You Stay Classy White Christmas

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My sister and I have an unofficial Christmas tradition. Every year, sometime around the end of December, at some un-allocated moment, we burst into full Bing Crosby impersonation, belting out a version of White Christmas that could rival Christmas lunch for mass ham per capita. To be honest, Sarah is the one who usually upholds the Bing end of the deal. I do the “doo doo, doop de doop” bit.

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Let’s face it, even if you like Christmas, it’s weird and tacky, often either too sweet or not sweet enough. Which is why this white Christmas recipe uses only the sugar of a block of white chocolate and switches out the generic mixed dried fruit in favor of more interesting and, frankly, more festive things. Because, really, the best way to enjoy Christmas is to do whatever the hell you want. There’s a lot of pressure around this time to be at a certain place or buy a certain thing, to the extent that a lot of people find it difficult to enjoy themselves. I think it works a lot better without the pressure, when you finally decide to throw Copha to the wind and invest in some coconut oil. Which is a metaphor, baby. A metaphor for seasons-fucking-greetings. And it’s all for you.

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Disclaimer: this is softer than your usual white Christmas, because the coconut oil isn’t as hard as Copha. You gotta store this shit in the fridge yo. It’s also not as sweet and, hey, maybe you like things super sweet, so keep that in mind.

Ingredients:

250g coconut oil
220g white chocolate
3 cups puffed rice
1 cup desiccated coconut
1 1/2 cups of powdered milk
2 cups of mixed dried fruit (I used a combination of pineapples, craisins and figs)
pinch salt

Directions:

Add chocolate and coconut oil to bowl and allow to warm, either over a pot of hot water or in the microwave, until chocolate is melted. Leave to cool slightly and chop up dried fruit into small pieces. One by one add all other ingredients and stir until combined. Line a large baking tray and pour in mixture, flattening and evening until all space is filled. Put in the fridge for a few hours, remove and cut into pieces. Store in the fridge until ready to put in your mouth.

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Beetroot fritters with haloumi and avacado

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Last week I spent an extended weekend at my mum’s place. Where the streets are wide enough for two cars to drive at once. Where the nearest good coffee shop is a town away. And where at night, instead of a sporadic parade of sozzled hipsters shouting bullshit into the smog-smudged city sky, you can hear the sleepy static of the ocean.

On my last morning there we took a walk along the beach and up the headland, where new developments are springing forth like monstrous, angular mushrooms between $10,000 outsourced palm trees. Despite the designer mansions and half-finished holiday homes monopolising the landscape, it’s still a welcome escape from the city. Newtown, I like you plenty, but you are cramped and noisy and the windows of your terraces tend not to have fly-screens.

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We ate these fritters after our morning walk, with good plunger coffee. I know, I know: more beetroot, more haloumi. But they were there when I arrived. And who am I kidding? Who cares? This is breakfast food with colours. All of them. Well, magenta and green and cream-yellow rusted with golden brown. But that’s an impressive palette for breakfast in my books – my books being filled hand-scrawled lists of the stupidest things I’ve ever had to google (for work or fiction) and sketches of horses’ faces.

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Ingredients:

about 3 small/2 large beetroot, grated
1 cup plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cumin
2tsp ground coriander
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
oil for frying
100g haloumi
1 avocado
juice of 1/4 of a lime
1 tbsp Spanish onion
pinch salt

Directions:

Grate beetroots into a bowl. Add flour, baking powder and spices and stir it all around until the dry things cover the beets. Stir in eggs, then add milk. Heat some oil in a pan. Spoon about 1.5 tbsp of beetroot mixture into pan per fritter. Cook in batches until done, adding oil when needed and flipping each fritter when the bottom side is slightly browned. In between fritters, mash avocado and combine with lime juice, onion and salt. When fritters are done cook haloumi in slices until each side is lightly golden. Stack haloumi on top of fritters and add a dollop of salsa on top. Eat immediately, with a giant coffee.

