Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas giving


Photos by Steve Shanahan
First published 5 December 2012 Canberra Times and

There are gifts that are wrapped with tizzy paper and topped with beautiful ribbons and cards, and there are gifts that are hand made specially with love. It's such a treat seeing your handmade gifts, opened on the spot and then devoured bite by bite.

Mulled cranberry and apple jelly

Makes 1.4 litres

This spiced jelly is perfect with  roast lamb, beef, turkey or pork. It is also equally delicious on toast. I added an extra star anise to each jar, by holding the star anise in place with a skewer and allowing it to set before removing the skewer.

1kg of Granny Smith apples
450g frozen cranberries, thawed
3 lemons, chopped
1 and 1/2 tbsp whole cloves
4 cinnamon quills
4 star anise
grated zest and juice of 1 orange
approximately 1.5kg of caster sugar
2 tbs red wine vinegar

Chop the apples, don't peel or core them, and place in a large saucepan with berries, lemon, spices, zest, juice and 6 cups of water, stirring to combine.

Bring to the boil over high heat, then reduce to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, 45 minutes until apples are soft. Don't squash the fruit or your jelly will be cloudy.

Line a large colander with muslin or a new Chux and set over a large bowl. Pour in fruit mixture and stand for 4 hours to drain. Don't squeeze the fruit as this will make the jelly cloudy.

Sterilise 5 small jars about 300ml each with their lids. Chill a small saucer in the freezer.

Discard the fruit pulp and measure the volume of liquid. Weigh out the sugar, allowing one cup to every cup of liquid. Combine sugar, juice and vinegar in a clean pan over low heat. Stir for five minutes or until the sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to high, stop stirring and bring to the boil. Boil rapidly for 45 minutes, skimming occasionally until thick and syrupy. Test if it's ready by spooning a little of the jelly onto the cold saucer, push your finger through it, if it wrinkles and your finger leaves a trail, it is ready. If not, return to the boil and test every five minutes until it's ready.  It should be 105C on a sugar thermometer.

When it's ready, take off the heat and let it settle for a few minutes. Ladle jelly into a sterilised jug, pour into sterilised prepared jars, then seal. Allow to set in a cool, dark place for a day, then keep for up to three months.

Hungarian chocolate salami

Photo Steve Shanahan

210g ground dark chocolate
210g ground walnuts
50g prunes, chopped
1 egg
70g caster sugar
2 tbsp rum
vanilla paste

Makes two logs.

Blend all ingredients in a food processor until the mixture is combined.

Line a tray with baking paper.

Tip the mixture out onto a board dusted with icing sugar and roll into two sausages and roll to cover with icing sugar.

Place the chocolate rolls onto the baking paper lined tray and leave in a cool place to dry out for two days.

When the rolls have hardened and dried a little, slice each roll very thinly and store in an airtight container. The chocolate salami will keep for two weeks in an airtight container in the cupboard.

You can wrap the chocolate rolls in cellophane and tie the ends, bon-bon style, and give as a gift.

Chocolate panforte in a bag

Photo Steve Shanahan
Makes about 40 pieces

1/2 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup honey
50g unsalted butter
300g fruit mince
1 and 1/2 cup plain flour, sifted
1 cup cocoa powder, softed
1 tsp ground mixed spice
1 tsp cinnamon
grated zest of one orange
100g roasted and chopped hazelnuts
100g chopped pistachios
100g chopped macadamias
1/2 cup chopped dried figs
icing sugar to dust

Preheat oven to 160C and line an 18cm x 28cm lamington tin with baking paper.
Stir sugar, honey, butter and mince in a pan over low heat for three to five minutes until the sugar dissolves.  Sift the flour, cocoa and spices into a large bowl. Add zest, nuts, figs, fruit mince mixture and a pinch of salt. Stir to combine well, it will be quite stiff. Tip into the prepared pan and use wet hands to smooth the top.

Bake for 15 minutes until firm on top. Cool in the pan, then invert onto a cutting board and dust with icing sugar. Cut lengthways into five thin sections, then cut widthways into 8 sections to form about forty 3cm squares. Keep for up to one month in an airtight container in the fridge,then pack into cellophane bags and tie the tops with ribbon.

Giant chocolate meringues


Photo Steve Shanahan

First published Canberra Times December 5, 2012.
My earliest memory of the coastal village where I grew up was that our local shops contained all the essentials of life. The butcher, chemist, vegetable and grocery shop sat in a higgledy-piggledy row, built of cream painted planks with a dark red trim. We called the shops by the shop owners surname Friths hardware, Smiths shoes, Hiles for clothes, Kozarys fruit and veg, and some exceptions like Goodway grocers and Coolibah milk bar.

