Ina Garten’s Curried Chicken Salad

If  Julia Child is the amazing queen of home cooks, then Ina Garten is our fairy god mother. The one who always has a fantastic, elegant recipe for parties, lunches, and family dinners.

I’ve been a huge Ina Garten fan for quite a while.  I binge when I can on her shows on The Food Network.  Her recipes are pretty simple, yet the end product at times looks too elegant to eat.

I lied.  Usually I stuff my face as soon as I can with Ina’s recipes!

One of her most popular recipes is her Curried Chicken Salad.  It’s a staple at her delicatessen shop, The Barefoot Contessa, which also just so happens to be the main title of several of her cookbooks.  This recipe in particular is in her Family Style cookbook.  I’ve got this book and her Barefoot in Paris book, and I could certainly make any excuse to get a few more!

While this is one her most popular recipes, I’ll admit it that I’ve never actually made it.  But hey, there’s first for everything!

Here’s my YouTube video of this test.  I’m trying out a shorter version of these.  Let me know what you think!  Follow my channel to get notified when I upload another video.

 

Ina Garten’s Curried Chicken Salad

Ingredients

  • 3 whole (6 split) chicken breasts, bone-in, skin-on
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups good mayonnaise (recommended: Hellman’s)
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup chutney (recommended: Major Grey’s)
  • 3 tablespoons curry powder
  • 1 cup medium-diced celery (2 large stalks)
  • 1/4 cup chopped scallions (AKA shallots) , white and green parts (2 scallions)
  • 1/4 cup raisins (AKA sultanas)
  • 1 cup whole roasted, salted cashews

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Place the chicken breasts on a sheet pan and rub the skin with olive oil. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is just cooked. Set aside until cool enough to handle. Remove the meat from the bones, discard the skin, and dice the chicken into large bite-size pieces.
  3. For the dressing, combine the mayonnaise, wine, chutney, curry powder, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Process until smooth.
  4. Combine the chicken with enough dressing to moisten well. Add the celery, scallions, and raisins, and mix well. Refrigerate for a few hours to allow the flavors to blend. Add the cashews and serve at room temperature.

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The good, the bad, the inedible

You know how Nigella Lawson always had a closing shot on her show where she’s having a midnight snack with whatever she cooked? Yeah.  That was me with Ina’s chicken salad once amended.  It’s freaking addictive.  Perfect crunch with the celery and cashews, just enough sweetness with the sultanas and nice spicy depth of flavour with the curry.

Just a couple of downsides though.

First of all, I don’t exactly have the time to roast 3 whole chicken breasts.  Plus, those type of bird boobs would cost about $15, maybe even over $20 if you’re going free range or at a specialty butcher.  Coles Supermarkets here making a really decent roast chook (Aussie speak for chicken), and it’s only $8 a pop. BOOM. Money and time saved!

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The other downside is this is actually pretty salty.  You’re more than likely going to buy pre-roasted and salted cashews, am I right? They’re already pretty salty, and if you add 1 1/4 teaspoons of salt in your dressing, it’s incredibly salty.  I ended up cutting the salt by half and that seemed to make a world of difference.

This recipe would be, as Ina usually says, “fabulous” for school or office lunches.  Even make it a ritzy twist as finger sandwiches for high tea or a lunch party, or make cups using endive leaves.

So, below is my only slightly improved version.  Enjoy!  And please let me know what you think of the recipe in the comments.

Curried Chicken Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 roasted chickens, meat shredded (4-4/12 cups)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups good mayonnaise (recommended: Hellman’s)
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup chutney (recommended: Major Grey’s)
  • 3 tablespoons curry powder
  • 1 cup medium-diced celery (2 large stalks)
  • 1/4 cup chopped scallions (AKA shallots) , white and green parts (2 scallions)
  • 1/4 cup raisins (AKA sultanas)
  • 1 cup whole roasted, salted cashews

Directions

  1. For the dressing, combine the mayonnaise, wine, chutney, curry powder, and 3/4  teaspoons salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Process until smooth.-
  2. Combine the chicken with enough dressing to moisten well. Add the celery, scallions, and raisins, and mix well. Refrigerate for a few hours to allow the flavors to blend. Add the cashews and serve at room temperature

Handy Tip: keep some dressing in the fridge and redress the salad if you have some leftover in a day or two.  Like any salad, it dries out just a tad after a couple of days.  Adding a bit more dressing give it an added moisture boost.

