Saturday, 21 December 2013

Last Minute Christmas Treats

Well, as promised, I have made my Christmas mince tarts to share with you all :)  I also have a quick and easy dessert you can whip up when you are having people over.  I might also give you a few tips for making Christmas day go off without a hitch.

First up, Fruit mince tarts.

I know it's cheating, but I buy my sweet short crust pastry - not because I can't make it myself, but because it is easier and to be honest, it goes further than homemade stuff.  It's so cheap to buy, so why not make life a bit easier with that part :)

1 pack sweet short pastry
30g butter
4 prunes cut into pieces
1/3C raisins
1/3C sultanas
1/3C currants
1Tbsp mixed peel
3Tbsp lemon schnapps (or for non alcoholic, orange juice)
1/2tsp cinnamon
1/2tsp nutmeg
2Tbsp caster sugar
icing sugar to dust

Firstly, melt butter over low heat in saucepan.  Add fruit, liquid, sugar, spices and stir.  Continue to heat for a few minutes until it is sticky and sugar has dissolved.
Take off heat and let it cool.  Preheat oven to 200C
Roll pastry out on floured board.  You want it to be about 5mm thick.  Cut out circles big enough for the cases you are using - I like to do a combination of minis and cupcake size. 
Put a dollop of fruit mince into each case, and then with remaining pastry, cut out some shapes to use for lids (or you can just do a plain lid, or stripes etc)  I normally make stars for mine. 
Bake for around 10 minutes or until golden.
Leave in tin for a few minutes before putting on cooling rack.  Once cool, dust with icing sugar :)
These make great gifts!

Meringues with raspberries and chocolate

So simple to make, and so delicious!

6 egg whites
1 1/2C caster sugar
1tsp vanilla paste

Beat egg whites until thick.  Add sugar and vanilla.  Beat again until thick and peaks hold.
Dollop onto tray in single serve size blobs.  Place in a preheated oven at 140C and bake for 35-40 minutes.  You want the outer crust to be a little golden, and crisp, and the centre to be marshmallow like.  Leave to cool.

When you want to serve, place meringue on plate and push the centre in a little to make a cup.  Put raspberries (or any other berry) in the cup and drizzle with melted dark chocolate.  You can also serve with some whipped cream.

To make the chocolate, you just place it in a heatproof bowl and place over a saucepan of simmering water (do not let water touch bowl) and stir until melted.

As you can see, I also served with brandy snaps.  Unfortunately, I have to admit, these are store bought brandy snaps.  Have you ever tried to make them??!  Not easy!  It's one of those things I would love to master, but have yet to do so!

Now, tips for the big day.

*Plan ahead!  Make sure you allow enough time for things to defrost properly, and to cook through!
I like to make a timeline - when to take the turkey out of the freezer and what time it needs to be in the oven by.  I have made a pretty thorough list of instructions for myself to ensure it all goes smoothly.

*If you are going to cook a turkey, make sure you allow time for it to rest before serving.  A turkey will stay warm for quite a long time if you cover it with foil and tea towels.  This can give you time to get your gravy on!

*Don't stress!  Christmas is about spending time with your loved ones, not being the perfect hostess. Take time to breath and delegate if need be.  It's your day too!

*Parboiling veges before roasting them, can lessen the cooking time as well as increasing the flavour and texture.  You get the crispy outer and the soft fluffy inner.  Well worth it.

*Don't forget the leftovers!  You can use leftover meat to make pies etc, and the bones can be used to make a stock for later.  (Leftover veges are also good in pies.)

*Make sure you allow enough time for your Christmas pudding to reheat too.  It needs to steam for another 3hours on the day.

Well, hopefully that will help you get prepared for the big day :) I will be busy cooking for the next week so it will be after Christmas before you hear from me again!  So Merry Christmas to you all!  Have a great week, and Happy Cooking!

