Archive for the 'Holiday Adventures' Category

German Christmas Cookies No. 3 – Vanille Kipferl

And here is the last Christmas cookie for this season, ‘Vanille Kipferl’. They are one of our all time favorites and always disappear quickly out of the tin.

‘Vanille Kipferl’ are one of the most traditional Christmas cookies made in Germany, Austria and parts of Eastern Europe. They are crescent shaped, usually include ground almonds in the dough and are rolled in vanilla sugar after baking. I love their fine crumb and delicate consistency.

Don’t be surprised, but I used plain flour and white sugar in this recipe because I didn’t want to mess with the texture.

Enjoy! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

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German Christmas Cookies No. 2 – “Gewuerzprinten”

I brought these cookies to a potluck dinner on Sunday and the lovely lady to my right at the dinner table – Cornelia – asked me for the recipe. She bakes 20 different varieties of cookies every Christmas, putting most good German housewives to shame.

Printen are a type of “Lebkuchen” or gingerbread and contain very similar spices. They also include figs, maple syrup, brown sugar and finely ground rock candy or “Kandiszucker, which I substituted with turbinado sugar. Don’t worry, they are not as sweet as it sounds here, and they contain hardly any butter.

Again, I apologize that this is another “metric” recipe for which you’ll need a scale. Good luck!

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German Christmas Cookies No. 1 – Linzer Stars

I know this must come as a bit of a surprise, but I have decided that it is time for a new post after a nearly 4-month absence from the blogging world. Your encouragement has been much appreciated, and ideas kept popping up in my head, unfortunately without the time to either realize them or document them on foodvergnuegen. Most of my energy was spent getting ready for our upcoming move to Beijing, which as most of your know is far from our first move, but it is definitely the hardest yet. We have left Perth a couple of weeks ago, the house is empty, the cars and white goods sold, the container fully loaded and our good-byes said. It’s been really busy and exhausting and my cooking was reduced to the bare minimum. So now that we are in our hide-away spot in the Berkshires to decompress until the end of January, I hope all this will change and I am looking forward to re-acquainting myself with the stove and the oven just in time for the holidays.

As to our future in Beijing, I am looking forward to exploring a whole new world of food, markets and recipes. I have sourced a few organic farms around Beijing which I’ll be sure to tell you all about. I am grateful they exist in a land were mass-food production is a top priority to feed the large Chinese population. For the rest, it is either imported for a large premium or I will have to bring it in my suitcase. I am sure we will be fine and well-fed as usual.

But for now, I’ll stick with what I know, which today is German Christmas cookies.  I use a trusted and much-loved collection of recipes that I have made for years now. These cookies make great gifts and brighten up our days waiting for snow and Santa to finally arrive. A scale is needed as I haven’t even tried to measure everything out in cups, tablespoons and ounces. This is a good reason to buy one; you can get them quiet cheap and even IKEA sells them. Make sure it has a lbs./oz. function as well as grams. You also need a round cookie cutter, about 2″ in diameter, a small star shaped one and the best raspberry jam you can find.

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Markets worth a visit

Wherever I live or travel, one of my favorite things to do is visiting farmer’s markets. Before I leave to go on a trip, I usually have my visit(s) to the local markets all planned out. After a long distance flight, I once arrived with the kids at the San Francisco airport at 10 am on a Saturday, knowing that the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market would close at 2 pm. We took a taxi to our hotel, quickly unloaded our belongings, and rushed to the market in time for a scrumptious lunch and several punnets of berries (in December!). Yes, the kids were tired, but they know there’s no stopping me when there is a new market to be explored. Never mind if I am in a place for only a day or two, staying in a tiny hotel room with no fridge, I will always buy at least 2 bags full of produce.

French markets have got to be my favorite. I love how all the vendors offer generous tastes of salami, cheese, olives and other mouthwatering delicacies. Their salamis/saucison are the best, my favorite being made from wild boar (sanglier) meat or stuffed with hazelnuts. We always buy trays of delicious peaches, fragrant apricots, to-die-for melons and berries of all colors. And don’t get me started about the cheeses. At our usual market in Lamastre, Ardeche, the local speciality is Picondon, a small round cheese made from goat’s milk and available in all stages of ripeness. I got totally carried away on our last visit, thinking it would be safe to bring it back into Australia. The rule is that you can bring in cheeses from ‘foot-and mouth disease’-free countries. I didn’t think however about the lack of labels on my cheeses, which wasn’t appreciated by the quarantine lady, who threw them in the bin. Arrrgh!

 

 

Another great one I keep going back to, is the Union Square Greenmarket in NYC. It offers a wonderful selection of local produce, mushrooms, breads, pastries, cheeses and even duck meats. Of course the surroundings add to the attraction and there is a price to match.

