Dark Chocolate and Orange Macarons

Dark Chocolate Orange Macarons | Milk & Cereal

I can’t quite remember when I first discovered Milk & Cereal blog. It’s been at least one year, possibly two… but right from the start I became a dedicated follower. Besides creating gorgeous recipes, Ali is an inspiration in terms of generosity, humour, creativity and steadfast faith in God.

It’d be fair to say that we hit it off straight away, encouraging each other’s cooking exploits and even completing a foodie ‘care package swap’ between Western Australia and North Dakota in early 2014 (see a playlist Ali created for me here). I love her to bits and I feel blessed to be genuine friends (albeit those who are yet to meet!). It’s also huge fun to ‘do life’ with Ali and her husband Rob through Ali’s fun Instagram feed (yep, sometimes I love social media!).

Anyway, back to today’s post. Some months ago, when I mentioned that Aaron and I were embarking on a massive Europe trip, Ali was among those who generously offered to complete a guest recipe post. She casually threw in the word ‘macarons’ and I instantly became excited. Let’s just say that this thorough, easy-to-read macaron tutorial completely blew me away when it arrived in my inbox. Deliciously gooey, crisp-shelled, delicately ‘footed’ macaron perfection!

So without further ado, let me hand over to my dear friend Ali for THE macaron post you’ve been waiting for (I can’t wait to try her tips at home! Ah, I miss my kitchen!).


Salutations, dear readers of the Mess!

My name is Ali, and I’ve popped over from Milk & Cereal to bring you a recipe from a distant land. Well, I’m from a distant land (if you’re in Australia, that is, or really anywhere other than the U.S.), but I suppose this recipe originates in France or Italy.

Upon contemplating what kind of macarons to attempt for this post, I excitedly realized that autumn (i.e. Pumpkin season) is fast approaching in my neck of the woods. And don’t pumpkin macarons just sound like the best thing since the announcement of a Sharknado sequel?! Well, with that first realization came a second, more dreadful, realization: There’s no canned pumpkin in Aussieland. At least, not easily accessible to most. What a pity! Besides, you’re done with autumn Down Under anyway. So I threw that idea out the window (or rather, stored it on the shelf for the later use of we fortunate folk who have unlimited access to the “gourd-uous gold”).

As we Northerners enter into the cold and desolation of winter (Well, we’re technically entering into fall, but we likely won’t be graced with its presence for long before winter shows its face!), and you Southerners enter into the fresh rejuvenation of spring, I decided on a macaron recipe fitting for all seasons and any hemisphere: Dark Chocolate Orange. The slight piquancy of citrus is especially for those of you in or entering a season of warmth, and the chocolate is for anyone, because is there ever not a time for chocolate?

If any of you Aussies are just dying to experience this strange thing that is a North Dakota winter (as I’m sure you are), I invite you to come visit and experience it for yourself! Please note that by accepting this invitation, you agree to help shovel our driveway. You’ll love it; shoveling is a bundle of fun.

Dark Chocolate Orange Macarons | Milk & Cereal

If you can get your hands on some orange-flavored dark chocolate (like this tasty creation from Theo Chocolate), your ganache will be pleasantly enhanced. If not, have no fear! I assure you, your ganache will still stand up to the task regardless.

Dark Chocolate Orange Macarons | Milk & Cereal Blog

Now, if you’ve never made macarons before and find them daunting (or have made them but have yet to get them to turn out properly), I’m here to help! Heaps of research and a few (or more) unsuccessful attempts brought me to eventual success. I’m not going to unload a bottomless pit of knowledge on you, but I will offer a few quick, key suggestions that helped me, and point you in the direction of the trusty sources from which I gathered information.

Dark Chocolate Orange Macarons | Milk & Cereal

Of all the factors and techniques to consider when making macarons, I found three to be the most important. First, measure your ingredients properly. You’ll see in the recipe below, I’ve listed the ingredients first in grams and second in customary units (I actually had to Google that just now to find out the name of the U.S. measurement system, which I’ve been using for 20 or so years.). So when I say to measure properly, I mean you should measure with a scale (and in grams) if at all possible. I ordered a little kitchen scale specifically for macarons (this one, which is fairly cheap and hasn’t given me trouble me yet, to be exact), and I’m glad I did! Macarons are touchy little minxes that require a great deal of precision; measuring properly with a scale will help eliminate your risk of failure.

Dark Chocolate Orange Macarons | Milk & Cereal

Second, mix/stir/whip your ingredients properly! If you watch Food Nouveau’s tutorial, you’ll get a visual of how the that all should look, but here’s the gist of it: Blend/process the dry ingredients minus granulated sugar, and then sift or run them through a sieve. Whip the egg whites, adding the granulated sugar gradually, until they reach stiff peaks. However, try not to whip them too much. Finally, fold the dry ingredients into the meringue (egg whites and sugar) carefully and in two or three separate additions. Now listen up, folks, ’cause here’s the most important note on the mixing: You’ve mixed enough when the batter passes the “ribbon test.” That means that when you lift up the spatula and let a ribbon of batter fall across the remaining batter in the bowl, said ribbon should sink in and disappear in 30 seconds. Try with all your might not to mix past this consistency! David Lebovitz offers a warning from Rob of Fauchon: “…the batter for perfect macarons needs to be folded just-so. One extra fold, and it’s all over. Not enough, and you won’t get that little foot.” But don’t let that scare you off. ;)

Third, bake your shells/biscuits properly. Sadly, this part is less straight-forward and may require a bit of trial and error, as all ovens and climates vary. Once you’ve got the correct temperature, tackle the baking time. I struggled with under-baking and kept ending up with macarons stuck to the parchment paper. I wasted copious batches this way! Macarons that are done should have a slight hollow sound when you tap the shell. They should have a thin crust if you crack the shell, but they should not be completely dry or crunchy. Most noticeably, they should also have feet! My first many batches barely had feet, probably as a result of over-mixing and under-baking.

Dark Chocolate Orange Macarons |  Milk & Cereal

I’m sorry; those few “quick” tips grew a little long-winded… If you made it all the way through, I do hope you found them helpful! To wrap up our class for the day, I give you the aforementioned trusty sources:

Food Nouveau has a fantastic (and concise) step-by-step recipe and video. Here’s a golden nugget of advice from her: “No recipe is universal, and the most important thing is to go slow. Try cautiously with your own instruments, ingredients and oven. You will have to try more than once before achieving perfection.” Don’t get yourself down if your first batch is a major flop!

Food Nouveau and Not So Humble Pie both have very extensive troubleshooting guides. You can even Google “macaron troubleshooting” to find yourself a nearly endless list of resources.

Lastly, the great David Lebovitz has a post on macaron instructions and recipes, and his post French Chocolate Macaron Recipe is loaded with his own insights of trials and errors.

Dark Chocolate Orange Macarons | Milk & Cereal

When I finally achieved a batch of macarons that appeared successful, I wasn’t even certain that they were, in fact, a success. To be honest, I’ve never eaten a bakery-made macaron, so I haven’t been able to compare mine to the “real thing.” Based on the photos I’d seen, I always imagined macarons being crunchy cookies. But according to my studies, the perfect macaron should have nicely-risen feet; a decent dome; a thin, crisp shell (with no hollow gap); and a soft, moist interior. So if that is true, I believe I have created a successful specimen. Would you agree? :D

Dark Chocolate Orange Macarons | Milk & Cereal

Forgive me. I said I wasn’t going to unload a bottomless pit of knowledge on you, yet I nearly did so anyway. I imagine it’s about time to be getting on to the recipe!

Ganache Ingredients:
(This ganache recipe will make more than you need for the macarons, leaving extra for ice cream or eating by the spoonful, but feel free to halve it.)

  • 4 oz. (approx. 113 gr.) dark or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (or chocolate chips)
  • 1/2 c. (approx. 118 ml.) cream
  • 1/4 c. (approx. 32 gr.) powdered sugar (more or less, depending on how dark you like your chocolate)
  • 1/2 tsp. (approx. 5 ml.) vanilla extract
  • 4 drops orange essential oil

Biscuit/Cookie/Shell Ingredients:
(adapted from David Lebovitz)

  • 100 gr. (approx. 1 c.) powdered sugar
  • 50 gr. (approx. 1/2 c.) almond meal/flour
  • 30 gr. (approx. 3 1/2 Tbs.) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 egg whites, aged at room temperature*
  • 65 gr. (approx. 5 Tbs.) granulated sugar
  • 4-6 drops orange essential oil

* I have yet to determine how necessary it is to “age” the egg white for 6 hours, as some recipes say. Many experienced macaron-makers will tell you it is crucial, but a few others don’t seem to agree. The egg white in the macarons you see in these photos were left out over night, but I’ll leave that choice up to you! Planning ahead is hard sometimes, am I right?

