In Australia Christmas falls in the middle of summer, so many of the foods that are traditionally associated with a European Christmas feel strangely out-of-place in the heat. When I was living in the UK and celebrated Christmas in Scotland, finally these food traditions started to make a lot more sense. In Australia, a lot of cooler weekend destinations such as the Blue Mountains and Southern Highlands celebrate Christmas in July, when you get to snuggle up in front of a log fire and enjoy Christmas pud, mulled wine and roast dinner.
Stilton cheese is one thing that is associated with Christmas in the UK, where it is normally served with port. Stilton has achieved protected designation of origin status, meaning only cheese produced in a specific region can lay claim to the name Stilton (similar to only wine produced in the champagne region can be called champagne). I was unable to track down authentic Stilton cheese, so substituted with an excellent Australian produced blue cheese, Berry’s Creek Tarwin Blue. You could of course, use your favourite blue cheese.
I made my own pastry cases from a sheet of frozen puff pastry, but if you wanted to take a shortcut you could use pre-bought pastry cases or that seventies canapé favourite the vol-au-vent. If you are lucky enough to be able to track down fresh figs, use them. Fresh figs are in short supply in Sydney at the moment, so I resorted to dried figs.
What I was cooking this time last year: Spicy Bean Soup
Blue Cheese and Fig Tartlets
- Cooking oil spray
- 1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, defrosted
- 4 dried figs
- Cranberry sauce
- 100g blue cheese
- Turn the oven on to 200°C.
- Spray a baking tray with cooking oil spray.
- Cut the sheet of pastry into quarters, then each quarter into quarters again.
- Cut a smaller square inside each piece of pastry square.
- Flip the outer corner of the pastry square to the inside corner, and repeat with the opposite corners to create a tartlet.
- Push down the ends, and repeat until all of your pastry squares have been converted into tartlets.
- Cook for approximately 10 minutes.
- Take the pastry tartlets out of the oven and push down the center of the tartlets.
- Return the tartlets to the oven and cook for another 10 minutes or until golden.
- Once the tartlets are golden, add some chopped fig, blue cheese and a small dollop of cranberry sauce to each tartlet.
- Cook for approximately 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted.
- Your tartlets are ready to serve. Enjoy.
What is your favourite canapé? Has this post inspired any new ideas?
This is a recipe that I have that was scribbled on a piece of paper many years ago. I’m not sure who the original author is or where it came from, but I have adapted and modified the original to come up with the below details.
I love dried apricots, and this slice showcases them beautifully. I also added dates to give a sticky depth of flavour (an idea borrowed from sticky date pudding). The bi-carb soda encourages the dried fruits to re-hydrate and break down, helping to enhance the texture. I used pecans, but you could use walnuts, almonds, your favourite nut or if you are someone with nut allergies go without (the nuts do provide a contrast however). If you are gluten free you could use gluten free flour and substitute rolled quinoa flakes for the oats.
What I was cooking this time last year: Raspberry & Wattle Seed Muffins
Apricot and Date Slice
- 1 ¼ cups of plain flour
- ½ cup rolled oats
- ¾ cup brown sugar
- 125g butter
- 2 eggs
- ¼ cup golden syrup
- ¼ cup sugar
- ½ cup chopped pecans
- ½ cup chopped dried apricots
- ¼ cup chopped dried dates
- 1 teaspoon bi-carb soda
- ¾ cup boiling water
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon plain flour
- Turn the oven on to 180°C.
- Add the chopped dried apricots, chopped dried dates and bi-carb soda to a bowl.
- Pour boiling water over the dried fruits and set aside to soak, stirring occasionally.
- To make the base, add the flour, oats, sugar and butter to your food processor bowl and blitz until combined (or rub the butter into the rest of the ingredients if mixing by hand).
- Press the base mixture into a greased and lined tin.
- Cook in the oven for 20 minutes.
- Add the eggs, golden syrup, sugar, pecans, vanilla and flour to the soaked dried fruit and stir to combine.
- Pour the filling mixture on top of the cooked base and return to the oven for a further 20 – 30 minutes, or until the middle of the filling no longer wobbles when you give the tray a gentle shake.
- Remove the slice from the oven and allow to cool.
- Cut into serving size pieces. Enjoy.
What is your favourite way to use dried fruits? Has this post inspired any new ideas?
The weather in Sydney has turned cold, especially when the sun disappears and the evening chill sets in. This recipe is a cosy vegetarian comfort food recipe, perfect for a blue Monday, or any day really.
I used Australian blue lentils because they look so pretty. If you have trouble tracking down blue lentils, you could substitute French puy lentils or brown lentils. I served this recipe with mashed potato, because I love mash; stroganoff is traditionally served with rice or straw potatoes so feel free to dish up your favourite carbs. To inject some vegetables I also served up some wilted baby spinach and julienne zucchini.
