Monday, 29 December 2014

Turkey-Bacon Pie and Sweet Hearts

If you live in Britain, then you love savory pies.  You have to, it's the law. Fortunately for me, I love pastry so pies are no problem - especially if you use the store bought puff pastry.

Today I baked our annual after Christmas pie.  This one was filled with turkey and bacon in a creamy herb sauce.

You can use almost any filling to make a lovely pie; turkey and ham, chicken and mushroom.  Even the vegetarian 'meats' like Quorn make a delicious savory pie. CLICK HERE FOR THE 'HOW TO' Instructions.  

Chances are, unless you make a massive pie, you will have some left over pastry. Never throw these scraps away.  You can use them to make a sweet treat.  Just thinly roll out the scraps of pastry and cut them into shapes with a cookie cutter. I used a tiny heart shaped cutter this time.

Place the pastry shapes on a baking sheet lined with baking paper, brush with a bit of beaten egg or milk, and sprinkle over a generous amount of sugar and cinnamon. 

Bake your sweet hearts in a hot oven until they are a light golden brown.  Cool them on a wire rack and enjoy.  Waste not, want not, as they used to say.  It's rather like the After-Christmas Sales, two for the price of one! 

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Christmas Wishes 2014

The big day has come and gone.  All the gifts have been opened and the wrapping paper recycled.  

Or so we thought... there was one gift hidden behind the tree.

Someone sniffed it out with his super sensitive nose.

Well, he would, wouldn't he.  It was filled with his favourite kitty treats!

How did we manage to miss that?  We hope you have a very Happy Holiday Season filled with all your favourite treats!  

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Soft Ginger-Molasses Cookies

Molasses!  What is it about molasses?  All I have to do is open the tin and mess and mayhem ensues.  It only takes one escaped drop to destroy the whole kitchen.  It sticks to your fingers which transfer the goo to every surface you touch, and some surfaces you don't touch.  How did molasses get on the kitchen window?!  

Perhaps molasses behaves in this unruly way because it only comes out around Christmas time each year.  I never think of using it until it's time to do the holiday baking.  Let's face it, you can't make a Christmas cake, gingerbread, or spicy cookies without it.  So get ready, this is going to get messy.  


2 1/4 cup plain flour
1 cup white caster sugar
3/4 cup margarine - softened (I used Stork)
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses or black treacle
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt 

Sugar for coating cookie dough before baking

Preheat the oven to 350F/175C  Sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and salt.  Set these to one side.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the margarine and sugar.  Add the egg and mix well.  Stir in the molasses.  Gradually stir the sifted dry ingredients into the creamed mixture.  Place the cookie dough in the refrigerator to chill while you clean the molasses off the cupboards, ceiling, floor, and yourself.  (If you have pets, they may need molasses removal, too.)  When every surface in the kitchen has been de-gooed it's time to bake the cookies.

Place three tablespoons of sugar into a small bowl.  Roll the cookie dough into walnut size balls and coat them in the sugar.  Place the dough balls onto an ungreased baking sheet, spacing them two inches apart, and slightly flatten them to make a cookie shape.   Bake for about 8 - 10 minutes.  Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for about five minutes before removing them to a wire rack to cool completely.  

To keep these cookies soft, store them in an airtight container.   I am pretty sure these are the cookies you are supposed to leave out for Santa on Christmas Eve.  I think it says that on the side of the molasses tin.  

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Christmas Tree Update - Giant Snowflakes

In our house, decorating for Christmas begins the first day of December and continues until the very last minute on Christmas Day.  Just when you think you've finished, a new ornament will catch your eye and it all begins again.

This is what happened yesterday when Andy found these GIANT snowflakes at the garden center. They are the size of breakfast plates, look like crystal, and are stunningly beautiful with the lights twinkling through them.   Needless to say, I am currently rearranging the ornaments to make room for them on the tree.  

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Lazy Potatoes Dauphinoise

Cream, potatoes, garlic, and butter...these are things that you know are going to be delicious no matter what you do to them.  These are also the ingredients for Dauphinoise.  Once I'd tasted Potatoes Dauphinoise, on a trip back from France, I was hooked.  I've made them the classic French way and now I'm going to show you my cheat's method.  (No potato peeling, no garlic crushing, no fuss)

The first thing to do is heat the oven to 350F/180C.  Generously butter the bottom and sides of an oven proof casserole dish. 

Scrub three or four good size potatoes, cut out any gnarly bits, and pat them dry.   Don't bother peeling them but do slice them as thinly as you can.  I used the slicing side of a box grater and finished off with a very sharp knife.  You can use the slicing blade of a food processor if you have one.  

While you are slicing the potatoes, start making the sauce.  In a small saucepan place the following ingredients:

300 ml cream
150 ml milk- pour the milk into the cream carton and swish it around to get out all the cream
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
cracked black pepper to taste

Place the saucepan over a low heat and cook until steaming hot and slightly simmering.  Give the sauce a good stir to distribute the pepper and garlic powder.

