I’m not sure whether it’s better to give or receive a delicious home-made gift at Christmas, but I do know that I would rather spend a few pleasant hours in my kitchen happy in the knowledge that I am creating something for family and friends, than I would trudging around a crowded shopping centre vainly looking for that elusive present.
The following recipes are all simple, but good. The Watermelon and Lime Jelly and Brandied Blood Orange Marmalade are cooked in the microwave for a much shorter time than the traditional stove top method, and consequently with much less mess. All the biscuits are very quickly made in the food processor and the Roasted Red Pepper Pickle and Italian-style Pickled Onions are so easy that even the kids could make them. Both the Dukkah and Citrus Spice Rub are very quickly put together, especially if you have a spice or coffee grinder. All make handsome presents and if you box a few of them together and throw in a fine bottle of Australian olive oil and a good bottle of wine, you will have a very nice gift for family, friends or those you wish to impress.
Maple Syrup and Spice Cookies
These are a spicy, but not too sweet cookie and are very much in the tradition of European spiced biscuits.
150g plain flour
75g self raising flour
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon mace
½ teaspoon nutmeg
125g butter cut into 1cm cubes
5 tablespoons maple syrup
Place all the ingredients in the food processor and mix until the dough forms a ball. Remove and cover in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for half an hour.
Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Roll out the dough to about 5mm thickness and cut into shapes with a biscuit cutter. Place on a tray lined with non-stick baking paper and bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on the tray for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. Store in an airtight container. Makes approximately 24 biscuits.
Cherry Choc Chip Cookies
The glacé cherries are very pretty, but you can substitute dried cranberries or nuts if you prefer.
1 ¾ cups self raising flour
¾ cup plain flour
250g butter cut into1cm cubes
1 cup icing sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
200g choc chips
200g glacé cherries, halved
Put all the ingredients, except the cherries, into a food processor and mix until the dough forms a ball. Add the cherries and pulse briefly. Remove mixture and knead for a few minutes to evenly distribute the cherries. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for half an hour.
Preheat the oven to 175ºC. Roll into walnut-sized balls and place on a tray lined with nonstick baking paper. Bake for 10 minutes. Cool on the tray for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. Store in an airtight container. Makes approximately 40-50 biscuits.
Parmesan and Rosemary Biscuits
100g parmesan cheese, grated
150g plain flour
120g butter cut into1cm cubes
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary spikes
1 teaspoon salt
Put all the ingredients in the food processor and mix until the dough forms a ball. Remove from the food processor and place onto a sheet of non-stick baking paper. Using the paper, roll the dough into a sausage shape about 3cm in diameter. Refrigerate until firm.
Preheat the oven to 190ºC. Cut the dough into slices about 5mm thick. Place on a tray lined with non-stick baking paper and bake for about 10 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on the tray for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. Store in an airtight container. Makes approximately 30 biscuits.
Only the best cheddar is good enough for these rich, but tasty little treats!
150g plain flour
125g butter cut into 1cm cubes
125g mature tasty cheddar, grated
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons coarsely ground sea salt
Place all the ingredients, except the salt, into the food processor and mix until the dough forms a ball. Remove from the food processor and place onto a sheet of non-stick baking paper. Using the paper, roll the dough into a brick shape about 6cm wide, 4cm high and 20cm long. Refrigerate until firm.
Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Cut the dough into slices about 5mm thick. Place on a tray lined with non-stick baking paper, sprinkle with sea salt and bake for about 10 minutes or until just starting to colour. Cool on the tray for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. Store in an airtight container. Makes approximately 30 biscuits.
Brandied Blood Orange Marmalade
This is a lovely, full-flavoured marmalade that can be made chunky or fine – whatever you prefer.
4 blood oranges
1 cup boiling water
4 cups sugar
2 tablespoons brandy
Jamsetta * (optional)
Halve the oranges and lemon and put them in a large microwave-proof bowl, then add the boiling water and cook on High (800w) for 15 minutes. Remove the fruit with a fork, allowing the juices to drain back into the bowl, and place on a cutting board. Allow to cool and then cut the fruit into strips – thick or thin according to preference – discarding any coarse membranes and pips. Return the fruit strips to the microwave bowl, add the sugar and stir until dissolved. Microwave on High for 10 minutes or until set**. Allow to cool a little, stir in the brandy and pour into sterilised jars. Seal and label.
