I’ve got a really good feeling about 2012. It’s a gut feeling, and I know to trust those so its quite exciting. The last couple of years in particular have been quite hectic with moving house, having baby number three and all the usual family of five shenanigans! But this year I’m planning on enjoying my gorgeous little family without any major upheaval (I hope) and focusing on settling ourselves further into our new life in Kent. This might also be the year that I can spend a bit of time doing something for myself. Wow, did I actually just write that?! Having spent the last six years either pregnant or with a newborn attached to me I’m just not used to this idea. But with my girls getting increasingly busy social lives (even at 6 and 4) and my youngest entering the world of toddler independence I see a small space opening up for me. So what are my goals/resolutions/plans for 2012? Here is my list:
- Exciting plans for my blog – seems appropriate to mention my blog first. It has quite simply been amazing for me. I have my brother to thank really as he sent me the following quote when I was considering whether to start it or not. “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.’ Steve Jobs. Planning, baking and writing for my blog has become such a highlight to my week. I’m starting to make friends with other bloggers which I did not expect but is a fantastic bonus. I have also been totally inspired by other blogs. Truffle trees, mincemeat bread and butter pudding and blog challenges to name a few. So my plan is to continue writing and build up more readership in the process. This might be a good time to ask you my readers for a bit of help. If you enjoy my blog do consider sharing a link to it on your Facebook page, liking my Facebook page, telling your friends about me or tweeting a link to my blog. All these small acts make a massive difference to me, and I will send you a virtual hug in return. Thanks to all those who have done this already. The great news is that I have lots of exciting ideas planned for my blog (with help from family and friends) and I look forward to sharing these with you throughout the year.
- Spend at least 30 mins a day playtime with my children – need to put my blinkers on to everything else around me (e.g. huge pile of never decreasing washing) and play, or it will be too late and they will be off with their friends and it will be seriously uncool to play with their mum.
- Regular date nights and at least one weekend away with my hubby – at times we are like ships in the night both exhausted at the end of the day. But we are soul mates and could not do what we do on our own. I’m looking forward to this one.
- Keep up current fitness – I like being fit and have worked hard to achieve it, so just need to keep on booking those spinning classes!
- Continue to work hard on my counselling course – something that I have been working at for the last 18 months and about the same to go again.
- Get green fingers – my Mum helped me grow some vegetables last year and this year I want to do most of it myself and grow lots of new things. Going to be out in the garden loads!
- Add three feathered friends to our family- just got to encourage hubby to finish the pen and then we can provided a home for three lucky ladies. Picture shows construction of the hen house last year.
- Curb the sweet tooth – OK maybe a bit ambitious especially as baking is my thing, but at least think of ways to reduce sugar where possible.
No added sugar fruity flapjacks. Fabulous way to use up any dried fruit or nuts you have lying around after Christmas. Feel free to substitute any of the fruit and nuts in my recipe other than the dates (as these are what help to stick it together). I had a good old dig around in my cupboard and found all the ingredients already there. This is a great mid morning snack for you (oats = low GI) and they will fill you up nicely. They are also excellent for your children’s lunch box or after school. These are beautifully soft and chewy in texture. Mine were a bit crumbly around the edges, which I think adds to the appeal. But do make sure you wait until tin has completely cooled to get them out and do so quite carefully.
What you will need:
- 150g reduced fat butter – I used Lurpack lighter
- 150g ready to eat, soft stoned dates
- 5 tbsp apple juice
- 50g roasted chopped hazelnuts
- 50g raisins
- 50g dried cranberries
- 3 dessert apples, peeled, cored and cut into small chunks
- 225g porridge oats
- 17.5 cm square tin greased and lined with baking paper
How to make:
- Preheat the oven to 180c/350f/gas 4
- Put dates and apple juice in food processor and whizz until mostly smooth. It does not matter if there are a few lumps
- Put all of the dry ingredients plus the chopped apple into a mixing bowl
- Melt butter in pan over heat and add the date mixture
- Add butter and dates to the bowl of other ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until nicely incorporated
- Spoon mixture into the baking tray and press down either with your hands or the back of the spoon. Bake for 20-25 mins
- Once out leave to cool for 10 mins, then cut out squares with knife whilst flapjack still in the tin, then leave until it has completely cooled before you take your flapjack squares out. I used a fish slice to get under them and lift them out
- Enjoy without any guilt what so ever!
