The scent of Christmas – Mulled Wine

3 Dec

That time of year again! Hope you are enjoying the first days of Christmas.

I will be making this at the weekend…

Really enjoy the process and the scent that it leaves in the house. For children, if you boil the red wine rather than keep it on really low heat, you will eradicate the alcohol. This drink can therefore be served to them aswell…(or just heat some plain ribena – that is gorgeous warm!) :-)

Click on the link below to be taken to the recipe.

The scent of Christmas – Mulled Wine.

Bloody Fingers, Bats and Teeth….

13 Oct

Fingers

 

Halloween is approaching once again. It was not until I had children that I really started enjoying this celebration – and really – I only enjoy it because I get to cook funny looking things!

Last year I wrote a bit about the history of Halloween as well as posting quite a few recipes; a refresher below:

……I have learned that Halloween has ancient origins linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain. The name of the festival is derived from Old Irish which roughly translates to “summer’s end”. It served to celebrate the end of a good season of harvest of apples, pumpkins, spices and cider as well as a setting for supernatural encounters. The original Celtic holiday occurred on November 1, not October 31, and was one of the most important holidays for Celtic people, who believed that the spirits of those who had died over the course of the year would mingle with the living before traveling on to the afterlife. Festivals and celebrations were meant to aid the good souls on their way, and keep bad spirits from doing harm to the living.

Since that time, however, the holiday has grown and changed – fuelled largely by horror films such as Frankenstein and Dracula.

The carving of pumpkins, which is my absolute favourite part of Halloween, stems from Scotland and Ireland where they used to carve turnips as a symbol of remembering souls held in punishment. Immigrants to North America later discovered, and used, the pumpkin which was much larger and therefore easier to carve. Today it is used to open your home to little “trick or treaters” – if you leave a lit pumpkin on your front step they know they are welcome!

Chocolate Spiders

Sweet Pumpkin Loaf

Bat biscuits

Ghost Cupcakes

This year we have made a few different bits – the favourite ones (according to the children) were Bats, Fingers and Teeth! The recipes will follow below!

I hope you have a smashing Halloween and Half Term holiday and enjoy the time with your little ones.

Bloody Fingers (adapted from Sainsbury’s Magazine)

This recipe will make 24 fingers

375g short crust pastry

Tomato puree – about 1 tbsp

24 blanched almonds

1 beaten egg or some cream

Grated parmesan – 1 tbsp full will do

  • Pre-heat your oven to 190C
  • Cut the short crust pastry into three rectangles; then cut each rectangle into eight fingers
  • Roll each pastry piece into the shape of a finger – do not fold the dough or roll it out as this will create “splitting” fingers! I.e. the fingers will open up when cooking.
  • Round the finger tips and use a sharp knife to score gentle lines across the middle for knuckles
  • Press your thumb into the top of each finger to make an indentation for the fingernails
  • Dot the tomato puree onto each indentation and press and almond onto each
  • Place all the fingers on a lined baking sheet
  • Brush with either beaten egg or cream
  • Sprinkle parmesan on top
  • Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes – or until golden
  • Let them cool and enjoy!
  • They are great served with hummus, guacamole, pesto or tomato salsa

Marshmallow Bats

Simple and cute – makes 12 (ish)!

250g plain chocolate

12 marshmallows

Baking sheet and pencil

  • Melt 250g of dark chocolate (or milk chocolate if you prefer) in a bowl over simmering water. Do not let the chocolate overheat or it will go crumbly in texture
  • On a baking parchment sheet, draw the bat wings with a pencil (Google image them and print off a picture to trace if you are not the creative type) ensuring you link the wings with a circle (big enough for a marshmallow
  • Ensure the sheet is placed on a moveable surface as the bats will need to go in the fridge once made
  • Turn over the baking parchment – you should see the trace
  • Once the chocolate has melted fully remove it from the heat and let it cool down – this will probably take 10-15 minutes
  • Using a spoon (or piping bag if you prefer) fill the wings and centre “blob” on the parchment with chocolate. make sure you make a relatively thick coating to ensure the bat wings do not break when you need to remove them later
  • Dip your marshmallows in the chocolate and place one marshmallow, as the bat’s body, on the centre blob of every wing set
  • Continue until you have finished the chocolate and marshmallows
  • Place the bats in the fridge for at least 30 minutes
  • Once completely dry, decorate the face with icing pens and sprinkles (for eyes)

