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!

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pumpkin and lime soup

The in-between part of the seasons can be lethal; I have a habit of being too optimistic as Winter gives way to Spring and too idealistic as the days begin to shorten as Summer leaves us. That is a roundabout way of saying that I often find myself dressing for what I want the weather to be, rather than based on what the weather really is. And that is just a long way of saying that I always get sick in the in-between seasons; I am the only person I know who can manage to get a chest-rattling cough, bordering on pneumonia in the last month of spring.

But it happens. Routinely. And I find myself craving warm, wintery comfort food a good six weeks on either side of winter. One of my winter staples is pumpkin soup; creamy and fragrant with spices and exotic flavours, the aroma could almost transport you to a warmer place when the city is monochromatic and grey.

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Pumpkin soup is so versatile; lace it with cumin and coriander for a cooling summer snack or pack it with spices in the winter. I often make a soup version of these pumpkin chips… or maybe the soup is the inspiration for the chips – who knows?! I also find an explosion of citrus in the mix brings it together nicely.

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Here’s how I do it:

Take a whole pumpkin and riddle it with holes with a sharp knife or metal skewer and microwave on medium for about 15 minutes so it is easier to cut and then add it to the slow cooker – cutting and peeling raw pumpkin is the bane of my existence, I hate it!

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Add a cup of water or stock, a tablespoon of peanut butter, a teaspoon of red curry paste, a pinch of cumin, coriander and cinnamon, a bay leaf and two or three slithers of dried lime and cook on low for 6 hours. Mash or blend – depending on how you like it, stir through a dollop of cream and you’re ready to eat!

I can’t stress enough how the addition of the lime elevates the flavour; it’s a subtle tang, a sweetly acidic bite that’s mellowed by the pumpkin’s creamy smoothness.

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With or without the lime, you can never beat soup on a dreary day. It is guaranteed to improve your mood; I once had pumpkin soup every day for 3 weeks just to get through the awfulness that is winter!

What’s your favourite winter soup?

lemon and ginger preserve

Hi, my name is Dylan and I have a problem. I am addicted to preserving. I just can’t get enough of it; I dream about making jam all day long, I dry the skin of every citrus fruit I ever use and have an ever-growing list of chutneys and pastes that I’m dying to make.

Preserves are a great way of extending flavours to times well outside of their seasonality. Sometimes a rainy day can be brightened up a dollop of sugary strawberry jam; a stew can be taken to the next level with the addition of a few crisp fragments of citrus; the deep flavour bleeding into the sauce as it cooks throughout the day. On the flipside, pickled radishes; a delicious use of a winter vegetable are a great way to add a colourful crunch.

I have all of these great ideas, but I am running out of jars… and space in my pantry! I have promised myself that this one will be the last one for a while, so it’s a good thing that it’s such a stunner. Lemon, ginger and honey is just a comforting winter drink – good for the soul and good for the immune system, so I decided to see how it fared as a chutney combination.

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I wanted something warming – if it’s going to be of any use in the winter then its warmth has to emanate throughout the body with each bite. Lemon, ginger and turmeric seemed like the ideal combination; it’s tangy, fragrant and warm, but not too spicy or overpowering, and not too sweet.

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Here’s what you’ll need:
6 lemons
a decent size piece of fresh ginger
a handful of turmeric bulbs
a dash of vinegar
6 tablespoons of salt
1 teaspoon each of fennel and coriander seeds
the juice of 6 additional lemons

As you can probably tell, this recipe can easily be scaled up or down, depending on the size of your jars.

Begin by dicing the ginger and turmeric. I used three turmeric bulbs and grated them as finely as possible – biting into a big hunk of bright, bitter turmeric is a dreadful thought, something I really wanted to avoid. I julienned the ginger root with similar audacity, even though I am not crazy at the idea of a mouthful of ginger, it seems less unpleasant than the turmeric so I tried to keep the slices as thin as I could.

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Gently heat them in a tablespoon of olive oil, with the fennel and coriander, use a relatively low heat. I added a tablespoon of water to lightly steam them – I wanted to avoid crisping them up in any way possible. It might even work better to steam them over hot water first. Take the pan off the heat and toss through another dash of olive oil and a few caps of vinegar. I used apple cider vinegar for tartness and because it’s the only kind I had.

While that pan is filling your kitchen of smells reminiscent of an Arabian marketplace, it’s time to move on to the lemons. As most people on the internet will tell you; organic is best and freshly washed is also good. If you can help it, only pick your lemons once they are ripe, that way they will be juiciest as they stop ripening as soon as they are picked. The recipe that I based mine on (from Ottolenghi, duh) says to quarter them lengthways (but not quite to the bottom). For practicality, I diced mine into bite sized pieces; I thought this would make them easier to squeeze into the jar and easier to spoon out afterwards. Stir through the ginger and turmeric, the salt, and any herbs you think would suit; I used rosemary and a sprinkle of dried thyme.

