blue cheese-stuffed mushrooms

This is the last Christmas post. Promise.

Mushrooms, stuffed with blue cheese, coated in breadcrumbs and roasted until golden. Simple as that.

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I tried a recipe from my pile of cookbooks a few months ago where an egg was cracked into a Portobello mushroom and baked until they were both supposedly cooked and I wasn’t a huge fan – I loved the concept but I was faced with the dilemma of having a runny egg and undercooked mushroom or a cooked mushroom with an overdone egg; double edged sword in my opinion.

But I took the idea and ran with it regardless. For this dish I used brown button mushrooms which are smaller than Portobello so they cooked faster and I knew the cheese would be fantastic at any consistency.

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I began with about 15 mushrooms, peeled and stalks removed, I mixed 100grams of Danish blue vein cheese with a dollop of Greek yoghurt until it was nicely combined and relatively smooth. Next, I put them in the fridge so the cheese could set and had another glass of champagne.

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I then proceeded to coat the mushrooms in whisked egg and rolled them in a mixture of panko breadcrumbs, flour, salt and pepper before roasting them in a hot oven for about 20 minutes.

What I like about panko breadcrumbs above everything is their size; they aren’t as fine as regular breadcrumbs and maintain a nice crunch after cooking instead of absorbing too much moisture.

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You could use any kind of cheese you want for this – I would recommend something creamy like gorgonzola, feta or chèvre but you could also make it work with cubes of cheddar or camembert.

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I want to be able to say that this dish is wonderful hot or cold, and would make a great accompaniment to a cheeseboard or meze plater, but all of the ones I prepared had vanished seconds after the dish was placed on the table – an excuse to make them again, I say!

 

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olive tapenade; christmas condiment?

Since Christmas was over a week ago, we can now begin to look back at it in a nostalgic frame of mind, reminiscing over the lovely time we had and start counting down the days until the next one. I like to spend as much of January as I can talking about what we all ate to carry the magic on for as long as possible.

In my household, we never do Christmas the ‘traditional’ way; we never have a turkey, we don’t play Christmas carols and we decorate a baby fruit tree which we later plant during my mother’s “Christmas spirit ceremony” – a little unconventional but over time I have come to accept it as our version of normal.

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This year was no different. My father was hell-bent on serving a lamb rack from Christmas lunch, something I was never going to object to! I put myself in charge of preparing the condiments and allocated the lamb preparation to Dad; roasted with a simple crust of panko breadcrumbs and preserved lemon, it was moreish and crisp, the tartness of the lemons nicely juxtaposed with the sweetness of all the butter used to hold the crust together like a fantastic culinary clay.

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I digress; the condiments, that’s what I am really talking about here, the condiments. Clinging onto the usual theme of a summer Christmas in a Southern Europe-inspired household, condiment number one was a velvety and zingy olive tapenade.

Olives are always a staple in my pantry; without a jar of olives, I get a sort of meal creation anxiety. It’s for this reason that I thought it was a must that I incorporate my favourite purple pebbles into our celebratory meal.

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Olive tapenade is by no means a difficult side dish to create; it doesn’t involve a large about of kitchen prowess and you only need to invest a small portion of time into it.

For my recipe, here’s what you’ll need:

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A jar of olives – I opted for Kalamata olives but it is completely up to your preferences
3 cloves of garlic – more or less as you see fit
2 tablespoons of capers
a small handful of fresh parsley or 2 tablespoons of dried parsley
the zest of a lemon, and half of its juice
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of wholegrain mustard
a good crack of salt and pepper

You can add anything else you like, obviously stick to ingredients with a Mediterranean feel – sundried tomatoes, anchovies, even figs. Or just keep it nice and simple and let the olives do the talking.

A few notes, too: it’s 100% okay to use extra virgin olive oil here because the tapenade isn’t cooked; the smooth, smoky flavour of the oil is not wasted.

Regardless of if you are using Kalamata olives, black Spanish or green Italian olives, I strongly suggest you buy them whole and pit them yourself. In my opinion, the flavour will be better and the texture of your tapenade will be sleek and not mushy. It’s great if you have, or can locate a cherry or olive pitter (which is extremely difficult if you don’t live in Spain), but slicing them with a paring knife and removing the pits by hand doesn’t take too long.

