Apple Cider Shortbread

I saw this recipe in one of the free daily newspapers and tried to recreate it to make it my own. Mainly because I wasn’t smart enough to rip out the recipe from the paper so really, that left me no choice but to create my own. I wanted to bake something that felt Christmas-y for the Christmas Eve gathering tonight so I’m not sure if it will be received well. I may or may not have stolen a few pieces though and formed my own opinion. What’s yours?

Ingredients:

  • home made shortbread
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 2 cups (400g) sugar
  • 1/3 cup (50g) flour
  • 1.5 cups (375ml) apple juice or cider, not from concentrate, ideally fresh and organic
  • peel and juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp baking power
  • icing sugar to dust on top

20121223-175138.jpgDirections: bake shortbread according to recipe. While it bakes, whisk egg yolks, sugar, flour, spices and baking powder together. Add lemon zest, lemon juice and apple juice and whisk until even and smooth (no lumps). Reduce heat to 300F (150C). Pour mixture over hot short bread crust and bake for 30-45 minutes (depending on your oven), or until top starts to brown. Cool on rack to room temperature, then chill for 2h. Dust with icing sugar and cut into squares.

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Glühwein or Swiss Mulled Wine

In the German speaking world, Glühwein is an essential part of Christmas. At least that has always been my impression and it is certainly true for me. In every major city, you can find a colourful Christmas market this time a year and I have yet to visit one that didn’t offer about 400 vendors of Glühwein. The most exact translation would probably be Glow Wine but that sounds a bit trippy so most people would know it as mulled wine.

Ingredients:

  • 1 bottle of Red Wine, preferably on the fruitier side (I’m no sommelier but I think you get the idea). It does not have to be the greatest wine you ever bought
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 pods of Cardamom
  • 1 tsp of whole cloves
  • 1 slice of fresh ginger
  • peel of 1/2 orange or 1 lemon
  • 1 star anise if you have it
  • 1/2 cup (125g) sugar, brown sugar, molasses or honey

Direction:

Pour wine into pot, add spices and your choice of sweetener. Simmer on low until sweetener is dissolved and the wine is fragrant. Pour through sieve and serve in mugs.

A few comments: I strongly recommend using organic oranges or lemons whenever using the peel. You might not have all the spices, substitutes or leaving out one thing or another shouldn’t ruin it. Avoid using ground spices though as it isn’t lovely to drink that. If you make this for children or people who don’t drink alcohol, use apple juice instead (not from concentrate).

Shortbread

Shortbread is perhaps the easiest thing you’ll ever bake and it’s so good. It’s also a great basis for other cookies, like my Apple Cider Shortbread or Lemon Squares.

Here it goes:

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups (500g) butter, softened
  • 1 cup (200g) white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 cups (360g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Mix butter, sugar and vanilla and stir until fluffy. Add flour and salt, mix well. Line 9×13 inch (22×33 cm) baking dish with parchment paper. Fill dish, flatten. Bake for 15-25 minutes (depending on your oven). Let cool and cut. Alternatively, use cookie cutters and bake for 8-12 minutes.

A few notes: parchment or baking paper is not the same as wax paper. Don’t use wax paper, it shouldn’t be used for baking at all and gets really messy, not to mention probably toxic. You can buy FSC certified unbleached parchment paper and I usually reuse it a few times when I make cookies (eventually it will break). For cakes I grease and flour my dish, but for cookies this is the easiest even if it may not be the greenest. You can use glass or metal for your baking dish, I use a glass cake form.

Älplermagronen or Swiss Mac & Cheese

This recipe would fall into the “food around the world” category and is one of the things I took with me when I emigrated Switzerland (luckily it was in my head and needed no space in my heavily oversized, overweight suitcase or it might not have made the cut). It’s a traditional Swiss dish, after the Italians were nice enough to bring pasta with them when they moved north and made friends with the, probably rather strange, inhabitants of the Alps. Here’s my version:

Serves 4

20121223-120348.jpgIngredients:

  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 onion, chopped into slices
  • 4 small potatoes, cubed (with skin)
  • ca. 1.5 cups (400g) pasta (I use whatever I have, Penne, macaroni or similar)
  • 6 stripes of bacon or 4 slices of ham, chopped – optional
  • 1 cup (250ml) cream
  • 1 cup (250g) cheese, grated (again, use what you like. I recommend a Swiss Cheese (Gruyere, Sbrinz, Emmental…) or Parmesan)
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Applesauce

Directions:

Bring 4 cups of water (1 l) of water to a boil, add salt and cook pasta according to package. We Europeans think you Canadians overcook your pasta but do whatever you like, it’s your meal…Steam cubed potatoes or add to pasta and cook until soft. Drain. Meanwhile:

In a frying pan, melt butter. Add onions and fry until soft, add ham. If you use bacon instead, leave away butter and start by frying bacon, then add onions. Drain some of the fat. Or leave meat out altogether. Add cream and heat up. Do not bring to a complete boil though, as dairy can separate. Add cheese, salt, pepper, and pasta. Mix well. Add potatoes and mix in very gently to avoid breaking the potato cubes.

