and so this is (almost) christmas

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It’s just clocked past midnight on Tuesday, December 23, 2014. I’ve spent this evening buying groceries, wrapping presents, detangling my dog from a length of red-and-white string and… well, mostly just wondering where this year has gone.

It’s exactly two days until Christmas; nine until the dawn of two thousand and fifteen. Rather strange, considering that it’s now half-of-my-life-past-the-millennium. Man, I’m old (and my school uniform is still in one of mum’s cupboards. Oh dear. But I digress).

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CHRISTMAS. Ah, Christmas. As per many other blogging friends, I’ve spent most of the month intending to write more holiday-specific posts and accomplishing very little. I blame work, accumulated stress and residual lethargy from a persistent cold.

But mostly? It’s procrastination. Long summer nights lead to a very laid back attitude, sticky skin and consequential reluctance to turn on the hot gas oven.

“Maybe tomorrow night,” she says, whilst sipping water from an ice-filled glass. Tomorrow is inevitably hot. The pattern continues.

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Anyway, as you may be aware, this month hasn’t been entirely wasted. I’ve baked a beautiful glazed ham as well as some mince pies from a few years back (recipe here, please excuse the non-DSLR photos).

I’ve also eaten many homemade pizzas (and some AMAZING cheese-stuffed jalapeno poppers made by my friend Erin) and sipped beer by the glow of a hot barrel fire.

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I also spent part of sunday watching Jamie Oliver season his free-range turkey (the original Jamie’s Christmas is from 2005, what!) whilst eating seasonal fruit and drinking herbal G&T’s.

Oh summer, you are grand.

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But back to Christmas (dis)organization.

I’m sorry to admit that we still have no Christmas tree. I failed dismally on the ‘international Christmas card’ front, too (sorry everyone, I do love you) and my box of stamps is losing stickiness by the month. Good thing I can cook or I might have been scratched off some Christmas lists by now.

Buuuut… summer barbecues need salads and I’m kinda good at them (whoever said that you don’t make friends with salad was wrong. Just saying).

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loki

Anyway, this post wasn’t intended as a page-long whinge about my poor Christmas planning skills (or Christmas itself; I do love this time of year and the ability to appreciate our families and the immeasurable gift of our Lord Jesus Christ to the world).

Rather, I wanted to wish you (my amazing followers, collaborators, family, friends and readers – most of you are combinations of these!) a wonderful festive season and a peaceful start to the new year.

Thanks for sticking with me through the ups and downs of travel, homesickness, sporadic recipe posting and commenting for another year. Your friendship, critique, humour and encouragement means more than you’ll ever know.

I’m praying for blessings, peace, creative inspiration and strength as one year ends and another begins.

MERRY CHRISTMAS + a HAPPY NEW YEAR! – Laura, Aaron and Loki x

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cranberry and orange glazed ham

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Despite his many (many, many) redeeming qualities, Aaron’s not really the textbook romantic. Flowers, moonlight walks, date nights and the like… well, they’re not his thing.

I get that – I’m just building a picture here, not complaining about absent romanticism. Not everyone finds authenticity in bunches of long-stemmed roses or shiny pieces of jewellery; there are other ways to demonstrate love. But with that in mind, you can understand how excited I get on the odd occasion when he does make an effort to appease his soppy wife. Like a picnic he planned in the second year of our marriage.

A Valentine’s Day picnic nonetheless.

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It was a balmy February afternoon. I had just returned home from work, quietly exhausted with little expectation of intrigue. I was greeted with a mischievous smile and the smell of fresh-baked bread from a wicker picnic basket. We drove to the beach, lay on the grass and ate cured meats, strawberries and cultured butter. As the night grew cold, we wrapped ourselves in fuzzy wool and sipped red wine with icy fingers.

I remember every detail from that night, from pebbles under my feet to the music playing in our car on the way home (Bon Iver, if you’re wondering). I also remember the scent of the skip bin as I climbed in to retrieve our best cutlery (accidentally thrown out as Aaron cleaned up. Ah, bless him).