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Vegan and sugar free Banoffee Coconut Chia Pudding

If you haven’t figured it out already, I’ve got a pretty big sweet tooth.  I bloody love chocolate, cakes, slices, pies…you name it, I probably like it.  So when my friend and CRR supporter Anna found a vegan and sugar free dessert recipe, I wasn’t exactly all gung-ho about the idea.  It’s not a dessert unless there’s something sweet and not all too healthy for you.  But hey, I’m open to trying things out, and just maybe this dessert will change my mind about anything sugar-free.

This dessert would be perfect for Valentine’s Day, as it’s served in individual cups, it has chocolate, and well…it’s a dessert!

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This recipe is from Taste.com.au, and as you might know if you’ve been following the blog, that website is a bit hit or miss. There’s been on more than one occassion where I’ve found steps missing, ingredients not listed in instructions, or the recipe itself leads to a lacklustre end product.  So already before starting I was on the fence about this already.

But anyway, here we go!

Check out the review video here.

 

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Here’s the original recipe:

  • 54g (1/4 cup) black chia seeds
  •  270ml can light coconut milk
  •  2 1/2 tablespoons raw cacao powder
  •  2 tablespoons water
  •  60ml (1/4 cup) rice malt syrup
  •  1 teaspoon coconut oil
  •  1 large banana, sliced
  •  Pinch sea salt flakes
  •  Roasted coconut chips, to serve
  •  Raw cacao nibs, to serve (optional)
  1. Place chia seeds, coconut milk, cacao powder, water and 2 tablespoons of the rice malt syrup in a blender. Blend until almost smooth. Divide among four 125ml (1/2 cup) glasses. Place in the fridge for 2 hours to chill.
  2. Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Cook the banana, turning carefully, for 30-60 seconds each side or until golden and caramelised. Remove from heat. Sprinkle with sea salt. Drizzle with remaining rice malt syrup. Cool for 2 minutes.
  3. Top the puddings with banana and drizzle with pan juices. Sprinkle with the coconut chips, and cacao nibs, if using.

The Good, the bad, the inedible

Let’s talk dollars.  This recipe is fucking expensive.  Not just expensive.  Fucking expensive.  I spent nearly $40 on the ingredients.  Now I don’t know about you, but I could spend $40 on food easily.  But $40 usually lasts me a week in groceries.  So quite frankly if you’re living on a budget, don’t do this recipe.  It’s ridiculous to think that health and organic food can be significantly more pricey than economical (and let’s face it) unhealthier food.  It’s sad, and pathetic.

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Okay, rant over!

Worth adding here also that this recipe is not technically 100% sugar free.  Rice malt syrup happens to contain different forms of glucose, but not fructose, which is the refined sugar that is oh so bad for us.  So this recipe can’t actually be called sugar free.  Thanks to a commentator called SudsEats for pointing this out.

I was a bit surprised by this recipe.  It’s incredibly easy to make.  There was just one problem (okay, it’s technically a second problem if you count the whole price thing).  This pudding is called “Banoffee Coconut Chia pudding”. However, you can’t taste the coconut at all in the recipe.

No I’m serious. It doesn’t take like coconut at all.

You would think that if there’s a food within the name that the food product would actually taste like it.  I was expecting this to almost taste similar to a Bounty.  It was so far from it.  Instead it really just tasted like chocolate, so perhaps this should be called Banoffee Chocolate Chia Puddings.

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But for those of you out there who love the taste of coconut, there’s still hope! I tried a few different alternatives to adding water and the winning combination was….drum roll…..coconut extract and time! Coconut liquor added some coconut flavour, but not enough to really taste a difference with the original recipe.  Coconut extract plus leaving the puddings in the fridge for as long as possible (try overnight) however added the perfect amount of coconutty goodness.  It was delish!

Just a word of caution, if you want to ensure this dessert remains sugar free, double check your extract doesn’t contain any added sugar. Most extracts I found don’t but worth confirming.  You never know!

So if you love chocolaty goodness, keep the recipe the same.  Otherwise, here’s the improved, significantly more coconutty recipe!

Banoffee Coconut Chia Puddings

  • 54g (1/4 cup) black chia seeds
  •  270ml can light coconut milk
  •  2 1/2 tablespoons raw cacao powder
  •  2 tablespoons coconut extract
  •  60ml (1/4 cup) rice malt syrup
  •  1 teaspoon coconut oil
  •  1 large banana, sliced
  •  Pinch sea salt flakes
  •  Roasted coconut chips, to serve
  •  Raw cacao nibs, to serve (optional)
  1. Place chia seeds, coconut milk, cacao powder, extract and 2 tablespoons of the rice malt syrup in a blender. Blend until almost smooth. Divide among four 125ml (1/2 cup) glasses. Place in the fridge for 2 hours to overnight to chill. If leaving the puddings overnight, cover the pudding in plastic wrap to prevent the puddings from drying.
  2. Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Cook the banana, turning carefully, for 30-60 seconds each side or until golden and caramelised. Remove from heat. Sprinkle with sea salt. Drizzle with remaining rice malt syrup. Cool for 2 minutes.
  3. Top the puddings with banana and drizzle with pan juices. Sprinkle with the coconut chips, and cacao nibs, if using.