Instructions:
(If you’re a first-timer to macarons, consider watching this short video tutorial. It’s incredibly helpful, but please bear in mind that the recipe in the video is not the same as the one in this post.)

  1. First, make the ganache. It takes longer to set up than it takes to make the macarons, so it can even be made the day before. Place the chocolate in a small bowl, then heat the cream to near boiling. I heat the cream in the microwave out of laziness, but the stovetop is fine. Pour the heated cream over the chocolate, and whisk until smooth. Then whisk in the powdered sugar, vanilla and orange oil. Refrigerate, covered, until set up and ready to use.
  2. Next preheat the oven to 300 F (or 150 C). As mentioned earlier, you may need to adjust this based on your oven and your climate. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Some prefer a Silpat to prevent spreading, but my macarons stuck to that.
  3. Measure out all your ingredients, then blend together the powdered sugar, almond flour, and cocoa powder in a blender or food processor for a couple minutes until there are no lumps. Sift this mixture or run it through a sieve.
  4. Using a stand mixer or electric hand mixer, and preferably a stainless steel bowl, begin whipping the egg whites on medium high speed. Once the egg whites begin to rise and hold their shape, gradually beat in the granulated sugar. Whip until the meringue has stiff peaks, about two to three minutes.
  5. Using a rubber spatula, carefully fold the dry ingredients into the meringue in two or three separate batches. Fold until your batter passes the “ribbon test.” When you lift up the spatula and let a ribbon of batter fall across the batter in the bowl, the ribbon should sink in and disappear in 30 seconds. Really try to avoid mixing past this point!
  6. Fill a pastry bag with the batter, and pipe small circles (about 1 inch or 3 cm in diameter) onto the parchment paper, spaced 1 inch (3 cm) apart. Use a template if you need to. They should pipe out like slightly droopy Hershey kisses at first if you mixed to the proper consistency, but they will flatten in a moment. Rap the baking sheet on the counter top a few times to help them flatten and eliminate bubbles.
  7. This next step is optional: Let the piped macarons rest for 20 minutes to two hours before baking. David Lebovitz and Fauchon baker Rob both deem this step unnecessary. In my successful batches, those that rested while the first batch baked did rise a bit more, but the difference wasn’t enough for me to find the resting time necessary. You make the call.
  8. Finally, bake the macarons 14-18 minutes, until you hear a slight hollow sound when tapping the top, a thin shell and nice feet have formed, and before they become dry and crunchy. When I take them out of the oven, I gently lift up the parchment paper and mist the sheet with water, then set the parchment paper back down. The resultant steam helps the cookies to release more easily, but you may not find this necessary. Cool the shells completely before removing them.
  9. Pair up shells of matching size, slather on some ganache, and make a cookie sandwich! Flavors are best after the macarons sit for a day. Store in an airtight container for up to five days, or freeze. Recipe yields approximately 15 small macarons (assembled).

Dark Chocolate Orange Macarons | Milk & Cereal

While my recent adventures are nowhere near as cool as Laura’s, I’ll leave you with a couple snippets just for the fun of it. :)

apple orchard

Rob and I didn’t really have any good and current photos of the two of us (aside from our three-year-old wedding photos), so we hired our highly talented friend to take our photos in a local apple orchard. It was great fun, and the photos are beautiful! Photo cred: Chantell Lauren Photography.

(That reminds me– I believe a “Happy Anniversary” to Laura and Aaron is in order! Or almost in order… Okay in a few months. But mark your calendars for November, people! Thanks Ali, you sweet thing… I cannot believe that you remembered our anniversary! Hugs!)

photo 1

Last weekend we went to Colorado to visit my mom. We all stayed at a neat old cabin in Breckenridge, and though the weather was cold and rainy much of the time, we did manage to get in a bit of hiking. Our bodies were missing the rich oxygen levels of North Dakota’s low altitude, but Rob and I sure do love the mountains! Unfortunately, our home state is flat as a pancake. :/ So we are most thankful for the opportunities we have to travel!

It’s been a pleasure being here at Laura’s Mess! Thanks for taking the time to peruse my ramblings. Now resume your regular scheduled programming. ;)

© Milk & Cereal. All images & content are copyright protected. Please do not use my images without prior permission. If you want to republish this recipe, please re-write the recipe in your own words, or link back to this post for the recipe.

Big, Beautiful Berlin

kksunset2

It’s quite a daunting prospect to write a singular blog post on the rich, diverse food culture of Berlin. After staying in the city for almost two weeks, I still felt like I had only scratched the surface of what it means to be a ‘Berliner’, both in past and present sense.

As you may be aware, Berlin has a significant and dark history that was arguably punctuated by the construction and eventual dismantling of the Berlin Wall. The division between East and West Berlin has resulted in discernible differences across the city in terms of landscape, affluence, culture and population. As one could expect, this has also had impact upon the food.

adalbertstraße

As a newbie to this big, beautiful city, I was fortunate to have some help from a blogging friend to begin exploring some of the local hot spots including Neukölln, Mitte and Kreuzberg. The lovely Claudia from Food with a View spent one morning and one evening with Aaron and I (the second occasion with her partner Arne and our friend Paul) initially at Barcomi’s Deli and secondly at Prinzessinnengärten, an urban garden and café near Moritzplatz. Both experiences were beautiful opportunities to get to know one another whilst enjoying quality coffee, snacks and incredible homemade truffles from Claudia’s kitchen.

Claudia also gifted me with some stunning Amarena cherry and Amaretto liqueur preserve which I’m taking it home to Australia with me (thankfully Claudia has posted the recipe for when my jewel-like jar of deliciousness runs out!).

Thanks again Claudia for your generosity and kindness during our time in Berlin; it’s a blessing to count you as a true friend. If you haven’t yet discovered Food with a View, please head over to Claudia’s blog for beautiful photographs and drool-worthy vegetarian recipes in both Deutsch and English.

mebeer

Prior to arriving in Berlin, Claudia emailed me a comprehensive list of notes, links and tips that proved invaluable when trying to unearth the real foodie culture of Berlin. I’ve included some of the websites below, plus a few others that Aaron and I found useful (which I’d recommend browsing if you are planning your own Berlin trip in the future):

Berlin blogs (in English language or with an English option):

Exberliner

Where Berlin

Berlin Food Guide

CeeCee Berlin Newsletter

What Should I Eat for Breakfast Today – Eat Berlin

Now, on to my own personal notes: below you will find some of our favourite places for food and cuture, most of which were frequented more than once over our two weeks in Berlin. Please note, I’ve divided the notes by ‘geographical area’ (i.e. boroughs of Berlin) so that you can plan your future trip(s) accordingly.

Strap in and enjoy a ‘virtual visit’ to what has become one of my favourite cities in the world: big, beautiful Berlin.

A kindly warning before you start: this post is word and picture heavy. Sorry, we had about three million photographs and… well, I loved them all. **Note: associated pictures are BEFORE the name of each establishment.

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Neukölln

During our time in Berlin, Aaron and I continued to gravitate back to Neukölln despite visiting many other local destinations. The combination of grittiness, grunge and flourishing street art was a ‘perfect fit’ for our personalities. Neukölln has one of the highest percentages of immigrants in the city of Berlin and it shows in the vibrant food and street culture. Here are some of our favourite spots:

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Roamers Cafe and Booze – Pannierstraße 64 (near Hermanplatz station)

This lovely little café has a friendliness that was unmatched by many other destinations in Neukölln. It’s a great spot for good coffee, avocado toast (my favourite breakfast) and fresh juices (including melon and rosemary). They also serve booze which is, well, awesome, if you’re a bit like me. It’s an excuse to stay at this gem-of-a-place for hours on end.

berlinburgersign beefburger berlinburger chickenburger

Berlin Burger International – Pannierstraße 5, open from 12pm to midnight

If you’re a fan of doorstopper burgers and beer, you will immediately fall in love with Berlin Burger International. This place is constantly busy for a very good reason. We visited twice during our two weeks in Berlin, initially for Chilli Cheese and Chicken burgers and secondly for Halloumi (a vegetarian option) and Four Cheese. Each burger was better than the last, piled high with fresh salads, bacon and sauce. Go there. You won’t regret it (I haven’t even mentioned the chips… oh my).

