Sunday, December 27, 2009

The House that Kate Built

I've never made a gingerbread house, and have always wanted to, so when Good Taste Magazine featured one this month, I thought, why not?

I downloaded and printed the templates from the website and set about making my house.

Making gingerbread, which is mostly butter, when it's 35 degrees INSIDE the house, is not the best plan. Trying to transfer the cut out pieces to the baking tray was a disaster. Tearing, melting, shredding, separating disaster. I even pulled out the emergency icepack in the hope of cooling down the butter so it would bond together, which worked to an extent, but I still wasn't happy with it.

Eventually I worked out that if I rolled the dough directly onto the baking paper,  cut out the pieces and peeled away the outside dough, I could lift the baking paper straight onto the baking trays and have perfectly even, unstretched, unbroken dough pieces to bake for my house.

I wanted to create a stained glass window effect, so I used crushed up life savers and filled up the holes in the window prior to baking.

Waiting, waiting, waiting

I took a lot of photos prior to assembly, and of the work in progress because I was not convinced that I could pull this off! I don't have the steadiest hand, but I don't think this was too bad.

The stained glass thing worked!

I did have to hold the pieces together quite a long time for the chocolate to set, again, because it was so hot on Thursday. After assembling each piece I put it in the fridge for 5-10 minutes to make sure each join was set before I moved on to the next one. Even so, the last roof panel fell off about 3 times before it finally stuck.

I forgot to do the chimney - it wasn't on the template, and didn't say to do it in the instruction, so I just didn't cut one out. It was too hot for a fire anyway, it didn't need a chimney.

I must admit, I was incredibly flattered when, at Christmas lunch, I overheard someone asking if it was made by a pastry-chef friend of ours!

How to make a gingerbread house

Beat 250g softened butter, 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar and 1/3 cup golden syrup until pale and creamy.

Add 2 eggs, 1 at a time, beating after adding each. Gradually stir in 5 cups of sifted plain flour, 1 1/2 tbs ground ginger, 1 1/2 tbsp bicarb soda and 1/4 tsp ground cloves.

Knead until smooth, then wrap and chill for 30 minutes, and pre-heat oven to 180 degrees.

Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface (or directly onto baking paper for ease of transfer) until 5mm thick. I made mine a little thicker, and still had dough left over. Use the downloaded templates to cut out shapes and use a 4.5cm round cutter to cut a disc from the front wall to make a window. Cut a cross from the disc and re-insert it into the hole. Don't forget the door and chimney!

Bake on lined trays for 10-15 minutes. Cool completely on wire racks.

Trim the edges of the gingerbread (I found this completely unnecessary, I assume because of the way I cut out the shapes and put them on the tray to start with).

Beat 2 egg whites until foamy. Beat in 1 tsp fresh lemon juice and 2 2/3 cups pure icing sugar, sifted. Place in a piping bag with a 3mm nozzle, and use to decorate the gingerbread. You can see in one of the assembly pictures how much icing I used and had left over, so it depends on how much you want to decorate your walls and roof if you think it's necessary to make this much.

I assembled and then decorated the roof, as I thought it would be easier to handle, despite the instructions suggesting to do it the other way around.

Use 200g dark chocolate melts, melted in a zip lock bag with the end snipped to pipe along the edges of the walls to assemble a side and front/back piece, and hold together until set - this will take a while if it's hot in your kitchen. Then attach the other walls and the front door. Once this is properly set (which may require refrigeration) apply one roof panel, and once set, apply the other, and then the chimney.

I used melted chocolate to attach the freckles and bullets to the roof, but Good Taste used mini-wheats which looked a lot like roof shingles.
I didn't create a lovely snow scene like Lorraine did over at Not Quite Nigella, but I was concerned about its ability to transport, so it went into a cake taker, and displayed on a cake stand once it reached its destination.

There you go, that's something by Kate.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Cookbook Challenge - Week 6 - Christmas - White Chocolate, Cranberry and Almond Nougat

Bill Granger's Holiday was sure to yield the perfect Christmas recipe, and browsing through the pages I was not disappointed. I was hoping for a "make and take" type recipe as I wasn't hosting any Christmas events at home, and didn't want to attend any empty handed.

