Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

Christmas 2010

Christmas 2010

Coming from the Philippines where adorning  homes with Christmas decorations has become a national pastime that begins in September, my first impression was that Australians weren’t very keen on Christmas.  I couldn’t get used to Santa in a body suit, trading turtlenecks for singlets, or a “white Christmas” referring to spending time in Bondi beach.

Jenni's Berry Pie

Jenni's Simple Berry Pie

It’s taken almost five years but the Aussie Christmas has certainly grown on me. This year we spent Christmas day at my Aunt Jenni’s house in Canberra.  I meant to share these pictures with you sooner but it’s taken me awhile to rouse myself from the food induced coma brought about by the eating binge over Christmas.


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Queso de Bola Spread

Queso de Bola Spread

Because the holiday season is already so stressful, there are some things that you should never do in December.

Getting married is one of them.

This of course is from first hand experience when eight years ago, three days after Christmas, I said “I do.”  When I got engaged my then fiancé said “pick a date” and there was no doubt in my mind that we would get married around the Christmas holidays.  I had visions of a string quartet playing Christmas carols at the wedding reception, pointsettias hanging around the ballroom and because my Mom was taking care of the catering, I asked for a Holiday themed menu including glazed hams and roast turkeys.

The stress started as early as September when the dressmaker told me that because I wanted a beaded dress, whatever my current weight was then was what my weight had to be at my wedding.  There was no room to put on any holiday weight as this would mean major adjustments to the dress.

It was hard to enjoy engagement parties and holiday get togethers when every time I’d want to stuff myself silly I’d envision a little bubble over my head and inside was the dressmaker shaking his head saying “Tsk… tsk… I told you not to eat so much!”


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Strawberry and Macaron Trifle

Strawberry and Macaron Trifle

If you regularly read my blog (and if you don’t: why not?!?!), you might know that this year I started teaching macaron making at The Essential Ingredient.  It’s been a fantastic and rewarding experience (especially when I get sent pictures of finished macarons from former students) and I look forward to more classes next  year.  One question I get asked frequently is “What macaron book do you recommend?”  I’ve probably bought all the books on macarons ever published.  I have even bought two macaron books written in French (Christophe Felder and Pierre Herme) to learn as much as I can (on a few occassions I have even translated a few recipes).  With the craze of macarons in the year or so, a number of books in English have also been published.  None of them I have been completely happy with.

That is of course until last week, when, by some happy accident (meaning I went to the bookstore without intending to buy anything) I found Jose Marechal’s Secrets of Macarons.


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Relleno Alimasag (Philippine Style Stuffed Crab)

Relleno Alimasag (Philippine Style Stuffed Crab)

One of the greatest food writers in the Philippines was a lady by the name of Doreen Fernandez.  When I was in the Philippines I took for granted her contributions to our cuisine and so I rarely paid any attention to her works which was a pity since I have been crazy looking for some of her books which are almost impossible to find.  Last month in Melbourne I went to a store called Books For Cooks where tucked in a corner was one of Doreen’s books.  I couldn’t believe my luck!  The book is called Palayok (a type of native cooking pot) and while not a recipe book, is filled with valuable information on what and how our cuisine has come to where it is today.  The chapter I’m reading now for instance, is on the Spanish influences on food.

This influence is  of course inevitable considering we were a colony from 1521 to 1898 (I tell everyone we were colonized for around 300 years, but now I realize it’s 377!).  The first Spanish settlers were officials and their families then later on, friars.   Ingredients in the Spanish kitchen often make an appearance in our food like chorizo (sausages) and jamon (ham). Another example, is in our cooking methods.  To saute in the Philippines is called “gisa” from the Spanish word guisar.

Another cooking process commonly used in the Philippines, is called relleno which means to stuff.  With some types of relleno, the Spanish influence is much clearer, for example,  rellenong manok (stuffed chicken) will typically be stuffed with pork, chorizo and ham.  Other relleno has been adapted to the produce more easily available in the Philippines, for example, rellenong bangus or stuffed milkfish (milkfish is very accessible in the Philippines).


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Santa Choux Pastry with Hazelnut Mousse Filling

At age one, I was very scared of Santa.   I can’t remember actually crying but pictures don’t lie – and there I am, in the little red outfit, with my mouth wide open, howling as any baby would if you put them infront of a strange pudgy man with a red suit and a long white beard!  And it wasn’t just me… my sister looks pretty terrified too – don’t you think?

Santa's worst photo shoot ever...

And the next year, the same thing happened…

Santa's second worst photo shoot ever!

