Monday, December 15, 2014

Christmas Cookies

So I couldn't get a post up last week but I am returning with some delicious Christmas cookies. These cookies are a request from my boyfriend. Occasionally I will ask him what he would like to see on the blog (i.e. to eat) and he will come up with something that I might never have thought of myself. This was one of those occasions. He said that he want caramel AND fudge cookies. Hmm, I have to tell you that gave me pause. Initially I figured that the flavour combination would be too much for a cookie but after some thought I decided to try these and oh boy, are they delicious?!

So you should know ahead of time that these take time but they can be broken down into parts for different days and then assembled very easily at the last minute. The parts are as follows; salted caramel/dulce de leche; fudge and chocolate chip cookie bowls; and a chocolate lid (for simplicity I've used giant chocolate buttons.

For the caramel I've made a dulce de leche. This is so simple but takes some time and a good extractor fan. I use the saucepan method but as I've said before Little Rose Book has an awesome method for how to make it in a crockpot. For the saucepan method, you need 1 can of condensed milk and a large saucepan. Just stab the top of your can in a couple of places. Place it in your saucepan and then fill the pan up with water to near the top of the can. Heat the pan and refill for approx 90 minutes. Then remove from the heat and let cool before opening the can. Mix well and I also like to add some salt to taste.

Making the cookie-

I used a sugar cookie recipe instead of the usual chewy cookie recipe, still from Alton Brown of course!

Chocolate Fudge Cookie Bowls (Based on sugar cookies by Alton Brown)
Makes 32 cookies

226g Butter at room temperature
200g Caster sugar
1 egg
1 tbsp milk
384g plain flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
50g fudge pieces
50g dark chocolate chips

1 - Chop the chocolate chips and fudge pieces until you have very fine pieces

2 - Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

3 - Beat the egg and milk together and add to the butter with a tbsp of the flour

4 - Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt and add to the butter mixture.

5 - Finally add your tiny chips and chill for 2 hours.

6 - Take you mini muffin cases and push the dough around the bottom and sides.

7 - Chill again and bake for 5-8 minutes.

8 - As soon as removed from the oven use a teaspoon or a gloved finger to push the cup shape into
     the cookie again.

9 - While the cookie is still warm add a half teaspoon of the dulce de leche into the cavern of the cup.

10 - Finish by covering the top with a giant button. The heat ill melt the button into place, so just leave and let cool.

Once these are cool they are incredible, crispy on the sides, chewy in the center with the hard chocolate top. Once all the parts (dulce de leche, cookie dough and chocolate buttons) are ready they take less than 15 minutes to throw together and make a wonderful Christmas present for anyone or a delicious snack for you ;)

Just try to resist!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Getting into the Holiday spirit

I think I've made it abundantly clear how much I love Christmas but there are aspects to this time of year that can be difficult and I understand that too. Two years ago I even wrote about how I was struggling to get into the holiday spirit and with everyone around shopping like lunatics and going to Christmas work-dos left and right, sometimes one can feel all alone and miserable. So I decided to compile a list of ways that I like to get into the holiday spirit and maybe they will help you or someone you know to feel good.

Fifth - Seasonal Drinks

We've all seen the holiday drinks in Starbucks and Costa and the like but these are expensive and filled with extra sugars and artificial flavours that are wonderful for a treat but are not my idea of an everyday drink (if it's yours then let me not offend, you do you as they say). So let me show you some of the drinks I enjoy to get into the spirit that are inexpensive and full of delicious seasonal flavours

Spiced coffee is amazing. I always add flavour to my coffee, usually just a splash of vanilla extract but for this time of year I like to add a pinch, more or less to taste, of cinnamon and all spice to my coffee. You can top off your delicious coffee with a mixture of raw cocoa and cinnamon to give even more flavour.

Also while I'm on the subject of coffee and starbucks, you can feel like every drink is a Christmas drink if you invest in a take-away Christmas mug. This one is from about 4 years ago and it serves me well every season.

Ok in non-coffee holiday drinks. I have previously written about my love for rooibos and apple tea when it is cold. Apple tea is absolutely delicious and can be customized with any amount of spices. My personal favourites are ginger, cloves and cinnamon.

