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Friday, 10 April 2015


 Traditions – those time honoured rituals that can put a big smile on your face and make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, or conversely scowl and fume with obligation. They can have been around for thousands of years or just a nice recent habit that kept going. On the whole, I love A Tradition – something that you often get to do only once a year, which reminds you of the fun times you had doing it in previous years. Some are outdated, some don’t correspond to our hemisphere and some we’ve just adapted for the obscurest of reasons, and some are just, well, Tradition.

 It was Easter the weekend just passed; four days with lots of traditions (some more strictly adhered to than others)

Tradition: we catch up with friends (Mr and Mrs Frenchman) for dinner.
 This lovely tradition has been happening since the early Getting-to-Know-You days of our friendship; in fact I think it was our third or fourth dinner together that we caught up on Good Friday, because I happened to mention that I cooked homemade Hot CrossBuns. Which became that dinner’s dessert. And I think we've caught up every Easter since; 4 days off means 3 nights to catch up, plus there is usually a baby sitter or two available. So it was our turn to host this time. But what to serve?
  I do love the planning stage of dinners. You can start in one cuisine and end up totally in another. I usually start with a dish or a theme in mind and go from there, but this time I had Nothing. Nada. Not even a half inkling. Maybe is the working-full-time thing, where I am cooking less during the week plus being a Bit Worn Out, but I hadn’t the vaguest flash of inspiration. I thought maybe something pork? but that was only because I had seen a few recipes using it recently. Plus it was a white meat…

Tradition: don’t eat red meat on Good Friday.
 Ahhh That religious tradition. This was one I strictly adhered to throughout my childhood – you would always have fish fingers or I & J fish fillets for dinner on Good Friday. As I got older and realized where the tradition came from, I took great joy in eating hamburgers, or spaghetti bolognaise or steak on Good Friday. But this year, it seemed like a good source of inspiration (or madness).

 I would make Fish Tacos. Again.

 Whenever I have a recipe fail (read here if you need a reminder), I always feel I need to go back and Get It Right. Prove that I am the Domestic Goddess that I like to think that I am. So this one had been bugging me for a while, and if Good Friday wasn’t a good day to cook fish then I didn’t know when was!
 Right – so Tacos. Which makes me think of Mexican. And the Tapas Feast that wasn’t. I had the same dinner guests which meant they would have a chance to try the dishes they missed out on (except the pulled pork tacos), such as sherry glazed chorizo and chickpeas and patatas bravas. And now we had a Theme (sort of)

 Dessert is always tricky in Mexican meals, so I decided to ignore that and just cook something yummy. The latest Delicious Mag had a chocolate dessert sections so I had a short list of about 5 to choose from. But I ended up going with the Baked Doughnuts (with whiskey chocolate glaze). Possibly because all the proving and rising of the dough reminded me of hot cross buns, possibly because of the chocolate whiskey glaze (so Easter but so Adult), possibly because I figured I could make non-glazed ones for the kiddies to munch on. But mainly because I had this picture staring at me from benchtops for a week or two
You want to eat them, don't you?!?
 Plus, being doughnuts, this was a dessert that was more …..hol(e)y 

 And I was interested in making Baked doughnuts, as one of the reasons I am reluctant to make traditional doughnuts more often is the whole Frying in a Large Pot of Boiling Oil thing. Which I really should get over as I have about 4 or 5 yummy looking recipes to try.

 Right so mains and dessert sorted, just appetisers/nibbles to organise. Well, that was easy.

Tradition: we start our dinners with bubbles and cheese.
Champagne is a no-brainer. I think most of my celebrations and parties officially start when the cork is popped. Cheese is a Let’s-Be-French tradition that we have heartily adopted (though our hearts probably don’t appreciate too much d’aphinois).
So menu sorted, ingredients purchased and a day off to get it all sorted.

