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Friday, 30 December 2011

Fresh Fruit Party Punch For Many

Serves 60 Punch Glasses (cut recipe in half for less quantity)

There was never a party at ours that did not include this fruity super zesty Punch!! My mum always made this one, and all our guests raved about it :)

Party Punch can really liven up your party and gives guests a chance to mingle as they gather up around it to pour their drink. It can be virgin or alcoholic, regardless which way you decide to go, a party punch is an elegant beverage to serve that will surely please your guests. Place this fabulous punch in a large crystal bowl for a fancy presentation and invite your guests to pour up this New Year's :) This punch pairs very well with my 5 classic Cocktail Bites, which you can prepare at home for a marvelous New Year's Party at home!!

You Need
350 ml Orange juice concentrate
350 ml Lemonade concentrate
1.350 ltrs unsweetened pineapple juice, chilled
4 ltrs Ginger ale, chilled
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 cups sugar
8 cups water (if using fresh juices instead of concentrates, do not add these 8 cups)
2 ltrs Sparkling water
Fresh Strawberries, halve lengthways 
Fresh Orange wedges

In a large container, combine Lemon & Orange concentrate with 8 cups of water. Stir to dissolve. (if using fresh juices instead, just combine juices without the water) Stir in Lime juice & Sugar till sugar dissolves. Cover & chill for 4 hours.

Right before serving, pour 1/2 the juice mixture in a punch bowl, add ice cubes. Pour unsweetened pineapple juice, 1 ltr sparkling water, 2 ltr ginger ale and stir gently to combine.  Garnish with your chosen fruits.

Chuncky Party Punch
During Party Pour the rest of the ginger ale & sparkling water when punch levels drop. Always place punch cups & ladel right next to the punch bowl.

Dima's Tips you cn use any fruits you like to fill a punch bowl. You can even make it chunky, by adding roughly chopped fruits or fruit wedges. You can use stoned appricots, peaches, grapes, cherry halves...etc

For an Alcoholic Party Punch: Add 750 ml Vodka and use Champagne instead of Sparkling water.

With this post I conclude 2011 posts, moving on to 2012 which will bring your way even better food, recipes, beverages, entertainment inspirations, and all things delicious. If you had been following my blog throughout 2011, please share your thoughts with me. I would love to learn how my blog has inspired you in the Kitchen, in entertaining...etc Has it been useful to you, did it help you improve your cookery skills, Have you tried a recipe that you just loved and frequently use in your menus? Also let me know, what you would like to see more of on this blog... Leave a comment and let me know, I would love to hear your feedback :)

Happy New Year's :)

Wednesday, 28 December 2011


Caviar   is Sturgeon’s eggs that have been brined or salted and allowed to mature. For the longest time, the Soviet Union was the sole producer of caviar. But since 1953 Iran’s Caspian Coast started producing 180 tons of caviar annually (Russia produces 1800 tons annually). Now the Caspian Sea produces 98% of world’s caviar.

I have read in Larousse that caviar was first brought to France in 1920’s following the Exile of the Russian Princes. In 1925, the Petrossian Brothers learnt that caviar was known to very few French people. Hence Charles Ritz formally launched caviar by permanently offering it at his hotel. Caviar became popular and associated with luxury ever since. There are 2 types of caviar: Caviar in grains and pressed caviar. The term “red caviar” is incorrectly used for salmon eggs, which are not ‘caviar’!

Types of Caviar  
Caviar can be sold Fresh or sometimes Pasteurised. There are 3 types of caviar. The types are determined by size, colour and sturgeon species.

Beluga Caviar
BELUGA this is the most expensive type and is produced by the largest species of sturgeon (about 800kg sturgeon). The eggs are dark grey, firm, heavy and well separated. These eggs are the biggest, but most fragile. When eggs burst, the caviar becomes very oily.

Osetera Caviar

OSETRA the eggs are smaller and more evenly sized. They are golden yellow to brown coloured and quite oily. This caviar is preferred by many over other types. They are viewed as a conoisseur's favourite.