Ready for transport

My local supermarket had all of the ingredients I needed, however tracking down a candy thermometer proved more difficult - 4 stores later, that was sorted too.

I was slightly fearful that this nougat recipe may not be achievable without a sacrificial pot, but it was actually easier than I thought it would be, as was the cleanup. I'd recommend having an extra hand around as it can be quite awkward to transfer the mixture to the pan to set, given it's thick, sticky and also hot.

Bill's recipe called for dried cherries, but I didn't even bother to look for them, as I prefer dried cranberries, already had some on hand from the shortbread I made earlier in the week, and Bill suggests they'll also work well.

What you'll need to make 45 pieces

Edible rice paper
2 cups caster sugar
1 cup glucose syrup
1/2 cup honey (the honey flavour comes through quite strongly so pick your favourite)
1 tsp vanilla extract (or 1 tsp vanilla bean paste)
2 egg whites
125g blanched almonds, lightly toasted
150g white chocolate, chopped
100g dried cherries or cranberries

How to do it

Lightly grease a 20 x 30cm baking tray and line with sheets of rice paper.  I  had the right size pan, but didn't really need one that big, maybe I like my nougat thicker than Bill, but I didn't spread it the full length of the pan. Put the sugar, glucose, honey and vanilla in a large heavy based saucepan, and cook, stirring constantly over low heat until the sugar has dissolved. I think I had it too low, as this step took forever!

Bring to the boil, and then boil without stirring, until the mixture reaches 142 degrees Celsius (275F) on a candy thermometer. Bill suggests brushing down the sides of the saucepan with a wet pastry brush to remove any sugar crystals which may form, but I didn't need to to this as no crystals formed.

Meanwhile, beat the egg whites in a large clean bowl until firm peaks form. While beating, very slowly pour the hot syrup in a thin stream into the egg white. If you don't have a stand mixer, you will need a hand with this step - since I broke my mixer, and my borrowed one didn't have a stand I couldn't do this by myself.

Continue to beat until the mixture is thick, and holds it shape (2-8 minutes)

Once the mixture can hold its shape, stop beating or it will thicken too much and become like toffee. Gently warm the nuts in a dry pan, and stir into the mixture with the chocolate and dried fruit.

Pour the mixture into the tin and place a layer of rice paper over the top. Leave to set overnight and then cut into squares or bars with a hot, wet knife.

This was a great hit at both Christmas parties, and surprised me in how much easier it was to make than I expected. I was told many times that it was the best nougat people had ever had, and that the cranberries were so much better than traditional cherries, so I definitely recommend making this. I'll definitely make this again next Christmas, and maybe before then! Thanks Bill!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

My New Kitchen!

I'm sorry about the length of time between posts, but moving has really taken it out of me!

Everything went well, we were organised,  the movers were really fast and all the utilities had been connected (except internet, that took a few more days). The house could have been cleaner, but it wasn't too bad, just lived in. Having just cleaned our old place though, I did not appreciate having one of the first tasks at the new place being cleaning too.

 So, my new kitchen. There have been a couple of requests for pics, so here are the twins:

 And the new induction cooktop. If you sneak a peak to the left of the picture you may get a clue about what I've made for the cookbook challenge this week.

And my baby (this was the best Christmas present I got last year - although it was topped this year by the house).

This picture is from the real estate website, so that's not my fridge, stools, etc. but is a much better shot of the kitchen than I could take. Although if anyone knows where I can get stools like that, please let me know!

I was unable to capture the sparkly nature of the bench, but here's my best attempt (I know it's out of focus, but the sparkles seem to show up better that way).

Pathetically, the first thing I used the oven for was a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich, and the second thing was garlic bread. However, the third thing....

(just because, not for the Challenge, despite their Christmassy overtones)

I love my Mozi mug, love it, love it, love it!

250g butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup icing sugar mixture (I use icing sugar, not mixture, but either is fine)
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 cups plain flour
75g craisins, coarsely chopped
100g white chocolate, finely chopped (I used Hershey's Cinnamon Chips - see my post on Chai Cupcakes)

Preheat oven to 160°C (or use the special Bake setting on your magic twin ovens). Line baking trays with non-stick baking paper (If you're using non-stick trays this is unnecessary - I've never had them stick). Use an electric beater to beat the butter, icing sugar and vanilla in a bowl until very pale and creamy.

