Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Merry Christmas

Its been a while since I last wrote but things have become quite chaotic here. Its 2 days till the family arrives from South Africa and the todo list seems never ending. Just to let you all know I havent forgotten about you here are some festive photos ....

Wishing you all a very merry christmas and a fantastic new year.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

3, 2, 1... Blast Off

Its been a very busy few weeks, my little boy has turned 7 and its been birthday mayhem for a week.
To add to the chaos the oven temperature dial decided to break just in time for my attempts at making a space rocket birthday cake for his party, nevertheless with stress levels rising and much checking on the cake we managed to pull it off and were quite proud of our end result. ( Thanks to my wonderful husband for doing the icing ).

Now its all over I have some time to gather myself together and start preparing for the next celebration... Christmas and our long anticipated visit from my sister and her family whom I haven't seen in a year and the children haven't seen in over 2 years  - the excitement is building. This is where I am in my element planning and organising and then finally putting it all together.

So we started on our Biberlie - a Swiss Christmas cookie, which you bake at least 4 weeks ahead to give the flavours time to mingle and mellow and also for the cookie to soften. Its has a filling of ground almonds, apricot jam and honey and the dough has Christmas spices in it so my house smells like Christmas.
Here's what they look like at the moment -

Recipe : Swiss Biberlie ( Christmas Cookies )

340g honey
134g cup sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
2 tablespoons brandy, rum, or kirsch
512g unsifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground anise
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

 300g blanched almonds
200g sugar
 1/2 cup apricot jam
 1/3 cup honey
 1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
 3 tablespoons lemon juice
 1-1/2 teaspoons almond extract
How to make Swiss Biberli

Make the Dough: 
In small saucepan , combine the honey, sugar, and 2 tablespoons water.
Heat, stirring, just until sugar dissolves—do not boil.
Let cool until lukewarm—about 20 minutes.
Stir in lemon peel and the brandy.
Into large bowl, sift flour with baking soda, anise, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and coriander.
Add honey mixture; mix with wooden spoon to a stiff dough; then knead until smooth.
Shape into a ball.
Refrigerate, covered, 2 days.
Make Filling: Grind almonds, using fine blade of grinder, or use electric blender.
In medium bowl, combine almonds, sugar, the jam, honey, lemon peel, juice, extract; mix until blended.
Set aside.
Preheat oven to 350F.
Lightly grease cookie sheets.
Divide dough in half; return half to refrigerator.
On lightly floured surface, roll out dough, 1/4 inch thick, into a 10-inch square.
Cut crosswise, to make 4 strips.
Place 5 to 6 tablespoons filling in a 1/2-inch-wide mound down center of each strip of dough.
Bring edges of dough over filling, to overlap; press gently, to seal.
Place rolls seam side down.
Repeat with remaining dough and filling.
Cut filled rolls into 1-inch pieces, using sharp floured or moistened knife.
Place seam side down on prepared cookie sheets.
Bake 20 minutes, or until light brown.
Cool completely.
Pack in airtight containers, to mellow for several weeks.
Enjoy !!
I am also busy working on my christmas menu and this is what I have so far:-

Christmas Eve -
Buffet of cold meats and cheeses with pickles and chutneys ( homemade of course ) .
Homemade bread
Chocolate dipped strawberries and figs
And the childrens contribution - a decorated gingerbread house.

Christmas Morning -
Cinnamon pancakes

Christmas Lunch - 
Spinach, strawberry and mango salad
Smoked salmon toasts

Roast Chicken
Roast Pheasant - stuffed
Roast Guineafowl
Cranberry sauce

Ice-cream santas grotto cake ( shop bought I confess )
A french fruit tart ( hoping it will look something like this -  it will depend on what fruit I get.)

Mince pies and Brandy cream. ( of course )

So far its all falling into place , but no doubt there will be some variations and changes as the big day draws nearer. I'll post some pictures of all the exciting things we've made.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Hello Kitty, Halloween and Half-term.

Yes its been a rather busy week in our household. The children are at home on half-term so chaos has returned. We've had builders in and out of the house all week fixing up our cloakroom and now I have a few moments peace to catch up with my latest news and also catch my breath.

Only a few bits and bobs this time. The first been a rather failed attempt at some Springerle biscuits ( German biscuits with an embossed design ). I say failed but I think its more a case of "not quite tehe end product I was intending" - they still tasted ok , a little on the hard side but nothing a  cup of tea couldnt sort out and besides the children actually liked them.

We did do some other baking to keep the children amused - Autumn Owls we called them.

I did also manage to complete a knitting project I was busy with - a Hello Kitty doll. I do declare my needlework skills need a bit of work still but practice makes perfect. Guess I still have a lot of practicing to do. ( Aimee loves it though ).

Finally a Happy Halloween to you all. - We have got our pumpkin ready for carving so more pictures to follow soon. But here's a real Bonfire Night treat - Toffee/Candy apples.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Simple Pleasures.

Take time to enjoy the simple pleasures that surround you. It will make a big difference to your day. I decided to make some butternut soup today. The weather is getting colder and there is nothing nicer than a big bowl of smooth velvety warm soup to really give you a great big hug.