Only 4 days until Christmas, and it is all starting to get a bit hectic in my house. Don’t think I have been to bed before midnight this last week, but finally the mince pies are made and the presents are wrapped. Can’t help wondering if I have forgotten something though. It worries me that in my haste to perfect things down the smallest detail that I will have forgotten something major. It only occurred to me not so long ago that my guests are staying for more than Christmas day and so will also need feeding in addition to their Christmas dinner! The challenge here has been to think of things that are quick and easy but also keeps up the ‘domestic goddess’ appearance! I also like to cook a meal at some point over this time that is fairly light and not as calorific as all the other foods typically eaten at Christmas. I always end up craving a bit of green veg, just to make me feel a bit more normal. This is particularly the case this year with all my baking in recent weeks. Every time I get a glass out of the cupboard the mince pies on sitting beautifully on a plate on the side shout my name, and when I open the fridge the ‘spare’ truffles look longingly at me. What is a girl to do??
This recipe is perfect for Christmas eve, and ticks all the ‘boxes’ I mentioned above. You can prepare the salmon earlier in the day to marinate, and then at dinner time just pop them in the oven, get your rice coking and don’t forget the steam a bit of green veg to go with it! It is a recipe which I have been doing for years and is totally my own creation. I just tried a bit of this and a bit of that, and over time I think it has really become perfected. This is a great time to share it with you.
What you will need:
- 1 salmon fillet for each person eating
- Basmati rice
- Green veg
- Foil to wrap parcel up each salmon fillet
- 2 tsp toasted sesame oil
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp teriyaki sauce
- 1tsp tamari sauce
- 1 tsp runny honey
- Juice from half a lemon
- Sprinkle of fresh coriander
- Sprinkle of fresh ginger chopped
- Sprinkle of dried chilli flakes
How to make:
- Place each fillet of salmon on a piece of foil large enough to cover it and seal together at the top. Wrap the foil around the salmon but don’t seal together so that the salmon is still exposed
- Add all the marinade ingredients onto the salmon and seal the foil together. Put in the fridge for at least an hour, if not more
- When you are ready to cook, heat the oven to 180c/350f/gas 4 and bake for 20 mins
- Whilst the salmon is cooking, prepare your rice and vegetables
- Take salmon out of oven and carefully out of foil wrapper. Serve with rice and vegetables and pour the juice over the salmon, (this is one of the best bits especially when mixed with a bit of rice)
All that is left for me to say is I hope you enjoy your baking, thanks for your support, and I wish you all a fabulous Christmas! I’ll be back in the new year 🙂
Well, as my current bit of male eye candy Michael Bublé likes to say, ‘it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!’ As I write it is snowing, the children break up from school later and we are off to see a Christmas movie this afternoon. I’ve been preparing for Christmas this year since October, but it still seems to have come round very quickly. I’m feeling relatively under control though. My list for the next week is long but manageable. I’ve only got the truffles to make for my Christmas hampers and then I can wrap them up and make them look pretty with lots of ribbon and sparkle. Looking forward to that. Also, my freezer is now full of yummy seasonal treats and dinners. It has certainly been a bit of a mission to achieve this but one I have thoroughly enjoyed.
For this recipe I got my children totally involved. It lends itself perfectly for the assistance of little ones. I baked the biscuits and then one day after school this week I melted the chocolate, got all the sprinkles out of my cupboard, and let them decorate. My girls have now proudly dispatched their biscuits to a number of lucky recipients. I love to watch their little faces as they get thanked for their thoughtful gift.
Lebkuchen is a traditional German biscuit and I see it as the ‘adults gingerbread’. It is just a little bit more sophisticated than its child favoured cousin. Children will still love this but adults especially might enjoy lebkuchen. Something different to have with a mug of steaming mulled wine maybe?
I have taken the basis of this recipe from the book ‘Gifts from the Kitchen’ by Annie Rigg, but as you might expect, have added a couple of little extras. The main one being a larger quantity of orange zest to give these a lovely citrus kick. I have also covered mine in chocolate rather than an icing glaze. The reason for this is because I think melted chocolate is a bit easier for the children to use and because we just love chocolate in our house.
