Saturday, 31 January 2015


Every once in a while, Andy will ask me to make something specific for lunch. He's easy to please and generally leaves the menu to me but today he asked for croutons and salad.  Notice, croutons came first in that request. 

It's a funny how a few croutons can make a simple dish of salad or soup seem a little bit special. They are so easy to make and a great way to use up those bits of bread that are past their best. I think the heel ends make the best croutons. 

So start heating the oven, it needs to be really hot 450F/225C, and  I'll tell you how to have crunchy croutons ready before you can finish tossing the salad.

I like to cut 3/4 inch thick slices of bread, but if you have sliced bread that will do.  Liberally butter the bread slices.  I like to sprinkle over some garlic powder, but you can add a little grated cheese or just stick with salted butter.  

Cut the bread into cubes and place them on a baking sheet lined with baking paper.  Make sure the bread cubes are in a single layer so they crisp up nicely.

Bake the croutons for about 10 minutes, giving them a good shake or stir after five minutes to assure they brown evenly on all sides.  Let the croutons cool a bit before adding them to salads, floating them on soup, or just munching them as a tasty treat.   One more thing, make lots more than you think you will need...I promise you will be munching away on croutons before lunch makes it to the table!

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Half Batch Brownies

We are a small family, two adults and a cat, so I frequently divide recipes in half.  We could eat that cake that serves twelve but we know we shouldn't.  As for brownies, devouring a whole batch is easy to do...naughty, but easy!

If we are sharing with friends and family, a whole batch of brownies is fine.  For a weekend treat for two, half a batch is better.  Here's my half-size brownie recipe complete with full size flavour:

Half Batch Brownies

1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/3 cup vegetable oil - I use canola
1 cup (caster) sugar
2 medium eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Heat the oven to 350F/180C.  Grease a square baking tin and line the bottom with baking paper.

In a large mixing bowl using a spoon,  stir together the oil and sugar.  Add the eggs and mix until well combined.  Stir in the salt, vanilla, and baking powder. 

Beat in the cocoa powder, making sure there are no lumps, then stir in the flour.  

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, gently thump the tin on the work surface to settle any bubbles in the batter.  Bake for about 20-25 minutes.  Check the brownies after about 20 minutes.  You DO NOT want to over bake them. Brownies should be fudgy in the center.  

Once baked, allow the brownies to cool before cutting into nine generous squares.  This is where I get into trouble.  It's nearly impossible not to eat a warm brownie but do try to hold off for as long as possible.  Keep your half batch fresh by storing them in an airtight container.  These will be gone long before the weekend is over! 

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Almost Wordless Wednesday - Camellia

The camellia bush is in full bloom and as fate would have it, we are in for a winter storm.  By tomorrow the delicate blossoms may be beaten to bits.  We'd better enjoy them while we can. 

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Chunky Vegetable Soup

Some days are just soup days, don't you think?  Well, this is one of those days so I went kitchen foraging and found everything I needed to make a satisfying pot of chunky vegetable soup. 

My granny used to make wonderful vegetable soup but there was always something exotic in it like ox tail and it had to simmer for hours and hours.  My soup is much quicker to make and not an ox tail in sight. I like my soup to be thick and satisfying... almost like a veggie stew.

I had a quick rummage in the kitchen and found the following ingredients:

1 can chopped tomatoes
1 onion - chopped
2 carrots - peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic - crushed
1 potato - peeled and cut into small-ish cubes
1/3 cup frozen sweet corn
1/3 cup frozen beans - use the kind you like or even peas
1 stock cube - I used Knorr vegetable stock 
1 tablespoon canola oil 
1 teaspoon home made chili seasoning*
1 big pinch dried thyme 

In a large sauce pot, place the oil, onions, and carrots. Cook over a low flame for a few minutes to soften the onion.  Add the tinned tomatoes, potato, stock cube, and thyme.  You may need to add a splash of water to just cover the vegetables. Simmer for a few minutes so the root vegetables begin to soften.  

When the carrots and potato cubes are nearly soft, add the corn, beans, and one teaspoon of HOME MADE CHILI SEASONING MIX.  Stir well to combine and simmer until the soup has thicken slightly and all the vegetables are cooked. Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning.  You may like a dash of salt or a bit of pepper.  

Serve piping hot with a thick slice of bread and butter or my favourite, CORNMEAL SCONES

Click on the these links to find the recipes for CORNMEAL SCONES  and HOMEMADE CHILI SEASONING MIX... enjoy!  

Friday, 23 January 2015

American Style Breakfast Sausage

I am 97 per cent vegetarian.  That means that 3 per cent of me craves bacon, pepperoni pizza, and occasionally, Southern biscuits and sausage gravy.  It doesn't happen very often but when it does I fall off the vegetarian waggon and indulge.  There, I said it!  This brings me to American style breakfast sausage. 

