One of my earliest Christmas memories, other than
Christmas presents, has to be watching my mother lovingly assemble her Christmas
trifle. My mum would spend Christmas Eve
standing over a gigantic glass bowl serenely layering jam filled sponge, jelly,
custard, fruit and cream finishing with a grated flourish of chocolate.
Before a dessert finds its way onto my Christmas menu it must meet two very important criteria, yes it has to be unbelievably delicious but it also has to be prepared and happy to nestle in the fridge at least a day prior to Christmas day. You see, a dessert for me must evoke joy, excited anticipation and splendour not only for the guests but more importantly for the cook! Last minute prinking and fussing over a dessert is the very last thing I feel like doing when the big day has arrived.
To me, this Donna Hay dish makes for a perfect Christmas eve dinner. It is an elegant, simple to prepare, delicious dinner that exudes the holiday spirit by way of crispy, crunchy, salty pork crackling and an incredible port and honey glaze. With a glass of red this wonderful pork dish definitely got me into the holiday spirit.
In primary school I studied the German language. When I reached grade three I was given two choices Japanese or German and it will come to no surprise to you that my decision, even way back then came down to food. You see I had one encounter with Oktoberfest as a tiny year one tot roaming the school grounds that remained with me for years, one that provided enough gastronomic evidence to sway my language decision years later.
When I was growing up I spent a lot of time in the kitchen, surprise surprise! I loved the kitchen then and I adore the kitchen now. As a child I relished the time I spent flicking through my mother’s recipe books scouring the pages to determine what I would be cooking that day.
It’s that time of the year! It’s Christmas time again and for me that means it’s time for some much loved Christmas cooking. I love cooking all year round but when Christmas time finally arrives I truly relish, celebrate and take even more pleasure in my cooking. Whether I’m making Christmas cookies, chocolate truffles, rocky road, cranberry sauce or my much loved Christmas pavlova I am in a state of complete Christmas bliss.
I couldn’t be more thrilled with this cake. It’s a delightful combination of a few of my favourite ingredients; smooth and creamy ricotta, tangy cream cheese and loads of zesty zippy lemons. This cake is nothing other than fabulous.
It’s summer here in Brisbane. I am telling you this because by looking at our current weather there is no way you would know it. Brisbane summers are usually swelteringly hot! And I mean the kind of heat that has you eating ice cream all day, standing directly in front of a fan seriously contemplating whether to make a bath full of ice to jump into. Oh and it usually gets pretty humid as well, there are days when you feel as though you can literally spoon the air. Brisbane heat waves can be torture, but after a long cool winter deep down we all crave that longed for summer heat that reminds us of school holidays, sunscreen, watermelon and mangoes! As seasoned Brisbanites we usually escape the heat in the air conditioned comfort of the movie theatre or drive up/down the coast to our favourite beaches to swim and cool off in the cool blue ocean. This summer however, I have done neither.
During our usual Saturday morning coffee/breakfast/papers routine this past weekend I had the pleasure of checking out and discovering a new kitchenware store. Filled with shelf after shelf of glasses, plates, napkins, spatulas, cupcake papers, forks, knives, wooden spoons, serving platters, mixing bowls, kitchen aids etc etc I was in heaven, well my idea of heaven anyway!
I could easily have lost myself and spent hours just wandering through the store inspecting the latest cookware on offer but I had to exercise a degree of self control and focus my attention to just a couple of things I needed otherwise I would have been at great risk of purchasing everything in the store. I don’t believe that anyone can have too many citrus juicers.
There is something very cheeky about a banana cake. It’s a cake somehow magical enough to lull eaters into the false delusion that they’re consuming something almost healthy. With the notion of banana and its loaf tin appearance it allows consumers to relish in a phony sense of angelic healthy smugness whilst they’re actually eating a slice of a naughty carb laden cake. I mean yes it’s packed full of banana goodness but it’s still a cake, a delicious cake but clearly a cake.
My first encounter with anything resembling a coconut macaroon has to be the topping that sat upon my mum’s famous raspberry coconut slice. Like all mothers of the eighties, mum found all of her recipes in her trusty Australians Women’s Weekly Recipe Box. Mum still has the recipe box perched inside of her pantry and flicking through the recipe cards under categories such as ‘The Important First Course’ and ‘Fabulous Fish Dishes’ brings back countless nostalgic childhood memories.