Sevruga Caviar
SEVRUGA this caviar is produced by smaller sturgeons. The eggs are very small light to dark grey coloured. This caviar is the cheapest type.
Caviar is perishable and must be stored between -2 to +4 degrees (28-39F). Allow 50g per person (3 tbsp). To serve caviar, remove from fridge 1 hour before serving and serve cold, but not frozen, on crushed ice. Blinis, sour cream, or lightly buttered toast make excellent accompaniments. Never use lemon with Caviar as it affects the taste!

When shopping for Caviar it is essential you verify the origin, type and freshness. These are all indicators of quality and affect the price tremendously.

Photo from;
Serving Caviar
Traditionalists believe that caviar should not be masked with accompanying flavours, instead it should be served plain and eaten straight with a pearl spoon! That is very true, caviar should never be hidden underneath layers of strong flavours, instead it should be celebrated as the star that it is, fresh and prominent.
But there are times when caviar can still be served with other flavours, it can be used to lend its unique texture, creamy experience, and hints of the sea, kind of like sea salt that bursts with creamy oil! Caviar is often used as garnish to many preparations such as seared or raw scallops, seared Ahi Tuna; or used in making of sauces, even in the making of dips...

In general, go for mild flavours to accompany caviar in order not to lose much on its fabulous flavour. Pair it with mild flavoured cream cheese, it also goes very well with salmon, and smoked salmon as well as with buttered toast and a shaving of salt. The most classic way to serve Caviar is on top of a blini topped with a dollop of creme fraiche and a spring of chives. I have earlier posted a recipe using Caviar to top new potatoes in my 5 Classic Cocktail Bites post.

Champagne Sorbet

However, my most preferred way to have caviar is atop a light and tangy Champagne Granita or Sorbet, the whole experience is just out of this world! From the cool of the ice granules in the granita, to its tang against the delicate pieces of caviar, that will pop oozing out their oils lending a creaminess to an otherwise hard texture of ice. Then the crunch from the sorbet with each bite revealing more of the champagne flavours, you just will not want the experience to end! Here is how I make it:

Beluga Caviar Atop Champagne Granita
You Need
Beluga or Osetra Caviar
1 bottle Champagne or Sparkling wine
4 tbsp Champagne vinegar or white wine Vinegar
8 tbsp water

In a large bowl, mix together the Champagne, vinegar and water. Freeze for 1 hour, once it is frozen, scrape the ice with a fork into a chilled bowl. Place back in the freezer until ready to serve.

When ready to serve, place 1 tbsp of Granita atop a clean and chilled oyster shell top with Caviar and sprinkle with finely chopped chives and parsley, sprinkle with a tiny sprinkle of freshly cracked black pepper for garnish. Place all on a shallow plate filled with crushed ice.

Another way to serve this fabulous Granita, is to fill a Martini cup with the Granita, top with the caviar, sprinkle with chopped herbs and black pepper to garnish.

Caviar is super delicious, and is one of those foods you will need a bit of getting used to... However, it will grow on you, and you will just start to appreciate its flavour and texture. Serve Caviar this New Year's, impress your guests and enjoy the party :) 
Do you like Caviar? If yes, which types of Caviar do you prefer to buy, those wild sturgeon caviar or school grown caviars? If you don't, Do you think you will give this recipe a try and see if you change your mind? Let me know :)

Almost New Year's! YAY!

Friday, 23 December 2011

Red Current Relish

The best loved Red Current Relish
To me, this relish resembles the very essence of the festive season. The spices and the aromas of this relish will  make your whole house smell festive. Red current relish is the perfect accompaniment to roasted turkey, it brings out the flavours of the turkey while tremendously enhancing them with its own. It adds crunch to the texture and smoothness from the burst red currents, also moistens the meat with the reduced spiced orange juice. It is truly Divine!

