Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Lemon Meltaways

Is it really Christmas without a good helping of home made shortbread on the scene? These delectable lemon meltaway shortbreads are adorable and festive looking, coated in a thick layer of icing sugar. The flavour has been amped up with the fresh addiction of lemon juice and lemon zest, taking this melt in your mouth biscuit to heightened levels. They are great for gift giving, especially for that last minute Christmas cooking, and are a pretty addiction to any Christmas entertaining table. Forget Christmas, these babies are to be made all year round, they're that good!

LEMON MELTAWAYS (Adapted from My Baking Addiction)

3/4 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup icing sugar, divided
1 1/2 tbsp lemon zest (2-3 lemons depending on size)
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp vanilla essence
1 3/4 cups + 2 tbsp plain flour
2 tbsp corn flour
pinch salt

Preheat the oven at 180C.
Cream together the butter and 1/3 cup of the icing sugar until light and fluffy. Add the zest, juice and vanilla, and beat until all the ingredients come together and are smooth.
Combine the flour, corn flour and salt in a small bowl. While beating the butter mixture, gradually add the flour mixture, about 1/4 cup at a time until well incorporated.
Divide the mixture in half, and roll each into 1 1/2 inch logs. wrap both in plastic wrap and place in the freezer for 1/2 an hour to harden.
Take the rolls from the freezer one at a time and slice with a sharp knife into 1/4 inch rounds. Place them on greased and lined biscuit trays. Bake for 13-14 minutes, or until the bottoms begin to turn golden. Leave to cool on the trays for 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. When cool, use the remaining icing sugar in a bowl to coat the outside of each cookie.

NOTES: you can store these biscuits in an airtight container for up to one week.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Homemade Limoncello

If you were to ask what the most exciting thing I have made and tasted this year it would be this-heavenly, liquid gold. Lemony, sweet, alcoholic, utterly refreshing and served ice cold straight from the freezer, this home made limoncello is definitely a case of saving the best till last. It's a recipe with history, passed around Italy. I nabbed it from the glorious hardcover Italian cookbook Limoncello and Linenwater by Tessa Kiros, and she writes

 "This recipe is from Massimo, Giovani's friend, and he got it from his Sicilian friend's grandmother." 

Don't you just love recipes that have been passed on through numerous people and generations? You just know there's something special about it, something coveted. It just adds to the flavour.
This drink really is a labour of love. But food and drink always does taste better with lashings of passion and love poured into it, I am certain of it. I had blisters on my hands after spending hours peeling the lemon yellow off the pith with a potato peeler-but it was so worth it. I can not stress how worth it it was. Thankfully we made a double batch of this lovely drink, so that we could gift it to friends and family this Christmas. It's the ultimate homemade Christmas gift for anyone who enjoys a good drop and is a foodie lover.
We had been saving interesting liqueur bottles over the years for this very moment-after weeks of soaking the peel and waiting for it to settle, we finally got to bottle our very own home brewed limoncello. The feeling of satisfaction was beyond what I expected, especially after we had chilled it in the freezer and taken our first sips. Ahhhhhhhhhh! The perfect beverage to have on a hot summer's day.
Just to test how good our limoncello was, we poured a comparative shot glass of limoncello we had purchased from a well known boutique liqueur store in the Sunshine Coast hinterland. Theirs is a clear pure colourless liquid scattered with gold leaf and set in a cello shaped bottle. Fancy!
Ours is a clear, lemon coloured liquid, brilliant to the eye. In comparison, ours smells and tastes much more lemony, sweeter, with an alcoholic warmth at the end. The store bought one is less aromatic, and perhaps more alcoholically potent. The first impression is "Wow, strong alcohol! Mmmh, lemon."
It's the exact reverse for the home made limoncello.
I'm pretty biased, but I prefer our batch, as does my husband. That dash of love sure is a tasty addition. We hope to carry on our home made liqueur tradition to many future Christmases.And you may ask, what am I going to do with all those peeled lemons? Make old fashioned cloudy pink lemonade of course!

