Are you a cookbook worm? Me too. I’ll never be embarrassed by the outrageous number of cookbooks on my shelf. Here's a shortlist for you. And I do refer to most of them. Some just occasionally to drool and delight. Others I open frequently for tomorrow night’s dinner and fresh inspiration for pantry leftovers. Which cookbook is your best buddy at the moment?
My newest addition is ‘wild sugar desserts’. A cookbook that's so easy to love and relate to in a number of sweet ways. For its superb styling, honest heartfelt food connection and easy, original recipes. There are toffees & tiramisu, pies & pastries, cakes & creams, pannacotta & parfaits, berries, brulees and a little bit of bling. Did I drop icing sugar on Page 10 by accident? I must admit to actually licking my finger before touching the turkish delight pic!
The other easy to love quality about wild sugar desserts is the feeling of warm collaboration and passion from its creators, Lyndel Miller (Australian Food & Prop Stylist and gifted cook) and Skye Craig (fellow Gold Coast girl of Masterchef Series 2 fame). No doubt you remember Skye's decadent dessert creations on the show.
I’m thrilled to introduce you to Lyndel Miller right now! Lyndel's spirit is grass-roots My Farm Kitchen. She adores entertaining and celebrating with desserts and sweet treats. Thanks Lyndel (& Skye) for giving us ‘wild sugar desserts’ and joining the MFK community. So for our very 1st Guest Post... Hi Lyndel and welcome to My Farm Kitchen.
Q: Susie - “Food Stylist’ sounds like such a glamorous profession Lyndel. We’d love to hear the reality of your job. It’s not all white linen, dainty doilies and pretty cake stands, is it?
A: Lyndel - It isn't! Days are very long. A great deal of preparation goes in before every shoot. There's all the food shopping, the preparation, and sometimes recipes to develop. Then there is the hunt for props that's can send you far and wide with a budget in mind. You are serving a client too, not just yourself, so many things may need to be considered. Then shot days can start at the crack of dawn and finish late. You are on your feet all day. There is no room for slackers or conversationalists on set. I rarely break for lunch, well I don't expect it. Terrible for the old metabolism. I have learnt to pack green smoothies. Did I mention the pack and pack up too?? It can be full on. But all that said I love it. I love all aspects of it (which I provide). I love the recipe development, the shopping, the shooting and even the pack up - as at the end of every shoot there is the reward of a job well done. A happy client and beautiful imagery to add to your portfolio. Oh, and a pay cheque... Which most of the time you don't even think about because it's the work that brings the joy ;)
Q: Susie - What‘s been your funniest food experience so far, when cooking for and setting up a photo shoot for a photographer?
A: Lyndel - I was working with Skye Craig on her gourmet ice cream range and we had one last shot . The last shot of a solid two day shoot. Our photographer, the amazing Armelle Habib also had only about ten minutes left till her car arrived to take her back to Melbourne. The shot was of a real ice cream cylinder, shooting in studio with poor air conditioner in tropical Queensland. And we had problems with refrigeration. Am I painting a picture? ;))) The ice cream had little life under these conditions and camera lights to top it off. It was topped with raspberries. We had to plate it and style it in seconds. The raspberries were sliding, the base splitting. It was all going to pack. I had to scaffold it from different angles, make the call, 1,2,3 to shoot, remove the skewer scaffolds, and Armelle shoot. It was so intense. We watched it fall in a heap, checked the monitor and it was a perfect shot. We all cracked up, quickly packed up Armelle’s gear and she literally fell into a cab and we waved goodbye. You always plan ahead but sometimes some things are just out of your control and you have to think on your feet.
Q: Susie - What's your favourite page number in ‘wild sugar desserts’?
A: Lyndel - Favourite page number...mmm, My favourite image is really hard to pick. I love the cover, so as that is not a page (giggles) I would select my Elderflower Jelly on page 124 - it is so pretty and elegant. However the page that brought tears to my eyes when I first received the book was page 4, my acknowledgement of my Dad, now passed. I am so glad I added it.
Q: Susie - For budding authors (myself included!), how difficult is it to get your first book published?
A: Lyndel - I believe it can be difficult to get a book deal these days. Publishers are looking for authors that fit current trends in writing, genre and style. If you are on the mark there will be interest. Skye received the book deal for a dessert cookbook as a result of her Masterchef fame. Skye asked me to co-author the book and style it with her. So this book was a gift. As soon as the decision was made and I was welcomed on board, I immersed myself in the process. It has been a labour of love. An investment financially and about one years work. I learnt a great deal about this whole process.
I would say to anyone interested in publishing a book to start writing. It is incredibly rewarding and fulfilling. Having written in part and styling the book has given me such joy and a great body of work. I am truly grateful for the experience. I believe we manifest our dreams and if this is one or yours, start... I wish you well and welcome any questions you might have.
Q: Susie - What props are most sought after at the moment? Are you a garage sale and op shop junkie?
A: Lyndel - Right now, I am on the search for vintage hawaiian kitsch for a new project. Generally I just buy what I love. I buy what appeals to me and generally the pieces are exquisite and unusual,always old, in the hope of using it one day. I am selective what I do buy as the thing is, once you use a special piece in a shot, you don't want to use it again, it's been seen. If you aren't selective you end up with a lot of stuff!