I haven't found anything that resembles American sausage patties anywhere here in the U.K.  so I did some research and found three recipes that will help to fill that sausage-shaped void. Making your own breakfast sausage is easy to do, only takes a few store cupboard ingredients and some ground pork (minced pork as the Brits say).  Best of all there are no mysterious additives in the home made version. 

Here is Sausage Recipe I 

16 ounces ground pork 
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried crushed sage
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Place all the ingredients into a large bowl and mix together.  Form into patties and fry over medium heat until the meat is completed cooked through. 

Sausage Recipe II

2 pounds ground pork
2 teaspoons dried sage
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon marjoram
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1 pinch of cloves.

Combine pork and spices, form into patties, follow the cooking instructions above.

Sausage Recipe III

16 ounces ground pork
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon dried sage
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Mix together ground pork and spices...  you know the rest. 

These recipes are all similar but a little different.  No matter which one you choose to make, always do a taste test.  Fry a tiny bit of meat and try it.  Then adjust the seasoning to suit your taste. You can make it hotter, add more herbs, or leave out the bits you don't like.  It's all up to you.

Of course,  breakfast sausage is also delicious on pizzas, made into meatballs for pasta,  added to quiches... but we will save those recipes for another day.  

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Slashing! Or How to Score a Loaf

Here's a question for you bread bakers. Do you slash the top of your loaf before baking?  Sometimes I do but I am never sure where or how to slash. Here's a handy little chart that answers all those slashing queries.  

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Wooden Spoon Butter

I love wooden kitchen tools.  I have several wooden cutting boards and a mountain of wooden spoons.  After a while and some hard use, these kitchen work horses need some tender loving care.  That's where 'Spoon Butter' comes into play. 

Spoon butter is an old fashion beeswax polish, the sort that would nourish any natural wood surface.  Made from only two ingredients, beeswax and vegetable oil, it is safe for cutting boards, wooden spoons, and that wooden salad set you probably have tucked in the back of the pantry. 

If you have some wood that needs feeding, CLICK HERE FOR THE RECIPE for Spoon Butter.   Wait 'til you see how beautiful your cutting board is going to be!

Monday, 19 January 2015

Cinnamon Swirl Bread

This is a 'two for one' bread recipe using the basic FARM HOUSE LOAF dough I shared with you back in 2012.   It's such an easy bread to make and by dividing the dough in half you can make two kinds of bread at once, a farm house loaf and a sweet Cinnamon Swirl loaf.

I used two smaller loaf tins, approximately 8x4 inches, but you could make one large loaf if you like.  You may have to adjust the baking time slightly.  Butter the baking tins well so your bread will be easy to remove once baked.

To begin, follow THIS RECIPE FOR FARM HOUSE LOAF .   Divide the dough in half and follow the instructions to make one plain loaf, reserving the second piece of dough to make the Cinnamon Swirl loaf. 

To Make the Cinnamon Swirl you will need:

1 or 2 tablespoons butter - melted and slightly cooled
2 tablespoons of white (caster) sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Roll the dough out as if you were making cinnamon rolls.  Spread the melted butter over the dough.  Mix the cinnamon and sugar together.  Sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar over the melted butter and roll the dough into a long log shape. Try to keep the roll tight so the dough doesn't make gaps or air pockets.

Place the dough into the baking tin, tucking under the end bits to make a nice loaf shape.   If you like, brush the top of the loaf with a little more butter.   Leave the dough to rise and double in size.  I like to start heating the oven while the dough is rising.  

Once the loaves have doubled in size, bake both at 350F/180C for about 25 minutes.  You know the bread is baked if you thump them and they sound slightly hollow.  The crust should be a light golden brown.  Turn the loaves out of the tins and cool them on a wire rack. This is the hard part.  It's almost impossible to resist a slice of warm bread fresh from the oven.

OK, I confess, I had a slice while it was slightly warm.  It also makes lovely toast and good eggy bread.   Who can resist a '2 for 1' deal.... I can't! 

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Maple Syrup Sticky Buns

Home made cinnamon rolls are a special treat at our house.  Yes, they take a bit of time and effort to make, but nothing is as lovely as a warm sticky bun fresh from the oven.  

 If you have a mixer with a dough hook, the machine will do the hard work for you.  The hardest part of this recipe is waiting for them to come out of the oven so you can enjoy their warm maple sweetness.  Oh, when I say maple syrup, you don't have to use the expensive stuff.  Any maple flavoured pancake syrup will do. Shall we get started?  Here's the recipe:

For the dough:

1 packet of dried yeast - about 2 slightly rounded teaspoons 
1/4 cup water 
1/4 cup white (caster) sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1/4 cup butter or baking margarine ( I used Stork)
1 cup milk - gently warmed in the microwave 
3 1/2 cups plain flour

In a large mixing bowl, place the yeast, water, egg, and milk, stir to dissolve the sugar and yeast. Add the flour, a cup at a time, stirring after each addition to make a smooth dough.  If you have a mixer with a dough hook this can be done by the machine.  

Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic.  If kneading by hand, use as little additional flour as possible to keep the dough soft and moist.  If using the mixer, this will take about 5 minutes at a low speed using the dough hook. Butter the inside of a large bowl, place the kneaded dough into the bowl turning it to cover it with a thin layer of butter, and cover with plastic wrap.  Leave the dough in a warm place to rise until the dough has doubled in size.  

While you are waiting for the dough to rise,  prepare your baking tins and make the sticky maple syrup. 

For the Sticky Syrup:

1/4 cup butter or baking margarine
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 cup soft brown sugar

Place these ingredients into a small saucepan and cook over a low heat until the butter has melted and the brown sugar has dissolved.  Butter the insides of a 12 hole large muffin tin and divide the sticky syrup equally among the muffin cups. If you don't have a large muffin tin, you can use two round cake tins.  Butter the insides well and divide the mixture between the cake tins. 

When the dough has risen remove it from the bowl, place it on a lightly floured work surface and roll it out into into a rough square about 12x12 inches. Spread soften butter liberally over the dough, about 1/4 cup of butter should do it.

Mix together 3/4 cup white (caster) sugar and 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon.  Sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar over the buttered dough.  Roll the into a tight log shape and cut into 12 equal pieces. 

Place the slices into the muffin tins or arrange in the cake tins.  Lightly cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm place to double in size again.   Heat the oven to 350F/180C.  I start warming the oven while the rolls are rising.  I think it's important for every inch of the oven to be at the right temperature and the extra heat will help the dough to rise.

Now this next bit of information is VERY IMPORTANT:  when you are ready to bake the maple sticky buns, place the baking tins on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.  The maple syrup will bubble and erupt almost like lava and you don't want to have to clean that out of your oven.  Bake the buns for about 20-25 minutes or until they are a light golden brown.  

When the buns are baked, remove them from the baking tins as soon as possible.  If the syrup cools, the buns will stick to the tin and you want that gooey goodness to ooze down covering each roll in a delicious maple glaze.

Serve warm and enjoy!  Be sure to wrap any extra buns in plastic and store in an airtight container.  You can even freeze some for later...IF you have any left.

Friday, 16 January 2015


I seem to be surrounded by rainbows!  

Outside there is a double rainbow that makes a perfect arc across the sky. 

It was so big I couldn't fit it all in one photo.  Then this happened...

I realised the sun was making rainbows by reflecting through my reading glasses.  Hmmm... is this some sort of sign!?!  : D 

Monday, 12 January 2015

The Edible Salad Bowl

I am not one to make New Year's resolutions or 'go on a diet' but let's face it, it's time to tighten the belt and stop the feasting.  Salad will feature heavily on the menu for next few days and to make it a bit more interesting, I've made an edible salad bowl.

Of course, this is the perfect beginning to a taco salad but I am going to fill this with just a simple green salad. Here is how to do it:

Heat the oven to 375F/190C.  Take an ovenproof bowl and lightly rub the inside with a bit of vegetable oil.  I always use canola oil.

Take one large flour tortilla or sandwich wrap and gently place it into the oiled bowl.  Press it down into the bowl, carefully folding in the tortilla to make it fit. Put the bowl on a baking sheet and place it into the oven.  After about 15 minutes you should have a golden, crispy, edible salad bowl that looks something like this...

You can even make these a day or two in advance.  Just let them cool completely before placing the prepared bowls into an airtight container or freezer bag for storage.  Is it time for lunch yet?  I am starving! 

Thursday, 8 January 2015

The £150 Cob House

Every once in awhile I run across something so magical and extraordinary I feel I must share it with you.  We live in Devon where there are lots of very old cob cottages.  Cob is an ancient building material made from straw, mud, and human effort.  When you see a Devon thatched cottage, it may very likely be made of cob.  This is the story of a new cob cottage built completely by hand from natural and recycled materials.

It is said that this lovely building cost only £150 to construct.  It is beautiful in its simplicity and has been compared to a Hobbit's house.  

If you would like to read more about this lovely little house, CLICK HERE.  You will be directed to a newspaper article on Michael Buck and his beautiful cottage.


CLICK HERE to visit MICHAEL BUCK's blog to see the man himself in action.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

The Dawning of the New Year

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season.  Like you, we are trying to get back into the work-a-day world after too much feasting and too many late nights.  Regular service will soon resume, until then....

We wish you a very Happy New Year!