Category Archives: Food

Gingerbread Cookies

Christmas isn’t complete without Gingerbread Cookies.  This tradition of baking, what I consider the best Christmas treat started years ago in my mom’s kitchen.  Every year my mom and I would whip up and bake traditional British treats like Minced Meat Pies (never understood them – never liked them) and Shortbread Cookies as well as Canadian favourites such as Nanaimo Bars, Chocolate Coconut Balls, Sugar Cookies and finally, Gingerbread Cookies.

I have since carried on the baking tradition with my kids, although not the variety that you see above.  We have narrowed down the best of the best and Gingerbread in our house always tops the charts.  This recipe from William Sonoma has been successful with my family so I urge you to give it a try 🙂

Gingerbread cookies

Ingredients:

  • 5 cups all-purpose flour (780 g)
  • 1tsp. baking soda
  • 1 Tbs. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. allspice
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter (250 g) at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar (105 g)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar (125 g)
  • 1 cup unsulfured molasses (345 g)
  • 1 egg
  • Decorating sugars and pastes as desired

Directions:

Have all the ingredients at room temperature. Over a sheet of parchment paper, sift together the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat the butter on medium-high speed until fluffy and pale yellow, 4 to 6 minutes. Add the brown and granulated sugars and beat for 1 minute. Reduce the speed to low and add the molasses, beating until well combined, about 1 minute. Add the egg and beat until combined, about 30 seconds.Add the flour mixture in 4 additions, beating in each addition before adding more. Beat just until combined, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Using floured hands, form the dough into a smooth mound and divide into 4 equal portions. Shape each into a disk and wrap separately with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.Preheat an oven to 400ºF. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.Remove 1 dough disk at a time from the refrigerator and let stand for 10 minutes. Place the dough between 2 sheets of parchment or waxed paper and roll out to a thickness of 1/4 to 3/8 inch. This thickness is important to ensure the baked cookies will fit together.Dip the cutters into flour just before using and cut out the shapes (see tips below). Using an offset spatula, carefully transfer the cutouts to the prepared baking sheets, putting similar-size pieces on the same pan: snowman bases and reindeer legs on one; sleigh sides, treetops and tree bases on another; and snowman bodies, reindeer bodies and sleigh ends on another. The sides of each notch need to be parallel so the notch will fit into the interlocking piece after baking; if the sides have stretched apart, gently push them towards each other so they are parallel.

Repeat with the remaining dough. Gather up the scraps, reroll them and cut out additional cookies. For best results, do not reroll scraps more than once. Refrigerate the cookies until firm, about 20 minutes.

Bake the cookies until lightly browned on the bottom, 4 to 5 minutes for snowman bases and reindeer legs; 6 to 7 minutes for snowman bodies, reindeer bodies and sleigh ends; and 8 to 9 minutes for sleigh sides, treetops and tree bases.

Transfer the baking sheets to wire racks and let the cookies cool for 5 minutes. If the dough has spread into the notches during baking, use a paring knife to gently trim off the excess cookie while still warm so the cookies will interlock when assembled. Let the cookies cool completely on the baking sheets, then decorate as desired and assemble. Makes 4 or 5 of each type of cookie.

This recipe is from William Sonoma
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The Quest to Bake a Chocolate Chip Cookie in Austria

As soon as the winter chill sets in my thoughts go straight to baking chocolate chip cookies.  Combine that with drinking a tall glass of cold milk in the aroma filled kitchen as soon as they come out of the oven and I’m in cookie land heaven!  To me, this is always a quick fix to overcome any homesickness that might be lingering too.

Achieving North American bliss in Austria however, is a different story.  What I considered “baking 101” has turned into a science of “WTF is going on?” – it’s ONLY chocolate chip cookies!  Why I ask… why?

So lets start with the ingredients.  Typical ingredients that you would find in a North American pantry like vanilla extract, brown sugar (the molasses kind) and chocolate chips do not exist in Austria. You won’t even find fondant or corn syrup either, unless you visit a specially store that imports & charges triple for everything.  Instead, you will have to settle for brown sugar cane, vanilla sugar and cut up chocolate chunks & hope for the best.  Trust me it doesn’t work.  I now allocate 5kg of luggage weight just to bring back these precious ingredients from my annual trips home to Canada.  I even bring back baking soda as the “Backpulver” here seems to loose its potency a couple of days after opening.   Now that I am fully stocked you’d think that it’s just a matter of whipping, mixing and baking right?  Nope.

Photos from “Freesytle Farm’s” blog was enough to entice me to give it one more go.