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Summer treats

This time I thought I would share a couple of new recipes that are good summer time treats.  Some you could do as a present for Christmas, or take as a plate on the last day at work :)
Next blog I intend on sharing my Christmas mince pies recipe, and maybe a few other Christmassy treats.  I hope you have all got your puddings and cakes made and ready for the big day!  Surprisingly, we have managed to make our cake last and still have about half of it left - this is a first for us!

Now, what do I have for you today?  Some simple rocky road, sticky pork ribs, chicken wraps with an asparagus salad, and some banana and nectarine cupcakes.

I'll start with the sweet stuff.

Banana and Nectarine cupcakes

*normally I make this as a loaf and it's just banana, but I was short on bananas and had some nectarine that needed to be eaten.

175g Butter
85g muscavado sugar
85g caster sugar
2 eggs
1tsp vanilla
215g flour (or 175g flour and 75g ground almonds)
100g dark choc
1 1/2 bananas, 3 nectarines cut into chunks (or 3 bananas)

Beat butter and sugars together until creamy.  Add eggs and vanilla and beat well.
Add flour
Break banana into chunks and nectarine (or whatever fruit you are using) and add with the chocolate
You want big chunks of chocolate too, so don't use chips, use drops or a block that you have cut up.
Pour into loaf tin/cupcake tins
Sprinkle the top with a bit of demerera sugar for a bit of crunch
Bake at 170C for an hour for loaf, or around 30mins for cupcakes

As a loaf, this is the best banana cake you'll ever eat.  I think it's something to do with the chunks of banana instead of it being mashed, and the caramel richness of the muscavado sugar. 
As cupcakes, equally as good, however if you are using other fruits, this is best eaten within a few days, as it will start to soften.

Simple Rocky Road

Now this recipe is open to your tastes.  I tend to change it each time I make it.  This one was a more basic one, using what I had in the cupboard.

250g dark choc
2Tbsp butter
rice bubbles
dried apricots
dried cranberries
mini marshmallows
chopped hazelnuts (70g)

Heat choc and butter in a bowl over boiling water until smooth.  I added some golden syrup to this also, but you don't have to.
chop up your fruits and nuts, put in a bowl with your cereal of choice

pour in melted choc and mix, then add the marshmallows and mix again.  Pour into slice tin (lined) and leave in fridge to set.

Now this one can be made with more chocolate to make it thicker - a mix of dark and milk is good.  You can also add white choc buttons at the end so you get chunks of white chocolate.  Glace cherries are also good.  Cornflakes/rice bubbles are a good filler and they add some crunch.  Almonds, pecans, hazelnuts are all good in this too.  I do like to add in cut up Turkish delight and other chocolatey goodies too - but you don't have to do this.
A dusting of icing sugar over top can look quite nice and festive too.

Sticky pork ribs

*this is a Gordon Ramsey recipe that I changed a little

With this recipe, it does look like a lot of ingredients but it really is worth it for the flavour and the aroma in your house while this is cooking.  It's made in a way that I never would have thought to do to make them sticky, but it works a treat!

Firstly, get your ribs and salt and pepper them, rub it in.
Put your roasting dish on the stove with a lug of Olive Oil
Once hot, add the ribs. You want that sizzle when it hits the pan.  Let it cook until brown and then turn to colour the other side.
Once turned, you add the following ingredients
Ginger (fresh and sliced or I used the stuff in a jar-not ground, still fresh)
Garlic crushed - I used around four cloves
chilli flakes - just a pinch
Star anise - I used two - these give the most beautiful aniseed flavour and aroma
Honey - around 1/2 - 1C just eyeball it
Soy sauce - a generous amount - again eyeball it
Mirin (in the Asian section of supermarket) about 2Tbsp
Rice wine/dry sherry about 200ml
Bring to the boil then add some sliced spring onions and 1C chicken stock
Pop it into the oven 180C for 30 minutes, turn ribs and cook for a further 30 minutes.
Take out of the oven and put back on the top of stove and heat to glaze it, turning until you have that sticky glaze.