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Now onto the ‘recipe’: place all of your ingredients into a blender or food processor (or use a mortar and pestle if you’re hard-core!) and whiz until combined and smooth. It is such a beautiful shade of burgundy that you might want to paint your kitchen with it!

It’s ready to eat straight away but the flavour will deepen the longer its left – it will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks.

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I spread it liberally over the juicy lamb and used the leftovers as a colourful addition to our many Christmas cheeseboards and even spread it over pieces of crusty bread as an easy afternoon snack.

What was your culinary highlight of Christmas?

 

what i ate for christmas

Now that Christmas is done and dusted, we can all get back to blogging.  But first,  I need to get back into the habit of knowing what day of the week it is.

So before I do anything that strenuous, and before I got into any such detail of my Christmas creations, I will leave you with a little teasing taster of what’s to come..

Breakfast begun with champagne and toast; I know that you’re thinking toast doesn’t really constitute a fanciful meal. It does when the array includes walnut and date conserve, confit duck, gorgonzola, roasted tomatoes and honeyed ricotta.

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The afternoon meal included a lemon-crusted lamb rack beside a bundle of home-grown new potatoes. These were accompanied by a fresh, zingy salsa verde and pungent olive tapenade. Rounding out the meal with a salad of roast butternut, crunchy spiced almonds and creamy homemade feta and button mushrooms stuffed with blue cheese. Safe to say, we were all in dire need of a nap afterwards.

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The day ended with chocolate-coated strawberries, salted caramel chocolate tart and muffin puddings. All while sipping fresh, minty limoncello cocktails.

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All in all, a fun, relaxed day in the sun, lying by the pool and gorging ourselves on chocolates… all without anyone throwing a plate or any other object at another family member… this year.

christmas countdown: stollen

The meaning of Christmas varies depending on where you are in the world. I’m not just talking about the way you celebrate it, or what it means to you – spiritually or otherwise. In every corner of the world, Christmas varies on all sensory levels; the way to looks, tastes and sounds, and the way it smells.

In New Zealand, a typical Christmas is a barbeque of sizzling sausages and an ice cold beer in the evening sun. On the flipside, my Christmases in France revolved around roasted goose and mulled wine, Christmas sweaters and staring out the window at the dreary, grey gloom. I know which one I prefer but here is something about a winter Christmas that is leaps and bounds ahead of the antipodes in festivity.

And that is the Christmas smells.

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This year I have found myself craving those warm, comforting smells; cinnamon, cloves, pine needles and ginger. Instead of brewing up a batch of mulled wine – which I didn’t think would go well with the temperature in the mid-twenties, I decided to try my hand at making stollen.

Stollen is a dense, festive bread from Germany, it is full of nuggets of sweetness and all of the flavours, textures and emotions associated with Christmas. Traditionally made with almonds, candied fruit and lemon zest, I decided to mix things up a bit by substituting in cashews, crystalized ginger and dried citrus peel.

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First things first, you need to get your dried fruit nice and drunk. I mixed a cup of raisins and a cup of candied ginger and fruit peel, chopped, with three tablespoons of Pimm’s – or orange juice if you’re not one for baking with booze. You could also use rum but I like the rich, fruity undertones of Pimm’s and use it in cooking often.

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Next up is the yeasty sponge; combine a tablespoon of yeast powder with ¼ cup of warm water, ¾ cup of warm milk, a teaspoon of clover honey and a cup of flour. Mix into a thick paste, cover with cling film and leave the yeast to do its thing. If your house isn’t too warm, then sit the bowl next to a heater for 30 minutes or until the surface of the mixture is speckled with bubbles.

In a separate bowl, whisk one egg and combine with ¼ cup of honey, ½ cup of butter and a pinch of salt. Toast ½ cup of chopped cashew nuts and add to the mixture, along with ½ teaspoon of nutmeg and 2 cups of flour.

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Add the yeast mixture and the boozy fruit and combine into a thick, wet dough. Slowly add another 1 ½ cup of flour until the dough isn’t so sticky. Knead for five minutes of a floured surface.