Freestylefarm.ca swears that their recipe will produce a perfect balance of crispy & chewy, which is exactly what I have been looking for. However, after seeing and tasting my results I think the more appropriate name for the recipe would be  “The Best Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies unless you live outside North America”.

The difference must be the dairy & flour.  The happy chickens here produce a much richer coloured yellow yolk.  Could that affect the recipe?  I use “Universal” flour, which is considered an all-purpose flour here in Austria.  Are the gluten levels different?  Could the lower protein component influence the outcome?  And the butter, well the butter is my biggest suspect for deflating my cookies (ego too).  Butter whipped at room temperature separates when mixed with egg (at room temperature).  It even separates when whipped with sugar (I gave up on butter icing LONG ago).  It’s gotta be the butter.   Damn you Austrian cows!

….. 1 week later…. & after some research on European flour

Ta-Dah!

So without completely boring you with the details it turns out that the selection of European flour is HUGE. I had been using the wrong flour all along.  Here is a great blog that explains it all “A Vegetarian in Germany

Now I always like to add a twist to anything that I bake and I’ve tweaked the William Sonoma recipe to make it my own.  Since chocolate chips are almost non-existant here I used Milka as a substitute, and not just any plain ‘ol chocolate.  This is a chocolate with Daim pieces & conflakes treat!  Cut this into smaller chunks and add it in addition to your chocolate chunks and your cookie will turn out wicked good!

If you want to try something different I invite you to give my recipe a go.  I suggest to all my European readers to keep the measurements in grams, forget the “cups”.  Ingredients weigh different here than to North America.

Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (Type 700 Glatt for Austria. Type 550 Glatt for Germany. 220g)
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature (125g)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar (125g)
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar (105g)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup of chopped hazelnuts (125g)
  • 1/2 cup chopped up milk or dark chocolate (70g)
  • 1 bag of chopped up Milka Diam Snax (145g)

Directions:

Preheat an oven to 350°F (180C).
In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, using a handheld mixer on medium-high speed, beat together the butter and the granulated and brown sugars until the mixture is light in texture, about 3 minutes. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, beating just until smooth and stopping to scrape down the bowl as needed. With a spoon, stir in the chopped chocolate and chopped hazelnuts, distributing them evenly throughout the dough. Cover and refrigerate until cold, at least 2 hours or up to 6 hours.

Position racks in the center and upper third of the oven. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Drop rounded tablespoonfuls of the chilled dough onto the baking sheets, spacing them about 1 inch apart.

Bake cookies on the middle rack until the cookies are lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Let cool for 3 minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer to wire racks to cool slightly before serving. Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

photo credit:  First two photos are from http://www.freestylefarms.ca

A little bit of heaven from South America

If there is one thing that I remember vividly from my travels to South American it was my experience at La Rábida Ranch.  This family owned ranch, located in the Uruguayan countryside provided a fulfilled day of hay rides, horseback riding, sheep shearing, cow milking and cow skin “skiing”.  Some of the visitors participated and some cheered on the side lines. For me, it was humbling to see the entire family involved in what felt like a perfectly orchestrated performance.  Upon arrival guests were invited to choose their mode of transportation for the grand tour of the farm & beach.   The older generation piled into the antique cars while the more adventurous hopped on the hay wagons and the farmers children rode along side those who were brave enough to venture on horseback.

Upon our return we were served a typical Uruguayan lunch of barbequed lamb, chicken, pork, and beef.  If you don’t know by now South American is known for its excellent tasting meat so our taste buds were not disappointed!  However, being a sweet tooth person, my lasting impression was from the cookies that they served on the beach half way through our  hay ride/horse ride tour.

The Argentinean style Alfajores cookies, consists of two round shortbread like cookies with a dulce de leche filling.  If you love caramel then you’ll love dulce de leche.  It literally means “candy of milk” and when slathered in between two perfectly baked cookies they are the most delicious cookies in the world!  I have tried my best at replicating this delightful sweet treat and below’s recipe now helps me relive my South American Experience over and over.