And lastly, my chicken wraps with asparagus salad

I made a lettuce salad to go in the wrap - lettuce, capsicum, tomatoes, and a garlic butter oil to dress
The chicken 
Two chicken breasts on a sheet of baking paper
sprinkle with salt and pepper and some five spice.  Turn chicken to make sure each side is seasoned.  Fold sheet over top and bash with rolling pin to tenderise.  Slice up like for a stirfry.
Add to hot pan with a little olive oil and cook until browned.  Add a few Tbsp honey (the runny kind) and sprinkle over some sesame seeds and toss to coat.  This gives a nice stick glaze.
* I also added a few slices of streaky bacon to the pan :)

Get your wrap, spread some sour cream on, add grated cheese, chicken, and lettuce salad.  Fold and eat.

I served this with Asparagus salad

1 bunch asparagus
spring onions
balsamic vinegar

Brush asparagus with a little butter, place in microwave for 1minute.  When you take it out, slice into 1 inch chunks.  Tip into bowl.
Slice a spring onion, and some strawberries and add them to the bowl.
Cut feta into little chunks and add.  Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and mix.
Lovely, crunchy salad for a hot day :)

Hopefully that will keep you busy and give you some ideas of things you can try.  I will attempt to get the next one out before the weekend so that you have plenty of time to get your bake on before the big day!

Have a great week!  Happy cooking!

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Christmas Cheer

It's that time of year!  I love Christmas and all the glorious food that goes with it!  Today I'm going to share some recipes for the season - White choc fudge, Christmas pudding, Christmas cake.  I had intentions of doing Christmas mince pies also, but ran out of time this week, so I will do those next time!

Anywho, I know that it can be so easy to just go down to the supermarket and buy all the Christmas goodies, but there is something so satisfying about making them yourself.  The smell in the kitchen is divine, and it really doesn't take a lot of effort - just a little time.  Not to mention, the flavour is so much better than what you buy.  You can adjust the recipes to your liking and experiment with new flavours each year :)

I'll start off with Christmas cake.

250g currants
300g raisins
50g dried cranberries
200g sultanas
2tsp mixed peel
350ml sangria
70g chopped pecans (optional)
300g butter
180g brown sugar
lemon zest
4 large eggs
2Tbsp golden syrup
1tsp vanilla
300g plain flour
70g ground almond
1tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
* you can add ground cloves too but as I'm using sangria, it already has a clovey taste.

Now I know that looks like a lot of ingredients but this does make a large cake.  I used a 23cm square tin but you could use a smaller one and make it higher, or a round tin about the same size.
Also, the fruit is up to you - these are the ones I chose to use this year, though you can adjust it to your liking - prunes/glace cherries can be added, you can omit the cranberries etc.  Your cake, your choice :)
So to start with, you put all your fruit in a large bowl (any bigger fruits - prunes etc, need to be chopped) and cover these with your choice of alcohol - I used Sangria, though you can use bourbon, brandy, sherry, any schnapps ... the choice is endless!
Cover with clingfilm and leave to absorb the alcohol overnight. (If you don't want to use alcohol you can use orange juice or ginger ale)

Next day, prepare your tin - I spray it with some oil first and then do a couple of layers of baking paper that overlap each other - this makes it easier to remove cake from dish.

Preheat oven to 150C
Cream butter and sugar together and then add the lemon zest - about one lemon worth.
Add eggs one at a time, beating in between.  Then add in the golden syrup and vanilla (you can use almond essence here, but I prefer vanilla)
Sift dry ingredients together and fold into the creamed mixture alternatively with the fruit mix (ensuring to scrape in all the liquid!)  Once all combined, fold in the chopped pecans (optional)

*side note - you don't have to include the ground almonds, and can just replace it with flour, but it does help to keep your cake lovely and moist.

Now you want to put cake mix into prepared tin and bake - depending on oven - for 2 - 3 hours.  Mine only took 1 3/4 hours but I used a larger tin, so if you are making a deeper one, you want to allow some extra time.  Just keep an eye on it after the first hour and you should be able to get a feel for when it will be ready  Use a skewer to insert in the middle and make sure it's coming out clean.