Once the dough has come together, roll it in a little vegetable oil and leave to rise. What I hate about so many bread recipes is that it always says the dough will double in size; mine never does and it makes me nervous for the end product. Nervous without cause, in fact.

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Divide the dough in half and roll into flat ovals. Brush the surfaces with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. I used granulated sugar, but you could use icing sugar or even a layer of marzipan. Fold the ovals over on themselves and knit the edges together, making sure no air is trapped inside and the seams are tightly secured so they don’t rip open in the oven like one of mine did!

Leave to rise for another 45minutes before baking at 190°C for 25 minutes.

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As soon as you take the loaves out of the oven, baste them again in melted butter and dust with a thick layer of icing sugar which will melt and be absorbed into the breads outer crust. Delicious!

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Serve it hot as it is, or cold next to a steaming cup of coffee. On the rare chance you have anything left past a day or two, smear each side of a thick slice in butter and pan-fry until crisp and golden. A decadent, toasty holiday treat!

salted caramel chocolate brownie tart

Since we are in December now, it’s totally okay to start talking about Christmas, and by that, I mean what we are all planning to eat on Christmas. In my family I am put in charge of the menu each year and the pressure to start planning is applied as early as September.

Even though I like to use Christmas as a time to experiment with new recipes, I know there is a lot riding on everything coming off as a success. Desserts are always the area that make me the most anxious – it’s not as easy to wing it with something that requires a strict set of ingredients, so I decided to do a test run of my planned salted caramel chocolate brownie tart.

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The name of this recipe is a bit of a mouthful, and it’s just as much of a process making it – a chocolate biscuit base, a layer of gooey caramel topped with a rich, dark chocolate brownie and glazed with a layer of even richer chocolate ganache.

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I adapted a recipe from the Akaroa Cooking School and used a sweet pastry base for my test run because I had some I needed to get rid of and wasn’t sure if all of the chocolate was going to be a sensory overload.

While the pastry was blind baking, I heated a can of condensed milk with 75grams of butter and several tablespoons of honey. I also added a teaspoon of sea salt because I love that salty juxtaposition. Once the butter was melted and the condensed milk had morphed several shades darker, I poured it over top of the base and baked for 10 minutes at 170°C. The caramel comes out another shade darker and had thickened nicely.

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While the caramel was cooking I got started on the brownie – 150grams of melted butter, ½ cup of cocoa powder, ¾ cup of sugar combined to a thick paste. I whisked in two eggs and folded through a cup of flour, a pinch of salt and another of baking powder. This makes a rather thick mixture and since I want it to pour evenly over the caramel layer, I might thin it with a bit of water next time.

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I popped it back into the oven for another 20 minutes before leaving it to cool.

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The ganache is simple enough; ½ cup of warm cream and 200grams of dark chocolate poured over the cooled brownie and refrigerated until set.

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This slice of heaven is definitely a chocolate lover’s fantasy, and while the pastry base is a nice touch I think I will be making a chocolate base come Christmas time – in my mind, you can never have too much chocolate!

 

crème au chocolat noir

DISCLAIMER: I promise that this post will be my last Christmas-related post until it becomes acceptable for Christmas to be an appropriate discussion topic. I promise that I will finally put Christmas behind me and move on to focussing on the year that is now, very much happening.

But before we do that, I just want to talk about this little gem that I whipped up for Christmas dessert.

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Even though the name is French, I discovered this little beauty in País Vasco; the Basque country in the North of Spain. Traditionally the Basque region sits on both sides of the French-Spanish border so it possesses an amazing blend of culture, which obviously has transcended into the culinary realm. My last stop on my Spanish Summer was San Sebastian/Donastia, which is famous for having some of the most beautifully presented food in the world, a subway that crosses the border into France and is a must-see destination for looking like this:

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It is less well-known as the city where I missed my bus and had to spend a night at an open-air bus station, but that, my friends, is another story for another day.

Right, where was I? San Sebastian; beautiful beaches, amazing countryside and yum food.