Café Myxa – Lenaustraße 22

This place rocks. It’s open til about 1am most nights for booze, breakfast, salads, quiches, great coffee… and free wifi, which always helps. We ventured to Myxa both for breakfast and late-night drinks; both occasions were met with great service and food. They’re also great supporters of local art and music, so check their website for occasional exhibitions and dreamy acoustic sets in the evenings.

dj drink

Art und Weise – Leinenstraße 48

This small bar is quite difficult to identify from the street (as it has no signage) however the venture is definitely worth it. Quality cocktails in an eclectic setting. As per Myxa, this place is a huge supporter of local artists so there’s usually an exhibition going on.

barinterior drinks

Sowieso – Weisestraße 24

Our favourite Berlin bar (yes, I’m calling it). We returned to Sowieso three times within two weeks for quality cocktails (the cheapest on the street), board games, rocking music and… well, just to mix with the locals. It’s definitely not a touristy establishment. You can also sleep in the bath (if you so desire. No further information; you’ll just have to go there to see what I’m talking about!).

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Klunker Kranich – Karl Marx Straße 66, Neukölln Arcaden (rooftop bar, level 6 carpark)

This open air bar is a bit of a hidden gem. Located in the rooftop carpark of Neukölln’s biggest shopping mall, Klunker Kranich serve giant glasses of wine, quality cocktails and delicious local beers in an ‘urban garden’ setting with woodfired pizzas and couches a-plenty. There’s even a sandpit for the kids (or adults, depending upon what you fancy).

kr23 kr23office bottles23

KR/23 Liquor Company – Weserstraße 53

Also worth mentioning is the tiny shoebox office of the LQR Company. This group of passionate young Germans have long been known as importers of fine whisky and gin but, more recently, they’ve started making their own small-batch kräuterliquör (herb liqueur; think to Jägermeister but MUCH nicer) under the brand KR/23. As per the title, KR/23 contains 23 unique herbs, spices and botanicals, all of which are left to macerate in vodka for approximately 6 weeks before being filtered and bottled. It’s dangerously delicious… but unfortunately, they’re not presently taking online orders. You’ll just have to visit Florian (hello Florian!) yourself for a chat, sample and (yes, it’ll happen) purchase.

Freidrichshain-Kreuzberg

This neighbouring borough to Neukölln has a similar vibe and became our second-favourite part of Berlin city. Freiderichshain was a free-standing borough to Kreuzberg prior to 2001; it was formerly part of East Berlin and has become known for its ‘trendy’ restaurants and bars. Kreuzberg on the other hand has become known for its punk rock culture and large proportion of Turkish immigrants (which in turn has led to the availability of some incredibly authentic Turkish food). We loved everything.

Kaffebar – Graefestraße 8, Kreuzberg

This little café has hands-down the best panini’s in Berlin (that I tried, anyway). They make their own pesto and a great Eggs Benedict. Their coffee was my second favourite in the city (read on for my favourite below), creamy and delicious with just the right amount of bitterness. There are many delicious options for vegans, too.

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Bonanza Coffee Heroes – Oderbergerstraße 35, Kreuzberg

Best coffee in Berlin (according to me, anyway). This café has a very limited range of food or other beverages but the coffee alone is worth the hike.

marketvanpulledpork icecream

Markthalle Neun – Eisenbahnstraße 42/43, Kreuzberg

This place is amazing. It’s a varied venue but we visited purely for the Thursday 7pm food market which beats with incredible food, booze, eclectic people and general energy. Get there before 10pm for pulled pork sandwiches, Asian char siew rolls, handmade pies, delicious ice cream cookies, black bean, guacamole and jalapeno arepas with charred chorizo… need I say more? We went twice in two weeks. That’s testament enough.

Gipfeltreffen – Gorlitzerstraße 68, Kreuzberg

This beautiful cafe cum restaurant is right near the green expanse of Gorlitzer park. We visited on a sunny Summer day and sat outside in the balmy evening breeze; though in saying that, this little place provides delicious breakfast options that are worth the slightly higher price (than many other cafes in Kreuzberg). Pretty decent coffee, too.

prinzessenningartenfoozeball

Prinzessinengärten – Prinzessenstraße (Moritzplatz), Kreuzberg

Prinzessinengärten started as a pilot project in the summer of 2009 at Moritzplatz in Berlin Kreuzberg, a site which had been a wasteland for over half a century. A group of dedicated volunteers cleared away rubbish, built transportable organic vegetable plots and reaped the first fruits of their labour. it’s now become a community garden (where people can participate in growing and harvesting processes) with a bar and organic cafe. Go along to meet some of the dedicated individuals who run the urban garden whilst eating beautiful, moist apple cake.

Aunt Benny Café (the Antlered Bunny) – Oderstraße 7, Freiderichshain

This cafe is a little off the Kreuzberg beaten track but the hike is worth it for incredible bagels and to-order mixes of cream cheese. They also serve stunning cakes, juices and great coffee. Do it.

market marketdoor lemonaid

Neue Heimat – Revaler Straße 99, Freiderichshain

Neue Heimat is an awesome market space that offers a range of bars, food, music, art and design, brac-a-brac… everything you could hope for in a thumping event. We attended the Summer Market launch at the beginning of August… unfortunately this season ends on 27/08/2014 but I’d recommend checking their facebook page for events that pop up throughout the year.

Mitte

Mitte (translating to ‘middle’ or ‘centre’ in German) is Claudia’s favourite area in Berlin and I can definitely understand why. It’s vastly different to the gritty area of Neukölln, with clean, calm streets that are distinctly more quiet in the late hours. Mitte is the historical heart of Berlin, containing the Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate and Berlin Wall Memorial. There are also many quality cafes, shopping areas and (most outstandingly) glorious sandwiches. Read on.

barcomisbagel

Barcomi’s – Sophie Gips-Höfe, Sophienstraße 21 (near Weinmeisterstraße station)

This lovely New York Style deli has become a Berlin icon due to the fame of its creator, Cynthia Barcomi, who has now written several cookbooks. Aaron and I visited with Claudia (in part due to the fact that its hidden courtyard entry is quite difficult to find for a non-local) and sat in the beautiful outdoor courtyard whilst munching on bagels and a vegetarian plate (with dips, salads, cheeses and fruit salad). Barcomi’s also offers a range of New York style cheesecakes and slices that won’t disappoint.

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Mogg and Melzer – Auguststraße 11-13

This eatery has reached internet fame for a very good reason. Located inside a former Jewish school for girls, Mogg and Melzer specialize in New York style pastrami sandwiches, pulled pork and to-die for Reubens. Each sandwich is served with a pickled gherkin and a side of coleslaw. So, so good. I would travel back to Berlin just for the Reuben (seriously).

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Another couple of interesting (to me, anyway) facts about Berlin:

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1. Wasps. Throughout the warmer months, Berlin has a bit of a wasp problem. They’ll be crawling under the glass on pastry counters, they’ll plague you as you eat (particularly sweet things) and they’ll often crawl into sugar dispensers with spouts that are left on outside tables. As Claudia advised me, “Berlin wasps are easily provoked”, so… just accept it. Tips from the locals: 1) always check your beer bottle for wasps before taking a sip, 2) bang any sugar dispensers horizontally on a table to ensure any wasps fly out before directing it towards your coffee, 3) if they keep coming near your face, gently guide them away with a napkin or piece of paper. Most restaurants have anti-wasp devices (aka jars of honey or nectar, see below) near outside areas to distract wasps from their customers. Interesting.

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2. Smoking. For an Australian used to strict anti-smoking rules in public areas, Berlin’s acceptance of smoking is rather overwhelming. Whether it be shisha pipe, cigar or cigarette, you’ll probably find someone smoking within five metres of your person. I ended up getting headaches from passive smoking after a few hours… not very good. But it’s unavoidable. roamers pizza

3. There’s so much good food that you’ll forget where you ate it all. Like the pizza above; crisp speck with creme fraiche, chives and Spanish onion. So good. From a beer garden somewhere. SO GOOD. breadmantonsteinegarten

So that’s it. My little foodie tour of Berlin, written whilst sitting on the floor of my Uncle’s apartment in (currently dreary) Surrey, England. If you’re heading to Berlin sometime soon, I do hope that you’ll track down some of the delicious haunts that I’m already missing. At the very least, please have a beer for me. Okay?

Prost!

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Leaving Sweden + Gun’s Köttbullar (Swedish Meatballs)

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It’s a bittersweet day today. As I write, I’m aboard an aircraft due to arrive in Berlin, Germany, in approximately half an hour. Pretty darn exciting. But in spite of our pending German adventures, I’m carrying a weight on my chest that refuses to dissipate. I’m sad to be leaving Sweden behind.