What I was cooking this time last year: Pasta Pronto
Mushroom and Lentil Stroganoff
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1 onion
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 100g tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon mustard
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 2 fresh bay leaves or 1 dried bay leaf
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon vegeta vegetable stock powder
- 1 cup blue lentils
- 2 cups of water
- 250g small button mushrooms
- 100g sour cream
- Finely chop the onion.
- Crush the garlic.
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan and cook the onion and garlic until softened.
- Add the mustard, tomato paste, vegetable stock powder, paprika and vinegar and stir until the liquid has evaporated.
- Add the lentils and stir to coat in the tomato mixture.
- Add the water, mushrooms and bay leaves, and bring the saucepan to a boil.
- Add a lid to the saucepan, turn the heat down to low, and cook gently, stirring occasionally for 30 minutes or more.
- If you are serving with mashed potatoes or rice, start to prepare and cook while your lentils are cooking.
- Once the lentils are tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed, your stroganoff is almost ready. If there is still too much liquid, take the lid off and cook for another 5 minutes or so.
- Add 100g of sour cream to the saucepan and stir to combine. Remove the bay leaf (or leaves).
- Your stroganoff is ready to serve. Enjoy.
What is your favourite cosy comfort food? Has this post inspired any new ideas?
One of my favourite things in the world is chocolate cake. I also had an over-supply of jam recently, and decided to experiment by including jam in my chocolate cake. I used blackberry jam, but you can of course use what ever jam you prefer. I started with a Nigella old-fashioned chocolate cake recipe, and replaced half the sugar with jam. I liked the result, but the jam in the cake mixture was still quite subtle, so, next time, I will replace all the sugar with jam (and do away with the need to add milk). The dollop of jam hiding inside is a nice surprise when you bite into the cupcakes.
For the icing I used dark chocolate, and to help it match the sweetness of the cake, I added condensed milk. Condensed milk in a tube is a wonderful thing, you can add a squeeze instead of vanilla and icing sugar when whipping up some chantilly cream.
What I was cooking this time last year: Fried Saganaki Cheese with Salsa
Chocolate blackberry cupcakes
* This recipe’s base ingredients were inspired by a Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake recipe that appears in Nigella Lawson’s cookbook, Feast. I have modified and adapted Nigella’s recipe to come up with the below reincarnation.
Makes 12 cupcakes.
- 200g self-raising flour
- 100g sugar
- 200g blackberry jam
- 50g cocoa powder
- 175g butter
- 2 eggs
- 1 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
- 150g sour cream or yoghurt
- 50mls milk
- 100mls cream
- 200g dark chocolate
- 50mls condensed milk
- Heat oven to 180°C.
- Add the butter, sugar and vanilla to your food processor bowl and mix until light and fluffy.
- Add the eggs, milk, sour cream and 100g of the jam and mix until thoroughly combined.
- Add the cocoa powder and flour and mix until thoroughly combined.
- Place cup cake cases into your baking tray.
- Spoon mixture into the base of each cup cake case.
- Add a spoon of jam on top of the cake mixture in each cup cake case.
- Top the jam with another spoon of cake mixture.
- Bake the cupcakes for approximately 25 – 30 minutes, or until they spring back when lightly touched.
- To make the icing, add the chocolate, cream and condensed milk to a large bowl.
- Suspend the bowl over a saucepan of hot water and gently heat until the chocolate is melted and everything is combined.
- Cool the icing mixture in the fridge until firm.
- Whip the icing to make it light and fluffy.
- When the cupcakes are cooled, spread the tops with icing. Your cupcakes are ready to serve. Enjoy.
How do you like to eat your jam? Has this post inspired any new ideas?
I am honoured to announce that I have been nominated for a Liebster Award by a fabulous blog I have been following, Life is Like a Dumping. Thank you Gen for the vote of confidence. I tried to find out where this award originated from, but was unable to track down details. It is a great way of getting to know other blogs though.
Liebster Award: The rules:
- Post 11 random facts about yourself.
- Answer the 11 questions made by the person who nominated you.
- Create 11 questions for the bloggers you pass the award to. Choose 11 bloggers to pass the award to and mention them in your post.
- Go to their blogs and let them know that they have been nominated.
- No tag backs.
11 Random Facts About Me:
- As much as I am a foodie, my favourite food of all time would have to be Nachos. The version of nachos we are familiar with here in Australia is not authentic Mexican, it’s not glamorous or sophisticated, but the perfect combination of textures and temperatures and my all time favourite.
- My favourite ingredient or flavour would have to be lemon. I add it to most things and love the citrus tang it contributes. I try to make sure I use the zest as well as the juice whenever possible. I also freeze zest for later use if it isn’t required for the recipe I am making – frozen lemon zest is great to add to a glass of sparkling mineral water.
- I am a pescitarian, in that I eat a vegetarian plus seafood diet.
- I am Australian, I was born in Sydney and grew up in the Blue Mountains. I have lived in London for three years.
- I have been lucky enough to travel to 31 countries and counting.
