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.

SAM_3688

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.

SAM_3702

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

SAM_3709

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.

Advertisements

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.

20151218_143717[1]

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.

SAM_3599

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.

SAM_3601

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.

SAM_3607

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.

SAM_3612

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.

SAM_3619

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!

SAM_3621

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!

fennel frond salad

We are officially in summer here in New Zealand and even though that doesn’t necessarily mean endless sunshine, it does mean that fresh, crisp salads are on my mind more and more.

Whenever I go to the market, I always try and buy something I don’t usually buy, there have been some failed new flavours but if you don’t open yourself up to new possibilities, you could miss the chance of finding a new favourite.

How philosophical.

SAM_3559

Fennel is my flavour of the month, and this week I purchased what is potentially the biggest fennel bulb known to man. Usually when people use fennel, they stick with the bulb and just throw everything else away. What a waste! The stalks can be used just like celery and I used the fronds to make a fragrant salad.

SAM_3572

Begin by slicing a carrot as thinly as possible with a grater or mandolin. Coat them with a whisper of olive oil and roast until cooked through and slightly crunchy.

SAM_3566

Next, remove the fronds from the fennel bulb, you can use it for a range of things, like this salad. I steamed the fronds for a couple of minutes to bring out the aniseed flavour, and it made the kitchen smell like liquorice!

SAM_3567

While the fronds were steaming, I sliced a couple of button mushrooms are doused them in a few teaspoons of the pickling liquid from my radishes.

After drying the fronds, I tossed them through some shredded lettuce. Add the mushrooms and pickling liquid with the frond salad, along with as many rondelles of pickled radish as you like.

SAM_3573

Add a dash of extra virgin olive oil and some fresh mint and parsley leaves, top with the carrot chips and you have yourself a colourful rainbow salad that’s bursting with so many flavours.

SAM_3575

It’s a perfect accompaniment to chicken, fish or red meat, or even by itself with a croute of crusty bread.

how to be a kiwi

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed from my barrage of sunny, beach-time photos that I spent the weekend at a friend’s wedding.

The setting was idyllic; sunshine and sand, a driftwood alter and rustic décor, a warm breeze carrying the salty air, and a beautiful bride to boot.

20151114_081544[1]

It was a real international affair; visitors from all over the globe settling into this sleepy little beach town. And with some many of the guests having recently returned from their lives abroad, it was a perfect occasion for an overload of Kiwiana.

20151114_080342[1]

Here are some of the things we did that sum up what it’s like to be a Kiwi.

Hokey pokey ice cream

I think it’s safe to say that New Zealanders class hokey pokey as its own food group. These tiny, amber coloured droplets of golden syrup are worth their weight in (actual) gold in my eyes. Not only are they excellent in keeping my constant sugar cravings at bay, but they offer a satisfying crunch to accompany the smooth velvetiness of almost-melting vanilla ice cream. As kids, we would pick the little sugary globes out of our ice cream as we went and save them till last, the winner was the person whose ice cream had the most hokey pokey balls. The prize was never more than bragging rights, but that’s the best part of winning anyway.

Steak and cheese pies

I can understand how the idea of a mince pie sitting in a warming oven could sound all kinds of horrible. And I partially agree. It’s not something that I have often; less than once in a blue moon, but when I do indulge, it’s one of the most nostalgic experiences that exist – it just tastes like home. Gooey cheese on top of a mountain of steak chunks, drowned in an ocean of thick, rich gravy, all encased in a petite parcel of warm pastry. It is by no means gourmet, but it is definitely an ideal meal for enjoying as you walk along the boardwalk, cradled between two icy cold hands to help warm up after a dip in the not-quite-warm-enough ocean.

Beach cricket

Speaking of activities that are well complemented by swims in the “refreshing” surf; beach cricket. I wasn’t much of a sporty child; I wasn’t blessed with much in the form of hand-eye coordination, so I’m not well versed in the rules of actual cricket but that’s never stopped me from enjoying a round of beach cricket where the rules are far simpler. Someone bowls the ball (underarm of course), you thwack it as hard as you can and run to a stick poked in the ground and back as many times as you can. If someone catches the ball, you’re out, if not, the cycle continues until they do, or until someone gets mad and hurls the bat at someone else or into the ocean. But that only happens if you’re playing with my family.

20151114_081550[1]

Don’t even get me started on fish and chips, that’s a story for a whole other post!

crystalized ginger

Another sporadic post.

You may have noticed my lack of consistency lately, it’s because of a couple of things; I am back in New Zealand and I am in the midst of rehearsing and performing in a show.

A show that involves me descending from the roof with my head pointing towards the ground in a rather artistic tumbling fashion.

While I am sure this visual spectacle is awe-inspiring for the audience, for me it induces a different sensation – one of mild motion sickness.

Which brings me to today’s kitchen experiment; candied ginger.

