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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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!

 

corpus christi in the pueblo blanco

Tomorrow marks the holy feast of Corpus Christi; one of the most important religious days in the calendar for many people in Southern Spain. This time last year, I was staying in a small pueblo blanco called Olvera, in North-Eastern Cadiz.

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With a population of 8000 people, I was completely taken back by the live and energy the festivities of Corpus Christi breathed into this seemingly sleepy little community. Many of the town’s young people come back from the cities where they have moved for university or work to celebrate and spend time together – not just important from a religious perspective, it also features very highly on the locals’ social calendar.

I think that the social element of the day may have overshadowed the original meaning behind it, as someone who had a very non-religious upbringing, I asked many of the locals what Corpus Christi was actually celebrating; none of them knew. For many of the older generation, particularly the older housewives and widows I spoke to, it was about judging the other women’s tortilla recipes, making sure everyone noticed your new dress or shoes, and generally gossiping about everyone else in the neighbourhood.

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The preparation begins a week before, each household must wash the exterior of their house; doors are scrubbed, door handles are polished, and as it is illegal to paint your house any colour but white in the older part of the town, houses will sometimes even be repainted in an attempt to have the whitest walls in the street. The more work you put in, the more impressed everyone will be by how nice it looks, more importantly is that the more time you spend cleaning, the more people will see you putting in the effort, and that’s what really matters.

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On the day, the streets are decorated with palm fronds and a shrine featuring the Virgin Mary on each block. The statue on our street was outside the house I was staying in, so I was roped into hoisting banners and flags up through the windows and arranging vases or flowers, all the while being fed roasted peppers, gazpacho and tortilla. The locals were more than happy to share their recipes with me, although whenever I asked them to write it down for me they wouldn’t, or more accurately, couldn’t. Many of the women are illiterate, having grown up under Franco’s regime where education was not considered important, especially for girls, they are only now beginning to learn to read and write.

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As the afternoon sun begins to wane, the procession begins.

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The local priest, accompanied by many of the school children and important local figures, makes his way from the church at the top of the hill through the old village, stopping at each shrine to say a blessing. The locals line the streets dressed in their Sunday best to watch this age-old ritual before following behind to visit all the other shrines, because you have to see them all to be able to gossip about them later!

Later on this week, I will share some quintessential Spanish recipes I picked up on my travels; a traditional tortilla and oven-baked churros with dark chocolate espresso sauce.

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let them eat (cup)cake

It’s Queens’ Birthday Weekend in New Zealand this weekend, I always get a slight pang of jealousy knowing that there is a public holiday happening that I don’t get to be a part of. So I decided to celebrate anyway by making these strawberry meringue cupcakes.

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I think that for the French, the concept of a day celebrating the royal family isn’t one they really comprehend, and even if they were to buy into the recently resurrected global phenomenon of ‘Royal Fever’, its still not something they can really do, seeing as the last queen they had was decapitated.

PS I know this isn't actually her..
PS I know this isn’t actually her..

With these cupcakes I decided to celebrate her a little bit too; the batter I used for these cupcakes is rather cakey and dense (yet still moist) – paying homage to Marie Antoinette’s (alleged) quote,

Let them eat cake

Quite note: The fruit used in this recipe can be whatever you want, whatever is in season or whatever you find in a can at the grocery store.

For the cupcake batter, you will need:
-1 ½ cup of flour
-1 ½ teaspoon of baking powder (optional)
-¼ teaspoon of salt
-½ cup of softened butter
-¾ cup of sugar
-½ cup of milk
– 4 egg yolks
-1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
-a handful of strawberries, I used 12 small ones

For the meringue you will need:
-2 eggs whites
-2/3 cup of sugar
-3 tablespoons of strawberry liqueur

If the fruit that you want to use is not in season, use canned fruit- the liqueur can in substituted for the syrup in the can! If you are using fresh fruit, an extra piece can be put on top of the meringue before baking for that nice little touch.

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Begin by creaming the butter and sugar together until it forms a thick paste that you would happily sit down and eat. Add the salt, vanilla and egg yolks, using just the yolks will give the cupcakes a lovely yellow colour but you can substitute two of the yolks for a whole egg if you want, that way you won’t be left with two spare whites at the end. Mix in the milk followed by the flour, dice the strawberries and mix them through too.

Fill 12 cupcake cases with the batter and bake at 180°C for 20 minutes.