Bat

Wobbly Teeth – surprisingly tasty (Sainsbury’s magazine)

Apples

Thick honey (or toffee sauce)

Mini marshmallows

  • Slice your apples into wedges – making the bottom wedges very flat to allow them to sit easily on a platter or plate
  • Put some thick honey (or toffee sauce) on each wedge
  • Place the mini marshmallows on the flat wedge, into the honey, and lay an apple wedge on top
  • Enjoy!

Teeth

 

Autumn and I return – Blackberry and Apple Loaf

15 Sep

Blackberries

Cannot believe I have not posted since the Spring. Somehow lost my focus, but an amazing holiday in Denmark and Norway has completely inspired me to cook again.

Why, you may wonder?

The list is long however one word, maybe two…or three, sums up the impressions our summer holiday left with me.

Natural – Wholesome - Simple

Bread is not just bread; it is seeded, it is rye, it is wholemeal, it has nuts in it, berries – dark chocolate. Wow! That is one recipe that will be shared eventually!

The environment is not just used; it is adored, appreciated, cherished, looked after. Every turn takes your breath away. Every turn inspires dreaming and laughter. Maybe some of the dreams created whilst there will be shared eventually!

People are not just strangers that pass you by; they are strong, sturdy, friendly, helpful and kind souls who make a proper effort to make your day better than it already was. True selflessness and kindness. Inspiring.

Walks are not just walks; they are rejuvenating, awe-inspiring, berry picking, soul enlightening miracles. And from the walks come fruit – berries – and from those berries come wonderful recipes. One of which I will share with you now. :-)

Picking

We had friends over a few weekends ago and went for an amazing walk through fields of clover, parks, over little bridges and close by lakes. All along the way were rows and rows of blackberry bramble; bursting with ripe berries. I made a mental note and promised the children to return with bags and bowls…

For those that have followed this blog for a while, and cooked my recipes, you will know that I always try to incorporate healthy aspects into every meal (almost anyway!).  This gorgeous blackberry and apple loaf is no different. Very easy, very quick – moist – full of flavour, rye and fruit. A great lunch box or after school treat or a lovely Sunday breakfast or tea time surprise for the family.

What goodness will it give you?

  1. Exercise, a smile on your face, your children out of the house and maybe muddy shoes - picking the berries of course!
  2. Vitamin A & C, dietary fibre, heart-healthy fats, potassium and calcium – blackberries are an amazing addition to your diet. They are one of the berries women are advised to eat if they would like a flatter stomach (or so I have heard…)!
  3. Potentially cancer reducing – apple peel has quercetin in it - some studies have shown this to be a cancer reducing food.
  4. Slow releasing energy – rye! Read more here: benefits of rye

No excuses – get your wellingtons on, get into the outdoors, and pick those blackberries before they disappear.

Blackberry and Apple Loaf

150g rye flour

100g plain flour

175g butter (can be substituted for vegetable oil or apple sauce)

100g dark brown unrefined cane sugar

5 tbsp. Demerara sugar

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. baking powder

2 eggs

Zest of an orange

1 green apple grated (NOT peeled)