HOMEMADE LIMONCELLO (From Limoncello and Linenwater, by Tessa Kiros. pg. 17)

8 lemons
1 litre (4 cups) pure alcohol
1 kg sugar
1 litre (4 cups) water

Wash and scrub the lemons very well.
Pare them with a potato peeler, removing only the yellow of the skins (any white pith will make the limoncello bitter, so just skim off the yellow). Put the yellow skins in a wide mouthed glass carafe  with about a 3 litre capacity.
Pour the alcohol over the top and seal. Keep covered for one week, shaking occasionally to make sure all the peel is soaking.
Put the sugar in a saucepan with the water and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil and simmer for just under 10 minutes. Remove from the heat. Using a fine strainer or sieve, filter the alcohol into a jug and discard the lemon peel.
Slowly pour the strained alcohol into the hot sugar syrup and stir to combine thoroughly.
Cool completely.
Pour back into the carafe. Cover again and leave for 10-15 days.
Serve well chilled. You can even keep it in the freezer.

NOTES: We used vodka as the alcohol in this recipe. Most pure alcohols are between 96-98%. Makes about 2.25 litres. We made a double batch, and spent about $100 on vodka, sugar and lemons, and got about 4.5 litres of pure Italian bliss. (8 varied sized bottles!) You can store this in the freezer permanently for a super chilled drink-the alcohol cannot freeze.

The process in pictures:

 Just to show you how thinly you need to peel the rind from the lemon, the first slice I took out of the first lemon looked like the above. The peel had lots of white on the bottom, so skim lightly and peel like the rest of the lemon pictured above.

 Your peel should look like this. In the beginning, until I got the knack of peeling well, some of my peel had white on it. This makes the limoncello bitter, so try to avoid it. My small dose of white didn't seem to affect the flavour noticeably.

 All the peel place in glass container.

 Vodka is added to the peel.

 Bottle is sealed and left to sit for a week. Careful when you go to inhale from the bottle, it will burn your nostils!

After that the lemon is removed and water and sugar is boiled together to create a hot sugar syrup. This is added to the vodka. It then sits for 10-15 days before bottling.

 Hubby bottling the limoncello.

Voila! Chill and serve.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Dark Chocolate Ganache and Coconut Tart

Being in Australia, I missed out on all the foodie enjoyment associated with Thanksgiving-but that didn't stop me from making pie! I believe it's a Martha Stewart creation originally- and so simple, delicious and gluten free just as an added bonus. I love that only four ingredients are used to create this luscious silky dark chocolate tart. It's somewhat ganachy, with a gorgeous coconut crust-sort of like a giant, chocolate covered macaroon, really. It's impressive yet takes next to no effort or skill, and feeds an army due to its glorious richness. Could there be any more perfect a dessert for Christmas? Easy, quick, delicious, festive, impressive! Perfection.


4 tbsp butter, room temperature
2 cups dessicated coconut
350g dark chocolate
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Preheat your oven to 180C.
Place one third of the coconut into a medium bowl with the butter and stir thoroughly to combine. using your fingers, combine the remaining coconut with the butter coconut mix.
Line a 9in pie dish with baking paper. Press the coconut mixture firmly into the base and then up the sides of the dish, leaving the top edge more loosely packed and fluffy. Lay a sheet of foil underneath your pie dish and draw a circle around it. Cut off the edges so that you have a foil cover the size of the pie. Fold this in half and cut a half circle about two inches from the edge. Unfold to reveal a "o" shaped ring of foil. Place this on the pie so that it covers the top of the edges. This will stop it from over browning. Place the pie in the oven. You will need to carefully watch the pie, as ovens vary hence does the cooking time. Also what you cook in (glass, tin, ceramic etc) will alter the browning time. I cooked mine in a tin and it took about 12-15 minutes to start tuning a golden brown. Then remove the foil and cook for a further 4 minutes until just golden on the edges. Be careful not to let the bottom get too brown. If one area is getting too brown, cover in a piece of foil to stop the browning process in that area.
Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. When the crust is cool, chop up the chocolate and place it in a medium sized heat proof bowl. Place the cream in a small saucepan. Over a medium-low heat, bring the cream just to the boil.  Pour the cream over the chocolate, and let it sit for 10 minutes undisturbed. Mix together until fully incorporated and smooth and glossy. Pour into the coconut base and smooth the top if you need to.
Refrigerate until the chocolate has set (this will depend on the the of chocolate you use, it can take from 2 to 24 hours)

Serves: 10-12 (slice small as this tart is very rich)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Best Ever Beef Marinade