Homemade Butternut Soup. ( my recipe )

1 butternut peeled and cut into chunks.
1 onion peeled and sliced
1 potato, peeled and cubed
1 clove of garlic crushed
About a litre of chicken stock.
A pinch of chilli powder
Salt and Pepper to taste.

Lightly fry the onion and garlic in a little oil until soft. 
Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for 30 - 45 minutes until the butternut is soft. 
Blend until smooth . 
Season to taste and enjoy. 
You can add some double cream or creme fraiche if you wish.

This is one of my simple pleasures I enjoy. A few other which might inspire you are :-

  • Putting one clothes straight from the dryer  - warm and snuggly.
  • Slipping into bed and enjoying the feel and smell of fresh, crisp bed sheets.
  • Making someone smile.
  • Lying snuggled in bed listening to the rain on the window.
  • The smell of freshly brewed coffee.
  • Chocolate cake.
  • A Family Cuddle.

Having a busy time at the moment - christmas gift plans are in full swing. Will put some more details up when I have goods to show. There is also Halloween around the corner too - so I might try ghoulish treats or two. Bonfire night and birthdays and I was worried I wouldn't have anything to do when the children were at school.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Autumn is in the air

Autumn is here or so the garden tells me. Our pumpkins have been harvested and are proving in the sun. I feel rather proud of our artistic display of pumpkins and squashes this year. Its amazing what our lovely garden can produce.

Whilst on the topic of garden produce. We made a delicious Pear, Hazelnut and Chocolate cake with the last few pears. It was rather moreish. and very easy to make. We had it warm with ice-cream and custard and also cold too.

Pear, hazelnut and chocolate cake

100g blanched hazelnuts
140g self-raising flour
175g butter , cut into small pieces
140g golden caster sugar
2 large eggs , beaten
5 small, ripe pears
50g dark chocolate , chopped into small chunks
2 tbsp apricot jam

Preheat the oven to fan 140C/ conventional 160C/gas 3. 
Butter and line the base of a 20cm round cake tin. 
Grind the hazelnuts in a food processor until fairly fine. 
Add the flour and mix briefly. Add the butter and pulse until it forms crumbs. Add the sugar and eggs and mix briefly. 
Peel, core and chop two of the pears. Stir the pears and chocolate lightly into the cake mixture.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the top. Peel, core and slice the remaining pears and scatter over the top of the cake. Press down lightly and bake for 50-60 minutes, until firm to the touch. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn out and cool on wire rack. Warm the jam and brush over the top. Serve warm or cold.

The weather then decided to confuse us all with a heatwave in October. The temperatures reached 29.9 degrees celsius and broke the records for the highest temperature recorded. Normally here in the UK we would be digging out the winter coats etc but no we had a last chance to get in a barbeque and don our shorts and t-shirts. As it was so hot I got a chance to test out a recipe I've been dying to try.

Lychee ice-cream:

500ml natural yogurt
150ml single cream
75g caster sugar
425g can lychees 

Blend all together with 200ml of juice from lychee can.
Freeze for 1 hour
Whizz in a food processor til smooth
Freeze for 2 hours
Process again in food processor
Freeze until firm.

And finally for this weeks news I made a start on the childrens Christmas Elf hats. Here is a picture of what they look like - just need to add some bells ! ( only 2 more to go ).

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Finding my feet

Its been a very busy and strange past two weeks. My youngest child started school. At first I was wondering what I would do with myself for those long lonely hours while the kids are at school, but actually I've been rather busy and I'm enjoying a bit of 'me' time which has been a luxury I haven't enjoyed in quite a while. I've still been busy cooking and creating but my new projects are taking some time.

I have managed to complete a knitting project. I knitted a shrug for Aimee which she thinks is so soft and cuddly and I was glad to see the end of as the wool was rather bobbly and well I am a beginner when it comes to crafts.
Here's a picture of the finished article:-

I also tried out a new chutney which is rather delicious even if I say so myself;-

Pear, Apricot and Ginger Chutney ( really easy to make too although I did use half the amounts ).

Here's the recipe:

425g ripe tomatoes , peeled, deseeded and chopped
425g caster sugar
140g cooking apples , peeled, cored and chopped
140g onions , finely chopped
140g dried apricots , chopped
3 tbsp chopped fresh root ginger
2 tsp salt
450ml white wine vinegar
1¼ kg pears , peeled, cored and cut into bite-size pieces

Combine all the ingredients, except the pears, in a large, thick-bottomed saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer uncovered over a very low heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Continue to cook for about 1 hr, giving it a stir every 10 mins, until the mixture is syrupy. Add the chopped pears and cook for another 30 mins, stirring occasionally. Leave to cool completely, then store in sterilised, clean jars.  ( courtesy of )

Well its about 3 months to christmas now and we're very excited that my family from South Africa are coming to visit so I've got lots of planning and loads of recipes to try out before they get here. Will keep you posted as to how I'm getting on.

Monday, 19 September 2011

A Bowl of Sunshine

With Autumn fast approaching it gives me such pleasure to receive little gifts of summer from my garden. My cucumbers are finally fruiting and the tomatoes are a mass of red juicy gems. So far I have managed to pick about 2 and a half kilograms of tomatoes and they keep on coming.