Tradition: I will forget at least one ingredient.
  So this time, it wasn’t a Forgetting, rather than an Assuming – that the ice cream we had in the freezer was vanilla, when in fact it was Cookies and Cream, which is quite yummy but might just be a bit too much chocolate for some. But where to buy ice cream on Good Friday when all the supermarkets are closed? I had hope my local petrol station/mini-supermarket would have some small tubs but alas they didn’t so we switched to cream for dessert. No biggie.
 The chickpeas were another story. Now in my defence they were on the shopping list, just put it down to shopping on the Thursday Before Good-Friday (when people at supermarkets are mental!!) by Mr DG (the artist formerly known as Hubby). Luckily I had two small tins in the cupboard for use in salads, so it just meant a smaller batch, but as it was a Side dish that was ok.
 Not sure what happened to the fresh coriander, I think that was me. But luckily the dried stuff worked ok.

Tradition: The new recipe I try will be almost perfect (but not quite).
 Common hostessing lore suggests you never cook a new recipe when throwing a dinner party. I use dinner parties to try out new recipes! Which as readers will know, usually turns out ok. But more often than not there is something that could be improved. The doughnuts were going along swimmingly, rising and proving. I didn’t have a 3.5cm cookie cutter for cutting out the holes so had to freehand it. The glaze was all made and I was preparing to dip them. However I don’t think I let the glaze cool quite enough as it was still a bit runny, which mean they weren’t as picture perfect as the cover. Still tasted quite yummy, if anything it meant there was more glaze to dip your doughnut in (which is never a bad thing).
"Mmmmmm ... double glazed.."
 So all things pre-prepared as much as possible, guests arrived,, champagne popped and cheese munched on while I cooked the dinner. Learning from my mistake, I had the frypan in med-LOW (not med-high) for cooking the fish and had plenty of olive oil in the Good Frypan (the one whose non-stick base hasn’t been scratched and worn away). And the tacos turned out great! My only Point of Improvement would be to not “flour” them until just before cooking (the recipe calls for throwing your pieces of fish into a mix of flour ad spices to coat them). The flour did become a bit like a paste on some pieces, which thankfully didn’t increase their sticking to the pan-ness.
 So with nicely cooked fish, some yummy salsa and sour cream, and tapas side dishes, out Mexican feast was ready to consume.

Front-back: Fish, tortillas, salsa, lettuce, sour cream, patatas bravas
(& sauce) and sherry glazed chickpeas
 Followed up by yummy doughnuts (for those that still had room), it marked another delicious Easter feast....
Not as pretty as the picture but still yum

... even if the glaze slid off and it was cream not ice cream on the side.

What traditions do you like to follow (or ignore)?

Thursday, 9 April 2015

S'more and more

 Cooking is such a collaborative process. There are only so many ingredients to cook with (until they find the next super food that is OMG totes amazeballs and will, like, totally Save Your Life!!) and unless you get all finicky and molecular gastronomic (yes, it’s a word), only so many way to cook it. So you take a handed down recipe from Grandma and tweak it yourself, you substitute an ingredient for another you prefer and a new dish is born, you see an idea and think – Hmmm, I can do better than that. Which is my favourite part – seeing an idea in a magazine, on a Pintrest board or in a You Tube video; and making something cooler and (slightly) newer.
 Here are some of my recent creations, or Riffs on the Traditional.

Oreo Ice Cream Sandwiches
I’m not sure where my fascination for ice cream sandwiches came from, but I’m going to blame Ro from Nerdy Nummies, who had these super cute cheeseburgers ice cream sandwiches. And then she followed them up with Captain America ice cream sandwiches! (love the star on that one). And THEN I saw a Jamie Oliver recipe with a sponge like “bread” rather than biscuits. Plus we went to Fat Bob’s Burgers (which I highly recommend) and they had Pat and Stick’s IceCream sandwiches, which were small enough for Son 1 and 2 to have one each – hooray! So it just got  to a point where I felt I HAD to make them. Like when you see a new fashions trend that you think you’d NEVER wear but after seeing it over and over and over, you start to think, “yeah, I could totally pull off harem pants!”.
 I decided to stick with cookies for my “bread” and was going to go with a basic sugar cookie recipe like Ro, but while flicking through my recipe book I glanced at my Double Chocolate Cookies recipe. Hmmm (me thinks) – if I don’t add the white choc chips, that would make a great chocolate cookie recipe. And THEN it would be like an Oreo – chocolate biscuits with vanilla filling – winner!
 I made the cookies using a scone cutter to get a sensible size (which, for those of you playing along at home, is small enough to eat in one hand). Watching Ro’s two rather unsuccessful attempts to make the ice cream centres, I devised my own; allow your ice cream to soften and then spoon it into your cookie cutter (much like making a vege burger); pop these circles on a tray back in the freezer until serving time when you assemble said sandwiches- much less mess and fuss and wastage and faffing.

