Meringue Christmas Trees

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We had a text from school today asking for cake donations for the kids Christmas party in two days time! There’s nothing like a bit of notice is there?! Anyway, it was our day off, and I happened to be at home, so I had time to rustle something up. I wanted something easy, and straightforward, which didn’t require many ingredients, but at the same time, something the kids would love, and that looked festive. These simple little meringues were just the ticket.

When making meringue my general rule of thumb is 1 egg white to 50g caster sugar. I whisked 2 egg whites until frothy before adding in 100g caster sugar a dessertspoon full at a time. Halfway through adding the sugar I added a couple of blobs of green food gel.

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Once the meringue was stiff and glossy I put it into a piping bag with a large nozzle and piped little Christmas tree shapes on a lined baking tray. I got 17 out of this batch.

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I put them on the middle shelf of the oven, which I’d preheated to 100oC. The key to these meringues is to cook them low and slow. That way they’re crispy and light all the way through. I cooked these for two and a half hours, then turned the oven off leaving the door shut until they were completely cool.

Once cool, I melted 50g each of milk and dark chocolate in a bain marie and dipped the bottoms of the trees in. Now, had I had any rolos in the house, I would spooned a little melted chocolate on top of an upturned rolo, and stuck the tree on top to give the effect of a trunk. But, I didn’t have rolos, so dipping had to suffice.

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I put the remaining choc in a pipping bag and used it as glue stick on little decorations. Edible glitter and dust gave them a final flourish.

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No doubt the kids will love them…not sure the same could be said for the parents come bedtime!

Cinnamon and Nutmeg shortcrust pastry mince tarts

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We all love a mince pie at Christmas, but what I don’t understand is why people would buy generic shop varieties when they are so simple to make. Homemade pastry has a reputation for being tricky, but really it’s not rocket science. I like to spike mine with cinnamon and freshly ground nutmeg to  bolster the festive flavours.

You’ll need:
200g plain flour
2 tablespoons icing sugar
100g cubed cold butter (I used salted)
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 a grated nutmeg
Two or three tablespoons of iced water.

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Pulse all the dry ingredients together in a food processor until breadcrumbs are formed. Now while the processor is running dribble in a tablespoon of iced water at a time until the dough clumps together. This will only require 2-3 tablespoons of water (a tablespoon is 15ml).

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Tip it out into a piece of clingfilm, and quickly bring it together to form a disc without over working it or handling it too much.

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Refrigerate the disc of dough for at least half an hour.

After it has chilled roll it out to the thickness of a pound coin, cut out discs and line a muffin tin with them. Refrigerate again whilst you cut out some shapes to top your tarts.

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Fill your cases with a teaspoon of mincemeat. I used some which was homemade by a friend, but you could use shop bought too.

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Brush with an egg wash and bake at 160oC for about 12-15 minutes, or until they are golden. Pop them out of the tin and leave on a wire rack to cool.

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See, that was easy wasn’t it?! Enjoy!

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Ginger and Fennel Syrup

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A couple of weeks ago my friend, and fellow blogger Sam (from Me and my Second Self), and I, had a little jaunt out to Silverdale to do a recce on a campsite we’re thinking about booking for a church camping trip in the spring.

We chose the wettest, windiest day of the year to do this. It could not have been wetter!H

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Here we are soaked to the bone, dripping hair plastered on our faces and waterproof jackets anhilated…

So, after we’d succumbed to the wrath of the Great British weather, we called in at the Wolfhouse Kitchen for a spot of lunch, and to warm up and dry out. The food there is fantastic and I really couldn’t fault my celeriac rosti with wilted greens, poached duck egg, chilli and peanuts. It was a taste sensation. Sam and I both enjoyed a ginger and fennel hot chocolate too. I’d never experienced ginger, fennel and chocolate together before but the flavours really work. It inspired me to have a go at making my own ginger and fennel syrup and I finally got around to doing it today.

I’ve made a large batch with the intention of giving it away as Christmas presents, so, if you want to, quarter the recipe to give a smaller batch. I used:
1200g sugar
800ml water
A large chunk of ginger root
4 tablespoons fennel seed
1 tablespoon of ground ginger

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Scrub the ginger (but there’s no need to peel) and slice thinly. Put the fennel in a dry pan and toast lightly until you get a whiff of that distinctive aroma. Bash the seeds up a bit with a mortar and pestle to realease the flavour, but don’t grind them to a powder.

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Put all the ingredients in a large pan and bring to the boil. Simmer for about ten minutes until the syrup starts to thicken. Your kitchen will smell divine!

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While the syrup is thickening sterilise a large jar or bottle. I use my daughter’s old bottle steriliser to do this, but there are various methods, just have a look online if you’re unsure. Poor into the jar/bottle, seal and leave to cool.