Smack bang in the middle of the row of shops sat the very sixties bakery filled with the classic Aussie patisserie du jour. The front door was always open, with plastic fly strips to keep out the blowies flapping in the coastal breeze.

At the end of our weekly Saturday trip to the shops, we would drop into the bakery, a reward for uncomplainingly accompanying Mum to do the weekly shopping. While she chatted to the staff, our noses were pressed to the counter, debating with great passion which cake we would choose; the neenish tart, vanilla slice or piped pink meringues topped with coloured sprinkles. The cakes sat in neat rows behind the counter glass and were the ultimate lure, perfectly positioned to catch us kids, as we poked and prodded the glass with our grubby fingers.

Although she was a dab hand at cooking, Mums meringue making was one of her specialties and she was clearly influenced by her European heritage. Her meringues were very different to those made at the bakery, often being double the size and distinctly freeform in shape. I later realised she used the Swiss technique, commonly used in the patisseries of Europe. This method involves warming the egg whites and sugar in a pan, creating a stable mixture that can be piped, swirled or spooned and peaked loosely with a spoon. The result is a dry, crispy and silky exterior with a marshmallowy centre.

French patisserie windows are overflowing with this style of meringue in every flavour and colour variation imaginable. Beautiful displays are created with the billowy, free flowing shapes and the silky textures of these creations.

Regardless of the method you use, there are a few key tips to success. Firstly, you will need a reasonably heavy duty stand mixer, as hand beaters just wont cut it. Unless you are built like the incredible hulk, you will have difficulty obtaining the consistency you need for good meringues without this essential piece of equipment.

Because egg white and fat dont mix, wipe the utensils you intend to use with a vinegar and water solution and allow them to dry before you start. This will remove any traces of fat.

Another point to remember is not to overbeat your egg white and sugar mixture. Whisk eggwhites to a soft peak about eight times the original volume in air. You can test this stage by lifting your whisk and the peak of meringue mixture left by the whisk should just curl around to resemble a birds beak.

Always weigh your egg whites, as this method uses double the weight of sugar to egg white. This quantity makes about 13 giant meringues.

Photo Steve Shanahan
218g egg whites
436g caster sugar
pinch of salt 15g bitter cocoa, sifted
½ tsp vanilla paste
1 heaped tspn ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 110C and line two large baking trays with baking paper.
Sieve the cocoa and cinnamon and mix to combine.

Place the egg whites, salt and sugar in a large saucepan. Cover your hands with clean food grade disposable gloves.

Place the saucepan over a very low heat to gently heat the egg whites and melt the sugar. Stick your hand into the egg and sugar and stir continuously with your hand. While using your hand in this way, you can control the temperature to ensure the egg white and sugar does not rise above 37C. Stir till the sugar is dissolved. You may need to remove the saucepan from the heat every now and again, returning it to the heat to control its temperature.

When the sugar is dissolved and you cannot feel any sugar between your fingers, transfer the mixture to a stand mixer fitted with a whisk. Add the vanilla paste and whisk the egg whites until bird beak stage, when the meringue should hold its shape.

Remove the mixing bowl from the machine, and sieve the cocoa powder and ground cinnamon over the meringue. Do not mix through. Use two large soup spoons to scoop a large spoonful of the mixture onto the tray for each meringue. Dont be tempted to mix the cocoa through the mixture or you will spoil the effect of the chocolate and cinnamon swirl.

Drop spoonfuls of meringue mixture onto the prepared baking trays, leaving sufficient gaps as they swell while cooking. Dont be concerned if the chocolate and cinnamon is not mixed through, this is the intended effect.

Place the meringues in the preheated oven, leaving a gap between the oven shelves to allow the hot air to circulate evenly.

Bake the meringues for two hours and turn off the oven. Leave the meringues in the oven to cool for 10 minutes with the oven door ajar.

Remove from the oven and gently transfer to a rack to completely cool. Keep the meringues in an airtight container for up to four days.

Cool Christmas


Photo by Steve Shanahan

First published Canberra Times 12 December 2012 and in
Christmas for us this year will be light and cool with minimum fuss. Family and friends will call by and we will hang out by the pool, going inside to do only the simplest of food preparation. Apart from the food that I will have pre-prepared, the majority will be ready to serve chilled straight from the fridge.

My favourite special occasion pre dinner nibbly is buttery chicken liver pate that can be made a couple of weeks in advance. It can be kept in the fridge till needed, as the clarified butter poured on the top provides an airtight seal. The Marsala flavour doesn’t overpower, but provides just enough cheer to make it taste like Christmas. The quantity below makes two large sized dishes, or as I like to do, buy some little glass pots with lids and fill with the pate to give to friends as gifts. They make great pressies with a pack of gourmet crackers. Another delicious way of serving this pate is to stuff half a teaspoon into cognac-poached prunes.