Now this bit's important - DO NOT GET YOUR SPATULA CAUGHT IN THE BEATERS AND BREAK YOUR MIXER. Taste left that out, and unfortunately I didn't manage to work it out for myself. So, mixerless. Luckily, my mother lent me hers so I can complete the cookbook challenge this week.

Stir in the flour, craisins and chocolate. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and bring the dough together.

Roll tablespoonfuls (this is a bit too much, I prefer them smaller) of the dough into balls. Place, about 5cm apart, on the trays. Use a fork to flatten slightly. Place in the fridge for 15 minutes to chill (I don't bother and it works fine).

Bake, swapping trays halfway through cooking, for 15-18 minutes or until golden. Set aside on the trays for 5 minutes to cool before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

See you soon, with my cookbook challenge post!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Gratuitous Icing Shot

This is the sour cream banana cake that I made last Wednesday, and promised to post a photo when I iced it. I went a bit old school with the sprinkles, but I like it. So I'm not a food stylist, I can live with that.

On another note, I went for a final pre-visit to my new house today, and confirmed that my new cooktop is induction. My current saucepans won't work with induction, being a non-magnetic stainless steel, so can anyone recommend what I should buy?

I promise, this is my last post today!

Spoiler Alert!

After seeing the Chai Cupcakes I made for the Cookbook Challenge's Indian theme, Martin from Bondi Chai has very kindly sent me some of their product to work with. While it will have to wait until after the move, Martin has also generously sent me enough to give some away to my readers. Start thinking about how you would use Bondi Chai in your cooking, because I'll be asking you to come up with some creative recipes to help me choose who to send some delicious Bondi Chai to.

Visit Bondi Chai online to check out some of the recipes they've already created at or to become a Bondi Chai Facebook fan, click here.

The Cookbook Challenge - Week 5 - Greek - Oven Baked Fish with Tomato and Parsley

I actually don't have a Greek cookbook. I couldn't believe it. Although, even if I did it would probably have been in a box this week. Moving day is imminent and things are mostly packed up including my cookbooks.

I did rescue this issue of Vogue Entertaining and Travel before it went into one of the 4 boxes of cookbooks and magazines when I saw the cover mentioned "mediterranean flavours" and "Greece: Oven baked fish with tomato and parsley", with the last cookbook challenge before moving day being Greek!

I did however pack it before creating this post, so I'll do my best to remember the recipe. It was fairly simple, I should be ok.

I don't eat enough fish so this was a good opportunity to add some to my diet. Being allergic to shellfish, I tend to just avoid the whole ocean for the sake of convenience, and the boyfriend is not a big fan so I rarely cook it. And, I won't be making this one again, at least not with fish. The comment was made that, "maybe it would be better with chicken". If you like fish it might be good. The oven time was quite long for a fish dish, but aside from that it was quick and simple, and I believe I would have enjoyed it if it didn't include fish.

These amounts are not quite what was in Vogue, I adjusted them for our personal tastes. I used Blue Grenadier, however while I was unwrapping it I realised that I had paid for Ocean Trout, at $9 a kilo more - not happy Coles.

Oven baked fish with tomato and parsley
500g firm white fish, cut into 6cm pieces (this is why I hate recipes without pictures - did they mean 6cm square? 6cm x 1cm strips? I went with 6cm x 2cm ish strips)
1 400g can of chopped tomatoes
4 cloves of crushed garlic
2 sticks of celery, chopped
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
Lay the fish in a single layer in an oven safe dish.
Combine all the other ingredients in a bowl and then pour over the fish.

Bake, covered, for 30 minutes.
Turn the oven up to 200 degrees, and bake for a further 40-50 minutes.

Serve with crusty bread and/or potatoes.

Done. See, pretty simple. Yet, not so pretty.

This was my last cooking effort for this week, the kitchen is now in boxes, and my last time using my rubbish old oven! Next week's Christmas theme will be presented from my shiny new kitchen!