Fresh Red Currents
Red current relish is a perfect accompaniment to poultry, even outside the festive season. It's fruitiness and flavours pair very well with Chicken, Duck and especially Quails. On many Occasions, I have roasted whole quails, then drained the relish to separate the juice from the flesh (the red currents and nuts). Tossed the roasted quails in the juice of the relish, and placed the flesh inside the cavity of the roasted quails and garnished with some of the relish flesh along with a sprinkle of finely chopped fresh parsley. It is a signature dish, that my friends very frequently request that I cook for them. Give it a try and see for yourself how well it is received.

Very simple to make yet intriguing for your taste buds, give this red current relish a try and you will be happy you did. For best results use the best quality fresh ingredients, they make all the difference to the overall flavours.

You Need
1 cup Fresh Orange Juice
Rind of 1 orange
1/2 cup Brown Sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
3 cups fresh red currents
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup roughly chopped pecans

In a heavy saucepan, place the orange juice, sugar and spices stir well, and place over medium heat, stir - with wooden spoon - until the sugar dissolves. Once the sugar is dissolved, add the red currents and raisins and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook stirring frequently until the red currents are softened and the juice reduced and thickened.

Remove from heat, stir in the pecans. Cover and chill for at least 2 hours for all the flavours to steep together. Serve along side roasted turkey, chicken or any gamy meats... and be ready for the showers of compliments :) For best results, serve along side my Apple Brined Turkey

It is customary to serve sauces like cranberry sauce, cherry sauce...etc why not go with a different option this year? What is on your Christmas Dinner Menu this year? Leave me a comment and let me know, I love to hear about what everyone is cooking!

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to you and your families; 
with love from my kitchen to yours :)

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Apple Brined Turkey - A recipe you will be happy to have

Ohh Yah! It's the good old Turkey! It is that time of year again when you can have a feast, and I want to make sure you have a turkey recipe that you will be really happy with. I want you to confidently cook the big bird for your friends and family, knowing that you are going to serve the best, moistest and most delightful turkey. With this turkey recipe you will feed your guests the best turkey they have ever had (as I have always been told when my guests ate my turkey). You will impress and will be showered with compliments, which will make the effort of hosting a Christmas Dinner all worth it. I assure you, this is a turkey recipe you will want to hold on to. So read on...

This month, I have done 3 Ultimate Christmas Dinner demonstrations for Kenwood's Cook & Coffee, in which I demonstrated a whole Christmas dinner menu. After each demonstration, attendees got to sample the menu. Their feedback was great. They raved about the food and said it was heavenly. When it came to the Turkey they all told me, it was the best turkey they have ever had! They all mentioned how surprised they were that the turkey is super moist, and actually tastes good! I found that; most people are under the impression that turkey doesn't taste good and is very dry. "Turkey is dry meat, it's not tasty, We Prefer Chicken" I heard them say! Chicken is good, I got nothing against it, but the description of Turkey is very surprising to me! I find turkey to be delicious, and super moist! Only it has to be cooked right to achieve these results.

When cooked right, Turkey is a fabulous choice of meat to have. It is lean meat, which is very good for you. Turkey meat is mild in flavour, therefore open for introducing other flavours to enhance it, which is always good for creativity.  My turkey never comes out dry, and yours shouldn't! If it does, it usually means that it has been overcooked! Overcooking any meat will dry it out, as it will be loosing its juices in the cooking process. The formula for cooking Turkey without overcooking it, is very simple. An instant read meat thermometer is the most accurate way to tell the doneness of a turkey. When inserted in the flesh between the thigh and the cavity of the bird, without touching the bone, it should register 170F. At that point your turkey is perfectly done.

If you do not have a thermometer, don't worry, you can go the traditional way! In general, every one pound of turkey meat will take 30-45 minutes to cook in a 325F oven. (This applies to baking, roasting and grilling, but does not apply to fried whole Turkey.) Following this formula, an average 8 lb whole turkey will require 2 hours and 45 minutes to cook. If you leave it longer, you will be over cooking it, and it will become drier by the minute. So if you cook it for 3 hours and a half, you have drained the juices out of the poor bird, and will have a dry turkey for dinner.