225g blackberries

  • Pre heat your oven to 180C
  • Grease a loaf tin using either butter or vegetable oil (approximately 1.5L)
  • Place the two flour types, butter (or oil/applesauce) and two sugar types in a mixing bowl
  • Combine with your fingers until the mixture resembles bread crumbs
  • Take 5 table spoons of this mixture and place it in a separate bowl – you will use this as topping at the end
  • Add the cinnamon to the topping mixture
  • Add the baking powder to the flour mixture
  • In a separate bowl combine eggs, the zest of orange and the grated apple
  • Pour the fruit mixture into the flour mixture and combine with a fork – do not over-mix (this will make a harder textured cake)
  • Gently fold the blackberries into the dough, again making sure not to over-mix
  • Spoon the dough into the loaf tin, sprinkle with the topping and place in the warm oven for approximately 1 hour (or slightly longer depending on your oven/tin etc. Please insert a skewer into the loaf after an hour to check that the dough is fully baked). If the cake starts looking a little dark for your liking simply place some tin foil over the top of it and leave to bake until it has finished.
  • Let it cool in the tin on a wire rack for a good 30 minutes before removing.
  • Serve as is or with crème fraiche/ice cream/custard….
  • (the little jar in the pictures below contains blackberry and ginger compote – great with cheese! That recipe will have to follow)

(for more information on the healthy benefits of almost anything: http://health.learninginfo.org/)

ApplesBlackberry and Apple LoafFinished LoafAs a gift?

Thai Impressions

14 Mar

DSC_0508Thailand was never a place I wanted to visit. I yearn for some destinations, dream of them, plan holidays in future years but Thailand has never made that list. Not sure why.

Then, my mother in law bought a house there, and suddenly it was the next destination. That was four years ago and we have just been back for our second holiday. How do I feel about the country now? I could live there, permanently, without giving it a second thought! Why? Well, the list is long but topping it….it has to be….it has to be:

  • The Food. It has to be the food that tops the list! The colours, the flavours, the philosophy under which meals are prepared, the scents that tickle your nostrils and massage your palette. Amazing. If you dare to let go and try things that look strange; things that come out of odd leaves, containers and pots then you are in for a treat.
  • The People. Respectful, not pushy, at peace, not stressed, happy, kind, accommodating. Always a smile, always ready to help. We have a lot to learn in the west
  • The Weather. Average 30 degrees C in February. Nice. No further comment.
  • The Activities. Diving, kite boarding, snorkelling, go-karting, fishing, cooking classes, animal shows, morning market, night markets, fish markets, walk-in streets, trekking to tops of water falls and skinny dipping in them, riding elephants…. We did all of these and could easily have done more.

We took a few hours worth of cooking lessons from a fabulous Thai lady who ran a much acclaimed Thai Restaurant in Australia for 20 years. Short, stout, strict, and bossy as anything, but passionate about ingredients. About when to stir and when to leave, about pestle and mortar, about using every little bit of the raw materials – out of respect for both nature and the client who is to eat the dish. From the lesson came three dishes and I will share them on the blog. Mouth-watering yet so simple and quick to cook!

Before I start recipe writing I want to share my favourites pictures from our trip. Hopefully they will draw you in and let you feel just a little of the magic that is Thailand. It truly is a place where your soul can rest and re-fresh; when you have time to think and focus; a place where stress does not seem to exist and most importantly, to a food lover like I am, a place where the food you find at little road stands is simply divine and different. Where the best local restaurants are nothing more than a wok on fire and you walk through the chef’s living room to be seated. Completely different; completely fabulous!

Enjoy the gallery….and share your experiences! Have you been to Thailand? What was your best bit?

The Ultimate American Pancakes

12 Feb

pancake

Shrove Tuesday has come around again – and before we hit the recipe here is a small reminder as to what Shrove Tuesday actually is about.

The name Shrove comes from the old word “shrive” which means to confess. On Shrove Tuesday, in the Middle Ages, people used to confess their sins so that they were forgiven before the season of Lent began. Lent, for many, is a time of abstinence, of giving things up, and being the last day before the period of Lent, Shrove Tuesday is a day of celebration (indulging!) as well as penitence.