Dark chocolate cashew spice cookies

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Last night I realised it’s actually only a few weeks away from Christmas and holy crapsticks I have a lot of stuff on in December/January and I’m going to have to be on top of that. Luckily I’m spending this weekend at my mum’s place, where things are quiet, because from here on in it’s all Christmas parties, Christmas lunches, music festivals and travel. There are cocktails to drink, costumes to assemble and several flights to successfully catch. There’s also a bunch of boring administrative stuff I have to get done. Oh, and I’m going hiking.

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Which brings me rather clumsily to these cookies. Because, look, there’s no clear segue between my holiday plan freakout and the cookies or between the individual holiday events themselves. Both the cookies and these next two months are packed full of complex events. As complex as my feelings about the word “cookies”, as complex as my attitude towards this calm spell and the possibility of its ending. There are a lot of exciting things on the horizon, but at present I’d just as much enjoy a morning curled up with my kindle. This is all tied in with the fact that I’ve almost finished book four of A Song of Ice and Fire and the idea of finishing the series (thus far) fills me equally with eagerness and dread. The best thing about catching up to what’s been published will be knowing I can’t go any further, meaning I’ll have to get back to important real-life things. At least when the next book finally comes out, I’ll have a payoff for all the work I’ve been forced to do in its absence.

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If I could hand these cookies over to George R. R. Martin as encouragement to please write faster I would. And if he were as much the Santa Claus of fantasy epics as he appears, I’m sure these would make an ample offering. But I know first-hand that these things can’t be rushed, no amount of cookies will get me that elusive sixth book. This year I wrote not even a quarter of the length of one of his books and called it an accomplishment. Tenuously this brings me back to cookies. I only made four from this batch and squirrelled the rest away, because right now I have the calm and space to make unwarranted baked goods. The rest of the dough is rolled up in a piece of baking paper in the freezer, waiting to be thawed out when things get too hectic and baked goods become warranted again. In the meantime I guess I’ll begin the printing of boarding passes and wrapping of gifts, knowing that very soon I won’t have any time to bake or read or bemoan the time it takes to write a book. Christmas is coming.

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Ingredients:

125g butter
½ caster sugar
1 egg
2 cups plain flour
1 tbsp milk
1 tbsp finely ground coffee beans
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp ground ginger
200g dark chocolate
½ cup roughly chopped roasted cashews (salted or unsalted)

Directions:

Cream butter and sugar. Combine with egg. Gradually mix in flour, spices and coffee. Finally, add dark chocolate and cashews. Either form into balls and squash onto lined baking tray right away or roll into a tube of baking paper and store in freezer or fridge until needed. If using baking paper method you can unwrap dough as needed and slice into rounds. Bake for 12-15 minutes at 160 degrees fan forced. Leave to cool for ten minutes before moving from tray.

Baked haloumi and peach salad

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Sometimes everything falls apart in your hands, like so much vegan chocolate cake. (Not that I’m being disparaging about vegans or vegan food, it’s just my mum made me a vegan chocolate cake for my birthday and it was amazing, but cru-u-mbly). Then again, sometimes you only think things have fallen apart, when really, had you thought things through, you would have realised what you already knew: it is impossible to ruin haloumi cheese. Initially I set out on a quest for baked fetta with sweet slices of summer peaches. But how to make that into a meal? Perhaps the container of messaged kale taking up 1/4 of my fridge space would be the answer. And I could switch the fetta for haloumi – haloumi being firmer, more ready to survive a good tossing.

I should have known from the start that baking haloumi was risky business, but I threw it in a dish with sliced white peaches and some red onion anyway. Deciding that kale was a little overwhelming on its own, I mixed one cup of kale with two cups of mixed salad greens and awaited my tray of baking fruit and cheese.

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It all came out a bit of a mess, purple juices bubbling towards the haloumi side of the dish leaving the border cheese pale, deformed and clinging together. Nevermind though, the cheese on the edge of the pan was nicely golden and the salad turned out tasty enough, thanks to the indestructible deliciousness of cheese in general.

