Saturday, 21 December 2013

Christmas Cookies!

Over recent years Christmas wouldn't quite be Christmas without stocking up on all things sugar and beavering away in the kitchen for days, baking trays and paper with freshly baked treats scattered all over the house leaving everything covered in a light dusting of icing sugar. 

This year I decided to get my hands on a collection of Christmas cookie recipes and share 4 favourites with you. All these recipes are great as last minute gifts or just as treats to keep you in the spirit around the house! 

Stained-Glass Sugar Cookies, Chocolate Pinwheel, Zimtsterne and Gingerbread.

1. Stained Glass Sugar Cookies

This is a lovely recipe from Martha Stewart.  Beautiful decorations, homemade gifts or little surprises for when your friends come to visit! 

In a bowl sift together 3 cups of plain flour, 3/4 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 a teaspoon of salt. 

In a separate bowl or your standing mixer, beat together 1 1/4 cups of caster sugar and a cup of butter (250g) until light and fluffy. One at a time add in 4 large egg yolks and a table spoon of vanilla extract. 
With the mixer on low, slowly add your dry ingredients and mix until combined. 

Divide dough in 2, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30mins. 

Preheat your oven to 180 degrease c.

Take out one disk of dough and roll between floured baking paper until roughly 5mm thick, refrigerate until firm, roughly 30 mins. 

You can use what ever cutters you like but you will need two complimentary sizes for each cookie. Cut out your larger shapes and then using a much smaller cutter create your window in the centre of each cookie.

Bake for about 8 mins, until cookies are pale but mostly set. 
Fill in the 'windows' with crushed up boiled lollies before returning to the oven for 3mins or until the lollies have melted. 

Let cool completely on sheets before moving them and serve! 

3 cups plain flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup/250g unsalted butter
1 1/4 cup caster sugar
4 large egg yolks
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
Crushed up boiled lollies in different colours 
(I used crushed lolly pops in different colours.) 

2. Chocolate Pinwheel Cookies

The first time I came across these cookies was in 2007 when I spent Christmas in Germany with my friend Ursula. This was one of the delicious recipes we made for the traditional Christmas cookie collection.

Quickly zap 2 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of milk in the microwave before mixing in 6 tablespoons of cocoa. Set aside. 

In a separate bowl sift together 3 cups of plain flour and 1 tablespoon baking powder.

Using your stand mixer beat 250g of room temperature butter until fluffy. Slowly add 1 cup of caster sugar before incorporating 2 egg yolks, a couple of teaspoons of vanilla and 2 teaspoons of milk. 

Add in your dry ingredients and mix on low until the dough has come together. 
Remove roughly 3/4 of the dough and set aside. 

To the remaining mix add your chocolate mixture and beat until combined. Create a ball with each flavoured dough and cut in half. 

Roll out one of your vanilla pieces into a rectangle roughly 5mm think. Do the same with one piece of chocolate and place the chocolate piece on top of the vanilla. Lightly roll you rolling pin on top of the stacked dough to help stick. 

Tightly roll the dough into a log, wrap in plastic and refrigerate till firm. 

Repeat this with the other 2 pieces of dough so you end up with 2 logs. 

Once firm remove dough from the fridge and cut into pieces. 

Lay on a lined baking tray and bake for 15- 20 mins. Please note that these cookies do expand a lot so ensure you have left sufficient room around each piece. 

Chocolate swirl
6 Tbsp cocoa
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp milk

Cookie Dough
3 cups plain flour
1 cup sugar
250g butter
1 Tbsp baking powder
2 egg yolks
3 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp milk

 3. Zimtsterne

This delicious cinnamon star recipe also comes from Germany. One of the best things about it is that it is gluten free as it uses almond meal instead of flour. The almond with a healthy dash of cinnamon and lemon is christmas in a cookie!