Also pictured here is star anise, delicious
Fourth - Eating seasonally

I cannot over-emphasize eating seasonally. I have friends and family that think I'm odd because I will not eat sweet potatoes in summer but for me they are an exclusively autumn and winter affair. So why eat seasonally, well if you can eat locally seasonal produce then it's extremely eco-friendly. Thing is, I would be lying if I told you that was why I do it. I eat seasonally because it helps me to feel like there's a change happening from month to month and that I can have something to look forward to.

Holiday time is one of my favourite food times so there are so many examples of holiday foods. I'll tell you about one of mine. Marzipan is one of my absolute favourite holiday treats and it has so many different manifestations to enjoy. Just a tiny little bit of marzipan is enough to bring a smile to my face and one of the best ways to enjoy it is Stollen. Stollen is an amazing German Christmas treat of a fruited sweet bread with a center of delicious marzipan. Since first tasting this in about 2004 I have been obsessed and this obsession gets more intense year on year. This year I took it to new levels by sampling the stollen from every major shop in the UK, what's the verdict? Lidls is the best, a mon avie. Lidl make tiny little stollens that are not too sweet, have just the right amount of marzipan and box loads of Christmas flavour.

The ONLY issue with these delicious treats is how addictive they are. A point which is highlighted by the hilarious advertisements put out by lidl, which are well worth a look.

Third - Christmas Candles

Picture this. You're sitting in your favourite chair, with a good book and a cup of apple and cinnamon tea. What could possibly make this scene more seasonally appropriate??! Cinnamon spice scents filling the room. I usually buy my first seasonal candle in October and burn them throughout November and December. It can add a little bit of holiday joy into any activity. I know this to be true since most of the time in November and December I am studying for some big assignment or another. So if I can feel seasonal doing that then you know the candles are working. Some of my favourites are yankee candle in Christmas cookie or cinnamon spice, IKEA candles, Air wick candles in essential pearls cinnamon or the vanilla and caramel candle.

Second - (Controversially) Christmas music

I know you get battered with endless rounds of cheesy holiday music in every store from about October 1st and therefore this may not be your cup of tea but if you choose the music you might find that it can help. There are plenty of different varieties of Christmas music to choose from. I love classical and orchestral versions, jazz versions and choral music. My personal favourite is Anuna and the album 'Carols by Candlelight' says Christmas to me. Alternatively if you want to listen to Christmas music and would like to also give to charity can I suggest ChristmasFM. This awesome radio station based in my country of origin plays from the end of November until christmas eve in an effort to raise money for charity partners and I am a huge fan. You can listen online from anywhere in the world and donate online. 

Property of

First - Most Important - treat yourself well

This time of year can be tough even for the most foolhardy of Christmas lovers; between the shopping, planning, family visits or lack thereof, and memories of previous Christmases good and bad. It's no wonder then that some people dislike it. So my number one way to get into a 'holiday spirit' is to treat yourself well. Schedule time for yourself to relax and enjoy any of the above, or alternatively one of your own favourite treats. Don't forget to look after yourself while you run around looking after others. In all that planning for parties and visits maybe you can pen in some you time; get a manicure; read a new book (that's just for fun not for work); listen to your favourite music (Christmas or otherwise); have a bath; or just sit and meditate. My favourite thing to do is to sit and bask in the light of the Christmas lights in a darkened room. That's it, that's heaven for me. So my number one way to get into the spirit is to find your little slice of heaven and make sure that you get lots of it this December.

I hope you can find an idea here to warm up your seasonally good feelings and I'll have some delicious advent cookies up next week =)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Homemade Christmas presents: Vanilla Extract

Two years ago a good friend of mine gave me the best present; it was useful and thoughtful; beautiful and perfect for me. The best part of this present was that it is consumable but can be remade to last forever. Perfect for every baker! So what did she give me?

So this summer, after 18 good months of use, my huge bottle of vanilla extract finally ran out. Aw such a shame, but hold on... this present is renewable. So I decided to show you how to refresh your own vanilla extract, or make it for your own baking buddy.

Here's what you will need:

A bottle to present your gift.
4 Vanilla Pods
Time: 3-6 months

This is remarkably simple to do and I hear you saying that we do not have 3-6 months until Christmas but if you wanted to give this as a gift this Christmas you could prepare it now and suggest not to use for a few months. Honestly the extract has flavour from about a month in but the colour and flavour develops best in the 6 month period.

Anyway here we go:

Roll your vanilla pods and then slice them in half

Scrap out the seeds and add to the bottle, then add your sliced pods.

