Monday, December 15, 2014

SRC Cookie Carnival: Russian Tea Cakes

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The Christmas season is something I look forward to every single year. I love the music, the food and the fellowship. I love going to church extra early, and coming back home and watching my kids open their presents with squeals of joy. I guess you could say I just love celebrating the birth of my Saviour! 

I doesn't matter that I'm... um... as old as I am - the  season is just so festive, bright and full of life that I turn into an excited child who just can't wait for Christmas eve. But every year, come December, I am so exhausted and tired, that I can't wait for January to get here! :) Christmas is a lot of work, I guess! But at least most of the Christmas related 'work' is tons of fun! Like today's post!
This month, as a bonus, the Secret Recipe Club that I've joined just recently is having a Christmas Cookie Carnival! How fun... For this event, I was assigned a wonderful blog from my own Group B - meet Melissa from Smells Like Brownies! This chocolate-loving mom of an adorable toddler is so talented! I love her site. Her recipes look and sound fabulous, the photographs are great and her choice of recipes is amazing - I want to eat everything off the screen. And she makes the prettiest wedding cakes! I repeat - SO talented! 

Melissa had a wonderful array of cookie recipes for me to choose from and the super decadent-sounding Fleur de Sel Caramel Cookies were my first pick! Don't they sound divine? But then my eye caught these Mexican Hot Chocolate Crackle cookies! Oooooh cookies that taste like hot chocolate!? Yum! And then my very inquisitive 5 year old came peeping and as I looked through the cookies, this one caught her eye and she asked me what they were! And when I told her that they were snowball cookies, it was all settled. She said she had to have these cookies, and soon. I guess we had decided. And if I didn't give in, I was sure to hear 'snow cookies, mama' every hour for the next two weeks. Never mind that there were other cookies that sounded like heaven in a bite. We had to have snow. 
Thank you Melissa for this yummy recipe that didn't make me regret my daughter's pick. These cookies were really, really good! I've made snowball cookies before, and I've eaten my fair share. It was fun and exciting to try a new recipe! These cookies tasted rich, and nutty and were just the right level of sweet - even with all the 'snow'. The powdered sugar did make it a messy treat for the kids, but it was so worth it!
Russian Tea Cakes/Snow Cookies
Adapted from this recipe on smellslikebrownies.com 
Ingredients 
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
½ cup confectioner’s sugar, plus extra
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2¼ cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1 cup finely chopped walnuts 

Method 
1. Cream the butter and powdered sugar until smooth and fluffy. 
2. Stir in the vanilla and beat for a minute or so. 
3. Add the flour, salt and nuts and stir until it comes together. 
4. Set the mixing spoon aside and gently mix the dough with your fingers till it comes together into a ball. 
5. Pinch of bits of dough and form cookie balls about 1" in size. Lay them out on baking tray/cookie sheet leaving about an inch between each of the cookies. 
6. Bake in a preheated oven at 200C/400F for about 12 minutes. At this point the bottom of the cookie will have colored golden brown but the rest of the cookie will remain whitish. 
7. Remove the cookie sheet from the oven and working quickly, dredge each hot cookie in the powdered sugar and set on a cooling rack. The cookies aren't too hard to handle when they're hot. Just don't touch the hot baking tray. 
8. Leave the cookies on the cooling rack to cool completely. When they're completely cool, dredge them again in the powdered sugar. This time, the sugar will stick a lot better and the cookies will look like they're covered in snow. 
9. Store in an airtight cookie jar away from the reach of little hands - unless you want your whole house covered in a fine layer of powdered sugar. 

Thank you Melissa! Love love love your blog and I will also be making the other two cookies I wanted to make! I can't wait! These were so yummy and buttery and nutty and sugary and so good! The photographs turned out messy because of all the sugar and the two pairs of grubby little hands I had to keep swatting away while trying to get a decent picture! 
EDIT: Just saw the Chocolate Mint Butter Cookies! Yum! And more importantly, - CONGRATULATIONS, Melissa! :)

And thank you Sarah for all that you do for Secret Recipe Club. What a lot of work it must be! Thanks for organizing this cookie carnival! I loved being a part of it! :)

I hope you guys try this recipe. I'm sure it will get added to your Christmas baking list every year. Until next time...

Check out the links below for more awesome Christmas Cookie ideas!


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Monday, December 8, 2014

Secret Recipe Club: Tomato Jam

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When I received my assignment for Secret Recipe Club for this month, I must admit was a little confused. I mean - how do you choose ONE recipe from a blog that's chockfull of awesome recipes? And even while I was lolling about in confusion, she went ahead and posted this tempting chowder recipe. Thanks for adding to the confusion, Julie!

This month, the blog I was assigned to cook from was the wonderful A Little Bit of Everything. Julie has been blogging since 2009 and has almost 750 posts on her blog. Yes, you read that right. Seven hundred and fifty! Is it any surprise that I found it hard to choose something?