Now if I can only find some handsome Uruguayan cowboys on horseback to deliver me these cookies once in a while…

INGREDIENTS  (Recipe from www.saveur.com)

1 2/3 cups cornstarch
1 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
2/3 cup sugar
10 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1 tbsp. cognac or brandy
1/2 tsp. lemon zest
4 egg yolks
Dulce de Leche, for filling cookies

INSTRUCTIONS

Heat oven to 350°. In a bowl, sift together cornstarch, flour, and baking powder; set aside. In a mixer fitted with a paddle, beat together sugar and butter until fluffy. Add cognac and zest; beat. Add yolks one at a time; beat. Add dry ingredients; mix. Transfer dough to a floured surface, knead briefly; divide into 3 pieces. Working with 1 dough piece at a time, roll dough to 1/4″ thickness. Using a 2 1/2″ round cookie cutter, cut out cookies; transfer to parchment paper—lined baking sheets, spaced 1″ apart. Reroll scraps and repeat. Bake until golden, 12–15 minutes. Let cool. Flip half the cookies over; top each with 1 heaping tsp. dulce de leche. Top with remaining cookies.

Yields 20 cookies

Photo credit: 1st photo:  La Rábida homepage

The Cafe Experience

Many of you who have traveled around Europe may understand the importance of “the cafe experience”. Whether it is to taste Europe’s best coffee, catch up with a dear friend or simply indulge in people watching, sitting at a cafe here IS an experience.  As you may guess Vienna is FULL of cafes and depending on your mood the right cafe is probably a few steps away.

My husband and I decided to have a quiet Sunday morning breakfast at Edison in the 8th district of Vienna since we were child free (thanks Omi & Opa).  On the recommendations from another Viennese food blogger, sushiandstrudel, I wanted to give it a try.  As always, it was another refreshing change from the last cafe experience.  This one in particular had a clean & fresh atmosphere, decorated just to my liking with shabby chic decor and rustic charm.  As you would expect in Vienna, the coffee didn’t disappoint.  The breakfast menu offered an assortment of traditional pastries, health conscious dishes and richer (dare I say it) fattier alternatives.  Since I’m too lazy to make any sort of eggs at my house, I indulged in some ham & eggs.  Delish.

For a different cafe experience altogether you could walk downtown and soak up history in one of Vienna’s oldest coffee houses, Central Cafe.  Here you can experience Vienna’s traditional morning routines, perhaps the same of that Sigmund Freud had enjoyed.  Cafe Central has a rich & mysterious atmosphere which made me feel like I had stepped out of a time machine.  Newspapers were placed in the traditional wooden frames for all to enjoy, assorted pastries were displayed in glass casing and what appeared as cafe regulars chatted warmly with the staff.

In this type of coffee house the wait staff will always be formally dressed, which includes a bow tie.  Coffee is always served with a glass of water and one could spend an entire day occupying a table with a single order of coffee.  There is never the expectation or pressure to drink your coffee and go.   No way.  The Viennese enjoy their coffee ritual and may spend hours chatting with friends, conducting business or  simply enjoy a good morning read.  This tradition goes ways back to the turn of the 19th century.

Whether you fancy something fresh & trendy or formal & traditional every cafe will offer a unique experience.  With over 1000 coffee houses in Vienna to choose from I know that I’ve got my work cut out for me!  Thank GAWD I love coffee!


Luxury in the Countryside

When you think of the Austrian country side you may picture small hilltop churches, log style cabins and historical castles.  In addition to the traditional settings you will also find hidden gems like the aenea designhotel.   On our way to a weekend trip in Italy my husband and I decided to treat ourselves to the ultimate luxurious experience and spent one night at this Boutique Hotel, which is located in Maria Wörth on Wörthersee (one of Austria’s largest mountain lakes).

The fifteen suites all have lake view with private terraces and the Italian design look is fresh, crisp and clean.  No detail has been spared.  From silk curtains, Minotti furnishings and Etro Bathroom amenities you know that the hotel owners take their hospitality very seriously.

If you wish to escape every day life you will find it easy to de-stress here as they have a full-service spa with an assortment of massages and beauty treatments. Housed in the panoramic view spa is a fully equipped fitness centre, a sauna and steam room, a solarium and an outdoor pool. Guests can relax and soak up the lakeshore atmosphere by taking the hotel’s elevator to their private beach area.

I’ve saved the best part for last as it involves… what else?  Food.  The restaurant offers two locations.  You can dine the next to the cozy fireplace indoors or in a more casual but still sophisticated setting on the terrace.  We noticed that the entire hotel staff seemed young… almost too young to serve alcohol, however, they all oozed high energy and a professional attitude.  The chef, which had amazing creative talent was no exception. Working with local seasonal ingredients we are told that the menu is constantly changing.  My husband and I stuck with our verbal agreement (practically written in our wedding vows) that we each got a different dish so that we “switched” half way through our meals.

