It’s Christmassing! Well, almost 😉
The 2017 edition of our Christmas Market book – Vienna and beyond – is available as eBook.
I’ve been taking thousands of photographs in Scotland since I first visited in 2009. Working on a calendar was only a natural thing to do. Maybe one day I’ll make a photo book as well. 🙂
At the moment, it’s available directly through Lulu:
When my friend Val Griswold-Ford asked me if she could talk about food and her new book on my blog, I didn’t hesitate!
So here goes 🙂
Thank you, Katharina, for letting me come over and talk about two of my favorite things: food and cooking! My main character for Winter’s Secrets is a kitchen witch, simply because I really wish I could be. She’s absolutely a Mary Sue in that respect, as she can cook ANYTHING. I first ran into the concept in a book that I cannot remember the title to now, but was a fantasy book based on the song “The Whistling Gypsy Rover.” The main character in that was also a kitchen witch who had to go and rescue her half-faery sister from the gypsy rover who stole her away. I was fascinated – her name was Meg, and what she could do with her gifts was amazing. How useful! Never to be without hot water, or be able to take a few bits of food and make a feast. Able to fix anything. Never to need a timer to know when something was done. Why weren’t more people writing about things like this???
Molly currently uses her gifts to run a tea room, but think of the applications for all sorts of fantasy books. Armies travel on their stomachs – which makes them vulnerable to poisonings, or having the enemy pursue a “scorched earth” policy, and means they have to travel at the rate of the provisions wagons. But if you had a kitchen witch or two with you? You could travel much lighter, and be less vulnerable. Think of the possibilities!
I love food (it’s really no secret), and so through Molly and her tea room, I get to play with ideas for all sorts of things. The idea of a tea shop is one of my favorites as well. When I was in college, there was a tea shop, tucked into the back of an antiques store, where I would go and write when I could. There was three to four tables, and everything was mismatched. For $20, you could get several pots of tea (really good tea), tea sandwiches, and whatever the owner felt like baking that day. And she liked writers, so she thought it was cool that we would sit there with our notebooks (because none of us had laptops at that point – this was back in the 90s, when we were all broke and computers were large) and scribble away. It was the perfect atmosphere, and one I wanted to recapture.
When I first thought of the Advent Story idea, I knew I wanted my main character to own a tea shop. The idea of putting it in a bookstore combined my other love (I swear, heaven is a library) and gave me the framework for what I could do. Molly doesn’t have a lot of room, and that allows her to experiment a bit. The original blog story (which starts at http://vg-ford.com/?p=317, if you want to go back and read it in its first form) actually had some recipes sprinkled in, but they were from various blogs I found on the internet. I’ve been threatening for a while to do a Carter’s Cove cookbook, but I’d have to actually sit down and test recipes, which I don’t really have time to do. But we’ll see.
You can order Winter’s Secrets, Book 1 of the Carter’s Cove Advent Stories from Amazon, and follow me on Twitter (@vg_ford). Schrodinger also has his own Facebook page (Schrodinger Barrett) and Twitter handle (@MollysSchrodngr).
You can find all the links where you can buy it HERE.
Danube Waves already has a Goodreads page too, you can go ahead and add it!
Whilst you are waiting for it, get The Coffee Legacy on Smashwords for only $ 0.99 with coupon code: EX69X !!
When I started blogging about Christmas markets in winter 2012, I never thought it would become a book, let alone I would be publishing a second edition three years later.
After it was first published, I still wanted to go to new markets or revisit old ones, and I took my camera and Mick with me, to be safe. The plan was to update it for 2014, but we moved house and the project landed in the queue.
I was sure though, once the new opening dates and times were published I would manage a 2015 edition – and here it is! 🙂
Updated infos, seven new markets, and many more photos!
Smashwords (and many more…)
Vive la France! The next cookbook is an ode to French cuisine and ingredients. As I mentioned in the first post, one of my favourite cookbooks is a French one, so many of the classics are well known to me. This is why it wasn’t too easy for me to find something I hadn’t tried before with the additional challenge to add vanilla. All the savoury dishes were out, but I had my eyes on something special anyway. I’ve always loved eclairs and so does Mick. My problem with eclairs was always that I was a bit too picky about the filling and icing. So making them myself seemed like a great idea. Even though they have the reputation of being a tough thing to make, choux pastry and all.
2 Egg yolks
100g icing (I made a lemon-sugar icing but you can also use chocolate icing)
2 Egg yolks
It’s best to start with the crème pâtissier, so it can cool down and be firm when you fill it into the eclairs. For the crème, put the eggs, the egg yolks and the sugar into a bowl and mix it until it gets foamy. Sieve the flour in and mix it through properly.