Now, I’m not just spinning sweet allegory on a Sunday morning whilst teasing you with baked ham. Aaron bought most items for our Valentine’s Day picnic from The Boatshed market in Cottesloe (I’m obsessed with that place). Beneath a happy tumble of sourdough, French butter and Gorgonzola (he knows me well) was a jar of vibrant green pesto. The best jarred pesto I’ve ever tasted, in fact. In the moonlight I took very little notice of the label itself but after returning home (and climbing out of the skip bin) I made a mental note that has since remained.

Roza’s 100% natural, gluten-free Traditional Pesto, fresh-made in Brisbane. I’ve been buying it ever since.

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My infatuation with the traditional pesto led to staunch enthusiasm when I was approached to try a few other items from the Roza’s Gourmet Sauces range this week. In particular, a seasonal Cranberry & Orange Sauce with brandy-marinated orange rind.

After popping the lid, I can honestly vouch that this stuff is good. I’d eat it straight from the jar, smeared onto dark rye with a chunk of double brie. But as it’s one week shy of Christmas, I thought it’d be an opportune time to experiment with a seasonal favourite – glazed ham.

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So, yesterday morning. I woke with fragrant dreams of sticky cured pork, sizzling scored fat with a caramelised cranberry glaze. After eating some breakfast, I removed the pork rind, ran a knife through the fat and pricked each diamond with a scented clove.

Now for the good part: I smothered the scored fat with a thick layer of cranberry, orange and balsamic glaze. The end result was better than I could have ever imagined; deliciously moist, sweet meat with crunchy bits of caramelised cranberry, dark vinegar and bitter orange. I was stealing bits straight from the roasting tray.

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This recipe will definitely be a keeper in our family for years to come, but if you’re pressed for ingredients? I’d be happy for you to just douse your ham with the jar of Cranberry & Orange Sauce (obviously, you still need to prepare the meat before hand – sorry folks – and add half of the sauce before putting the meat in the oven and the rest half-way through the cooking time). The brandy-marinated orange rind and sweet, whole cranberries are already beautifully balanced.

A perfect addition to your Christmas table (and mine).

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Cranberry and Orange Glazed Ham

Serves 8 – 10

You will need a large baking tray with a rack for this recipe.

  • 6kg cooked leg ham
  • 1 x 240g jar Roza’s Cranberry & Orange Sauce
  • 1 tbsp aged balsamic vinegar
  • finely grated rind of 1 orange (about 1 tbsp)
  • large handful of cloves

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (160 degrees fan forced, 350 degrees f). Place the ham on a sturdy cutting board. Use a small, sharp knife to carefully cut through the ham rind about 8cm from the shank.

Run your thumb under the rind to separate it from the thick layer of fat. Carefully peel it back, making small cuts with the knife if the rind sticks too tightly. Peel back and remove the rind, then discard.

Score the fat in a shallow diamond pattern (don’t cut all the way down to the meat or the fat will melt and spread out during cooking). Press one clove into the centre of each diamond.

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Cover the shank end of the ham with foil to prevent burning.

Combine the Roza’s Cranberry & Orange sauce, balsamic vinegar and orange rind in a medium microwave safe bowl. Heat for 20-30 seconds, stirring regularly, or until thinned (squash any large whole cranberries with the back of a spoon).

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Place the ham over the wire rack, then spoon half the cranberry sauce mixture over the ham, using a pastry or basting brush to ensure even distribution.

Bake for 30 minutes, then use a spoon and pastry brush to baste the meat with the remaining cranberry sauce mixture (make sure you get the glaze into any cracks that have opened in the scored fat). Cook for another 20 – 30 minutes or until the fat is sizzling and the glaze looks caramelised.

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Serve warm or cold, thickly sliced with salad and buttered bread. Or, as I’ll be doing this year – as a beautiful part of a Christmas banquet.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a sample of Roza’s Gourmet Sauces Cranberry & Orange Sauce for the purpose of recipe testing. However, I was not compensated for this post and all opinions are my own.

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amaretto and dark chocolate shortbread. TSP christmas cookie week

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It’s hard to believe it’s the final month of 2014. This year has flown by in a tumble of seasons and emotions, the most significant of which were two summers and two autumns (the product of a four month trip to the Northern Hemisphere, which I’ve written about in a series beginning here).