When you take it out of the oven, you can brush a little more booze on top to moisten it some more :) then you want to wrap it up in tinfoil (including the tin) to keep the heat and steam in. Leave like this until it has cooled completely.  This will take quite some time.  When cooled you remove from tin, and wrap again in foil and put in airtight container.  You can leave this for up to 3 weeks to improve the flavour or if you are like us, you will get into it that same week!  This is my second Christmas cake this year!

You can leave cake as is or you can ice, or use nuts and a glaze.  I have iced mine to show you how.

You want to get a couple of Tablespoons of marmalade or apricot jam - I used Ginger and Mandarin marmalade, and heat it in microwave until runny. Brush this over cake.

Roll out white icing - you can get this at your supermarket - can use almond or just white. (use icing sugar on board and rolling pin to stop it sticking)  Roll it onto rolling pin and then transfer to your cake.  Spread it out evenly and smooth it down.  If any of it breaks, you can repair by brushing a tiny bit of water on it and adding extra icing or smoothing it with your hands.  You can also cut out extra shapes and stick these on in the same way.  I added some little silver pearls (edible) as well :)

White Chocolate Fudge

This recipe I got off Facebook and it is super gooooood!  Hubby can't stop eating it!  Everyone who has tried it has been amazed at how tasty and creamy it is :)

350g white chocolate buttons
250g butter
3C icing sugar
1/3 C cream
1tsp vanilla paste

Place choc, butter and cream in saucepan on low heat and stir until it has almost melted.  Add sugar in and keep stirring until it is smooth. 
Take off heat and beat with mixer for 3mins - this helps make it nice and light
Pour into 20cm square lined tin and smooth surface.  Sprinkle decorations over top - choc hail, 100s and 1000s, etc
Refrigerate until set - this doesn't take long.  Keep in fridge.  Great as a gift!

Christmas pudding

Again, this is a little time consuming, but it's not the kind of thing you have to hover over, you can just leave it to do its thing.

100g raisins
150g sultanas
20g currants
70g dried cranberries
10 prunes - scissored
170ml mulled wine
100g flour
115g breadcrumbs
150g suet - this is found in baking aisle of supermarket
150g dark muscovado sugar
1tsp cinnamon
1tsp baking powder
grated zest of lemon
3 eggs
1 cooking apple, peeled and grated
2 Tbsp runny honey

Again, you are going to put fruit into a bowl and cover with alcohol - I used mulled wine this time, but again you can use sherry, or any other flavour you like.  I also didn't add cloves to this one because mulled wine has a strong clove flavour.
Cover with clingfilm and leave to absorb overnight or for up to 1 week - the longer you leave it the better.

When the fruits have had their soaking time, put a large pot of water on the stove - with enough water for your pudding basin to sit in and not be covered.  You want it to come part way up the bowl.  Butter your pudding basin, including the lid.

In a large bowl mix the rest of the ingredients together - traditionally each member of the family should have a turn at stirring, but obviously you don't have to do this.
Add the fruits and all the alcohol - scraping every last bit in :)
Mix thoroughly.
Tip into your basin, pushing it down.  Put on lid and place in pot of water - again making sure that it doesn't cover bowl.  You can wrap in foil before this to ensure no leakage, but I have never had a problem with that.  Put lid on saucepan and leave to boil and steam for 4-5 hours.  Keep checking that it doesn't boil dry.

When it's time is up, remove it carefully so you don't burn yourself.  If you have wrapped it, unwrap when you are able to, and keeping the lid on, store it away in a cupboard or under the bed, or somewhere out of the way until Christmas day. 

On the day, you reheat it the same way you cooked it - steaming it in a pot of water for 3hours this time.  When you serve, remove it from the pan by putting plate overtop of basin and flipping it over.  You can also heat a little vodka or other such alcohol and before it boils take off heat, strike a match to it and pour the flaming vodka over the pudding.

Serve it with some whipped cream, or even a brandied cream - basically whipped cream with brandy in it :)

So there you have it.  A few recipes to help out for the big day, or as gifts, or just to share with friends and family leading up to it :)