Now simply fill up with the vodka and shake. Then store and shake periodically and after just 3 months - voila -

Final note:
Ok I'll be honest - this post is a bit phoned in and after missing a week, last week, one might have hoped for something a little more exciting. The truth is that college has gotten crazy hectic and my energy for blogging has suffered. So you have my official apologies for the lack luster blogging but feel assured that soon Christmas baking will get underway and posts will return to normal. In the mean time I really recommend trying this, it's so handy having this much vanilla essence.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Courgette (zuchini) and Cheddar Quiche

 This week I'm making something a bit different as it's not sweet for once. This quiche came to me on a Sunday when I needed to make something special for Sunday lunch but also needed to use up a couple of different things in the fridge, namely eggs and courgettes (zuchinis). So I threw together this quiche and it immediately became a favourite with the bf. So this week I decided to share the recipe with you, and I would definitely recommend trying it.

Courgette and Cheddar Quiche

Short crust pastry (just ensure that you leave the sugar out, you can add cheese here if desired)
11-12 Eggs
1 onion
4 courgettes (zuchini)
1 tsp salt
1 clove garlic crushed
1/4 cup cheddar + extra for sprinkling
pepper to your preference

I should start this recipe with a warning, it requires some prep-work and planning, it's manageable without the prep but it just won't be the same. It is necessary to shred the courgette and take some of the water out before starting the cooking process. I would recommend doing this approx 5 hours ahead but even an hour ahead would help. So here's how I do it. Grate the courgettes with a large holed grater. Measure out one teaspoon of salt before you do and sprinkle a little a little between each courgette that you grate. Then mix together very well. The salt will start to draw out water from the courgettes. Drain the water using a sieve.

Place the drained courgettes into a colander that has been lined with clean kitchen paper.

Push the remaining kitchen paper over the top of the courgettes and placing the colander over a plate leave it in the fridge for at least an hour up to over-night.You will also need to prepare and chill your short crust pastry, or if you are using pre-made then you will need to let it come up in temperature so that you can work with it.

Roll out your dough and place into a greased pie case. Line this with grease-proof paper and fill with ceramic beads, or just dry rice, focusing the most weights on the edges and against the walls to prevent shrinkage. I also leave extra pastry over the edge to allow for a little shrinkage.

While the dough is cooking heat some olive oil in a frying pan, sautee the diced onion and add your well drained courgettes.

Cook these together and add some crushed garlic for flavour. Cook for approx 2-3 minutes stirring regularly so that none of the courgette pieces brown. In the mean-time beat together 11-12 large eggs, I leave out 4 yolks but you can choose to include if you wish. Push the courgettes and onions to the side and add your beaten eggs to the pan.

Toss the eggs and courgettes and add 1/4 cup of grated low fat mature cheddar. Only cook the eggs until they start to come together and then remove from the heat to stop the cooking process. Then pour into the pastry case.

Sprinkle with a bit more cheddar and return to the oven for just 15-20 minutes, checking on it after 10 minutes.

Beautiful hand modelling from my bf here!

Then enjoy your quiche with some delicious salad.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The almost perfect oatmeal raisin cookies

I have been searching for years for the perfect oatmeal raisin cookie recipe. This search has been more of an endless adventure, the never-ending story of my baking life to date! I have made many many different and delicious oatmeal raisin cookies but none of them tasted like the bakery style that I became addicted to in the states. I dream about those cookies. I'm sure I have detailed the lengths I would go to eat more of these cookies and then hide the fact that I ate all the cookies.....heehee! They were the type of food that I love and hate and love to hate. In previous posts I had detailed my hopelessness and acceptance that these cookies could only be achieved without the use of additives and fake flavours. This did not stop me from constantly oogling other people's oatmeal raisin recipes for inspiration. So when I saw a little tip from Divascancook about using pureed raisin in the cookie dough and it hit me like a ten-foot truck - that-'s the taste. So I set about adjusting the recipe and came up with these, which are almost perfect. So try them for yourself and see if they are the perfect ones for you!

Almost perfect oatmeal raisin cookies (with tip from divascancook)

225g softened butter
330g dark brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
25 grams of sultanas (for puree)
2 tbsp boiling water
260g Plain flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
90g quick cook oats
90g large steel cut oats
150g sultanas or raisins

Beat together the butter and sugar

Add the eggs and vanilla with a small amount of the flour mixture to prevent breaking

Beat together the flours, baking powder, soda, spices and salt

Pour the boiling water over the sultanas for puree, let sit for a minute and then puree.

