29 December 2011

I need a camera to my eye

Remember me always nagging about my old Sony Cybershot camera and wishing for a better one? Maybe for Christmas?
Now Christmas is over and just you see what Santa left me under the tree:

Eeeeeee! I'm so happy!
Now it finally is time to get reacquainted to working with aperture, shutter speed and manual focus, and finally producing some more than decent pictures. I've had the camera literally attached to my eye from morning till night for the last few days and have been taking pictures of everything that moves (and everything that doesn't move, for that matter). I was really afraid that it would take me weeks to get back into the groove of photographing with a SLR but, lucky for me and my surroundings, it seems to be coming back quite quickly.

So, that was it. The last picture taken with the old Sony Cybershot. Thank you, my dear, for your loyal services!

25 December 2011

Risotto, risotto, risotto!

When I made this dish, I didn't really expect it to turn out as good as it did because the combination of ingredients is somewhat unusual. I mean, have you ever tried spinach with cranberries? No? See.
But just as white is the new black and frugal is the new decadent (or was it the other way round?), mixing flavours that normally don't go together seems to be the new traditional cooking. And because I'm the Ghost of Christmas Present and up to the minute I decided to follow that trend. 
Or, to be really honest: the ingredients all turn up in what is propably the best piece of Christmas-related telly on this planet, and I was really, really bored that day and didn't come up with a better idea than throwing all of them together and making them into a supper.
I won't keep you in suspense any longer: The mystery dish is basically a porcini mushroom risotto with some cranberries and spinach added to it. Originally, I wanted to use water spinach and goji berries but as I couldn't find them anywhere (and goji berries would've been far too expensive, anyway) I substituted normal spinach and dried cranberries. Works just as well. And it tastes far better than it looks (well, risotto ALWAYS looks quite boring if you ask me...)

This recipe is especially for you, Ziska. And for everyone else who's in on the joke.

As I said, it turned out much, much, much better than I expected: There's a wonderful earthy basis from the porcini mushrooms that contrasts perfectly with the sweet fruitiness of the cranberries. Couldn't taste much of the spinach, though, except for a very faint note. Might need to add a little more next time.
However, I LOVE cooking spinach. It's always fun to put that huge heap of fresh leaves into the pot and watch it shrink to the tiniest fraction of its original size. And the smell...! Yum!

As far as ingredients go, it's very important that you use porcini mushrooms, fresh or dried, and not a wee tin of the button variety because they've not got the same zip ...!


Ith gu leòir and Happy Christmas!

Christmas risotto

200 g/1 cup rice (I prefer brown)
125-250 g/4-8 cups spinach
Half an onion
1 small clove of garlic
25 g/2 oz dried porcini mushrooms
0.25-0.5 l/1-2 cup white wine
2 stock cubes
Olive oil
50 g/0.3 cups dried cranberries
50 g/0.5 cups parmesan
Some cardamon (optional) 
A pinch of nutmeg
Salt and pepper

First, soak the mushrooms in 1l/4 cups lukewarm water for about 20 minutes, then drain them and cut into bite-sized pieces. DON'T pour away the lovely soaking water, you'll need it later.

In a large pan or medium pot, heat some olive oil. Wash the spinach, remove the stalks and throw the leaves into the pan. Cook until they're reduced to a small, sad-looking heap, then transfer to a blender and puree. Put aside.

Heat some olive oil in a large pot. Dice the onion and finely chop the garlic, then add both to the oil and sweat until translucent. Add some more oil and then the rice, and fry until that's translucent, too. Don't forget to stir, you don't want it to burn. Turn down the heat.

Cut the dried cranberries into halves.

Heat the mushroom water, add 2 stock cubes and stir until dissolved. Add some of the stock and the wine to the rice, stir until the rice absorbed it all, then add 40 g of the cranberries and some more stock and wine.

Keep adding stock and wine until the rice has absorbed all of it and is nice and creamy. Remove from the heat, add the spinach and combine. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add a generous pinch of cardamon if you're feeling adventurous. Leave it out if you don't.

Serve with a lot of grated parmesan and dried cranberries on top. 

Well, that was it for now. The Ghost of Christmas Present is just about ready for bed after another exhausting day's haunting. (And if you're really curious about what this risotto was inspired by, then click here)

21 December 2011

Christmas biscuits

Seeing as it's nearly Christmas and as I haven't and won't have the time to post the recipes for all the other Christmas biscuits I made, I decided to at least share some pictures with you:

Happy Christmas and merry eating! (Or the other way round, whatever you like best...)

19 December 2011

German gingerbread, part two

Well, can't keep it from you no longer. Here it goes:

German gingerbread, part two (for part one, see here)

Unwrap the dough and knead it for some minutes. If it's too hard, put the dough into the oven at a low temperature for about five minutes, it will soften.

Roll out the dough (until 0.5 cm/0.2 inches thick), then cut out biscuits (we used hearts, moons, trees, angels and santa clauses). Put them on a baking tray and let them rest for another 1-2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 190° C/375° F. Bake the biscuits for about 20 minutes, checking every 5 minutes or so. They mustn't blacken or they'll taste very bitter.