Pour the milk and butter into a large pot and add the vanilla. Bring it to the boil. Turn the temperature down and slowly add the egg-flour mix whilst constantly stirring for about 10 minutes. The mass will thicken and get the consistency of vanilla pudding. Sprinkle sugar over the top so the milk won’t get a skin. Then take itoff the heat and put the whole pot in the fridge to cool it down.
For the choux pastry, bring the water with the butter to a boil. Pour all the flour in at once and stir it thoroughly until the dough separates from the pot. Take the pot from the stove to add the eggs. Add only one egg yolk at a time and mix it in completely before adding the next. This requires a bit of strength and can get quite exhausting after a while. The dough now needs to rest for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 180C.
For the icing I mixed the juice of a lemon with icing sugar until it gets thick and put it to the side. Put the choux pastry dough into an icing bag with a round nozzle and dress them onto a tray covered with baking paper. I left about two finger width between them, and admittedly, they looked a bit weird at first. Whilst baking they smooth out but it’s important to leave them in one piece and not be tempted to add more dough to an already dressed eclair if it’s smaller than the others.
Coat the dough with mixed egg yolk and put it into the oven for about 20 minutes. Open the oven door for a bit and bake for another 10 minutes.
Cut the eclairs carefully in half with a bread knife so they don’t tear. Put the crème pâtissier in an icing bag and fill one half of the eclair. Coat the other half with the icing and let it dry. Then assemble the two halves of the eclair and serve it. If you have crème left over you can freeze it and use it to fill macarons for example.
Eclairs are always awesome, but when you fill and coat it with exactly what you want, they are just fantastic. The mixing of the dough was more physical work than I had expected, but it wasn’t a problem. I also learned a lot of dressing the eclairs – I am sure with every time I make them they will look more even. But that’s really just details in the looks and I’m sure they’ll look better and better each time I’ll make them. Which I’m sure I will. I am already thinking a bit about what to put in them next – thinking fresh berries.
In Paris, I got a lot of very specialised cookbooks. I got the Crème Brûlée one, which I already had as a challenge and also one for Macarons. I have eaten macarons in France a few times but never cooked them before. For this challenge, I even got a special macaron baking mat for 10 Euro. The extra challenge was that whatever I made had to go well with coffee, that was going to be easy I figured.
Caramel Macarons & Vanilla Macarons
190 g almond powder
310 g icing sugar
150 g egg white
95 g caster sugar
Caramel Sauce or
Vanilla crème patissier (see next recipe for eclairs)
Preheat the oven to 150C. Sieve the almond powder and icing sugar into a bowl and mix them together thoroughly. In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff whilst slowly adding the caster sugar. When the egg whites are stiff, add the sugar-nut mix and stir it through properly until it’s a shiny mass. No need to worry about breaking the egg whites. Unlike many classical macarons, I stayed away from food colouring which would’ve been added into the egg whites.
To make sure the macarons fitted together, I got a dedicated mat to bake macarons for 10 EUR. If you have good aim and can make dots that are the same size, you probably won’t need it. For the first batch I used the wrong nozzle for the icing bag. They evened out nicely enough but would’ve been smoother with a plain round one.
Put them in the middle of the oven for about 10 minutes. When you take them out, let them cool off before taking them off of the tray so that the inside will be smoother. I didn’t wait long enough, but since you fill it in the middle, the look of the inside isn’t terribly important. It does make doing a second batch easier if the tray is cleaner.
In the end, they were crispy on the outside, and still slightly soft in the middle – just fantastic! I’m not sure if that’s how macarons are supposed to be, but that’s surely the way I like them! If you want them crispy in the middle, it might need a few minutes more.
The first batch of macarons I made with store-bought caramel sauce. Even though it tasted fantastic, it didn’t have the same consistency that one is used to with macarons. In the next challenge, where I made eclairs, I had some vanilla crème patissier left over, so I ended up making another batch of macarons and filling them with the vanilla creme. Also fantastic taste and much more photogenic! Plus that already proves the point that I would make them again, given I did only a few weeks later.
The next challenge was Jamie at Home, a very down-to-earth and seasonal cookbook. I went straight to the autumn recipes, to be able to get the ingredients which were in season already. I was drawn to the mushroom risotto – I love eating it even though I’ve never cooked risotto. Knowing it’s not easy, I was aware that it would test my patience more than anything else… 🙂 The extra challenge was to add something red so… BACON! It’s red enough…
Smoked bacon, chopped into small cubes
1,5 litres hot chicken stock
0,5 kilo of mushrooms (no champignons! I used chanterelle)
1 small onion, chopped into small pieces
2 celery (I’m not too fond of celery so I used 3 spring onions)
400g Risotto Rice
150ml white wine
2 handful grated parmesan (about 100g)
This time, I learned I need to label the things I froze… What I thought was chicken stock was actually pepper sauce… Anyway, onto the recipe.