 

 

On my last visit I ventured to Smorgasburg in Williamsburg/Brooklyn to sample some of the adventurous treats I had read about in the New York Times. This market is set right on the waterfront of the East River with a great view of the Manhattan skyline. It is a foodie’s paradise and I was truly overwhelmed by the choice. The food is artisanal, local, seasonal, comforting with a twist, multi-cultural, wholesome, frequently organic and more. I had a very tart hibiscus and honey lemonade, Mexican creamed corn, kale and cranberry salad, pulled pork on a roll, a mini carrot and maple cupcake and an ice cream sandwich that almost finished me off. Yes, I was very full, even so I saved some of it for the plane ride later that day. The selection of fresh produce is still quite small and for now it’s more of a ‘go let’s have lunch and enjoy the scenery’ kind of market.

 

 

The market that truly impressed me most this summer, was the “Porta Palazzo Market” in Turin, in the Piedmont reagion of northern Italy. It is the biggest market in Europe and I have never seen so much produce. And it was cheap, really cheap. I bought one kilo (2.2lbs) of blueberries for 5 Euros and 4 bunches of ruccola for 1 Euro. The selection was fantastic with some stalls specializing in snails or tomatoes in all shapes and sizes. I wish I had more time there.

 

I could go on and on, but I’ll leave it to those markets I have taken pictures of while traveling this summer. No doubt I’ll add other markets as I go. As I mentioned in previous posts, the farmer’s markets here in Perth are well worth a visit and I buy almost all our produce there. The Subiaco Farmer’s market on Bagot Street is continuing to get better. I recently discovered wonderful granola bars at “Food Well Thought” and another organic veggie grower next to the apple lady. Something new seems to show up almost every week. The Mt. Claremont farmer’s market is quite established now and I love the biodynamic produce, the small growers who come with their plums, asparagus, blueberries or avocados and of course the fresh goat’s cheeses from Ringwould.

I hope I inspired some of you to venture out to the nearest farmer’s market when you get a chance. There’s always some new food to discover. I bought live marons yesterday, but you can read about those in the days to come… Stay tuned and eat well!

 

Spelt and Hazelnut Sugar Cookies

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups whole spelt flour (or half white/half whole spelt)
  • 1/2 cup ground hazelnuts
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 10 tablespoons butter (140g), room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 pinch sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • colourful sprinkles

Method

Sift together flour, ground hazelnuts, baking powder and sea salt.

Using hand or standing mixer, whisk together butter and sugar for 3 minutes. Add egg, whisk for another minute, then add vanilla extract.

Fold dry ingredients into butter mixture until well incorporated. 

Turn dough onto cling wrap, flatten into a disk, cover with more cling wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour or over night.

Preheat oven to 350F (180C).

Roll out dough between 2 large sheets of cling wrap until it is about 1/4″ (0.5 cm) thick. Using cookie cutters, cut out hearts in various sizes. Place cookies on parchment lined baking tray and brush lightly with milk. Top with sprinkles and refrigerate for 10 minutes. If dough gets too soft when cutting the shapes, wrap it up again and refrigerate some more. I always use only half of the dough while the other half rests in the fridge.

Bake for 12 minutes, rotating baking trays back to front and top to bottom half way through.

Remove from oven and let cool on wire rack.

Share with loved ones!

River Cottage

While vacationing in Dorset, England, we went to the Member’s Party at Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage. As we found out, this special party only happens twice a year and thanks to a last-minute cancellation, we wiggled our way in.

I first heard about Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall during his “Chicken Out!” campaign, advocating a nationwide change from battery raised chickens to free-range ones. The River Cottage series on TV as well as his many cookbooks are good fun and a great source of inspiration. His “real food” and “back to basics” campaign has inspired many people I know to shop and eat more consciously, start a vegetable garden, raise chickens or even cure their own meats. I have recently bought “The River Cottage Family Cookbook” which is written and designed for all family members. The recipes cover many basics and family favorites, are easy and fun, and include a lot of “whys” as well as “hows”. It’s a very inviting book and a great source of information about food, how to grow it, buy it and cook it, and I am sure we’ll get lots of use out of it. .

The River Cottage is a beautiful old farm house surrounded by stunning grounds and rolling hills. Next to the cottage are a handful of buildings to cater for the year-round events and classes organized by the River Cottage team. While strolling through the grounds, we discovered a state-of-the-art biomass heating system and a chicken coop fit for a king. I couldn’t get enough of the vegetable garden, admiring the fantastic diversity and abundance of beautiful produce. We sipped apple cider and nibbled on various crudites and canapes and bowled a few balls at the outdoor bowling alley. Dinner was served in a large tent, filled with long wooden tables and even a dance floor. We ate delicious fish soup, which was served home style out of large terrines, followed by melt-in-your-mouth roast lamb with salad and potatoes, and finished with a wonderful dessert made with gooseberries, elderflower custard, meringues and berries. There were several local cheeses to choose from and plenty of organic beer and wine to round up the meal. I learned all about meat curing from my charming neighbor and enjoyed a brief conversation with the host about Australia. He might come down here sometime, which would be most appreciated by his rather big OZ fan base. Next time we’re in England, I hope to be able to participate in some of the cooking classes at the cottage. But who knows when that might be…

English Summer (part 2)

As promised, here is a taste of our culinary adventures on our recent trip to England.

