Saturday, 22 December 2007

Best Cookbooks of 2007

As some of you may know, I have a slight cookbook addiction (amongst others). I find myself getting on a bit of a theme and suddenly I have (accidentally) just bought 5 new books on bread. I think I have more cookbooks than everyone else I know put together! It’s nothing to do with me, though. I have a perfectly reasonable amount of cookbooks, perhaps not even enough. It’s just that everyone I know is slack. It’s nothing to do with my issues. (I’ll be right back, just have to blistex).

Actually, I have put myself on a ban until at least 1 January. No more cookbooks. I am still allowed to get all my standard monthly cooking magazines (and all the special Christmas ones!) – just no books! Only 10 sleeps to go! Wooohooo! You should see the size of my amazon wishlist!

I thought I should share the benefits of my addiction with you all, and let you know my absolute favourites for 2007. These are the books that I think even the most part-time home cook should definitely have. I have included their amazon links so you can order them today!

2007 Grand Champion: “The Perfect Scoop” David Lebovitz
This is a book all about ice cream. Nothing more, nothing less, just everything ice cream! (including sorbets, granitas and gelatos; and sauces, add-ins and cones). This is a seriously cool book ! (haha!) The photography is great and the recipes are better. It has a huge range of weird and wonderful flavours, as well as all the classics. You could spend the next few years trying them all out! My favourite part of this book is the basic ice cream method. I have made a few different ice creams before but this method gives me the creamiest, tastiest ice cream (the only problem is that it uses heaps of bowls!). 10/10 Love this book. Get it NOW!

Second Place: “Everyday” Bill Granger (not available on amazon - just get it at k-mart!)
Bill Granger has been hanging around for quite a while now and I have never really got into him. Earlier this year though, I received a freebie DVD (with my delicious magazine subscription!!!) which had him doing 3 recipes from his new book. I loved all of them! It also happened that around the same time, my friend FattyBoombah had got the new book and absolutely loved it. So of course, I felt compelled to get it, and I was definitely rewarded! For sheer ease of access, his recipes are 10/10. The methods are straightforward, they use straightforward ingredients, and they turn out how they are supposed to. This is a great book to help you with ideas for weeknight dinners and weekend entertaining. It’s so good, I felt compelled to go out and get 2 more of his earlier books! (Which are also great, but this is the best). I am having some severe issues trying to restrain myself from getting his newest one, “Holiday”, which was recently released. I am going on holidays soon, and I like to have the odd new cookbook to look at, so it will be interesting to see if I can last til my self-imposed deadline!!!

Third Place: “Whole Grain Baking” King Arthur Flour
King Arthur Flour is a baking company from Vermont, USA. I think I have written about them in a previous post. They have quite a few big baking tomes, but this one caught my eye this year, because I decided it was probably time for us to incorporate some marginally healthier foods in our diet. I was hoping this would be a way to get some whole grains happening without compromising my love of white flour baked goods! And it has been quite successful! What I love most about this book is the whole encyclopaedia-type thing it has happening. The structure of the book makes it an excellent reference, and it is well and truly aimed at the home cook. Whilst there are a lot of American-style ingredients which are not necessarily available in exactly the same form in Australia, there are no poshy-weirdo things which are downright annoying. All the baking bases are covered, and all the recipes I have made to date have been great. I am very tempted to get their baking book which just uses white flour!!!

Honourable Mentions:
A few others could also take a handy place on your bookshelf:
“Jamie at Home” Jamie Oliver – the usual Jamie stuff. I got my fabulous 4 hour lamb shoulder from here. (K-mart)
“Mix and Bake” Belinda Jeffery – great Aussie baking. (K-mart)
“Just a Bite” Gale Gand – fabulous desserts

Happy Reading!

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Gingerbread Train

In previous years, I have made a gingerbread house and a gingerbread tree so this year it was time for a gingerbread train! Boof and PorkChop love trains, so it made it an easy choice. The only problem is keeping Boof's little hands away from it until we are ready to eat it!

