Friday, 29 December 2006

Dinner on Christmas Eve

Back again: I spent Christmas with my boyfriend and some other friends in a quite lonely spot in New South Wales: Manilla. It's a small country town but famous for its paragliding site, Mount Borah. Keep in mind even if it's called "Mount", it won't be higher than a couple of 100 metres...

We stayed five nights at the camping ground next to the mountain and had our Christmas Dinner there. Not really what you would call refined food - Swabian potato salad and steaks - but it was really tasty. As you can see, I just remembered to take a picture when we had already started to shovel in. Tobi (left) and Hubert don't even have time to smile for the photographer... Due to our limited kitchen tools/time/whatever I only managed to throw together a few bought items for dessert. We had a trifle consisting of sponge fingers, brandy custard, and canned fruit.

I hope you all had a Merry Christmas!

Thursday, 21 December 2006

Merry Christmas!

I'm heading off tomorrow morning to a spot in the middle of New South Wales, called Manilla. I'll be spending Christmas there - without a proper Christmas tree but at least with lots of cookies. I'll be back in a couple of days and I wish you all a Merry Christmas!
I'm not sure if I'm capable of that but I'll try to capture a picture of our Christmas Lunch - probably cooked on a camping stove...

Wednesday, 20 December 2006

Baking Christmas Cookies – Part II

This year, I did do my share of baking for the upcoming holiday season: That's the second batch of my Christmas Cookies. I made the Chocolate Taler after my boyfriend had given me a not-so-subtle hint that he wouldn't mind an all-chocolate cookie... I haven't tried the recipe before and was very pleased with the result: chocolatey but not overly sweet, substantial but not too heavy for happily devouring one after another. Straight from the oven, they are pretty crunchy but get chewy after a few days. The original recipe didn't call for the dunking in rich chocolate ganache but we did not regret this little tweaking.

The other recipe for coconut macaroons is from Molly of Orangette. After reading this delicious description, I knew I had to try it. Alas, I didn't follow the recipe to the letter and the macaroons turned out to be not-so-great. I reckon I'm the one to blame that they were a bit dry - I made them bite-sized, much smaller than Molly did. However, I want to ask her about the details to figure out what exactly I have done wrong. After all, they're not entirely bad...

Chocolate Taler

The ingredients

125 g butter, cold, diced

150 g sugar
100 g ground almonds
250 g mix of flour and 3 tablespoons cocoa
5-10 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon baking powder

Chocolate glaze

Mix dry ingredients on top of your work surface. Rub in butter and start kneading. Use as many tablespoons of milk as necessary for the dough to come together.

Form dough into four strands of equal thickness. Try to do this as quickly as possible so the butter doesn't start melting. Furthermore, try not to roll the dough strands to much as this will cause the strands to fall apart. Chill the dough at least 30 minutes.
Note: I once read that freezing the dough would enable you to cut off neat little discs. Let me tell you, this doesn't work.

Cut off slices about three millimetres in thickness and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 200 degrees Celsius for approximately ten minutes.
Note: If you bake the cookies at a lower temperature, they will get cracks. I baked the first batch at 150 degrees Celsius (fan bake) and the second batch as requested. The second batch looked much nicer.

Let cool and dunk in chocolate glaze. I used a chocolate ganache - it tastes wonderful but it doesn't get very firm. Here in Australia, I prefer to store them in the fridge (but let them get room temperature before serving).

The source
Vohenstrausser Kochbuch - an classic old-style cookbook from my homeland, the Upper Palatinate in Bavaria, Germany

Coconut Macaroons

It's best to follow Molly's instructions! Just one hint: She mentions that her recipe for chocolate ganache is much more than you need for dunking the macaroons. I used this ganache for dunking the macaroons, the Chocolate Taler, and for glazing the "Ischler Toertchen". It was just the right amount for all three batches and it tastes way better than any store-bought chocolate glaze!

