Archives for the month of: December, 2012

Instead of a buying a present this year, one of my friends requested a batch of healthy breakfast muffins. She was flying out to Queensland for a holiday Christmas night and wanted to take some healthy food on the flight. On Christmas Eve I found myself awake at 4.30am and unable to sleep, so I got up and baked the muffins.

I adapted a Martha Stewart recipe that we had both tried before and liked. I replaced the ground nutmeg with some mixed spice and cinnamon, and the raisins with dried cranberries (I thought the changes made them more Christmasy). I also used apple sauce instead of mashed banana. The house smelt lovely that morning and the muffins were very happily received a few hours later. I think I’ll bake myself some of these next time I’m flying anywhere. They are also great to have in the freezer for breakfast on the run.

Later in the day, I was dropping off presents to another friend, who on hearing about the muffins exclaimed “We can request baked goods for presents?” I think I might be getting a few more requests next year. But that’s okay, as I’ve always liked giving gifts that I’ve made myself. And it was lovely to receive my handmade smart rider (train card) holder and bike riding garters (so I can ride my recently bought vintage looking bike while wearing a dress) from my friend.breakfast muffins

Click here for the recipe

Time for the last of my trio of Christmas gifts from my kitchen. This year is actually the first time I have made gingerbread at home as an adult, and I have to say I am very happy with the results. Not only does it taste nice, the gingerbread Christmas tree worked wonderfully, and the stars, snow flakes, angels and other shapes looked lovely decorated with royal icing.

The recipe below can be used to make whatever shapes you want out of gingerbread. You are only limited by either your imagination, or whatever cookie cutters you may have on hand.

My team's gingerbread Christmas tree

My team’s gingerbread Christmas tree

To make a tree out of gingerbread, you will need several star cutters in different sizes. For my larger tree I used 9 cutters ranging from 2.5cm (top stars) to 18cm in size. For the smaller one I used 5 cutters from 2.5cm to 9cm. You cut two stars out in each size. After they are baked and decorated (edges only), you stick them together with royal icing, alternating the positioning of the star so the points are in the gaps of the previous star. From two batches of this dough I got a small and a large tree, and lots of other shapes. I decorated my trees with bought decorating icings and gels, as they were decorated by my team at work. However at home, I decorated the gingerbread with white royal icing, which I prefer as it sets firm.

Mini tree

Click here for the recipe

Onto the next of my Christmas gifts from the kitchen. I have to say, that when I was rolling these in the coconut, it started to feel and smell like Christmas in my kitchen. This recipe uses bought fruit cake, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. Of course, if you have leftover home-made fruit cake at home, you can use that. But I’ve always made these with bought light fruit cake (just the basic home brand version) and have been happy with the result every time.

For a non-alcoholic version, just replace the rum with orange juice. The recipe below is a double batch of the original recipe.

rum balls

Click here for the recipe

In my quest to share the holiday spirit through food, I may have overdone it a bit this week. It started off innocently enough in the planning stage about a month ago. I like to give food gifts at Christmas. This began years ago when I was still in high school. I would make a hamper of goodies for my friend’s families. Now I tend to do food gifts for people at work. Last year I went a bit overboard making fudge, rum balls and truffles, which took several nights to complete, and this year I promised myself I was just going to make one thing. Small gingerbread trees (out of stars). I did a test run a month ago, it all worked so I was (I thought) set.

Then, a work morning tea was organised, and I offered to bake. So far, still okay. It was then decided that there would be a “best representation of a Christmas tree” competition at the morning tea. My team settled on my suggestion, a gingerbread Christmas tree decorated by the team. And there went my Christmas gift plan.

My team's gingerbread Christmas tree

My team’s gingerbread Christmas tree

The end result was over the last week I have:

  • Cooked a dinner party for friends (home made dips, slow cooked roast lamb with a few sides and two desserts);
  • Baked and decorated numerous gingerbread stars, men and ornaments, and assembled a tree made out of decorated stars;
  • Baked cupcakes and a yule log for the work morning tea; and
  • Made and packaged up fudge and rum balls to give out at work.
Death by chocolate cupckaes

Death by chocolate cupcakes

Not to mention I still had to work everyday, finishing up the Christmas shopping, etc. Let’s just say I spent a lot of yesterday sleeping to recover. But it was worth it. I had a lovely night with my friends over for dinner last weekend, the gingerbread tree turned out amazingly well (even if we didn’t win – we still got to eat it) and everyone loved the morning tea and the gifts. So I was happy, if a bit tired.

