Three days till Christmas! For me, a holiday that is not only about presents and wonderful food, but about spending time with my family and celebrating the birth of Christ. To me that is the real meaning of Christmas. Family, faith and love.
It’s been quite an eventful day today, the day before our Christmas break starts. I spent a good part of the morning chasing a stray dog with cheese and a spare leash, after no one bothered to do a thing. Not even the animal ambulance. I called them and they said they would only come if I managed to catch the dog. So I tried my best, enticing him with cheese, but I failed. After begging them to come and saying the dog wasn’t going to let me put him on a leash, they agreed. But at a certain point, he swiftly ran away and it was too late. I hope with all of me that he’ll be found. He was old and in pretty bad shape, I walked home in tears feeling defeated.
A Christmas card from our dear friends Marit and Kelvin put a smile on my face though, so I put on some Christmas music, cleaned the house and whipped up a batch of festive breakfast cakes for tomorrow morning. I really think you will love them. They have cranberries, apple, crisp pecans and a hint of almond.
It will be a busy day tomorrow, by the way! We’ll be driving to the organic butcher for our holiday meats and I still need to do some last minute shopping to take care of. I will also be meeting a lovely woman I met on Instagram a while ago — exciting!
But about those breakfast cakes… here’s the recipe!
Have a wonderful Christmas!
PS: You will need a large muffin tin of 3 1/2 x 1 1/2 in. Though this should work perfectly well in a normal muffin tin. Just start checking for doneness after 18 minutes or so.
Christmas Breakfast Cakes
Makes 4 cakes
80g all purpose flour
50g coarse cornmeal (polenta)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
50g cranberries, chopped
40g pecans, chopped
1 small green apple, or 1/2 large, chopped
100ml whole milk
40ml mild olive oil
1 1/2 tsp almond extract
80g granulated sugar
a glaze made with lemon juice and powdered sugar, or just powdered sugar
Preheat the oven to 200C and grease 4 holes of the large muffin tin. Sprinkle with flour, shaking off any excess. In a large bowl, mix the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, cranberries, pecans and apple. In a small bowl, whisk the milk, olive oil, almond extract, granulated sugar and egg. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and gently combine. Divide the batter over the muffin holes and bake for 25 minutes. Allow to cool on a wire rack. Unmold and make the glaze the way you like it. Drizzle over the cakes. You can also just dust with powdered sugar. Enjoy!
Until recently, I had never heard of Marlene apples, a leading Italian brand of gourmet apples grown in South Tyrol. The apples carry the PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) label which certifies they were grown in this beautiful region of the Alps — a region that profits from extremely favorable weather conditions (it boasts more than two thousand hours of sunlight per year!) and rich, fertile soils. This results in apples that are very aromatic, juicy and have an excellent bite. The apples are grown by approximately five thousand producers according to high quality standards. There are seven varieties of Marlene apples, each one with its own unique characteristics and special taste. From the Red Delicious with its deep ruby color and wonderful crunch to the Braeburn with its firm flesh (excellent for pies and other baked goods). In the Netherlands, you can find the apples at specialized produce shops. Though in my opinion apples are best enjoyed on their own as a snack or chopped into a green salad, I wanted to develop a recipe that uses two of my favorite apple varieties. I came up with a seasonal spiced apple cider using two of the juiciest apples, the tart Granny Smith and the aromatic Fuji, which also has a high sugar content and is very fragrant. I really think you’ll like this recipe, and once you see how easy it is, you’ll be making it as soon as the colder months roll around. It’s a wonderful seasonal drink and a highly recommended alternative to mulled wine, especially if you give it a little ‘oomph’ with a hit of dark rum. Without the booze, you can even consider it a health drink as it is chock full of flavonoids which are excellent at zapping free radicals! The only thing you will need is some patience. You will want the apples and aromatic spices to gently simmer for at least six hours and then steep overnight. After that, you strain everything well, bring back to the boil, sweeten, and add rum if desired. Cheers!
PS: This is NOT a sponsored post. I do not and will not accept money to promote brands with misleading claims. I received a press sample of Marlene apples and truly enjoyed them.
Spiced Apple Cider Serves 8
4 large Granny Smith apples, cored and cut into eighths
4 large Fuji apples, cored and cut into eighths
1 untreated orange, studded with 8 cloves
4 cinnamon sticks
2 star anise
2 L water
3 tbsps honey
brown rum, if desired
Put all of the ingredients (except the honey and rum) in a large pan, bring to the boil, cover and reduce to a simmer. Allow the mixture to simmer very gently for 6 hours. Then, remove the pan from the heat and leave covered overnight (no refrigeration necessary). The next day, remove the orange and give everything a final mash with a potato masher. Remove the cinnamon sticks and star anise. Place a large piece of cheesecloth over a large bowl and carefully pour in the mixture. Allow most to drain and then squeeze out as much as possible with your hands. Wash the pan in which you cooked the cider. Pour the cider into the pan through a fine mesh sieve and bring to the boil. Stir in the honey and serve. Add brown rum if desired.
Last Friday I decided to take the day off and spend it in the kitchen, listening to Christmas music and making some holiday treats to enjoy with my family during the weekend. The last few weeks have been hectic, and this was truly a much needed break.
I am always amazed at how therapeutic cooking can be. The act of creating something that not only looks nice but tastes good (and will make people happy) is so rewarding. I cooked from early in the morning until about 6:30 p.m. in the evening when Hans showed up. By that time, I was just putting the final batch of mince pies in the oven and the house smelled of Christmas! I think I may do this every Friday from now on, at least for the rest of this festive month!
Last Sunday we finally put up our Christmas tree. My Dutch hubby would have rather waited until after Sinterklaas, but that would have meant putting up the tree on the 11th of December! Fourteen days before Christmas? No way! Luckily, I convinced him to make an exception, and he agreed.
Our tree is huge! In fact, I think it’s the biggest tree we’ve ever had. It did fit, though, so there was no Griswold-like scene taking place in our living room, thank goodness. I am so happy and grateful that I work from home because that means I can enjoy the tree every single day. The season (and my fully decorated house) has me longing to get baking, make Christmas chutneys and fudge, or hide under my new Christmas blanket while drinking hot chocolate and listening to Christmas music. My schedule, however, is packed to the brim. Between writing for a new magazine and working on the March/April 2017 issue DUTCH, I barely have time to catch my breath, This Monday, however, the hubs took a day off from work to celebrate Sinterklaas, and I went ahead and treated myself to a day of doing absolutely nothing as well — bliss!
I have been so busy, that I even forgot to share a recipe I tried last week: a beautiful banana-chocolate marbled cake. It’s long gone now, but here’s the recipe!
Enjoy your holiday baking!
Banana-Chocolate Marbled Cake
130 g soft butter
150 g light brown sugar
90g soft cream cheese
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
200 g all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
2 tbsps pure raw cacao powder
Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a rectangular cake pan with baking paper. Using a hand-held or standing mixer, beat the butter and sugar. Add in the eggs one by one while continuing to beat. Do the same with the cream cheese. Add in the mashed bananas and vanilla extract, and give everything a final whisk. In another bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Fold the dry ingredients through the wet until well incorporated. Add the cacao powder to half of the batter. Pour both batters into the prepared cake pan, marble them with a skewer and bake for 40-45 minutes or until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool completely on a wire rack before cutting into slices.