Christmas is a time for gratitude, remembering all those things you are thankful for, and indulging in things that make you happy, spending time with loved ones and overdosing on favourite foods. I have a lot to be grateful for, and one thing that is high on my happiness list is chocolate. I decided to revisit a recipe from last year and improve on it by combining cocoa with my gingerbread recipe to create a chocolate version, and substituted milk for ginger beer.
This gingerbread is delicious by itself, dressed up with your favourite icing or used in trifle, which is what I will be doing later this week for Christmas.
Wishing you a very happy Christmas.
What I was cooking this time last year: Gingerbread Trifle
- 2 cups self-raising flour
- 1/4 cup cocoa powder
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon mixed spice
- 1 cup ginger beer
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 125g butter
- 1 cup golden syrup
- Cooking oil spray
- Melt butter and syrup in saucepan over low heat until butter is melted and set aside to cool a little.
- Sift the flour, cocoa & spices into a bowl.
- Add sugar, eggs, ginger beer and butter syrup and mix well.
- Spray your baking tin(s) with cooking oil spray. Pour cake batter into tins – I used mini-cupcake tins.
- Bake for 20 minutes at 170°C [fan-forced] or 180°C normal oven (you will need to adjust the cooking time if using larger tins). Remove from oven when cooked – ie skewer comes out clean or the gingerbread springs back with lightly touched.
What is your favourite food that makes you happy? Has this post inspired any new ideas?
Beetroot are in abundance at the moment, and are the inspiration for this recipe. Ingredients that compliment beetroot include cumin, walnuts and feta, which produce a vibrantly coloured purple dip – what’s not to love. This recipe makes quite a large batch, so feel free to halve if you aren’t cooking for a crowd or don’t want to be eating it for the next week.
To toast and grind your cumin seeds, cook them without any oil in a fry pan over a low to medium heat – be careful to keep the spices moving so they toast evenly and only cook until lightly toasted and the aroma is released, don’t let the spices burn, then grind to get maximum flavour into your dip. The cumin seeds can be ground in a blender, coffee grinder or a with a pestle and mortar.
Serve your dip with your favourite biscuits or rice crackers, and / or vegetable crudités.
What I was cooking this time last year: Chocolate Beetroot Cake
- 1 bunch of beetroot, approximately 1 kg
- 200g feta
- 2 garlic cloves
- 50g toasted walnuts
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 2 lemons, zest and juice
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Turn the oven on to 180°C.
- Peel the beetroot and chop into pieces.
- Lay beetroot pieces on a baking tray, add the garlic cloves (with skins intact).
- Put the beetroot into the oven to start roasting while you prepare the walnuts.
- Put the walnuts in a heat proof dish and put in the oven for 10 minutes or so, until the nuts are toasted and fragrant.
- Set aside the walnuts to cool.
- Toast the cumin seeds in a dry pan until fragrant, stirring occasionally to ensure they cook evenly.
- Grind the cumin seeds.
- Roast the beetroot until it is tender, then remove from the oven and allow to cool.
- Add the roast beetroot, feta, ground cumin, peeled garlic cloves, walnuts, lemon zest and juice and olive oil to your food processor bowl or blender.
- Blend until smooth and everything is combined.
- Add salt and pepper to taste and blend to combine.
- Transfer your dip to a bowl and serve (or refrigerate until ready to serve). Enjoy.
What is your favourite dip? Has this post inspired any new ideas?
I’m not exactly sure why, but for me rhubarb has always been a grandmaesque ingredient. Rhubarb is also popping up at farmers markets and green grocers in Sydney at the moment, so I used it as the inspiration for this week’s recipe. I love the pretty deep pink colour cooked rhubarb provides. Because I don’t like my rhubarb too stringy, I cut the pieces quite small, about 1cm wide. I used hazelnuts, but you could experiment with almonds or other nuts.
This cake could be served with some thick cream, ice-cream, natural yoghurt or custard, delicious warm or cooled.
What I was cooking this time last year: Orange Crème Caramel
Rhubarb and Hazelnut Crumble Cake
* The basic cake recipe ingredients list is taken from a Women’s Weekly Recipe Card recipe.