My taste of heaven started from the get go.  The bread.  I’m a simple Canadian girl who would happily make a whole meal out of freshly baked bread so it wasn’t a surprise that I “mmmm’d” the whole way through my dining experience.  Served along the bread rolls were a fresh lemon & thyme topfen spread, assorted sea salts, sliced radishes and fresh watercress (so fresh that scissors accompanied the platter). Course by course we both remained silent and simply enjoyed and savoured every bite. From the Fois Gras with peach, rosemary and sheep milk yogurt, White Asparagus with pan choi, grapes & poppy seed foam, to the delicate Sea Bass & robust Ox Cheek all were presented beautifully and were cooked to perfection.  Finally, the dessert.  We normally split one because by that time we are almost uncomfortably full.  The sweet sampler was the perfect choice, which included tarty rhubarb, creamy topfen cake (sort of a mixture of marscapone & sweetened cream cheese), refreshing lemongrass ice cream and a coconut encrusted fluffy meringue .  They do their own version of “petit four” here too which I thought was brilliant.  Lemon sorbet with Green Apple mash, strawberry and mango mini ice cream cones topped with chocolate dipped popping candy, homemade cassis & lemon marshmallow, celery jelly with chocolate moose and nougat bread.  All flavours worked really well together.

After an espresso (for him) and an English Breakfast tea (for me) we concluded that it was necessary to write a blog about this fabulous hotel.  Tired and satisfied we slept well.

Another memorable hotel experience to add to my list of lifetime favourites and I hope that if you ever make your way to Austria you would consider treating yourself to this exceptional experience at the aenea hotel.

Florian Schaible, Hotel Director, (above)  stood proudly when I took this snap shot before we left.  He personally come outside to wish us well on our journey home.

Now that is service!

aenea designhotel
Worthersee SuduferstraBe 86
A – 9081 Reifnitz / Maria Worth
Austria
T. : +43.4273.26220
F. : +43.4273.26220.20
aenea@aenea.at


May I present Oceania Cruises’ Riviera!

After 8 long years of keeping myself busy as a full-time mom I have ventured back into the career world as a Sales Manager for Oceania Cruises. Luckily for me, I was invited to join the rest of the Oceania family on the Oceania Riviera Christening Cruise which sailed from Monte Carlo to Venice.

I met the ship mid cruise on Christening Day in Barcelona.  This is the traditional day a cruise ship is officially named (usually by a nominated “God Mother”) and blessed by smashing a bottle of champagne against the hull of the ship.  Celebrity Chef, Cat Cora was honored as the God Mother to this magnificent vessel.  The bottle shattered into a million pieces, confetti filled the air, and the cheers from the crowd were energizing. Another memorable experience to add to my collection.

The Riviera is the newest ship to the Oceania fleet.  She, along with her sister ship the Marina, carries 1250 guests and has one of the largest space ratios on any ship afloat.  There is 1 crew member to every 1.56 guests so you can imagine the attentive service and fewer line ups!  If you prefer a smaller more intimate atmosphere you could cruise on board the smaller ships, Oceania Nautica or Oceania Regatta. No matter which ship you choose you are guaranteed amazing destinations, fantastic food and unbeatable service all for a great price.

Being marketed as an Upper Premium cruise line Oceania blows the competition out of the water (no punt intended).  As a foodie I was drawn to their menus even before I joined the company.  Master Chef Jacque Pepin is the Executive Culinary Director for Oceania Cruises.  His approach to the onboard dining was to reflect on regional cuisines, depending where the ships sail so that guests can enjoy the tastiest meals using only the freshest ingredients.  There are 4 speciality restaurants in addition to the Grand Dining Room on board the Marina and Riviera.  Whether you fancy French, Italian, Asian or a Good ole Steak House you will not be disappointed. AND it doesn’t cost you a penny whereas other cruise lines charge $25 per person and up.  All the bread is baked fresh daily on board,  you will find USDA 28 day dry-aged beef, Maine lobster and Colorado lamb and the ice cream…. oh the yummy ice cream is made on board as well.

My favourite moment was when I sunk my teeth into the flakiest pastry I’ve ever eaten.  Filled with fresh vanilla creme and juicy raspberries I was in dessert heaven!  The secret?  A squirt of raspberry juice into each berry to add that extra burst of flavour!  It’s details like these that makes this product so unique.