You will note that the scone cutter didn't make Perfect Circles of Ice Cream.
 Which I kind of like 
 And two big thumbs up from the 5 boys I served them to as well.

S’mores cookies.
 This one was more of a direct substitution. My Cupcake Addiction had a great video on Bake Sale Hacks, which had some really cute ideas. Now while I will probably never make a Twix Pie, I did like the idea of the S’mores cookies.
 S’mores have been another treat that has been kicking around my brain for a while; it’s the whole American thing as well as it taking me so long to figure out What they were, and I STILL haven’t worked out how to make them on a campfire! So these cookies seemed like a great idea for a burnt-finger-less S’more. And while I love choc chip cookies, I did think that the traditional Graham cracker would work better. But as we all know, we don’t HAVE them in Australia, to the vexation of many American ex-pats and those who have partaken of the s’mores while overseas. As luck would have it, Ro had done a video where she made s’mores cookies, as well as the marshmallow filling From Scratch! So I grabbed her recipe, adjusted it for Australian cooking (note – Pastry Flour is not SR Flour or Plain pasta flour; its  something we don’t have Down Under– I got a conversion that its plain flour with cornflour mixed in. OK? OK).
 So I made a heap of graham cracker circles; I was even going to put a smiley faces on them (with two choc chip eyes) and call them Smiley S’mores but thought perhaps too much chocolate? Maybe next time….
  When I added the chocolate and marshmallow to melt, I found that if I had my oven on Really Low it took forever (I blame my electric oven that takes Forever to heat up!) – so I bumped up the heat and kept an eye on them. I found that the freezer is indeed better than the fridge for “setting” them, after which you can then store them in a container until they are devoured by the 9 kids at your lunch-catch-up.

  So with the success if them, it was only a matter of time before I made the link to ….

S’mOreos Cookies
I think Son 1 and I where chatting about whether he could have a s’mores cookie or an Oreo as his “treat”, when I made the glorious link to a s’moreos: marshmallow/chocolate filling but with Chocolate biscuit rather than Graham Cracker. (who was saying something about too much chocolate??). So substituting the cookie recipe from my ice cream oreos worked a treat, and they looked good as that recipe makes quite a dark chocolate cookie, which meant you could see the milk chocolate inside.

 Again heartily munched on by one and all, definitely a Treat rather than Snack, but it gave me the satisfaction of (maybe) creating a new cookie (which will go straight to my Pintrest board)

 What new dishes or baking creations have you come up with?

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Christmas Catch Up

 So we've taken down the decorations and recovered from celebrating the New Year; it seems like a goods time to look back on my Christmas culinary adventures for 2014.

 As regular readers would know, this year I made gingerbread trees to give out to friends/family/work colleagues/school teachers/comic book shop guys/the school crossing man. So I ended up making a LOT of gingerbread. Each batch made 64 Christmas tress, and I made 3 batches. That is a lot of mixing, rolling, cutting, baking, piping and bagging. Suffice to say, I don’t want to even think about gingerbread for a few months! Ironically I actually got to taste my first Christmas gingerbread at the weekend (the last two trees left over from Christmas day) and they still tasted good, almost two weeks after baking!
 One thing I did different this year was an attempt at Gluten Free (GF) gingerbread. With a friend who is coeliac and several gluten intolerant friends, I felt bad that they couldn't share in the spoils of my baking. Luckily, the only ingredient that contains gluten in my gingerbread recipe is plain flour (it uses bicarb soda as a raising agent), so I thought it was be a fairly easy substitution. I had some GF self-raising flour in the cupboard from a previous GF baking session which I usually wouldn’t substitute for plain flour. However, using my Science Brain, I remembered that it was the gluten in the flour that bound the baking together and helped it raise, so GF self raising flour was probably closer to non-GF plain flour than non-GF SR flour. All clear??
 And it worked quite well. I went more on Feel than exact measurements when adding the flour; GF flour has a rather different texture to non-GF so I probably had to add more to made the dough sticky enough to roll out. And I think the GF SR flour did make a difference, in that they were a bit more rounded, a bit softer, less crispy-biscuit like (next time I'll buy GF plain flour). But the main thing is they still tasted (and looked) like gingerbread, and my GF friends were very appreciative, even though I didn't get a chance to ice them.