 

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Easy Bread recipe – A Review

Last week I posted about my Spinach Dip Cob test that quite a few of my work friends are now keen to try themselves with the upcoming Australia Day long weekend.  For everyone that’s not an Aussie, Australia Day is the public holiday to celebrate the landing of the first fleet, kind of like Columbus Day in the US.  In the last few years it’s been a hot topic of debate as some want to change the date of Australia Day for one reason or another.  Most people I know actually don’t quite care.  To us it’s a great excuse to get together with friends, have a barbecue and a few laughs together, and celebrate what a great place we live in.

Anyway, back to the point of this post…bread!  My work boo Tess had a great suggestion the other day.  I’ve tested the dip, why not test making the bread bowl?  That only makes total sense right?  So off I went to start finding a bread recipe worth testing.

I think everyone can relate to the fact that we all have our preference with bread.  Some of us like a soft white sandwich while others prefer a dark, solid multigrain loaf.  Me, I’m a hard crunchy crusty type with a soft airy centre.  That’s quite likely my French side coming out.

As this is the first time I’ve ever tried to make bread from scratch, I thought it wise to try an easy bread recipe over a complicated one.  I figured some of my readers and viewers might be in the same position as me, wanting to master bread making but didn’t want to easy and then progress to a more complicated process.  Julia Child, your bread recipe will have to wait. That’s when I stumbled upon Life as a Strawberry’s Easy Crusty French Bread.  The name said it all.  It was to be easy, and the images on the page looked like a crusty bread to me.

Check out my video on this recipe test on my YouTube channel:

Let’s dive in to bread making shall we? Here’s Life as a Strawberry’s recipe:

INGREDIENTS

  • 2.25 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1.25 cups warm water (about 100 degrees F should do)
  • 1.5 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2.5 cups All-Purpose Flour, plus extra for dusting

Spinach Dip Cob: the retro party food that just won’t Die

Is it too late to say Happy New Year?

Nah. Screw it. Happy New Year! I hope you smash all of your 2018 goals out of the park.

New year, new you.  Right?  Maybe not.  At least it gives you an excuse to start of fresh. I’m not the type to make resolutions or anything, but after stepping out of my comfort zone and starting my YouTube channel (Go on, take a peak and subscribe to my channel.  You know you want to!), I think it’s time to set a few goals for myself that I think are easily attainable.  So here are my goals for 2018:

  • Get serious about Clem’s Recipe Reviews, and be consistent in posting. You guys seem to enjoy the reviews, confirming the reason why I started this blog.  I’m not the only one who has tried a recipe only to have it fail miserably! Plus my recipe collection is only getting bigger. #recipeaddict
  • Go on an adventure at least once a month, whether that be an art exhibit, new restaurant, or an area I haven’t explored yet.

I reckon two goals are pretty realistic, and challenging enough that I’ll definitely feel like I’ve achieved a lot if I complete them.  Now on to what this blog is all about…a recipe review!

This post I decided to do something slightly retro,  something that our mums and grandmums have been bringing to barbecues and parties for decades –  seafood mousse.

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Haha no I’m kidding.  I couldn’t put you through that!  What I’m reviewing is a Spinach Dip Cob, a retro recipe that just seems to never die.  And for good reason!  Here in Australia there’s never been a barbecue that I’ve been to that didn’t have a cob loaf of some description.  This party dish is so popular there’s a town that has a cob festival in Wellington, NSW and competition to crown the “world’s best cob”.  There’s cold cobs, warm cobs, and even dessert cobs.  They’re so popular, they’re even mentioned on the radio.

If you don’t know what a cob loaf is, it’s pretty much just a round loaf of bread.  BOOM! Mind blown.

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But I’m going to stick to the classic spinach dip cob, and I’m going to use the most popular version of this recipe found on Taste.com.au.  I mean, if it’s highly rated surely it’s the best recipe for spinach cob right?

Time to get on your expandable pant wear as we review the Spinach Dip Cob!