Now however I am very behind with posting, so today I will share my three holiday baked gift ideas, starting with the easiest fudge recipe ever. I don’t even know where the recipe came from originally, that is how long I’ve been making it. I think it was one of those Nestlé Christmas recipes that you find in magazines at this time of year.Choc almond fudge

Click here for the recipe

Jerome’s parents travelled from France to Western Australia earlier this year and stayed with us for three weeks. This was their second visit to Australia since Jerome moved here and the first since Jerome and I met. They had heard a lot about how much I like cooking, so I wanted to have a nice meal and dessert ready for their first night at our house. However I was also performing in a play that night, so I wasn’t going to be home until late.

I decided on cooking a casserole that could easily be reheated (creamy chicken, leak and mushrooms…I’ll cook it when the weather is cooler and then post) and then set about finding a dessert to cook. Flicking through one of my cooking magazines, I came across a recipe for a French Apple Tart that seemed perfect. When I came home that night most of it had been eaten, so I’d say it was a success. I cooked this again for a friend last weekend and was just as happy with the results the second time. The sweet and tart apples provide a nice contrast to the rich, creamy pastry cream. Yum. This is also a great dessert to make ahead when you are entertaining.

The original recipe said it served 8, however they would have to be quite small slices. I would suggest 6 serves is more generous.

Apple Tart

Click here for the recipe

My threshold for hot/spicy food is very low, so when we do eat Indian food a korma is usually my dish of choice. Unfortunately, a creamy korma isn’t the best choice if you are trying to watch what you eat. So my interest was sparked by a recipe in the Hairy Biker’s latest book and TV show The Hairy Dieters’ : How to Love Food and Lose Weight for a chicken korma that was less than 300 calories per portion (without rice). As I’ve said on this blog before, I really like finding healthier alternatives to favourite foods/dishes rather than cutting them out altogether. That way I don’t feel like I’m missing out.

I’ve cooked this twice now and have been happy with the results both times.  It doesn’t feel like a light/diet version of something. It still has the creamy texture and rich taste of a korma from the blended cooked onion mix and the very small amount of cream added at the end. So now I can enjoy my korma at home without the guilt.

I like to add some steamed green beans at the end, as I feel the dish needs some added vegetables. I also prefer to cook this with chicken thigh fillets, though the original recipe was for chicken breasts. Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients. That is mostly the spices. The actual recipe itself is, in my opinion, quite easy to cook. Next time I think I’ll try it just with a variety of different vegetables.

Chicken korma

Click here for the recipe

It has been a busy few weeks and I’m a bit behind on my blog posts, so today I’m posting twice to catch up. It certainly isn’t going to get any quieter between now and Christmas and my calendar is filling up fast. Plus there is still a lot of baking and cooking to do and write about before Christmas.

This lemon and lime cheesecake has been a favourite of mine for a few years now. I have made it for many an after show party and dinner party. It is also one of the recipes that I have been asked to put up on my blog. So here it is.

The original recipe, from the 2010 season of My Kitchen Rules, only used two limes. However I have added more citrus (a lemon) to cut through the richness of the 3 packs of cream cheese. I always taste it as well before I pour it into the tin, and if it isn’t tart enough for me, I will add some more lemon or lime zest. If you don’t like your citrus desserts tart, just use two limes. However, for me this cheesecake is a perfect balance of rich creaminess and tart citrus flavours.

Lemon & lime cheesecake

Click here for the recipe

After my fairly unsuccessful attempt at Jamie Oliver’s 15 minute mushroom soup, I still had some mushrooms, parsley and thyme left over in my fridge. And a desire to make something that I actually wanted to eat once it was cooked. I also had some leftover bacon as well that needed to be used up.  Not wanting to waste these ingredients I set about finding something I could cook with them.