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Once cooled I opened the jar and strained the ginger slices and fennel seeds out, re-boiled the syrup and re-sterilsed the jar before decanting the syrup back into the freshly sterilised jar. At this point you could decant into smaller bottles (which is what I would have done had I been organised enough to buy some!).

You can use this syrup however you wish. The initial distinctive aniseed flavour of the fennel, is followed by deep warming ginger tones and it works well as a cordial, over ice cream, to add a wintery touch to a fruit salad, in coffee, or best of all in a hot cocoa, served with whipped cream and a sprinkling of ground fennel, ginger and cocoa.

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Chestnut & Pecorino "sausage" rolls

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Firstly, let me start by saying the only thing sausage about these sausage rolls is the shape. There is no pork in these bad boys! The usual cheese and onion roll substitute is undeniably delicious, however these are, well, a little more meaty and make good use of a couple of key seasonal ingredients.

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I used two 180g bags of cooked chestnuts, grinding one bag up with the grinding blade of my nutribullet and roughly chopping the other. I mixed these with wholemeal breadcrumbs made from two slices bread, two crushed garlic cloves, a wedge of pecorino cheese grated, salt (although be sparing as the cheese is quite salty), pepper and a handful of chopped parsley.

Mix the ingredients together and then bind them with a couple of beaten eggs. Tip the mixture onto a sheet of clingfilm and roughly shape into a a sausage.

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Wrap the clingfilm around it, rolling as you go until you get a long sausage shape.

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Chill in the freezer for half an hour. I had to chop mine in half to make it fit.

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In the meantime take one of two shop bought pack of puff pastry packs out of the fridge and roll out into a rectangle if it’s not pre-rolled. After half an hour take half of the mix out of the freezer and slice lengthways down the sausage to create two long half moon shapes. Lay them on top of the pastry as down on the pic below. Slice the pastry so each half of sausage as it’s own pastry rectangle.

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Spoon some cranberry sauce over the top.

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Egg wash around the side and fold the pastry over the top of the sausage crimping with a fork to seal.

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Trim the excess edges off to neaten, put on a tray and repeat with the other side. Chill in the fridge for another half an hour, then slice into inch wide pieces, score or prick the tops and brush on an egg wash.

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Bake at 200oC for about 20 minutes or until golden. Repeat with the second pack of puff, and the other half of the sausage which should still be in the freezer!

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Enjoy!

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Spiced ginger and date cake

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With the weather having turned and Christmas fast approaching I’ve found myself craving something warming and sweet to enjoy with a cup of coffee mid afternoon. Most days I have the willpower to resist, however this weekend I experimented with a basic ginger cake recipe, tweaking it with spices and dates.

The mini bundts went down well at a family meal served with custard and also the following day at church with a caramel drizzle, but to me, they were slightly dark and more pudding like than cake. So, with the school fair looming in Saturday I made some adjustments and came up with this easy recipe.

Boil the kettle and measure out 250ml boiling water.  In a blender cup (I used my nutribullet) weigh out 75g pitted dates and pour over the boiling water). Put the lid or blade on and leave until cool.

Whilst the dates are cooling cream together 125g butter and 125g caster sugar (I keep caster sugar in a jar with left over vanilla pods to add extra flavour) before adding in one large egg and 225g golden syrup. Beat together until fully combined then sieve in 300g plain flour, 1.5 tsp bicarb, 2 tsp each of ground ginger and cinnamon and half a teaspoon of ground cloves. Add in half a teaspoon of salt to offset the sweetness.

Whizz up the dates, and as the flour is combining with the wet ingredients drizzle in the date water.

Don’t be alarmed at how wet the batter is. Pour it into a well greased bundt tin, (or your tin of choice but be sure to adjust the cooking time accordingly) and bake for 35 mins at 170oC or until the cake springs back when lightly pressed, and a skewer comes out clean.

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Leave to cool in the tin for ten minutes before turning out.

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Because this particular cake is for the school fair, I baked a smaller cupcake version to cut into to show you the inside…

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Light and moist with a distinct ginger taste yet reminiscent of its delectable cousin the sticky toffee pud.

I plan to make a cheats caramel drizzle for the bundt by simply warming some condensed caramel up and spooning over the top. That can wait until Saturday though.

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Caramel biscuit, chocolate and peanut butter no bake tray bake!

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Oooh I love a good tray bake, especially when it’s a minimal fuss, no bake, tray bake. The amalgamation of caramel, chocolate and peanut is a heavenly flavour sensation, and not to mention a reliable crowd pleaser.