When it comes to lamb I am usually a devotee to the method of slow roasting, this typically entails marinating a shoulder of lamb in a concoction of balsamic vinegar, honey, chicken stock, garlic and rosemary, placing in a low oven and leaving the lamb until it is cooked to that melting, sweet, tender, fall off the bone stage that is just divine. This method unfortunately is better reserved for the colder months. As the weather warms up I need a new way to enjoy my beloved lamb and I have found it, apple and macadamia crusted lamb rack!
Biscotti. I know, I know, I have been baking biscotti like a mad woman of late but I just can’t help myself, I love them! I am obsessed with their gorgeously chewy texture, sweet nutty flavour and they look so cute snuggled next to my espresso cup. Biscotti are clearly my latest obsession and I make no apologies.
Red wine and pizza has to be one of my favourite Friday night naughty suppers; I just adore the pairing of melted cheese, piping hot tomato sauce and crimson vino. A Friday night, spent at home making pizza and drinking sangiovese with my husband is pure bliss. Last night, however I opted to forgo our usual pizza routine and decided on making instead a baked broccoli and cauliflower cannelloni. It had all of my beloved pizza elements, molten, crispy almost charred melted cheese and bubbling hot tomato passata spiked with basil and garlic so I knew my cannelloni bake would marry perfectly with my wine and also be utterly delicious.
My husband loves sponge cake. Yes, boring old vanilla sponge cake. I, on the other hand hate baking sponge cake. It’s boring, tedious (sifting flour three times is just crazy) and only tastes half decent the day you bake it, by day two it’s a dry, stale, tasteless hot mess. I see no point in baking sponge cake so I don’t. Every other type of cake under the sun is up for consideration, sponge however is not.
Thinking of what to cook for dinner each and every night can sometimes be a little daunting. That’s why I keep a standby list of dinners in my repertoire to go to when my imagination and motivation are both low. Bacon, pea, mint and ricotta cassarecce is one of them, and by far one of my favourites.
I go through food moods. Obsessions you could say. An unhealthy fixation on muffins has been one of them. Years ago, when I was stuck in cubicle office hell, muffins were my savior. I remember walking to walk with utter dread in my heart as the cold winter wind would nip at my already frozen cheeks and red nose, I would be riddled with anxiety as to what my day in office hell would bring and the only slight of hope I had to make it to 5pm and the train ride home was my morning coffee and muffin fix. Discovering this little ‘hole in the wall’ style café filled with the aromas of coffee and a cabinet full of the most delicious, gigantic, beautifully coloured, comforting muffins I’d ever seen was like help sent from the heavens. Suddenly I had a little glimmer of something lovely to look forward to, an escape, just across the road from work that I could snuggle in, read a book, sip coffee and pretend that my work life did not exist. Muffins were indeed my savior.
Red onions, when baked slow and long in the oven evolve into the sweetest caramelised little darlings. Any acrid like taste that can be all too easily associated with onions is lost forever when you pull them from the oven bubbling in their marinade of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and just a light dusting of brown sugar. They are transformed into a completely new offering, one that presents a plethora of new culinary opportunities.
A bench top full of canary yellow lemons and sweltering summer like heat had me contemplating and lusting after a smooth, creamy, cooling and refreshing dessert perfect for this time of year. My desires lead me to these cute as a button lemon cream pots and I am very delighted they did.
As a child I couldn’t fathom why people, given a choice, would bake anything other than a chocolate mud cake. To me, it was the epitome of delicious and all else seemed like a massive waste of time and energy. As I grew older (and a little wiser) I soon began to discover the delights of an assortment of equally exquisite cake offerings, orange and almond cake, lemon yoghurt cake laced with blueberries, banana bread, lime chiffon cake, raspberry crumb cake, strawberry sponge and the list goes on and on. In fact, I now find it difficult to return to my beloved childhood favourite the chocolate mud cake, for what once seemed to be the ultimate in baking pleasure now seems too heavy, sickly rich and to be honest a little over the top. Nowadays, I much prefer the light zesty freshness offered up by lemon, lime or orange cake, I now relish in the slight tang of yoghurt cakes and very much celebrate the simplicity of a wonderful sponge with simple whipped cream and fresh berries. Times are indeed a changin’ and I couldn’t be happier.