Shrove Tuesday is also known as Pancake Day, and throughout the United Kingdom the day used to be (and still is) associated with pancakes because they were a way to use up rich foodstuffs such as eggs, milk, and sugar that traditionally aren’t allowed during Lent. (read more on Wikipedia)

I have spent many Sunday mornings perfecting my American pancake recipe. As a family we have devoured thin, thick, soggy, crunchy, hard, chewy…all types….and finally we have reached the pinnacle of success! This recipe is divine. I am almost tempted to keep it to myself – it is that good – but as sharing is caring here goes! Recipe for the ultimate american pancakes – including reasons why some of the ingredients are used! Enjoy.

Please have a look at other great Pancake Day recipes too….

- Spinach layered pancakes

- Original crepes

- Chocolate pancake layered cake

Why use….?

  • Why a combination of cornflour and regular flour? It makes for a more delicate cake because cornflour does not have the two amino acids that wheat flour contains (glutenin and gliadin which combine to make gluten) – not really necessary for cakes. By using cornflour you therefore decrease the gluten content of a cake making it lighter.
  • Why vinegar and baking soda? I tried this in some cupcakes and the result was amazing. They turned out to be the softest cup cakes I have ever had. I therefore decided to try to add it to the pancakes..and yes…it works. Vinegar (acetic acid) + baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)= CO2 (carbon dioxide gas). This gas leavens the cake/causes it to rise. Think of your classroom volcano experiment: mix soda and vinegar and you get a big old foamy mess. Add that foamy mess to cake batter and you get a lighter, fluffier cake.
  • Why yogurt? When used in cakes it provides moistness..simple as that. If you have never tried, do! It retains that lovely moist feel and taste for days.

Ultimate American Pancakes

Drizzle of vegetable oil (equivalent of 2 tbsp)

115g plain flour

115g corn flour

pinch of salt

2 tbsp caster sugar

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

1/2 tsp white wine vinegar (trust me!)

1 egg

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

100ml natural full fat yogurt

300ml milk

  • I always put my oven on 50C to keep the pancakes warm – that way we all eat together as a family which is much nicer than throwing them over my shoulder to a pack of wolves who devour them and leave the room!
  • Sieve the flour and cornflour into a bowl and add the salt, sugar and baking powder to it
  • Put the egg, milk and yogurt into a different bowl and whisk to combine
  • Place the bicarbonate of soda on a tablespoon and add the vinegar to it – it will bubble up (great for volcano experiments with the children…that’s for another blog!)
  • Add this wet mixture to the egg, yogurt and milk bowl – stir to combine
  • Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix VERY briefly until just combined – it will seem like there are lumps of flour in the mixture – do not worry about those. Do not over mix…. 
  • Drizzle the oil into the mixture (doing this reduces the need for oil/grease on the pan)
  • Put a frying pan over medium heat and brush it with a tiny bit of vegetable oil
  • Using a large spoon or small glass, place small dollops of batter onto the pan and cook until they begin to bubble on the top. Flip them over and cook the other side until golden
  • Put into the oven to keep warm while you cook the rest of the pancakes
  • Serve warm with lots of freshly chopped fruit, syrup, icing sugar, nutella, lemon, jam….so much choice!

Kanel Snegle (cinnamon swirls)

2 Feb
Kanel Snegle

Kanel Snegle

Kanel snegle - what I always picked when I, as a child, was lucky enough to get free choice at the bakery on a Sunday morning.

It is one of many traditional Danish pastries – butter filled, crisp on the outside and soft, sweet and cinnamony on the inside.

Irresistible to be honest and still my first choice today when I am lucky enough to be in Denmark….

Recipe is from Froeken Jensen’s Bagebog – classic Danish cookbook based on recipes from the 1900′s.