Jam as much of the mixture into each jar as possible, it can be quite a messy job but try and keep the juice off the table and floor as much as possible! Seal the jars and leave in a cool, dark cupboard for a week.

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Side note: make sure your jars are sterile you could end up with a fungus forest instead.

If patience is not a virtue you are the beholder of, then this is probably not something you should be experimenting with as this is merely the beginning. After a week, squish the lemons down and pour the juice of the six remaining lemons overtop, that should almost take your jar to capacity, add water to make up the difference and add another little glug of oil. Reseal and leave in the cupboard for at least four weeks to ferment.

Wait.

The fibres within the lemon rind will slowly break down, absorbing its own juice and the flavours of the ginger; sweet, tangy and soft.

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Serve atop warm couscous, stir-fry with vegetables or any other kind of cooking. I added a few tablespoons to some sautéed mushrooms for a lemon and mushroom risotto and loved the tang it gave in contrast of the sweet chicken broth.

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red roasted radishes

They say that your tastebuds change every seven years, that your body almost resets itself and redefines the way it reacts to different flavours and textures. I have found that over the last year, the way that my body reacts to a variety of things has completely readjusted itself; I don’t particularly like white wine anymore and I am highly sensitive to pollen and olive trees, I have also fallen in love with radishes.

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“Fallen in love”, is technically not the right way of putting it; as a child I thought radishes were awesome. I remember being assigned a science experiment testing how radishes grew in varying environments – darkness, cold etc. and instead of placing my radishes in dank, cold cupboards where I knew they would die, I left them all on the veranda to flourish and changed the experiment to ‘how many radishes can I eat in one sitting’. But as the years progressed, leading up to my teens, I thought they were awful. I hated the peppery aftertaste, and texture; not a quite a crunch but not soft either.

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It wasn’t until a few years ago that I tried them again, and now I can’t get enough of them.

Most people are stumped at coming up with ways to use radishes that extend further than a pop of colour in a salad, but I love to roast them and cover them in brown butter sauce.

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Place your radishes, halved or quartered onto an oven tray and bake at 230°C for 20-30 minutes, until their skin is pink and crisp, not quite burning, but so close it almost hurts. The flesh will be plump and juicy, no longer dry and tart like when they’re raw.

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While they are cooking, melt a knob of butter and a pinch of salt, mix constantly over a medium heat until it shines like glassy caramel. Squeeze in a dash of lemon juice at the very last moment before serving – either pour over top of the radishes or serve on the side and dunk them in. Make sure that you have a napkin close at hand, you’ll need it to mop up the gooey butter and warm radish juice running down your chin!

saucy orange – orange sauce

One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to become a bit more organised with my daily food preparation, I think it is so important, and yet so difficult to find the time to properly prepare an evening meal every day so I am trying to get into the habit of taking a Sunday afternoon and adding a bit of productivity into my live by preparing a bunch of meals which I can then freeze or refrigerate for the coming week. A little bit of organisation, probably a little bit of a fad… Anyway, here is a delicious orange sauce that works perfectly for this.

This recipe for orange paste is ideal to make while pottering around the kitchen as it essentially just involves leaving a pot of the stove to simmer.

Firstly, cut an orange into thin slices- flesh, skin, pith and all (well, not the pips). Line a small saucepan with the orange wedges, add a dash of vinegar- I used apple cider vinegar as I like the tart apple flavour it brings, 50grams of honey or sugar and half a teaspoon of saffron. If you don’t have saffron (which I didn’t), substitute it for a combination of cinnamon and turmeric. The cinnamon will give it a slightly similar flavour and the saffron’s colour is replicated by the turmeric. Cover with just enough water, bring to the boil and simmer for about an hour while you potter about. You will be left with beautifully soft orange segments and a thick orange syrup.

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Leave it to cool slightly before blending the mixture into a thick, pulpy paste. You can store the paste in a jar in the fridge for up to a week and can be used as a salad dressing or a sauce with grilled chicken. I thinly sliced some chicken breast and marinated them with the paste. As part of my organisational plan, I froze the chicken to be defrosted during the week. This is a great idea to get really tender meat as it absorbs the flavours and juices while it is freezing and continues to do so while it is defrosting. You can then either pan-fry it and add to a salad or use as the base of an orange pasta sauce- a great summer idea and a nice comfort food for those colder nights.

winter is coming, part two

After my last post, and the little speck of winter before the little speck of summer before the current (hopefully) little speck of winter we are in at the moment, I noticed that I was a little bit sniffily. Having just arrived in a new city and starting a new job, the last thing I want is to be getting sick so I decided to give my body a little bit of a vitamin kick to stave off any signs of a cold for as long as possible, and what better way to do that with a truckload of vegetables?