(the darker ones were chocolate gingerbread)
 My next step is to try and make a refined-sugar free gingerbread (have I mentioned that a lot of my friends are very health/diet conscious with a lot of “…. Intolerant” kids???). I figure that I can substitute coconut sugar for brown sugar, and maple syrup for the golden syrup. This will probably affect the consistency and “stickiness” of the dough, so will probably mean a bit of fiddling with the (GF or not) flour. Next challenge will be going dairy free – should be a straight swap with nuttelex for butter which would hopefully cream up well with the sugar. I thought I had almost got everything sorted to finally make a batch for one of my friends (who is gluten, dairy, soy and refined sugar free), who then informed me that she doesn’t eat refined oils, which nuttelex is. *sigh*  My other option is then trying to cream coconut oil and coconut sugar together (and hope that it holds together), mix it with maple syrup and GF flour, and hopefully the addition of ginger will make it still taste vaguely like gingerbread.
 (Or maybe I can just resign myself to not making her gingerbread!)

 Regular readers will also know that I love a good theme, and Christmas is a great excuse to get Creative with Cooking. Last year it was my Rudolph pancakes, which this, year when I made them in early December, Son 2 proclaimed that he wasn't much of a fan of because he doesn't like bacon (Son 2 LOVES bacon, so he didn't see the issue). Nerdy Nummies Ro had made some Snowman pancakes (its the third 'treat') but that wasn't really suitable for an Australian Summer Christmas (but will be great if we go to the snow!). I then came across this awesome blog called The Joys of Boys (they had blog on making Star Wars snowflakes. So cool). They had Santa pancakes, which apart from having a HEAP of whipped cream (which I would think would be that nasty stuff from a can – what is it with Americans and a tonne of fake whipped cream?!?), they also had cherries for the hat. I have a girlfriend whose kids would adore this version (their dad was raised on a cherry farm and they are massive Fresh Fruit Fans), but mine, not so much. So what to use? Coincidentally at this time, one of my girlfriends (She with the French husband) was getting ready to go the Paris to celebrate Christmas with the Hubby’s family. For 5 weeks. And so was clearing out her freezer. As well as a packet of breadcrumbs (which my chickens loved) she also gave me a bag of 5 frozen eggs whites; which were leftover from an awesome chocolate Crème Brulee she had made the last time I went for dinner. Hmmmm – how fortuitous! So on Boxing day (as Christmas morning breakfast was taken up with the traditional croissants and fresh fruit breakfast), I made these Santa Pancakes...

...bacon for the hat, an egg-white omelette (badly) cut into shape for the beard and hat trimming, blueberry eyes and a strawberry nose. I got big smiles from both Sons who then carefully removed the fruit, swapped the bacon for egg and happily devoured them!

 My last piece of Christmas faffing was something that had been hovering around my Christmas Pintrest board for a while – the Christmas fruit tree. There are lots of really cool variations (when you have a spare 5 minutes, type “Christmas fruit tree” in the search engine and check them out). I did like the 3D version, but it didn't seem to be able to support a lot of fruit and as I was doing this for our family Christmas lunch of about 15 adults, I wanted to make sure there was bit available. Plus I knew I would be assembling it after I had hosted breakfast but before jumping in the car to drive to lunch. So it trying to keep things less stressed on Dec 25th, I settled for the 2D version. I had no grand plans as to how it would look (how very unlike me! I must have had my brain filled with other Christmas Organising), but ended up using cantaloupe (or rockmelon depending on where you were born) as “boughs”. Small bunches of grapes were great for greenery, strawberries and blueberries for a touch of colour and some watermelon star cutouts to make it look Christmassy.

 So I hope you all had a fun and festive Christmas with lots of yummy food (as I did) and I look forward to doing it all again in 11 months time

(but maybe not gingerbread this time…..)