This month marks the beginning of our second summer – hot, dry and sun drenched, trademarks of an Australian December. As I write, a soft breeze drifts through the window; eucalyptus-scented and warmed by the afternoon sun.

It’s less than three weeks til Christmas. Three weeks until glasses will clink, presents will be opened and carols will be sung around gilded trees. As per usual, I’m a little behind in terms of organizing small stuff like presents, cards and, uh, turkeys, that kind of thing.

But at least I’ve baked cookies.

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Now that I’ve confessed my chronic Christmas disorganization, let me introduce you to someone who’s the polar opposite. Despite planning for the (exciting!) arrival of her very first child, my beautiful friend Erin at The Speckled Palate is again hosting a massive Christmas Cookie Week for 2014!

If you’re a long-term reader of this blog you may remember that I scraped into the last day of Christmas Cookie Week 2013 by the skin of my teeth (or rather, by furiously typing into the wee hours – read the post here). I’m pleased to say that this year’s been a little bit different. I’ve baked, jotted and photographed in time for the kick-off!

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As for the recipe? Well, after a recent trip to Scotland I couldn’t help but think of shortbread as the classic Christmas cookie. For something extra special, I’ve embellished the traditional version with almond meal, Amaretto liqueur and a drizzle of bitter dark chocolate.

The Speckled Palate‘s Christmas Cookie Week will run from Sunday, December 7th to Saturday, December 13th 2014. If you’d like to participate, you can find more details right here.

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Amaretto and Dark Chocolate Shortbread

Makes 18 cookies

  • 125g butter, at room temperature
  • 60g pure icing sugar, sifted
  • 60g almond meal
  • 115g (3/4 cup) plain flour
  • 2 tsp Amaretto liqueur
  • 50g dark chocolate (at least 60% cocoa content), melted

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (356 degrees f). Line 2 baking trays with non-stick baking paper, then set aside.

In a medium bowl, beat the butter, Amaretto and sugar together until pale and creamy.

butterAdd in the almond meal and flour, then stir to combine (the mixture should be cohesive but not sticky).

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Roll tablespoonfuls of the mixture into balls, then place onto your lined trays (allow room for spreading). Press down gently with a fork until the cookies are about 1.5cm thick.

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Bake in the preheated oven for 12 minutes or until golden.

Remove from the oven and leave for five minutes (the cookies will be soft when you first remove them from the oven) before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

When your cookies are completely cooled, drizzle with the melted chocolate (I just used a fork dipped in chocolate in a back-and-forth motion, however you can use a small snap-lock bag with the corner snipped off if you prefer).

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When set, store in an airtight container for up to one week.

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Thanks Erin for coordinating another beautiful Christmas Cookie Week for 2014! Now, onto my Christmas shopping…

fresh egg noodles with coriander, chilli and toasted peanuts. with hippy vic

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It’s been a while since my last joint post with my beautiful friend Vicky (otherwise known as Hippy Vic). Four long months, to be exact. In a simple recollection I would’ve guessed it as being weeks, not months; however we’ve just celebrated Christmas and in a few days, we’ll be rolling over to 2014. Time flies.

Last Sunday, Aaron and I had the privilege of spending a sunny afternoon with Vicky, her husband Mark and their two children. We drank Peroni near the pool, sharing tales from the week-that-was as the sun slowly dropped below the horizon.

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In the cool evening air, Vicky took me on a tour of her flourishing edible garden. Fat heirloom tomatoes hid amongst sprawling vines, dappled with the last of the weekend sun. Tiny strawberries sat nestled against blackened earth, dotted with seeds and awaiting their splash of crimson. We picked tiny peaches and fragrant herbs, eagerly discussing the intricacies of pie as sticky juice flowed down our chins.

heirloomtoms strawberries4Mark decided to make fresh pasta for dinner; after a quick flip through Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals he decided upon fresh egg noodles with coriander, chilli, sesame oil and soy from a ‘meal set’ including satay chicken and fruit in mint sugar (for the uninitiated, 30 Minute Meals is a recipe book that is divided into ‘meal sets’ containing main, side and dessert).

