Friday, November 25, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

 We celebrated Thanksgiving a bit early on Wednesday this year. And because I love Christmas so much, we made it an early Christmas dinner as well and invited our friend over to celebrate with us since he won't be in Melbourne for the holidays. Here are a few pics from our yummy feast!

Our table all set up and looking pretty!

One of our first courses: roasted pears stuffed with goats cheese, wrapped in prosciutto and served with a rocket and toasted walnut salad with a lemon honey dressing

We don't have turkeys out in the supermarkets yet here in Oz, so we settled on a 2.2 kilo free range chicken instead! Stuffed with lemon, thyme and rosemary.. yum!

And for dessert: a platter with sea salt caramels, my Nana's Christmas honey cakes, and chocolate chip cookies. All washed down with some homemade boozy eggnog! (recipe posted in the coming days).

I'm thankful for my wonderful husband and for my family and friends near and far. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving (if you celebrate it!), and don't go too crazy with those Black Friday deals ;)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sea Salt Caramels

I don't think I ever actually had salted caramels when I was younger, but I do remember getting a container of caramel popcorn for Christmas one year and thinking s
weet + salty = the best combination ever. These sea salt caramels, adapted from a recipe found here, remind me so much of that popcorn, but a hundred times better. They are buttery and rich with just the right amount of saltiness to enhance the sweetness of the creamy caramel. 

They are a little bit addictive, but luckily they look really pretty all wrapped up in parchment paper, so you can give them away to friends or guests before you devour them all. I plan on having a platter of them set out for our Thanksgiving/ early Christmas dinner that we are having this week. Hopefully they last until then!

Sea Salt Caramels

1 cup thickened cream, or heavy cream

5 tbs unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp sea salt, plus extra for garnishing
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup glucose syrup, or corn syrup
1/4 cup water

1. Fully line an 8 inch baking dish with lightly oiled parchment paper.
2. Boil cream, butter, vanilla and sea salt in a saucepan, then remove from heat and set aside.
3. Bring the sugar, corn syrup, and water to a boil in a large pan on medium high, stirring until sugar has dissolved.
4. Without stirring, continue boiling until the sugar mixture has turned to a golden amber colour.
5. Slowly pour in the cream mixture, stirring as you pour. Be careful as the caramel will bubble up and it is VERY hot.
6. Continue stirring the caramel for 15 minutes, or until your candy thermometer reads 245 degrees Fahrenheit. Carefully pour the caramel into the greased baking pan and cool for 2 hours.
7. Sprinkle sea salt on top of caramels, cut into small squares, and wrap with parchment paper, wax paper, or cellophane. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Summer Pork Salad with Peaches and Orange Vinaigrette

Melbourne can get pretty hot in the summer. A few years ago there were about 4 days in a row that temperatures hit between 105-115 Fahrenheit, or 40-44 Celsius. When it gets like that, I can hardly manage to do anything, let alone cook.

So with the weather warming up I've been making a lot of no fuss light meals to get us through the hot nights. Most of our meals have been consisting of simply prepared steaks with large salads, like this pork salad I made for dinner last night. It's easy, full of seasonal flavours, and it's really healthy for you too! Each serving is only about 320 calories and contains a good amount of protein, veggies, and fruit. The tangy orange-mustard vinaigrette is balanced by the sweetness of the peaches, and it will leave you feeling satisfied on those hot balmy summer evenings.

Summer Pork Salad with Peaches and Orange Vinaigrette 
Serves 2

350 grams lean pork fillet
juice of 1 orange, freshly squeezed
1 tsp orange zest
1 tbsp mustard (yellow, mild english etc)
2 fresh peaches, sliced
2 cups mixed lettuce
10 cherry tomatoes
1 small cucumber, sliced
black pepper, season to taste
sea salt, season to taste
Spray of olive oil

1. Heat a non-stick frying pan on medium-high heat. Spray lightly with olive oil, and place the pork fillets into the pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook for approximately 8 minutes, or until cooked through.
2. Meanwhile, combine the juice and zest of the orange with the mustard and mix until smooth and blended. Spoon a small amount of vinaigrette over the pork fillets and cook for a further 2-4 minutes. Remove the pork from the pan and allow to rest.
3. Place sliced peaches into the pan and grill for 2-4 minutes, or just long enough to warm the peaches.
4. Add lettuce mix, cherry tomatoes and cucumber to bowls and place warm peaches on top. Slice the pork fillets and divide evenly between the bowls. Drizzle remaining vinaigrette over the salads, and season with a pinch of black pepper.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Best Ever Chocolate Chip Cookies

Okay okay, so I haven't posted an entry in forever, and I definitely didn't mean to be away this long. I've been busy with my trip home to NY, working extra hours at work, a Halloween zombie march and loads of other things that I won't bore you with, but I'm back now!