What you will need:
- 3 tbsp clear honey
- 4 tbsp black treacle
- 50g unsalted butter
- 75g dark muscovado sugar
- 225g self raising flour
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 3 tsp ground ginger
- pinch ground allspice
- 50g ground almonds
- 1 large egg lightly beaten
- zest of one orange
- 50g of dark and white chocolate for covering the biscuits
- 1/2 tsp orange essence
- Selection of sprinkles
Makes about 30 biscuits but depends on size
How to make:
- Melt the honey, treacle, butter and sugar in a pan over low heat. Stir until smooth and leave to cool
- Measure all the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl, make a well and add the orange zest then add the egg and the melted mixture
- Stir briskly with a wooden spoon until a dough forms
- Wrap dough in cling film and chill in fridge for about 2 hours until firm
- Preheat oven to 180c/350f/gas 4 and line two baking trays with parchment paper
- Lightly dust your work surface with flour and roll out dough to about 1cm thickness. Cut out Christmas shapes and place on baking tray a little distance apart
- Bake for between 10-15 mins until firm and even in colour
- Cool on wire rack
- Melt both dark and white chocolate in separate bowls over a saucepan of simmering water. Add the orange essence to the dark chocolate to make it chocolate orange flavour
- When biscuits are cooled, ‘paint’ on the chocolate. We used a silicone pastry brush and it was really easy for the children to use and also for me to clean afterwards – LOVE the silicone pastry brushes!
- Sprinkle what decorations you have over the biscuits and cool in the fridge
The final thing to say, but by no means least is that this blog post with the inclusion of chocolate and orange makes it a perfect entry into the “We Should Cocoa” blog challenge run by Choclette from the blog Chocolate Log Blog and Chele from Chocolate Teapot.
Because it’s Christmas, and I’m really getting into the swing of blog writing, this will be the first of two Christmas Biscuit special’s this week. 🙂 Look out for part two a little bit later in the week! I also ought to take this opportunity to thank everyone who gives me encouragement and tells me that they enjoy my blog. It’s your feedback that makes writing this so rewarding.
Getting back to biscuits, let me tell you why just one blog post on these seasonal treats would not be enough. Once a week on a Thursday morning I volunteer at a local drop in clinic for new mums. When they walk though the door sleep deprived and emotional, one of the first things I offer them is a cup of tea and a biscuit. The effect this small act has is quite amazing. Not only does it tell them immediately that they have come to a welcoming and caring place, but it helps them to relax, which is key in order for them to feel like they can stay and chat. I too will try and find 5 mins each day just to sit down with a cup of something hot and a biscuit. In fact, I’m not sure I could get through the day without this! I see it as recharging the batteries ready for either the school run or bath and bedtime! I guess what I am trying to say is that a good biscuit can work wonders, and it is for that reason that they make especially nice gifts. This week both my daughters finish school/nursery for Christmas, so I will be busy baking biscuits and filling little cellophane bags to give to the teachers. They don’t need lots, just 3 or 4 to feel like a treat and to share if they wish.
In keeping with the theme of Christmas, this shortbread is sweet and spicy. One bite into them gives you crunch, followed by melt-in-the-mouth butteriness, followed by the warm spice of ginger and aniseed. These really are a biscuit to savour and to eat slowly. The addition of aniseed into this recipe stems from my own love of it. When I was a child we were only allowed sweets once a week, so every Saturday morning I would go into the sweet shop, spend ages looking at all the sweets in jars stacked on shelves right up to the ceiling, but always end up choosing either a quarter of aniseed twists or a quarter of aniseed balls! The aniseed I used for this recipe were actual seeds and I found them in my local health food shop. They are a very welcome addition to my spice cupboard and I’m sure I will be trying to sneak them into my baking for a long time after Christmas. The combination of ginger and aniseed together was, if I’m honest, a bit experimental. It made sense to me in theory as they are both hot and spicy, and I was thrilled with how they actually tasted once baked. I think the flavours compliment each other beautifully, but mostly I like the fact that these are just a little bit different and unique. Anyone you might make them for is bound to take notice of these, and that makes the baking of them totally worthwhile.
I used the Great British Bake Off Cookbook for the main shortbread recipe, just adding the extra ingredients as below.
- 200g unsalted butter softened
- 100 g caster sugar (plus a little extra for sprinkling)
- 260g plain flour
- 40g cornflour
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- Pinch of salt
- 50g chopped crystallised ginger
- 1 tsp aniseed seeds (I used green)
Makes about 20 biscuits
How to make:
- Put butter in a mixing bowl and beat with a electronic mixer until pale and creamy. Add the caster sugar slowly beating well after each addition. The mixture should be looking lighter and fluffy in texture when ready
- Sift in flour, cornflour, ginger and salt into the bowl. Add chopped ginger and aniseed
- Mix together using hands until combined and a dough is formed
- Take dough out of the bowl and shape dough into a log shape about 20cm long. Cover with cling film and chill in the fridge for 20-30 mins until firm
- Preheat oven to 170c/325f/gas 3
- Unwrap the dough and cut across the log to form discs. Place discs on a greased baking sheet slightly apart
- Bake for about 20 mins or until firm but not coloured. Take out from the oven and sprinkle with caster sugar straight away. Then leave on the trays for a few mins before transferring to a cooling rack
- Eat slowly with a cup of tea, or wrap and give as presents
If you can’t find the aniseed there are plenty of other things that you could use instead. These include chocolate chips, orange zest, hazelnuts, raisins, cranberries, ground cinnamon, and pistachios to name a few.