Add in the flour mixture and the pureed sultanas to the butter mixture and beat to combine

Add the oats and raisins.

Chill in the fridge for at least an hour, then scoop out even spoons of mixture onto a lined baking sheet, press to flatten and then bake for approx 10 minutes on 180'. Keep a very close eye on them though and remove from the oven as soon as the center starts to look remotely cooked.

Flatten with a spatula and then let them cool on the baking sheet. Then enjoy.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Sweet pumpkin seeds: Halloween

Halloween approaches! Well you don’t need me to tell you that, but it sets the tone. I don’t like being a clichés but then what’s cliché and what’s just tradition??! I am referring of course to the grand food blogger ‘tradition’ (?) of myriad pumpkin posts in October and November. And who am I to stand against tradition? 

This week in preparation for this Friday we decided to have a little pumpkin carving competition, myself and the bf. We each got a pumpkin, perused google images for inspiration and set to work. I honestly didn’t know what I wanted to do. I started out with one idea about a Halloween cat in a tree but this morphed into something that is a lot more Christmas than Halloween but hopefully still wintery enough. I guess sometimes you can feel like you’ve had enough scares for a while and then you want a soft focus. My boyfriend’s pumpkin came out really well. Again, it’s not traditional but if you live near a forested area in the states or up north then I’m sure this image on your back porch would strike fear into your heart.

My very family friendly pumpkin
With stars all around the back!

My BF's bear print pumpkin, I love it!

So lets move onto the next little cliché, er, er... I mean tradition. Roasted pumpkin seeds! Yes that’s right, why waste when you have to gut your pumpkin? make use of those seeds! I am taking these a slightly different direction too. Lots of people spice and salt their pumpkin seeds but I wanted to sweeten mine. My sister used to get these delicious vanilla pumpkin seeds around Christmas (I know the C word again, sorry). I thought those seeds were absolutely delicious and so inspired by them I have gone for a sweet vanilla roasted pumpkin recipe. 

Vanilla Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
Step 1 – Remove from your pumpkin, carve your pumpkin, and then was your seeds.

Step 2 – Dry your seeds on a fresh clean dish towel

Step 3 – Bash with a rolling pin to crack the shells

Step 4 – Boil a saucepan of water with 2 tsp of sugar and 1 tsp of salt, then put in your seeds and boil for 30 mins

Step 5 – Strain the seeds and return to the warm pan, shaking to dry a bit before adding a half teaspoon or vanilla bean paste and stir thoroughly

Step 6 – Put some oil on a baking sheet or roasting dish, I used almond oil but roasters preference and roast for 10 minutes on 200’c. Stir frequently. 

Step 7 - Once out of the oven move them to some kitchen paper adn sprinkle with a pinch or two or sugar and one pinch of salt. Let them cool completely and then enjoy. The shells can be cracked off or eaten. They make a delicious snack or party food.


Monday, October 13, 2014

Tiny Cinnamon Rolls: A snack you can feel ok with

My apologies for the lack of post last week. I made a delicious cinnamon roll bread but made a classic that Paul Hollywood would have eaten me alive for; I rolled the bread too loosely and there were holes, poor form! I also used an egg wash which didn't work well, so I learnt and brought the lessons into this weeks post. So check out these cuties

There's a short story to these so bare with me a moment. IKEA used to have amazing food, it still has some good things left but they removed some of the best. Namely, the Marabou Daim and  the little bitesize cinnamon rolls they used to do. Sure they still sell delicious big cinnamon rolls, either cooked instore or in freezer to go. But those things are a meal, or at least a sizeable desert. The little ones were the perfect snack, and I miss them terribly. Well lately I've been having the realization that I can just make what I can't buy and so I turned to making them myself. These are not mini cinnamon rolls in question but in many ways they are better. These are just miniature versions of the big ones, with a little bit of health kicked in, because well why not?!