In your stand mixer beat 3 egg whites using the whisk, once foamy slowly add in 250g of icing sugar and continue whisking until the meringue is very shiny but not quite at stiff peak.
Remove about 50g of the meringue, cover and leave in the fridge for later.

To the remaining egg whites fold in 360g of almond meal, 2 1/2 teaspoons of cinnamon, the zest of 2 small lemons and a pinch of salt. Fold through until just combined.

Tip the contents onto a sheet of baking paper dusted with icing sugar, dust the meringue and top with another sheet of baking paper before rolling the dough till about 1cm thick and place in the refrigerator for up to an hour. This makes the cutting process easier.

Preheat your oven to 150 degrees celsius.

Remove the top sheet of baking paper and dust again with icing sugar. Cut out star and place them evenly on a lined baking tray. To keep the cutter from sticking dip into your icing sugar each time.

Spread the remaining meringue evenly over each cookie, careful to not let it drip down the sides. Bake for 10-12 mins careful not to let the meringue brown. Let cool on a baking rack and serve!

3 egg whites
250g icing sugar
360g almond meal
2 1/2 tsp cinnamon
Zest of 2 small lemons
pinch of salt

4. Gingerbread

Who can have Christmas without gingerbread in the house?

Place 130g of unsalted butter, 4 tablespoons of glucose or corn syrup, and 110g of light brown sugar in a small saucepan on low heat until melted, then stir in a teaspoon of vanilla and remove from heat. 

In a separate bowl place 330g of plain flour, 1 teaspoon of bicarb soda,  2 teaspoons of ground ginger, 1teaspoon cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg. 

Combine your wet and dry ingredients together either with a spoon or your stand mixer. In a small bowl beat an egg and slowly incorporate until your dough comes together. 

Create a ball with your dough, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1hr. 

Pre heat your oven to 180degrees C.

Roll out your dough till 5mm thick and cut out your desired shapes. Place cookies onto a lined baking tray and bake for 10mins or until golden. 

Cool on a wire rack and dust. My dusting included 3tablespoons of icing sugar, 2 teaspoons of ground ginger, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and a 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg. 

130g unsalted butter
4tablespoons corn/glucose syrup
110g light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
330g plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarb soda
2 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Icing sugar and extra spices for dusting. 

Today I am off to join my sister for our traditional gift baking session! I think marshmallows and candy canes are on the menu :)

What are your favourite Christmas recipes?

Monday, 16 December 2013

Summer Refreshments & Giveaway

I can't believe that the ballet is now over! Yesterday was our last performance of Peter Pan for the season. In many ways it is lovely that it has come to a close as relaxation may now be possible and I have a little bit of time to get my head around the fact that next week is Christmas, but I will miss it! It has been a fabulous season with truly wonderful people, and it will be extremely strange, as it always is, to go back to life without the routine of seeing our little pit family every day. 

By the way - how is it Christmas next week?? 

To help myself get into the spirit of Christmas, and  get through the terrible heat we have been having in Perth I decided to make myself a huge jug of this delicious Watermelon, Lime and Soda refreshment, and team up with the delightful Allie from Call Me Sassafras as well as some other lovely ladies to offer you a chance to win a $50 Etsy gift card! 

A huge shout out to Jen from Near and Far Montana, Codi from The Art of Balance and Z from Sometimes Z Takes Pictures, for making this all possible. I highly recommend taking the time to stop by and check out their blogs. 

All details are below :) In the mean time, curious of how to make this simply scrumptious summer refreshment?

All you will need is a watermelon, 4 limes, a handful of mint and some soda water. 

First things first,  juice your watermelon and limes together however you can. Like many we don't actually have a juicer, so if need be, take a leaf out of our book and dig through your utensil draw to find implements that may help you out.
Thinly chop up a couple of mint leaves and mix in with the watermelon and lime. 
Fill a jug half way up with your juice mix and top up with soda water. 
Add a few thin slices of lime, a couple of sprigs of mint and some ice - you now have the perfect refreshment to drink away those hot summer evenings.  