If you want to watch the video of my review, check it out below:

Here’s the recipe from Taste.com.au:

Cob Loaf Spinach Dip

Ingredients

  • 450g (approx 1 pound) cob loaf
  •  250g (approx 8 ounces) frozen spinach, thawed
  •  250g (approx 8 ounces) creamed cheese, softened
  •  300ml (approx 10 ounces) tub sour cream
  •  40g (approx 1.5 ounce) packet French onion soup mix
  •  Crackers, to serve

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 180C (350F)/160C (325F) fan-forced. Line a large baking tray with baking paper.
  2. Cut 4cm (1 inch) off top of cob loaf to form lid. Scoop bread from centre of loaf, leaving 1.5cm edge. Tear or roughly chop bread pieces.
  3. Squeeze out any excess moisture from spinach, discarding any liquid. Combine spinach, cheese, sour cream and soup mix in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Spoon mixture into loaf. Top with lid. Place on prepared tray. Arrange bread pieces in a single layer around loaf. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden. Serve with cut vegetables and extra crackers if desired.

The Good, the bad, the inedible

As always, lets start with the good.

Mate, this recipe is so easy, there’s no way you can screw it up.  And it’s really quick to make to.

Yeah. That’s about it really.

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Let’s start with those instructions.  How the hell are you supposed to cut 4cm off the top of a round loaf?  let me just get my laser level and square ruler out of my back pocket and measure that out exactly.  Seriously Taste.com.au, let’s be realistic here.

Good lord this dip is SALTY.  And all you taste is French onion soup mix.  If it’s called “spinach dip” surely you want to taste the spinach in said dip right?  If not then don’t call it spinach dip!

Even without seasoning it as per the reason (because me being as impatient as I am, I had to try the dip out a couple of times before completing it), it was still salty.  Then I read the ingredients on the back of the French onion soup mix.  Did you know that the list of ingredients goes in order from what’s used the most in a recipe to the least?  Pretty handy tip for  when you’re keeping an eye on your salt intake or anything else in general.  Anyway, salt was the third most predominant ingredient in this particular mix.  The next time I went to the supermarket, I got curious and looked at every French onion soup mix packet I could find, and every single one had salt as the third or fourth most predominant ingredient. Every. Single. One.  Pretty scary ay?

Next downside to this is the dip once made, doesn’t actually fill a whole cob.  Which really just sucks because that means there’s too much bread to dip.  So if you want to fill the cob you have to double up this recipe.

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Each time I got it out of the oven, I dove my crispy bread cube all the way down to the bottom of the dip.  A) because I wanted to ensure that the entire dip was warm and B) because I am a pig. And each time I did this, the dip wasn’t warmed all the way through.  It was warm on the top and room temperature on the bottom.  Now, I don’t know about you, but my instincts usually say with any cream based dips if they’re room temperature that’s not entirely food safe.  It’s probably okay in this scenario, but I certainly don’t think it makes this dip the best cob dip on the planet.

I think this is my first review of a taste.com.au recipe, and to be honest it leaves something to be desired.  What I’ve found is that the ingredient amounts aren’t enough to fill the whole cob (seriously who in their right mind would fill a cob only halfway?!), and their instructions are too specific for their own good.  If you’re going to publish a recipe, no matter how simple the process is, make the instructions simple. Make sure the ingredient amount complement the entire recipe or actual serving size.  Come on Taste, you can do better than this!

So, let’s move on to my new and improved version!

I threw out my laser level and square ruler thingy and just cut a quarter from the top of the loaf.  The dip then filled the loaf enough that there was an excellent bread to dip ratio!

I thought immediately it’s time to scrap the French onion soup mix.  You can give flavour to the dip without adding too much salt, and the soup mix was just too overpowering. This is the perfect opportunity to add some fresh herbs and use some garlic and onion to give it some flavour.

I decided that raw onion and garlic would be way too overpowering as the dip doesn’t actually cook in the oven. Instead, powdered garlic and onion would be the perfect option – not too powerful, but just enough to give the dip flavour. But after adding double what I thought needed to be added, the dip was still missing something.  Something tangy, and a bit acidic.  Dijon mustard did the trick!  And with the new version, this dip was perfect even just cold, which if you’re like me, a cold dip is WAY better than a warm one.

So, go grab a cob and a few simple ingredients and get dippin’!