I used some of them to make some wonderful tomato soup and a tomato and chorizo salsa to have with mackerel fishcakes ( see picture below), but I'm a purist at heart and nothing beats eating them just as they are.

I've also been blessed with some beautiful roses, which seem to be flowering for the first time in years. The scent reminds me of my grandmother's garden. As a child it was a wonderful world to escape in full of colours and scents. I miss her so, she was such an inspiration to me and taught me a lot of what I know today. 

Finally all my make and create has not been forgotten, this time I decided the dining chairs needed new covers, not my neatest work but for a first attempt it wasnt too bad.



Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Its the last day of the summer holidays and the weather is telling us summer is over. The rain and winds have arrived. So admist all the school checklists and name labelling, I'm taking a 5 minute break to update this blog with few of our latest achievements and have a quick cup of tea.

Shooting stars:-
To celebrate the goals the children have achieved over the holidays ( which involved Corbin age 6 reading the first 3 Harry Potter books all on his own and fussy eater Aimee age 4 finally discovering that food is actually quite exciting and trying numerous new things ) and use up the remains of the felt and ribbons in my sewing kit, we made shooting stars. Here's what they look like:-

'Zebra' shortbread biscuits :-
Thought I'd get adventurous and challenge myself with trying to make some shortbread. But not just any shortbread I mixed chocolate shortbread with vanilla shortbread and created some rather stripey biscuits hence the 'zebra' name. They taste delicious and I'm quite proud of my efforts as baking is not one of my stronger talents.

Back to the school routine tomorrow but I will try to keep the blog going.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Chocolate, camping and crystals.

Holidays are fun and are all too soon over, but we're making the most of them and what's left of the summer. We've have a very 'home' holiday this year, lots of lovely food, making things and general laziness...just what the doctor ordered. Here are a few of our latest adventures.....

A chocolate fondue.
What else, nothing beats delicious fresh fruit and lovely velvety melted chocolate. One sure way to get the children to tuck in to something healthy like fruit.

Embracing the great outdoors (or not).
The children have been asking for ages to go camping in the garden, well having finally given in an purchased a 2 man tent for them the two young adventurers set off to explore the wild lands of the backyard. Lots of fun and excitement until it came to nigh ttime when the reality of sleeping outside seemed way too scary. Determined to sleep in the tent we moved the tent inside for them and 2 very happy children slept very well all night.

A ramble in Salcey Forest.
Something I stumbled upon on the net. Not too far away is Salcey Forest and they have a Tree Top Walk, a wooden walkway rising 15 metres above the forest floor. It was quite wonderful and despite being scared of heights I managed to reach the end but confess I couldnt go up the final crows nest to 20 metres, the wobbles and bounces had got to me. It was a lovely day out with a delicious picnic and a good dose of fresh air.

Sugar Crystal Candy..... the results.
After waiting a week very patiently our sugar crystals are ready. We are all rather proud of them.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Its Raining , Its Pouring....

Its raining today and when it rains the best thing to do is cook. So today has been a bit of a cook-athon. There is nothing more satisfying than cooking and creating delicious things, I find it very relaxing and enjoy the magic carpet ride of smells and tastes. I do admit that most of my cooking is experimental but every now and again I do have to follow a recipe or end up with a mess. Here are a few of the more tasty creations I made today...

Mediterranean Chutney.

This one is an absolute winner - a fantastic way of using courgettes, peppers and tomatoes from the garden. We cant seem to get enough of it at the moment, a jar doesn't last very long. It a relief to have finally found a recipe for our courgette crop that doesn't send the family running.

Another trial today which went down extremely well. This was a recipe I found. Peanut butter and Rice Krispie balls. We didn't get as far as dipping them in chocolate they were extremely yummy without it.

Finally something that's been brewing in the garage for ages ....Raspberry Vodka. This was an answer to a fantastic glut of raspberries this year. I am by no means an expert gardener, if anything I rely more on luck than skill. The raspberries this year surpassed all expectations and we harvested a massive 7 kgs. The freezer is overflowing, jams been made and well why not some vodka too. This is a special one we might save for Christmas if I can hide it away that long.

To keep all those interested parties up to date, here is what our sugar crystal candies look like 2 days in...

More to follow soon ........

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

What shall we do today?

Well its school holiday time and kids are bored. I have been browsing the internet looking for inspiration and there are some very talented people out there. Following their examples I've decided to give a few things a try.

Todays first challenge was making sugar crystals.  Its a long task supposed to take at least a week but well we made the sugar solution and set it somewhere sunny and now we have to wait and see.

Challenge 2: make chelsea buns to say thankyou to our lovely neighbour who has blessed us with beans and plums from their garden.

Challenge 3 : mice !
I have been promising the children to make these for ages. Not bad for their first attempts at sewing ( aged 4 and 6 ).

Challenge 4: T-shirts.
We took some old t-shirts , apples and potatoes to cut out shapes and a bit of fabric paint. 2 very pleased and proud children.

 Now for a rest and researching some plum recipes to use up all the plums we've been given.