Monday, 24 December 2012

Christmas: The Gift of Grace

What do you think of as you look forward to Christmas Day tomorrow? Family? Friends? Food? Gifts? I think of all of those things, but am really praying that this Christmas I focus in particular on the one gift that has made the biggest difference to my life – that of God’s grace. For me, Christmas is not just about a baby in a manger and a nice Nativity story, but it is the proclamation of God becoming flesh – about Jesus living, dying and then rising again. For me, Christmas and Easter are inextricably bound to each other. Justice demands punishment and penalty for my wrongdoing, my sin; grace is God taking that punishment and paying that penalty on my behalf. The tiny baby in a manger that I celebrate at Christmas is also the risen Lord and Saviour that I celebrate at Easter. In the midst of all the joy, family, friends, gifts and food of the season, I hope and pray that you also experience the reality of God’s gift of grace. Merry Christmas!

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NIV)

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Our Gingerbread House

On Friday, J and I went to our first Christmas ‘do’ of the season (I say that like we have a jam-packed calendar of festivities – we don’t…) and were asked to take along a Christmas-themed dessert. I knew someone else would be taking along a cake as part of a surprise birthday celebration for another someone else also attending and so did not want to take a cake-y dessert. However, I am also aware that whilst I LOVE christmas pudding, not everyone shares that love – in fact many don’t. I pondered the problem of what to take for a few days when finally inspiration struck one evening as I was dropping off to sleep – a gingerbread house would not only be fun for me to make but would also provide a perfect receptacle for a variety of sweets that would complement the birthday cake without competing for tummy space. This gingerbread house was a collaborative effort – J was employed to calculate dimensions and cut the dough. He also, as you’ll see in the photos, got extra creative and made little figurines of us (which didn’t get to go to the party).
Unfortunately, I did not take step by step photos as I made this, but I have copied the recipe below the photos, in case you’re inspired to try your own hand at a gingerbread house. And if you are, I’d say go for it, but do make sure you set aside a good few hours to enjoy decorating the house…
Gingerbread House Recipe
This recipe makes enough dough for a house whose two side walls measure 15 cm long by 12 cm high, with two roof slats, each measuring 12 cm by 17 cm. The end walls measured 15 cm wide by 12 cm high at the bottom, with a slope in the top part leading to a central height of 6 cm above the bottom cuboid bit. There was enough dough left over to make some Christmas trees and our gingerbread man and woman. I would recommend that you either work very fast (if you measure and cut the dough with a ruler) or that you pre-cut templates for the house before you start making the dough as it hardens and becomes less pliable as it cools. All the measurements are based on a 250 ml mug as equal to one cup.
What you need:
8 cups self-raising flour
Generous pinch of salt
4 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 cup butter
2 1/3 cups light brown sugar
1 cup golden syrup
What to do:
1. Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4 (180º C or 350º F).
2. Sift the flour, salt and ginger into a heatproof bowl and stir a couple of times with a spoon (to make sure the ginger is fully distributed throughout the flour.
3. Put the butter, sugar and syrup into a saucepan and heat over a medium heat until all the butter has melted, the sugar has dissolved and the mixture reaches a gentle boil. Let the mixture simmer for 30 to 60 seconds.
4. Remove the butter, sugar and syrup mixture from the heat and pour slowly into the flour, salt and ginger mixture, stirring constantly. Towards the end you may need to just dig in with your hands and work all the flour into the dough (though bear in mind that the dough will be hot if you do this).
5. Lightly flour a clean work surface and then roll out the dough to a thickness of about 7 mm to 1 cm. Working quickly, before the dough gets too cool, cut out the walls and roof of your gingerbread house as well as any other shapes you want to use for decoration.
6. Place the walls, roof and other gingerbread shapes on baking trays lined with baking parchment and bake in the middle of the pre-heated oven for 15 to 20 minutes for the walls and roof (and 10 to 15 minutes for smaller shapes such as Christmas trees and gingerbread people) or until brown all over. Unless you have huge baking trays and a large oven, this will need to be done in batches. Don’t crowd the baking trays as the dough will spread slightly as it cooks.
7. When the gingerbread has baked, remove it from the oven and carefully transfer it to a cooling rack to cool. If you’re not as lazy and have more precise propensities than I do, you may want to trim your walls and roof slats to their original size at this point, as they will expand slightly in the oven. The baked dough will be soft when it comes out of the oven, but will harden as it cools.
8. When the dough pieces have cooled assemble and then decorate your gingerbread house. I used caramel (made by carefully melting white sugar over a low heat until it had fully dissolved) as the glue for my house walls and roof but you can also use royal icing (which is more traditional and from what I understand, sets more firmly than caramel). I used melted chocolate to stick the sweets to my house, but you can also use caramel or royal icing. When assembling the walls, I found it best to attach first one long wall to the end wall and let that set before adding the second long wall, letting that set and finally adding the other end wall. I then stuck together the roof pieces. As I wanted the roof to be detachable from the house, I did not stick it to the walls. However, if you want to stick the roof to the walls, it would probably be best to add one roof piece and let that set before finally adding the last roof piece. In all cases, you will need to use caramel or royal icing as glue along the joins and may need to hold your pieces in place for a minute or two whilst they set.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Vanilla Blondies