Tuesday, 19 December 2006

Baking Christmas Cookies – Part I

With Christmas Eve coming up in less than a week, it was about time for me to start baking Christmas cookies. And I have to admit, it was the desperate attempt to get some sort of Christmas feeling, at last. I don’t insist on having a white Christmas – coming from an area in Northern Bavaria where you can’t bet on that – but having Christmas in summer is really another story. Additionally, you can’t get hold of any real pine tree in this climate zone so forget about having a proper Christmas tree. So far, I couldn’t get myself accustomed to the idea of putting presents underneath a plastic tree. Therefore, there won’t be any Christmas tree for me this year. To make matters even worse, I won’t see any members of my family as they will of course celebrate their Christmas back home in Germany.

After numerating this sad litany, I decided to cheer myself up a bit before getting another fit of severe self-pity. And what’s better than doing some baking? Unfortunately, it can’t get any of my beloved ones closer to me but there is some consolation in the fact that they will be eating just the same cookies.

“Vanillekipferl” (Vanilla Crescents)

This recipe is a real classic. Its sweet vanilla scent is absolutely irresistible and the crunchy-crumbly feeling when biting into one of those – words can’t describe this… Another big advantage of this recipe is its versatility. The dough is pretty similar to the one of “Ischler Toertchen” (tartlets of Ischl, a town in Austria), another favourite cookie of mine. So I divided the dough into two halves and was able to make both types of cookies. This also saves you a considerable amount of time as intensive cookie baking can soon turn into some sort of kitchen slavery.

The ingredients

300 g flour
125 g sugar
1 sachet vanilla sugar (about a heaped tablespoon)
150 g ground almonds
250 g butter, cold, diced
3 egg yolks

Icing sugar, mixed with vanilla sugar

Sift flour onto your work surface, mix with sugar, vanilla sugar, and almonds.

Rub butter into the mixture, mix in egg yolks. Trying to work as fast as possible, knead until there are no butter lumps left. Chill the dough for at least 30 minutes (or put it into the freezer if you are in a hurry).

Form dough into two thin rolls (At this stage, you can save half of the dough for another purpose.). Try to get even strands but don’t roll the dough too long as it will fall apart. Cut dough strands into small pieces and form each into a small crescent. The middle part should be thicker than the ends.

Place crescents on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Make sure not to put them too close to each other as they will rise during the baking process. Fan bake at 150 degrees Celsius until light golden, approximately for ten to twelve minutes.

While still hot turn the crescents in a mixture of icing sugar and vanilla sugar until evenly coated. Handle with care, at this stage they can break easily.

The source

Hedwig Maria Stuber: Ich helf Dir kochen

“Ischler Toertchen” (Tartlets from Ischl)

As said before, you can easily use the dough from the vanilla crescents to save some time. However, the nutty almond flavour won’t be very strong because store-bought almond flour is usually made of peeled almonds. The original recipe calls for unpeeled almonds to be ground and that makes quite a difference.

The ingredients

140 g butter
140 g flour
70 g sugar
70 g unpeeled, ground almonds
Pinch of salt

Apricot jam
Chocolate glaze
Flaked almonds or peeled almond halves

Rub butter into mixture of dry ingredients. Working as fast as possible, knead until dough gets a smooth and even consistency. Chill for at least half an hour.

Roll out the dough using as little extra flour as possible. Cut out cookies using a flower shaped cookie cutter (I didn't have one so I used a heart-shaped one). Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and fan bake at 150 degrees Celsius until light golden.

Let cool and sandwich together with apricot jam. To get a spreadable apricot jam, heat the jam with a little water, stirring constantly. You can strain the jam to get rid of fruit pieces but this is optional.

Spread chocolate glaze on top of the sandwiched cookies and decorate with almonds halves or flaked almonds.

The hints

If you can’t get store-bought almond flour made of unpeeled almonds and don’t own a food processor, you could substitute half of the almonds with ground hazelnuts.

This is the Christmas version of “Ischler Toertchen”. The original calls for a chocolate butter cream to sandwich in between.

In case you want more cookies and fewer calories when eating one: Forget the sandwiching and just glaze single ones with chocolate.