New and Improved Spinach Cob

Ingredients

  • 450g (approx 1 pound) cob loaf
  •  250g (approx 8 ounces) frozen spinach, thawed
  •  250g (approx 8 ounces) creamed cheese, softened
  •  300ml (approx 10 ounces) tub sour cream
  •  2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 Tbsp dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup chopped herbs (I used parsley)
  •  Crackers, to serve

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 180C (350F)/160C (325F) fan-forced. Line a large baking tray with baking paper.
  2. Cut the top quarter of cob loaf to form lid. Scoop bread from centre of loaf, leaving thick edge. Tear or roughly chop bread pieces. If you’re serving a cold cob, toast your bread cubes in the oven and set aside.
  3. Squeeze out any excess moisture from spinach, discarding any liquid. Combine spinach and all remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. If you want a cold dip, refrigerate for at least half an hour and serve in your cob.
  5. If serving warm, spoon mixture into loaf. Top with lid. Place on prepared tray. Arrange bread pieces in a single layer around loaf. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden. Serve with cut vegetables and extra crackers if desired.

Toffee – Easy to Make, Easy to Eat

Christmas is quite literally now around the corner.  Our tree is up, presents wrapped, our favourite Christmas movies on the telly and fruit mince pies cooling on the counter.  I have to admit, the older I get the more I love spending Christmas Eve at home with Minou and the hubster, grazing on fantastic food and drinking a special bottle from the cellar.

Every year I  make a small treat boxes for my coworkers, as a way to say thank you for a fantastic year.  I try to make a variety of goodies, but as you can imagine things can get a bit hectic around the holidays, and this year was no exception.  Since November I haven’t been exactly sure which way is up or which day it is.  It has been cray cray (in a good way) at work in the lead up to Christmas, then there was Turkey Day where the green bean casserole from my previous post was a hit, and before you know it, Christmas is here.

So this year it was time to think small and simple.  Fruit mince pies are always a hit, but this year there are a few vegetarians and religious restrictions in the team, so I needed an alternative.  Mom on Timeout’s toffee recipe came through on my Facebook feed in the nick of time.  It seemed easy enough to create and plus hey, I love hard toffee.  Win win!


Here’s my video of the test.

Here’s the original recipe:

Mom on Timeout’s “Better than Anything” Toffee

Ingredients
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
  • 1 cup (2 sticks, 227 grams) Challenge unsalted butter (Of course, you can use your favourite butter.  Challenge butter doesn’t exist here in Australia)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup milk chocolate chips

Instructions

  1. Spray a 9-inch (23 centimeter) square baking dish with cooking spray and line with parchment paper.
  2. Spread the chopped pecans in a single layer on top of the parchment.
  3. Add butter, sugar, and salt to a heavy bottomed 3 quart pot
  4. Bring to a boil over medium low heat, stirring frequently to dissolve the sugar.
  5. Once the candy is boiling, stir occasionally, slowly and evenly, until the candy has reached 290F (143 Celsius) to 300F (148 Celsius), or “hard crack” on a candy thermometer.
  6. Once the candy has reached 290F-300F, remove from heat and gently stir in the vanilla extract.
  7. Carefully pour the mixture over the chopped pecans.
  8. Let the candy sit for a few minutes, undisturbed, before sprinkling the chocolate chips over the top.
  9. Cover the baking dish with foil and let sit for 5 minutes or until the chocolate has softened.
  10. Remove the foil and gently spread the softened chocolate into an even layer. An offset spatula works best for this.
  11. Place the candy in the refrigerator and let cool completely. Give it at least 2 hours.
  12. Lift the parchment out of the baking dish and place the toffee on a cutting board or solid surface.
  13. Use a knife to gently break it into smaller pieces.
  14. Store in an airtight container in a cool place.

The Good, the Bad, the Inedible

I’ve actually never made toffee, so this was an exciting challenge for me.  The recipe seems really easy, just a matter of dumping in ingredients and letting them bubble away.  What could possibly go wrong with that?

Yeah….the first test was a fail.  Absolute epic fail.  The toffee split when it hit about 250F, making the brown, curdled gluggy mess.  I had no idea what I had done wrong!  After doing some research there’s a few possibilities.

  • Stirring too hard and too often- This I think is the most likely reason.  Stirring too hard could possibly cause an abrupt temperature shift, which is a big no no for toffee.
  • Increasing or decreasing heat too drastically could also cause this.  I’ll admit I was very gentle stirring this bath, and I was using a whisk, so maybe while whisking too hard, I added too much cool air and just the force of my whisking caused it to split.
  • Using a cheap saucepan that doesn’t distribute heat properly – Yeah nah.  That’s definitely not me! Scanpan and Le Creuset all the way!
  • Humidity – water and fat don’t mix, so if it’s too humid in your kitchen this could also cause your toffee to split.

So with the second test I made sure to not stir the pot too much and too vigorously.  And that certainly helped me get a successful toffee!  Woohoo! My dentist is going to love me the next time he sees me!