The last two weeks have passed in a blur of nasal congestion and activity. Fourteen days of precious family time, the highlight of which was my cousin’s wedding last Saturday night. Aaron and I felt incredibly honoured, humbled and blessed just to be on the guest list, never mind being part of the family. My cousin and her groom are two of those rare gems that you hope to meet in a lifetime: warm, generous, fun and completely genuine. It was a privilege to see them commit the rest of their lives to one another, surrounded by those who love them the most.

It’s been fifteen days since I wrote the two paragraphs above. Over the past two weeks, Aaron and I have traveled from Malmö (Sweden) to Copenhagen (Denmark) to Berlin and Munich (Germany). This morning, we boarded a train to Venice (Italy) where we will spend the next three days before traveling to Florence, Siena and Rome.

Tiring? Yeah, a little. But after seven years without an overseas adventure, I’m savouring every moment.

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sunsetAnyway, in my last post I promised to share my Aunt’s Swedish meatball recipe with you. However fragmented internet access has delayed my intentions. Below, you will find the notes that I took whilst cooking with my Aunt several weeks ago. As you can see, measurements are approximate (largely as my Aunt adds seasoning by sight rather than precise quantity). The recipe is rather forgiving, however I’ll add any adjustments as required when I have the opportunity to recreate this recipe at home.

But for now, please enjoy this second visit to my Aunt and Uncle’s Swedish kitchen. Thanks again Uncle Harlen, Aunty Gun, Nattis, Rach, Dani (and the little ones) for your immense generosity, warmth and love. Until we meet again.

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Gun’s Köttbullar (Swedish Meatballs)

Makes approximately 70 meatballs

  • 800g pork mince (not too lean, you need a little fat for moisture)
  • 800g good quality beef mince
  • ½ cup breadcrumbs
  • 2 tbsp whole milk
  • 1 egg, to bind
  • lots of seasoning, probably about 3 tsp total (my Aunt uses Aromat seasoned salt, citron pepper (lemon pepper) and mixed ground pepper; if you’re game, season and mix before dabbing a tiny bit of mince on your tongue. It should be rather salty, as the seasoning will lessen after frying)
  • 1 tsp white caster sugar
  • 1 brown onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed (optional)
  • plain flour, for rolling
  • butter* for frying
  • To serve: boiled potatoes (season with salt), steamed green peas or beans, lingön sylt (lingonberry sauce; available at most IKEA stores) and brunsås (brown gravy).

In a small dish, combine breadcrumbs and milk. Stir well. Leave to soak for five minutes (or until the breadcrumbs have expanded to absorb all of the liquid).

Add to a large bowl with the pork and beef mince, egg, onion, garlic (if using), sugar and seasonings. Mix well (you may need to use your hands).

mincemixing mixing

When combined, dab a tiny bit of mince onto your tongue to check for saltiness. If you can’t taste salt, add more (my Aunt advises that it is better for it to be a ‘tiny bit too salty’ as the seasoning will be less intense after frying).

When you are happy with the flavour of your mince, place it in the refrigerator for 10 minutes to chill (this might not be necessary on a cold day). Prepare a shallow bowl of flour for rolling and dab about 1 tbsp of butter into a heavy-based frying pan in preparation for frying.

When your mixture is firm and sufficiently chilled, roll 1 tbsp of mixture into a firm ball. Gently toss the meatball into the flour mixture, ensuring an even coating. Tap off any excess flour and place the meatball onto a clean plate in preparation for frying. Repeat with the remaining meat mixture and flour.

rolled

To fry: heat the butter over medium heat until frothy. Add the meatballs in an even layer (you may need to cook three batches to avoid overcrowding the pan) and turn the heat up to medium-high. Fry on each side for 2-3 minutes or until browned and cooked through. frying

Drain on paper towels before serving 6-10 meatballs per person. For a traditional Swedish meal, accompany the meatballs with brunsås, lingön sylt, plenty of boiled potatoes and green beans.

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*Do not substitute oil for butter in the frying stage or the meatballs will not taste the same. If you’re concerned about the butter burning, add a splash of neutral flavoured oil to the pan alongside the butter.

malmowaterfrontreflection

Kanelbullar (Swedish Cinnamon Buns)

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With each day that passes, I feel more and more blessed to be in Malmö, Sweden. Each morning, Aaron and I have woken to dappled light through curtains and the gentle sound of waves against the nearby pier.

Upon entering the kitchen, we’ve been met with a heaving table full of rye bread, cold cuts, various cheeses, jordgubbe marmelad (strawberry jam), fruit, butter and hot tea. The generosity of this spread has only been surpassed by the warmth of my Uncle and Aunt’s hospitality; they are truly the most beautiful of people and I feel blessed to call them family.

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Despite suffering from a persistent cold over the past week, I’ve seen quite a lot of the Southern part of Sweden (Skåne). We’ve eaten fried herring and gravadlax (cured salmon) by the seaside, climbed the rocks of Ales Stenar in Kåseberga and toured the town of Ystad (of Henning Mankell’s Wallander fame). We’ve also taken multiple trips down to Malmö harbor to sit, breathe and watch the sun set. 

Last week, we also become acquainted with a Swedish specialty, Kalles Kaviar and uh… the video series below pretty much reflects my tasting experience. Let’s just call it ‘Swedish Vegemite‘.

 

However, despite the negative Kalles experience, there are many Swedish foods that I’ve actually loved. Surprisingly, one is Mimosa Sallad (a mixture of fruit and mayonnaise, to be eaten with cold cuts and bread) which I’ve pretty much eaten every morning since I arrived. Yes, I dislike mayonnaise, but… it’s good. Go figure.

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Last Sunday, my Uncle and Aunt also treated me to a day of Swedish cooking lessons, beginning with Kanelbullar (Swedish cinnamon buns) and ending with Köttbullar (Swedish meatballs).

After an afternoon of kneading, mixing, frying, chatting and drooling in a cinnamon-scented cloud, the entire family came over for a traditional Swedish dinner: piles of köttbullar, boiled potatoes, peas, brown gravy and lingon sylt (lingonberry jam) followed by hot coffee and warm kanelbullar.

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Aaron and I were in Swedish food heaven. So were the rest of the family, judging from the contented sounds and expressions around the table. By the end of the night, our table of seven adults and two children had devoured around thirty kanelbullar. It’s not our fault, they were baked whilst the köttbullar were frying, so… uh, we ate a few as an entree. And a few more with hot milk before going to bed.

Warm cinnamon buns can do that to you.

My Uncle and Aunt were both kind enough to share their recipes with me so that both you and I could reproduce traditional Swedish fare at home. Today I’m sharing my Uncle’s recipe for kanelbullar (which was passed to him from his friend Annette) so get ready to enter your own cinnamon scented cloud of sweet content…

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Kanelbullar (Swedish Cinnamon Buns)

Makes 40

Please note: I had a little bit of trouble with metric conversions (as Swedish cooks tend to use ‘litres’ and ‘decilitres’ for measurement of dry ingredients) but hopefully the quantities below are correct; please let me know if you have any difficulties.

Dough:

  • 50g fresh yeast
  • 150g salted butter or margarine
  • 500ml milk
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 175g white caster sugar
  • 1.5kg plain flour

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Add the milk, salt and sugar into the butter, then heat until ‘finger warm’ (lukewarm). Transfer into a large bowl and crumble in the fresh yeast. Stir until completely dissolved.

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At this point you can either use your hands (old-fashioned kneading) or use a mixer with a dough hook attachment. If using a mixer, gradually add in the flour until the mixture forms a ball (there should be no visible flour left in the bowl). The dough should be smooth and non-sticky to touch. Cover with a clean tea-towel and leave in a warm, draught-free place to rest for 30 minutes.

If hand-kneading, turn the mixture out onto a clean, floured surface when the flour is thoroughly combined. Knead until the dough is smooth and non-sticky (my Finnish/Swedish aunty said that her mother used to ‘throw the dough on the table for the yeast to activate’). Return to the bowl, cover with a clean tea-towel and leave in a warm, draught-free place for 30 minutes or until doubled in size.

dough

Whilst the dough is resting, make your filling as follows.

ingredients

Filling:

  • 120g salted butter or margarine, softened
  • 1 1/2 tbsp vanilla sugar*
  • 100g white caster sugar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp powdered cinnamon
  • to glaze: 1 free-range egg, lightly whisked

Add all ingredients to a bowl and whisk by hand or with a whisk attachment until smooth, thick and creamy.