This recipe makes quite a large batch (these were for church), so by all means halve the quantities if you want,  or alternatively freeze any leftovers (if you can resist the urge to hide in a dark corner and demolish them).

I whizzed up two 250g packs of Lotus Biscoff biscuits in a blender with 2 tablespoons of icing sugar, before adding in dollops of crunchy peanut butter. When the mixture starts to clump together you’ve added enough. Press these sticky crumbs into a shallow tray (I think mine was probably about 12″ by 8″). Now melt 300g milk chocolate in a bain-marie, adding in a cup of Smooth Lotus Biscoff spread. Stir until it melts and pour over the biscuit base. Now melt a couple of additional tablespoons of the biscuit spread and drizzle over the chocolate topping. Use a skewer to unleash your artistic talents and make swirly patterns on top. Leave to set in the fridge for a few hours before slicing into fingers or squares. Delicious!

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If you prefer a more uniform pattern on the top pipe little blobs of the melted biscuit spread onto the chocolate in straight rows and then drag a skewer through the centre of each blob in the row to create perfect little hearts. Here’s a pic from another test bake I made a while ago to demonstrate the technique.

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Vegetarian Christmas Dinner Pie

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Being a pescatarian, hubby doesn’t partake in the traditional turkey/goose dinner on Christmas day, so I like to make something festive and delicious for him to enjoy instead.

This cranberry, chestnut and mushroom pie is just the ticket. Very savoury with the distinct taste of porchini mushrooms, spiked with delicious tangy  and sweet cranberry sauce encased in delicious shortcrust pastry, it’s sure to tempt even the most carnivorous family members.

Firstly make a batch of shortcrust pastry (or shop bought is fine if you prefer). In a food processor pulse together 450g plain flour, 200g cold cubed butter, a couple of pinches of salt, and a tsp freshly ground nutmeg. Once the butter and flour are combined add in approximately 6 tablespoons of very cold water, or just enough so the pastry clumps together. Put a piece of clingfilm on the work surface, tip the dough out onto it and quickly mould together into a disc shape. Wrap in the clingfilm and chill for at least half an hour (I actually left mine over night).

For the cranberry sauce wash a 300g punnet of fresh cranberries and put in a pan with 100ml apple juice and 100g light brown sugar. Bring to the boil and simmer, with the lid off, until it thickens, (around 10 minutes). Taste, add more sugar if needed and set aside to cool.

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Put a small handful of dried porchini mushrooms in a mug and fill the mug with boiling water. While the mushrooms are rehydrating sauté a finely sliced leek and 2 cloves of crushed garlic in a pan with butter and rapeseed/olive oil. Once softened add in two sliced portobello mushrooms and a couple of handfuls of sliced chestnut mushrooms and cook down. Remove the porchini from the mug, making sure you reserve the water as this will be the stock for the sauce. Roughly chop the porchini before adding into the pan with the leeks and mushrooms.

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Add in a third of a cup of plain flour and stir continuously making sure the mushrooms and leeks are well covered. Season with salt and pepper, a bay leaf and some fresh thyme. Add in the porchini water stiring continuously until you have a nice thick sauce. You’ll need to add in some extra water as you go. Turn the heat down and leave to simmer gently. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

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Now roll out the pastry to about the thickness of a pound coin and line individual pie cases leaving extra for the lids. Cover the lined pie crusts and lids in cling again and put back in the fridge.

While they’re chilling roughly chop 350g cooked chestnuts and add to the pie filling. Turn the heat off and leave to cool to room temp.

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Once the filling is cool, take the pie cases out of the fridge. Spoon a dessert spoon of the cranberry sauce in the bottom of each pie case.

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Then top with the chestnut and mushroom filling.

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Brush the edges of the pies with egg wash before making a hole in the lid, and placing it on top. Add a little extra cranberry sauce under the hole of the lid if you like. Crimp the edges with a fork and egg wash the top before adding any festive pastry embellishments. I simply cut out Christmas trees and stuck them on.

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Bake in a 190oC oven for 25-30 minutes until golden. I’m going to freeze these for Christmas and will just defrost in the fridge on Christmas Eve, before heating up for twenty minutes on Christmas Day.

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Lobster and apple salad with dill mayonnaise

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It’s a very special day at church tomorrow as a couple of our younger congregation members have decided to declare their faith to the world and be baptised! After the service the celebrations will continue with a Jacob’s Join (or potluck to my American friends) lunch. To me nothing screams celebration food more than lobster, and thanks to my lovely Daddy who brings me a steady supply of his home caught Pembrokeshire lobsters, I was able to  dig a few out if the freezer ready to adorn with some simple, but scrumptious ingredients.