And, of course, if you opt for the original recipe, you could turn this dough into vanilla crescents as well.

Thursday, 14 December 2006

Last Minute Solution

Sydney is really a great place for foodies – I don’t think that there is any other place in the world where you can get such good food for little money. Therefore, we are regular customers at our favourite Thai place and at the Chinese, the Taiwanese, the Vietnamese… you get the picture. There is only one drawback. Faster than you would ever imagine all the stuff in the fridge starts rotting. Call it an inability to estimate what two people can eat in a week or sheer shopping frenzy – after my usual Saturday afternoon trip to the Chinese market, I always get home loaded with fruits and veggies. Even with careful planning what to make out of it, at the end of the week there is always some item in the fridge that screams: “Eat me, right now, or I’ll go to waste!”

When I opened the fridge this time, there were several veggies looking rather scornfully at me from the bottom shelf: Two forgotten corn cobs, some very ripe tomatoes, a bunch of asparagus – slightly wrinkly at the end – and several opened and just half used cans.

After considering possible combinations, I decided to blanch some of the veggies first, then top it with tomato-based sauce béchamel and some feta cheese (also better used before it’s too late) and pop it into the oven for a couple of minutes. The result was tasty and colourful, and it didn’t look like a makeshift solution. The veggies had a good crunch and were held together nicely by the velvety béchamel sauce. With its deep orange colour it had an entirely new twist. And for someone who likes feta cheese as much as I do, the salty white chunks on top were almost the best part.

Spring Vegetables with béchamel sauce and feta topping

The ingredients

10-15 stalks of green asparagus (one and a half bunch)
2 corn cobs
4 roma tomatoes

1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons flour
1-2 tablespoons tomato paste
Splash of milk
100 ml evaporated milk
2 ladleful of veggie cooking water
Salt and freshly cracked pepper
100-150 g feta cheese

Serves 2-3 people.

Wash and trim asparagus. Blanch the whole stalks in salted water for a couple of minutes depending on how crunchy you like your asparagus. With a sharp knife, scrape the corn kernels into the boiling water and let cook for another two minutes. (I don’t know if that’s the proper method to separate the kernels from the stem but that’s how I did it.)

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the veggies into a greased ovenproof dish and set aside. Don’t discard the water.

For the béchamel sauce, let the butter melt over medium heat, stir in flour and let roast until golden yellow. Add the tomato paste and roast a little longer. Using a wire whisk, stir in the cold milk and cold evaporated milk. Stir until there are no lumps left and let cook until the mixture thickens.

To get your desired consistency, add some of the water you used for blanching the veggies. I used two big ladleful. Season to taste with salt and freshly cracked pepper.

Spoon your tomato béchamel sauce over the veggies. Top with sliced tomatoes and diced feta cheese. Pop into the oven at 150 degrees Celsius until everything is just heated through. This should only take a couple of minutes as the feta cheese doesn’t melt anyway.

Serve with freshly cracked pepper and some fresh crusty sourdough bread. In case you have a hungry meat lover to feed, serve it alongside a steak or a grilled gourmet sausage.

The source

My own creation

The hint

You will probably end up with too much béchamel sauce. Using the veggie cooking water it will make the base for a nice soup the other day.

Wednesday, 13 December 2006

Menu for Hope III

I’m a little bit late but it's never too late to do a good thing: Whoever out there is paying attention to my food blog right now should also pay some attention to this year's MENU FOR HOPE.

The well-known food blogger Pim from Chez Pim is organizing this highly successful online fund raising event - already the third year in a row. Last year, food bloggers managed to canvass more than 17,000 US-Dollars. This year, it will probably be even more - after all it's for the World Food Program of the United Nations.

But the best is yet to come: While donating money you will automatically purchase tickets for the most amazing raffle you can think of. Food bloggers from all over the world have donated an incredible range of prizes: professional kitchen equipment, vouchers for high-end dining experiences, cookbooks and food magazine subscriptions, and even gourmet tours with celebrity chefs!