I used the design from Family Fun's website: but I used the gingerbread recipe from the Wilton website: I replaced the molasses with golden syrup and the shortening with butter. I also needed a bit more flour. I have used this recipe quite a few times - it is fabulously flexible and forgiving! I love that you don't need to cream the butter and sugar, and also there is no need to refrigerate the dough. That requires way to much forward planning for me! I like to be able to make a decision on the spur of the moment to make some gingerbread and go ahead and do so in the minimum time possible! It makes quite a soft cookie, but I guess you could add more flour and cook for a longer time if you wanted something more crispy. It tastes great plain, but the addition of royal icing makes it beautiful!!!

As I trawled through the net to find the best gingerbread train, I came across a new tip which could apply for any roll-out cookie, but was particularly useful for the large pieces of gingerbread which formed the train. When you roll out the dough, roll it out between two sheets of baking paper, to the size of your baking tray (just cut off any excess and save for the next roll). Then transfer the sheet of baking paper (with the dough on it) to your baking tray, then cut out the shapes, but leave them right where they are and just remove the excess dough. It is so much better because you don't have to worry about the cut shape sticking to the bench, or the paper, or losing the right shape when you move it. It's also heaps quicker because you don't have to stuff around with flouring spatulas and the like to move the shapes. I LOVE this method! I think I will use it for any dough shapes I have to cut out from now on!

I also used this dough to make some Christmas cookies using my new Wilton push n print cutter. They probably could be smaller, but they were still pretty good. I decorated the snowflake ones with some of my royal icing which looked nice. I think you can get quite elaborate, but I was way too lazy!

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Snowman Christmas Cake

I love Christmas. I get a little bit excited in the kitchen when Christmas comes around. I like to do a bit of cake decorating here and there - not too much though - I find it quite complicated and time consuming, which is difficult when you have 2 little tackers pulling at your pants all day long. This year I just did one cake for mum. She likes to have a fruit cake each Christmas, so she baked that, then gave me half to decorate. We both wanted something simple this year, so we went with this snowman theme. I love the colours - they're a bit different to the standard red and green and they go well with the whole winter/snowman theme. Perfect for an Australian summer Christmas!

You may recall the Noah's Ark cake I made for PorkChop's 1st birthday. The cake is sitting on a shelf in our dining room. I love it so much I just can't bring myself to cut it! The cake itself would be quite dodgy by now, but the animals are made from rolled icing so technically they should last forever. There is one small problem with this plan though, and that is Boof. Boof has inherited a double-batch of sugar craving from both his parents. This means that things like bright yellow tiger heads made from icing are perfectly acceptable breakfast foods. The other day, as I woke, he greeted me while chewing on something bright yellow. I couldn't work out what it was that he was eating, so I did a scan of the kitchen, the pantry, the office, the lounge room, and then the dining room. This was when I noticed that the Noah's Ark cake was now missing 2 tiger heads! I asked him where they were and he quite proudly said "in my mouth, in my tummy. You can't get them in my tummy". Lovely. So impressed. And he was absolutely revolting that day. Another small example of the power of artificial food colouring!

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Bailey's Balls

Everyone has a recipe for these, but I forced my friend Princess to try this particular batch the other day and she DEMANDED the recipe! (she only wants it because its very very easy!) These little balls sometimes come under the guise of rumballs, or chocolate balls. I am not a fan of rum, so up until now I have made them with Frangelico (YUM!).

A few years ago I did a test batch which I divided up into 4 - one with Frangelico and rolled in chocolate sprinkles, one with Frangelico rolled in coconut, one with no alcohol in sprinkles, and one with no alcohol in coconut. The Frangelico with sprinkles was definitely the best - even GKGK agreed and he cannot stand the slightest taste of alcohol. The tiny bit that's in there just adds that little bit extra flavour.
Anyway, last year I saw some Baileys Balls at a farmers' market and of course I had to give them a go. They were great, but a ridiculous rip off for something you can make so easily at home. (Also, I'm not really sure how someone making Baileys Balls qualifies as a farmer!) So I made them last week, and they turned out perfectly. And as with a lot of my favourite recipes, they freeze beautifully so they are a great thing to make in advance for Christmas. You can whip them out with a flourish and exclaim how tired you are from making all these fresh and perfect sweets for your guests! There is only one small problem with this plan. Because they have alcohol in them, they don't freeze solid, and they don't really need to be defrosted. So if you happen to have a 3pm munchie attack, and you remember that you have some in the freezer, you can just quickly sneak a hand and grab one or seven, and quickly scoff them down without anyone being the wiser. Then when you go to the freezer at your Christmas party, all ready with your flourish, you may find that you have NONE!

