Exhausted from launching The Gastronomer's Bookshelf and distracted by other matters, I've at least managed to spend the last week of the year dining on deliciousness. I hope the same goes for all my readers and correspondents! Here are the highlights of the Christmas week and some reminders of fun articles from 2008.
Shortly before Christmas I found out exactly how a baker sweats, for I was baking the famous German Christmas bread called stollen. It's about ten years since my last stollen event and I had mislaid my trusty recipe, so I went searching through my shelves and ended up combining the fairly lean 'old style' domestic recipe in Horst Scharffenberg's fantastic Aus Deutschlands Küchen (also available in English as The German Kitchen, I think) with the much, much richer and fruit-laden recipe in Culinaria Germany. The result was a lovely, enriched bread dotted with raisins and peel and with a lovely vein of marzipan (home-made) down its length. I was glad I could still enjoy it after baking ten loaves!
Shortly after Christmas I put the ice-cream churn to good use to create a toasted pistachio gelato, served with sour cherries in syrup. This recipe was based on the southern Italian style of gelato which lacks eggs and, surprisingly, uses cornflour (cornstarch) as a thickener. David Lebovitz has a recipe which was the inspiration for me — he uses a luxurious pistachio paste. I made my own equivalent of the paste by grinding roasted pistachios with sugar. I also added pieces of raw pistachio for even brighter colour and more textural interest.
And then, to round off 2008, I heated up a piece of confit duck (alas, not home-made), sautéed some red capsicum and broccoli with garlic and marjoram, and fried some chips in duck fat! Ohhhh, they were soooo crispy and golden.
If any of this has your tummy rumbling or your imagination racing, here's a rundown of some of the interesting things (in my humble opinion ) that you might have missed if you weren't a regular:
I delved into a few issues in food and eating, looking at the role of supermarkets, alcohol consumption, being disappointed at weaknesses in the Slow Food movement, frustrated at the misrepresentation of statistics about overweight and obese people, and well and truly sick of mainstream media's inability to do their job properly (macarons, SBS, food conference).
Macaron adventures, including bad stuff in Melbourne, only marginally better impressions in Sydney, and a reasonable number of delicious ones in Paris. At home, I played with the flavours of violet and mandarin, musk and Christmas.
In other cooking fun, there were chocolate éclairs and a quick-n-easy tarte Tatin, the unusual creation of beetroot and ginger kuih, lots of fun making violet jelly, pear and mascarpone tarts, and my long-standing favourites pastéis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts). I also discovered that you can do an unpretty but tolerably nice sourdough bread in a bread machine, overdosed on baba ghanoush, created a wild rice salad which has become a frequent (and pricey!) feature on my menu, and asked readers to reveal their humble home comfort food.
Thanks to all the readers who dropped by and all the commenters who made this a place for positive, enlightening discussion. I wish you all a delectable, comfortable and stress-free 2009!
If you're a reader who doesn't like to comment, feel free to say a quick hello below… it's always nice to know more about the readers I haven't heard from yet .