Here is a Time to Weight chart for Roasting a whole unstuffed turkey to help you out:
Weight               Required Cooking Time
8-12 lbs                              2 3/4 - 3 hours
12-14 lbs                            3 - 3 3/4 hours
14 - 18 lbs                          4 3/4 - 4 1/4 hours
18 - 20 lbs                          4 1/4 - 4 1/2 hours
20 - 24 lbs                          4 1/2 - 5 hours
According to the weight of the bird you purchase decide the cooking time from the chart above. And don't forget to include that in your planning, you don't want to start cooking a 4 hour turkey an hour before serving!

I usually do not stuff my bird before cooking. I cook the stuffing separately and roast the turkey stuffed with aromatics instead. These aromatics will release their fragrances as they roast, which are then absorbed by the turkey, making it even more deliciously flavoured. This stuffing will not be consumed, it is just for aromas and hints of flavours. When the cooking is done, transfer the turkey to the serving dish and place the stuffing around it in the dish. This method is both to maximise on the aromas and flavours of the turkey, and also because it is safer not to consume the stuffing that's placed there before the bird is cooked. The choice of Aromatics depends on the the overall flavours you are going for.

Clean your turkey, rub with lemon and place in brine, meat side down

There are many methods to cook turkey, my personal favourite is Brining. Brine usually refers to water saturated with salt that is used to preserve food, such as when making pickles. When brining poultry, the goal is not to pickle them, but rather to prep them for cooking; by getting them all moist and plump while helping them absorb other flavours usually included in the brine. The brine is therefore a water bath of flavours and  aromatics - together with salt, which aids the absorption process - in which a turkey is placed and left to soak. Brining usually results in the moistest turkey, and it aids the browning process. Brined Turkeys usually come out fabulously evenly browned. The aromatic contents of the brine, are really open to your creativity. Think of combinations that go together, and of the overall flavour. I have chosen to go with apple, cinnamon and cloves with hints of orange for mine, because all these spell Christmas, but you can go for any combination you like. It can be provencale with thyme and sage and garlic powder, it can be Mediterranean with rosemary, oregano and garlic powders, It can be Middle Eastern with zaatar, whole allspice and black pepper corns and lemon... the choice is yours, it's your turkey and you can do whatever you want with it.

One last note before we go to the recipe, this method works for both fresh and frozen birds. My preferred choice is free-range organic whole turkey. I will not tell you: it is because free range means it lived a good life!! I go for free range because the meat is more tender and tastes better. Organic, because I do not like to consume hormones and antibiotics given to non-organic birds to increase productivity and ensure longevity! I prefer natural. Fresh, because nothing beats fresh in flavour. It simply tastes better!

Organic free-range whole birds are found at Waitrose, Spinney's and during the festive season at Carrefoure as well. Should you go for a frozen, then make sure to thaw whole bird for 12-24 hours prior to brining, then brine for 24 hours and then roast.

Dima's Apple Brined Whole Turkey 
This recipe is based on a 5kg bird (about 10 lb), adjust the quantities and cooking time according to the weight of your bird.

For Brine
You Need
1 10 lb whole Turkey
5 liters water
1 liter Apple Juice
1 1/2 cups coarse sea salt
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3 cinnamon sticks
4 cloves
1 bay leaf

For Aromatics stuffing
1 large brown onion, quartered
2 Oranges, quartered
3 garlic cloves, bashed to release aromas
2 cinnamon sticks
4 cloves
2 thyme springs

Vegetable Oil
Salt & Black pepper to taste

Place all contents of the brine, except for turkey in a large container that can fit your turkey along with the brine and fit in the fridge. Stir all the ingredients for the sugar to dissolve. Set aside.

Clean the cavity of the bird, and remove any left feathers on the wings, legs... and rinse thoroughly with cold water. Pat dry the turkey, inside and outside and place, flesh side down in the brine. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.