Our Christmas day meal this year will be a chilled pea soup starter with a scoop of mint gelato, and mains will be ocean trout tartare with tomato tea. These two dishes are refreshing and elegant and taste sensational. The soup, gelato and tomato tea can be made a couple of days before and the ocean trout prepared  half an hour before you are ready to eat.

Chicken liver pate with pistachios

225g unsalted butter, softened, plus an extra 4 tablespoons melted
3 large French shallots, thinly sliced
Photo by Steve Shanahan
1kg chicken livers, trimmed
salt and freshly ground pepper
¾ cup dry marsala
½ cup chicken stock
1 ¼ cups salted roasted pistachios, ½ cup chopped
¼ cup parsley
1 tsp chopped thyme

Quantity makes about 5 cups.

In a large pan, melt four tablespoons of the softened butter. Add the shallots and cook over a moderate heat, stirring occasionally until softened, about eight minutes. Add the trimmed chicken livers, season with a little salt and pepper and cook over a moderate heat, turning a few times, until firm, about four minutes. Add the Marsala and simmer for two minutes. Add the chicken stock and simmer, turning the livers another few times, until they are light pink in the middle, about five minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool for about another five minutes.

Transfer the contents of the pan to a food processer and puree. Cut the remaining butter into cubes and add it to the liver mixture bit by bit, blending while the machine is still running until completely incorporated.

Scrape the puree into a large bowl and fold in the whole pistachios, parsley and thyme. Generously season the pate with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon the pate into dishes or glass jars with lids and refrigerate until firm, for about two hours.
Pour the melted butter over the pate to seal it, then garnish with the chopped pistachios. Cover the dishes with lids or plastic wrap until the butter is firm. The pate will keep in the fridge for a few weeks.

 Chilled pea soup with mint gelato

Photo by Steve Shanahan
2 cups fresh or frozen peas, plus extra for garnish
1 potato, peeled, chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 cup shredded iceberg lettuce
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
¼ cup thickened cream

Mint gelato
2 tsp grated lemon zest
1 tbsp lemon juice
¼ cup caster sugar
1 cup chopped mint leaves, plus whole leaves for garnish
½ cup mascarpone cheese
1 eggwhite

Serves 6
For the gelato, place the lemon zest and juice, sugar and all but two tablespoons of chopped mint in a pan with 180ml of water. Stir over low heat to dissolve the sugar. Increase the heat to medium and simmer for two minutes, then strain through a sieve, pressing down on the solids to extract the flavour. Cool, then stir the syrup into the mascarpone.

Transfer the gelato mixture to a shallow plastic container, then place in the freezer for a few hours, or until frozen.

Whiz the gelato mixture, eggwhite and reserved two tablespoons of mint in a food processor until combined. Return to the freezer for at least another four hours or overnight.

Place peas, potato, onion, lettuce and stock in a pan and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for ten minutes. Remove from the heat and using a food processor blend until smooth. Strain through a sieve, then stir in the cream. Season, then chill for a few hours.

When ready to serve, divide the soup among six small bowls and top with a scoop of gelato, a few mint leaves and whole peas.

Ocean trout tartare with tomato tea

500g sashimi grade ocean trout fillets, skin removed
1 small red onion, very finely chopped
Photo by Steve Shanahan
60ml vodka
small herb leaves to garnish

Tomato tea
1kg vine ripened tomatoes
¼ red onion, chopped
¼ cup basil leaves
1 garlic clove
1 tbs Worcestershire sauce
2 drops Tabasco
1 tsp sugar

For the tomato tea, remove the stalks and set aside. Blend tomatoes with remaining ingredients until smooth. Line a sieve with muslin or a clean chux, then set over a bowl. Pour the tomato mixture into the sieve and drain for a couple of hours until you have about a cup or more of liquid.  Don’t be tempted to stir the liquid or your tea will be cloudy, it must drain through without pressure. Discard solids. Add reserved stalks to the liquid, this is for flavour, then chill.

For the ocean trout, line a tray with plastic wrap. Arrange six ring moulds or ramekins on the tray.

Half an hour before you are ready to eat, finely chop the trout, then combine in a bowl with the onion and vodka. Press the mixture firmly into the ring moulds, then chill for up to thirty minutes. If you leave it any longer the vodka will start to cook the trout.

To serve, transfer the ring moulds to serving plates using an egg lifter. Remove the moulds, then garnish with herbs. If using ramekins, turn upside down and they will come away neatly.  Serve with the tomato tea drizzled around the base of the trout.