* If you can’t find vanilla sugar, just add in an extra tablespoon of caster sugar and about 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste.

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Set aside in a cool place (not the fridge, as it’ll be too difficult to spread later) until the dough is thoroughly rested.

To assemble:

Set out two flat oven trays. Place 20 paper patty pan cases onto each, then set aside.

Prepare the kanelbullar: after 30 minutes, your dough should have doubled in size. Turn it onto a floured surface and punch out the air. Cut the dough into four pieces for easy rolling, then roll the first piece into a large rectangle (about 5mm thick).

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Evenly spread 1/4 of the cinnamon filling over the dough with a butter knife or spatula.

Roll the dough away from you into a tight cylinder.

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Cut into ten pieces (about 3cm for each), then place each piece into a patty pan case (cut side up).

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Repeat with the rest of the dough and filling.

Cover each tray of kanelbullar with a clean tea-towel and leave in a warm, draught-free place for another 30 minutes or until doubled in size.

Half way through the second resting time, pre-heat your oven to 225 degrees C (435 degrees f). When the kanelbullar have rested, use a pastry brush to glaze each bun with beaten egg.

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Bake each tray for 8-10 minutes or until risen and light golden brown.

These buns are best eaten warm, straight out of the oven with a hot cup of coffee. They definitely won’t last long (the picture below is annoyingly out of focus as little fingers were moving too fast… but I love it anyway. My cousin’s five year old daughter managed to eat five kanelbullar on her own, with keen fingers and an excited grin. Impressive!).

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If you don’t consume these buns within two days, freeze them in an airtight container or bag for up to one month (just microwave each bun for a few seconds until warm and soft again).

läcker!

Five Days in Paris

galerielafayetteroofIt’s just past seven in the evening in sunny Malmö, Sweden. I’m sitting on my Uncle and Aunt’s balcony, nursing a can of Brygg (Swedish beer) as the sun slowly dips over the Öresund sound.

It’s very peaceful here. Peaceful and restorative, which is wonderful in consideration of my recently-acquired head cold. I spent the majority of a sunny Tuesday in bed, cursing the result of five wet days in the Parisian rain. As our Air bnb host (Luc Perrin) sympathised, “…vous êtes très malchanceux!” (‘you are very unlucky!’). But regardless, we enjoyed every minute.

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aaronmapNow, I should probably write a forewarning on this post: it’s very picture heavy. Aaron and I were kind of (or a lot) overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of the city itself, never mind the abundance of food.

I’m not going to attempt to produce any sort of ‘city guide’ in this post as we were only in Paris for five poorly-researched rainy days (Aaron actually called me a ‘bad foodie’ as I had no idea where to eat; uh, guilty as charged). However, if you’d like some more extensive (and well-researched) notes on food stalls, attractions and restaurants, I’d encourage you to head over to Erika’s blog The Pancake Princess for her Europe travel update or Erin’s blog The Law Student’s Wife for a beautiful recap of her and Ben’s recent trip to Paris and other regions of France. Both blogs are guaranteed to pull you into the rich and delicious tapestry of French cuisine and culture.

So, without further ado: here’s our Paris scrapbook. I hope that you enjoy the visual journey.

fruitAll of the berries.

I was squealing over these plump little beauties like a child in a candy store. They put Australian berries to shame with their smooth, glossy skins and juicy, sweet flesh. I bought every type I could see and devoured them exuberantly, with keen fingers, stained teeth and juice running down my chin.

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Markets.

Oh, the markets. Near our accommodation in Montmartre, each and every street was blessed with small shops selling everything from fromage (cheese) to fruits de mer (seafood). I wanted to buy everything from every boulangerie (bakery) and all of the beurre (butter) I could see.

I would fly to France just for the butter.

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Stohrer.

This shop deserves its own category. Established in 1730 by King Louis XV’s pastry chef Nicolas Stohrer, the oldest pastry shop in Paris continues to produce wonderfully intricate delights for the general public 7 days per week. Stohrer – Patissier Traiteur – 51 Rue Montorgueil 75002, Paris.

stohrersaladbar stohrer stohrerpies stohrersaladHappy hour.

Usually from about 17:00 to 21:00 (5pm to 9pm) in almost every Parisian bar and bistro. Cheap pints and cocktails. Do eeeeet.

pub tableartStreet art.

Aaron and I are suckers for all sorts of meaningful graffiti and well-placed street embellishments. There are many wonderful pieces to see all over Paris. These are just a few of our snaps.

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People in places.

And lots of pigeons.

pigeonfeeding people chezmarianne windowBaguettes.

Even on magnets, apparently. I ate half a baguette almost every morning, slathered with French butter and confiture (jam). After two days I started copying the local Parisians by dipping my folded baguette into hot coffee. So delicious.

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Oh, and buttery, flaky croissants. Yes.

croissantsThe greenest jardins (gardens).

Most of these photographs were taken at Le Jardin des Plantes. They’ve hardly been edited; the stunning shades of green seemed other-worldly for this Australian who struggles to keep pot plants alive.

jardindesplantes trees flowers applesSights.

Almost every building, bridge and road you see in Paris contains ridiculous beauty and cultural significance. We have about three hundred photographs in tribute to this. Here’s 1%.

louvre tube locksSo that’s the end of chapter one of our European sojourn. Stay tuned for sweet stories of meatballs, lingonsylt, gravadlax, Swedish rye bread and time spent with family in Malmö. Very soon.

Barbecued Chilli Con Carne with Beer

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In case you missed my last post, Aaron and I are now three days into a European adventure which began in Paris on Wednesday 9th July, 2014. To keep the blog running during my absence, a few wonderful blogger friends have offered to contribute guest recipe posts for your reading (and cooking) pleasure over the next few months (yes, the blogger network is amazing).

First off the block is my talented friend Matt, a mutual Mexican food and beer lover who blogs over at Inspired Food. As he mentions below, we met last year at the Eat Drink Blog conference hosted by Perth City Farm and ever since, we’ve maintained a passionate dialogue about everything food and beer related (yeah, you could say that the post below perfectly encapsulates our foodie friendship!).

I’ll be posting a travel update soonish (with plenty of photographs of golden croissants, warm brioche, soft white cheese and wild strawberries… don’t hate me) but for now, it’s over-and-out as I hand over to Matt! Enjoy!


It’s mid afternoon. The sun is hidden behind an army of clouds, occasionally peeking its head through the cracks. The wind has a cold sting as it brushes past my face and I take comfort in the warmth radiating from the charcoal barbecue. Smoke fills the air as a cast iron pot simmers away, filling my soul with joy about what’s to come…

You see, I’ve been sitting here for over three hours watching the barbecue and tending to that cast iron pot of goodness (ensuring I don’t burn down the backyard!). Thankfully I’m sitting with good company and an Esky full of cold beer (I’m sure Laura would agree that it is never too cold for beer, especially when there is a barbecue involved! Yes, Laura does!).

That is all it takes: a little time, a little fire, a little beer and some of your favourite people.

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Hi, my name is Matt. For those of you who haven’t noticed me stalking this page, I too run a little recipe blog over at Inspired Food. Laura and I have known each other for quite some time now, initially coming across each others blogs in cyberspace and eventually meeting up at the Eat Drink Blog conference in 2013. Since then, there have been a number of awesome dinners (The Moroccan Table and The Spanish Table) with Laura and her husband Aaron, Jemima (from Feed your Soul, Perth) and her sister Lexi, Alyssa (my beautiful girlfriend) and of course myself. I’m sure there will be many more to come.

When Laura asked for contributions from guest bloggers while she travels the northern hemisphere, I jumped straight in and volunteered to spend some of my time rambling. This was more of a natural instinct to help a friend out and I hadn’t actually given much thought as to what I would post about. After many late nights trawling the internet, searching through my cookbooks and watching reruns of Jamie Oliver (ok, yes that is just a regular occurrence but shhh!) I finally came up with the perfect post.

Chilli Con Carne-1994

You see, Laura and I share some common interests: we both love beer, we both love Mexican food and we both love Jamie Oliver’s style of cooking. Naturally, once I realized this, all I had to do was combine these three things and I’d be onto a winner.

Combining beer, Mexican and a ‘Jamie approach’ to cooking was really easy once I came to that conclusion. I had just watched episode two of Jamie’s American Road Trip (you know, the one where he hangs out with the cowboys and makes his cowboy chilli?) and that was my inspiration for this post. I wanted to feel the heat from the barbecue, drink beer and cook something amazing.