- 1 bunch of fresh rhubarb
- 1 cup of sugar
- 1 vanilla bean pod
- water, to just cover the chopped rhubarb
- 150g hazelnuts
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon mixed spice
- 125g softened butter
- 3/4 cups sugar
- 2 eggs
- 2 cups self-raising flour
- 1 cup milk
- 50mls milk
- vanilla bean pod from the rhubarb
- Cooking oil spray to grease your cake tin
- Wash the rhubarb, chop off the green top and the bottom of the rhubarb stalks.
- Chop the rhubarb stalks into 1cm pieces and add to a saucepan.
- Add the sugar and vanilla pod to the rhubarb, and add water until just covered.
- Cook the rhubarb on a medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes until soft.
- Drain the cooked rhubarb from the liquid, and return the liquid to the saucepan.
- Cook the rhubarb liquid until it reduces and thickens.
- Add the rhubarb syrup to the cooked rhubarb and set aside to cool.
- To make the crumble, add the hazelnuts, brown sugar and mixed spice to your food processor bowl.
- Pulse the crumble mix until the nuts are chopped and everything is combined.
- Set the crumble aside.
- Turn the oven on to 180°C.
- To make the cake batter, add the butter, sugar and vanilla pod to the food processor bowl. Beat together until light and creamy.
- Add the eggs and beat until combined.
- Mix in a little of the sifted flour alternately with the milk, until everything is combined.
- Spray your cake tin with cooking oil to prevent sticking.
- Add half of the cake batter, and spread out over the bottom of the cake tin.
- Top the cake batter with half of the cooked rhubarb, then half of the crumble mixture.
- Add the remaining cake batter, rhubarb and crumble layers.
- Cook in the oven for approximately 60 minutes or until the center of the cake springs back when lightly touched.
- Allow the cake to cool in the tin for 5 – 10 minutes, then remove from the tin. Your cake is ready to serve warm or you could wait until it is cool. Enjoy.
What is your favourite colour? Has this post inspired any new ideas?
In the spirit of the cooler weather that is still lingering in Sydney and July, I wanted to experiment with a mulled wine recipe this week. If you are having a party, it would be perfect to make up a big batch and have it keeping warm in a slow cooker for your guests to ladle.
For me, christmas inspired spices include cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. Lots of recipes call for sugar and orange in their mulled wine recipe, I decided to substitute marmalade to give some sweetness and citrus tang. Use a red wine you would be happy drinking, I used an Australian shiraz. It is important to only gently heat your mulled wine and not let it boil, otherwise all of the alchohol will evaoporate away. If you want to pimp up your mulled wine in the alcohol stakes you could add a wee nip or three of brandy.
What I was cooking this time last year: Zucchini Fritters
- 1 bottle (750mls) red wine
- 2 cinnamon sticks, lightly crushed
- 6 cloves
- I star anise
- 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 kaffir lime leaf
- 1 tablespoon marmalade
- Add all of the ingredients to a saucepan.
- Heat over a low heat until warmed through.
- Ladle serves into mugs or heat-proof glasses, avoiding or straining off the whole spices.
- Your mulled wine is ready to serve with a cinnamon stick as a stirrer. Enjoy.
What is your favourite warming drink? Has this post inspired any new ideas?
Under the Christmas tree I was given some delicious new ingredients to experiment with. The ingredient I was most excited about was some beautiful saffron my mum purchased from a local farmers market produced by Capertee Valley Saffron. The producer recommended toasting the saffron in a frying pan with a sheet of baking paper in the bottom to protect the delicate saffron from direct heat, and to toast the saffron threads to release their aroma and flavour then add to warm water or stock before using in your recipe. I had to hold down my grease proof paper to help the paper and saffron strands to come into contact with the bottom of the fry pan. Ian Hemphill, of Herbie’s Spices fame, in his book ‘Spice Notes and Recipes’ provides many tips on saffron, including that oil will actually prevent saffron from releasing its colour and flavour and most of the colour and flavour will be released into your liquid within 10 minutes so there is no need for long periods of infusing.