So hurry up, the fund raising ends on the 22nd of December. With the third day just about to start, we've already raised more than 8,000 US-Dollars! Pim will announce the raffle winners on 15th of January - so stay tuned!

And that's how you can participate:
  1. Go to the donation page
  2. Make your donation. Each US$10 will earn you a raffle ticket towards your preferred prize. Please specify the unique prize code in the personal message section of your donation confirmation and specify the numbers of tickets for each prize. For example, if you donate US$50, you could say 3 x EU09 and 2 x AP25.
  3. For US donors, if your company matches your charity donation, please remember to check the box and fill in the information so we may claim the corporate match.
  4. And check the box to allow your email address to be seen. In case you win, you will be contacted by email.
Not every prize - but quite a few - can be shipped anywhere in the world. Please check out the prizes in your region of the world:

US West Coast: Becks and Posh
US East Coast: The Amateur Gourmet
US (the rest): Kalyn's Kitchen
Canada: Cardamom Addict
Europe and UK:
Asia Pacific/Australia/New Zealand: Grab Your Fork

The prize drawing will be done electronically. Derrick at Obsession with Food is responsible for this tricky business.

I wish you good luck!

Friday, 8 December 2006

A humble cake rises up to the occasion

Once upon a time, there was a really plain looking cake. Sitting flatly in its baking sheet, it always adored those piled-up high layer-cakes coated in whipped cream or butter cream and garnished with all sorts of dainty things. The humble cake never expected to be appreciated like those masterpieces of pastry. It knew too well that most people tend to overlook it at first. However, this honest cake would never attempt to conceal any kind of culinary failure behind a cream cloud – hoping that no one would dare to cut into this lofty creation.

German streusel cake - that’s the incarnation of home-made goodness. It wants to impress you with quality not with its looks: On a bed of shortcrust pastry you’ll find pieces of peaches covered with sweet and crunchy streusel and a handful of flaked almonds. A light shower of powdered sugar fits this cake quite nicely. If you feel dainty, just dress it up with some vanilla-scented whipped cream. After that, this cake will look almost as elegant as its lofty relatives – but unlike them, its taste will never disappoint you.

German Streusel Cake

The ingredients

300g butter, softened
250g caster sugar
2 small eggs (or 1 whole egg and an egg yolk or egg white)
600 g all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder

1 big can of peaches
Handful of slivered almonds
Icing sugar for sprinkling

Cream the butter together with the sugar. Add eggs, one at a time. Beat thoroughly until pale and fluffy.

Mix dry ingredients. Pour half of the dry ingredients on top of the creamed butter, beat until incorporated. Mix in the rest of the dry ingredients using your hand while producing little crumbles.

Press a good half of the crumbling dough into a lightly buttered baking sheet. Top with peach slices.

Crumble dough pieces on top until almost all of the peaches are covered. I like my crumble topping very crunchy and sweet so I added a bit more sugar at this stage.

Scatter a handful of slivered almonds on top. Fan-bake at 150 degrees Celsius until the crumbles have a nice golden-brown colour, about 45-55 minutes. Let cool, sprinkle icing sugar on top and serve with whipped cream if desired.

The source

The German cookbook “Hedwig Maria Stuber: Ich helf Dir kochen”

The hints

Depending on the size of your baking sheet, you’ll probably end up with too much dough. It freezes very well and can be used either as shortcrust pastry or crumble topping.

For really crunchy crumbles, caster sugar is a bit too fine. Whilst the coarse sugar available in Australia might be a bit too coarse something in between should give your cake just the right amount of crunch.

This cake works equally well with apples, rhubarb or sour cherries. If your fruits are very juicy, you should cover the dough with bread crumbs first.

A quarter of the flour could also be substituted with almond flour.

Monday, 4 December 2006

That's Summer...

Currently, I'm a bit busy - unfortunately too busy to spend much time in the kitchen. Having quite a lot of work and a friend from Germany visiting me, we mostly decide to dine out. However, here comes a little picture that reminds me that it's summer out there. Sydney weather tends to forget that sometimes these days...