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Carcassone

Carcassone

First off my apologies to my regular followers for my absence. I recently returned from a two week trip to France (to visit Jerome’s family) and though I thought I had been so organised by preparing posts to go up while I was away, I hadn’t counted on getting sick when I got home. Between jetlag, heading back to work and succumbing to one of the winter bugs that have been doing the rounds, I didn’t get around to cooking or writing for my blog.

I’m back and recovered now, and ready to get cooking again (after tomorrow’s rent inspection that is). Just in time for The Great Australian Bake Off tonight, which I have been looking forward to for months. I hoping to try to replicate some of the dishes they bake in the weeks to come so if you like baking look out for that.

But for now, I thought I’d share some of the food highlights from my trip to France. The first was a highlight of the whole trip and was a private cooking class with Chef Jean-Pascal Vallee at his cooking school/holiday retreat and spa Domaine du Lac de Sorin. The location (in the Vendee region) was beautiful and if you are ever looking for somewhere to stay, the cabins looked gorgeous. But I was just there for a cooking class; with Jerome to translate (the classes are held in French).

Kitchen where class was held

Kitchen where class was held

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I have been looking forward to the Australian version of the Great British Bake Off ever since I heard it was being filmed. However I am starting to wonder if, when they advertised that it would air after Easter, they meant Easter 2014!

While waiting, I have been revisiting the original British version and discovering the blogs of some of the past contestants. One of the things I have wanted to try for some time are Mary-Anne’s (Season 2) apple rose tarts. I found Mary-Anne one of the most interesting contestants on The Great British Bake off, with her recipes utilising unique techniques based on a lot of research and historical recipes (and a collection of over 900 cookbooks, which puts my 200 to shame). I thought these tarts were beautiful so I decided to try the apple rose component today while I was making a batch of Lemon Tarts from my second pastry making course (with Sarah Brigden from babyCakes).

Lemon tart

Lemon tarts

I won’t repeat the instructions here, as they are already provided so well by Mary-Anne on her site Time To Cook – Online. As I just wanted to try the roses today, I made the sweet pastry that I learnt in class, and a crème patisserie recipe that I had previously learnt from Sarah (which I will post in a few weeks). I followed Mary-Anne’s instructions to make the apple roses (although without returning them to the oven to bake). Although they are a little fiddly, they are very effective and I’m sure they get a bit easier with practice. I quite liked the freshness of the apple after poaching them in the apple syrup and not baking them further.

As long as you chill the pastry well before rolling it, I think this pastry is quite easy to work with. I like adding some orange or lemon zest to the pastry for an extra citrus hit. The citrus filling is beautifully creamy and tangy and I certainly recommend giving these a try. And the apple rose tarts look beautiful and very effective, and are not too difficult to achieve. Next time I will give Mary-Anne’s apple custard filling a go as well and bake the apple roses.

apple roses

Click here for the recipe

No matter how much you think you may know about cooking, there is always some new trick or technique that you can pick up from a cooking class and I continue to learn new things whenever I go. You can read about the technique of pasta making, for example, but until you actually feel the pasta dough, you never know exactly what the end result feels like for the best pasta. Over the past few months I have attended a few cooking classes from cake decorating to meat butchery and thought it was  time I shared them with you, before I head off to the next one tomorrow.

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Although I’m not vegetarian, I also don’t feel like eating meat every night. So I do cook quite a few meat free dishes. Meat can get quite expensive, especially as I prefer to buy local, free range, top quality meat. I would rather eat meat less often and buy the best I can get, than eat cheaper/mass produced and imported products.

Meat free Mondays is an international campaign aimed at encouraging us to take a day off meat and raise awareness of the personal health and environmental benefits of reducing our meat consumption. A number of Australia’s celebrity chefs and cooks are involved, including Maggie Beer and Kylie Kwong. Some of the facts quoted on the campaigns website include:

  • Australians are some of the world’s biggest meat eaters, with many consuming double the global average.
  • 9 out of 10 Australian adults aren’t eating the recommended amount of vegetables.
  • Health authorities recommend against eating large amounts of meat.
  • Australian livestock industries are responsible for approximately 10% of our total greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Livestock production accounts for 70% of all agricultural land around the world.
  • Meat production is water intensive.