Chilli Con Carne-2005

I have always wanted to cook something with beef brisket but it’s quite difficult to find here in Australia. Supermarkets tend to favour corned Silverside. I’d suggest you give your butcher a call a few days before to make sure they carry it (and if they don’t they will have time to get it in). Brisket is the perfect cut of beef for slow cooking; granted there is a little preparation involved but it is well worth it. The beer adds a lot of body to the chilli and depending on the type of beer you choose, the options are endless.

Below you will find my recipe for a Tex-Mex style ‘Beer Chilli Con Carne’. Inspired (of course) by Jamie Oliver’s cowboy chilli (‘Chilli Con Jamie‘).

Chilli Con Carne-2062

Barbecued Chilli Con Carne with Beer (of course)

Serves 6-8 hungry people

What you’ll need:

  • 2kg beef brisket, cut into 3 cm cubes
  • 2 red onions, sliced
  • 5 gloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2 fresh long red chillies, chopped
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp smoked paprika
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tsp chilli powder (add more if you like it hot)
  • 1 bottle of beer (pick your favourite, I used about 500ml of India Pale Ale)
  • 4x 400g tins of tomatoes 
  • 1 square of dark chocolate
  • 400g tin of red kidney beans (or your favourite bean) 
  • 2 capsicums (bell peppers), sliced
  • a handful of chopped coriander (cilantro) roots
  • sour cream, to serve
  • coriander (cilantro) leaves, to garnish 
  • rice and flat bread to serve

Now What?

This couldn’t be easier to make, simply get your barbecue started, add a splash of oil, add the onions and chillies and cook for 3-4 minutes until softened.

Chilli Con Carne-2015

Add the spices and cook for another 2 minutes.

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Then add the beer and continue to cook for a further 5 minutes.

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Add the tomatoes, mashing up any whole ones with the back of the spoon. Add the chocolate, coriander (cilantro) roots and meat.

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Mix well, cover and cook for 3 hours or until the meat pulls apart with a couple of forks.

Add the beans and capsicums (and more chilli if your game). Then cook for a further 30 minutes.

Remove the lid, add the sour cream, coriander and start eating. This is best served with rice and flat bread (like warm tortillas) with plenty of cold beers. 

Chilli Con Carne-2074

Thanks again Matt for an incredible guest post… I am definitely trying this recipe as soon as I get home! For more inspiration from Matt, please check out his blog (Inspired Food) and associated facebook, Instagram and twitter!

Chilli Con Carne-1998

Writing Process Blog Tour

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In exactly one week’s time, I will be dragging a suitcase through the cobbled streets of Montmarte, Paris. I will be basking in French sunshine, buttering chunks of crisp baguette and selecting macarons from the hallowed halls of Laduree. Granted, I will also be suffering from jetlag but… hey, I won’t care. I’ll officially be on holidays (insert grin here).

Despite recklessly embracing a holiday mindset, my aim is for this blog to continue to produce quality content throughout the entirety of my European sojourn. Yes, there will be a few travel updates here and there, but I’m aiming for the bulk of posts to contain recipes – both of my own creation and that of some incredibly talented blogging friends.

First up this month will be Matt from Inspired Food with a delicious recipe for a slow-cooked barbecue feast (how he managed to create, write and photograph it in the middle of house building and puppy buying, I have no idea, but I’m glad he did!). I’ve also got Alice from Hip Foodie Mom and Ali from Milk & Cereal waiting in the wings, so get ready for some drool-worthy recipe content over the next couple of months!

Anyway, back to today’s post: the Writing Process Blog Tour. If you haven’t heard of the concept yet, the ‘tour’ is basically a nominated chain of posts from bloggers who write about… well, writing. As you will see below, you receive four designated questions that explore individual writing projects and technique. I have no idea where the chain originated but if you simply Google ‘Writing Process Blog Tour’ you’ll see that there have been lots of posts. Lots. A cool 20 million or so.

I received two invitations to take part from bloggers whom I admire greatly, Susan at The Wimpy Vegetarian and Wendy from Chez Chloe. Despite some initial reluctance on my part (if you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ll realize that I very rarely participate in chain activities) I decided that it would be a useful exercise for me to reflect upon why I do what I do. That is, how and why do I blog?

So, below you will find my responses to the Writing Process Blog Tour. I’ve decided against nominating any particular bloggers to continue the chain; however if you’re interested in taking part, let me know in the comments section below (you would be most welcome!).

The four questions:

1. What am I working on?

This is a big question. To answer succinctly (but rather ambiguously) I’d probably just say ‘lots of things’ but to break it down a bit further: I’m in the middle of writing a recipe for cinnamon apple cheesecake for this blog, I’ve got a half-finished novel on my laptop, I’m still attempting to update my second (much neglected) blog, Second-Hand Stories, I’m writing a recipe column for the Challenge newspaper, I’m editing a photographic shoot for a client and I’m developing recipes and doing some writing for a cookbook (no other information to be disclosed as yet!). Oh, and I also work full-time. It’s rather busy… but fun.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I don’t really know if my blog differs from others of its genre; you (the reader) would probably be a better judge of that. However, if I was pressed for an answer I’d probably respond by saying that Laura’s Mess is a little less styled and more narrative-based than other food blogs. I like engaging in big, fat, juicy prose. I can be overly wordy on occasion. Rather frequently, my photographs are more of food or ingredients in their natural state than a styled finished product. I’m fascinated by tiny details. I never post a recipe unless I’m happy with the narrative that comes before it. I like to feel what I’m writing. I also despise obligations to post competitively in the over-saturated realm of food blogging, so… well, I doubt that I’ll ever become one of those ultra-successful people with lots of paid advertising, sponsors and a million submissions to Foodgawker. But that’s okay with me.

3. Why do I write what I do?

This is an easy one. I love food. I love eating it, creating it, writing about it and discovering its origins. I love sitting back with my eyes closed, thinking of rich descriptives and onomatopoeia. I love playing with colours, creating patterns and discovering new flavour profiles. I love making food from my past that rekindles positive associations. I also adore the aesthetic of food… textures, colours, dappled light and splatters of sticky sauce. That makes the photography aspect come easily. It would be truthful to say that I’ve always written about food. Last year, my husband and I discovered a ‘travel diary’ from the USA and Europe that I had written as a ten year old child. Underneath the battered cover were pages and pages of scribbled paragraphs and drawings of… you guessed it, food. At least you can describe me as ‘consistent’!

4. How does my writing process work?

My favourite place to write is on the three-seater couch by our tiny balcony. There’s a lot of natural light and a skyline for when my eyes get tired. On weekend mornings, my ritual is to make a cup of tea (usually Rooibos, occasionally Earl Grey or Chai with soy milk and honey) before sitting down with my notes and the laptop for a couple of hours. On weeknights, I wait until after dinner (when Aaron retreats to his study) before sitting with the computer and a Hendricks with tonic, ice and muddled rosemary… or a glass of red wine. I prefer silence when I write. It allows me to become lost in my own thoughts, recollections and senses. However, despite saying that I will occasionally sit and write at a nearby cafe or my local wine bar (with some good bread and labne) if I want to escape the house.

So that’s it. Profound? Uh, don’t answer that. Now, as previously mentioned, I’m supposed to end this post by passing the metaphorical baton onto three other bloggers who may want to share their own responses as part of the Writing Process Blog Tour. Are you keen? Let me know in the comments below!

Beef and Guinness Hand Pies

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It’s frosty this evening. Still, cold and soaked with winter rain. I’m sitting on the couch, tightly wrapped in a furry blue blanket. Despite just finishing dinner, I’m dreaming of food.

You may know by now that that’s not unusual. As a food blogger/recipe developer/carbohydrate and dairy obsessive, I think about food for at least 90% of my waking hours. Heck, sometimes I even dream about food. It’s rather good because… well, effectively I get to eat twice as much.

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Anyway, I digress. Tonight, I’m dreaming of one thing in particular: beef and Guinness hand pies. These gems were fashioned last weekend in partnership with my beautiful friend Erin who, for the record, makes the very best apple caramel cheesecake that I have ever tasted (I still need to steal her recipe). We drank tea, chatted, made spiced pumpkin soup and rolled pastry in clouds of flour. A few hours later, we ate glorious pockets of beef and gravy by the fireside in the best of company.

It was blissful, in every sense of the word.

