These days we had our first snow this winter. If the Christmas wasn’t white, at least New Year will be. It will be cold they say. It doesn’t really matter. I managed -40ºc in Montreal last year. I fear nothing!
And this will be the first New Year after four years I’ve been spending it away from home. I am really happy and excited about it!
It’s funny how I never had the idea of organizing a good dinner before going to France couple of years ago. I like the idea of organizing a New Year’s dinner at home before going out. But the last thing I want is to spend my evening in the kitchen cooking, preparing plates and serving. So, do it yourself/themselves convivial dishes are a must.
Baked soft french cheese such as Camembert, Brie, Coulommiers, Pont l’Evêque, Neufchâtel served with some good french bread (aka sourdough) is simple and cheap solution that needs only a trick or two to turn it into a most luxurious dish. And it will keep you away from kitchen, being able to hang out with your friends while spreading the soft cheese over your slice of bread, splashing it down with some good red, being in the middle of the action.
It’s a recipe you can use in every season. Put on some mild olive oil and rosemary in the summer. Top it with figs and honey. Stick in couple of garlic cloves and thyme in the autumn. Or do as I did, being inspired by my travels to Canada: cranberries, pecans and maple syrup.
- whole soft french cheese like Camembert, Brie, Coulommiers, Pont l’Evêque, Neufchâtel…
- handful of dried cranberries + water to cover them
- 3 Tbsp roughly chopped pecans (you can also replace them with walnuts)
- 3 Tbsp maple syrup (or use agave syrup instead)
- Roughly chop cranberries, cover them with water and cook over a medium fire to get a jam consistency.
- Unwrap cheese, put it on a sheet of baking paper. Top with cranberries, chopped pecans and drizzle with maple syrup.
- Bake in preheated oven at 180ºc for 8 – 10 mins.
- Serve with some good grilled bread and a glass of red wine.
Kissingers. My grandma has been making them since I remember. There isn’t Christmas without them. No one in our family actually knows where my grandma got the recipe or why they’re called that way. So as far as I managed to find out, they’re originally from Bavaria, Germany.
Anyway, this is my healthier version, but for my grandmother’s sake I’m also adding an original recipe:
150 g wheat flour (white)
150 g ground hazelnuts
150 g sugar
100 g butter
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
chocolate and hazelnuts to garnish
- 185 g wholegrain spelt flour
- 150 g ground hazelnuts
- 60 g agave syrup
- 100 g butter
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 egg
- 100 g dried apricots
- juice of 1 big orange
- 60 g dark chocolate (70%)
- ground hazelnuts to garnish
- Mix flour, hazelnuts, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Add butter and combine evenly with your hands. Whisk egg and agave syrup. Add to flour mixture. The dough will be rather soft. Form a ball and let sit for 20-30 mins in a fridge.
- Roughly chop apricots, pour over orange juice and mix with hand blender to get a jam consistency.
- Take the dough out of the fridge and roll it in-between two sheets of parchment paper to 4 mm thick. use a round cookie cutter or a jar to cut out circles.
- Bake at 180ºc for 12 mins or until golden brown.
- Let cool. Make cookie sandwiches by spreading apricot jam in-between the two cookies.
- Melt chocolate and dip in the edges. Immediately roll in ground hazelnuts.
- Leave cookies in a tin box for at least two days before serving & eating.
Back to Last minute DIY Christmas gifts
Cranberries and pistachios. Red and green. Christmas par excellence.
- 150 g rolled oats
- 50 g butter or coconut oil
- 1,5 tsp baking powder
- 70 – 100 g water
- 30 g peeled salted pistachios
- 50 g dried cranberries
- chocolate to garnish
- Roughly chop cranberries and pistachios.
- Finely grind rolled oats into a flour consistency.
- Mix oats and baking powder. Add butter (or coconut oil fi using) and evenly mix with hands. Add nuts and cranberries.
- Add water, mix and let sit. Oats will soak up. It it gets too dry, add a bit more water.
- Make small balls and form a thin cookie. Bake at 180º for 20-30 mins depending on thickness. Let cool and garnish with melted chocolate.
Back to Last minute DIY Christmas gifts
Nut butters are great and soo easy to make. They can be made out of dried or roasted nuts. Roasted hazelnuts are really delicious and I’ve been putting them everywhere lately. So roasted hazelnut butter was a logic decision.
If roasting, do it on 180ºc, tossing the plate occasionally to get them evenly brown.
Peeling hazelnuts is really simple: just put them in-between two kitchen cloths and make circular moves over it. The skins will mostly go off by themselves.
Put the roasted nuts in a blender or a food processor and pulse until you get a homogenous liquid consistency.
The most delicious things are often the easiest. And I finally understand what all this coconut fuss is all about… Homemade coconut butter. Yum on toast, great for baking and making spreads or even using it as a scrub. It’s done in less than 5 mins.
What about coconut??