Serve with apple sauce. That probably sounds strange, but TRUST me on this one. Depending on what Canton (the Swiss “states”) you would eat this, the recipe would differ. Some are with ham, some with bacon, some vegetarian. Some use potatoes, others leave it out. Some might be strict on what type of pasta or cheese to use, I say the heck with it, use what you love and make it your own. I hope you enjoy this!

Tomato Orange Soup or Christmas in a Cup

Here a soup I like to eat this time of year, not just because I plan on overeating at Christmas and could use something lighter before and after, but also because it tastes very Christmas-y. Agreed?

Serves 4

Tomato Orange SoupIngredients:

  • 1 lb (500g) tomatoes
  • 1 tsp oil or butter
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 3 sprigs fresh basil
  • 2 cups (1 l) vegetable broth (for recipe, click here)
  • 1.5 cups (400ml) fresh orange juice
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • A few cloves
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 1 cinnamon stick

Directions:

Snick the tops of the tomatoes, plunge them briefly into boiling water, allowing for easier peeling. Peel and dice. Heat butter or oil, sauté onions until soft. Add tomato puree. After a few minutes, add diced tomatoes. Dust with flour, add basil, then broth. Bring to a boil, stir continuously; let it simmer for 15 minutes.

In a separate pot, bring orange juice, sugar and spices to a boil and simmer on low until liquid is reduced by half. Pour reduction through a sieve to the tomato soup, take off heat and blend until smooth. Add cream or milk. Do not boil soup again as dairy can separate. Alternatively, whip cream and add a dollop directly into the serving bowls, sprinkle with cinnamon. Add sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Adapted from Hiltl. Veggie International: A World of Difference. Book, published by Orell Fuessli. 2009.

Potato and Peas or an Upgraded Classic

The Feta cheese and mint make this classic soup into something more interesting. At least that’s my opinion – what’s yours?

Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp oil or butter
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 large potato, chopped (peeling optional)
  • 1 stick celery, chopped
  • 4 cups (1l) vegetable broth (home made, store bought or from powder)
  • 1 cup (250g) frozen peas
  • 1 spring fresh mint
  • 0.25 cup (60ml) cream
  • 1 decent sized chunk of Feta cheese (say, 2” square), crumbled

Potato Peas SoupDirections:

Heat oil or butter in pot. Sauté onions until soft. Add potato, then celery. Sauté for a few minutes. Add stock and bring to a boil. Let it simmer until potatoes are soft. Add frozen peas. Pick leaves of mint spring, discard the chalks and add leaves. Take off heat and blend until smooth. Add cream. Do not boil soup again as dairy can separate and mint loses some of its flavour. Add Feta cheese crumbles, sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Adapted from Jamie Oliver: 20 Minute Meals, mobile app.

Vegetable Stock (Broth)

This stock is a great basis for soups, sauces, and glazes.

makes about 13 cups/3.5 litre

Ingredients:

  • 1 small leek
  • 1/4 small savoy cabbage
  • 1/2 fennel bulb
  • 2 onions, unpeeled
  • 1/2 small celeriac
  • 1 carrot
  • 2 tbsp oil

    Image Courtesy of Maggie Smith

    Image Courtesy of Maggie Smith

  • 1 tbsp whole black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp caraway sees
  • 1 tbs mustard seeds
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 spring rosemary
  • 1 spring tarragon
  • 1/2 tsp lavender flowers
  • 15 cups (1L) water
  • 2 tbsp sea salt

Directions:

Wash vegetables and chop coarsely. Heat oil and sauté carrots, fennel, onions and celeriac until slightly browned. Add cabbage and spices. Cook until spices develop fragrance (should be somewhat obvious). Add herbs and water. Bring to a boil, simmer for 45 minutes. Stir in sea salt. Pour stock through sieve and fill into sterilized glass bottles or jars or use immediately for soups. Seal and leave to cool. Unopened stock will keep in the fridge for 2-3 weeks.

Adapted from Hiltl. Veggie International: A World of Difference. Orell Fuessli, 2009.