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It’s now been six days since I ate those golden hand pies. Six long and arduous days, most of which were spent sitting in my shoebox office with dishwater coffee and a pile of paperwork. Between phone calls and assessments, I found my mind drifting towards crisp golden pastry, nuggets of tender beef and rich Guinness gravy. And pulled pork rolls, tacos and flax macarons but… well, mostly beef and gravy (see? all.the.time).

whisky whiskyglassbench

These little pies are easy on both the eyes and the stomach. Erin and I stole the bones of the recipe from the Australian Women’s Weekly cookbook, though as per usual it’s been considerably tweaked. The pies themselves can be assembled in a flash; the only involved component is making the filling (and the pastry, if you’re that way inclined). Both elements can be prepared the day before, chilled overnight and assembled in minutes before cooking.

If you can, eat these by the fireside. With a chaser of peat-bog whisky. Winter food at its best.

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Beef and Guinness Hand Pies
Adapted from Food We Love by The Australian Women’s Weekly

Makes 24 snack-sized pies

  • 500g beef skirt or chuck steak, finely diced
  • 1 medium brown onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 440ml can Guinness stout (we actually added an entire 750ml bottle and cooked it down for aaaages; do as you like! *substitute another stout if desired)
  • 1 cup (250ml) organic beef stock
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • 350g homemade shortcrust pastry (or 3 sheets ready-rolled)
  • 350g homemade rough puff (or 3 sheets ready-rolled)
  • 1 free-range egg, beaten lightly
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Heat the oil in a large, heavy based saucepan. Add beef and cook, stirring, until browned. Add the onion and cook until softened. Add in the flour, stirring until the mixture bubbles and is well browned.

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Gradually add in the stout and stock, stirring until the gravy boils and thickens. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Uncover and check for seasoning – add salt and pepper if necessary. Continue to simmer, uncovered, for another hour or until the gravy has reduced and thickened (it should appear thick and glossy; add a little cornflour slurry or cook for longer if required). Allow to cool.

Preheat oven to 220 degrees C (430 degrees f) until hot. Lightly grease 2 x 12 hole standard (1/4 – 1/3 cup capacity) muffin pans. Using a 10cm upturned bowl or pastry cutter, cut 24 rounds from the shortcrust pastry sheets. Using an 8cm upturned bowl or pastry cutter, cut 24 rounds from the remaining puff pastry.

Place one round of shortcrust pastry into each of the muffin holes, pressing lightly with your fingers to fit. Divide the beef filling between each pastry case (about 1 heaped tbsp each) and brush the edges with egg. Top with the rounds of puff pastry, pressing with your fingers to ensure that the edges are sealed. Brush with the remaining egg, then make a small slit in the top of each pie with a sharp knife.

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Bake pies for 15 – 20 minutes or until golden. Stand for 5 minutes in the pans before serving hot, with or without tomato sauce.

Note: Cooked pies can be frozen in an airtight container for up to 2 months (though I doubt that they’ll last that long)

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*Thanks to Wendy at Chez Chloe and Susan at The Wimpy Vegetarian for inviting me to be part of the Writing Process Blog Tour. I’m working on my responses and hope to post something by mid-next week!

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Brookwood Estate, Margaret River

glasseslogoblIt’s rather late on a quiet suburban Friday. The air is cool, clean and lingering, reddening my skin as fingers tap on plastic keys in the half-light. Today was the sixth official day of the Australian winter, cold but bright. A woollen blanket lies perched upon my lap, cushioning the weight of a softly humming laptop.

As I type, sleep gently beckons my tired eyes. I resist in stubborn audacity, scanning images of panko-crumbed oysters, syrupy Shiraz and dappled gold upon sprawling autumn vines. Click, adjust, save. Admire for a while. It’s photographic evidence of the blissful weekend-that-was and I love every pixel.

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If you’re a regular reader of the Mess, you’d be well aware of my endless love affair with Western Australia’s breathtaking south west food and wine region. I’ve written about it at least four times (in South West Rambling, The Mess Guide to: Margaret River, Summer to Autumn and Buttermilk Corn Fritters) whilst also referencing south west produce in countless recipe posts.

So, it may be no surprise that my husband and I took the recent ‘Western Australia Day‘ weekend as another excuse to visit the south west; or more specifically, the Margaret River wine region. Three days of rolling green pastures, log fires, locally farmed food and boutique wine was too good to miss.

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Let’s rewind to last Saturday morning. Aaron and I packed our bags, tumbled into our battered sedan and drove two hours south to the coastal town of Bunbury. We ate dinner (steak sandwiches and calamari at the waterside Mash brewery), slept (in our car. No, I am not joking), bought coffee (from McDonalds; it was actually passable) and then continued our drive to the Margaret River region.

Now, one of the most wonderful things about the south west is that no matter how many times you’ve visited, there’s always something else to explore – whether it be pristine beaches, national parks, wineries or surfing breaks. Trust me, I’ve been countless times and it was only last weekend that I discovered the rambling country road that led to Brookwood Estate.

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Brookwood is a family owned and run vineyard that was established in 1996 by Trevor and Lyn Mann (pictured above). The couple experienced their first harvest around 1999 after three years of nurturing ten thousand Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon vines across a six hectare property. They have since been working alongside their daughter, Bronnlea Cahill (now head winemaker) to create a unique and delicious range of wines featuring one hundred percent estate-grown fruit that has been processed, blended and bottled on-site.

Brookwood has since developed into a biologically balanced, thriving boutique vineyard that produces around 5000 cases of wine (each with 12 bottles) per year. Initially serving platters and tasting plates, the winery has since established a thriving restaurant and cafe that serves lunch and snacks from 11.00am – 5.00pm daily.

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Aaron and I were fortunate enough to visit Brookwood last Sunday afternoon, the first official day of Australian winter. That morning, light rain had fallen across the south west in a glistening blanket, the earth smelt fresh, green and nourished.

Upon arriving at Brookwood, the scene was ridiculously beautiful. Fresh raindrops clung to the russet vines like sparkling jewels; the grass was bright and saturated with colour. We spent a few minutes snapping photographs, clambering from vine to wine before the scent of food beckoned. We obeyed, making our way towards the tin and timber-clad winery restaurant.

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It was here that we met our affable host for the afternoon, Lucy. She swiftly ushered us to our table and provided a brief overview of the restaurant menu and its focus on local produce.

With a warm smile, she left us to peruse our lunch options whilst fetching one half of the vineyard’s management team, Lyn Mann.

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brookwoodmenuOnce again, if you’re a regular reader of the Mess you’d be aware that I follow a simple locavore policy when it comes to both food and wine. Where possible, I believe in purchasing fresh, local, organic, biodynamic, sustainable and ethically produced products with minimal food miles, environmental impact and wastage.

To my delight, Brookwood follows this same philosophy with a particular emphasis upon clean production, recycling and viticulture that follows organic principles. That’s a big A+ in foodie terms.

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Let me (or Lyn, in actual fact) explain a little further. Brookwood voluntarily recycles all of its glass, cardboard and paper refuse whilst throwing kitchen waste to their hungry family of chooks (chickens, for the non-Aussies out there). Residual grape skins and seeds are used in organic compost whilst the kitchen’s used cooking oil is recycled as bio-diesel to drive the machinery that maintains their 6 hectare property.

Upon tasting some of Brookwood’s wines (with their fantastically knowledgeable cellar door man and assistant winemaker, Greg) I was also pleased to discover that the vineyard uses unbleached, naturally matte cardboard and ‘green glass’ for all elements of packaging. This reduces the winery’s carbon footprint by at least 30%.

Lyn’s husband Trevor explains: “The customers are interested in what’s inside the bottle, not the packaging”. That’s a big thumbs up from me. If only more wineries thought the same.

greg pour After finishing our tasting, Aaron and I ordered two glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon ($9.00 per glass) before settling down to await our pre-ordered lunch (Lyn cleverly suggests that customers order their lunch before visiting the cellar door for a wine tasting; that way you pick an appropriate wine for your meal and limit wait time at the table). The wine was richly pigmented, medium-bodied and aromatic with vine fruit, bay leaf and spice – characteristic of the Margaret River region. With a soft finish, it was altogether delicious.

As both of us are fans of small plates, we picked the following items from the tapas menu:

  • Panko-crumbed Albany oysters with avocado salsa and lime – $3.50 each
  • Seared Esperance scallops with pickled radish, apple and citrus – $4.00 each
  • Estate-made dukkah with extra virgin olive oil and local Turkish bread (from Kappadokia Turkish bakery in Margaret River) – $7.00
  • Field mushrooms with chevre and garlic chives – $8.00
  • Chorizo with pickled apple – $8.00
  • Broccolini with salted caramel macadamias and crispy pancetta – $9.00

The first items to arrive were the panko-crumbed oysters and scallops, both perched steadily in their shells upon piles of coarse rock salt. We ordered one of each per person and I must say, after rambling about the property for one hour we devoured them hungrily.

