Monday, 23 December 2013

Christmas Tree Cookies

I've been doing a little last minute baking.  I've made a forest of Christmas trees using my Mom's Old Fashion Sugar Cookie Recipe

With a little unsolicited help from the Dust Bunny.

He's the official cookie inspector!  

Friday, 20 December 2013

London's Christmas Lights

Andy and I don't usually exchange gifts at Christmas.  Instead of parcels under the tree, we share a special night out.  This year it was a trip to London to see a play in the West End.  

Before the show we took a quick stroll down some of the best shopping streets in London just to see the decorations and special holiday windows.

Carnaby Street was full of these charming Robins.

Regent Street had lovely white branches surrounding roundels featuring the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Even the smaller shopping precincts were beautifully decorated...

Bloomsbury's Brunswick Centre featured decorations that changed colours resulting in a magical light show of delicate fairy lights and giant snowflakes. Christmas in London is lovely this year. 

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Christmas Has a Pink Glow

I must apologise for being such a bad blogger.  The few weeks before Christmas are so busy for all of us and having a light eating Christmas tree hasn't helped.  I've had to decorate the tree twice!  

I am just now starting my Christmas shopping and card writing.  I've only wrapped my first package today.

I had planned to wrap our parcels in brown paper but when I found that bright pink box I had to use it!  

I decided to make a special batch of Spiced Apple Jelly for Boxing Day tea.  I used up all of the home grown apples we had in storage and found they made the most beautiful pink juice.

Of course, pink apple juice makes pink jelly!  There seems to be a theme here.  Christmas is beginning to have a rosy glow.  

Monday, 2 December 2013

Twas The First of December

Twas the first of December and all through the house was a flurry of activity. Everyone was helping to decorate the Christmas tree, even the MOUSE!

I know to some people the first day of December is too soon to begin decorating the tree but I love Christmas so I try to extend the season for as long as possible.  

I must confess that I don't have my usual enthusiasm.  I think it's because we've been so busy here.  And due to the late autumn, there are still leaves on the trees.  

But as each ornament goes up on the tree I am feeling more and more festive.  

Sometimes you just have to make a start and trust that Christmas Spirit will take over.  

I like to have a theme for our decorations.  This year it's going to be all red and white.  I think it looks rather Scandinavian with the folk art tin ornaments.

I don't believe in minimalist Christmas trees so every bough is decorated. I've even stuffed in some red berries for good measure. 

It's working, it's feeling more like Christmas already!  Now, let's tackle the garlands. 

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Retro Recipe - Molasses Cookies

It's that time of year when you start baking for the Christmas holidays. Christmas cakes and Christmas puddings have things in them I'd NEVER buy any other time of the year. Things like molasses, better known as dark treacle here in Britain.

The recipe will call for one tablespoon of dark treacle and then you have a great tin full of the stuff left over.   In my case, due to an error in purchasing, I have two tins of dark treacle in the cupboard!  Then I remembered the soft molasses cookies we used to have when I was a kid and could see a way to use up some of the excess molasses.

This is an old recipe.  It came from my Mom's old Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book.  The cook book says the original recipe comes from a farm in Minnesota. They taste like gingerbread cake, soft and spicy.  Here's the recipe just as it's written in Mom's book:

Mix together thoroughly .........  1/4 cup soft butter
                                              1/2 cup sugar
                                              1 egg
                                              1/2 cup molasses (dark treacle)

Stir in..........  1 teaspoon baking soda dissolved in 1/2 cup hot water

Sift together and stir in..............2 cups plain flour
                                              1/2 teaspoon salt
                                              1 teaspoon ground ginger
                                              1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
                                              1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
                                              1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

The recipe continues in it's abrupt style.....

Chill dough. Drop rounded teaspoonfuls about 2" apart on lightly greased baking sheet.  Bake until set.... just until, when touched lightly with finger, almost no imprint remains.  

Temperature: 400F/200C
Time: 7 to 8 minutes.  

While the cookies are slightly warm, frost with a simple icing made from 1 cup icing sugar mixed with enough milk to make the frosting easy to spread.

Thanks to Mildred Bennett from Minnesota, I now have a tin full of spicy molasses cookies and one empty black treacle tin.  One down, one to go!

Monday, 25 November 2013

Our Acer

This autumn has been busy we haven't had a chance to take our usual trip to Westonbirt Arboretum.   But that doesn't mean we haven't had some brilliant fall foliage to enjoy.

