Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Gingerbread, gingerbread, gingerbread rock...

Oh my, she's been at it again. Yes indeedy, it's that time of the year once again: festive gingerbread time. This is my standard giveaway to my friends and family at Christmas time, and it never goes unloved. Each year I endeavour to add another cutter to my collection: this year, the snowflake is the latest cutter on the block (the stocking made "the cut" last year). Sometimes I pause to wonder if I have created a Christmas tradition which will eventually become a rod for my own back, but for now, I'm still managing to cut and ice with enthusiasm.

So, what does one need for a little festive cutting? Firstly, we need themed cutters. My original cutters come from a Fox Run Christmas box set, however you can(for pretty much the same price) put together a collection of your own: a reindeer, a bell, a Christmas tree, perhaps an angel (although, frankly, I eschew the angel as she's too difficult to decorate in a proper and identifiable style!). There is also a Fox Run set of Interchangeable Cutters, which would be quite convenient. I do like to include a candy cane, as the decoration of same is always spectacular in presentation, and a star is a simple inclusion.
I like to roll out the dough with a very simple rolling pin. The ones with the ball bearings in the ends throw me off balance when I roll, so just a basic one will do for me!

Next, you will need some really good baking sheets, and for any kind of biscuit baking, I recommend you go as rimless as possible. I always line my sheets, but that is a personal preference (although, it does make it a bit easier to queue the biscuits up, as you can keep filling sheets of paper and just loading them onto the baking sheets as needed. Buy the caterers' roll of baking paper!). The Masterclass sheets are fab. Once you have baked up, you will need to cool them all down. As I'm currently doing 72 biscuits to a batch, I need the largest cooling rack available, but there are many others from which to choose that might be more appropriate for your needs (presuming you are not in the grips of Christmas baking madness, as I am).

Finally, the decoration. I use a selection of tips (as previously blogged), and I have to hand a selection of semi-disposable piping bags (with all those colours going on, it's just too much work to be icing and changing!). I also use the Wilton colours, as they are intense, pure in colour, and just a teeny bit will give you vibrant result.

So, all that remains is to package them up. Of course, you could carefully arrange them in Maxwell & Williams jars (as previously discussed), but my baking memories are of my grandmother with the same tins all the time, used repeatedly for whatever she'd been cooking up for our visit. With that in mind, how about a festive tin, which can be reused all year 'round (please call the shop for details)? Of course, complete indulgence is possible with the Jim Shore Santa or Snowman Biscuit Jar. You'll need quite a few biscuits to fill one of these: save this idea for someone you really like!

However, the most essential item for baking is a Kitchenaid KSM150 Stand Mixer. My life would be empty, desolate and just plain hard without the kitchen-y company and dedicated work ethic of my Kitchenaid mixer. There is a colour for everyone (the online shop does not reflect all the colours available!), so there can be no possible excuse of it not matching the decor, or being too ugly to keep on the bench. If you don't have one already, put this at the top of your list. If you do, ask for one of the many attachments. You'll know if you've been really good: Santa will bring you a KSM150. Mrs Claus has a red one...of course.
PS For those of my friends, wondering why they didn't get any gingerbread in the mail this year, blame the Australia Post instigators. I could hardly risk the delicate creations with people so completely unfestive that they'd let a Christmas card arrive at New Year...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Is the Dribble Apparent?

Quite likely, as I find it impossible to pass by the Stonewall Kitchen section in the shop without getting very hungry. My mother told me she used to suck lemons in front of the Salvation Army Christmas Band to make the mouths of the horn players water (wasn't she a good girl?). No need to suck lemons here: these gorgeous comestibles will do the job, even just perched on the shelf.

All the products in our Stonewall range are mighty fine, but we have some special items aimed at Christmas entertaining. Between Christmas and New Year celebrations, one would expect cocktails to abound. In order to assist you with making the most spanking, easily-prepared cocktails, we have some gorgeous mixers: the Bellini Mixer, and and Kir Royale Mixer. The Kir Royale Mixer features the sweet liqueur flavours of French blackcurrants, replicating the Creme de Cassis which is essential in a Kir Royale. Simply combine this mixer with Champagne or dry white wine, and you have a superbly sippable beverage. The Bellini Mixer contains (among other ingredients) peach puree: add some Prosecco (or a similar sweet sparkling) for a delectable summer tipple. Could it be easier?

