Ho, Ho, Ho – A Little Girl’s First Christmas Cookies

So, we are now back in the UK and merrily entering into the fray of the festive season.  A christmas cake is baked, menus planned for the various family and friend celebrations and excess is being happily anticipated.

My little girl frequently likes to help me out in the kitchen, what she lacks in technical ability, she makes up for in abundance with enthusiasm.

A lot of friends and neighbours have given her some great gifts, so we thought we would return the favour with something crisp and festive that goes well with the seasonal fare, whether that be a schooner of sherry, cup of coffee or pitcher of egg-nog.

These Christmas Cookies are easy to make and great fun for kids to get involved with – a very useful way to use up half a day or so if you are faced with bored kids and wet weather over the holiday season.

They taste buttery, sweet and crisp and can be decorated in an understated way with a dusting of icing sugar, but I’m sure the kids will be able to create some altogether more dazzling creations with access to food colourings, icing and edible decorations.

Happy Christmas…

Makes: around 80-90 small cookies

Ingredients

300g White Sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract (or 3 tsp ground giner)

500g dairy free margarine (butter is ok for those that are not baking dairy free!)

750g plain flour

2 egg yolks

Icing

1 cup of icing sugar

3 Tbsp water

Food colouring

Edible food decorations – stars, balls, hearts, flowers, whatever you like and can find!s

Method

1. Place sugar, vanilla/ginger, egg yolks and margarine/butter in a large bowl and mix until pale and creamy – you may want to use an electric mixer (or if you need to use up time, get the kids to mix using a whisk or fork!).

2. Sift in flour

3. Using your hands as sparingly as possible, combine into a slightly dry dough and divide into two or three large discs of dough.

4. Wrap discs in clingfilm and place in fridge for 30-40 minutes

5. Take discs out of fridge and roll to the thickness of a pound (or euro) coin.

6. Turn on oven to 170C.

7. Cut out shapes using a small cutter and place on a lightly floured baking tray (or 3!).

8. Bake for around 8 minutes until just golden – all ovens are different so adjust if necessary.

9. Leave cookies to cool on wire rack.

10. Mix together icing sugar and water until you have a thickish paste.

11. Divide icing into several small pots and colour as apopropriate.

12. With a teaspoon, place small amount on each cookie and spread around until thinly dispersed.

13. Place sprinkles and edible decorations on the icing whilst it is still tacky so they will stick.

14. leave cookies to dry for an hour or so.

15.  Divide up into small batches, wrap in cellophane sealed with a bow and make your friends and neighbours smile.

Tarka Dhal – so good on a cold blustery night

So, our time in France is coming to an end and my mind is drifting to the other side of the channel and what I can cook tomorrow night after a long day of travelling. I want to cook something that is tasty, healthy, quick and easy and most importantly requires little if no shopping. Finally, after eating bland meals on a ferry, I want something that has a kick and brings my palate back to life – tarka dhal is just the ticket.

I love spicy food and curry is something I crave when I am away fro uk for any length of time. I am always amazed just how good this tastes and how quick it comes together – it tastes like it has taken days to cook. My brother introduced me to this a few years ago, and I think I have improved on his version with a few touches.

This was my version put together from what I always have in my cupboards and fridge – so quick and easy to make, but good enough to get people asking for seconds and the recipe!

Serves: 4 people easily, can stretch to 6 with more water.

Ingredients

around 25 grammes butter and a little oil
1 brown onion
2 good cloves garlic
1 inch chopped fresh ginger
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
good grind of black pepper
salt to taste
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 regular size can of plum tomatoes
1 can (med size – smaller than the toms) coconut milk
up to 1 pint chicken stock
1 cup lentils
fresh coriander (cilantro to my American chums)

Method

1 Chop onions finely, crush garlic and grate ginger.
2 Melt butter in oil until just sizzling.
3 Add garlic, onion and ginger to sizzling butter and fry until transparent.
4 Add spices to onion mix and fry for less than 1 minute (if mixture begins to burn add some water to stop this.
5 Add toms, coconut milk and chicken stock to mixture and stir
6 Add lentils (be warned at this stage the whole thing looks like a hideous mess, but trust me, you won’t believe what a difference time makes!).
7 cook for around 20 mins or until lentils are tender. You will need to stir hard every now and again as this loves to try sticking to your pan.
7 Just before serving, add juice of lemon and plenty of coriander to taste
9 Taste and add some more salt or pepper if required

Ginger, Soy & Sesame Tuna Salad – A light lunch on a cold day…

Even though ummer is a long way off in the northern hemisphere, I am beginning to miss the flavours of warmer times.  I miss the frssh flavours and raw foods that form the majoirity of my meals in summertime – still, not long until I head for the southern hemisphere to feel the kiss of the sun once more.