Firstly, I made a simple mayo using three egg yolks, half a teaspoon of mustard, some cold pressed rapeseed oil, and some good old vegetable oil (which also happens to be rapeseed, it’s just more heavily processed than the cold pressed stuff), white wine vinegar and lemon juice. I’m afraid I can’t really give you quantities as I made it by sight, taste and texture, but there are plenty of recipes on the Internet should you prefer. The basic method is whisking the yolks and mustard together, then adding in oil (very very slowly initially to avoid splitting) until a very thick consistency is reached, before adding the vinegar and lemon juice.

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Once you’re happy with your basic mayo you can start adding flavourings of your choice. I used garlic, salt, pepper and a large handful of freshly chopped dill.

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Delicious! This will keep in the fridge for about a week, although it’s so good I doubt it’d last that long!

Now that the dressing is made, it’s time to remove the meat from the lobsters and start to assemble.

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This is a rather messy job, but well worth it. Break the claws off the body and remove the head from the tail. Cut down the underside of the tail with sharp scissors and remove the meat in one piece by gently pulling it out. Score down the top of the meat and open to reveal the vein. Remove the vein and any rowe which may be in there and chop into small chunks. Set aside.

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Now to the claws. One at a time cover the claw with a clean tea towel to prevent splattering, and gently tap with a hammer to crack. If you’re careful it possible to remove the claw meat in one piece like this:

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Don’t worry if it breaks up though, it’ll just mean you might need to use a skewer to pick the meat out of the ends of the claw. Inside the claw meat is a flat oval bone, remove this whilst breaking the meat up into smaller chunks.

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Now, if you can be bothered you can squeeze meat out of the legs, however this is a tedious task and not one that I had time for today unfortunately. You’ll be left with all the shell and the heads which would make an incredible stock for a bisque or soup, but again, time didn’t permit it today, so the chickens feasted on lobster heads instead and I’m sure they’ll be eternally grateful!

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A little treat to cheer up our very soggy hens on this miserable British day!

Now wash a crisp Granny Smith apple and cut into short matchsticks. Put in a bowl with the chopped up lobster and dollop on a couple of spoonfuls of the dill mayo.

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Combine well and taste. Mine was lacking acidity so I spiked it with more lemon juice.

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I piled the salad into little gem lettuce cups to make them easy to pick up and eat in a couple of mouthfuls, sprinkled over some more chopped dill and served. Delicious!

Easy peasey clementine sqeezey… Super simple cake

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Once you have a simple, fail proof cake recipe under your belt, you can’t go far wrong. Here’s my favourite basic recipe which can adapted and tweaked by adding different flavours.

Crack three eggs and weigh them, then weigh out the same amount of caster sugar, soft butter and self raising flour.

Beat the sugar and butter together until light and fluffy then add the eggs one at time until they’re combined. If you’re adding flavours add them at this point. Vanilla, chocolate chips, cocoa powder, coconut, cinnamon, fruits, the list is really endless.

For this one I zested 6 clementines and added all but a teaspoon of it to the mix, before juicing the fruits and setting the juice aside. I added in the flour in four lots to ensure it was well combined before drizzling in some of the clementine juice to loosen the batter to dropping consistency: Three tablespoons did the trick.

I sprayed a bundt tin with cake release spray, and put the batter in before baking at 180oC fan.

While the cake was baking I added icing sugar to the remaining clementine juice plus a few drops of passionfruit extract. The floral notes of the extract really complement the citrus flavour.

After turning out, I let the cake cool before drizzling on the glaze and sprinkling with the remaining zest.

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Yum! Moist, sweet, tangy, satisfy and great with a cup of coffee with friends.

Sparkler Safety… Stick it in a carrot.

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Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot.
We see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!

It’s the 5th November and here in the UK that means bonfire night! I love it! Crisp autumnal skies lit up by umbrellas of crackling, sparkly colours, crunchy leaves underfoot, bonfire toffee, hot chocolate around roaring fires, bobble hats and of course sparklers.

Unfortunately each year the romance of it all is shattered by reports of burns and horrific accidents, sparklers being one of the most common culprits. It doesn’t help that they look relatively innocent, but those pretty sparks cause the metal stem to heat up and hot metal burns.

However, exercising a little common sense means they can still be enjoyed, and enjoyed safely. My top tip is….

Stick it in a carrot!
I kid you not. A carrot does not conduct heat and is a heck of a lot easier for little hands to hold than the thin metal stem. It also keeps the sparkler further away from the body that is holding it.

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As well as the carrot, taking simple, common sense precautions can be the difference between enjoying the festivities and spending the night in A&E. Have a water or sand bucket handy to stick used sparklers in. Always always ALWAYS supervise children. Always wear gloves and stay a sensible distance away from anyone else.

Enjoy the celebrations safely!