How about some Holiday Syrup? The name says it all, really. Combining cranberries, pears and raspberries, this festively coloured (and flavoured) syrup is perfect for slurping all over pancakes and waffles, or anything on the Christmas brunch table which would appreciate some seriously intense sweetening. And don't forget the sauces: Spiced Rum Butterscotch (warmed over puddings or icecream) and Chocolate Peppermint (perfect errr...straight from the jar!).

For a lovely gift, we have boxes of Blueberry Breakfast: a Wild Maine Blueberry Syrup, a Wild Maine Blueberry Jam, a Farmhouse Pancake and Waffle Mix, and a beautiful 100% cotton tea towel (printed with blueberries, of course), all presented in a festive box.

Of course, the packaging of the Stonewall Kitchen products really speaks volumes of this quality product. Every jar, every bottle, every box is just perfectly conceived to represent the homestyle kitchen inspirations of this marvellous food. This attention to detail means that, whatever you choose to purchase, you cannot go wrong with the presentation of the gift: even the simplest cellophane wrapping will make these products shine.

This Christmas, don't hit a brunch bump: talk a stroll through the Stonewall Kitchen, and thrill your tastebuds, and guests, alike.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Psycho American Christmas Nut

This was the remark thrown at my dear friend whilst trying to arrange lights on a 10-foot tree. My friend and I are self-confessed Griswolds. We get into Christmas with the gusto of Clark: decorating trees, making gingerbread, sending out the cards too early, taking photos of the neighbours lit-up lawns, and spending more money on festive wrapping than on the presents. However, sometimes a Griswold meets a Grinch, a Grinch who cannot understand why the precise placement of the grillion lights it takes to illuminate a 10-foot tree is vitally important to the Christmas spirit (and decoration). So, if you too have a touch of the Grinch about you, turn away now. The festivities to follow will send you rushing for the green facepaint, and hurling abuse at your enthralled Griswold associates...

So, here we have the Christmas collection by Jim Shore. This range is currently filling our front window, and is attracting much attention from passersby filled with the festive spirit. The Jim Shore Christmas Collection comes in two ranges: Snowball Snowman and Holiday Traditions. The ranges include bowls, mugs, platters, cookie (biscuit) jars, votive and candle holders, trays, table centrepieces and salt & pepper sets: in all, a comprehensive selection with which to beautifully dress your Christmas table.

The pieces in the Jim Shore range are hand-painted ceramic. They are dishwasher- and microwave-safe, and very sturdily crafted. In true American style, the designs are bold and colourful, with tremendous attention to detail. The designs can be mixed together, or you could select your favourite and continue a theme throughout your festive entertaining.

While we currently have a wide range of pieces in store, this range was handpicked in the USA by the Cookshop owners, and imported exclusively for Cookshop Plus. This means you can dress your table or get-together with pieces with a bit of exclusivity, or give a gift you can be sure the recipient won't see anywhere else. But the other result is that the stock is very limited. Once the pieces are sold out, that will be it for the season.

If you, like me, are completely enchanted by Christmas, and will go to any lengths to stop the Grinchs stealing it, then this is a range for you. So turn on the twinkling lights, put Anne Murray & Kenny Rogers' Christmas Wishes on the stereo, pour the eggnog into some Holiday Traditions mugs, and serve up the fruitcake on a Snowball Snowman 3D platter (isn't that just the most marvellous piece?).

And if that hasn't outed me as the world's most fanatical festive enthusiast, you can paint me green and call me a...well, you know what.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Get To The Point

Now, here's a little something which is just in time for summer. This precious pink product is the Prepara Ice Cream Power Scoop (yes, we have had a recent delivery of Prepara's new range!). At this time of year, we are all indulging in a little ice cream, and an ice cream scoop is really an essential item. I have no patience, so don't ever take the ice cream out of the freezer in advance to allow it to soften before serving (serving is code for greedily consuming). Therefore, I end summer with a gorgeous collection of bent spoons, testament to my impatience and gluttony.

But with the Power Scoop, I have the ultimate ice cream serving tool. Apart from it being pink, which is just so 1950's ice cream parlour perfect, it has a pointed tip. This is proudly labelled the "Power Tip". The tip is fashioned into a point for two important functions: firstly, it easily cuts through the most frozen of ice creams, meaning you too can be a seriously impatient glutton like me (surely what you are all aspiring to?), and get to the dessert immediately. Secondly, the tip reaches into every corner of the ice cream carton, so no ice cream will be left behind at the end.

