December 21, 2007

3 days to go...

Hmmm - only 3 more days 'till the big day and despite poring over Christmas recipes for weeks I still haven't decided exactly what to cook. And a visit to the market today has made me a bit panicky as judging by the loads of fresh food people were buying I'm the only one who hasn't.

Since there's no way I'm carving a whole turkey, I've pretty much settled on stuffed turkey breast, but with 16 people coming we'll need some other kind of meat as well. So will I do Terry Durack's rolled turkey breast with chestnut stuffing from last week's Good Weekend, and delicious mag's pancetta, sage and onion rolled loin of pork? Or would we prefer Donna Hay's roast lemon thyme turkey breasts that I've done before? Then again Bill Granger's stuffed turkey breast looked great when I saw him doing a Christmas lunch on the cooking channel the other night. I could do that, and maybe break with tradition and have Donna's coriander, rosemary and garlic lamb? And do we have them hot or cold? It's going to be 25 degrees so either would be ok. One hot and one cold?? Such big decisions. And that's just the meat.

I find other people's Christmas food choices fascinating. Here are some of my Christmas food questions:

1. What's with ham? Who says ham is such a treat we should buy one at Christmas? It doesn't even keep. My late dad loved to buy the Christmas ham. He always bought a great big one, and no matter how you cosseted it and wrapped it daily in a fresh damp teatowel, after a few days it always went a bit slimy and we had to throw it away. Every year. But he always bought one.

2. How come people plan a big hot Christmas dinner before they've heard the weather forecast? What if it's 40 degrees? Or are we the only ones without airconditioning?

3. Why do old people ring up talkback radio with recipes for "economical xmas cake/pudding"? I hear them every year. There's no post-war rationing any more. It's time they looked for a new recipe.

4. Apparently Americans have never heard of plum pudding. I wonder what they have instead?

Whatever you choose to eat at Christmas, I hope it's a good one.

December 19, 2007

christmas cake

Today was the day for my favourite Christmas baking task...the cake. And this is my favourite fruitcake recipe. I cut it out of a Better Homes and Gardens mag years ago. It was called Nut-glazed Quick Christmas Cake, and I used to make it in two loaf tins - one for us and one for my late father-in-law who loved fruitcake. It reappeared in delicious a couple of years ago on Belinda Jeffery's page and I thought it strange that it was exactly the same recipe that I used. Until I remem-bered Belinda used to be on BH&G on tv. And now it's in her gorgeous new cookbook "mix & bake".

I'm not that fond of fruitcakes made by the creaming method - they always seem a bit dry. This one is more like a boiled fruit cake and it's terrifically dense and moist. Fruitcake lovers who taste it always want the recipe :

Belinda Jeffery's Last Minute Christmas Cake

300g unsalted butter

420g raw sugar

380g raisins

180g pitted prunes

160g sultanas

90g currants

90g pitted dates

2 tspns bicarb soda

1/2 cup brandy or dark rum

1 1/2 cups cold water

2 tspns ground nutmeg

2 tspns cinnamon

4 eggs, lightly beaten

2 1/2 cups stone-ground wholemeal plain flour

To decorate:

raw pecans/whole blanched almonds

or, purchased soft icing plus a mixture of silver and coloured cachous

Melt butter over medium heat in a saucepan large enough to hold all the ingredients. Add sugar and stir to dissolve. Add all the fruit, bicarb, brandy and water. Increase heat and keep stirring until sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 4 mins. (Watch that it doesn't froth up and over sides of pot because of the bicarb.) Leave to cool to room temperature in pan.

Preheat oven to 150 C. Butter a 23cm springform tin and line base and sides with 2 layers of buttered baking paper. Add nutmeg, cinnamon and eggs to cold mixture. Stir in the flour, then leave to sit for a few minutes. Spoon mixture into tin, and decorate the top with the whole nuts if using. Bake for 2 1/4 - 2 1/2 hours or until a skewer comes out clean. If after an hour's cooking cake is getting too brown, cover top loosely with foil to stop it getting darker. Leave to cool completely in tin on a rack. Remove from tin when cold and remove baking paper. Wrap in plastic wrap then foil and store in the fridge, where it will keep for about 6 weeks. For a nice shiny finish, cake with nut topping can be brushed with a little warmed apricot jam before serving.

This amount of mixture will also make a 19cm square cake, lined with 2 layers of paper and baked at 150 C for approx. 2 1/4 hours, or 4 small square10cm cakes. Line the small tins with 1 layer of baking paper and bake in 150 C oven for approx. 1 1/2 hrs. Placed on a square of cardboard and wrapped in cellophane, they make lovely gifts. This year I've made two batches of the small ones (that's last year's big cake in the top pic) and will give all but one of them away.

To decorate large and small cakes with icing and cachous:

Turn cake(s) upside down to decorate. Combine 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water in small saucepan over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Bring to boil and simmer uncovered for 1 minute. Leave syrup to cool. Roll out purchased white fondant (500g is enough for 1 large cake or 4 small ones). Brush cake(s) with sugar syrup and cover with a square of fondant. Place a Christmassy biscuit cutter on top of cake as a guide. Brush inside the cutter with syrup. Sprinkle silver and coloured cachous inside the cutter. Lift off carefully. Leave to dry completely before wrapping.

December 18, 2007

christmas baking

I love summer. Anything up to about 35 degrees feels like heaven to me. But round about now when I my annual urge to bake Christmassy stuff takes over, I can't help feeling a bit envious of all the northern hemisphere foodie bloggers. They describe the glorious feeling of retreating into a warm cosy kitchen when it's cold and dark (and even snowing) outside and just baking to their hearts content. While I have to pick my (cooler) days so that the oven blasting away doesn't make the house even hotter.