This recipe was one that I passed over the first time because I thought it was too simple. But even after I bookmarked a few other yummy ones - including a cranberry-jalapeno jam which sounded divine, my mind kept going back to this one. And I am so glad I decided to go with my gut!
It was my first time ever making a tomato jam, and wow - it really is something! I stayed true to Julie's recipe with only a few minor adjustments - a little less sugar than she used, and some extra acid because the tomatoes I used just weren't tart enough. Apart from that, I stuck to Julie's recipe and instructions and it was just delicious!

And with Christmas just around the corner, I'm sure your friends would love receiving this beautiful red jam in pretty little jars with cute ribbons around them!

I must also mention that I only made half the recipe, using 2.5 pounds of ripe tomatoes. 

Tomato Jam
Slightly adapted from this recipe
Ingredients
2.5 pounds/1.1kg of ripe tomatoes
1 1/3 cup white sugar
4 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp red dried chilli flakes

Method
1. Wash, core and chop the tomatoes fine. I used a food processor. (If you're the kind of person who is bothered by tomato skins, you can blanch and peel the tomatoes. The skin doesn't bother me. So I skipped that.)
2. In a heavy bottom saucepan, combine all the ingredients. Stir together and set the saucepan on a stove on medium heat.
3. Bring the mixture to a boil and stir until the sugar has completely dissolved.
4. Lower the temperature and allow the jam to cook on low heat for about an hour or more. You will need to stir it and scrape down the sides at regular intervals. The frequency of stirring must increase as the jam gets thicker. You don't want it to catch and burn. 
5. When the jam is thick, mine reduced to less than one-third of the original volume, the mixture is sticky and glossy. 
6. If you're using to bottling and canning, follow your usual procedure to store this yummy jam. Or you could just allow the jam to cool, transfer to an airtight jar.

I store most of my jams and preserves in the refrigerator, and this one went into the fridge too.

I loved the flavor of this jam. It is sweet, tart, spicy and has a lovely sticky texture that keeps you licking your fingers. There are so many things I can think of to do with this jam - my brother suggested something with goat cheese. A tart maybe? I was thinking it would be awesome with feta or haloumi too. 
We made a simple grilled cheese with cheese, tomato jam, and tabasco sauce for added heat. It had lovely flavor and we enjoyed it! 

Thank you Julie for a lovely recipe and for your awesome blog posts. I've bookmarked quite a few including this delicious sounding Lemon Butter Baked Shrimp. I look forward to getting to know you better as we cook together in SRC! Until next time! :)

To see more yummy recipes from Group B of the Secret Recipe Club, visit the link below!

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Monday, December 1, 2014

Banana, Date & Walnut Bread

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I've been just so bad at blogging. It has been a challenge for me to sit down and get a post out, and I apologise! I should be posting more regularly going forward. Fingers crossed!
This recipe came out of need - I just needed to use up some leftover, overripe bananas, and some dates that my daughters have outgrown. Yes, outgrown. These kids and their food choices. One day they love dates and they insist I buy them a large pack. And the next day - "Dates? Blechhhhh!" How am I supposed to keep up with that!

I loved the way this recipe turned out. It was loosely based on a recipe from taste.com.au. I changed it up quite a bit - the biggest changes being using mostly honey, and a lot less, in place of sugar, and the addition of some butter in the recipe. 

Banana, Date & Walnut Bread 
Ingredients
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup water
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/3 cup honey
2 tbsp sugar
1 cup dates, pitted and chopped
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp flaxseed powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 large overripe bananas, peeled and mashed (about 1 cup)

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. While the oven is preheating, lay the walnuts on a small oven-safe plate or tray and allow them to toast in the oven. Remember to remove them when the oven reaches temperature. Alternatively, toast the walnuts in a skillet or frying pan. 
2. Pour the water in a saucepan, add the butter, honey and sugar and place it on a stovetop on medium heat.
3. Heat until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture is starting to bubble.
4. Add in the dates and cook for approximately a minute. Turn off the heat and set the saucepan aside.
5. In a large bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, flaxseed powder and salt. Stir well to combine.
6. Add the date mixture, which will be a little cooler now, and stir until combined. Stir in the mashed banana.
7. Fold in the walnuts. 
8. Pour the batter into a greased and floured 9" loaf tin and bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the tin comes out clean.
9. Remove from the oven, and allow the bread to cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Ease the loaf out of the tin and allow to cool down on a rack.
10. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Let me tell you - this is a hearty, healthy and filling bread. We loved it! It was great as a part of breakfast and a yummy tea-time treat!

I ate a couple of slices with some peanut butter. My husband liked it with a caramel spread. But my favourite was when I ate a leftover slice the next morning - toasted and slathered with butter. It was just awesome!
I love the flavours and textures that come together in this loaf, and I think you will too! 

Until next time… 
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