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This recipe for a vegetable chickpea curry is not really something that I have taken and adapted, well not so much in the traditional sense. Instead of taking a recipe and adding one or two ingredients, I think the only similarity this recipe has with the original is the rice and chickpeas. So the recipe is more of a guideline than anything else because you can really put in anything you like!

This curry is an easy way to make sure that you are getting your ‘5 plus a day’ and it can easily be prepared in advance or even in a slow cooker left to simmer all day long. Here are the guidelines to make four servings, since I was only cooking for myself I did about half of it but it could be doubled or tripled or even quadrupled.

You will need:
An onion
A few garlic cloves
An eggplant
A zucchini
2 capsicums; I used red and green because they were cheapest but any colours are okay
2 carrots
2 tomatoes or a big can of canned tomatoes
2 large potatoes
A large can of chickpeas or 2 cups of dried chickpeas
A can of lentils or a cup of dried lentils
A cup of rice
spices such as curry powder, cumin, paprika, harissa, nutmeg and cinnamon
About a litre of cold water

Obviously, you can chop and change the vegetables, but I would suggest vegetables that you would roast, I once added mushrooms and they went all rubbery so that is maybe something to avoid, unless you  enjoy rubbery mushrooms…

First things first: slice you eggplant into thin discs and sprinkle with salt, cover them and set them to the side. This is to help draw out the bitter flavours of the vegetable. Ideally you should leave it for about half an hour, the longer the better but if you only have 10 minutes then that is okay too.

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You will be able to see this reaction happening; little beads of liquid will begin to form on the top of each slice and the flesh will start to turn a slightly darker colour.

While that’s happening, chop up the rest of your vegetables. I like to keep them chunky for the nice coloration of the dish and also so that you can really taste each one individually as well as part of the dish as a whole, it also saves a lot of time. I also didn’t peel any of them, once again this is something that depends on your preference but so much of the nutrients of these vegetables are in the skin. If you want everything to be cooked to the same degree, keep them all separate because the carrot is going to take longer to cook than the capsicum etc. I kept the onion, tomato and potato separate from the others.SAM_1451_edited

Once you have done this, rinse the salt of the eggplant and dry it off. It can now be added to the rest of  the vegetables and the cooking can begin!

In a large pot (and I emphasize the LARGE; I had to change pots in the middle of cooking because mine was too small and even in my biggest pot it was close to overflowing by the end) heat a dash of oil and add the diced onion and crushed garlic. I also add a sprinkle of sugar to caramelise the onions a bit as they cook and to add a hint of sweetness.

As the onions become translucent, add the vegetables and cook for about 10 minutes. When they are beginning to get a bit softer, I add the tomatoes stir until the have begun to break down. Add the rice and mix thoroughly, add the chickpeas, the lentils and the potatoes. If possibly, I advice you to use dried chickpeas and lentils because
1) they taste better
and
2) when using dried ones, they will release their starch as they cook which will make the dish creamier
but I know it is not always possible to find them like this.

Add a generous amount of the spices; about a tablespoon of each should suffice. You could also add a can of curry sauce or butter chicken sauce and add a cup less of water later.

The next step is to add the water that will cook the rice, chickpeas, lentils and potatoes. The amount of water you use depends completely  on the amount of each you are adding; I would suggest two cups for each cup of dry ingredient, if using canned lentils and chickpeas then a cup for a cup. As long as everything is submerged you should be okay. Stir and bring to the boil.

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The water will initially go a creepy brown colour, don’t worry about this as it is just the colour of the lentils’ skin. Once it is boiling, cover the pot and bring down to a simmer for about 30 to 40 minutes. If you’re anything like me you will want to check on it every 10 or so minutes, but if you’re not so nosey you can leave it; do some yoga, watch an episode of ‘Orange is the New Black’ (although I admit that its hard to just watch one episode), clean up the mess you have made all over your kitchen.

If it looks like it is running out of water you can add more but by the time it finishes cooking it should be a nice creamy mixture and the water should have mostly been absorbed. I know that so many recipes always so that you should ‘serve immediately’ but with this I say let it cool for about 10 minutes, it is far too delicious to serve up and not begin eating right away but it will also be very, very hot. I have burnt my mouth on it quite badly before, all because I didn’t have the self-control to wait…

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winter is coming… maybe

Back home seasons don’t really count, sometimes winter starts a month early or summer arrives a month late, sometimes there are torrential rainstorms in the middle of summer and sometimes the weather behaves normally, but only sometimes. Whenever anyone talks about the seasons in Europe they seem to all conclude with stating that the seasonal weather works like clockwork, they also say that the winter in Lyon lasts about 8 months. So you can imagine that I was distraught when last week the weather seemed to snap from glorious summer stunning-ness to absolute rubbish. There was rain, there was thunder, there was the need for three layers of closing, there was almost tears (on my part) that my European summer was over.