There area  few things with this recipe I would change.  It’s not the ingredients, but more the order of adding ingredients in. I would add the vanilla in at the very beginning with the sugar and butter, as it does splatter around in the hot pan and also to prevent any drastic temperature changes in the toffee.  You’re not putting much vanilla in, but let’s just air on the side of caution and safety.  Nobody likes burnt fingers, hands and faces.

I would also use a 9 x 13 inch pan instead of a square 9 x 9 inch pan.  I like my toffee a bit thinner instead of thicker chunks.  But hey that’s just my personal preference, you are welcome to do what you wish!  Mom on Timeout also uses milk chocolate chips, but considering how sweet the toffee already is I used semi sweet chocolate chips in the second test to cut through the sweetness a bit.  But again you’re welcome to try either milk or dark, or maybe a combination of both if you prefer!

Here’s the amended recipe with my suggested edits:

  • 1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
  • 1 cup (2 sticks, 227 grams) butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

Instructions

  1. Spray a 9 x 13 inch (23cm x 33cm) pan square baking dish with cooking spray and line with parchment paper.
  2. Spread the chopped pecans in a single layer on top of the parchment.
  3. Add butter, sugar, salt and vanilla to a heavy bottomed 3 quart pot
  4. Bring to a boil over medium low heat, stirring frequently to dissolve the sugar.
  5. Once the candy is boiling, stir occasionally, slowly and evenly, until the candy has reached 290F (143 Celsius) to 300F (148 Celsius), or “hard crack” on a candy thermometer.
  6. Once the candy has reached 290F-300F, carefully pour the mixture over the chopped pecans.
  7. Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top and let sit for 5 minutes or until the chocolate has softened.
  8. Gently spread the softened chocolate into an even layer. An offset spatula works best for this.
  9. Place the candy in the refrigerator and let cool completely. Give it at least 2 hours.
  10. Lift the parchment out of the baking dish and place the toffee on a cutting board or solid surface.
  11. Use a knife to gently break it into smaller pieces.
  12. Store in an airtight container in a cool place.

 

Did my coworkers like the toffee?  Considering it was very quiet in the office as they munched on it, I reckon they did!

From my family to yours, have a wonderful Christmas and a fantastic New Year, full of cheer and goodies!

Family Christmas Tradition: Fruit Mince Pies

Every family has one.  The one food that is always on the table at Christmas time.  It can be anything from your grandma’s casserole to your uncle’s glazed ham.  At my in-law’s house, it’s fruit mince pies.  Janet, my mum-in-law, makes hundreds of these tiny flaky, sweet pies every December to give to neighbours, team mates and friends.  There’s always a tray of these on the counter or coffee table on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, and they’re pretty much all gone by the end of the day.

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Jan emigrated with her family from England to Australia when she was 14.  Her mum made these pies, and as far as we know, her mum’s mum made these too.  We don’t actually know how old the recipe as it’s never actually been written down, but I think it’s safe to assume it’s at least 100 years old.

I’ve watched Jan make these pies before and thought I had written the recipe correctly and had been making these correctly for the last couple of years.  I realised while filming Jan make these that I was doing quite a few things wrong!  So even I will be watching this video a few times when I make my next few batches!

Here’s my video on how to make these delicious pies.

There are few tips and tricks Jan told me while off camera that you should bear in mind while making these delicious little concoctions:

  • Never make the dough ahead of time.  You always want to make it fresh, and it’s easier to roll when made fresh.
  • Always use very cold lard and ice water.  The colder the lard, the flakier the pastry.

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  • When your dough starts to shrink back once rolling it a few times, it’s time to make a fresh batch.  Keep the used dough on hand, just in case you need to make a few extra tops or bottoms.
  • Always bake in a single layer.  Using both rack in your oven will cause the bottom pies to steam instead of bake.
  • Jan always uses lard for her pie pastry, never butter.  Lard makes a lighter pastry that works really well for these fruit mince pies.

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  • Jan also has always use Robertson’s Fruit Mince (or mincemeat as it’s called in the UK).  Her mum used them too.  They’ve been around for over 100 years and their product is outstanding.  You’re welcome to make your own fruit mince, but why do that when you can conveniently buy a few jars of it?
  • Jan has never used any mini pie tins, always the “patty pie” tins.  These are usually readily available in Coles and Woolies here.  If you can’t find them in your local supermarket, you can find them on Amazon. If you’re searching the net I’ve also seen them called fruit mince pie tins.

While this is an incredibly easy recipe to make, there are few steps in it and will take some time.  It would certainly be an excellent Christmas recipe to do with the kids, and they can help roll the dough and fill the pies.  Once you get the hang of it, you can churn these bad boys out in no time like Jan, who makes 10 dozen in less than two hours!