It was only around age 3 and 4 that I realized how GREAT  Santa was.  He was the jolly man in the red suit who would give me presents if I was good! Oh yes sure, he saw me when I was sleeping, he knew when I was awake, he knew if I’d been bad or good and so I was usually good for goodness sake!

Every year my siblings and I would write Santa a letter of all the things we wanted for Christmas.  At age five or so, I remember my lists being pretty extensive and I would have to ask my eldest sister to help me write it out.  The letters would always begin with some summary of how good or bad I was the during the year.  Of course I would always emphasize the good and the bad stuff was always watered down.   There was one year  I can still recall my obsession with Hello Kitty and I had a Dear Santa letter that was a page long asking for everything hello kitty from shoes, a bag, a doll to a cooking set (yes I loved to cook even then!).  Every 24th of December my Mom would ask all of us kids to take an afternoon nap and a few hours later we would all wake up and beneath the tree were the presents we had asked for!  Of course we never really took naps – we were always too excited to see what Santa would bring this year!  So we’d just close our eyes and wait until my Mom finally told us we could have a look at the tree.

As a child, it was something I always looked forward to!

When I was ten, I was in love with a little doll I had “adopted” – her name was Patricia and she was a Cabbage Patch Doll.  I remember asking Santa for everything Cabbage Patch so that I could take care of Patricia in true Cabbage Patch style.  I asked for a swing set, a tea party set and a new dress for her.

A few days before Christmas I was looking for Patricia’s little shoe and for some reason I thought my Mom had kept it.  I looked all around her room but could not find it.  I thought it must be in her shoe closet so I went to her dressing room and of all the things to find – the Cabbage Patch swing set! What was the swing set doing in my Mom’s dressing room?

And that’s when I knew… When did you find out?

He knows if you've been bad or good - so be good for goodness sake!

I’ve made some choux pastry and filled them with a rich hazelnut mousse  in the form of Santa – for  whom this post is dedicated to.  May he always bring out the child in everyone…

Recipe (Adapted from  Balthazar Cookbook)

  • 125 ml milk
  • 125 grams butter
  • 5 grams salt
  • 5 grams sugar
  • 140 grams flour
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
  1. Pre heat the oven to 170c (fan forced)
  2. In a medium saucepan, combine the milk, butter, sugar and salt with 1.2 cup water and bring to a boil.  Add the sifted flour and stir with a wooden spoon until thoroughly combined.
  3. Continue stirring over medium heat for around 3 minutes.
  4. Transfer the dough into a bowl of a standing mixer.  Stir at a low speed for a few minutes to lower the temperature of the dough.  Increase the speed to medium and then add the eggs, one at a time.
  5. Mix until a smooth, cool dough forms, about 5 minutes.
  6. Fill a pastry bag, fitted with a # 9 tip, with the dough, or use a spoon to form small puffs, about 3 cm in diameter, and another around 5 cm in diameter on parchment paper or silpat.
  7. Brush the puffs with some beaten egg yolk and transfer to the oven.  Bake for 30 minutes to 40 minutes until golden brown.  Cool the puffs on a wire rack.
  8. To fill, make a hole using the tip of a very small piping nozzle and fill with your choice of filling (hazelnut mousse recipe here).

Red Icing Recipe

  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • a few drops of red food colouring
  1. Mix the icing sugar, milk and red food colouring together and use to dip the baked choux pastry.

Hazelnut Mousse Recipe – see link.

To Assemble

Lay a coloured smaller dough on top of the larged colored dough.  Pipe with some whipped cream using a star nozzle in between the two doughs as if to form a collar.  Top with some more whipped cream to form Santa’s hat.

Santa Choux Pastry

Stumble It!

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Chocolate Cookies with Cranberries and Pistachios

Here’s a confession – I never go Christmas shopping.  Ever.  I do always have good intentions to buy gifts early, wrap them nicely and write a sweet card wishing everyone the best for the Holiday Season… but it never happens.  Usually, my sister will shop for family and friends.  She is ultra organized, actually shops throughout the year places the gifts in a large box  so that come December everyone has a very nice gift from her… and usually from me too as I always ask her to “add my name” to the card she writes… Sometimes, if it’s someone she doesn’t know, at the last minute I’ve been known to panic shop, tell people “close your eyes and put your hands out” and then place an unwrapped gift in their hands.  It’s a bad habit which I intend to break this year.

So, to kick off the Christmas season, I’ve decided to introduce a series called “All They Want For Christmas!”.  The intention is to come up with food ideas for Christmas gifts that I think friends and family would want.

The first recipe in the series I call the Practically Perfect Chocolate Christmas Cookie – it’s a chocolate cookie made with dark lindt chocolate, studded with fruit and nut, in this case, cranberries and pistachios – the two of which I associate with the holiday season.  These cookies are crisp on the outside but maintain that fudge like centre – just the way a perfect cookie should be!