Watermelon and Lime Jelly
An unusual and pretty jelly, the tart bite of the lime provides a nice contrast to the delicate sweetness of the watermelon. As with all jam, be very careful when handling as the boiling liquid is extremely hot.
1kg watermelon, deseeded and diced
juice and zest of 3 limes
Put the watermelon, lime rind and juice into a four-litre microwave-proof bowl, cover and cook on High (750-800w) for 10 minutes. Mix in the sugar, stirring until dissolved and cook uncovered on Medium (550w) for 20 minutes or until setting point** is reached. Allow to cool and spoon into sterilised jars. Seal and label.
*The setting point of jam is affected by the pectin content of the ingredients. Ripe fruit, particularly watermelon, has very little pectin, so include some unripe fruitif you can or if the jamis not setting, add Jamsetta (a product containing pectin, which is available in the baking section of most supermarkets), according to the directions on the pack.
**To check for setting point, put a teaspoonful of hot jam on a plate that has been in the refrigerator for at least 10 minutes. Leave it for 30 seconds and then drag your finger through it – the jam’s surface will wrinkle if setting point has been reached.
Roasted Red Pepper Pickles
These have a myriad of uses; in salads and sauces or just as is, tossed with a spoonful or two of their own oil through some freshly cooked pasta.
4-6 red capsicums
2 cups white wine vinegar
2 cups water
3 fresh bay leaves
6 garlic cloves, peeled
approximately 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Roast the capsicums over a flame until blackened, place into a paper bag and leave to cool. Rub off the blackened skin, deseed and cut into strips. Bring the vinegar, water and salt to the boil in a saucepan and add the capsicum. Cook for two minutes. Drain and spread the strips onto a plate or board. Allow to cool. When completely dry, place into a sterilised jar along with the bay leaves and garlic cloves. Pour in olive oil to cover.
Italian Pickled Onions
Always popular, these tart little onions are a great addition to a cheese platter.
1 litre water
2 tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon caster sugar
1kg pickling onions, peeled
1 tablespoon caster sugar
600ml good quality red wine vinegar
3 fresh bay leaves
Put the water, salt and the teaspoon of caster sugar into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the onions and cook for two minutes. Drain and dry completely. Put the tablespoon of sugar into the bottom of a large sterilised jar and top with the onions. Cover with vinegar and shake the jar a little to dissolve the sugar. Add the bay leaves and seal. Store in the refrigerator or any other cool, dark place for a month.
Note: To sterilise empty jars, place them right-side-up on the rack in a very large saucepan. Fill the saucepan and jars with hot – not boiling – water to 3cm above the tops of the jars. Boil 10 minutes at altitudes of less than 1000ft. At higher elevations, boil for 1 additional minute for each additional 1000ft of elevation. Remove and drain hot sterilised jars one at a time.
Citrus Spice Mix
This versatile mix can be used as a rub for poultry or fish or it can be sprinkled over vegetables or salads. It can also be served with a good quality olive oil and some crusty bread as an appetiser.
zest of 4 oranges
zest of 4 lemons
zest of 2 limes
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon rock salt
Place all the zest on a plate and cover with paper towel. Microwave on Medium at 550w for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool. Put the coriander and cumin seeds and the peppercorns into a dry frypan and cook over a high heat for several minutes. Allow to cool and place into a coffee or spice grinder, along with the zest and salt. Grind to a coarse powder. Store in an airtight container or freeze. Makes 2-3 tablespoons.
This recipe contains macadamia nuts rather than the usual hazelnuts and, like the citrus mix, can be used as a dip with a fine olive oil or as a seasoning on meat and vegetables.
100g sesame seeds
4 tablespoons cumin seeds
4 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
50g macadamias, roasted and finely chopped
1 teaspoon sea salt
Place the sesame seeds in a dry frypan and roast over a medium heat for several minutes until they begin to brown. Remove from the heat, tip into a bowl and cool. Roast the cumin, coriander and peppercorns in the same way and, when cooled, grind to a coarse powder in a spice or coffee grinder. Mix this with the nuts, sesame seeds and salt. Store in an airtight container or freeze. Makes approximately 1 cup.
Olive oils supplied by Victorian Olive Groves Australia, which produces a wide range of fine Australian olive oils. For more information, go to www.victorianolivegroves.com.