This recipe is so easy to make, all you will need is:
10grams of cornflour (V IMPORTANTE)
50grams of sugar
200ml of milk, if you don’t go full fat, you will regret it
100ml of double cream
85grams of dark chocolate
a bit of butter
and crème fraîche to serve

Firstly, cut the chocolate into the smallest pieces you could possibly imagine, better yet; grate it. Smaller pieces equals smoother mixture. I know a lot of people don’t really like to use chocolate that is above 70% cocoa but I say use the highest you can possibly find, higher cocoa percentage will make a richer flavour and that little bit more comforting. Just stay away from the 98% stuff, it tastes like chocolate flavoured dirt.

Place the sugar, cream and milk in a pot with the cornflour, MAKE SURE THE CORNFLOUR MIXES IN or it will not set and you will be left with a failed pudding (but a lovely and unhealthy hot chocolate mixture). Whisk over a medium heat until it begins to thicken and bubble slightly, take it off the heat and mix in the chocolate and butter.

Transfer into a greased serving bowl or four ramekins; six if you aren’t a glutton like me. The unFrench thing about the Basque country ids that they are not afraid of a bit of spice; I like to mix a little chilli powder in with my crème fraîche for an extra kick. You can also just leave it out all together.

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This dessert is perfect for any season; the richness of the chocolate and the spice in the cream make it lovely for winter but the texture if quite light and refreshing; good for summer. And it’s chocolate so its great for all the time in my opinion.

brioche à la praline

Why, hello there, 2015! How are you? Exhausting, that’s how. We are a mere four days in and I already just want to curl up into a ball and sleep for a week. But seeing as that is not possible, I instead just daydream about all the delicious food I ate a Christmas-time.

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This year, Christmas breakfast was accompanied with homemade brioche laced with sugar-coated almonds. The morning was unusually humid so the dough didn’t rise as well as I would have liked it to, but it was still really delicious and rather easy to make.

Easy to make and not too time-consuming, however, should not be thought as two of the same, especially in this situation. Regardless of when you want your bread to be ready, you will need to start the day before; the dough is best when refrigerated overnight.

To make this delicious beauty, you will need…
240grams of flour
25grams of sugar
5grams of salt
7grams of instant yeast
70milliltres of milk
2 eggs
125grams of softened butter cubes

Mix your dry ingredients together before adding the milk and eggs. Use an electric mixer at a low speed for a couple of minutes before moving to a medium speed for another eight or so. Or use your own arm strength like me until you have an elastic dough like this.

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Mix in the butter a cube at a time; I find that this way the batter is smoother. Cover the dough with cling film at chill overnight, if you cant wait that long, a few hours should suffice.

DAY TWO
Roll your dough out into a large square on a surface dusted with flour; it should be about a centimetre thick. Brush the dough with egg wash and cut into 16 evenly sized pieces. Sprinkle about two thirds of almonds overtop, fold each piece in half and arrange them in a loaf tin. Brush again with egg wash and sprinkle the remaining almonds overtop before leaving in a warm place for 45 minutes to rise.

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Bake for 30 minutes at 180°C or until you can poke a knife into it without any dough sticking to it.

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The food colouring used in the almonds will run through the dough as the sugar coating the almonds melts giving it a beautiful marbled effect.
This is a perfect sweet snack to dunk into your coffee, and having divided the dough into pieces before baking, it is so easy to break into chunks and share with loved ones.

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jingle jingles

For me, the Christmas cooking always begins days in advance, and this year is no expectation.

I recently discovered that Brioche à la Praline (Praline Brioche) is a Lyonnais speciality, not just something that you can get all over France. And to say the least, I have become quite addicted to it. So I have decided that I am going to attempt to make my own for Christmas morning,

I haven’t even begun with the actual dough, but I have successfully created some brilliant red roasted almonds.

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It is actually really easy. Just take 100 grams of almonds, they should be blanched and can be skinless or skinful depending on what you can find and whatever you feel like using. Mix 40mls of water and 100 grams of sugar in a pot and bring to the boil. Don’t stir the mixture but swirl it every once in a while until the sugar has dissolved. Keep it boiling until it reached 135degrees; if you don’t have a thermometer, just guess when it looks like its kinda hot. Take it off the heat, stir the almonds in and scatter on a baking tray to cool.

