Chinese Restaurant. We would order our Beef in Black Bean sauce, our Honey Chicken, some Spring Rolls and a serve of Fried Rice. Correction, ‘Special’ Fried Rice…always special.

And thus was my experience of Chinese food. Until I met Ben.

I was fifteen when I met him in all his half-Chinese glory and he rocked my white-bread world. All of a sudden I was introduced to Char Sui, Yum Cha and Congee. When I was just sixteen, I went to Hong Kong with his family. I will forever remember going out for dinner and being scarred by the cooked chicken head, with it’s creepy pointy little beak, that would persistently look at me, every time the Lazy Susan revolved my way. It did take me a while to come around to all these very foreign flavours. But, nine years on, I now love Chinese food. The proper stuff, no Honey Chicken for me – I never liked it anyway.

Ben and I recently visited Rock Kung, in Glen Waverly. Ben has great memories of this place, as he grew up over that side of town. When we were first together we would visit Rock Kung frequently with his family, as it was always delicious and open late. I am happy to report, it still is.

When we get a craving for this type of food, it hits hard. Ben’s family is mainly in Hong Kong now, and so we can’t get his Dad to cook us fish or noodles whenever we wish. We have tried cooking it ourselves, but I am afraid to say that we have a long way to go when it comes to cooking our beloved dishes. So it is very nice to have a place where we can eat a nostalgic meal. Although Ben has been eating this way his whole life, I look back at my sixteen-year-old self and see that I too have grown up with this food. And so it feels very special to me.

Sik Fan!*

Ironically, after this nostalgic-centred post, the first thing we ate on this visit to Rock Kung was something Ben rarely eats and I have never eaten – a dim sim. When I think of dim sims, I picture those very fried ones from the fish and chip shop. These are far superior. We were both actually really delighted and I am desperate to have their dim sims again.

Mapo Tofu. I cannot recall where I first had Mapo Tofu, but I am assuming that it was in Hong Kong as I have never been able to find a good version in Melbourne since. This vexes me greatly, as I just adore Mapo Tofu when made to my liking. I do not enjoy a dish that is overpowered with artificial-tasting sweet chilli sauce. I have been sent links to Neil Perry’s version, and I have Elizabeth Chong’s cookbook from the early nineties with a recipe that looks like a winner. I know I should just bite the bullet and make it myself, but every time I see it on a menu I have to try it! I’m sorry to say that Rock Kung did not deliver it the way I like. Granted it wasn’t on the menu, so I can’t complain too much, as they did whip it up especially.

We also got some Char Sui, which was really delicious. I love their Char Sui. Not too fatty and really sticky. Yum.

Lastly we got the Barramundi – what we really came here for. I adore steamed fish with ginger, shallots, coriander and soy. So fresh, so succulent. Amazing. Ben likes to eat the cheek, the sweetest bit. I get freaked out by any reference to body parts, which highlights that this was once a living creature, so I usually let him have it.


And of course, rice. Steamed rice. Not listed as ‘Special’, but this food is truly special to me…

Heidi xo

* Sik Faan translates to “Eat Rice”. It is the Cantonese version of “Bon Appetite” or, what I guess is the Aussie version, “Dig In!”

Perfect Porridge

December 5, 2010

I have discovered my perfect bowl of porridge. I wasn’t even on a mission, it just came to me, after not a lot of fuss at all. I love meals like that, ones that surprise you with their brilliance.

I have previously mentioned my love of oats, many times. But recently I have found myself making perfect bowl after perfect bowl – just in time for summer…?? Peculiar timing it may be, nevertheless I have wholeheartedly embraced this blessing and have unabashedly made perfect porridge for breakfast four times in the past week.

Ordinarily, two or three times a week, first thing in the morning (although I don’t restrict my porridge eating to breakfast only) I will get an urge for a warming bowl of porridge. I have my go-to ingredients, which are rolled oats and chia seeds. Rolled oats because I like a thicker oat (plus, rolled oats have a lower GI than quick oats), and chia seeds as they are an easy, quick way to get a dose of protein and omega-3’s. Another reason why chia seeds have cemented their place as a founding member in my porridge, is that they swell when in contact with water. Here is a little chia tip for you: a little water with chia seeds, left to sit for a while, makes an excellent egg replacer when getting your vegan-bake on. This fabulous feature makes the porridge thicker and kind of pudding-like, which I enjoy.

So, I have my oats and my chia seeds, they are always present. But the other ingredients? That completely depends on my mood…

I usual stick with skinny milk (update: my views have changed, see here), although I do occasionally feel like the nutty flavour of soymilk. One of my favourite additions is banana. I take a fairly ripe banana (under-ripe ones simply don’t work) and slice it into what I can only describe as dainty chunks – not large pieces, and not uniform thin slices – somewhere in between. I add this along with the oats, chia seeds and milk at the very beginning. Cooking the banana as you diligently, and occasionally vigorously, stir the contents of the pot makes the oats thicker again, and imparts a lovely sweet flavour that blends entirely throughout the oats, binding everything together. I can’t stress enough how much I adore my porridge with a banana base.