One hour later, we were sitting on Mark and Vicky’s verandah eating piles of fragrant noodles topped with crunchy toasted peanuts and soft coriander. We washed it down with Mango beer from Matso’s Broome Brewery; a perfect summer combination for a balmy night in Western Australia.

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We ended the night with a game of street tennis (on bikes, nonetheless) and a collaborative fresh peach pie made from the freshly harvested peaches.

Just think cinnamon-encrusted shortcrust pastry, piles of soft, fragrant fruit, drizzled caramel and crunchy toasted almonds. You’ll get the recipe, eventually. It was definitely good enough to share.

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The recipe below has been adapted from Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals (refer to page 112 if you have a hard copy, or follow this link if you don’t). We’ve made a couple of minor changes, exchanging peanuts for the specified cashews and fresh egg noodles for dried. Vicky and I also doused our noodles with a squeeze of fresh lime for extra tang.

If you’d like to make this recipe more substantial, feel free to add 200g sliced chicken thighs, pork fillet or prawns (double the chilli paste, marinate the meat in half of it for 20-30 minutes. Drain then fry in hot peanut oil whilst your egg noodles cook. Toss with the noodles and the rest of the chilli paste just before serving; top with fresh coriander, toasted nuts and some fried Asian shallots of you have some handy).

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Fresh Egg Noodles with Coriander, Chilli and Toasted Peanuts

Adapted from Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals

Serves 4 as a light meal, 6 as a side dish

  • 400g fresh egg noodles (or 300g dried medium egg noodles; one nest per person)
  • 1/2 a medium-sized red Spanish onion
  • 1-2 fresh long red chillies (to taste)
  • a small bunch of fresh coriander
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 fresh limes
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 2 tsp fish sauce
  • 2 tsp honey
  • peanut or olive oil, for frying
  • 100g toasted unsalted peanuts or cashews, crushed
  • fried Asian shallots, extra sliced chilli and sriracha to serve, if desired

For ingredients and instructions on how to make fresh egg noodles, follow this link (you can make the noodles by hand with a rolling pin, however we used Mark and Vicky’s pasta machine for convenience).

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If using dried noodles, place them in a large bowl and submerge in boiling water. Cover the dish with an upturned plate, then leave to soak for 6 minutes or until tender. Drain and refresh briefly under cold water, drain again and toss in some peanut or olive oil. Set aside.

To make the curry paste: peel and roughly chop the red onion. Place it into the food processor with the chilli (roughly chopped, stalk removed) and the roots and stalks from the coriander.

herbsPulse until finely chopped. Add in the soy sauce, sesame oil, fish sauce, honey and the juice of one lime. Taste and adjust flavourings as necessary.

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Heat a small splash of peanut oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Toss in the noodles and chilli paste. Fry gently until fragrant, then add in half of the toasted peanuts and another squeeze of fresh lime.

Divide between four bowls, top with the rest of the toasted peanuts, coriander leaves and extra fresh chilli and lime, if desired. Enjoy with an ice cold beer and summer sunshine.

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I hope that you all enjoyed a peaceful and merry festive season, filled with food, generosity, laughter and other good things.

Thanks to every one of you for your friendship, humour, inspiration and support over the past twelve months. Here’s to a wonderful start to 2014!

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alfajores payes – TSP christmas cookie week

stackbutton2It’s 1.23am on Friday 20th December, 2013. Instead of getting ready for bed, I’m kneading a batch of cinnamon shortbread dough. Why? Well, firstly because I promised you a recipe for alfajores payes in this post from almost a fortnight ago. Secondly, because I kinda like my friend Erin from The Speckled Palate.

Erin’s hosting a Christmas Cookie Week this week and today’s the deadline for adding to the gorgeous stack of delights including salted caramel thumbprint cookies, vanilla bean shortbread cookies and classic coconut macaroons (all recipes available via the Christmas Cookie Week link). As abovementioned, by contribution to this week’s cookie goodness is a recipe for alfajores payes, chocolate-coated Argentinean shortbread cookies filled with thick salted dulce de leche caramel.