We all know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and at Christmas time it is even more essential, especially if you have the task of cooking the Christmas dinner. Energy will definitely be required. However, if your house is anything like mine, we get through cereal like it is going out of fashion. I would hate to add up how much we spend a year on the stuff! The grand total would no doubt cause my husband to choke on his mulled wine, so I’m not going to actually add it up, but hopefully you get my point. The other problem is that shop brought cereal often contains hideous amounts of sugar which is obviously not good for anyone, and most of all my children, who on Christmas day will have already eaten numerous chocolate coins and such like before 6.30am! On Christmas day chocolate at what is effectively the middle of the night has to be allowed, but seeing them eat a healthy breakfast would certainly make me (and them) feel better. Well, luckily for those of you reading my blog and empathizing with the cereal issues I have outlined above, I have a proposition for you. The perfect solution is to make some homemade granola. How can I say that so flippantly I hear you ask? Well do read on as it will all start to make sense.
This fabulously versatile cereal hits the spot for a number of reasons. Firstly, oats which are the main ingredient are as David Dickinson likes to say, ‘cheap as chips’ which is good news for your budget, and might actually help you save a few extra pennies towards the cost of Christmas. Oats are also healthy and give ‘slow release’ energy, which is more likely to get you through to lunch without a sugar crash and the inevitable ‘Mr Tickle’ arm into the biscuit barrel that follows. I’ve been there and done that many a time, especially after a bad night with the kids, so anything that might help kick this biscuit related habit is surely worth a try. The other thing to say about granola is that is absolutely delicious, and can be used in a variety of ways including with milk, on top of yogurt, in the children’s snack box to nibble on and as a gorgeous unique gift to a loved one this Christmas. Do what I did, make double the quantity and bag some up to give away, but keep the remainder for yourself :-).
The recipe I have used is taken from Nigella’s Christmas Cook Book. A few minor alterations means that it has the, ‘homemade by Fleur‘ stamp, making it even more enjoyable I hope. I have swapped the blanched almonds in the original recipe to chopped hazelnuts as I prefer them. Feel free to do the same and make your own swaps too. Add dried fruit or nuts that you like or have in the cupboard, go with what is in season or what is on offer. The other change I made is to replace some of the honey for agave syrup. Agave syrup is a little gem to have at hand, it is a substitute to sugar and honey but has lower GI and slower release sugars. Most supermarkets or health food shops should sell it. Here is what it looks like.
The last but by no means least point to make about this granola is that it will be my first ever blog challenge entry. The Forever Nigella challenge hosted by Sarah at the brilliant Maison Cupcake blog has certainly caught my eye, and I am very excited to be submitting this blog post. One of many more I hope.
So all that is left to say is put the ingredients on your shopping list and get baking. This is a wonderful treat which the whole family will enjoy and appreciate. Be careful though, if Santa finds out you have some of this in the house, you may have an extra guest for breakfast!
What you will need
- 225g rolled oats
- 60g sunflower seeds
- 60g white sesame seeds
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 75g runny honey
- 75g agave syrup
- 50g soft brown sugar
- 60g chopped roasted hazelnuts
- 60g flaked almonds
- 50g raisins
- pinch of table salt
- 1 tbsp sunflower oil
- 150g dried cranberries
Makes enough to fill a 1.2 litre tin or jar, (3-4 small gift bags or 2 large gift bags)
- Preheat the oven to 170c/355f/gas 3
- Put everything into a large bowl expect the dried cranberries and mix well with a wooden spoon
- Spread the mixture onto a couple of lined baking trays and bake for about 40-50 mins
- The mixture should be turned over about half way though, and even more if you think it needs it towards the end. I set my timer for 20 mins then 10, and then 10 and turned it each time. Keeping an eye on it like this should prevent it from burning, and instead result in a lovely golden crunchy cereal
- Once cooled mix in the dried cranberries. My daughter actually helped me do this so I could take the picture!
- If using for gifts this will keep for several weeks bagged up and then placed in an airtight container. If you have made it for yourself, keep in an airtight tin or jar