After 24 hours, remove the turkey from the brine and pat dry. Place the turkey, flesh side up on a wire wrack in a roasting pan.  Place the aromatics stuffing inside the cavity of the turkey, if any are left over and can't fit inside, place them next to the turkey on the wire rack. Sprinkle the cooking oil lightly on the turkey and rub all over to coat. Pull the legs and cross the ankles on top of each other and tie with a string. If still there, pull the skin of the tail over the ankles to cover the string. Don't worry if that skin had been removed.

Tuck the wings under the breast. By the way, I don't tuck the wings under the turkey, instead, I pin them with tooth picks to the side of the turkey. I find that it looks better when finally cooked, feel free to tuck or pin your turkey. Sprinkle with salt shavings and freshly cracked black pepper. Cover loosely with foil and roast in 325F oven for 2 1/2 hours.

Remove foil, and continue roasting for 30-45 minutes more until the golden brown, and thermometer registers 170F, or following the time to weight chart.

Signs that turkey is done
Golden brown colour, the drumsticks can move easily in their socket, and juices run clear.

Cover the turkey loosely with foil and let stand for 15 minutes before serving with my to die for Red Current Relish!! 
Click here for turkey carving tips.

That's all! Then serve and be ready for all the compliments :)

Hope you enjoyed this post, and that you will be cooking Christmas dinner this year. It makes the event that much more special. There is nothing like cooking for your family, burturing them, and having a very good time with them. Wishing you all a Merry Christmas, and real good home-cooked food along with it! Much love.... Show me some, and leave me a comment ...

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Mincemeat - is it a Trick or a Treat?

The first time I had mincemeat, I thought: "This must be a joke!" It was Christmas, and definitely not Halloween's, but it sure felt like a trick and no way near a treat!!

It was a school Christmas celebration and there was a lot of food on the table! A friend of mine had brought these cute little pies that looked gorgeous, with little stars on top, sprinkled with a light dusting of snow (icing sugar). I always smell my food before I eat, and this smelled like spices. Cinnamon and hints of cloves, barely escaping the butter from the pie shell. It smelt sweet and like something I want to eat! I closed my eyes, the smell getting stronger as the little shortbread case came closer to my mouth, thinking of the crunch of the shell, and the smooth filling oozing into my mouth filling it with a burst of spice flavours..... and... BREAKS!! Literally!! It was like, "what is this?" This is not good! It totally killed my dream of an apple pie simulation with Christmas Spice!! Ever since then, I never tried mincemeat pies again! I always thought it was nasty food!

A few years ago, I was invited to a Christmas Dinner and the host insisted I try her mincemeat pie. I don't like to disappoint hosts who have spent all day in the kitchen cooking and preparing food so I had to try. I was dreading it, I am no friend to mincemeat. I was scared! Very reluctantly took a bite and to my surprise it was actually good. It did taste like Mincemeat, but it did not have any of those nasty flavours from my earlier mincemeat encounter!! She asked me what I thought and I told her my story with mincemeat and how I was very reluctant to try, but that it was actually good!! She explained to me that, the goodness of this pie filling depends hugely on the use of fresh good quality products and a darn good recipe. Amen to that! Because if you have bad quality mincemeat it definitely puts you off the whole thing! It did me for years!

The other day, in my 'Ultimate Christmas Dinner' Demonstration, I was requested to post mincemeat recipe for the festive season. To be very Frank, I do not have a recipe for mincemeat, for after the Mincemeat Trauma I had, I was never interested in making them. I kind of pushed that food concept out of my brain cells and always pretended it never existed!! I had promised the lady to post a mincemeat pie recipe here, and that I shall do.

This Mincemeat Recipe is an adaptation from that of Delia Smith... I have changed around a bit and added my Christmas flavours to it. I have also included for you my favourite pie crust recipe, and the way I dress mincemeat pie. When I finally baked the pies I have to say they tasted good, and those who like mincemeat pie thought 'they were the best they ever had'. I have to admit though, it is still not my favourite pie in the world!! But I can't say I will faint at the mention of it, which was how I felt earlier!