Kanel Snegle

250g flour

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp ground cardamom

2 tbs sugar

150g butter

75ml milk

25g fresh yeast (or 2 sachets dry yeast)

Butter/Cinnamon Spread

75g butter

50g icing sugar

2 tsp cinnamon

To make the dough

  • Mix flour, salt, cardamom and sugar together
  • Add the butter to the floury mix – and combine until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs
  • In a small saucepan heat the milk gently until it is luke warm then remove from heat source
  • Dissolve the fresh yeast in the luke warm milk with a wooden spoon
  • Add the milk to the flour and combine the two; knead until the dough forms a soft ball – slightly sticky and shiny
  • Place the kneaded dough ball in a clean bowl and cover with a tea towel
  • Leave the bowl in a warm place to rise for 20-30 minutes
  • Pre-heat oven to 225C

To make the spread

  • Ensure butter is room temperature
  • In a bowl, combine butter, cinnamon and icing sugar and keep stirring until a sweet, cinnamon butter is created

Creating the swirls

  • Once the dough has risen, roll it into a rectangular shape on a floured surface
  • With a big spoon, a spatula or other easy tool, cover the dough with the cinnamon spread
  • Loosely roll the dough into a sausage shape – roll it by length
  • With a sharp knife, cut slices of the dough (about two cm thick), and place these on a lined baking tray
  • Once the tray is full, cover with a tea towel and place in a warm place for 15 minutes
  • Once completely risen, brush with egg or cream to create a golden colour, and place in the pre-heated oven
  • Bake for about 12 minutes
  • Once brown and cooked remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack
  • When cooler, decorate with icing (icing sugar and a little water mixed together)
  • Enjoy them when still slightly warm – that is when they are at their best!

Spreading cinnamon butterReady to riseWorking hardDSC_0025

Kanel Snegle

Kanel Snegle

Soft nougat brioche on a snow filled day!

18 Jan
Soft interior; crunchy exterior

Soft interior; crunchy exterior

The snow is bucketing it down and strong gusts of wind make it look like we are somewhere in the Arctic – not in a small British town west of London! It is wonderful.

I am guessing the school will text message around noon to say it will close at 1pm and have decided that I want to take full advantage of this! When the children come it will be film, hot chocolate and sweet roll time…Can’t wait!

It is a simple dough and really easy to make; please do not let the word yeast put you off!

The dough for these soft sweet rolls is already made (a bit keen) and the nougat filling is sat next to me on the counter – a few bites already missing….

Sweet Dough Brioche (makes around 12)

200ml milk

1.5 tbs butter

3 tbs sugar

25g fresh yeast (or 1.5 sachets dry)

1 tsp ground cardamom (you can substitute this for cinnamon)

pinch of salt

425g flour

Nougat - lots or 150g (you can substitute with chocolate)

  • In a small saucepan add milk, butter, sugar and yeast and turn on low heat. You want to make the milk luke warm in order that the butter melts and the sugar dissolved – however not too hot as this will damage the yeast’s ability to rise properly
  • Give all the ingredients a good stir with a wooden spoon and turn off the heat once the butter is half way melted and the sugar seems dissolved
  • Pour the mixture into a large bowl
  • In a separate bowl add the flour, salt and cardamom.
  • Pour the flour mixture into the milk and combine with either your hands or a wooden spoon. Save a little of the flour until you are sure you will need it all
  • If it is too sticky and does not form a soft dough ball – add a little extra flour. Conversely, add a little warm milk if you find you have added too much flour and it is too dry
  • Once combined, knead for 5 minutes and return to the bowl – covered with a clean tea towel
  • Place the dough ball close to a good heat source (over a radiator, next to tumble dryer….) or in a warm room
  • Leave the dough until it has doubled in size – takes between 30 minutes and 1 hour depending on what yeast you used and how warm your room is
  • Once you are happy with the dough, knead it a bit and flatten it out on a floured surface
  • Place the nougat on the dough – do not be stingy!
  • Close the dough around the nougat and, using your hands, create little dough balls (sort of like rolling a snow ball)
  • Place the finished brioche on a lined baking tray and leave under a tea towel to rise for 30 minutes
  • Just before placing in the pre-heated oven, brush the brioche with milk
  • Bake in the oven for 12 minutes at 225C – they will be lovely and brown when done (and tapping them underneath should sound hollow)
  • Once out of the oven brush with melted butter – this gives a nice, subtle salty taste to the brioche
  • At this point you can sprinkle some sugar on top too….(go on, if you are going to be naughty you may as well go for it).
  • Enjoy!

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