Bailey's Balls

1 packet (250g) Arnott's Marie biscuits*
1 tin sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup dessicated coconut
4 tbs cocoa powder
1-2 tbs Baileys (or other liqueur of your choice)
1 packet chocolate sprinkles **

Blend the biscuits in a food processor. ***
In a bowl, mix the biscuits, milk, coconut, cocoa powder and Baileys until all ingredients are moistened.
Wet your hands, then roll the mixture into balls. (Whatever size you want. Personally, I don't think bigger is necessarily better).
Roll the balls in the sprinkles.
Refrigerate or freeze after taste testing several.

* This is not some subconscious promotion for my previous employer, but I think these are the best biscuits to use. I've tried arrowroots, morning coffee and malt, but I think these give a nice soft ball. My mum actually prefers to use Weet-bix. If that's the way you want to go, substitute the biscuits with 8 weet-bix. (My mum also adds 1 cup mixed dried fruit, which is good too)

** Beware, not all chocolate sprinkles are created equal. You need to get the thin ones in the packet, not the thick ones in the tube. The thick ones don't stick very well. HOWEVER, the thick ones in the tube also come in caramel. I have had previous success with a combination of the thin chocolate ones with some thick caramel ones thrown in for extra flavour.

***If the thought of getting a food processor out just for the sake of mushing one packet of biscuits, (with all that subsquent washing up) is just too much for you, you can put the biscuits in a plastic bag and beat them up with a rolling pin. I have done this before. It sounds like a good plan, but it's really not. You don't get a nice even crumb and it takes a lot longer than you think. I think its actually quicker with the machine. It's also infinitely more lazy which suits me just fine.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Totally Tasty Teeny Tiny Cinnamon Rolls

I just caught up with some friends and got bashed for not blogging enough - which is probably fair, but in my defence, the cranberry scone post was physically published after the meat post, but I mucked up the dates. So it actually hasn't been quite as long as you might think looking back over the dates.

Aah, but that's just all excuses. The real reason is that I am just slack!!! Consider this.... I like to think of myself as a decent home cook, someone who spends almost every waking minute thinking about food. However, when it came to Boof's upcoming Christmas party at pre-school, I was so slack, I volunteered to bring jelly beans. Yes, jelly beans. They put up a list of all the things they would like parents to supply - there were lots of fun things, like fairy bread and cupcakes, but slack old me chose jelly beans. So there you have it. No good excuses. Not even any creative excuses. Just plain old slackness!

HOWEVER, I do have an exceptional recipe for you to try! Of course, it's not MY recipe - I'm way too slack for that, but it is a good recipe! It's for "Totally Tasty Teeny Tiny Cinnamon Rolls" and it comes from Muffin at Ooh you tasty little things.... I made these for some friends the other day, and we ate them straight out of the oven! They were very very good! The girls and I made a serious dent in the batch, and GKGK has since polished off the entire remainder! Good food does not last long in this house. (That's PorkChop's chubby little hand trying desperately to reach the treasure!)

If you do decide to make them, a couple of things I did differently (of course, there had to be some)..I needed more flour in order to get a decent dough; I skipped adding almond or orange flavouring or colouring in either the filling or the icing; and I only used 2 cups of icing sugar. This made more than enough icing - the 4 cups suggested would be an insane amount! I also needed to add some water to the icing to get it liquid enough to drizzle.
It's a bit time consuming with all the waiting for rising, but they are well worth the effort!