Traditionally Mincemeat is made with shredded Animal Suet, which is raw hard fat found around the loins or kidneys of beef or mutton. The idea did not sit well with me. Even if it were to be cooked and somewhat melted, it did not feel right to go for pure animal fat like that. So I have substituted with shreds of plant suet instead (making this recipe suitable for vegetarians). Plant or vegetable Suet is made from Palm oil mixed with rice flour and sold as white shreds in a plastic packet. I had bought the plant suet from Waitrose - Marina Mall a while back, and most probably you can still find it there. The use of suet helps preserve the mincemeat as when the apples are cooked and jarred their juices are released and can cause fermentation which ruins the mincemeat. The suet coats the apples keeping their juices in there and coats all the rest of the ingredients, making it easy to preserve mincemeat (if placed in a properly sterilised jar).

Here is how its made...

For Mincemeat
You Need
225g apples, cored and chopped
110g vegetable suet
175g Muscovado Sugar (or any dark soft brown sugar)
Juice & Zest of 1 orange
Juice and zest of 1 lime
3 tbsp Apple Juice or Brandy
2tsp DS Cake Spice Mix, or you can use 1 tsp allspice and 1 tsp Cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground star anise
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground caraway
25g slivered almonds
110g mixed candied peel
110g sultanas
110g red currants
175g raisins

Place all ingredients, except brandy if using, in a large heatproof bowl. Mix well to combine all. Cover loosely and store in a cool place overnight, stirring occasionally.  The next day, preheat oven to 225F and place the bowl, covered with foil, inside the preheated oven and leave there for 3 hours. After 3 hours of cooking on low heat, the fat will have melted and the mincemeat will appear like swimming in the fat. That is how it should be, so don't be alarmed. Stir to coat all ingredients with the fat and leave to cool loosely covered until the mincemeat is cold. Stir the mincemeat often during the cooling process.

Once the mincemeat is cold, stir in the brandy if using, and vigorously stir the mix to combine all. It is now ready to be canned (in sterlised jars, click the link for the sterilising process). Remember that you can gift your friends some mincemeat jars for Christmas, if they are into mincemeat, they will really appreciate it :)
Mincemeat is now ready to use for making the pie.

For the Pie Crust
You Need
225g all purpose flour
1 tbsp icing sugar, sifted
1 egg yolk
140g cold butter, cubed
2 tbsp ice water
1 tsp vanilla

Place the flour, sugar and butter in a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk, vanilla and water and process until the mixture comes together and forms a ball. Flip on a lightly floured surface and gather the dough together with your fingertips. press the dough down a couple of times and gather it all together again - all the time handling it only with your fingertips. Wrap tightly with cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

When ready to use, roll out the dough, slightly larger than the pie plate you are baking it in. transfer the rolled pastry onto the pie plate and gently press along the bottom and sides to cover all with the dough. Remove excess filling.

Place the mincemeat filling on top of the pastry and evenly spread. Roll out the remaining pastry, and cut stars or festive leaves, dip them in caster sugar mixed with ground cinnamon, and place on top of the mincemeat, try to enclose the filling but keeping some openings for steam to escape. Another way to dress the pie is to spread the top of the mincemeat with a layer of sliced almonds and sprinkle caster sugar mixed with cinnamon along the top. Whichever way you decide to go, both will taste very good especially as they brown and the sugar melts and caramelises slightly. Bake in 375F oven for 25-30 minutes or until the pastry is golden and crunchy.

You can go for mini mincemeat pies instead of a large pie. Follow the same instructions but fill the holes of a cupcake tray instead a large pie plate! Carry out as you would in a large pie plate.

Thank you for reading this post, I hope you liked it!

Happy Holidays
Enjoy Baking!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Count down to Christmas - Cookie Exchange and Christmas Gifts

It is the count down to Christmas, we are just a few days away :) Have you been busy planing and organising? If not, get on with it, take the time to plan a celebration. Gather up your family and friends and have a jolly good time. It is after all The Festive Season!