There are ten of us kids in the family. Well, not kids anymore, but we were kids when I was of the opinion that meat was disgusting. Twiggy little me thought it was like to hunting and killing the beast itself to get the knife through those rubbery, sinewy steaks. I felt like I was sawing away at it for hours on end just to get a bite. Okay, so there were a stack of us, and my parents couldn't give us prime steak every night. I didn't even know there was such a thing as tender, succulent meat until I had my first blissful meat experience on my dinner break when catering for Peter Rowland. My goodness! Safe to say I almost fell off my chair.
I had a brief and idiotic spell there for a while at university when I almost went vegetarian. Don't tell my husband. He will be scandalized. Honey, if youre reading this, forgive me! I momentarily lost my head trying to please everyone.
But the memory of that juicy steak woke me out of my reverie, and I decided not to follow that path after all.  It would only have been to please someone I was trying to impress, and wasn't worth impressing after all. I could have married into malnutrition and meatlessness for life. (Don't worry, I know all you vegans and vegetarians aren't horribly malnourished. What are you doing reading about steak? Get out of here!)
MEAT. It called me! I left that veggie man and took myself to the closest kitchen.
But...I had no idea how to handle the stuff, or get that juicy, tender quality I had once tasted in the back kitchen at Ripponlea Estate. How did they get that flavour?
I still don't know exactly how they got that steak so good. I figure it's probably a lot to do with a really great cut of meat, tenderizing and a the perfect chef.
But since finding out I'm super low in iron, I decided to get myself some awesome steak and get marinating. I found this wonderful recipe and got all excited over it. My husband is the king of meat, sauces and marinades, and I finally made something on his level in the savory department-I was pretty proud of myself and couldn't wait to share the recipe. It's now my go-to recipe when cooking up kebabs or beef steak. So. Delicious.

BEST EVER BEEF MARINADE (adapted from Allrecipes.com)

1/2 cup oil
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp soy sauce
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp french mustard (or Dijon if preferred)
1/2 tsp crushed garlic
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Whisk until combined. Add the raw steaks and marinate for 24 to 48 hours (I only had time to let it sit for 4 hours and it was still awesome). Remove from the marinade and cook until desired doneness. Serve.

NOTES: This recipe serves 4. I also used some of the left over marinate to concoct a gravy, adding a little corn flour to thicken and some gravy powder. Combine and cook until thick, and use over your veggies. Yum!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Cupcake Christmas Wreath

In celebration of Cupcake Day and that of Christmas, I have utilized a stack of left over cupcakes to create an edible wreath. What a great activity to do with the kids in the lead up to Christmas! If you're looking for things to do with kids in the Christmas holidays, here's a memorable and yummy activity that is bound to keep them busy and get them excited.
All you need is a number is small cupcakes-enough to make a circle, and perhaps an inner circle to make the wreath thicker. Then you will need enough green coloured icing mixture to cover the cupcakes, as well as a large "grass" nozzle. A grass nozzle has several holes in the end to create a grass effect, or in this case, a rough pine needle look. You can most likely pick one of these nozzles up from your local cake decorating store. To the finished wreath, I also added a large gold bow, and some artificial red berries to make it look more festive. The kids went wild for it!


Basic butter cake recipe for cupcakes (makes 12 or 24 mini cupcakes. I used mini ones for the wreath):

125g butter
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
1 cup SR flour
1/2 cup corn flour
2/3 cup milk
2 egg whites

Preheat the oven to 180C.
Line a 12 hole cupcake tin with 12 cupcake cases. Beat the butter and the sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the vanilla and egg and beat until combined.
Sift the self raising flour and the corn flour and fold into the butter mixture along with the milk. Beat the eggwhites in a clean bowl until soft peaks form. Fold into the milk mixture (don't worry if the mixture looks a little curdled.)
Divide the mixture between the 12 cupcake cases. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden and just firm to touch. Leave for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. 

Basic Butter cream icing:

250g butter
2 1/2 cups icing sugar
2-3 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla essence
green food colouring

Beat the butter until creamy. Sift the icing sugar into the butter mixture and whisk, along with enough milk to get a nice thick texture. Add the vanilla and the food colouring, and thoroughly combine. You may want to add a little more icing sugar if your icing does not hold shape.

Take all the wrappers off the completely cooled cupcakes. Arrange one circle of cupcakes, then use the remainder to add another inner circle Fill a ziplock bag fitted with a grass nozzle with the butter cream icing. Pipe onto the cupcake wreathe using until the tops are well covered. Decorate as desired with ribbons and holly to complete.

Check out other bloggers involved in cupcake day!