Amoungst my herbalist’s recommendations to me last year, she suggested I increase my intake of crab and tarragon so I was trying to think of ways to experiment in the kitchen. I’ve never really cooked with crab (or eaten much of it for that matter), so was feeling a bit nervous about how to incorporate more of it into my diet. I consulted my local fish monger about the different varieties of crab they currently had in stock, and was recommended I try spanner crab (which proved to be quite reasonably priced at $14.99 per kilogram). Taking my fish monger’s advice, I purchased two cooked spanner crabs to make into a risotto. Having no idea what to do with the crab when I got home, I consulted a You Tube clip that gave me instructions on how to pick the meat out of the crab. If you have time to spare you could use the discarded crab legs and claws to enhance your stock for the risotto. If you are not feeling quite so brave to tackle a whole crab, you may be able to purchase fresh or frozen picked crab meat from your fish monger.
If you take notice of the cooking shows on TV and celebrity chefs, you may have been scared off attempting to cook risotto because it has a reputation as difficult to get right. I think risotto is a dish that is really down to personal preference, how liquidy you want the finished product, how al dente or cooked you prefer the rice. Feel free to vary the quantities of liquids to get the texture you prefer. The only advice I will offer is if you cook the rice too fast or over too high a heat, the grains won’t cook through; if you cook the rice too slowly, the rice will become too soft and gluggy. Mastering risotto will be a great thing to add to your cooking repertoire, as the variations only limited by your imagination.
I called this indulgent risotto because crab, saffron and tarragon are generally considered to be luxurious ingredients. I’ve been quite generous with the use of tarragon in this recipe, using it more like a vegetable than a flavour enhancer. If you want an extra rich risotto, you could add a little cream or butter at the end of the cooking instead of, or as well as, the white wine.
Crab, Saffron and Tarragon Risotto
- 2 tablespoons of coconut oil
- 4 spring onions
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1/2 cup of arborio rice
- pinch of saffron (about 15 threads)
- 2 cups of warm water
- 2 teaspoons vegetable stock powder (I use vegeta brand)
- 2 limes
- Meat from 2 or 3 spanner crabs
- 2 tablespoons chopped tarragon
- 50 to 100ml white wine (or to taste)
- Finely chop the spring onions, using the white part and as much of the green as you like (I generally keep chopping for another 5 to 10 cm past the white part).
- Finely chop or crush the garlic.
- Zest and juice the limes.
- Line a frying pan with grease proof paper. Add the saffron on top of the grease proof paper and toast over a medium heat until the aroma and flavour is released.
- Add the toasted saffron to the warm water, add the lime juice and the vegetable stock powder. Stir to combine.
- Discard the grease proof paper you used to toast the saffron from the frying pan.
- Heat the pan over a medium high heat and add the coconut oil the chopped spring onions, garlic and rice. Cook until the rice is coated in oil and the onions are slightly softened.
- Add a little stock (approximately 100mls at a time) to the fry pan and stir until the liquid is absorbed. Repeat until all of the stock has been absorbed. Taste to test the rice, it should be slightly too firm but almost ready.
- Add the white wine to the fry pan, continue cooking until the wine bubbles then turn off the heat.
- Add the crab meat, the lime zest and chopped tarragon.
- Stir to combine and let the residual heat warm the crab and wilt the tarragon. Your risotto is ready to serve. Enjoy.
What is your favourite risotto recipe? Has this post inspired any new ideas?
Like a lot of people at this time of year, I am making an effort to eat a healthy and balanced diet.
I used almond milk infused with spices as the base for my sorbet. I let the spices infuse overnight, then strained the almond milk before churning in the ice cream machine. I have been wanting to experiment with almond milk for a while now, and it is cholesterol and lactose free. The sorbet is lovely served with your favourite summer fruit, I used mango. You could even eat this for breakfast on a hot day without feeling guilty.
I have previously made a similar sorbet using a tin of coconut milk to infuse the spices, then adding 100mls of natural yoghurt when churning in the ice cream machine. If the recipe is not sweet enough for you, feel free to add a little sugar when heating the almond milk to infuse the spices.
Liquid glucose can be found in the baking section of the supermarket and will provide a little sweetness and help create a silky smooth sorbet.
Spiced Almond Sorbet
* Please note you will need an ice cream machine for this recipe.