Some things I am constantly looking for are utensils and surfaces. I recently bought a few wooden doors to paint and use as surfaces. I love textiles too. Again anything unusual, stunningly exquisite and I find it hard to walk away from.
Q: Susie - why sweets and not savory? I’m often asked why I cook so much of the good sweet stuff. Thought I’d ask the same of you...
A: Lyndel - Yes, I love my sweeties.They are my gift of choice. I love to make and create them for my loved ones. Every Christmas my closest friends receive a sweetie parcel. Desserts also are particularly beautiful to photograph. I mean the best 'food porn' ( is this like swearing :) is of desserts, so I love them for this reason too.They have been such a delight to style and prop around. However, I love savory too. I love salads, fresh produce, spices, herbs, eating with the seasons. I love to nourish my body. My next book will focus on all these things and I am equally excited about this project as well.
Q: Susie - I notice you feature Maggie Beer’s fabulous Sour Cream Pastry on Page 23. Have you met Maggie? Who are the stylists/chefs/cooks you like to follow most?
A: Lyndel - It was Skye’s choice to add Maggie's recipe and no, I haven’t had the pleasure. Maggie Beer’s recipe is fabulous. She was very generous to let us use it (and many have). There are some amazing cooks out there, some in my neighbourhood. My favourites though at the moment are Yotam, Jamie Oliver and Karen Martini (always favourites), Vicky Bhogal, Shane Delia, legend Charmaine Solomon and raw food enthusiast Matthew Rogers (the pioneer)
Q: Susie - Here at MFK we are all about finding sophistication anew in traditional home cooking. Always using freshly picked seasonal ingredients. Which do you prefer - great home cooking or swish restaurant meals?
A: Lyndel - Home Cooking hands down, I think my choice of culinary artists above show. Nourishment!! Ease, cooking from the heart and with fresh seasonal delicious produce. Living with energy is my preferred way of cooking. Organic by nature in all respects is what tickles my fancy ;)
Q: Susie - I notice Lyndel that you describe your Mum as ‘your culinary hero’. I feel the same way about my Mum. What do you think your Mum’s secret is to creating fine home cooking?
A: Lyndel - I watched my mother closely from a very young age and I loved that she put a lot into the whole ritual of cooking, providing, preparing and presenting food to her loved ones. She really cooks with love. She can't wait to hear the cries of mmmmm and ahhhh from her table. The experience gives her joy, and I think that is a beautiful thing.
Q: Susie - “You can have the computer back now, kids. Mum’s off to the gym!" Lyndel, I love this last acknowledgement in your book. We can really relate. Lots of us are juggling projects, raising young children and nursing a sweet tooth. Just wondering, did you manage to get to the gym? For the record, I haven’t yet. And with no plans to give up butter, sugar or my Mac any time soon.
A: Lyndel - For the record, I have made the pool! And bike riding along the river any chance I get. And walking. I have to say I much prefer incidental exercise than the confines of a gym. The energy is far better outdoors don't you think?
But after a dessert cookbook I have gained a few pounds :) So I'm back to my healthy way of eating. When you are cooking a dessert cookbook, guess what you are consuming all the time. And while I love a sweet (obviously), they are not what I eat everyday. Having said that, these days we always have healthier alternatives with sweet raw treats in the fridge for indulging and lunch boxes. I plan to include some raw favourites in my new cookbook in the making.
Thanks Lyndel for your time and I can't wait for your next book. Thanks also for your easy and lovely baked hazelnut custard recipe that follows. Any questions or feedback for Lyndel (or me), we'd love to hear from you in the comments below. Later in the week I'll also post up Lyndel's beautiful Mulled Wine and Turkish Oranges for you to make at home.
Lyndel's easy and delicious Baked Hazelnut Custard with Lime Sugar recipe
Serves: 8 Preparation Time: 5 minutes Cooking Time: 20 minutes
This recipe is silky smooth, indulgent, full of flavour and so, so easy.You can get creative here too and adjust this recipe to suit your palette. Why not substitute Frangelico for Sambuca, Limoncello or orange liqueur, substitute lime sugar for another citrus or spice - let your imagination run wild.
Custard - 500grams (2cups/15oz) sour cream ❤ 395 gram (13½oz) can sweetened condensed milk ❤ 80ml (2½fl oz) Frangelico or your choice of liqueur) Lime Sugar - 1 lime, zested ❤ 50grams (1¾oz) caster sugar
Preheat oven to moderate 180°C (350°F/Gas Mark 4). Whisk all custard ingredients together and place in a jug to suit. Pour evenly into 8 x 125ml (4oz) ramekins. Then place the ramekins in a baking dish filled with water that comes three-quarters of the way up the sides of the ramekins.
Bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until firm in the centre. Remove and allow to cool to room temperature. You can also refrigerate until ready to serve. Prepare lime sugar for topping.
Lime Sugar - remove the zest of the lime in thin strips, using a vegetable peeler. Make sure to remove any of the bitter white pith from the zest. Chop the zest and then add the sugar. Grind in a mortar and pestle or food processor until the mixture turns a lime green, leaving a few bits of zest. Sprinkle over each custard and serve. Top with edible flowers - for example, elderflower. If you have no lime, opt for a few crushed hazelnuts...yummo!