22 December 2012

Cranberry Christmas: Cranberry & Cumquat Glazed Ham

Not only have we survived the end of the working year, we have also survived the end of the world as the Mayans knew it! I for one am thrilled that I am still here to enjoy a Christmas ham with my family, my two favourite things of Christmas. Everyone has their own traditions, in our family we have our main meal on Christmas Eve, there is always a glorious glazed ham, golden roast turkey with stuffing on the side, a collection of colourful salads and at least three desserts, the selection of which is one of the most important decisions of Christmas. Then Christmas day we get up and head to the fridge for leftovers - salty ham slices, creamy potato salad with a dollop of chocolate mousse on the side (accompanied by a cup of good coffee), bliss. We then relax all day, nibbling at food, playing board games and opening presents...
This is my last post of the year as today we run around packing and cleaning then catch a plane home to spend time with my family. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and am looking forward to coming back next year full of ideas and recipes to try out here. Merry Christmas!

20 December 2012

Cranberry Christmas: Cranberry Coleslaw

Christmas at our house is a time of overindulgence so it's a welcome relief to have a selection of refreshing salads to go with your main meal, or to accompany left overs in the days after Christmas. Coleslaw can often be thick and heavy but by using cranberry juice in the dressing and dried cranberries in the mix it makes for a revitalizing salad, full of colour, flavour and energy.

18 December 2012

Cranberry Christmas: Cranberry & Caper Chicken

Christmas food should be no stress, full of flavour, have lots of colour and be easy to share. The one dish that comes to mind when I think of this is 'Chicken Marbella' from the never fail Silver Palate Cookbook, a cookbook must for every kitchen. The beauty of this recipe lies in both its simplicity in preparing and the sublime combination of sweet prunes, salty capers, tangy green olives and aromatic oregano. It looks and tastes sensational. Oh, and did I mention all you do is stick the majority of the ingredients on the chicken to marinate overnight, then pop it in the oven with a sprinkle of brown sugar and a splash of white wine? Entertaining does not get easier. 
Cranberries may seem like an odd choice for an Australian to focus on who has no access to fresh cranberries but they have become so entwined with the idea of Christmas food and they bring such a beautiful hue to cooking that this week it's all about the Cranberry for me. I have modified the Chicken Marbella recipe to make it into an easy Christmas dinner using dried cranberries and cranberry sauce in the marinade, I then cut down on the amount of brown sugar as the sauce brought its own sweetness. The result was absolutely delicious, the dried cranberries hydrated in the juice and made sweet, tart pockets of flavour, the perfect foil for the capers and olives. It presents beautifully as the centrepiece for Christmas dinner - pieces of glossy, saucy chicken studded with pale red berries and green capers, olives and parsley - Christmas food personified.

15 December 2012

Gift Toffee: Popcorn Balls

The decorations are out and hung on the tree,
There are people to visit, so many to see;
What gift to bring, just something small,
like toffee and popcorn made into a ball...

These toffee popcorn balls are easy to make and are very light and crisp, not densely packed, with the toffee threads merely holding the ball together. They always remind me of bringing them to the school fair, all tied up in crisp cellophane, when we were little and toffee was all we wanted. Kids would have their teeth glued together with the sticky toffee that come in colourful patty pans and we would crunch through the popcorn balls, jaw untethered!

12 December 2012

Gift Toffee: Pistachio and Cranberry Brittle

The children are nestled all snug in their beds,
While the adults collapse, tired and stressed;
With still more to do, I need a big coffee,
And a piece of that remarkable toffee...

Butter Crunch Toffee is always a crowd pleaser, but sometimes I want something a little different, a more sophisticated toffee if you like, so I came up with this Pistachio and Cranberry Brittle. My original intention was to have a red toffee with flecks of green, but on making it turned such a luminous deep amber I am even happier with the result.
This is a toffee to savour, from the deep notes of the browned pistachios to the astringent tang of cranberry juice infused through the toffee - a little complex and not too sweet. Brittle can be clear or have a little bicarb soda added to form bubbles making it cloudy but easier to bite. Because of the wonderful colour of this brittle I have made it clear and by tipping the tray when the toffee was hot, stretched it as thin as possible so it's not too hard to bite through and has a wonderful stained glass effect.

10 December 2012

Gift Toffee: Butter Crunch Toffee

'Twas two weeks before Christmas, and all around,
People were frantic with presents to be found,
For good friends and family and in-laws and more,
And a small Kris Kringle was also called for...

When people ask me what I want for Christmas I always say something edible or useful. The same goes for giving presents, you are either going to get the Bureau of Meteorology Calendar (I always get one for myself too), or you are going to get a homemade treat that you don't get all year round. It is a personal gift that tastes good, doesn't take up space after Christmas and most of all - it is made with thought and care. My mum taught me the joy of homemade candy making and even more, homemade candy eating, from a young age. Part of our Christmas tradition is to set aside a day to make candy - fudge, divinity, penuche, the occasional marzipan fruit and always a crunchy buttery toffee. Half of the candy would be piled onto gift plates nestled in cellophane and tied with ribbon to give to family and friends, the rest was for us.

7 December 2012

Sinterklaas: Speculaas Ice Cream Sundae

By now Sinterklaas is well on his way back to Spain after another year of cautioning the naughty and rewarding the nice. My clogs will go back in the cupboard for another year and my Stap voor Stap (Step by Step) Dutch cookbook will slip onto the shelf until winter makes me think of Europe and meatball soup. Even so, I am not yet ready to put away my Speculaas Spice and as the Northern Hemisphere heads deep into winter we are finally getting  summer with 37 degrees expected in Melbourne on Saturday. It is definitely a time to be rewarded for a year of hard work and what better reward than Speculaas ice cream.

5 December 2012

Sinterklaas: Speculaas

Sinterklaas marks the beginning of winter festivities and while it may not be winter in Australia (although Melbourne is trying) it still heralds the oncoming celebrations of flavour and warmth throughout December. More than any other biscuit I adore Speculaas. The combination of perfumed spices, creamy salted butter and deeply sweet brown sugar all in a crisp biscuit is phenomenal, but before you can begin to make Speculaas you must first summon a breeze from the East Indies laden with spices. While you can buy jars of Speculaas spice it is far more fun to blend your own personal mix, which incidentally makes for a great gift along with a recipe for Speculaas and some freshly baked biscuits (if you can part with them)!
Tonight is Pakjesavond and like children all over the Netherlands and Belgium my childhood clogs are set out with a carrot for Sinterklaas horse. Unlike when I was a child, I have filled my own clogs with chocolate coins, walnuts, oranges, and little pakjes of Speculaas tied up with string to give to my friends (and in that tradition of my family I have even bought myself a new toothbrush to counteract my sugar intake!)

3 December 2012

Sinterklaas: Pepernoten

Sinterklaas is the time of year when it’s OK to throw biscuits into the corners of the room for children to scavenge and for naughty children to be carried off in hessian sacks. It’s a time to gather with family and close friends to exchange small gifts along with a teasing verse about something you did during the year (which you would usually rather forget). For me it is a time for fantastic baked goods, all of which have that heady combination of spices the Dutch have had a love affair with since the 16th century when the Golden Age of exploration sent them across the globe, in search of fortune and glory through nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and black pepper. As valuable as gold and worth dying for.