Recipe (makes 15 pieces)

  • 125 grams lindt chocolate, 70% cocoa, chopped
  • 75 grams flour
  • 30 grams dutch processed cocoa powder
  • 50 grams butter
  • 120 grams brown sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 egg
  • 40 grams unsalted pistachios
  • 40 grams dried cranberries
  1. Melt the chocolate by placing it in a microwave safe bowl and heating the chocolate for around 45 seconds at 15 second intervals.  Allow to cool slightly.
  2. In the meantime, cream the sugar and the butter until pale and then add the egg.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, cocoa powder and baking soda.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the batter, a third at a time.
  5. Next, add the melted chocolate and mix well.
  6. Fold in the cranberries and pistachios and place in the fridge for around 30 minutes.
  7. Preheat the oven to 160c (fan forced) and bake the cookies in batches for around 15 minutes.  Half way through the baking process, remove the cookies from the oven and press them to flatten slightly with a spatula and then return them to the oven.
  8. Allow to cool.

Note: The cookies will last for 3 days in an airtight container.


Package in a paper box or glass jar with a festive ribbon

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Bibingka - A Philippine Favourite!

Bibingka – A Philippine Favourite!
Best served with freshly grated coconut

Best served with freshly grated coconut

Why is she talking about Christmas in September?!?  If you aren’t Filipino or if you have never spent Christmas in the Philippines you probably wouldn’t understand.  You see, Filipinos are notorious for having the longest celebration for Christmas.  Once the “ber” months roll around (September, October, November etc) we start playing Christmas music and the decorations start to come out.

So to kick off the Filipino Christmas Season, here is a recipe for one of my favourite treats – Bibingka.

Every morning starting the 16th of December until the 24th, churchgoers all over the Philippines wake up before the crack of dawn to hear mass.  This is one of the most enduring traditions in the Philippines called Simbang Gabi.  After mass, friends and family gather in their homes to feast on traditional Philippine breakfast treats.  One of the more popular dishes is Bibingka.  It’s a sweet/savoury cake made from rice flour, coconut milk, flour and eggs.  It is topped with a native Philippine cheese and salted duck eggs.   Admittedly it was an effort to grind my own rice and grate my own coconut but I had a bad craving for a really authentic bibingka – and it was worth it!

This recipe was adapted from Memories of Philippine Kitchens (Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan).

Ingredients for Galapong (rice batter)

  • 1 3/4 cups jasmine rice

Ingredients for Bibingka

  • Softened butter for the clay cazuelas/containers
  • Four 6-inch banana leaf rounds, if unavailable use wax paper
  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup plus 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cup galapong
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 2 salted eggs
  • 4 slices sharp cheddar cheese
  • 4 slices kesong puti (I used Haloumi as kesong puti is a traditional Philippine cheese unavailable in Australia)
  • 4 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 cup freshly grated coconut

For the galapong

Rinse the rice under cold running water until clear.  Drain and place in a bowl with cold water to cover and leave in the refrigerator overnight.  Drain and rinse again and then drain in a colander for 30 minutes.  Transfer to a food processor and process until the mixture is finely ground, about 1 minute, scraping the sides of the processor as needed.   To grind more thoroughly, use a coffee/spice grinder and grind 2 or 3 tablespoons at a time.  You will need 1 1/2 cups galapong.

For the Bibingka

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 220c (fan forced).  Brush the cazuelas/containers with softened butter and line with the banana leaves or wax paper.
  2. Sift the flour, 1/4 cup sugar, baking powder and salt into a bowl.  Add in the galapong.  With a whisk, beat the eggs and coconut milk in a separate bowl.  Pour into the dry ingredients and with a rubber spatula, mix slowly until smooth.
  3. Divide the mixture among the lined containers, nestle the duck eggs (I used half a duck egg per cake, quartered), cheddar cheese strips and kesong puti and finally 1 tablespoon sugar per cake.
  4. Set the cakes on the top rack of the oven and bake until firm, around 15 minutes.
  5. Brush the bibingka with the melted butter while still warm.  Unmold each bibingka onto a serving plate.
  6. Serve with grater coconut.
The Bibingka batter before baking

The Bibingka batter before baking

To Open a Coconut

Pierce the eye of the coconut with a skewer and shake out the water from the coconut.  Heat the coconut in a 200C oven for 10 minutes until the coconut cracks.  Remove the coconut from the oven and finish opening the coconut by holding the coconut and hammering it until it opens.  Remove the meat with a melon baller.

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