We've made sure to provide for just this sort of situation.  I've planted a few plants that will give us a variety of colourful leaves. 

We may not have acres of acers but our little trees put on a lovely show.  

Best of all, we live near the sea which creates a warmer micro-climate.   The leaves change more slowly so the Autumn colour comes late to our garden.

When most other trees are bare, ours are just getting started.  

But even our sheltered garden is starting to show the effects of the cold, windy weather.

This little acer only has a few tattered leaves left.  Fortunately, the larger acer is still going strong.

So for now I can enjoy this beautiful Autumn colour which is growing just outside my window. 

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Apple Crumble Tarts and Cliches

I was always told necessity is the mother of invention.  I was also told not to make that face it would freeze that way, but I  digress. You may recall from a previous POST that I have accumulated several packages of frozen pastry.  I also have a rather large amount of apples in storage.  I believe a batch of tarts may be the answer to this small food mountain.

Start by cutting 12 circles out of ready rolled shortcrust pastry. Place the pastry circles between two pieces of plastic wrap and roll them out a bit more so they are big enough overlap the holes in the tart tin.   Line each hole with a pastry circle.  Don't worry if they rumple up a bit, these are rustic little tarts. The wonky pastry gives them character.  Place the pastry cases back in the fridge to rest and chill.

While the pastry is chilling in the fridge, make the apple filling.  I used my small home grown apples so it took 6 little apples to make the filling.  3 larger apples would probably be enough for six tarts. 

Peel, core and slice the apples and place them into a saucepan. 

Add 2 -3 tablespoons of soft brown sugar (more or less depending on how tart your apples are) and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon.

Cook the apples over a low heat for a few minutes until they begin to soften and release their juices.

Stir in 1 tablespoon of plain flour and cook for one minute more.  Remove the pan from the heat and let the filling cool.  

Now, I have to say, I don't care much for crimping pastry.  I can do it, I just don't want to do it to 12 tiny tarts!   So I was delighted when I found a bag of frozen crumble topping in the freezer.    Click HERE FOR MY CRUMBLE TOPPING RECIPE .    You can make half a batch for your tarts or just freeze the unused topping for future crumble making.  Spoon the apple mixture into the chilled pastry cases, top with lots of crumble mixture and bake for 25-30 minutes at 375F/ 190C.   The pastry should be golden brown and the filling bubbling like lava.  Let the tarts cool in the tin for a few minutes before placing them on a wire rack to cool completely.  

You probably noticed  I referred to 12 tart cases and there are only 8 apple crumble tarts.   I filled the other four tart cases with mincemeat for Andy.   Like they always say, variety is the spice of life!  

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Omelette Bowls - Glazed

I've never been good at waiting.  I've never been patient.  Curiosity often gets the better of me.  So waiting for the kiln to cool has been torturous!  I've learned the hard way,  you can't rush pottery.  If you fire it before it dries properly, it will explode.   If you open the kiln while it's still too hot the glaze will crackle and craze and you will ruin ALL the pots.  So after waiting for nearly two days; one whole day for firing, one whole day for cooling, it was time.......

The red bowl came out first.  It was still warm.

Next was the Verdigris bowl.  Verdigris is that greenish colour of old copper roofs.

The Oatmeal Speckled bowl was third out of the oven.   And the final one ...

Was the mossy green Celadon bowl.   This is the most organic colour of them all.  All four had survived the firing and my impatience.  I can't wait to make more!

Saturday, 9 November 2013

How to Make a Jam Jar Posy by Common Farm Flowers

Here in Britain there is a group of very talented florists and flower farmers who are working on a revolutionary scheme... they want us to buy locally grown British flowers.   How radical is that!

This group of green fingered florists are the most kind and generous people you will ever meet.  They are willing to show you how to grow your own cut flowers and even teach you how to make your own beautiful arrangements. 

Georgie Newbury, of COMMON FARM FLOWERS, is one of the most talented flower farmers and has taught me the secret to growing beautiful roses for my own petite posies. Now she's made a video that will teach us all how to make the perfect jam jar posy. Click HERE to see Georgie's Jam Jar Posy Video.

For more flowers, tips, and beautiful bouquets take a look at Georgie's blog:

Friday, 8 November 2013

Chicken and Leek Pasties

Do you ever have one of those days when you just don't know what to make for dinner? Today was one of those days for me.  On those occasions I go Fridge Foraging.  I was rummaging through the freezer, looking for inspiration when I found three packages of frozen puff pastry!  