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The challenging part here is as this recipe was never written down, this is a bit of guesstimation involved in terms of the ratio of flour.  The recipe I have written down seems pretty close, which is why I’ve put “approximately” next to most ingredients. but you’re welcome to try your own amount of ingredients.  Remember though, it should always be more plain flour than self raising.  You don’t want your pies to puff up too much.

So without further ado, here’s the recipe!

Jan’s Fruit Mince Pies

  • Approx. 1 1/2 cups plain flour
  • Approx 1 cup self raising flour
  • Approx 1/2 cup caster sugar 
  • 3/4 stick of lard (lard in Australia come in 250 gram sticks.  So you need approximately 187 grams, or approximately 6.6 ounces)
  • Ice water
  • Robertson’s fruit mince
  • Egg wash
  • Icing sugar
  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius, or 390 Fahrenheit.
  2. Drop the flours and sugar in a food processor and pulse to combine.
  3. Add the lard, and one a medium speed mix until blended.
  4. Add the ice water, one teaspoon at a time until the dough forms a ball.  You don’t want a sticky dough, just enough water to get all the ingredients incorporated.
  5. Drop the dough onto a floured surface and roll until it’s about 1/4 of an inch thick.  You’ll know if you’re dough is too sticky if it sticks to the surface.  If you are using a silicone mat to roll on, you want to just start to see any lines from the mat come through.
  6. Use a 4 inch cookie cutter to cut out the pie bases.  Place them into your well oiled patty pie tins and lightly press them into the molds.
  7. Fill the bases with about 1 teaspoon of fruit mince.  Don’t over fill, as the mince thins out once heated.
  8. Roll out your dough again about 1/4 inc thick and use a 2 inch cookie cutter to cut out the tops.
  9. Paint one side of the tops with water and place on top of the fruit mince.  The water helps create a seal.
  10. Use a fork to prick holes into the tops.  This is to let any steam out while they’re baking.
  11. Paint with egg wash and then bake them until golden brown, about 15-20 minutes.
  12. Once cooled, get them out of the pan and onto a plate.  Dust with icing sugar.  Pack them in a Christmas tin or gift bags only once they’re fully cooled.
  13. Enjoy!

The Great Pumpkin Pie

I can already feel it.  That manic rush that creeps up from about now and doesn’t fade away until January.  That impending sense of doom and awe that the year is nearly over already.  That Christmas is around the corner (side note: seriously why do shops put up Christmas crap in SEPTEMBER???? Do you want to give me a panic attack???).

As I discussed in my last post on Green Bean Casserole, Thanksgiving, or Turkey Day as I affectionately call it, is just around the corner.  To me it’s almost a pre-game to Christmas.  A test run of our now famous spit roasted turkey and the perfect excuse to have a big barbecue with our friends.  To me, it’s not Thanksgiving unless there’s pie.  Pumpkin Pie that is.

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The only time for Pumpkin Pie is around the holidays, or I guess in Australia would even be in June/July when it’s winter.  It’s a custardy, creamy filling full of cinnamon, ginger and cloves and to me just tastes like the holidays from when I was a kid.  The only time I ever had pumpkin was in a pie.  We never had it as a savory dish in my house.  I actually never had savory pumpkin (or squash) until I moved to Australia, and I found it a bit weird at first but love it now.

Pumpkin pie is an acquired taste.  If you don’t like those spicy sweet desserts that have a lot of cinnamon in them (talking to you mum), then you may as well stop reading now.  This is just not the dessert for you.  If you’re into that kind of thing, or even Indian or Mexican desserts as they sometimes have cinnamon in them, then by all means keep reading.

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Ground cloves, ginger and cinnamon

In The States, there’s pumpkin and then there’s squash.  The pumpkins you use to make jack-o-lanterns at Halloween are pumpkins (duh), but everything else is a squash.  Don’t ask me why.  Quite frankly doesn’t make much sense to me.  Just call them all squash or pumpkin dammit!  For a pumpkin pie recipe, use whatever pumpkin you want.  Test the recipe out with different ones if you’re making some for a crowd.  I used butternut pumpkin as it was cheap at the time and also it has a sweeter flavour compared to other pumpkins we have readily available here.

I found this recipe in a book I have called A Taste of America.  I bought it off of Booktopia.com.au, but you can also get it on Amazon.com if you’re not in ‘Straya. It’s a pretty hefty book, with over 400 recipes from all over The States.  What’s great about the book is it has the imperial and metric measurements already written out (about bloody time a recipe book did that!), and photos of the creation process for each recipe.