I always think it is lovely to be able to offer a tasty non alcoholic drink at parties, and this is a really great option. However, if you do feel inclined, why not include a splash of your favourite gin? 

All measurements can vary to taste. 

Enjoy and good luck! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, 29 November 2013

Italian Stuffed Tomatoes

I had friends over for dinner the other night and thought it would be the perfect opportunity to whip out my new cook book, Antonio Carluccio's Italia - The recipes and customs of the regions, and try some new recipes!

Antonio Carluccio takes you on a gastronomic tour through Italy discussing the traditions and recipes found in its various regions. Each chapter delves into a region discussing its history, culinary traditions and specialities as well as Antonio's personal experiences with the area.

With the beautiful spring weather we have been having (apart from today! Where did all that rain come from?!) I wanted to make an entree that was fresh and light, this recipe for Pomodori Farciti al Forno or Stuffed baked tomatoes, really stood out.

What I love about Italian cooking is the depth of flavour created from such simple ideas and straight forward, uncomplicated ingredients. This recipe is no exception.

Pomodori Farciti al Forno is a traditional dish from the Lazio region, the land of the Romans. An area where the cooking is generally simple, honest and true to the season. The volcanic soil of Lazio is said to produce some of the biggest and most beautiful vegetables in Italy and is particularly known for its artichoke.

My soundtrack today was Symphony No. 7 by Beethoven. This weekend I start rehearsals with the Perth Chamber Orchestra for our upcoming Beer Beethoven and Bratworst - I can't wait to play this wonderful piece of music again with such a fantastic ensemble. If you are in Perth and free on the 10th of December I highly recommend joining us.

Anyway - to the recipe!

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees celsius.

Cut the tops off 4 large tomatoes and place the lids to the side. Scoop out the inside of the tomatoes and strain the juice into a bowl.

Cook 50g of arborio or risotto rice in salted water for roughly 7 minutes before draining and setting aside to cool. Once cooled mix with the tomato juice, 2 tablespoons of coarsely chopped mint, 8 finely chopped anchovy fillets, 1 clove of garlic finely chopped and a good glug of olive oil (2 - 4 tablespoons). Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Spoon the stuffing into the tomato cavities and put the lids back on. Place the tomatoes on a baking tray and bake for around 20mins or until the skins have wrinkled up and the tomatoes are soft.
Serve hot as an entree, side or simply an addition to the table.

And there you have it - Just 7 ingredients for a light dish full of flavour, perfect for the sunshine.

4 large ripe tomatoes
50g risotto rice
2tbsp coarsely choped mint
8 anchovy fillets, finely chopped
4tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Monday, 18 November 2013

Milan - A Snap Shot

Today I thought I would take the opportunity to show you some of my favourite images of Milan.
A city that has 26 centuries of history yet, in many eyes, represents the 'new' Italy. With its shiny shop facades and designer labels splattered through the centre of town, this city is the countries main industrial, commercial and financial centre. 

A dear friend of mine moved to Milan last year to pursue her studies. Since then I have now visited Milan twice. The first time to help her set up and become comfortable in this new daunting city, and the second this August simply to say hi. 

My journeys to Milan haven't be without hiccups, but I am pleased to have made them and to have had the opportunity to experience the city of fashion, design, finance, football and opera. 

To be honest, Milan isn't any where near my favourite places in the world. On the surface I feel somewhat uninspired by the city. I find it very industrial and feel that its fast pace of life creates distance from the locals making it difficult to feel comfortable or at home. In many ways it simply doesn't have the shimmer that I long for when dreaming about Italy. 

The flavour and beauty of Italy, however, is still present you just have to search a little harder. 

With a gelato in hand, you must walk off the tourist rout to the lesser known streets and discover boutiques, important art galleries and the smaller churches. 