While I don’t limit myself to eating meat free dishes only on Mondays, I think anything that encourages people to add meat free meals to their diet and raises awareness of the benefits of a meat free meal once a week is a great initiative. With that in mind, here is the latest meat free dish I have tried. I added in a pinch of cayenne pepper to the recipe and I think the addition of the heat from the cayenne works well with the sweet and creamy pumpkin.

I also used filo pastry from the fridge rather than the freezer section for the first time, and found this so much easier to work with than frozen filo.

Filo parcels

Click here for the recipe

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved to read. I think I’ve been a bookworm for as long as I’ve been able to read, and there are photos of me, only a few years old, reading to my brother when he was a baby. And others of me at only nine months old reading a book. Okay, at that point I was probably only looking at the pictures, but still, I liked my books. And I remember as a child, sneakily trying to get away with reading a book under my covers with a torch (I think that was probably about as rebellious as I ever got, trying to read after it was lights out time). And although I’ve previously stated that I read cookbooks like novels, I do like reading novels and my “go to” genre would have to be sci fi/fantasy.

A few months ago, a friend of mine recommended the A Modern Witch series by Debora Geary. It didn’t take me long to be hooked on Debora’s books and I very quickly worked my way through the whole series (that has been published to date that is).  If you like a bit of magic in your books, I would certainly recommend this series.

You may be wondering what this has to do with a cooking blog and nutella cookies. But there is actually a connection. It is almost impossible to read Debora’s books with out getting hungry and/or having the urge to start baking. Food plays quite a large role in these books. Cookies most of all with nutella cookies and snickerdoodles featuring the most prominently. This made me curious to try to bake these cookies, as I had never tried either. And as a recipe for nutella cookies had already been posted on Debora’s website, they seemed like the best place to start. I have also tried to make the snickerdoodles, but I wasn’t that happy with the recipe I used, so I am going to do a bit more research on those and will post a recipe when I am happy with the results. If you have a recipe you recommend, please let me know.

Now I don’t actually like nutella, so judging the success of the cookies was a bit difficult for me. However the cookies were very popular at work, and I got a few requests for the recipe.  I liked the texture, but because I don’t like nutella, the flavour wasn’t really for me. Jerome, who likes nutella, liked them but suggested that they would be better without the extra nutella on top, as he preferred just the cookie itself. Just remember, the most important thing with cookies/biscuits is that they  keep cooking after they come out of the oven, so if you wait until they are completely finished, they will then overcook. I found the recommended bake time worked well for these cookies.

Nutella cookies

Click here for the recipe

Given the latest season of My Kitchen Rules starts tonight in Australia, it seems like a good time to share one of my standby dessert recipes that was inspired by  the show. This, for me, is another great recipe for entertaining. Most of it can be made ahead, and even easier you just throw all the ingredients together in the food processor. The most effort you have to make is toasting the coconut. What could be easier? The original recipe was served with mangos, but I like to serve (and eat) this with a quick and easy berry sauce made from frozen mixed berries which I always have in my freezer.

This dessert is more of a slice than a pie, and is quite moist and dense. Any leftovers are great the next day as a treat with a cup of tea.  The recipe is best made at least a few hours before you want to serve it to allow time to chill.

It has been a few seasons since any of the dishes on My Kitchen Rules have become a favourite of mine, but maybe this year will provide me with some more inspiration. I have to admit though that I always record MKR, rather than watch it as it airs, so I can fast forward when the added ‘drama’ (it is reality TV after all) becomes too much.

coconut pie

Click here for the recipe

In November of last year I went to Sydney for a weekend with a friend. We were lucky enough to get a two for one deal on our flights earlier in the year and I suggested that we splurge and go to Peter Gilmore’s Quay restaurant for lunch while we were there.

View from our table

View from our table

In 2012 Quay was voted Number 29 on the S.Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurant’s list (the highest ranked Australian restaurant) and has been named the best restaurant in Australasia for the last three years. The restaurant has also had 3 Hats and 3 Stars in The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide and Australian Gourmet Traveller Restaurant Guide for 11 years. I had of course also seen Peter Gilmore and some of his amazing food on Masterchef Australia over the years.  I was thrilled that we got a reservation (we did book 6 months in advance) and couldn’t wait to try the food.

My amuse bouche

My amuse bouche

My friend’s seafood free amuse bouche

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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

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

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