More often than not, I don’t add another sweetener, as the banana is sweet enough. However if the banana is not as ripe as I would like or the flavour is unremarkable, I may add an additional ingredient to make the dish sing. This is usually maple syrup.

For years I was a girl who had porridge the same way, every time. I would cook my oats with half water, half milk and top with honey, sliced banana and a sprinkle of cinnamon. And I was happy. But things changed – I grew up, I travelled the world and developed new tastes. I am now more adventurous, hungry and excited about my food and cooking. My kitchen shelves have been taken over by nut butters, coconut oil, orange blossom water, agave nectar, brown rice syrup – the list goes on. I still have a place for my vegemite, my honey – but they now stand more towards the back, and tend to only come when a nostalgic craving strikes.

The other day I tried my honey, banana, cinnamon combination again, and I must say, it no longer satisfies me as it used to. I am now officially a maple syrup convert, and a snobby one, at that – it must be pure maple syrup, not maple flavoured syrup. However I do occasionally mix things up in the sweetener department, I am known to be rather outrageous with my oats after all. So sometimes I will have a sprinkle of brown sugar on top of my porridge. I love the way the sugar pools on the hot oats, like fallen snowflakes scattered on the ground. Beautiful!

On the rare occasion, I may want some dried fruit. When I do, I add a dessert spoon of sultanas at the start of the cooking process. This way they go all juicy and turgid, and stupendously delicious, as they soak up the liquid. They turn from a frail, sarcopenic bite into a plump, jolly, bursting bubble. Despite the deliciousness that is the slightly stewed sultana, most of the time I am a fresh fruit girl.

I like to add the fruit once the porridge is cooked and served into bowls. My favourite toppings are fresh blueberries – so soft and plump, with a subtle sweetness. Other fresh fruit that works well are raspberries, strawberries, pears and bananas. Fresh apples are an option, but they’re even better stewed – so soft and tart. However I don’t always have stewed apples on hand, and rarely have time to prepare them in the morning – such a shame 🙂 So more often than not, I don’t pair apples with porridge.

If I am sweetening my porridge with brown sugar, I would do it now, once served into bowls. You the sugar to melt, like dark, rich snowflakes. If I am using maple syrup, however, I tend to add a dash halfway through the cooking process.

My perfect bowl of porridge is nearly ready, all I need now is some crunch. What better way to add crunch than with nuts? Toasted nuts, of course – I am of the belief that toasting nuts always makes them better. I’ll use pecans if I desire a buttery flavour and almonds if I want something less rich. Although I’m very open to more nutty suggestions. Whilst certain of my love of toasting them, I do not profess to be a nut connoisseur.

And there it is…voila! Perfect Porridge. A nutritionally fabulous bowl of taste and textural delights. I ate this exact bowl, shown below, for 3 days last week. On the forth day I mixed it up with raspberries. Perfection.

I am aware that everyone has their own taste preference, so this is my perfect porridge. The way I like it – thick oats, plumped up with sweet banana and pimped-out with chia seeds (pimp my porridge?), with a refreshing burst of fruit and a welcome nutty crunch. I hope this post inspires you to add your personal favourite flavours and texture preferences, to find your perfect porridge. You might like a dash of vanilla extract with your porridge? Perhaps you prefer it without nuts? Or maybe for you it is all about fresh banana slices and grated nutmeg? In the words of Madonna, “Express Yourself”. Go ahead, pimp your porridge…do you think this has MTV potential?.

My Perfect Porridge (for one)

I am all too aware that, like my honey, banana and cinnamon combination, this bowl too may not stand the test of time. But for me, right now, even in this blistering heat, it is perfect…

Ingredients

40g Rolled Oats (1/3 cup I find is too little, and ½ cup is too much for me)
1 teaspoon Chia Seeds
A splash of Water
~3/4 cup Milk
(I first add ½ cup then add more as required)
1 ripe Banana – cut into dainty chunks
A dash of Pure Maple Syrup
10g Slivered Almonds
A handful of Fresh Blueberries

Method

Put the oats and chia seeds into a heavy-based saucepan. Add a splash of water and ½ cup milk, and turn the heat on to medium. Add the dainty banana chunks and allow the pot to heat, gently coming to a simmer. Once bubbling, turn the heat down a little. Stir the oats to incorporate the banana – the occasional vigorous stir is welcome. Cook for a couple of minutes. Add in the last ¼ cup of milk – add more milk or water if the oats are looking a little dry.

Heat a separate, heavy based saucepan on medium-low heat. Once hot, turn the heat down to low and add the almonds and allow to toast. Be sure to not let them burn – shake the pan frequently. Turn off the heat once lightly golden and fragrant.

Back to the porridge, add a dash of maple syrup and continue to stir. Stir until the oats and cooked and you have thick, pudding-like porridge (this usually takes ~5 minutes).

Once cooked, pour into your favourite porridge bowl – I alternate between two little bowls I brought back seven years ago from l’Isle sur la Sorgue in Provence, France. They’re just darling, one purple with white polka-dots, the other cream with blue polka-dots. They’re perfect for yoghurt, granola, ice-cream pudding and, of course, porridge!

Top the porridge bowl with the blueberries and toasted almonds. And there you have it. Perfect Porridge. Or I should say, my Perfect Porridge.

Heidi xo