Ok so lets start with the dough, it's half and half whole grain and white. There is not a lot of butter in these. Big full meal cinnamon rolls are full of butter and loaded with cups and cups of sugar. These have a small amount of butter in the dough and a couple of spoons of sugar in the whole batch and if you like your could use stevia. So they aren't a health food but they are good enough that you can afford a second one, and once you've had a bit you will be glad that you can ;)

Look at the fluffiness!
Mini Cinnamon Roll Snacks (dough adapted from Paul Hollywood recipe)

250g White Bread Flour
250g Wholemeal Flour
10g   Dry-Active Yeast
10g   Salt
300ml Milk (I used skim)
25g    Butter
1 egg

Milk for Brushing
2-3 tbsp Muscavado Sugar
2 tbs       Cinnamon

1 tbsp Honey
1tbsp   Hot Water
2 tbsp  Caster sugar to dip

1 - Whisk together the flours and then place in the bowl of a mixer.

2 - Pour the yeast on one side and salt on the other

3 - Melt the butter and heat the milk in a saucepan until it's lukewarm

4 - Pour the milk and butter mixture into the mixer and then slowly mix with the dough hook.

5 - Once the dough has come together turn up the speed and knead for 4 minutes exactly. If you dont
      have a mixer, just combine everything in a bowl in the same way and then knead by hand for 8

6 - Once the dough is smooth, remove from the mixer, grease the bowl, replace the dough and let it
      rise in a warm place for 90 minutes.

7 - Take out the dough and roll out thin. Then brush with milk ad immediately sprinkle with the
      sugar and cinnamon. Roll very tightly and cut with a bread knife into 1 inch pieces. Lie these on
      a baking sheet, cover with a damp tea towel and let rise for another 30 mins before baking at 200'
      for 10 minutes.

8 - Let them cool, then mix together the honey and water glaze, brush the cinnamon rolls and then
     dip quickly into the sugar, shake of the excess and there you go. A Swedish style snack time, well
     earned. Enjoy =)

Monday, September 29, 2014

BF's birthday weekend: 50 Ways to Kill your Mammy review

This past weekend I've been having an amazing celebratory weekend at home for the bf's birthday. We have had such an fun time and there was baking but no time for photos. To be honest, I didn't even try as I've been down this road before and tried to get photos, failed and been annoyed with myself and as other bloggers can attest - if it's not fun, there's no point!! SO instead this week I intend to introduce you to something I've only recently discovered but which has changed my Friday nights - 50 ways to kill your Mammy!

In this incredibly funny show TV and radio presenter Bazil Ashmawy takes his mum on the adventure of a life-time, doing every crazy and adventurous thing that you can think of; bungie jumping, sky-diving, alligator wrestling (more like hugging) and rally car driving. Each adventure more exciting and terrifying........ and there's Baz and his 70 year old Mum trying them one after one!

Baz is entertaining and his commentary provides a lot of the continuity and movement between activities. Some of his reflections on his mother are really very funny and relatable. However for me the star of the show is his Mammy Nancy. Never have we seen the like on television before! Imagine your own mother or grandmother being asked to do these things and the reactions they might give 'No,, now I don't think that's a good idea,' 'That's lovely but it's not for me now!' Mild mannered, polite, dignified but resistant. It's Nancy's reactions that make every adventure absolutely hilarious. We've seen people sky dive, we seen people bungie jump and jump on alligators, nothing surprises us on television anymore but you have not seen these things done by a resistant 70 year old woman!! I have to say I just love her, she reminds me of a combination of both my grandmothers together and my bf's mother whom I absolutely love also. The most admirable part is that despite her resistance Nancy pushes herself to try almost everything, you're never sure if she will, but the courage and indomitable spirit that this woman shows is something else.

Best of all is the genuine and heart-warming commentary that she gives to the camera after the activities are over. She more often than not recommends that other older people give it a try and says things like 'I'm glad I did it now!' or 'Sure you only live once, sure you might as well give it a go.' I honestly believe that she views the whole thing as a travel show that pushes the boundaries of expectation for older tourists and sure why can't it be just that?!

I should note that my being Irish helps in the enjoyment here. These two are not only Irish but also from an area very similar to the one I grew up in, so there are a lot of Irish-isms that I really enjoy. That said I think anyone would love this show and I truly truly recommend trying it if you can. So yes that's it and I'll be back next week with more deliciousness =)

Pictures and video property of Sky Entertainment

So.........that went well......but I'm back with a bang!

At the start of the year I said that I would try to post more regularly and......yeah....that didn't happen =/ Finishing this doctorat...