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While they are baking make your meringue- whisk the egg whites with an electric beater, slowly add the sugar and liqueur until it has formed stiff peaks. I used all four egg whites and baked the left over meringue by itself in their own little cupcake cases, as a way of using them up.

Take the cupcakes out of the oven and pipe or spoon the meringue on top of each cupcake, place them back in the oven and reduce the temperature to 150°C, this will quickly begin to cook the meringue but as the temperature begins to fall they won’t burn.

Remove from the over and leave to cool before removing them from the cupcake tin. Serve warm. Or cold, or place them back in a warm oven for about five minutes before serving to crisp the meringue up a bit and let’s face it, we all love eating warm cupcakes!

If you are celebrating the queen like I am, serve with a pot of tea and club sandwiches.

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Voilà! Those lucky enough to be enjoying the long weekend, enjoy it! Those not so lucky, enjoy the two days anyway, preferably with cupcakes!

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bunny ears and easter buns

Fact: Hot cross buns are the best. When I think about it, they are not the kind of thing that I ever particularly crave, but I do enjoy them so much every time Easter rolls around. The great thing about Easter is that, no matter which continent you’re on, the weather is usually nice and crisp, making these such a moorish treat. I was recently faced with a rather large pile of hot cross buns and I was astounded by the variety of flavours, no longer just your standard spiced fruit, no; Nutella, salted caramel, chocolate chip, gingernut, on and on and on.

Unfortunately, none of this massive pile of yeasty goodness was for me. Even more unfortunate is the fact that come the morning of Easter Sunday, I realised we had completely forgotten to get any and due to all of the shops being closed we feared that we may have to go without.

Instead I decided to make some myself.

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I am not sure why, but the idea of baking bread-based products fills me with an overwhelming sense of dread. I am always convinced that it is going to be a complete disaster due to the yeast not rising, or the fact that I am not very good at properly measuring the ingredients ever.

However, it went of mainly without a hitch. And you can do it too! Here is what you will need: 200mls of milk (full fat- duh!) 50mls of water 55grams of butter 14grams of yeast 455grams of flour 55grams of sugar 1teaspoon of salt 1 egg

Here is what I added but is in no way essential for them turning out so it is really up to you: 6 cloves a dash of vanilla 1teaspoon of mixed spice 1teaspoon of cinnamon ½ a teaspoon of nutmeg ½ a teaspoon of ginger ½ a teaspoon of paprika 120grams of dried fruit, almond slivers and chocolate drops.

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I used about 70grams of raisins, 20grams of almonds and 30grams of chocolate. The almonds add a nice crunch which emphasises the plump, juicy raisins. I added paprika because I think it gives a good kick to the mildness of the mixed spice, and with the addition of chocolate it is reminiscent of chilli chocolate which is up the on the list of faves.

Combine the milk, water, butter, cloves and spices in a saucepan and gently heat until the butter has melted. Remove it from the heat and while you are waiting for it to cool, combine the flour and sugar in a large mixing bowl.

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Once the milk mixture has reached blood temperature (that’s 34°C), mix in the egg, vanilla and yeast and mix in with the dry ingredients. If you are fancy and want to use a vanilla pod instead of vanilla essence like I did, add it to the milk before you heat it so it has time to infuse and take it out at this point… also take out the cloves… if you want, I didn’t because I thought they would be a fun little surprise to find when eating them, no one else thought this. I know that it says 14grams of yeast, that is because most sachets of yeast are 7grams, if yours are 8 then just use 16grams, or if you don’t have sachets, there is nothing wrong with 15grams.

From my extensive research before starting this recipe, there are so many different ways the above steps can go. Some melt the butter and heat the milk separately, other add the egg and yeast to the flour instead of the milk. I can’t speak for how this affects the end product, I did it this way because it meant less dishes afterwards.

Once you have mixed the milk and flour together, knead the dough for a good ten minutes, place back in the mixing bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to proof for an hour.

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Once it has doubled in size, take it out of the bowl and sprinkle/dump the fruit and/or nuts and/or chocolate on top and knead to combine.

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Divide and roll into 12 equal sized balls and leave to rise for another 30minutes. While you’re waiting, mix 2tablespoons each of flour and water together to make the paste for the crosses. Coat the buns with eggwash and pipe the crosses on top.

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Bake at 190°C for 20minutes, glaze with warm apricot jam, warm caramel or just rip them open and enjoy with a knob of butter!

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Happy Easter, everyone!