I could not fight the urge to bake any longer, and I had a baking marathon yesterday to test out some recipes for Christmas goodies. (Before you get all worked up that it isn't even Thanksgiving yet, just know that I believe as soon as Halloween is over, it's time to put the tree up. Oh yes. I'm one of those people that listen to White Christmas in June.) My all day bake-a-thon resulted in some horrible fudge (it all stuck to the pan! grr!), some okay peanut brittle, and the most amazingly delicious, super soft yet crunchy and flavourful chocolate chip cookies I have ever eaten in my life.

I am not exaggerating. 

These cookies would be a part of my last meal, that is how good they are. I wish I could take credit for the recipe behind these heavenly morsels, but I've adapted it from here. I've really only changed the amount of vanilla (1 tablespoon is waaay too much vanilla for me) and a few other small details. When I make these cookies again (which will probably be as soon as I run out of my current ones) the only thing I would change is to double the recipe. With this recipe you'll get about a dozen and a half large cookies, which is good, but you'll end up wishing you had made more. Trust me.

I can't quite figure out why this recipe is so much better than others. I think it may have to do with the fact that there is more brown sugar than white, which gives them a lovely deep caramel sugar flavour. Or it could be the extra egg yolk that is thrown in. Most recipes I've tried or read usually only contain 1 egg and equal amounts of the 2 sugars, or no brown sugar at all. 

Last time I made chocolate chip cookies they were a disaster. I had followed a recipe off some site I can't remember, and the cookies came out cakey and chewy like a sponge with a weird after taste. See, my idea of the perfect choc chip cookie is one that has a slight crunch, with a moist and soft middle, full of chocolately goodness, and beautifully golden and buttery on the bottom.

And if you follow this recipe, that is exactly what you will get! Just remember to double up the ingredients if you want extras to give away as gifts for the holidays. Or you could just keep them for yourself. I won't judge you.

Best Ever Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes approximately 18 cookies


2 cups plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 cups chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 165 degrees Celsius or 375 Fahrenheit. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
2. Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt into a bowl. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl cream the butter and sugars together until blended. 

4. Beat in the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla until mixture turns light and creamy.
5. Mix in the dry ingredients and chocolate chips with a wooden spoon until well combined.
6. Roll the dough in your hands to form golf ball sized dough balls. Place on lined cookie sheets 2-3 inches apart.
7. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies have begun to turn a light golden brown. They are done when the edges feel firm and the middle is still soft. Don't over-cook!
8. Leave to cool on the cookie sheets for 5 minutes, and then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Easy Chocolate Brownies

My husband and I are flying to New York tomorrow to visit friends and family, and I'm so excited! (Although I'm totally not looking forward to the 30+ hours of flying. Yuck!) I only get to go home about once a year, and last time we were in New York we were getting married! I'm looking forward to catching up with everyone, going to a wedding, and of course enjoying the beautiful Autumn weather and food.

To get ready for our trip we've been cleaning up the apartment and trying to be as organized as possible. I was going through the kitchen pantry and getting all my baking supplies sorted when I found 3 half used bags of brown sugar. 2 of the bags were almost empty, and one still had a fair amount left. I have absolutely no memory of buying 3 different bags of sugar, but obviously I have a problem because I also discovered about 5 other bags of various types of sugars, and 2 different cans of cocoa powder. Maybe I subconsciously think there's going to be a surprise bake off and I need to be prepared with an industrial amount of every sugar ever invented? I honestly don't know. I do know that I had lots of sugar, cocoa powder, 2 eggs, and a half cup of butter left in the fridge, and what better way to use it all up than by making brownies?

Before baking batter.... and after!  

These brownies are super easy and you only have to dirty 1 bowl, which is perfect if you don't want to create any messes before going on holiday. The key to getting them gooey and yummy is to not over bake them. When you take them out, they should have a "skin" on top and be springy to touch, but do not rely on the old 'clean knife' trick. You want them to be a bit under cooked, because as chocolate cools it firms up. So if you bake your brownies too long you will end up with chocolate flavoured bricks. Also, try to use the best quality chocolate you can get. I like using Lindt 70% dark chocolate, but you can use milk chocolate or chocolate chips if you prefer.

Nutritional Info (per brownie): 164 Cals, 8.6g fat, 24.8g carbs

Easy Chocolate Brownies
Serves 16

3/4 cup self-raising flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup melted butter
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 eggs
100g good quality chocolate (I used 70% dark Lindt)

1. Preheat oven to 175 degrees Celsius or 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Sift the flour, sugars, and cocoa powder together in a bowl until combined.
3. Add butter and eggs and mix thoroughly. Batter should be semi thick and a fudgey consistency.
4. Scoop batter into a well greased 22 cm or 9 inch square dish and smooth until evenly distributed.
5. Break chocolate into small pieces and scatter across the surface of the batter.
6. Place in the oven for 25-30 minutes. Brownies should look a little under cooked, but they will get harder as they cool.

Best eaten while still warm and gooey with some ice cream or fresh berries.