Tomorrow is my father in laws birthday and to celebrate I decided to bake these delightful Sicilian biscotti. Tender and delicious these sugar coasted pistachio biscotti are brilliantly green inside and are perfect for a birthday celebration. I came across this recipe whilst reading one of my new favourite food magazines, Taste Italia. Reading Italian cooking magazines has been the latest strategy I have employed to assist me on my journey of learning the beautifully exquisite Italian language. Since marrying into an Italian family I have yearned to learn their passionate language but so far I am failing miserably. It’s not that I don’t try, I do. It’s just that I sound awful. Really awful. But I am not one to give up so in searching for ways to improve my Italian, a kind friend of mine suggested reading literature that I have a valid interest in. She basically implied to look at what I read about most in English then seek out the equivalent readings in Italian. My interest in the subject matter was a sure way to keep me motivated in learning my new language and this brilliant strategy lead me to my loved new Italian food magazine and in turn to these wonderful biscotti. Two birds with one stone, love it.
Taking stock of what was going on in my kitchen I realised that I was once again faced with an all too familiar dilemma...too many mangoes and not enough time to eat them. Damn it. Right before my very eyes I could see the most succulent tropical family of mangoes, a pure celebration of an Australian summer, teetering right on the edge of ripeness. I couldn’t let them go bad. I love mangoes way too much for that to happen. Along with the smell of sunscreen, the taste of watermelon, piping hot car seats and the layer of crusty sea salt left on your body after a dip in the ocean, they remind me of my favourite time of year...summer holidays. So in an attempt to save my beloved mangoes and relish in a little summer time holiday nostalgia I came up with this dish, mango and strawberry crumble.
I was almost going to call this dish Kermit the Frog spaghetti! Just take a look at the brilliant green colour! It’s incredible! I imagine if Kermit the Frog were meant to be a dish, this would have to be it! However, after a little deliberation I decided to forgo the abovementioned title and opt for the pea pesto choice instead, I realised that the thought of your favourite Muppets star in a dish may not sound all too appetising. And I did not want to provide you with any reason whatsoever not to cook this fantastic meal, its way too delicious to be passed aside because of a minor naming error.
Biscotti. A relatively new biscuit treat on my food scene. Before marrying my Italian husband I had only ever heard of biscotti whilst watching my favourite childhood sitcom The Nanny. To an aussie girl growing up in what sometimes could be referred to as a ‘three veg and meat’ kind of home, biscotti sounded like a very exotic biscuity treat...at that age is was hard to imagine any biscuit being more fancy than the good old Arnott’s Assorted Cream selection! Through watching episode after episode of my favourite sitcom star with that crazy nasal voice I discovered I understood one very important thing about the nanny named Fran...she loved food so I figured this ‘biscotti’ thing must be pretty good. Years later, I discovered just that. Biscotti are indeed quite wonderful.
In life, there truly are problems that can only be resolved one way, with chocolate. I know this to be very true. Think way back to when you were a little cherub playing in the yard, some big kid would upset you leaving you in a puddle of salty sullen tears and the only consolation that had any form of acceptability to you came in the form of a chocolate chip cookie. To you, that chocolate chip cookie represented happiness, joy, goodness and most of all the fact that everything was going to be all right. We all change and grow up and do ‘grown up’ things, live ‘grown up’ lives and act in very serious ‘grown up’ sorts of ways but I guarantee there is one thing that will never change and that my dear ‘grown up’ friends is the miraculous healing powers of chocolate.
Left over from last week’s peach and prosciutto tart are four peaches. To say these peaches are under ripe is a gross understatement. They are as hard as rocks. Each and every morning my hand slides across the bench, picks each peach up and squeezes ever so slightly to see if today is the day these little peachy delights can be added to my homemade muesli and yoghurt for my breakfast. And every day this week I have been faced with severe disappointment. The peaches are just not ripening. It’s unfair. I have been patient. This is ludicrous. Well I have decided my patience is up. Action must be taken. I am eating these peaches! For breakfast, today!
I have to pat myself on the back for this one...not only have I managed to get halloumi and bacon in the same dish but I also have the pleasure of calling this creation a salad (thank you Mr Asparagus), alleviating any guilt that the above mentioned ‘salt laden supper’ may have induced.