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The recipe I’ve included for alfajores payes was originally sourced here from The Gourmet Traveller. After completing a trial batch, I made some minor changes including a reduction in the diameter of the cookies (my first batch were 6.5cm but I found them to be a little too large, so I’ve reduced the measurement in the recipe to 5.5cm), doubling the amount of cinnamon for spiced goodness (from 1/4 to 1/2 tsp) and adding a sprinkling of sea salt atop the dulce de leche before sandwiching the cookies together (the little ‘pop’ of sea salt flakes adds a gorgeous layer of complexity to this already divine Argentinean biscuit).

I also chose to make the shortbread dough by hand rather than with a food processor, because… well, I’m a bit like that. Floured hands, cold butter and a wooden bench make me feel like I’m doing good in the world.

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You may also notice that I’ve dipped my sandwich biscuits into the tempered chocolate rather than spreading it with a pastry brush. This was mainly due to being time poor, however I have included both techniques in the recipe text below. The advantage of brush application is that the top and bottom layers of chocolate set independently, creating a neater finish. Dipping each biscuit is far more efficient but will likely create a ‘foot’ of chocolate that pools as the liquid sets.

As this will likely be my last post before the Christmas arrives, I’d like to wish everyone a blessed, merry and peaceful Christmas week. Thanks for the Christmas wishes and inspiration over the past month!

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Alfajores Payes (cinnamon shortbread with caramel filling)

Makes 24 sandwich biscuits.

*Begin this recipe one day ahead.

Biscuits:

  • 2 cups (300g) plain flour, sieved
  • 1/4 cup (40g) pure icing sugar, sieved
  • 250g cold unsalted butter
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Dulce de leche filling:

  • 395g can sweetened condensed milk, unopened
  • 1 tsp sea salt flakes

To serve:

  • pure icing sugar, to dust, or
  • 150g tempered melted dark chocolate (65% cocoa solids), to coat

For the dulce de leche: Place the can of condensed milk in a large saucepan. Cover with cold water. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then cook, covered with a weighted lid, over low heat for 3 1/2 hours. Do not uncover or touch the can whilst it cooks as it may explode.

Turn off the heat, then leave to cool completely (for at least 2 hours) before removing the can. Ensure that the can is completely cold before opening it. Transfer the caramel to a bowl, add in 1/2 tsp sea salt flakes and stir to combine completely. Cover and refrigerate whilst you make your biscuits.

For the shortbread biscuits: Combine flour, sugar, cinnamon and 1/4 tsp fine sea salt in a bowl. Dice the butter and add it to the dry mixture gradually, rubbing it in until the mixture comes together. Knead until a dough forms, then wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes or until firm.

Roll the dough out to 5mm thickness on a floured work surface, then cut into rounds using an upturned glass or a 5.5cm diameter cookie cutter (re-roll the scraps). Transfer to flat, even baking trays lined with baking paper, then refrigerate for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 180 degrees C. Remove the biscuits from the refrigerator once chilled, and transfer directly to oven. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden. Cool for 5 minutes on the tray, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

To serve: Spread half of the cookies with dulce de leche. Sprinkle on a few flakes of the extra sea salt, then top with the remaining biscuits. Place onto a wire rack.

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Temper your chocolate (I’m not going to go into the finer details here, see David Lebovitz’s guide or my friend Trixie’s blog for instructions), then brush one half and sides of each biscuit with melted chocolate.

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Tempered chocolate cools fast, so if you’ve processed your chocolate properly the coating should set within the hour. Turn over and brush the other side with melted chocolate, stand until set (as explained above, I placed all of my melted chocolate into a shallow bowl and dipped half of each biscuit into it. After allowing excess chocolate to drain, I placed the biscuits onto lined trays to set).

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Store your biscuits in an airtight container in a cool place for up to four days.

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A huge thanks to the gorgeous Erin also for the opportunity to participate in the event that is Christmas Cookie Week. Make sure you check out The Speckled Palate‘s official link for much more cookie goodness!

spiced redcurrant and onion relish

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As of today, it’s exactly one week until Christmas. I have no idea how that happened; in the corner of my brain it seems like yesterday was the start of November.