Besides, the grander of the Duomo (5th largest cathedral in the world with no less than 3159 statues!) the exquisite La Scala, castles and Da Vinci paintings and architecture dotted around the place there are exquisite sights in Milan that are well worth the visit.  

What are your travel stories of Milan?

Hope you have had a lovely weekend!!

Monday, 11 November 2013

Roast Pumpkin And Couscous Salad

Gosh what a couple of weeks! I can't believe how varied my work has been recently - I love it! 
I went from performing 70s rock with Spandau Ballet's Tony Hadley, to performing stunning works by Vivaldi and Piazzolla with the Perth Chamber Orchestra. Followed by Pop scores with Perth Symphony String section, Beethoven's 9th Symphony as part of a flash-mob with Perth Symphony Orchestra as well as multiple weddings let alone the personal recital preparation and rehearsing the exquisite Borodin String Quartet No. 2 and Eine Kleine Nacht Music for an up and coming Mill Point Quartet concert! I am exhausted just thinking about the past 2 weeks! 

Amongst all of this I still found the time to join friends for a wonderful night of live scores to Buster Keaton silent movies with Viola Dana under the stars at the Fremantle Prison. 
This was also the perfect excuse to make up a large bowl of this deliciousness - My all time favourite Roast Pumpkin and couscous salad. 

Not just a great picnic accompaniment but also a great dish to just have in your fridge for those busy weeks. It is great as a side for something like herb and pepper crusted chicken, or simply to grab a fork and dive right in!


I may be slightly obsessed with roast pumpkin at the moment... It is such a great accompaniment to so many things and this is no exception. This is a basic recipe but feel free to change, add or adjust as you wish depending on the ingredients you like. 

Dice up a large portion of roast pumpkin, drizzle with olive oil and lightly season with salt and pepper before placing in a hot oven for about 20mins or until soft. 

In a saucepan bring 2 cups of water, a knob of butter, a teaspoon of rosemary, thyme and about a teaspoon of paprika to the boil. Once boiling add 2 coups of couscous, remove from heat and leave covered for 30 mins. 

In the mean time prepare all of your other ingredients. I like to use roughly 1 cup of diced feta, 1 cup of sun-dried tomatoes and 1/2 cup of black olives (can stay whole if you prefer) and a good handful or two of baby spinach.

After half an hour has gone, fluff up your couscous with a fork before mixing together all of your ingredients with a large bowl. Before serving, dress with a the juice of half a lemon or lime, salt and pepper and a good drizzle of good olive oil. 

And that is it! Such a delicious salad - full of flavour, great for any table, anytime of day! 

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Cooking My Way Through Paris

Ah Paris... The city the world dreams about. Inspiring writers, artists and musicians for centuries. 
Paris is a city that wants to tell a story, a story the entire world is eager to hear. 

One can witness its twinkling lights, stroll along the Seine, shop the Champs Elise, explore the iconic architecture, take in exquisite art and only scratch the surface of what Paris really is. 

"A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty and in the point of life"
-Thomas Jefferson 

My adventures of 2012 led me to Paris. However, unlike many, I didn't go there for the art, fashion or for love, instead I went to Paris to cook. 

For an entire week I had the luxury of waking up to a breakfast of fresh croissants before taking the walk through Momartre towards Rue Baudelique and my second home for the week, Cook'n With Class, a boutique cooking school where I began my journey into the art of French cooking.

Cook'n With Class is a boutique cooking school based in Momartre offering a large range of high quality French cooking classes in the warmest most relaxed atmosphere. Don't worry, all the classes are taught in English, and are incredibly hands-on. 

As I went to Paris pretty much specifically to cook, I decided to par take in A Week In Paris - A package deal of 5 cooking classes. The classes I chose were the Evening Market Class, French Deserts, French Baking, Macaroon, and a Molecular Gastronomy class. 