- My first overseas trip was to visit a friend who was working in the Maldives. The Maldives is an Islamic country made up of lots of clusters of islands. I saw quite a different side of the Maldives to the one most visitors experience, I did spend a bit of time at an amazing resort with the whitest sand and amazing fish, but I also go to explore the capital island Malé, and Villingili, and went on a safari boat for a week travelling to some very remote atolls.
- My next trip overseas is to Thailand, which I am lucky enough to have been to before, but my next new destination will be Cuba in November.
- I am not sporty but I did get my PADI scuba diving licence in Dahab, Egypt, diving in the red sea.
- Seahorses are my favourite animal (and the reason I learnt to dive and have a fish tank).
- I had my first job was when I was 14. I worked as a kitchen hand at a local guest house, Pegums (no longer in existence). I quickly progressed from being in charge of the dishwasher to helping with food preparation and being in charge of the deep fryer. My favourite part of the job was plating up dessert, I would always try to plate up extra because I got to take the leftovers home with me (and quite often mum was waiting up to see what was on offer so I would have to share my spoils with her).
- I have a fierce sweet tooth, as a result lots of my recipes are sweet. I have been known to be able to polish of a family block of Cadbury chocolate in one sitting, or a mars bar for breakfast when I was younger.
Questions for me from Life is Like a Dumpling:
1. What is your favourite book? Shantaram by Gregory David Robert. I was very daunted when I first picked up this book due to it’s mamoth size, but I felt like I had lost a friend when I finished reading it. If even a fraction of the story actually happened (it is a true story), what an amazing life. One of those books that stays with you long after you’ve finished reading.
2. What is your most memorable dining experience? Lunch at the Fat Duck restaurant in Bray, England, headed up by Heston Blumenthal (at the time ranked as the Best Restaurant in the World). A truly amazing experience, and one I was lucky enough to share with my parents who were visiting me in the UK at the time. I love Heston’s approach to food, although am too daunted to try many of his scientific recipes at home.
3. Favourite cuisine? Mexican. What Australians know to be Mexican food is actually more Tex Mex (nachos is one such dish). I discovered authentic Mexican food when I travelled to Mexico a number of years ago, and love the vibrancy and freshness of authentic mexican food.
4. What is your favourite meal of the day? Dinner time is my favourite meal of the day. I love a lazy weekend breakfast, but during the week breakfast is a bit more of a struggle as I can’t stomach eating first thing when I wake up. Lunch is good, but dinner time is where I unwind from the day and have the chance to be a bit more creative.
5. What is your least favourite food? Within my pescitarian limits, there isn’t much I won’t try or like. Although, I don’t like Vegemite, I can’t even stand the smell of it – very un-Australian I know.
6. Do you prefer cooking for yourself, or others? If I am experimenting I like the freedom of only having to cater for my own tastes, but I do also love to cook for others. My place at the moment is small, but I still have managed to cram quite a crowd in for Easter Sunday lunch or a dinner get-together.
7. Favourite blogs on the internet? Non foodie blogs include Seth’s Blog, Changing What’s Normal, Unclutter and The Art of Nonconformity. Foodie blogs include Chocolatesuze, Nosh On It, Greek Vegetarian, Food Stories, Melbourne Food Snob and Chez Chloe.
8. One place you would love to travel to? One place that has been on my list for a while is Cuba. I’ve booked my tickets and will be off in November. I’m not sure about the food in Cuba given it is a communist country and still subject to rationing, but I want to get there before Castro goes (although if you believe some of the conspiracy theories he’s already gone) and everything changes.
9. Casual dining or fine dining? It depends. I love the excuse to dress up and taste amazing food that only fine dining allows. I also love to eat good quality fish and chips on the sand at the beach straight from the paper wrapping with my fingers.
10. Salt or pepper? If I could pick both I would, but if forced to choose, I think it would have to be salt. Salt works wonderfully in sweet or savoury cooking.
11. Spicy food: yes or no? Absolutely yes. I love spicy food. Spicy doesn’t always need to mean hot, but I do like things pimped up in the chilli stakes too. I enjoy learning about the history of spices, for instance nutmeg originated from Indonesia and was responsible for the Spice Wars between the British and Dutch for many years. I also enjoy experimenting with native Australian spices.
I’d like to nominate…
- One Wet Foot
- The Melbourne Food Snob
- Emily Cooks Vegan
- Chocolate Suze
- Lucy’s Friendly Foods
- The Little Loaf
- Lemongrass and Ginger
- Chez Chloe
- Food Stories
- Cook Up A Story
- Dinner of Herbs
Questions for my Nominees:
- Where did you learn or who taught you to cook?
- What is your favourite kitchen gadget?
- What is your favourite flavour combination?
- Sweet or savoury?
- What is your most memorable meal and why was it memorable?
- What is on your foodie wish list?
- What is your secret indulgence dish you cook for yourself when no one else is around?
- What is a recipe you can make in your sleep or on auto-pilot?
- What ingredients are you experimenting with or inspired by at the moment?
- Who is your favourite TV chef or cook and why?
- What is your favourite foodie smell?