The festive season is beautiful. Trees have been propped, homes decorated, menus decided, invitations sent, and gift wish-lists have been written. All ready to celebrate. This time of year is yet another occasion to gather and celebrate family, friendships and joy. It is another occasion to celebrate life. With the end of the year approaching, we can now reflect on a year about to pass, and celebrate the coming of a new one. Why not? Take joy in your health, children, old and new friendships, and the journey that is your life. Put all your worries aside, and change the world in January! Right now, make this time about you, and your family. Have a good time.

One good place to start is to throw a cookie exchange get-together. A beautiful tradition that seems to have taken the back seat in the past few years. Cookie exchange gatherings are really fun and will be enjoyed by kids and adults alike. A cookie exchange gathering is when you invite your friends and their children over, and ask each guest to bring with them a dozen cookies. All cookies - the ones you make and those brought by guests - will be placed on the table and each guest will bring an empty cookie basket that they will fill with their choice of the different cookies on display. Traditionally, each guest will bring cookies that they have baked at home, and will print out recipe cards, to be handed out to guests. This is awesome, as not only will each guest get to take some cookies home, but they will also learn how the cookies were made should they want to bake some themselves!!

During the gathering, you can entertain children with games and sing along some festive songs. You can even have performances, and award gifts for best performers. Then the kids can play, and you can catch up with your friends. These gatherings are excellent for people to meet and get to know each other, so don't feel compelled to invite only the ones who already know each other. Delicious cookies, children entertained, catching up with friends, gathering different cookie recipes, and taking cookie varieties home for your own cookie display: wouldn't you want to join in?

Cookie baskets can go a long way. 
I was with a friend of mine the other day and we were talking about Christmas gifts. She was saying that it was becoming harder every year to decide which gifts to give, especially when it comes to generic gifts like those given to children's friends at school, work colleagues and so on... When it comes to generic gifts, I find that a cookie basket goes a long way! Giving colleagues and children's friends baskets filled with cookies along with a festive card is a very pretty and thoughtful gift. This is one gift that is always received with much admiration. I even make some to give as party favours on Christmas Eve. Place some under the tree for those who come along with friends and haven't been counted on the guest list. This way no one is left without a gift, and you won't have that awkward moment for leaving someone out!

Making Cookie baskets can be a little time consuming and tiring if you have to make it all by yourself. But here is how it can be made easier. It is a tradition at my home, that first week of December is cookie baking week. I bake lots of cookies with my children, and invite their friends for cookie decoration play dates. I prepare Royal Icing, tint batches in different colours, place them all in piping bags ready for use. I place little confections and edible decorations in colourful plates, and tell them to make the most beautiful cookies they have ever seen. The activity is fun, and the children enjoy it tremendously. They can each take a few cookies home, and you will still have lots of cookies to pack into small baskets. After the art work has dried, place cookies (as many as you like) in baskets or little boxes, then wrap each baskets with a nylon sheet and tie with a nice ribbon. Stick a little card with a festive message on each basket and there you will have delicious cookie baskets ready to be gifted,or placed under the tree...etc.

The festive season is all about joy and family. These are little things that we can do that are fun and help in creating that festive feel. Don't stress and don't forget what it is all about. The simple joys of life are the pure essence of happiness. The little things we do, and make together with our kids, family and friends are the very things that become joyful memories. The very stories your children will tell theirs, and the very things they will do in their homes. After all that is all I want for my children, to be able to look back and feel joy, to grow up knowing it was fun, joyful and that they have lots of warm memories of home as they go on with their lives. Don't we all?

If you would like to host a cookie exchange gathering, or if you would like to bake some cookies for cookie baskets here are some useful links for you:
How I make Gingerbread Cookies
Cardamom Sugar Cookies
Royal Icing
Dima's 10 Cookie Baking Tips
I have also written an article for DubaiKidz, which should be published today or tomorrow about simple kitchen fun. It includes my Christmas Sugar Cookies recipe, along with some tips for baking with kids in the festive season, make sure not miss it :)

Some pictures from the making of my cookie baskets

With this I conclude the Festive Season Cookie Series, with the recipes, tips and inspirations I hope I was able to assist you in your cookie baking and able to convince you to give it a try, because it is such a joy baking and decorating cookies.