If you want to watch my recipe test, you can on my new YouTube channel!  Or just click below.

 

Let’s get started on this bad boy.

Pumpkin Pie from A Taste of America

Pastry Crust

  • 1 1/2 cup (175 g) plain (all purpose) flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 6 tbsp (75 g) cold butter, cut into pieces
  • 3 tbsp (40 g) cold white vegetable fat (shortening), cut into pieces
  • 3-4 tbsp (45-60 ml) iced water (3 tbsp is about a shot glass worth)

Pie Filling

  • 1 lb (450 g) cooked or canned pumpkin
  • 1 cup (250 ml) whipping cream
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup soft brown sugar
  • 4 tbsp (60 ml) golden (light corn) syrup
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  1. For the pastry, sift the flour and salt into a bowl.  Cut in the butter and fat until it resembles coarse crumbles.  Bind with iced water.  Wrap in clear film (plastic wrap) and chill for 20 minutes.
  2. Roll out the dough and line a 23 cm (9 inch) pie pan or tin. Trim off the overhang. Roll out the trimmings and cut out leaf shapes.  Wet the rim of the pastry case (pie shell) with a brush dipped in water.
  3. Place the dough leaves around the rim of the pastry case.  Chill for about 20 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 200 Celsius, 400 Fahrenheit.
  4. Line the pastry case with baking parchment.  Fill with baking beans and bake for 12 minutes.  Remove paper and beans and bake until golden, 6-8 minutes more.  Reduce the heat to 190 Celcius, 375 Fahrenheit.
  5. Beat together the pumpkin, cream, eggs, sugar, golden syrup, spices and salt. Pour into pastry case and bake until set, 40 minutes.

The Good

While it’s a bit time consuming to make, this recipe actually is pretty darn good.  It’s that perfect creamy, custard like texture you expect from a pumpkin pie (trust, I’m an expert!).  It would be the perfect dessert after Christmas dinner with a dollop of whipped cream.

The recipe itself also makes the perfect amount of filling for one pie.  You won’t have much wastage at all.

The recipe calls for cooked or canned pumpkin.  When I was a kid my mum would use Libby’s tinned pumpkin.  You can find this at fruit and veggie shops in Australia, but air on the side of caution.  There’s tinned pumpkin, and there’s also tinned pumpkin pie filling, with all the spices already added.  Read the label very carefully!  If you’re conscious about what you’re putting into your body, you may want to steer clear of Libby’s tinned pumpkin/pie filling because of possible additives.  Now I say in my video that it’s because it may not be actual pumpkin, but in fact that’s all because of the stupid pumpkin/squash debate.  Apparently Libby’s doesn’t use one type of pumpkin in their filling, but instead use a variety of winter “squash” or pumpkin depending on where you are.  Seriously who the fuck cares.

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Pumpkin puree

Making your own pumpkin puree is super easy.  Just make a few slits with a sharp knife in your pumpkin, and bake it a 160 degree Celsius (320 Fahrenheit) oven until a knife can easily cut through.  Let it cool and then skin and de-seed and puree.  You’ll definitely have more pumpkin on your hands than you’ll need for this recipe, but you can save it for baby food, or other recipes that call for pumpkin puree.

The Bad, but not Inedible

The pie crust is incredibly short.  I think it kind of works with the pie filling, but if you have a no fail, go-to pie pastry recipe, use it instead, let me know what the recipe is!

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I tried the second test using golden syrup.  Golden syrup is readily available here in Australia, whereas light corn syrup is not. I did manage to find light corn syrup at a cake decorating shop, as it’s used to make modelling paste (the stuff some cake decorators use to make figurines, flowers, etc). The golden syrup made the pie way too sweet, that sort of sweetness that sticks to the back of your throat and almost tastes bitter.  So if you can find it, definitely use light corn syrup.  Light corn syrup gives it that right amount of sweetness without overpowering the filling.

The other issue (well not really an issue, maybe just a translation problem) is that there’s no such thing as whipping cream in Australia.  There’s thickened cream, pouring cream, pure cream, cream for cooking, and on and on and on.  According to PopSugar, all creams contain 18% milk-fat content.  Whipping cream has 30% milk fat content, and heavy whipping cream has 35%.  Thickened cream in Australia has a 35% milk fat content and some thickening agents.  Since it was the closest in milk fat content to whipping cream this is what I used, and it came out perfectly.

Other than that though, this recipe is a keeper!  I wouldn’t change anything about it besides the crust if you want a less short pastry and sticking to the light corn syrup. So have a crack at it, and just maybe this will make it to your table this holiday season.  Enjoy!