If I had my time again there are a few things I would change. Firstly, despite desperately wanting to reduce the amount of washing up anyone has to do, the peaches and the cheese need separate dishes. Secondly, I’d change the kind of leaf to a few simple handfuls of baby spinach, which is softer and subtler than kale, but nicer wilted than mixed salad leaves. Finally, I’d add some hazelnuts to the mix, just to give the salad some semblance of structural integrity. As an alternative you could leave the peaches fresh and just pan fry the haloumi, maybe adding some mint to the salad. I’m sure this version would be just as nice, especially in the heat we’ve been having. All in all I’m sure I’ll make this again, just a little differently. Which is good, because it means I’m learning, even if it’s stuff I thought I already knew.
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Ingredients:

4 peaches
1/4 Spanish onion
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
pepper
100g haloumi cheese
3 cups baby spinach leaves
1/4 cup whole hazelnuts
handful of mint (optional – but of course everything is)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 200 degree Celsius. Slice haloumi into bite-sized pieces and arrange sparsely on tray or baking dish. Put in oven. Slice peaches into thin wedges and onion into cemi-circles. Add to second baking dish with vinegar and a good grind of pepper. Put second dish in oven. Leave trays in over for 15mins or until haloumi is golden on top. In the meantime add spinach leaves to salad bowl. When cheese and peaches are cooked, leave to cool for ten minutes. Finally add warm ingredients to salad bowl, finish with hazelnuts and mint if you want it.

Kanga Banga sausage sangas with beet and blue cheese “slaw”

This meal is so incredibly Aussie: sausages, kangaroo, beetroot. And yet so incredibly not: it involves devouring one half of the coat of arms and is smothered in blue cheese. Then I went and abbreviated two things that remain peculiarly unabbreviated in the Australian lexicon: beetroot and coleslaw. It’s ridiculous, a paradox and should probably be stopped.

But I couldn’t stop. The name, the ingredients, the ridiculous mess we made eating it, what the beetroot did to my hands. It’s like cultural cringe, I couldn’t look away. And I really, I just… well, I don’t think there’s much else that can be said. Whether you find this sort of thing intriguing, laughable or a complete turn off, your mind was probably made up as soon as you read the title.

Ingredients:

4 brown onions
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp brown sugar
tbsp balsamic vinegar
8 kangaroo sausages
8 slices of bread (preferably something soft that wont crumble with the moisture of the other ingredients – my rye bread was a disaster to eat)

For the slaw:

4 fresh beetroots
handful of parsley
salt and pepper

Blue Cheese Dressing:

5 tbsp white wine vinegar
5 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp brown sugar
100 grams soft crumbly blue cheese

Directions:

Add oil to pan on low and cook ringed onions until translucent (about 20 minutes). While waiting cook sausages in pan or on BBQ or however you like. After 20 mins add balsamic and sugar to onions. Allow to cook a further 5 mins. To make salad, grate beetroots into bowl, adding parsley and seasoning. To dress, crumble cheese in bowl or jug. Add vinegar and oil little by little, stirring after each addition. When done stir into grated beetroot. Serve onions and beetroot slaw on a slice of bread with sausage.

Makes 8. Serves 4-8 depending on how hungry people are.

Rum and raisin chocolate Christmas cake

Aptly naming this cake seems too much like work right now. I still haven’t quite adjusted to not studying. And this cake, it’s, er… it’s complicated. This recipe has all the fruit and spice of a traditional Christmas cake, with the rum/ginger combination of a Dark and Stormy (a cocktail made with dark rum, ginger ale and lime). It also fits the flavour bill of my maternal grandmother’s favourite ice cream, pairing rum with raisins (and crainsins). Plus there’s chocolate to contend with. Rather than overcomplicate things, I’ve named it for what I intended to make, leaving the other things that slipped into the mix without explanation. Once you taste this there’s no way you’ll be demanding one anyway.