SAM_3326

There have been many occasions when, as a child, I have been out in boats – whale watching or visiting close offshore islands, where the inconsistent bobbing of the dark blue swells has upset my stomach just enough to have me hanging over the side of the boat, silently praying to be standing on solid ground. My prayers were never immediately answered but we were always given sugary gingernut biscuits to crunch on while we sipped syrupy cordial.

Candied ginger has this same effect, it is a lot more practical while flipping through the heavens, and makes a great decoration. On top of that, it is so simple to make!

SAM_3318

To begin, thinly slice as much ginger as you like, I made a rather large stash because I knew I would need it in bulk. The internet does say that it will keep for about six months, so there is no need to worry about it going to waste, but if you are planning on using it solely for decorative purposes, you may not feel the need to go all-out like I did.

A mandolin could come in handy for this task, but it probably won’t. I think mandolins are the most overrated kitchen utensil (followed closely by a potato peeler) and I prefer to slice it with a sharp knife, the results will have the same accuracy. Weigh the ginger (or make an educated guess), measure out an equal quantity of sugar and set aside for later.

SAM_3321

Add to a saucepan with just enough cold water to cover the ginger, bring to the boil and simmer until the water is all but reduced – this should take about 20 minutes. Stir occasionally to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom, and because I cannot be near a boiling pot without the urge to stir it overcoming me.

Add the sugar and stir until dissolved. Leave it to simmer for another 20 to 30 minutes. Drain off any excess sugar syrup – it is lovely and sweet, and infused with the ginger’s flavour so don’t let it go to waste, I swirled mine through a tub of softened vanilla ice cream. Delicious!

Place on a tray of baking paper and sprinkle with a bit more sugar. Leave your ginger slithers to dry overnight, I rotated mine after a few hours and placed them in a hot oven that I had just turned off to give them a bit of encouragement.

SAM_3328

They are sweet and chewy, with just enough crunch. It’s a great high-energy snack, and even though it’s also high in sugar, I don’t need to worry about overindulging because of the subtle spiciness which means I don’t even feel like eating more than a couple of pieces at once.

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.

SAM_2969

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.

SAM_2964

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.

SAM_2972

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.

IMG_20150529_103902[1]

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

SAM_2970

fun with fruit: apple edition

It is a real hit and miss time of the year for apples at the moment, there is nothing I can’t stand more than an apple that’s not crunchy so I have had to problem solve with what to do on the odd occasions when I have bought apples that just aren’t up to scratch.

This week’s theme of apples comes from a variety of inspirations; France is one of the world’s biggest producers of apples and they are ubiquitous throughout the countryside of Normandy. It is also such a common ingredient in English cuisine, often found in a salad, or on a cheese board paired with a vintage cheddar.

We had an apple tree in our garden growing up which produced beautiful, tart apples as well as providing us with something fun to climb until a certain age. These apples would have been perfect for my apple, cheddar and rosemary tart as baking apples brings out the sweetness to them as the sugars caramelize.

558771_10151576882031305_933464834_n
English countryside- Marlborough

My second recipe for the week is a take on one of my favourite childhood drinks; apple tea. I would get my uncle to get his family to send cans of apple tea powder over from Turkey as I couldn’t get enough of this sweet and aromatic drink. This version is a little easier to come by, and without a whole pile of added sugar.

A melange of cultures inspiring this week’s recipes, so with such an international scope these dishes can be adapted and make suitable for any occasion.

554095_10151664778091305_1621040269_n

fun with fruit: orange edition

To me, oranges are the penultimate sign of summer, nothing can beat a ripe, juicy orange for breakfast, an afternoon snack or an after dinner treat. The Spanish phrase for soul mate is ‘la media naranja’, which means ‘half of an orange’ which I take to mean that we should all be in love with oranges because they are everything.

SAM_2341
church in Olvera, Cadiz, Spain overlooking orange groves

The theme of my next few posts will be some ideas on how to incorporate orange elements into a variety of different dishes. Depending on where in the world you are located will determine the availability of oranges at this time of the year. If you are in New Zealand, oranges are at their last dash for the season; these recipes will supply you with some ways of prolonging the season and bringing a little bit of summer zing into the coming winter months. In Spain (where most of Europe’s oranges come from), the season is from the end of Spring to the beginning of Summer, so at this point in thee year, you will be looking for ideas for when the inevitable deluge of oranges begins.

These recipes are inspired by some recipes I found in the Ottolenghi book ‘Jerusalem’.
Dried orange peel
Orange sauce
Tangelo and Pimm’s chicken

IMG_20150106_194217[1]

I have been kind of obsessed with this book for a really long time, ever sine 101cookbooks posted their fattoush recipe and I have only just been able to justify buying it for myself, and I don’t regret it one bit!

SAM_2568
orange tree at La Aljafería, Zaragoza, Spain