Thank you for reading this post, hope you have enjoyed it.  Do show me some love and leave me a comment before you go:)

Happy Holidays,
Enjoy Baking

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Dima's 10 Cookie Baking Tips

Here is a quick post to help you with your cookie baking...

  1. Cookies like cakes are dependent on precise measurements. Make sure to measure your ingredients precisely to achieve best results. (This is important for all things baked, as ratios of dry to liquid ingredients is what creates the desired results)
  2. Cookies are not Bread. We knead the cookies slightly and briefly just to incorporate ingredients. Over working cookies results in spreading in the oven, which is not desirable and especially for cutouts, this will ruin the shape.
  3. When making cutouts, we will have to roll and cut quite a few times. If that is done on a floured surface, we are actually incorporating more and more flour into the dough each time, which eventually results in over dry and poorly textured cookies. The best way to roll cookies for cutouts is between two sheets of wax or parchment paper. This way you will prevent your dough from drying out, and also from sticking to the surface.
  4. 100%  Cotton Rolling Pin Sock
  5. A rolling pin sock (100% cotton sock) is marvelous! It is stick proof. prevents the pin from sticking to the dough, and gives the dough a nice finish. Then you will have to roll on 1 parchment paper instead of between the 2. This sock is washable and reusable.
  6. Check the internal heat of your oven. You will be surprised how many ovens out there reach a much higher or lower internal heat than is registered on the knob! It is best to get a heat proof oven thermometer to regularly check the heat of your oven and make sure it is right for baking. Very high heat results in over browning before the cookie is actually done, low heat can result in dry cookies that are pale and lack the snap. They will also take longer baking time.
  7. Baking cookie cutouts straight from freezing achieves better results as they do not spread while baking, keeping the shape intact. You can make cookie dough, cut shapes and place them over parchment paper (use parchment paper to separate the layers) in a freezer safe container that is airtight, and freeze them for up to 3 months. When ready to bake,  preheat oven, place the cutouts on lined baking sheets and bake til golden on the bottom and sides.
  8. Baked cookies can last in perfect condition for up to 1 month if kept in an airtight container or in a plastic bag, tied securely with a ribbon.
  9. Always keep the cookies on the baking sheet for 2-3 minutes before transferring to wore rack to cool. When straight out of the oven, the cookies are soft and fragile, they might break during transfer.
  10. Never decorate cookies that are hot or warm. The heat will melt the icing sugar. The cookies have to be completely cooled before icing.
  11. A quick way to flavour even the simplest types of dough is to add spices, chocolate chips, lemon, lime or organge zest, sandwich jam or chocolate between too cookies or dust with cocoa powder, cinnamon powder, or icing sugar.

If you wish to learn more about cookies, from different types and recipes, to flavouring, baking, recipe writing, decorating and making amazing cookie bouquets, join Courses by Dima Sharif - Cookies: Baking, Decorating & Cookie Bouquets...

Meanwhile here are some Cookie Inspirations...

Eid Al-Adha:

The Concept

The Cookies & Cookie Lollies

The Packaged Cookies

Eid Chocolates & Cookies Stand

The Arrangements

Eid Cookie & Chocolate Arrangements, packed and ready to go

Weddings & Engagements:

Bridal Dress - in Wedding Colour Codes

Wedding Cookies - Bridal Dress & Kandoora 

Bachelor Party Cookies - Smokin Groom's Blazer

Babay Showers:

Kids Birthdays:

Vintage Themes:

Creating The Concept

Vintage Watch

Emirati Traditional Bridal Mask - Vintage Cookies for Milka (engagement)

Traditional & English Gold Coins - Vintage Cookies for Milka (engagement)

Hope these tips help you with your cookie baking. & hope this post inspires you to bake and decorate themed cookies. More Cookie decoration themes in Christmas Posts :)
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