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Cookbook Challenge - Week 4 - Beans - Lamb & green bean salad with pesto dressing

Cheating again, with a magazine that I own but searched on

I count my magazines as cookbooks, as I keep them all together in the bookshelves which are dedicated to cooking. My wonderful brother and his lovely wife give me a subscription to Australian Good Taste magazine for my birthday every year, and my very generous mother-in-law has had a subscription to Delicious magazine forever, but doesn't like to keep more than 2 years worth of magazines at a time, so the old ones get adopted and come to my house to live. Add to that the collection of 50 or so that I bought in bulk on eBay (Good Taste, Super Food Ideas, Delicious, Gourmet Traveller, Australian Table etc.) and the ones I randomly collect at the supermarket from time to time, they make up a large proportion of the recipes I have on hand to refer to. Inch for inch it's about 50/50 books to magazines, and there's over 10 feet of bookshelves dedicated to the cause.

Lamb and Green Bean Salad with Pesto Dressing is one I've made before, but had forgotten about, so not only is the Cookbook Challenge getting me to try new recipes, but revisiting the ghosts of meals past too! I wanted to make a bean salad as we had a Christmas picnic scheduled for work (Ladies, a plate), and I could kill two birds with one stone by catering for the picnic and preparing this week's Cookbook Challenge.  I had selected another recipe that I thought would scale up better than this, however due to threatening inclement weather this week the picnic was moved to the pub, so I decided to make the salad I liked better - and with the lamb this one is a complete meal, rather than a side - as much as I like to cook, I'm moving next week and the fewer things I have to do right now, the better. I'll make up for it once I'm living with my two ovens in the new house.

500g lamb backstraps
240g green beans
3 large ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
2 Lebanese cucumbers, halved lengthways, thinly sliced
1/2 bunch watercress, sprigs picked, washed (I couldn't find watercress, so used baby Mediterranean mixed salad leaves)
1 cup firmly packed fresh basil leaves
75g toasted pine nuts
1/3 cup shredded Parmesan
1 garlic clove, crushed (I never use the recommended amount of garlic, I always add at least 1 clove extra)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup lemon juice

Cook the lamb for 3-4 minutes each side for medium-rare, transfer to a plate and cover with foil and set aside for 5 minutes to rest. Thinly slice.

Meanwhile, cook beans in a saucepan of boiling water for 3-4 minutes or until bright green and tender crisp. Refresh under cold running water. Drain. I just steamed them.

To make the pesto dressing, place the basil, pine nuts, parmesan and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and process until coarsely chopped.

That looks coarse to me

With the motor running, gradually add the oil in a thin, steady stream until well combined. Add the lemon juice and process until smooth. I had to keep scraping down the sides, I guess my food processor bowl is too big - I definitely wouldn't recommend halving this recipe, unless you have a really small food processor.

Combine the beans, tomato, cucumber and watercress (salad leaves) in a bowl. Divide among serving plates and top with sliced lamb. Drizzle over pesto dressing and season with pepper to serve.

Just because I feel guilty for pretending my presentation skills are fabulous - check out the plate I prepared that I wasn't going to take a picture of:

What a mess! All just lumped on, with splatters of pesto dressing around the edge - who prepared that rubbish?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Using things up

I may have mentioned my imminent move to a house with 2 ovens. This move requires packing, cleaning, and trying to use up everything in the fridge and freezer and, to a lesser extent, the pantry.

I tend to buy a lot of bananas and they get ripe more quickly than I can eat them, so I freeze them for baking.

Tip: Freezing a banana in its skin, and then defrosting it, is instant mashed banana. Not so pretty, and a little slimy on the skin, but very convenient, and less messy than actually mashing fresh banana.

I also had sour cream and butter, and a quick search of produced the sour cream banana cake.  I've been meaning to make this one for a while, but always seem to fall back on my foolproof banana and coconut loaf when I want banana cake. The only thing I needed to purchase was white chocolate to make the icing. Now I don't need to use up frozen bananas and sour cream, I just need to use up a cake - somehow I think that will be an easier sell.