For most of my life I didn’t even like Christmas cake. As a kid there seemed no stupider idea than fruit in a cake. However, things did not improve as my tastes matured, Christmas cake remained entirely unappealing, save as a vehicle for sugar, flour and custard. But when I made a version of this cake from The Kitchen Maid last year I realised it wasn’t Christmas cake I found so underwhelming, it was just ugly chunks of orange rind and boring old sultanas, combined with poor choice of “holiday cheer”. My version in 2011 had Cointreau and ginger wine, with figs, craisins and ginger. I made yet another variation for my mum’s birthday this year and, with some encouragement from my sister, hatched a plot for this year’s Christmas incarnation

Which is where the rum and the raisins come in. I can’t remember exactly how things went down, but it was something along the lines of being asked “Can we have the cake again?” and my family’s then current obsession with a certain kind of golden raisin. Fuel was added to this already well-fed fire with a shared recollection of Nanna Win introducing us to rum flavoured frozen confections at an impressionable age. We are yet to sample the results, but the basic method is tried and true by now, as tried and true as the ice cream from which it takes its name.

This cake requires a bit of prep time and at least a few weeks sitting time, but, by gum, it’s worth it. Ideally, if you were making it, you’d want to have the cake done and dusted sometime this week, so it could sit around for about a month getting delicious. But – I have eaten it with only two weeks sitting time and it’s still good. Plus, if there are any leftovers they will just go on gathering flavour. My version of the recipe uses oil, because of a lactose intolerant sibling (Hi, Sarah!). I’ve also added cocoa and reduced the amount of real chocolate, mostly because, while I love the stuff, a few times I’ve been trying to make this on a budget and quite frankly, one block of good quality dark chocolate is enough for my wallet and for flavour. If you’re a maniac like me or my late grandmother you might like to make an extra batch and spread the batter between two smaller tins just in case. In case of what? Well, that I won’t know until it happens. But rest assured, if the apocalypse goes down this December 21st, I will be in no short supply of crazy-good chocolate, ginger, rum, craisin, raisin, spiced Christmas cake. Not only is it probably highly calorific and has, you know, some fruit in it for vitamins, but if you threw it in a zombie’s face it would probably fall over.

Ingredients:
900g of dried fruit (I used 500g of golden raisins, 250g craisins and 150g of crystallised ginger)
2 cups orange juice (I used a combination of bottled and fresh)
½ cup + 2 tbsp dark rum (I used The Kraken)
1 cup sunflower oil
1 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp molasses
grated zest of two oranges
5 eggs
2 cups flour
½ cup cocoa
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp cinnamon
250g dark chocolate roughly chopped

Directions:
Put all your dried fruit in a large mixing bowl. Grate orange rind onto fruit. Add 2 cups of orange juice and 1/2 cup of rum. Leave to soak overnight. The next day gradually stir in (one after the other) brown sugar, oil and eggs. Once combined, gradually add dry ingredients: flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt, spices. Finally mix in chopped chocolate.

Pour into a large cake tin. Bake for 2.5-3 hours at 150 degrees. As mentioned before, my oven is a little – ahem – special, so this is really a case of knowing your oven and checking your cake often. You’ll know it’s done when you touch the top and it bounces right back. When it’s cooled off, wrap in a clean tea towel and store in a safe place until Christmas.

Tea’se Me chicken salad with “chai” dressing

Sometimes I look back on my (undergrad) university years and wonder what the hell I did with all the time I had. Only one or two hours of paid work a week, roughly four classes taking up about 12 hours all up, study, sure, sometimes, but there were also four day weekends, days and days of Buffy marathons and idle op shopping.