The last few weeks have passed in a flurry of work commitments, family events, end-of-year parties and early Christmas gatherings; all beautifully rich and memorable (except work, of course) but tiring just the same. Last weekend, my friend Miriam and I spent over seven hours cooking an Asian-inspired tapas feast as an early Christmas party for our friends; we rose with the birds, measuring clouds of wheaten flour and kneading potsticker pastry to the soundtrack of summer cicadas.

Thick beef ribs were smothered in a mixture of sticky black vinegar, palm sugar and star anise before being wrapped to slow cook for three hours under foil. We julienned carrots, spring onions, green mango and cucumber, some to be flash fried whilst others were marinated in lime juice, sugar and sesame oil.

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It was an absolutely beautiful day; fat with friendship, food, laughter and celebration. As seems to be my trend these days, I brought the camera but deliberately failed to use it.

Don’t get me wrong, there were endless opportunities for worthy photo capture. However, I’ve come to think that some moments are too beautiful, too immediate and real to be marred by the obstruction of a camera lens.

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The purchase of ingredients for last Saturday’s Asian feast necessitated at least three trips to markets around Perth city for meat, vegetables, oriental groceries and bamboo steamers. During one such trip, I spied a punnet of translucent red jewels, fat and delicate against their woody green stalks. I immediately recognized them as redcurrants and being the food nerd that I am, my heart skipped a happy beat.

Needless to say, I squirreled the punnet home in a calico bag with some fresh limes, various leaves, organic peaches and two green mangoes. It took me a few days to work out what to do with them (as I’ve never used fresh or frozen redcurrants before) but after some internet trawling I discovered this relish recipe from BBC Good Food.

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As an English ex-pat, I grew up eating various types of condiments with my Christmas meat; cranberry sauce, redcurrant jelly, chunky apple sauce and booze-spiked gravy. As I’ve grown older, our Christmas fare has transitioned slightly from traditional turkey to cold seafood and summer pudding; however, I still love a thick slice of roast ham or turkey with a dollop of piquant fruit relish.

This particular relish is all kinds of beautiful – glossy, dark and sticky, sweetly acidic and crimson-stained. I dolloped it over beef burgers last night with fine cheddar, creamy avocado and spinach leaves (it’s the Australian summer, after all) however it would be equally good as an accompaniment to your turkey or ham on Christmas day.

Wishing you all a wonderful festive season; may the final week before Christmas be beautiful, calm, organized and memorable in the best of ways.

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Spiced Redcurrant and Onion Relish

Adapted from this recipe from BBC Good Food

Makes approximately 1 cup (250ml)

  • 100g redcurrants (fresh or frozen), stripped from stalks
  • 1 red Spanish onion, peeled and finely sliced
  • 1 medium red chilli, chopped (remove seeds if you’re not fond of chilli heat)
  • 1/2 red pepper (capsicum), de-seeded and diced
  • 1 large garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 small knob (about 1.5cm) fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 100ml red wine vinegar
  • 70g dark muscovado sugar
  • 1/2 tsp Chinese five spice powder

Heat the oil in a heavy based saucepan over medium heat. Add in the onions and peppers, fry until charred and softened. Remove from pan and set aside.

cook ooked

In the same pan, add half your vinegar, the chilli and garlic. Boil for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the aromatics have softened, return the onion and pepper mixture to the pot, adding in the rest of the vinegar, spice, sugar and 1/2 tsp salt.

Simmer until the mixture thickens to a syrupy consistency. Add in the redcurrants and simmer on low-medium for five minutes or until some of the berries burst and the liquid becomes syrupy.

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When sticky and aromatic, pour the mixture into a sterilised jar (process the jar in a boiling water bath if you intend to keep the relish long term). Seal and store for up to 1 month unprocessed (in the refrigerator) or 12-18 months if processed (in a cool, dark place).

Enjoy generously dolloped onto burgers, with cold meats, spiced sausages or slathered over fresh crusty bread with butter and English cheddar. This would also make a delicious condiment on a cheese platter with wholemeal crackers and oozing ripe brie.