No one needs three packages of puff pastry!  I also found a fat leek, double cream and some veggie chicken pieces in the fridge.  Time to bake some pasties.   

This is also a great recipe for using up those bits of real chicken left over from Sunday lunch.  Here's what you need:

2 Tablespoons of butter or vegetable oil
1 large leek - finely sliced  
1 large potato - boiled until just tender and diced into cubes
2/3 cup cream
8- 10 ounces of cooked chicken or veggie chicken pieces (lightly browned in oil)
1 teaspoon dried mixed herbs
1 teaspoon whole grain mustard

1 packet of ready made puff pastry  

Begin by preparing the filling.  It needs to be room temperature before making the pasties.

Place the butter or oil in a sauce pan, add the chopped leeks and cook over a low heat until they are tender.  Add the cream and cook for a few minutes to reduce the cream and make it thick.  

Remove the sauce pan from the heat and stir in the mixed herbs, potato cubes, chicken pieces, and mustard.   Season well with salt and ground black pepper.

Now preheat the oven to 200C/400F and prepare the baking sheet by lining it with baking paper.

Place the puff pastry between two sheets of plastic wrap and roll it out to about 1/8 inch thickness.   Try to make the pastry into a large square shape.  Cut the pastry into four equal pieces.  

Take one piece of pastry, place a large dollop of filling on one half of the pastry square. Fold over the other half of the pastry and crimp it with a fork to seal in the filling.  Repeat with the remaining pastry squares and filling.  

Place the pasties onto the baking sheet and brush the tops with a bit of beaten egg. Bake for about 25 minutes or until the pastry is crisp and golden brown.

Now, I know the photo only shows three pasties but this recipe makes four BIG pasties.  I just couldn't fit all four on the cooling rack at one time.  Chicken and leek pasties, the perfect recipe for a bit of Fridge Foraging! 

Monday, 4 November 2013

A Progress Report - Omelette Bowls

I've had several kind people ask how the Omelette Bowl project is progressing.  The honest answer is very slowly.  

I've been busy putting the garden to bed for the winter but the bowls have been bisque fired and are ready for glazing.  I'd love to know what colours you think would look nice.  Please leave your suggestions in the comment section. I'd love to see your ideas.  

Click HERE to see a previous pottery project.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Apple and Mincemeat Turnovers

When I was a kid my Mom used to bake apple turnovers.  I loved them because they had a high crust to apple filling ratio.   When it comes to pie, the pastry is my favourite part. 

Andy loves mincemeat pies.  He likes all the dried fruit and nuts, me - not so much.  So when he asked me to bake mincemeat pies I thought a compromise was in order.  I needed to devise a recipe that gave me the parts of the pie that I liked, the pastry bit, and gave Andy the mincemeat filling he likes.  Apple and mincemeat Turnovers are the perfect solution.

Now,you can make the pastry and mincemeat from scratch but I cheated.  All you need is some store bought pastry, a couple of apples, a jar of good store bought mincemeat, and a couple of store cupboard items .  I think you will agree you can't tell by looking that these turnovers weren't made from scratch.

Here's how to make these rustic turnovers:

Peel, core, and dice one cooking apple and one dessert apple*. 

Place the diced apples into a sauce pan with 1 tablespoon soft brown sugar and 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon.

Cook over a low heat until the apples begin to soften.  This could take 5-10 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and let the apple mixture cool. 

Stir a big spoonful of mincemeat into the apple mixture and set to the side while you prepare the pastry. 

I used ready rolled pastry so all I needed to do was cut out discs with a large pastry cutter.  You could also use a small plate and cut around them with a knife.  

Place a spoonful of filling onto the centre of each pastry disc.  Moisten one half of the outer edge of the pastry with a tiny bit of water, fold the pastry over the filling, and crimp the edges together with a fork.  

Brush the turnovers with a bit of milk or egg wash if you like. Make a tiny slit in each one to let the steam out as they bake. 

Place the turnovers on a baking sheet lined with paper.  Bake for 20-30 minutes at 200C/400F.  The pastry should be a light golden brown.

Patient people would let the Apple-Mincemeat Turnovers cool, then dust them with icing sugar... but we ate six of the tiny treats warm out of the oven. 

And from the pastry scraps I made this little mincemeat tart, a bonus treat!

*Thank you, Pink Lady Apples UK, for providing the delicious dessert apple used in this recipe.