And in the true festive spirit, I will even furnish you with a gorgeous recipe for Brandy Ice Cream. Forget the sauce or the butter with that pud: go for something really special, arm yourself with the Prepara Scoop, and feel the power!
Brandy Ice Cream
1 litre cream (pouring cream, not thickened)
8 egg yolks
200g sugar
100ml brandy
40g chopped raisins
Soak chopped raisins in brandy. Bring cream to the boil. Whisk together egg yolks and sugar. Pour the boiled cream into the egg mixture and continue whisking until combined. Pour the new mixture into a clean saucepan and cook over medium heat, constantly stirring with a wooden spoon, until the mixture coats the back of the spoon. Strain the mixture and allow to cool. Add brandy and raisins, and let stand overnight in fridge.
Churn in ice cream machine (if you don't have a machine, you can put the mixture in a plastic container in the freezer, and stir every hour or so to remove ice crystals, probably 3 - 4 times, then leave to freeze).
(Recipe from

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Stand & Deliver

Well, I have completely failed to deliver, however circumstances beyond my control interrupted blog service at one point, and I have had trouble getting back on track. But never fear, my dedicated audience: things are looking good.

Especially behind a Prepara Chef's Centre Cookbook Holder. This nifty little device will soon become indispensible in your kitchen. Now, some (including I) would look at a book holder specifically for the kitchen as a frivolity. So, in the name of research, I've been cooking up a storm, using the Chef's Centre to hold my recipe books and papers. The verdict? Once you have used one of these, you'll never tolerate a flat, spattered book in the kitchen again.

The Chef's Centre features a clear plastic, spring-loaded panel at the front, behind which you place your recipe. The genius here is that the rear of the book holder is adjustable: you can display anything from a single recipe paper to The Cook's Companion in the space, and know that it will be perfectly presented for your reading pleasure. Furthermore, the holder is mounted on a "lazy susan": the base stays still, but the entire holder section spins 360 degrees. I don't have much call for that particular function, being in possession of the world's teeniest kitchen, but for the lucky chef with an island bench or similar, the spin function would be tremendous.

As if this wasn't enough, the Chef's Centre also contains a pull-out panel which has conversion charts printed on it! I have recently taken to scribbling all over my "American" cookbooks with conversions for pounds and ounces (including fluid ones), and those pesky tablespoons of butter, to save myself from having to refer to another cookbook for the conversions every time I go to cook. With this fab little panel, you no longer need deface your books, nor waste time looking for conversion references.

Put this one on your Christmas list: something you might not buy yourself, but which someone would just love to give you. No spatters, no scribbles, no muss, no fuss. Prepara to be converted.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Got Milk?

Well, even if you have, you might still need a little more. Today I obtained my morning caffeinated beverage from The Milk Factory Gallery Cafe. Whilst I could launch into simple exalted praise about the state of the coffee at this establishment (it is truly some of the finest in the Highlands: a couple of top baristas and Allpress beans is a heavenly match made in a takeaway cup), I was also informed that MFGC is now open for dinner.

For those lowlanders amongst you, MFGC is housed in the old dairy depot at 31 Station St in Bowral. It is a gorgeous old heritage building, right on the railway line, which incorporates a magnificent and capacious gallery space, and a funky cafe. The gallery has been enormously successful, securing some marvellous exhibitions of late, including Brendon Darby and the Bald Archys. The cafe, meanwhile, has been equally successful in securing Highland hospitality identities Tony Capps and Mat Fraser to run the dining side of things. The continued success of the cafe has led them to now open for dinner, as well as breakfast and lunch.

The MFGC makes a wonderful spot for dining: easily accessible from the Bowral CBD, in close proximity to the train station, and with suitable space for the most intimate meal to a Christmas function. Mat is happy to discuss the various options available for Christmas parties, but be quick: in the short time they have been open for dinner, the pre-Christmas period has begun to fill up.

If you're in the area, pop in for a look and a coffee. With a dash of milk, of course.

Congratulations are in order...

to a number of our Commercial customers. The Southern Highlands Business Awards were presented last week, and we are proud to raise our Spiegelau Vino Grande Champagne flutes (isn't that a stunning glass?) to those recipients who feature amongst our ever-increasing list of valued clients.

So, a toast to...

Coffee Culture, for Excellence in a Cafe
Stones Restaurant at Eling Forest Winery, for Excellence in a Restaurant
Springs Resort Mittagong RSL Motel, for Excellence in Accomodation (9 rooms or more), and
Red Olive Bar and Bistro, for Excellence in a New Business

Cookshop Commercial was in the running for Excellence in a New Business, so if we had to accept defeat, we could not have bowed out to more deserving winners than our friends Tim and Melinda at Red Olive.

Many felicitations to you all.