Luckily the last few days have been mildish, so the mince pies are finished and given away or frozen. I never leave any just sitting around or I'd eat the whole lot. I took a plateful to our work Xmas lunch today - all extra contributions being gratefully received as we have only $110 to spend on food for 15.

December 17, 2007

Menu for Hope 4

As a committed food blog reader I keep reading about "Menu for Hope" - chez pim's fundraiser for people who can't afford to put food on the table. This is a worldwide, blog-based annual event which is quite simply brilliant. It's an online raffle, now in its 4th year, with a wealth of food related prizes for a mere (US)$10 a ticket. Last year food bloggers and their readers raised an amazing $US62,925.12 in support of the United Nations World Food program.

Grab Your Fork has gathered and collated a list of prizes in the Asia Pacific region. To see the entire line up of prizes and donate to the cause go to Chez Pim's Menu for Hope 4

December 10, 2007

pistachio cupcakes

A friend of Georgie's went to Shannon Bennett's Cafe Vue soon after it opened in Little Collins St. and bought what she described as the best cupcake ever. Oh boy, we couldn't get in there fast enough to try them out, and she was pretty much right - they were fantastic. Shortly afterwards Nick gave us a voucher for dinner at wonderful Vue de Monde for Christmas. At the end of the evening we were chatting with our charming waiter (really he was more attentive host than waiter), and Cafe Vue came up in the conversation. I mentioned the cupcakes, which he said he too loved, and he offered to email me the recipe. He obviously forgot, because I never got it, but a similar one appeared shortly afterwards in the Financial review magazine. I didn't get around to making them because the recipe used pistachio paste, which I could only find in big expensive catering-size jars. THEN, delicious magazine had a full page article about Shannon Bennett, Cafe Vue and their pistachio cupcakes...and it included the "real" recipe. Thrilling! I made a batch straight away, tweaking the recipe a little and using ground almonds instead of marzipan. From what I could remember of the original cupcakes the results were pretty good.

We went back to Vue de Monde with friends from Adelaide in August, and I reminded our (same) charming waiter about the cupcake recipe. Apologising profusely for not sending it, he disappeared for a minute and returned with a zip-lock bag of pistachio paste to make up for his forgetfulness - how sweet! So I made them again, this time with the paste, but still with ground almonds. Then a few days ago, I finally found some good quality marzipan which the recipe specifies, so I made them a third time, this time with all the correct ingredients. They've been delicious each time, but with a slightly stronger almond flavour when I used the marzipan.

Pistachio Cupcakes

All ingredients should be at room temperature:

100 g shelled unsalted pistachio nuts plus an extra 30 g

100g unsalted butter

85g caster sugar

1 of either : 75g good quality marzipan (minm. 50% nuts)

OR 75g almond meal

OR 55g marzipan plus 20g pistachio paste

2 eggs

2 drops vanilla extract

30g semolina (I use plain flour)

1 Tab Kirsch (I use milk)

glace icing

extra pistachio nuts for decoration

Preheat oven to 170 C. Blitz 100g pistachios in food processor for a couple of minutes until finely ground. Roughly chop the other 30g. In electric mixer beat butter, sugar and vanilla (and pistachio paste and chopped marzipan if using) until light and fluffy and all lumps are removed. Add eggs singly, then stir in ground and chopped pistachio nuts, flour and milk, and almond meal if using. Dollop into paper-lined muffin tin and bake 20 - 25 mins. Cool in tin a couple of minutes before removing to a rack to cool completely. Ice with glace icing (Shannon makes his green, I prefer pale pink) and top with a pistachio nut. Makes 10 - 12.

December 1, 2007

happy engagement

We're very much looking forward to tomorrow as we've been invited to our new future in-laws for lunch. Apparently it's an Italian custom for the bride's parents to have the parents of the groom over for a meal to celebrate the engagement. We've already met Vittoria's parents a couple of times but this will be the first time we've sampled Carmela's cooking, which Nick tells us is wonderful. I thought I could contribute to the day by taking some special cupcakes - what else?

I wanted the cupcakes to look a bit "dressier" than my usual roughly iced ones, so I used shop-bought soft icing which I rolled out and imprinted with a lace pattern. The downside to using this product is that it doesn't taste as nice as homemade glace icing. So I needed a recipe for a cake that would taste good on its own in case the icing turned out to be inedible. I used this one which I've made succesfully a few times in the past. It's based on Sweet Violet Cakes from The Australian Women's Weekly cupcakes :

All ingredients should be at room temperature.

90g cream cheese
90g butter
2tspns finely grated lemon rind
2/3 cup caster sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup SR flour
1/2 cup plain flour

Preheat oven to 180C. Cream
butter, cream cheese and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs singly, beating well after each addition. Fold in sifted dry ingredients. Dollop evenly into paper-lined muffin tins and bake 22-25 mins or till skewer comes out clean. Cool 5 mins in tins before removing to cool on a rack. Makes 12.

I got the idea for the icing from a picture in the same book of some pretty lacy wedding cupcakes. To make the patterned icing the recipe says to use a filigree textured plate. So this week I went to 3 cake-baking equipment shops, but none of them had heard of such a thing. So I cut the lace border off an old doily and pressed that into the icing to make a pattern.

Yesterday the postman brought my new Wilton Cake Caddy, so the cupcakes should travel safely.