Twenty years ago, my good friend Netti, who back then lived in London as an Au-pair, introduced me to “Food For Thought“, a vegetarian restaurant in Covent Graden. It is a lovely, informal and inexpensive basement restaurant with lots of innovative, delicious vegetarian food. I particularly enjoyed their most famous dessert, the Scrunch, and went back whenever I was in London to eat some more. Obviously, we went back again this year and had some delicious soups, salads, quiches and you guessed it, lots of Scrunch for dessert.

 

31 NEAL STREET, COVENT GARDEN, LONDON WC2H 9PR

The next day, we took the ‘tube’ to Hammersmith Station and literally ran to “The River Cafe” to not miss our lunch reservation. Fearing the worst, we got there panting and sweating, but the hostess couldn’t have been more gracious and for the next few hours we had all the time in the world to eat, sigh and eat some more. Not quite sure what to expect and thinking more along the lines of “Food For Thought”, my husband wore his crocs, which he tried to hide under the long table cloth. However, nobody (except for myself) gave him a funny look and everyone was extremely nice and relaxed but attentive. I had a Bellini to start with, made with Prosecco and white peaches. It was divine. Our main courses were fish, mine a whole wood roasted red mullet and Alistair’s char grilled wild salmon. The tortellini stuffed with ricotta and fresh garden herbs, chosen by our gourmet-in-training, were of the silkiest, most delicate texture I have ever tasted (and I was lucky to get to try some). It didn’t take us long to contemplate the necessity of dessert and we decided on the almond tart with fresh strawberries. Oh what joy! It was half way eaten before I even had the chance to take a picture. I asked the friendly Kiwi baker if she could share the ingredients with me and she did. BUTTER! Everything else is almost negligible. I ordered the book (my 3rd River Cafe one) and will try and make it in my kitchen, hopefully finding a way to use just a little less of the main ingredient. If that doesn’t work, we just might have to forgo the main course and go straight from salad to dessert.

 

 

 

 

English Summer (part 1)

We recently spent 2 weeks in England and enjoyed amongst other things unexpectedly beautiful weather and gorgeous food. In between multi-generational football games, fossil searching, coastal walks and visits to the tower of London, and other famous places, I dragged my family from grocery store to market to restaurants. Not that they were suffering all that much since we did spend a small fortune on ice creams and other enjoyable treats wherever we went.  And one has to say, the grocery stores are sooo much better than here in Australia, and cheaper on top. Waitrose has to be my favorite, but all the others weren’t far off either. Whole Foods Market in Kensington was impressive, but lacking the atmosphere and colorful staff of its American counterparts. We enjoyed Marks & Spencer’s lovely sandwiches, exciting salads and delectable deserts which made for a delicious dinner in our hotel room while watching the World Cup. The famous Borough Market was even better than expected, and my mouth still waters remembering the French Salted Caramel Ice Cream.. Another highlight was sampling British farm cheeses at one of the world’s greatest cheese shops, Neil’s Yard Dairy,  where we devoured bits of  Montgomery’s Cheddar,  Colston Bassett Stilton and St. Tola’s goat cheese. We had dinner at some old favorite restaurants (Food for Thought) and discovered some new ones (The River Cafe, London, and The Town Mill Bakery, Lyme Regis) and never had a disappointing meal. While in Dorset, my husband and I shared a wonderful evening at Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Member’s Party, which had been fully booked for months, but thanks to a last minute cancellation and my persistent phone calls, we got in. The garden’s were amazing and inspired me to take lots of pictures (see River Cottage post). We had a quick chat with the lovely host and picked some of his strawberries when he wasn’t looking.  The meal was perfect, simple yet delicious, with an abundance of colorful, fresh and local ingredients.

Leaving England was tough as was packing, what with all those Duchy Originals cookies, chocolates, cheeses, and raspberry jams. But once again, we made it through Australian customs without any of our delicacies getting taken away and every bite is taking me right back to England.

London

Borough Market

8 Southwark Street, London SE1 http://www.boroughmarket.org.uk

Neal’s Yard Dairy

 

  

6 Park Street LONDON SE1 9AB

17 Shorts Gardens LONDON WC2H 9AT    

http://www.nealsyarddairy.co.uk

More about our dining adventures soon on English Summer (part 2)

 

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