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Of the two seafood items, the oysters were the definite standout. Both Aaron and I adored the contrast between the soft avocado salsa and the crisp, golden-fried panko crumbs. Beneath the crunchy exterior, the oyster flesh was fresh, slightly salty and delicious. I’m not a huge oyster fan but with these, I was completely sold.

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Our second plate of seafood, the Esperance scallops, were also delicious. Slightly caramelised, soft and juicy. I did find that the delicate flesh was slightly overwhelmed by the acidity of the pickled vegetables, however that was easily remedied by ‘adjustment of ratios’ on the fork.

Next to arrive was a plate of estate-made dukkah, olive oil and Turkish bread. I was rather excited to try the ‘house blend’ which Lyn advised was available for purchase via That Margaret River Stuff (online or at the cellar door). The fresh bread was served warm, generously piled upon the plate.

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Upon first bite, I could already tell that the bread was beautifully chewy and authentic. We eagerly dunked it into the pot of local extra virgin olive oil before generously dipping into the toasty house-made dukkah. Unfortunately, that was where things went just a little bit wrong.

Now, let me explain something: both Aaron and I are used to eating either homemade or Providore dukkah, both of which lend themselves towards a generous dip, slather or enthusiastic sprinkle. The estate-made dukkah at Brookwood is entirely different and my rather ‘generous’ dip resulted in a mouthful of salt, ground coriander and cumin which needed to be drowned by a large gulp of cold water.

However, when used sparingly I did enjoy the mixture of spices, sesame seeds and local toasted macadamia nuts. The olive oil was fruity, glossy and altogether delicious.

dukkahevoobl2After finishing our bread, the chorizo and mushrooms arrived with a side of vibrant green broccolini. I was intrigued to see clusters of what resembled praline in the vegetable dish; after checking the menu I remembered the reference to ‘salted caramel macadamias’ which I couldn’t wait to try.

broccolinibroccoliniforkAfter crunching my way through a few forkfuls, I was absolutely sold on the balance of sweet and savoury. The buttery crunch of macadamias worked brilliantly with the sweet toffee, salty prosciutto and fresh green vegetables. There was a soft undertone of organic stock and I’d love to attempt the entire combination at home one day. Kudos to Chef Aven (who apparently met Lyn and Trevor by chance during an industry event. We’re pretty lucky that he did).

The salty, rich chorizo was beautifully balanced by delicate slices of accompanying pickled apple whilst the mushrooms were meaty and flavoursome. The creamy chevre was a delicious accompaniment, enlivened by scattered green garlic chives.

chorizo mushrooms1mushroomscuAfter draining our wine glasses, we sat for a few minutes before deciding to share one of Chef Aven’s sweet offerings, the white chocolate semifreddo with toasted coconut and chocolate soil ($9.00).

I do think that the pictures speak for themselves.

dessert dessertside dessert2I’m not an expert on semifreddo by any means, but this one was a little firmer than I expected. More like ice cream which had been pulled straight from the freezer than a mousse-like consistency. It was nevertheless delicious, with notes of both toasted coconut and soft vanilla.

The interior of the frozen dome housed the ‘truffle’ part of the dessert, a coconut and wafer ball with a milk cream and almond interior that resembled a Ferrero Raffaello (on second thoughts I am 98% sure that it was a Raffaello, which is by no means disappointing, however I was in some respects hoping that the truffle component would be homemade).

The fresh berries, delicate herbs and chocolate granules were a beautiful accompaniment to the entire dish and we were left feeling rather blessed and satisfied.

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Rather than proceeding on to of offers coffee or tea, we headed back to the cellar door to pick up a bottle of estate red to take back to Perth. After another chat with both Greg and Trevor, we left with a bottle of Brookwood 2012 Shiraz Cabernet ($26.00). I’m looking forward to drinking it over the winter months with some beautifully warming food.

Before we exited the cellar door, Trevor also advised that a very special barrel of Shiraz (‘Mann Up’, below left) is planned for bottling in July or August this year. Its release date is currently unknown but I am rather excited.

barrels

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All in all, both Aaron and I were entirely impressed by the quality and value-for-money of the food and wine on offer at Brookwood. Living in a state plagued by exorbitant restaurant pricing, I was in awe of what Chef Aven was producing for prices that don’t break the bank.

Brookwood is definitely a destination in itself, not a stop-off on a boozy wine tour. Next time you’re heading to Margaret River, call in a lunch booking and enjoy some genuine south west food, wine and warm hospitality.

Disclaimer: Laura and Aaron attended Brookwood Estate Winery and Restaurant as invited guests; the prices above are included for your information (however the take-home wine was purchased with our own hard cash). No compensation was received for this post and all opinions are our own.

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Brookwood Estate Winery and Restaurant

430 Treeton Road, Cowaramup (near Margaret River), Western Australia 6284

(08) 9755 5604

Open 7 days, 11.00am – 5.00pm (lunch until 3.00pm)

Rosemary, Sea Salt and Macadamia Oil Crackers

stackThis Sunday, it will officially be the first day of Australian winter. Three long months of cold nights, overcast days, frosted windows and patchy downpours of variable rain. All-in-all, it sounds pretty miserable. Unless… well, unless you’re someone like me.

I think I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog that I love wintry weather and all that it entails; particularly hot soup, slow-cooking and the feel of soft leather against my skin. In fact, I’ve been in my element during this past week of rain. I’ve spent hours pottering in our tiny kitchen, coaxing spelt flour into elastic dough, chia into gel and charred aubergines into creamy bagaghanouj.

All without raising a sweat.

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Now, that’s not to say that summer cooking isn’t beautiful in its own way, but have you ever attempted pastry in a heatwave? One word: butter. Or more specifically, melted butter. It’s an absolute nightmare.

Something that’s not a nightmare is the gorgeous cold-pressed macadamia oil produced by the good folks at Brookfarm. Packed with monounsaturates, Omega 3 and 6, Brookfarm’s oil is perfect for quick snacks and salads alike.

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The recipe below is one of my experiments from the weekend-that-was: rustic flatbread crackers made with macadamia oil, fragrant herbs and a touch of flaked sea salt. When baked, we broke bread together, nibbling intermittently whilst sipping on organic red wine. A blissful combination; crunchy, salty and savoury in the most satisfying of ways.

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herbs

These crackers are wonderful as part of a cheese platter or as a stand-alone crunchy snack.

However if you’ve got a little time up your sleeve (ha! Who am I kidding) they’d be even better with a smooth, creamy white bean dip (like this one from David Lebovitz) or soft, mild, creamy homemade labne (like this beauty from Julie Goodwin). Snacking at its finest.

flatbreadsRosemary, Sea Salt and Macadamia Oil Crackers

Adapted from this recipe by Epicurious

Makes 3 rounds of about ten crackers

  • 1 3/4 cups plain flour, sifted
  • 1 tbsp roughly chopped rosemary and thyme leaves (plus a few sprigs to decorate)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp flaked sea salt (plus about 1/4 tsp extra to sprinkle)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/3 cup macadamia oil (I used Brookfarm cold-pressed macadamia oil, you can substitute good olive oil in a pinch)

Set oven at 230 degrees C (450 degrees f). Place two heavy baking trays on the centre shelves of the oven to preheat.

Stir together the flour, chopped herbs, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.

flourherbMake a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, then add the oil and water. Gradually stir into the flour until a soft, sticky dough forms.

doughTurn out onto a well floured surface and knead for 5 minutes or until a smooth, elastic dough forms.

Divide the dough into 3 pieces. Place a large sheet of baking parchment onto a flat surface and roll out one piece of dough until it is a 10×10 inch round (shape isn’t very important; just ensure that the dough is less than 5mm thick).

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Transfer the dough onto one of the preheated baking sheets and brush it with some reserved macadamia oil. Sprinkle over some of the residual sea salt and rosemary leaves, pressing lightly to ensure adhesion.

Slide the tray back into the oven and bake for 8-10 minutes or until pale golden with blistered and browned spots (the flatbread should be crisped).

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Repeat process with remaining mixture, macadamia oil, salt and herbs (do not oil the flatbreads until just prior to baking). Once baked, transfer flatbread onto a wire rack to cool. Break into pieces to serve.

Note: Flatbread can be made 2 days ahead and cooled completely, then kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two weeks. Brookfarm provided me with a sample of their cold-pressed macadamia oil for recipe testing, however I was not compensated and as always, all opinions are my own.

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