However! To my delight this week has gone in the total reverse, although it is noticeably colder, the days have been rather stunning. So I decided to make the most of it while it was still here and head to the park.

Parc de la Tête d’Or is 117 hectares of lovely gardens, a lake used for boating and even a zoo. It was established as a public garden in 1857 with the first animals being brought in in 1861.

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The gardens were beautiful, however the zoo was a little bit disappointing. I had been told with was a little zoo but I didn’t really take that into account when setting my expectations. But little was right. It is safe to say that underwhelming was an overstatement, or understatement, whichever one means that I was not really impressed. There were maybe about ten different kinds of animals and none of them looked too happy in there enclosures, it seemed very early 1900’s exhibition than anything. But, there was a baby giraffe which was super cute, and it also happens that I was recently told that if I was an animal I would be a baby giraffe, so I think me and my new spirit animal definitely had a connection.

The park is the biggest garden with a zoo in it in all of Europe, and I really noticed how big it was when I got lost walking around. This was not so much as a bad thing, as I found some lovely statues and felt relaxed surrounded by all the nature.

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But after a while my legs started to hurt.

But it could have been worse, I could have been stuck in a tiny glass cage.

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say cheese!

As I was lying on the beach today in 31°C weather, under the cloudless blue sky, eating strawberry vanilla ice cream (Yes, this really is how my life works at the moment. I know, I am the epitome of glamour, the definition even. Check the dictionary, I’m there), I realised that it had been far too long since I had updated this.
So I made a mental note to fix this issue. I also begun to think about everyone that I left behind at home, and how they are probably all freezing right now as winter begins to creep in. As I chuckled at my good fortune of avoiding winter/laughed at their misfortune of being stuck in it, I knew what the perfect thing to make the cold weather seem not so terrible; Raclette!

Raclette is wonderful, it is a type of cheese which originates from Switzerland or the part of France on the Swiss border. It is also a dish made with said cheese that belongs to the same family as fondue, the machine that you use to make said dish with said cheese, and the party you throw in which you use said machine to make said dish with said cheese. Following?

machine editedA couple of weeks ago I went to stay with my friend who lives in Montpellier, most probably the cutest little city I have seen and maybe ever will. It’s about two hours from Marseille so I hopped in a car with a bunch of strangers (which is a lot less dangerous than it sounds since its all sorted through a legit website) and off I went!

Now, Raclette is meant to be a winter food, but I had never tried it and everyone decided that it was something I needed to experience right away. So, after a wonderful day of sightseeing I sat down for a life changing meal.montpellier collage

 Another great thing about Raclette is that it is so easy to make, providing you have a Raclette machine… Although we can easily get around that..

Step one: Boil some potatoes. Leave the skin on until after they have cooked so that they keep their shape. Do as many as you want, depending on how many people you are feeding and how hungry everyone is.

Step two that probably should actually go ahead of step one: Assembling your ingredients. This is probably the most time consuming part of the whole process. Slice and arrange whatever you want to eat with your melted cheese. Traditionally the cheese and potatoes are eaten with charcuterie; cured meats. We used ham, a couple of kinds of salami, a kind of blood sausage and some prosciutto but we also included pickled onions and gherkins to trick us into thinking we were being slightly healthy.  Oh, and bread, of course.SAM_0622

Step three: Melt your cheese. With the Raclette machine, the cheese sits in mini frying pans underneath the element. I am slightly stuck for ways you could do with without the machine but I guess that melting it in a normal frying pan could work, maybe, as long as it doesn’t stick to the pan and just make a terrible mess.

Anyway, while your cheese is melting put whatever meat you want to eat with it on the element (which I suppose could also be substituted for another frying pan). The element doesn’t need to be oiled or greased because the meat is so fatty anyway, so just slap it on there. Yum! While the meat is toasting and the cheese is melting, peel a potato and cut it into chucks in a bowl or on a plate and wait. When the meat is crispy, or just warm if that’s how you want it, take it off the element carefully and cut it up on top of the potato. Now cover it with the melted cheese and voilà!

Continue this until you’re full, the potatoes and cheese run out or until you pass out into a food coma.

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It is meals like this that make me dread the cold European winter a little less… just a little.