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Happy 1st Advent

Today is the first Advent and the start of a beloved Christmas tradition in Germany.
Advent are the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas, and to mark this passage of time, many Germans light a new candle on their Advent wreath every Advent Sunday.
Many families celebrate the Advent Sundays with singing Christmas carols, drinking hot spiced wine, and eating Christmas cookies or a piece of Stollen, a traditional German Christmas cake.
The Advent wreath was "invented" by Johann Hinrich Wichern, a German pastor, who founded an orphanage in Hamburg in 1833.  During the weeks leading up to Christmas, the children would ask him daily if Christmas had arrived. To make the wait easier, Wichern came up with his magical Christmas countdown, creating his first Advent wreath out of an old cartwheel and small candles.

Since living in Australia I need to mark this date in my calendar otherwise I would simply forget. It's 26 degrees Celsius outside and most of my friends are at the beach right now. Sounds weird for Christmas, doesn't it? Well, at least when you're from Europe.
Anyway, I  kicked off the Silly Season with some very traditional German Advent baking and my first batch of Plaetzchen (biscuits) are Zimtsterne (cinnamon stars).

I love Zimtsterne and you'll get them everywhere around this time in Germany.

And here is the recipe for true blue German Christmas cookies:


3 egg whites
250 g icing sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon vanilla sugar
1-2 teaspoons cinnamon
375 g ground almonds

1. Beat egg whites with an electric whisk until stiff peaks form. Fold through icing sugar, tablespoon after tablespoon until soft and glossy. Take aside 3 tablespoons of the meringue for later.
2. Add vanilla sugar, cinnamon and almonds and mix through until it all comes together and isn't sticky anymore.
3. Roll dough between two layers of baking paper with a rolling pin to 1cm thick. Rest in refrigerator for about 2 hours.
4. Preheat oven to 125 degree Celsius. Cut out stars using a cookie cutter and put on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Press cookie cutter in extra icing sugar if the dough sticks to the cutter.
5. Brush stars (or use a wooden skewer if you don't have a small brush) with meringue and bake for 15 min. Decrease oven temperature to 100 degree Celsius and bake for another 10-15 min. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool.
6. Repeat with dough until all is used.

Light 1 candle (1st Advent) and enjoy with tea or mulled wine (Gluehwein).


Waiheke Island / New Zealand

If you ever going to do one thing while on New Zealand's North island you have to visit Waiheke Island. Waiheke is famous for its wine, olives and art and marketing talk aside a very beautiful island only a short ferry ride away from Auckland. It definitely helps to have a car there as the island is quite large and the vineyards are scattered all over Waiheke.  

Te Whau vineyard and restaurant won "Auckland's Best Rural Restaurant" in 2008/09/10 and I am sure they up for 2011 as well. The food is outstanding and so is the wine, not to mention the view.
You can actually see Auckland from that tip of the island but you'll probably don't care as you are too busy enjoying the food and getting a bit tipsy drinking all that wonderful wine from the island's own vineyards.

Head chef Marco and one of the beautiful dishes we enjoyed for lunch at Te Whau Vineyard on Waiheke - snapper with dukkah crust, zucchini salad and tomato jus.

More delicious food: Goat's cheese and wild mushroom tart with beetroot relish; beef medallion with semi-dried tomatoes in jus.

There should always be room for dessert: sticky date pudding with caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream; cheese platter with blue cheese, washed rind and goat's cheese brie accompanied by home-made lavosh, apricot thyme compote and cherry relish - to die for!

Lunch and wine tasting at Wild On Waiheke - cafe, vineyard and brewery.

Really good coffee in the morning at Spice Cafe in Oneroa.

Holiday in New Zealand

I have heard and seen pictures of New Zealand's beauty but until you see it for yourself it's hard to imagine. We had such a wonderful time, awesome weather and pristine beaches. Not to mention the delicious food we had and the view, and... just see for yourself.


Matakana Farmers' Market

The Farmers' market in Matakana (NZ) is one of the cutest little markets I have seen so far. It's in the countryside up north not far from Auckland. It runs every Saturday from 8am to 1pm the and is a focal point for locals and city slickers, and growers to meet. You'll find produce from the area – fruit and vegetables, delicious home baking and Italian-style sausages, organic chocolate, fine wines and boutique olive oils, locally-brewed beer and the all-important morning coffee and live music as an accompaniment. Also a plus is the beautiful village feel, it kind of feels the time stands still.  Even if the market is bustling there is always a little nook to just sit down and relax while enjoying a snack and the live music. Only at this market did I see crepes being serves on leaves instead of paper plates - that is proper organic thinking!

The market displays a great mix of fresh produce and home-made goods. The live music adds extra charm to the atmosphere.

Shop, smell, taste and enjoy. The market is a great day out for your senses.

Oh, aren't these roses wonderful?


Sculpture by the sea

Now is the time to see the annual Sculpture by the Sea exhibition along the Bondi to Coogee Bay walk. Don't miss it!

Cherubini Cafe in Darlinghurst

On Sunday we ventured out into our old and long forgotten neighbourhood - Darlinghurst. A friend organises a breakfast +1 outing every first Sunday in Sydney and I was so free (badly translated from German, sorry, but couldn't help myself) to bring my husband. The cafe in question where we met was cherubini in Darlinghurst and they serve really darn good coffee there. On top of that it's roasted in house and also rainforest alliance certified, all boxed ticked!

I didn't have any food but everything that was brought out to the table looked really yummy.
They also run their own networking event called Coffee Talk Sydney every second Sunday and, 
unlike other cafes in Sydney they are open till 6pm on weekdays so, if you feel like a late coffee fix you know where you should be heading.