I am currently in a wet and wild northern Brittany and have got a nice Breton Beef stew slow cooking for dinner tonight – my logic is it will be operfext after an afternoon braving the elements.  Before this though, we need lunch and I want something light that gives us not feeling too full and bloated and stops us leaving the house.  A fresh tuna salad seems just the ticket.  A second motive is to leave some room to pick up somr nice Breton crepes as a mid afternoon snack.

This was something quick and easy I knocked up earlier to share and turned out combining  crisp leaves, creamy avocado and tomato with flash cooked medium rare tuna, bacon lardons and some alltogether more Asian influences…

Serves: 3-4

Ingredients

1 or 2 small fresh tuna steaks
100g bacon lardons or chopped smoked streaky bacon
3 spring onions
1 head of romaine lettuce
Handful of good watercress
Bunch of cherry tomatoes halved
1 avocado chopped roughly
Teaspoon of honey
3 teaspoons of soy sauce
Some pickled ginger chopped finely
Shake or two of Tabasco sauce
Juice from 1 lime
Glug of walnut oil and few teaspoons of sesame oil
Toasted sesame seeds

Method

1. Chop tomatoes and avocado and set aside. Place Salad leaves in a bowl.
2. Chop spring onions finely.
3. Fry lardons in a dry pan over a medium heat until browned then add spring onions and stir fry for a minute.
4. Set bacon and onion mixture aside and flash fry tuna in the oil left in the pan for a minute each side. If you don’t like rare tuna (you are probably mad, but there you go!) then cook for longer.
5. Remove tuna from pan and cut into nice long slices.
6. To make the dressing, put pan back on heat and chuck in soy sauce, lime juice, honey, pickled ginger, walnut & sesame oil and muddle the whole lot around in the pan for 30 seconds then take off the heat.
7. Throw the tuna, tomatoes, avocado and bacon/onion together with the salad leaves and toss around in the salad bowl.
8. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and sprinkle with sesame seeds

The Perfect Homemade Burger

20111202-194337.jpg

Less is More…

I actually feel quite embarrassed posting this as it really is so easy to make the perfect hamburger in my opinion.
Everytime I make hamburgers at a BBQ, people always ask me what my recipe is and what is the secret how they stay together on the grill and taste to meaty and moist. I usually just smile and say that I will show them next time they are round as I have learnt through experience that people don’t believe things can be this easy. In fact, most prefer to think of the chef working some magic in kitchen adding eggs, breadcrumbs, herbs, snake oil, flour, burger binding agents to the meat.

Nothing could be further from the truth…

Serves: 6 decent sized burgers

Ingredients

1 kilo (preferably organic but any sort is fine) 20% fat minced beef (note: the non organic is normally the cheaper of supermarkets own brands – avoid the lower fat alternative minced beefs, they do not keep moist on the high heat of a BBQ).
Salt
Pepper
Dash Worcester sauce
Squirt of ketchup

To serve: good quality toasted bread rolls (gluten free great ones are available too), sliced swiss or chedder cheese, sliced pickled gherkins, cooked crispy bacon strips, avocado, ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise,lettuce, big tomato slices and even onion if you must.

Method

1. Place minced beef in a large bowl with good grinds of salt and pepper – don’t skimp here!, Worcester sauce and ketchup squirt.
2. Get your hands in the bowl and squidge and squeeze the whole lot together for around 2-3 minutes – great stress relief.
3. Divide the mixture into 6 portions and shape each into a flattish burger patty (tip – go flatter and larger than you think you need to as they tend to want to shrink up when they meet the grill)
4. As a true Australian, I do insist that you must use a BBQ grill to cook a good burger, anything else just does not seem right.
5. Have your BBQ pre warmed on a medium low setting – DO NOT GO TOO HOT!!!!
6. Place the patties on the grill and only turn once during cooking, normally after 3 minutes, but keep your bloody eye on the things as all grills are different!
7. Grill for a further 2-3 minutes and serve on the bread rolls (I lightly toast the them first) and let your guests build their burgers.
8. Accept praise and never give the secret of how simple a good burger is to make.

Thanks to Robert Murphy for supplying the photo – love it!