I could go on about the on board dining experience but I won’t in hopes that you will find out for yourself by booking a cruise.  Instead I’ll change the subject to onboard activities such as the Bon Appétit Culinary Center (what you thought that I would steer away from food?).  This is the only hands on cooking school you will find at sea.  What better way to learn how to recreate the wonderful meals than by learning from the chefs directly.   They will give you step by step instruction, give you tips on what to look for, what the smell should be, and how the texture should feel.  These are tangible details that you just can’t get from a cook book.  Each guest will work at his/her own fully equipped station as Chef Kelly and her team work their magic.  I chose to take part in the Pasta From Scratch seminar and I happily made fettuccine with a brown butter sage & walnut sauce.  Oh man did I have fun.

I have so much more to say about this fantastic cruise line, however I’ll leave you instead with a few more images from my 5 days on board.  If worldwide itineraries, superb service and fabulous food are your vacation priorities look no further than Oceania Cruises.  Seriously.


My Dream Kitchen

I don’t know about you but I feel that the heart of any home is the kitchen. This is a place where guests gravitate to during a party and where imagining, creating and tasting life’s simplest pleasures takes place.  Me in a nutshell:  I love to cook, eat and decorate so when the opportunity arrived that I could create my own dream kitchen from scratch… well I had to reach for the tissues I was so happy.

I’ve become an expert in relocating our family and have cooked in 6 kitchens since 2007.  Toronto’s kitchen was my favourite, from our first home purchase.  I learned a lot of valuable lessons – white tiled floors.. with two tiny children… such an amateur.  The rest of my ventures were all rental homes so I could only “make it my own” with minor touches.

Toronto

Now that my husband and I are proud home owners again he gave me full reins on which materials I wanted to use, location of appliances, colour palette and of course design. Set with a budget in my  hand I immediately got to work.

What Europeans can do perfectly is work in small spaces.  The cost of living in Vienna is pretty high.  Depending on which district you choose to live you could be paying as high as €14,000 per square meter for an apartment.

Prices are higher closer to the city center, most evident in the high-end district of Innere Stradt (1st District). Apartments here can sell for 10,000 to 14,000 euros per square meter ($1,350 to $1,890 per square foot). In districts surrounding district 1, apartment prices are about 3,500 euro per square meter ($470/square foot).

So that being said living in a 45 square meter apartment could sound very small for the average North American.  Not in Europe.  Now, can you just imagine the size of that kitchen?  Teeny tiny!  Packing a life time of cook books, spatulas and dinner plates into a European kitchen might leave you thinking you can’t be organized.  Thanks to super systems like these your kitchen will be neatly stocked and ready.

Let’s talk about appliances.  First – Ventilation.  I’m not a fan of those monster ventilation systems above the stove.  Useful but an eyesore to look at.  Since our stove top will be on the kitchen island I have found the perfect substitute to avoid the eye level distraction.  A ventilation system that’s set up right on your stove top.  No this isn’t the one that “raises” up at a push of a button.  We knew that those systems are expensive, especially when you need to fix it.  The photo below from Bora demonstrates it perfectly.  My first thought upon looking at this system was “how long will it take before my son throws a piece of leggo in there?”  They quickly assured me that it is easy to dismantle and can even be washed in the dishwasher (score!).  Induction heat (= no burnt little hands) + easy to clean?  “I’ll take it!”

 You might recall that I have mentioned in an earlier blog that refrigerators here tend to be on the small side?  At the moment I visit a grocery store as often as I visit the school to pick up my kids.  So for our dream kitchen my husband and I have opted to buy a “full fridge” and a small freezer will be housed under the microwave/oven wall.

Speaking of ovens <squeal> we found the latest trend in cooking.  I never knew this existed until I was presented with an oven that’s also a steamer! I bet you’re asking yourself  “How does it work? ” <insert curious face> It uses a combination of steam (25%-100%) + hot air to give you a healthier & tastier dish.  The steam enhances the flavours in your food by keeping moisture from being lost during the cooking process. No fat needed to keep things moist.  One word.  AWESOME!  Chefs all across Austria swear by this.

Now that I have covered all the appliances lets talk about colour.   I wanted something durable, easy to keep clean (NO white) and of course gorgeous looking.

Next125 “Quality, Function and Design” is the company that we chose to assemble our dream kitchen.  It was a pleasure to work with the Design Consultants who created our kitchen to be functional, practical and of course beautiful!  Since our kitchen is open to the main living area we chose neutral earthy tones.  I fell in love with the Antique Brown Granite from the get go so our inspiration for this kitchen stemmed from this countertop.

 The above are computer images to give us (my husband actually – he can’t visualize anything) an idea of what it will look like.

A lot covered but still I still have plenty of work to do.  Flooring, faucets and more…. this project continues 🙂

credits: 1 4 5 6 


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