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wholemeal mince pies with spiced whisky fruits

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It’s 2:42am on December 25th, 2012: officially Christmas day. You’re probably wondering why I’m up so early. Well… it’s not because I’m excited about raiding Christmas stockings or unwrapping illusive presents. It’s more to do with the fact that I haven’t yet been to bed, and I need to stay awake to let my volleyball-playing husband through our apartment block’s security gate. Sigh. One of the hazards of letting your husband put his keys into your handbag is that sometimes he (or you) forgets to take them out. In this case, though, it was my fault. I forgot to leave them on our friend’s kitchen counter when leaving a Christmas eve party in a post-jovial state of fatigue.

So, now you know why I’m sleepily writing a recipe for mince pies after 2 o’clock on Christmas morning. In all honesty, it’s rather nice… the air outside is cool, still and permeated by the sound of chirping crickets. Very occasionally, a car drives down the highway, leaving a hum in it’s wake. Yep, I like the night hours. Even though I know I’ll be sleepy the next day.

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Anyway, back to the mince pies. I’m actually eating one as I type, the evidence of which is a buttery crumb that’s embedded itself in my keyboard. I’m eating more for analytical value than out of hunger, and consequentially, each ‘chew’ is quite contemplative. First you get the crisp crunch of buttery pastry, followed by the sweet plumpness of whisky-infused apricots, the chew of raisins and some soft notes of spice and ginger. Delicious, at any time of the day or night.

Growing up, I was exposed to many Christmas traditions, both in the northern and southern hemispheres. It was one of the benefits of being a diasporic child with scattered family and friends; in fact, I probably spent more childhood Christmases in the United Kingdom than in my ‘official’ home of Australia. Understandably, this fragmented upbringing has led to an eclectic range of Christmas associations that are embedded deep within my psyche. These range from the gentle drone of a fan in the deep, dark of night to the experience of waking up by a frozen window, wearing woolen socks and flannelette pyjamas. But despite the differences in climate, cuisine and culture, there is one Christmas treat that I remember eating, no matter where I was.

Can you guess? If you said the ‘fruit mince pie’, you’d be correct. If you didn’t, you’ve obviously not been following the theme in this early morning assembly of words and… I guess I don’t blame you. Or me, as I’m writing this in a sleep-deprived state.

When I was a child, our family’s mince pie of choice was Mr Kipling, the quintessentially English treat that came in a shiny red-and-white box with embossed lettering. I loved them, and often kept the shiny foil cases after I’d polished off every morsel. I still have a soft spot for Mr Kipling whenever I see the festive displays in supermarkets; however, in recent years I’ve been making an effort to increase both the health value and the ethical quality of the food I eat, even during the indulgent Christmas season.

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So, by means of a (final) introduction to the following recipe, I just want to say that the humble mince pie is a wonderful thing. Eaten hot or cold, in a bowl or in your hands, they’re highly adaptable and can easily morph from a snack to dessert à la mode in a matter of minutes. The recipe I’ve included has been influenced by a number of sources, both from the internet and from various baking cookbooks I’ve collected over the years. It’s predominantly wholemeal, suet-free, and as organic as I could make it.

Personally, I feel that the added booze adds a beautiful depth and complexity to the fruit mince, however if you’d prefer to omit it for personal (or parenting) reasons I’d replace it with the same quantity of apple juice, orange juice or water. It’ll be beautiful either way.

So, Merry Christmas everyone. May your day be merry, bright and delicious, even if (like me) it’s going to be dry, hot and brown rather than frosty white.

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Wholemeal Mince Pies with Spiced Whisky Fruits

Shortcrust Pastry:

  • 225g cold organic butter, diced
  • 200g wholemeal plain flour
  • 150g white plain flour
  • 100g raw caster sugar
  • 280g fruit mince (recipe to follow)
  • 1 egg white
  • icing sugar, to dust

For this recipe, you will need a 20 x 5cm hole patty tin or mini-muffin tray. Make sure that each hole is greased well with butter before you start.

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Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (356 degrees f). Measure both your flours into a medium-sized bowl. Add in your cold butter, then rub together with your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add in the sugar and a pinch of crushed sea salt. Combine into a ball, then knead slightly. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap, then place into the refrigerator for 20 minutes to chill.