As I wasn't writing a blog at the time, I unfortunately don't have many photos of the classes themselves, but I will do my best to show you a little of my time at the school, and my time Paris. (like many, my gallery contains possibly too many photos of the Eiffel Tower...Forgive me - I just couldn't help myself! I am a tourist like everyone else after all!) 

The Evening Market Class was my first. Our chef for the evening was Alex Dreyer. Alex was actually my chef for almost the entire week. Extremely funny, kind and informative in his teaching methods, Alex always made it a lot of fun! (It was also really lovely to have the consistency of teacher, as it meant that every day I got to walk in to a familiar face! I also got to learn the system of how the school, and Alex personally worked meaning I could get the most of my week there.)
For the class, myself and 3 other women were taken on a tour of the nearby market and stalls, learning the ins and outs of purchasing fresh produce in France. We were flooded with tips on purchasing meats, seafood, in-season vegetables and cheese. The menu is then created based on what you find on your tour. The rest of the evening is spent cooking and devouring the most delicious food with lots of chatter and wine. For those interested we made crispy sea-bass followed by veal farci served with pommes anna and season vegetables before a peach tart and a platter of fresh cheeses. 

I have done a couple of cooking classes elsewhere in the world, and Cook'n With Class stands out by far. What I loved about it most is that you will never find more than five students in your class making it incredibly hands on.

Next, I participated in a French Deserts Class producing passionfruit creme brulee, lemon tart, a flour-less chocolate souffle, madeleines, a strawberry tart, and a delicious red current sorbet. 

Molecular gastronomy delved into the weird and wonderful world of combining science and cooking. On the nights menu were sidecar cocktails, mushroom veloute, pea and carrot ravioli (were the carrot was used to create the "pasta"), re-constructed poached egg, herb crusted pork, and chocolate mousse with mint caviar. I know a lot of these recipes don't sound like much in the way of science, and I so wish I took more photos and could remember enough to explain everything we did! But you probably wouldn't believe me anyway ;) This is more to give you an example of the range of dishes one can learn at the school.

The Macaroon class is fairly self explanatory. If you are wanting to delve into the delicious world of macaroons I highly recommend attending a class of some form. They are extremely fussy and require many things to be "just-so". I am currently experimenting with the recipe at home, and still haven't been able to quite get it right with my oven. I think it will just take more practice! Thankfully I have enough people around me willing to help with the trial and error process.

French baking is also fairly self explanatory. It is a class where you learn the art of making pastry for the most delicious croissants, pain et chocolate, apple strudel, and sultana scrolls. This is also a class I highly recommend as the pastry is rather fiddly, and there are so many little handy tricks to be learnt when you actually are able to talk to someone about them. 

I had such a incredible week in Paris. One I will never forget, and would do again in a heartbeat!!! The classes are perfectly balanced with participation and observation. You get to eat all of the food you cook, and often take some samples back to your hotel room (my hosts were very pleased with me walking in each day with a box of treats to share)

After the lessons you are sent all of the recipes to add to your recipe book. I have loved coming back and trying them all out in my own kitchen so much so that you may find a couple pop up in the not so distant future. It is also a wonderful way to meet new lovely people from around the world, something I am all about.  

The staff are incredibly helpful and so kind. You can ask them anything and if need be they will answer any of your questions by email outside of the classes when and where they can. Oh and there is some form of alcohol involved in every lesson which is always a bonus! There is always time to celebrate with a glass of bubbles in Paris! 

I always know an experience has affected me if I continue to talk about it well after the event took place - My time cooking in Paris was over a year ago, and I am still talking about it endlessly!!! If and when I return to Paris I will definitely be adding a trip to the Cook'n With Class school! 

I can not recommend it enough. If you are in Paris, or thinking of visiting soon do yourself a favour and look them up. You can find their website here. Take your time to explore all of their class options so that you can find one that is just right for you. 

I am sitting here listening to the soundtrack of the beautiful Amelie, dreaming about jumping on a plane taking me right back to my last time in Paris. 

Do you have a love affair with Paris?