- coconut butter: mixing shredded coconut using a food processor, or even better a blender, you will obtain a nut butter, as you would for example with almonds or hazelnuts. Coconut butter has the same nutritional properties as shredded coconut, meaning it is rich in fibre and healthy fats. Same as coconut oil, it will harden at around 24ºc.
- virgin coconut oil and extra virgin coconut oil: there is actually no difference between the two, it’s just a market trick. The process starts with fresh coconuts and there are two ways of extracting the oil. The first one consist of drying coconut flesh and cold extraction by mechanical means without any chemicals. The second is a “wet-milling” process without drying: coconut milk is expressed out of the wet coconut meat and oil is then further separated from the water by different means.
- refined coconut oil or coconut fat: most commercial grade coconut oil is made from copra. Copra is dried meat of the coconut. It can be made by smoke drying, sun drying or kiln drying. The way most copra is dried is not sanitary, so the unrefined oil from copra must be purified, that is refined. That’s how in short you will get refined, bleached and deodorized coconut oil. You can also find certified organic refined coconut oil which is higher quality and presumably untreated like the rest of the coconuts in mass production.
- coconut water: clear liquid inside young green coconuts, rich in minerals, low fat, low carb. As coconut continues to grow it will disappear.
- coconut milk: pressed out of fresh coconut meat. It contains water and oils. Depending on the recipe, you can use two kinds: un-emulsified, where fats and water will clearly separate, and emulsified, to which emulsifiers (like guar gumi) are added to form an even mixture. Coconut milk can also be made by simmering equal parts of water and shredded coconut meat.
- coconut cream: has less water than coconut milk. Coconut cream can also be made by simmering 1 part of water and 4 parts of shredded coconut meat.
- coconut flour: after extracting oil from shredded coconut, what’s left is coconut fiber or coconut flour. That’s why it has low fat content and high fiber, and is also rich in protein and low-carb.
- coconut flakes, coconut chips, shredded coconut: are made from dried coconuts. Most dried coconut on the market is often treated with sulfites to keep them white, so check the label. Coconut flakes are bigger than shredded coconut. Coconut chips can be dried or lightly roasted (brown).
As you will blend shredded coconut, it will eventually start getting hotter, the oils will extract and you will get a pretty liquid ream in the end. Coconut butter will harden at room temperature, so put the jar in hot water or use a microwave to heat it up (this might not be the best thing to do, but if in a hurry, that’s the best solution. Check often as coconut oil melts really fast).
Once you have your coconut butter done, you can mix in some melted chocolate or some cocoa, or make a cashew, almond or macadamia spread, as I did.
Macadamia coconut butter
- 2/3 macadamia nuts
- 1/3 coconut butter (if starting with shredded coconut use 1/3 weight of macadamia)
- Put shredded coconut in a blender and pulse. Occasionally you will have to scrap down coconut from the edges towards the middle. Keep doing that until you get a liquid cream. In a blender it takes around 5 mins, in a food processor up to 20 mins.
- For macadamia spread mix together macadamia nuts and shredded coconut or make coconut butter first and than blend with macadamia.
Every year round the first of November I pack my bags and head to Budapest to a swing dance event called Lindy Shock. This one has been 6th in a row for me! Unfortunately I don’t get to see the city that much because I’m mostly going through a cycle dance-eat-sleep. What I do get to see is that mysterious part of the day when the sun has not arisen yet, but it’s bright enough to see those grayish mists rising from the river up the city walls. There is something magical in those early morning hours when the city is waking up and all you see are those lost souls from yesterday’s party returning back home… suddenly I realize I smell winter. Clean. Sharp. Cold.
So yes, I’m in need of something cosy and warm. From Italy. And I run by this classical italian (or should I rather say Piemontese) dessert. It’s called Torta di nocciole:
- 200g toasted hazelnuts
- 200g sugar
- 4 eggs
Three ingredients. Minimalistic. Simple.
No butter needed and I’m replacing sugar with mashed bananas. It’s lightly sweet, but I find it just perfect. I’m making two versions of this. One is with almonds the other with roasted hazelnuts. Both work well, it’s up to you to decide. The one with almonds has a mild taste and is perfect for spreading some cinnamon butter on top. Thanks to roasting the nuts, the hazelnut version has more pronounced and rustic taste and topping it with some coconut cream is pure delight. Or, you can always try the original recipe.
- 200g almonds or roasted hazelnuts
- 200g bananas (without peel)
- 4 eggs
- vanilla pod (optional)
- butter + cinnamon + maple syrup
- coconut cream & roasted hazelnuts
- For hazelnut version, put hazelnuts on a baking sheet and oven roast at 200ºc until lightly brown (If you want, you could do the same with almonds, but that’s optional).
- Ground the nuts into flour consistency using a food processor. Add bananas and pulse several times. Than add egg yolks and vanilla and mix on the highest speed until you get a smooth consistency.
- Beat the egg whites, than add one third at a time into the banana mixture. Do not over mix.
- Bake at 180ºc until lightly brown (it took me aprox. 25 mins, but the time depends on the oven).
- Let cool and top with cinnamon butter or coconut cream and sprinkle with some roasted nuts.