Remove the biscuits from the oven and let cool. If you want, you can decorate them with chocolate, almonds or whatever you want. I think, they are best when they're pure (and I'm also too lazy to decorate). They'll be quite hard at first but should soften after a few days. If they don't, store them with half a fresh apple. Leave them alone for a few days, they get even better with time.

14 December 2011

Xantner Brocken

Xantner Brocken are a speciality from the German town of Xanten. They're real calorie bombs and honestly the best Christmas biscuits I ever tasted. Gingerbread + chocolate + nougat + brittle = heaven.


Actually, they're not really biscuits. They're more something like pralines or petit fours. Or whatever. 
They're delicious, and that's what counts.

Nougat and cream, how could this possibly get any better?


Well, by smearing it on gingerbread!

Xantner Brocken
(Recipe adapted from Brigitte 12/97 (I think))

50 ml/1.75 oz double cream
150 g nougat
0.5 Tbsp rum

125 g/0.4 cups honey
60 g/0.25 cup sugar
60 g/0.25 cup coconut oil
250 g/2.5 cups flour
0.5 Tbsp cocoa
0.5 tsp cinnamon
1-2 tsp rose water
2 tsp salt of tartar/potassium carbonate
1 egg yolk
300 g/12 cups bitter couverture, grated
Some hazelnut brittle to sprinkle on top

You need to prepare the filling one day in advance: Pour the cream into a pan, heat it up, add the nougat and stir until it has melted. Cover the pan with a lid or plate, then leave over night in a dry, cool place.

In a medium pan, heat up the honey, sugar and coconut oil, and stir until combined. Remove from heat and let cool. Add flour, cinnamon, cocoa and the egg yolk, and combine. Dissolve the potassium in 1-2 tsp of rose water, then add that to the dough, too. Knead into a smooth dough, wrap it in cling film and refridgerate for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 200° C/390° F. Remove the dough from the fridge and roll it out until it's about 3 mm/0.1 inch thick. Transfer it to a baking tray, put it in the oven and bake for 7 minutes. Then immediately cut it into squares (2.5 cm/1 inch wide and long).

Now take out the nougat cream you made the night before, add the rum, and beat the mixture with an electric mixer until soft and creamy.

Spread nougat cream on every other gingerbread square, then put another square on top.

In a small pot, melt the chocolate. Coat all the gingerbread parcels in chocolate (it works best if you put them on a fork and pour over the chocolate with a spoon), then sprinkle some hazelnut brittle on top and let the chocolate harden.

And now (I know, it's very hard): Put them away. Let them rest for a couple of days. Trust me. The longer they rest the better they get.

09 December 2011

Almond and marzipan breads, and a little story

One of my alltime favourites. Unfortunately, the dough only makes for about 35 pieces. Christmas six years ago, we had to make this recipe three times because the biscuits were gone so quickly.

Fresh out of the oven. They're a marvel. Filled with a marzipan cointreau mixture, then rolled up, glazed with egg yolk and decorated with almonds. Uhhh, how I love Christmas!

Oh, and I have quite a funny story to tell of the evening we made them: We had just carried a couple of biscuits onto the balcony to make them cool more quickly when we discovered a butterfly sitting on the curtain of the living room window. A butterfly. In December. Inside the house.
It just kept sitting here, not opening its wings, not moving, nothing. I tried to tempt it with a flower but it wasn't interested. Or just scared shitless. Finally, I smeared a bit of the marzipan cointreau stuff on my finger and held it up to the butterfly. And it walked onto my hand and started to eat. It stayed on my hand even when it had finished eating, eventually even opening its beautiful wings. It was a peacock butterfly. The most beautiful ever. I fed it some sugary water later that evening and carried it around the flat until bedtime because it just wouldn't leave my hand. I decided it was a boy and named him Fridolin. Fridolin, the butterfly. I finally got him to leave my hand and to spend the night on a lily but he immediately crawled back on my hand when I checked up on him the next morning. In the afternoon, we finally put him in a box und took him to a sheltered hay shed where he could hibernate.

Stunning animals, butterflies, aren't they? He was actually a whole lot prettier, incredibly luminous colours... I hope he's well. Happy hibernating, Fridolin! Maybe we'll meet again next spring.

Almond and marzipan breads
(Recipe adapted from Backen im Advent)

280 g/1.75 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
100 g/0.5 cups sugar
100 g/0.5 cups butter
1 egg
2 egg whites
250 g/1 cup marzipan
20 ml/0.5-1 oz cointreau
1 sachet vanilla sugar
1 egg yolk
100 g/1.3 cups flaked almonds

Mix flour, baking powder and sugar in a large, shallow bowl. Add the butter and the egg, and knead into a smooth dough. Wrap in cling film and refridgerate for at least half an hour.

Beat the egg whites until stiff, then grate in the marzipan. Add the cointreau and the vanilla sugar, and combine.
Preheat the oven to 200° C/390° F.

On a smooth surface, roll out the dough (about 3 mm/0.1-0.2 inches thick) and cut into squares of about 5-6 cm/2 inches in length and width. Put a spoonfull of the marzipan mixture on each square, then roll them up and place on a baking tray lined with baking paper.
Glaze the breads with the egg yolk and sprinkle the flaked almonds on top. Pop the baking tray into the oven and bake for around 20 minutes.

Let cool and bon appétit!