Arrange half of the potatoes in the bottom of the casserole dish. (Use the ugly slices for this layer) Dot the top of the potatoes with about a tablespoon of butter and pour over half of the hot cream mixture.  

Place the rest of the sliced potatoes into the casserole dish, taking a moment or two to arrange some 'pretty' slices on the top.  Pour over the rest of the hot cream mixture. Press the potatoes down into the sauce with the back of a spoon to make sure they are just covered by cream sauce. Add a splash of milk if necessary.

Cover the baking dish with foil, place it on a baking tray and put it in the oven to bake for about 30 - 45 minutes.  Once the potatoes are tender, remove the foil and return the casserole dish to the oven for another 15 - 20 minutes.

Bake, uncovered, until the top is lightly golden and the sauce is bubbling like lava.  Serve with ANYTHING and enjoy!  

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Not Quite Christmas Cake

Let's just say it straight... I haven't baked a Christmas Cake.  Shock! Horror! I've only ever tried to make a Christmas Cake once and it was a dismal failure. They cost a fortune to make and have to be fed and cossetted like an infant.  By now it's become clear that I don't particularly like Christmas Cake. Unfortunately, Andy does! 

Each year I cheerfully bake and decorate Christmas cookies with that niggling feeling of guilt... I should make Andy a Christmas cake.  Each year I turn up the Christmas music to drown out the guilt.  This time I think I may have found a solution...NOT QUITE CHRISTMAS CAKE.

This cake is quick and easy to make,no heavy machinery required. You only need a spoon and a big mixing bowl.  You won't have to buy £20 worth of dried fruit and candied peel.  If you've got a well stocked baking cupboard and a jar of good mincemeat you are ready to bake. 

Here's how to do it:

Heat the oven to 160C/325F.  Grease a loaf pan (17 x 11cm) and line it with baking paper.  

Measure out the following ingredients:

75 grams butter - room temperature
1 egg
75 grams soft brown sugar
120 grams mincemeat (I used Waitrose Traditional) 
120 grams self-rising flour 
100 grams sultanas 

Cream the butter and sugar together until they are light and fluffy.  Beat in the egg, mincemeat and sultanas.  Add the flour and stir well to combine.  

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf tin. Bake for about 1 hour or until the cake is a light golden brown and a skewer inserted into the centre of the loaf comes out clean.  Test your cake at about 50 minutes...some ovens will take longer or even less time.  

Let the cake cool in the tin for a few minutes before turning it out to cool on a wire rack.  Once cool, wrap in cling film and store in an airtight container.  

And that's my guilt-free, Not Quite Christmas Cake.  

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Almost Wordless Wednesday Snowflakes

We don't get much snow down here on the south coast of Devon, so I like to hang snowflakes on the tree to remind me of all those white Christmases I used to know.

You never know,  we might get some Christmas snow!  

Monday, 8 December 2014

Potato Boats

This time of year always makes me nostalgic.  I think about childhood Christmases, ice skating on the frozen pond at the municipal park, and of course, food.  I don't know what sparks these memories but today I thought about something my Mom used to make for our lunch, Potato Boats! I haven't had one of these in decades.

I suppose they are called Potato Boats to get kids to eat them but to be more precise they are a twice baked potato stuffed with all sorts of tasty tidbits.  Mom used to keep them simple, just mashed potato and cheddar cheese.  Today I filled my boat with mustard and garlic mash.  

They are really easy to make.  No measuring required, just scrub as many potatoes as you need.  Dry them well and poke them with a fork so the steam will be released while baking.  Rub the outside of each potato with a bit of vegetable oil and sprinkle with sea salt.  Heat the oven to 400F/200C and bake the potatoes for about 50 - 60 minutes or until they are cooked completely.

Remove the potatoes from the oven and allow them to cool a bit while you prepare you fillings and the cheese for topping.  Leave the oven on, you want it to be hot for the second baking.  

When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, carefully cut them in half and gently scoop out the fluffy flesh leaving the outer skins intact.  Place the potato flesh into a big bowl and mash.  This is where you can use your imagination and add the ingredients you like.

I used whole grain mustard, garlic powder, mixed dried herbs, and single cream to make my mash.  You can use sour cream and chives or just go the old fashion route and make mash with butter and milk.

Spoon the flavoured mash back into the potato skins, top with shredded cheese, and any other tasty bits you'd like.  I used smoked paprika but crispy bacon would be delicious...or maybe little cubes of salty ham.  You get the idea, it's what ever floats your boat.  *sorry*

Pop the potatoes back into the hot oven for another 10 - 15 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly.  Serve as a side dish or with a salad as a main course.  

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Christmas Tree 2014

We are all so busy this time of year, buying gifts, writing cards, making Christmas cakes, and decorating the house.   It's important to stop and take a few minutes to enjoy the beautiful things you've created.  