I didn’t have to look far. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s latest TV cooking series from River Cottage (and associated cookbook of course) is called 3 Good Things. It is based on the premise that all you need for a great dish is three great ingredients that work well together. Each episode has Hugh competing with two other chefs to cook the best dish created out of the ingredient of the day, with each chef being able to pick the two other ingredients to go with it to make 3 Good Things. Basic seasonings, herbs etc are allowed in addition to the three main ingredients

Episode 4 was based around the theme of mushrooms and Gill Meller matched the mushrooms with pastry and pancetta to make a simple mushroom tart, with thyme and parsley used as well. I always have some puff pastry in the freezer, and pancetta can be easily replaced with bacon. Perfect, a recipe for lunch to use up my leftover ingredients was found and after picking up a few more mushrooms (I bought a tray of different gourmet mushrooms to go with the swiss brown/button mushrooms I already had) I was ready to cook.

The recipe, although taking longer to cook than the 15 minute meal mushroom soup, needed a lot less of my time and energy to make. A few minutes chopping and frying and then it was all in the oven. Easy. Which was just as well as I was starting to get a migraine. The end result tasted great (although I couldn’t eat it until later in the day once my migraine was gone), and I felt redeemed after the mushroom soup disaster.  I didn’t feel like eating much that night after my migraine, so it was a perfect light dinner, while Jerome had it earlier in the day as his lunch.

Mushroom Tart

Click here for the recipe

Work has been very busy since I got back from my holidays, and as a result  I’ve been looking for quick meal ideas for dinner.

Jamie Oliver’s previous book and TV series, Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals (published as Jamie Oliver’s Meals in Minutes: A Revolutionary Approach to Cooking Good Food Fast
in America) received a lot of bad press after its release, with people complaining that it was impossible to cook the dishes within 30 minutes. I know the one meal I tried, with the help of two friends, took over an hour to cook. However, the recipe itself was a success flavour wise and I have cooked components of it again.

It has been reported that a lot more recipe testing went into the 15 minute meals recipes, including testing by home cooks. So I thought I’d give Jamie another chance. Plus the book was 40% off the day I was looking at it, and I can’t resist a cookbook on sale. With Perth receiving winter like weather conditions (at the start of summer) recently, the mushroom soup with stilton, apple and walnut croȗtes seemed like a good place to start. Although I replaced the stilton with goat cheese, as I don’t like blue cheese.

The catch with both the 30 and 15 minute meals “mindset” is that before you can start the timer, you have to have all your equipment and ingredients out and ready, kettle boiled and pans and oven ready and hot. But that’s okay; you can do other things while the pans warm up, like read the recipe again, check your emails…

After about 10 minutes everything was ready and I started the timer on my phone. The next 25 minutes of cooking were not very enjoyable. That’s right; it took me 25 minutes even though I thought I’d picked one of the easier recipes, read it quite a few times and know my way around the kitchen. The whole time I felt like I was sprinting in a race, and losing…and I don’t like to run. The experience was not enjoyable and I have to say that the end result was only partially a success. The soup was way too thick and I had to water it down a lot and add extra cream (photo taken before the soup was watered down). The croȗtes however were a success (and could certainly be done in 15 minutes) and I will be making them again.

All up though, I don’t think this style of cooking is for me. I would rather cook something that takes longer but can be cooked in a much more relaxed manner. In my opinion there is nothing wrong with a recipe that takes 30 minutes on the stove or in the oven, especially if you only have to spend 5-10 minutes at the beginning doing the prep and then stir it occasionally. I personally find that much more enjoyable and relaxing. I do however applaud Jamie for his ongoing efforts to get people cooking more nutritious food at home and I’m sure I will try another recipe from the book at some point in the future. Mushroom soup Click here for the recipe

I had a good time on my holidays and I ate a lot of really great food. However, after all that eating out, it definitely felt like time for some healthier home cooking.

This recipe is adapted from a recipe I saw a few years ago on an Australian TV show called Good Chef Bad Chef. The format of the show has a normal chef, who cooks rich food that isn’t always good for you and a nutritionist who cooks healthier dishes, cooking different dishes based on the same theme.

This dish is adapted from Good Chef Janella Purcell’s recipe. I’ve changed it slightly, using some different vegetables, extra beans to make it stretch further and goat cheese both for its creamy taste and to make it more filling. I also sometimes like to vary the dressing and have included both the dressings I use. You can use whatever vegetables you like really. The recipe is really just an idea that you can adapt to your preferences or what is available. Other vegetables I have used besides those I have listed in the recipe include baby beetroot, leek and baby spinach (added at the end).

The leftovers are also great cold as a salad or wrap filling for lunch the next day.Roast vegetable salad

Click here for the recipe

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