125g butter, softened
3/4 cup caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs at room temperature (I'm not sure what will happen if you use cold ones, if you don't have time to wait for them to warm up you could try standing them in some lukewarm water for a bit)
3/4 cup sour cream
1 cup mashed banana (Taste says you will need 2 large, very ripe bananas, I used 4 frozen and defrosted lady finger bananas)
2 1/4 cup self raising flour
1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Grease base and sides of a 7cm deep, 19cm square cake pan.

Don't you just love a springform pan? I took a punt that the sides wouldn't stick, but after the brownie incident, wasn't taking chances on the base. It rose a little more than I expect, so I'd use a bigger than 8 inch pan.

Beat butter, sugar and vanilla until pale and creamy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each. Fold through sour cream and bananas, then sift in flour and bi-carb and fold that through.

Bake for 50-60 minutes. I  had the fan on, and it took 38 minutes to produce what you see before you.

Oh, the smell. Mmmmmmm banana cake baking is one of my favourite cooking smells. I desperately wanted to crack off a bit of the crunchier edge while it was still hot - but I made this to freeze, so exercised some will-power.

I did make the icing, with the plan being to store it covered in the fridge, and re-melt it in the microwave when I use the cake. This I did taste - I will definitely make this simple icing again.

Icing recipe
180g white chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup sour cream

Place the chocolate and sour cream in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Heat, stirring constantly with a metal spoon (you could probably use a silicone one if you prefer, I think the idea is to keep moisture out of the chocolate, and wooden spoons can retain moisture) for 3 minutes or until smooth - I didn't time this but 3 minutes sounds about right, it depends on how finely you chop your chocolate and I used big bits - see?

Remove from heat and stand for 10 minutes, pour icing over cake, allowing it to drizzle down sides. Serve warm. Or, put the icing in the fridge, and re-heat in the microwave - fingers crossed this will work.

No gratuitous icing shot, since I'll ice it when I defrost it. I'll try to remember to take a shot for you when I do.

Oh no! I just realised that if I'd waited until next week, and substituted greek yoghurt for the sour cream I would have had my entry for week 5 of the cookbook challenge!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Cookbook Challenge - Week 3 - Hor d'oeuvres - Herb Meatballs with Rich Tomato Sauce

If it has a toothpick in it, it's an hor d'oeuvre (and free if you believe everything you hear on the Simpsons).

I really struggled this week, I had no event on that particularly needed finger food, so I couldn't use that for inspiration context, and I couldn't remember any that I've made before. When I was flicking through The Family Circle Recipe Encyclopedia and saw a picture with a toothpick in it, I was sold!

They're ugly, basic, and don't have that wow factor, but they're easy, quick, tasty, cheap and freezable.

The ingredients for the meatballs go in a bowl and you mush it all up with your hands, roll it into balls, and fry them in a pan with heated oil. Simple! 

Meatball Ingredients (I halved them, but I'll give them as published)


1 medium onion, finely chopped
750g beef mince
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 cloves garlic (I didn't halve this - I love garlic)
2 teaspoons of cracked black pepper (I don't recommend using cracked pepper, my grinder is VERY slow, this took forever, but I didn't have any ground pepper)
1/4 teaspoon of salt

2 tablespoons plum sauce (check out my Nanna's homemade plum sauce - highly prized as she's stopped making it - maybe I'll ask her for the recipe and make it for my Dad)
1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary (I didn't have any, but Gourmet Garden's herb blend worked well)
1-2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint or basil (I used basil, I'm not a big fan of mint)

You can just use any old sauce for dipping if you don't want to make the Rich Tomato Sauce (although I did, as it's really quick and easy too).

Rich Tomato Sauce
Deglaze the pan with 1 1/2 cups red wine, add 1 clove of crushed garlic, bring to boil then simmer to reduce liquid by half. Strain into a medium pan (this is entirely optional, I didn't do it, I just added the rest of the ingredients into the frypan) Add 3/4 cup tomato puree, 1/3 cup chunky bottled tomato sauce and 2-3 teaspoons Dijon mustard, again bring to the boil, then simmer to reduce liquid by half. Gradually whisk in 30g butter.

 See - toothpicks. Ergo, hor d'oeuvre. (Can I mix Latin and French? Anyway, you get my point)

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