Nutella Brownies

Thanks to pinterest and fellow blogger Brooke at Family Kitchen I came across an interesting recipe. To make brownies using Nutella instead of chocolate. Mmmh, that sounded very promising and it sure is!  Nutella makes the brownie softer yet moist and the hazelnut just adds another layer of yummiest. It's even better the next day and the Nutella-cream cheese layer is an extra bonus. My gosh, this is heaven however, it means I have to run an extra mile to shed those extra calories :-).
Since you don't have to melt any chocolate it's very easy to make and so scrumptious. I tweaked the recipe a little and hope you'll like it.

And here is my Nutella-Brownie recipe:
 Makes 24

For the brownie layer:
150 g butter, softened
200 g soft brown sugar
4 large eggs
100 g plain flour
50 g cocoa powder
170 g Nutella

For the Nutella-cream cheese layer:
200 g low-fat cream cheese
170 g Nutella
100 g soft brown sugar
2 large eggs

1. Preheat oven to 180 degree Celsius. Line a 21 x 24 cm cake tin with baking paper, let the sides overhang a little.
2. Mix butter and sugar in an electric mixer until pale and creamy. Add eggs, one after the other, and mix well after each.
3. Sift flour and cocoa powder over the batter in mix until combined. Mix through Nutella until just combined. Pour batter in the cake tin and spread evenly.
4. Mix together cream cheese, Nutella and sugar until well combined. Add eggs, one after the other, and mix after each until combined.
5. Pour cream cheese layer on top of brownie layer and gently spread evenly.
6. Bake in oven for 45 -55 minutes until the top feels dry to the touch and is just set (a skewer inserted into the middle won't come out clean). Let cool completely before cutting into cubes.
If you want sprinkle top with cocoa powder.


Pumpkin Creme Brulee

I had a butternut pumpkin left from the last photo shoot and normally I would roast it in the oven and have it with a mixed leaf salad. This time however I thought I try something sweet and et voila, pumpkin creme brulee. Creme brulee is one of my favourite dessserts, it's easy to make and so delicious. It's the best hipgold you can get apart from brownies. Well, this pumpkin creme brulee is slightly more elaborated as you have to cook the pumpkin first but that doesn't take long. The good thing about this dessert is that you can do it in advance so that you have desserts sorted for next day's dinner, isn't that fantastic? My problem is, that knowing I have creme brulee in the fridge, I can't stop eating it, which means there will probably nothing be left for my family or guests :-(

My pumpkin creme brulee recipe:

Serves 4

300 ml cream
1/2 vanilla bean, split
3 egg yolks
80 g caster sugar
150 g pumpkin puree, (see note)
4 teaspoons sugar (brown or white), extra to caramelise

1. Preheat oven to 160 C  (320 F, Gas 2-3). Place four  1 cup (250 ml) capacity ovenproof dishes in a large roasting tin. Put cream in a medium saucepan. 
2. Use a small knife to scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the cream. Add the vanilla bean to the cream mixture.  Place cream over medium heat and bring to a simmer (don’t boil). Remove and discard vanilla pod. Whisk egg yolks, sugar and pumpkin puree together in a medium bowl until well combined. Gradually whisk the cream into the egg mixture until well combined. Pour evenly among prepared dishes. 
3. Pour enough boiling water into the roasting tin until it comes halfway up the side of the dishes. Bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes or until just set. 
4. Remove from oven, take dishes out of water bath and cool for 30 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for at least 4 hours or up to 2 days to chill.
5. Preheat a grill to high. Sprinkle the crème brulees evenly with sugar. Cook under the grill for 1-2 minutes or until sugar bubbles and caramelises. Or, use a blowtorch to caramelise the sugar.

Note: For the pumpkin puree you need to simmer the pumpkin until very soft and then puree it with a blender or mixer until smooth. I had 700 g of pumpkin flesh and simmered it in 200 ml milk, covered, for 10 minutes, and then for 5 minutes to let the milk evaporate. Don't boil or the milk might curdle. You'll have obviously quite a bit of pumpkin puree left which you can use for dinner or lunch, or stir it through a quiche. Or, if you know the exact netto amount let me know and I can include it in the recipe, thanks.

Hope you enjoy it.


The most common cooking mistakes

I stumbled upon a website called Cooking Light which also is a US based magazine.  This magazine compiled a list of the most common cooking mistakes and along gives a great insight into working with low-fat ingredients. Have a look here.

3. You make unwise substitutions in baking.

Result: You wreck the underlying chemistry of the dish.

Substitutions are a particular temptation, and challenge, with healthy cooking. AtCooking Light it's our job to substitute lower-fat ingredients―to change the cooking chemistry a bit while capturing the soul of a dish. When it comes to baking, this is as much science as art.

"I'll get calls from readers about cakes turning out too dense or too gummy," says Test Kitchen Director Vanessa Pruett. "After a little interrogation, I’ll get to the truth―that the reader used ALL applesauce instead of a mix of applesauce and oil or butter or went with sugar substitute in place of sugar." Best practice: Follow the recipe, period.

NEXT4. You boil when you should simmer.

Food photography workshop

Last week I attended a food photography evening called "Food Glorious Food" organised by the ACMP and held at gastronomy in Alexandria. The food photographers Penelope Beveridge and Lisa Saad showcased her style of working and setting light. Chef Miccal Cummins added tips about food styling and everyone got a delightful dinner and drinks. It's always interesting to see how different photographers approach their work and it's great that Penelope, Lisa and Miccal were happy to share their knowledge. This evening was very worthwhile and I can really recommend to check out the ACMP website for future events.

Photographer Penelope Beveridge.

Penolope Beveridge, Lisa Saad and Miccal Cummins.

Set up for food photography.

Good food photography makes hungry! Everyone is getting  food.