In my third and fourth years I spent about as much time at the local tea shop as I did at university. Tea’se Me was just a few blocks away from the apartment I shared with a fellow creative writing student, and along with a modest gang of cohorts we would while away the hours trying different sorts of tea, tucking in to three-tiered sandwiches and talking a whole lot of crap. My favourite thing on the menu was the chicken salad. And the best thing about the chicken salad was the dressing.When I moved to Sutherland in my final year of undergrad I invented this version of the salad. Too far away from Wollongong, too infrequent a visitor and too busy juggling casual work with study, my days at Tea’se Me were whittled down to a minimum. I still go there sometimes when I’m in the area, as should you if you’re ever in Wollongong. There’s a wall of tea, where you can inhale the scents of the many varieties on offer (varieTEAS, more like). The tea is served in glass teapots with tiny handleless white china cups, perfect for sharing. The food is great and reasonably priced and the staff are genuinely lovely. As for the chai dressing – it’s sweet, with just enough tartness, plus it has an added depth from the mustard and cinnamon. It’s on every salad on the menu and many of the wraps and sandwiches, but to me this salad is the staple. Tea’se Me is a must-visit as far as I’m concerned, but in the meantime, if you’re too far away, give this a whirl. I’ve been a little more generous with the avocado and used a combination of slivered almonds and pine nuts, because that’s what I had on hand.

Note: the amounts in this recipe are a rough guide for one serving, because this salad is best made individually. However, the dressing recipe will yield enough for two servings. If you’re not using it all straight away, it can be kept in its jar in the fridge.

Ingredients:

Handful of mixed greens
Handful of shredded BBQ or roast chicken (or about ¼ of the chicken), cold
2-3 slices of spanish onion separated into rounds
about 20g of crumbled fetta
1/3 of an avocado
tbsp pine nuts

Dressing:

2tbsp olive oil
2tbsp white wine vinegar
tsp brown sugar
pinch (about ¼ tsp) of cinnamon
tbsp honey wholegrain mustard

Directions:

Assemble salad ingredients in layers in the order listed. For dressing, put all ingredients in clean glass jar and shake until emulsified. Drizzle dressing on salad as desired.

Boozy Cherry Brownies

Beginnings can be daunting – so why not begin with brownies? Not that these are exactly your average slab of chocolate slice kind of deal. Yeah, they taste a hell of a lot like chocolate and, yeah, they’re awesome, but there’s no chocolate (per-se) in them, or butter, and they’re not so much like a comforting crocheted blanket pulled up to your chin on a winter’s night as they are like a comforting kick in the face.

Really the only reason I made these was because my mum came to stay with me after a trip to Canberra. She’d been to Costco while she was there – adventure city that our national capital is – and bought me a huge bag of dried cherries. I hadn’t been baking much at the time, because I was pretty busy, kinda poor – oh, and my oven sucks. Then the cherries arrived and I decided brownies were in order.

These are boozy, dark and full of tart-sweet kahlua-soaked cherries. Given the only fat in them is half a cup of oil, they aren’t as heavy as most brownies. However, they are very intense and also rather shiny, like a gilded chocolate breastplate (I’ve been reading A Clash of Kings). If for whatever reason you can’t/won’t use dried cherries, you could use craisins. Or even substitute the kahlua for rum and the cherries for raisins for rum ‘n’ raisin brownies. Do what you like. I’m not your mother.

Ingredients:

1 cup dried cherries
1/3 cup kahlua (or some other liqueur)
3 eggs
1 cup loosely packed brown sugar
½ tsp vanilla
½ cup vegetable or nut oil
1 cup cocoa
½ cup plain flour
½ cup desiccated coconut
½ tsp salt

Directions:

Soak cherries in kahlua overnight (or you can put them in the microwave for a few minutes until they soak up some of the liquid). When your cherries have plumped up, combine eggs, oil, sugar and vanilla in a large bowl. Stir in flour, cocoa, coconut, salt. Then add the cherries and kahlua. Pour mixture into lined brownie tin. Cook in moderate oven for about 30 minutes or until the top of the brownies looks set. If you wobble the tray and nothing moves of its own accord: they’re done. Let the brownies cool and cut them into squares.