- 500mls almond milk
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 6 cloves
- 2 green cardamom pods, crushed
- Small piece of fresh ginger, about the size of your thumb nail
- 3 kaffir lime leaves
- 1 vanilla pod, split to release the seeds
- 1 star anise
- 1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
- 2 tablespoons of liquid glucose
- Mango, to serve
- Put the cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, ginger, kaffir lime leaves, vanilla, star anise, nutmeg, liquid glucose and almond milk in a saucepan.
- Heat on a low heat until the almond milk is hot (just starting to steam) but not boiling.
- Remove the pan from the heat, and allow the mixture to cool. Cover and allow to chill in the fridge.
- Strain the infused almond milk to remove the spices.
- Pour the chilled and strained almond milk into an ice cream machine and churn.
- Transfer ice cream to a container and put into the freezer.
- To serve, put into fridge to soften slightly up to half an hour before serving. Serve with mango chunks or your favourite summer fruit. Enjoy.
What is your favourite summer fruit? Has this post inspired any new ideas?
Australians love a barbie, and barbecues seem to have evolved a lot over the years. My first memory of a barbecue is one made of bricks by my dad in the backyard with a hot plate suspended above the wood-fueled coals. In the 80s, our family progressed to the Webber kettle, fueled by heat beads. Nowadays, most people have gas barbecues, but there are still some devotees that think flames or coals are best for an authentic smokey flavour.
There is something communal about catching a whiff of the smells of other people’s dinner cooking away outdoors. I lived in London for a several years, and the Brits are jealous of the Australian good weather and outdoor lifestyle, so any glimpse of a sunny day in would trigger off a barbecue breeding season. Barbecues multiplied at an amazing rate in the unit complex I lived in. The discarded barbecues were then stored in an area of the car park, which during the winter months resembled a barbecue graveyard.
If you are looking for something a bit different to cook on the barbecue from your standard sausages and steaks, you could give these sumac spiced prawns a try. Sumac is a middle eastern spice that comes from the berries of the Rhus tree. I tracked down my latest batch of sumac at the David Jones food hall, only to discover later that my local green grocer also stocks it. Sumac gives a citrus or sour flavour to dishes, and its pretty reddish purple colour adds extra visual appeal.
The prawns are delicious served with some tzatziki dip or my Watercress and Pomegranate Tabouli from an earlier post to continue with the middle eastern inspired theme.
I used rice bran oil in this recipe, which is perfect for barbecuing because of its ability to withstand high temperatures and its neutral taste.
If you don’t like the taste of coriander, don’t be put off by the use of ground coriander seeds. Herbie’s spices describes ground coriander as an amalgamating spice, meaning it helps tie all the other flavours together, and it does have a different taste to fresh coriander.
A tip with chillies is that they freeze well. If you have bought a pack from your green grocer or grow your own, it helps prolong the life of the chillies.
Sumac Spiced Prawns
* This recipe was inspired by one that appeared in the November 2003 edition of Australian Gourmet Traveller. I have modified and adapted it over the years to come up with the below reincarnation.
- 1 tablespoon sumac
- 1 or 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 or 2 birds eye chillies finely chopped, depending how hot you like things
- 2 tablespoons of lemon thyme or thyme leaves
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon of coriander seeds, ground
- 500g of raw peeled prawns
- 2 tablespoons of oil (I used rice bran oil)
- Salt & lemon wedges to serve
- Add sumac, garlic, chilli, paprika, lemon zest, thyme, cinnamon and coriander seeds to a bowl. Stir to combine.
- Add your prawns and stir to coat the prawns in the spice mixture.
- Add the oil and stir again to coat the prawns.
- Soak your wooden skewers in water to prevent them burning while cooking.
- Leave to marinate (overnight is great, if you don’t have the time, a half an hour or more is great).
- Heat your barbecue or hot plate.
- Thread the prawns onto the soaked wooden skewers.
- Cook your prawns on the barbecue or hot plate, turning when the prawns start to appear opaque and slightly charred.
- Serve your cooked prawns with a scattering of salt and lemon wedges. Enjoy.
What is your favourite barbecue recipe? Has this post inspired any new ideas?