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Mix another 40mls of water and 100 grams of sugar in the pot and add a bit of red or pink food coloring. Repeat the process and leave the almonds of the tray to cook before cutting them up roughly.

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Stay tuned to see how the hard part; the brioche dough, goes, and everything else on my Christmas menu!

mama mia i’m melting

It’s official. Summer is definitely here. And although I am very grateful to be getting a second summer in a row I don’t think I was at all prepared for this. To me, a ‘hot’ day in summer is about 25°C (77F), so I was more than happy when it hit 28°C last week. The last three days have been 34°C (93F) and I actually feel as though my face is going to catch on fire, and that’s only a bit of an exaggeration.

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Luckily, the beach is not too far from our place and it’s lovely. On a beach excursion yesterday I was able to cool off in my first swim in the Mediterranean and as I lay on the sand catching the last of the sun’s rays at 8pm I thought how nice it would be to be on a nice beach island in this perfect weather (surrounded by cool trendy locals [see above] as apposed to throngs of tourists).

Apparently fate is a bit of a fan of mine because whaddya know,  the next day my friend in England told me that we are planning a high school reunion in September in Greece! So, I will be able to settle myself on a nice little island for a few days and do whatever you do on a Greek island with your best friends. Sing and dance along the hills like Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried? I think so.

In light of this little bit of destiny I decided to celebrate with a little cooking, obviously. Baklava is a tasty Greek treat originating from the Ottoman Empire and eaten basically everywhere around the Mediterranean. I have been in love with it ever since my Turkish uncle introduced me to it, it’s a combination of nuts with sweet pastry and syrupy sugar and is one of the easiest things to make. I made it for the first time last Christmas and I was a little bit anxious because every blog or recipe I looked at made it sound so complicated, they were lying big time!

IMG_3488You will need a packet of filo/phyllo pastry, about 450 grams of walnuts, a cup of butter, a teaspoon of cinnamon, a cup of water, a cup of white sugar, half a cup of honey and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. With this amount of butter and sugar it obviously goes in the ‘eat occasionally’ category!

First off, turn the oven on to 175°C, butter the bottom and sides of a decent sized tray and toast the walnuts in a frying pan with the cinnamon (DO NOT add oil or it will all turn into the world’s biggest disaster). You don’t want to burn them but you want to keep them in the pan until the have darkened, they should be crunchy the whole way through. If you have bought pre-toasted walnuts a guess just mix them with the cinnamon but that is less fun and will make you feel a lot less authentically Greek. Remember that when you’re at the grocery store.

Next you want to chop the nuts quite finely, or use a blender because it will take about 5 seconds instead of way too long.

IMG_3492In the buttered tray layer the pastry one sheet at a time with a layer of melted butter in between each sheet, be generous with the butter because the more butter the better it will taste! Add the chopped nuts when you have layered half the filo and then layer the rest, continuing to butter each sheet. Now cut diagonally from two of the corners, the slices should overlap to create diamond shapes, each cut should be about 4 inches apart making four rows.

Now it’s time to pop it in the oven for 50 minutes and start or the syrup.

Boil the sugar and water together until the sugar has dissolved and add the honey and vanilla. Bring down to a low heat and simmer for 20 minutes. To add another element, I added a teaspoon of chilli powder with the honey and vanilla to make it a bit spicy because I love dark chilli chocolate and I thought that this would work; it did! So feel free to borrow my secret ingredient.

When the baklava is finished baking, take it out of the oven and pour the sugar syrup along the lines you cut into it before baking, this way the pastry and the nuts will absorb the sugar and become sticky and moist and delicious. Unfortunately you have to leave it to absorb properly before you can eat it; probably the hardest part of the whole thing. Between 5 and 8 hours is what most recipes would recommend but if you have the self control to leave it overnight then that would be best.

This is what you should be left with in the end!

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Just thinking about this makes me so excited to be sitting on the beach, in Greece with the largest plate of baklava ever. But in the mean time I guess I am just going to have to satisfy myself by enjoying it on my tiny balcony and spending my days looking at the beach and searching for Greek looking people.

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