The pre-holiday madness will resume tomorrow.  Tonight, try to spend some quality time with your Christmas tree. 

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Medlar Molasses and Spice Cake

Cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves are the scents of the holiday season.  It's hard to think of a recipe that doesn't contain one or all of them when you are baking traditional Christmas treats.  I have a particular weakness for cinnamon. As a matter of fact, there are three jars of ground cinnamon in my spice cupboard right now!

Practically everything I will bake in the next month will be spiced.  Today I started down the spice route by baking a Medlar Molasses and Spice cake.  The medlars were kindly provide by my neighbours at Otter Farm....all the other ingredients are simple store cupboard staples.  

Medlar Molasses and Spice Cake Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter - room temperature
2 medium eggs
1 cup plain flour
2 Tablespoons molasses or black treacle
1/2 cup soft brown sugar - lightly packed
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon mixed spice
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup medlar paste*

Heat the oven to 350F/180C.  Prepare a square baking tin by buttering the sides and bottom of the tin and lightly dusting it with flour.  Knock out any excess flour which has not adhered to the butter. 

Place the butter and brown sugar into a large mixing bowl and beat with a wooden spoon until the mixture is fluffy and light.  Add the molasses/black treacle and stir to combine.  Beat in the two eggs, then stir in the medlar paste.*

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices.  Add the dry ingredients to the creamed butter mixture and stir until everything is just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared baking tin, smoothing the mixture evenly to the edges of the pan.  

Bake for about 20-25 minutes. The cake should spring back when lightly touched and just beginning to shrink away from the side of the tin.  

Remove the cake from the baking tin and cool on a wire rack.  Serve with a dusting of icing sugar, cream, or custard ...or... just plain - slightly warm from the oven.  

*For 'how to' prepare the medlars for baking and a gorgeous Medlar Sticky Toffee Pudding recipe CLICK HERE to visit the OTTER FARM BLOG.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Otter Farm Medlar Jelly

I am very fortunate to have some very interesting foodie friends. Most of the time we have to chat on Twitter and Facebook because we live so far apart.   These are seriously talented people who write for magazines and newspapers and publish proper cookery books.  One or two are even on the telly!

Fortunately, the kind folks at OTTER FARM live very near me.  When I mentioned that I'd never eaten a medlar they offered to bring me some when the time and medlars were ripe.  

Medlars are an unusual fruit.  They are called all sorts of naughty names, mostly related to various creature's bottoms.  To compound their PR problems, they must be bletted or EXTREMELY ripe before they are ready to be eaten.  I'd read the Tudors loved them which only made me more curious.  Shakespeare refers to them in his writings, not particularly favourably, but this doesn't put me off...not one bit! 

So, with Mark's famous Medlar Jelly Recipe and a couple kilos of Otter Farm's finest medlars, I embarked on jelly making. 

The result was a jewel-like jelly of the most gorgeous Christmas colour.  I still have some medlars left... next on the menu, Medlar Molasses and Spice Cake.


Thursday, 4 December 2014

Five Hundred Tiny Lights Later....

I had a plan for the Christmas tree.  The plan was to put as many lights on the tree as possible and STOP... no ornaments, no garland, just lights.  Andy and I carefully arranged 500 tiny lights on the big Christmas tree - then I saw this in one of the storage boxes.

I'd forgotten we had Snow Bird ornaments.  

This was not going according to plan.  How could I resist the robins in Santa hats?

Then there were these little snow bird ornaments that match the snow birds on the Welsh dresser..... so they went on the tree, too.

Every little bird needs a warm house, on went the tiny bird houses.

And they wouldn't be snow birds without snow, well, you get the idea.  The tree is full of snow birds, snowflakes, icicles, and tiny birdhouses.

I had a plan,  we would only use lights on the Christmas tree.....  so much for the plan.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Tiny Stocking Hats for the BIG Knit Project

When walking down High Street Kensington, doing a bit of window shopping as you do, I spotted a posh food shop window filled with tiny, hand-knitted stocking caps.   It stopped me in my tracks, I was intrigued and went in to find out what this was all about.  (I confess, I was going there to purchase one of their outstanding Tiramisu desserts, so why not ask about the hats?)

It turns out that these are knitted by people all over Britain to support a project called The Big Knit.  Each hat results in a donation to AGE UK, a leading charity supporting older people.   

These little hats only take scraps and minutes to make, so if you'd like to join in on the BIG KNIT click on the links below to get started:


Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Dressing the Dresser for Christmas

My favourite piece of traditional British furniture is the Welsh Dresser.  In the States, we call it a sideboard or china hutch.  Our dresser is the focal point of the dining area and always gets festooned with a few special ornaments for the holiday season.

This year it is a roosting place for snow birds who are tempted by all those red berries. 

Of course, you will recognised these two cheeky birds.  They are the models featured on the holiday blog header.   I must dash... it's time to 'deck the halls'.