Bring the chicken stock to the boil and keep it on the heat so it keeps bubbling. Clean the mushrooms, chop a small handful and put the rest aside. In a big pot, heat up olive oil, add the onions and spring onions and sweat them for about 10 minutes without them getting brown. Turn up the temperature, add the risotto rice and stir it all through.
Add the wine and stir until the rice has absorbed the fluid completely. Then add the finely chopped mushrooms and salt. Reduce the heat again.
Now the biggest challenge starts – at least it was for me – which has to do with patience. Add a ladle full of stock to the rice and stir until it has absorbed the liquid completely. This now goes on for at least half an hour. Always adding only a ladle full of stock and stirring until the liquid has been absorbed by the rice. The rice is done when it’s still firm but not hard in the middle.
Cut the rest of the mushrooms in half or smaller, depending on the size, and fry them in a separate pan. Add the bacon, salt, pepper and parsley to the mushrooms. They will lose a lot of water so you might want to drain them a bit whilst frying them.
When the risotto is done, take it from the heat, add the butter and most of the parmesan and mix it through properly. Leave some over to sprinkle over the top. The rice should be creamy and you can add more stock if necessary. Put a lid on the pot and let the risotto sit for about 5 minutes. Then try it, maybe add more salt or pepper if necessary.
Put the risotto in a soup plate and add the fried mushrooms with a bit of parmesan over the top.
This recipe really tested my patience. I should have taken even more time, but the rice was really good. Maybe a tiny bit longer on the stirring side. The risotto tasted fantastic, all around. It wouldn’t necessarily NEED the bacon and the original recipe didn’t have it either, but it added an extra nice flavour to it. The mushrooms in the rice itself gave it a great flavour. With rice and good flavourful mushrooms even I can go vegetarian. So far, Mick was always the risotto cook, mainly because he has more experience and patience. Nevertheless, I was very happy with the result and would surely make it again. Maybe experiment more next time. A fantastic autumn recipe, all around!
Going with the Brit- theme, I decided to make the whole meal out of or inspired by the same book. For the main course I went with a pork belly roast and pan haggerty. Since we had guests over, the amount was just about right…
Pork Belly and Pan Haggerty
1 pork belly with rind
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or pressed
600g firm, waxy potatoes
3 large onions
100g strong cheddar (i used strong Tyrolean mountain cheese. if you like cheese a lot, you might want to use more than that)
1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
20g butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 190C. Cut lines into the rind of the bork belly, first vertically then horizontally, about 1 cm apart. Pat the belly with kitchen cloth to make sure it’s dry. Put oil in a tray with garlic and put the belly in, rind up. Make sure no oil gets on the rind, if you want it crusty. Put a lot of salt on the rind – this draws out the water and makes a nice crackling. Put the pork belly into the oven, after 30 minutes reduce the heat to 170C and roast for another hour. I put more salt over the crust after about 45 min, to make sure it would be extra crackly.
The pork roast will take about 90 min in total in the oven, whereas the pan haggerty needs about 30. Make sure you can fit both in together, so you can serve both hot and fresh.
Thinly slice the potatoes, grate the cheese and put it aside. Heat oil in a pan and sweat the onions for about 8 minutes, until they are soft. Put oil in a pan or oven form (I don’t have a pan that fits into the oven, so I just made it in an oven form), then put in a layer of potatoes. Season with salt and pepper, then put a layer of onions and a layer of cheese on top. The recipe suggests brushing the potatoes with melted butter, but I advise to go easy with it so that they won’t get too greasy. Put the layers on top of each other until you end up with a layer of cheese on top of the form.
If you make it in a pan, put it over medium heat and cook for 5 minutes until the bottom layer is brown. Then transfer it into the oven. If you did it in an oven form, put it into the oven straight away. Bake them in the oven for about 30 minutes until the potatoes are tender. If the cheese isn’t golden brown, increase the heat for a few minutes or turn the grill on. 15 minutes before everything was done, I added peppers in the tray with the pork roast.
Both dishes turned out super. I will use less or no butter in the potatoes next time, but it wasn’t really a bother. They tasted great and the cheese was nicely melted and crispy on top. The pork was fantastic. The crackling was firm and stayed like this even until we had the leftovers cold.
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