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When your pastry is chilled but still workable, turn it out onto a floured surface. Divide it into two halves, then set one half aside (this will later form the tops of your mince pies). With a rolling pin, roll the other half of your pastry into a smooth disc around 0.5cm thick. Using a 6.5cm cutter, cut out approximately 18-20 rounds to form the pastry bases (re-roll any offcuts of pastry to the same thickness as required).

Insert your pastry discs into each hole, pressing well into the edges of the tin. You may find at this stage that your pastry starts to fall apart; this is entirely normal for a ‘short’ dough (as both the fat and the sugar in your mixture inhibit the gluten in the flour from binding together and becoming elastic). All you need to do is ensure that you press all the fragmented parts together thoroughly, so that they’ll adhere adequately when cooked.

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When your pastry cases are complete, prick the bases with a fork to allow air to escape during the cooking process. Apply a little beaten egg white with a pastry brush to seal the surface, then add one heaped teaspoon of fruit mince into each case.

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On a floured surface, roll out your reserved pastry (optional: keep a small baby-fist-sized portion aside for decorative purposes) to 0.5cm thick. Cut out 5cm rounds with a biscuit cutter or the inner lip of jam jar (as I did) then place them on top of your filled mince pies. Press around the edges lightly with your fingers to seal.

When all of your pies are completed, glaze them with a little more egg white. If desired, you can then decorate them with pastry shapes like the ‘leaf’ pattern I developed below. It’s ridiculously simple; just cut some diamond shapes from your leftover pastry, shape them into little ‘leaves’ with your hands and then press the edges lightly with the tines of a fork (see image below). Use a blunt knife to form a ‘vein’ down the middle of each leaf, then place them onto your pastry cases, pressing to aid adhesion.  Brush each leaf with a little egg wash, then dust the whole lot with some raw caster sugar.

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Place your finished mince pies in the oven, checking regularly, for 30 minutes to 1 hour (depending upon the reliability of your oven). The pies will be done when the tops are light golden, you can smell the fragrant spices of the hot fruit mince and the pie surface is slightly firm and dry to the touch.

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Leave your pies to cool in the tin on a wire rack. When sufficiently cooled, twist each pie slightly to release it from it’s mold, then lift it out carefully. Arrange on a serving platter and dust with icing sugar to serve.

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Spiced Whisky Fruit Mince

  • 1 small Granny Smith (green) apple; peeled, cored and grated
  • 285g mixed dried fruit (I used chopped dried apricots, raisins and sultanas)
  • 60g glace cherries
  • 1/3 cup bitter marmalade
  • 1/4 tsp mixed spice (I used Herbie’s Fragrant Sweet Spices)
  • a couple of shakes of cinnamon, extra
  • 1 good splash of Stone’s Ginger Wine
  • 2 tbsp whisky
  • 2 tbsp water

Combine all of the above in a medium sized bowl. Mix well, cover, then refrigerate overnight (or for at least 8 hours) for the liquid to absorb.

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The next morning, stir your mixture well. Your fruit should be plump and fragrant, with a little thickened liquid at the bottom of the bowl. Use as per the recipe above; any leftover fruit mince can be kept refrigerated for up to five days, or frozen for up to three months.

Notes:

  • This recipe uses wholemeal shortcrust pastry, organic butter, organic, suet-free dried fruit filling and a touch of liquor. I’m not going to go as far as to call it ‘healthy’, but it’s definitely healthier than the  shop-bought versions which contain vegetable shortening, refined sugar and lard.
  • ‘Shortcrust’ pastry got it’s name from the fact that the protein strands are actually ‘shorter’ than in normal pastry, because each flour particle is coated in fat (in this case, butter) and sugar. This prohibits the development of elasticity and consequential chewiness.
  • Flowing on from this, shortcrust is actually the most crumbly, delicious, melt-in-your-mouth pastry around. The normal ratio for flour to fat for this pastry is 1:1. However, the quantities above will still give you a beautifully tender, buttery result (whilst being a little better for the waistline).
  • Any leftover fruit mince can easily be transformed into fruit pillow biscuits, these fruit mince scrolls or these deliciously fruity truffles. As above, you can also freeze it in an airtight container for a few months.

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