Well – in my last post, I said that I had a few recipes that I hoped to share soon and I feel this is getting off to a good start – a new post only a few days later than my last post (as opposed to over a month as has been the case all too often this year…).

This recipe was invented during a period of intense seeking after brownie perfection (this recipe is a product of that time and in fact, is just a variant of this recipe, which actually came first despite the fact that the brownie recipe made it onto the blog months ago). I was a bit-over-chocolated and wanted something different but still similar to the perfect brownies after which I aspired (and still do). Something must have gone right because this recipe is now one of J’s favourites – and one of the few foods that he finds close to irresistible (his general attitude to food, which is to eat when he is hungry and not to eat when he is not is something my greedy self wishes I had more in common with). This recipe is very easy to make and easy to vary – for example, try substituting the cranberries and macadamia nuts for other nuts and/or fruit, add in some chocolate chunks or drizzle chocolate on top – one combination that I like (and which received good reviews at work!) is to swop the cranberries and macadamias for walnut pieces and to drizzle white chocolate on the top.

I baked this in a baking tin measuring about 11 inches by 7 inches. All the cup measurements below are based on a 250 ml mug as equal to 1 cup. Apologies for the weird light in the photos in this post – a sad consequence of baking at night by the yellow glow of the kitchen light rather than in natural light.


What you need:

1 1/2 cups light brown sugar

1 1/2 cups self-raising flour

Pinch salt

1 cup (and a bit more if you fancy) of mixed cranberries and macadamia nuts

2 eggs

1 dessertspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup butter, melted

What to do:

1. Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4 (180º C or 350º F) and grease the baking tray well.

2. Sift the flour, salt and sugar into a mixing bowl. Add the cranberries and macadamias to the bowl and mix everything together well.


3. Add the eggs, vanilla extract and butter to the bowl and mix together vigorously with a whisk until thoroughly combined. I find it best to add the eggs to one side of the bowl and the butter to the other side of the bowl immediately before whisking, to avoid any egg being inadvertently cooked by hot butter.




4. Tip the batter into the greased baking pan, spread it equally across the pan and level the top. This batter can be quite stiff, particularly if you eggs were on the small side, and so it may need some work to spread it fully in the pan.



5. Bake in the middle of the pre-heated oven for about 20 to 25 minutes or until done. At this point a skewer will come out mostly clean with a wettish crumb – if a skewer comes out with raw batter on it, leave the blondies in the oven to cook for a bit longer.

6. When done, remove the blondies from the oven and leave to cool on a cooling rack before cutting, decorating with melted chocolate (if desired) and devouring.




Thursday, 22 November 2012

Normal Service Will Resume Shortly...

I seem, on the rare occasions these days when I do blog, to only ever post apology posts for not posting for so long. So, in the interests of not breaking the habit too soon, I'll start this post by saying that I am sorry for not posting for so long. I have missed blogging but sadly life has taken over lately. Between a trip to Zimbabwe, lots and lots of work and an exciting new development in the somesomeandsome household - a new little family member currently baking away and due next February - I've either not had time to blog or struggled to find the inclination to spend time in the kitchen with food. However, I have a series of photos for recipes that I need to write up into posts, which I hope to do soon. Until then, thank you for your ongoing support - I am amazed by the fact that, despite my lack of posts, not a day has gone by without someone or many someones visiting my little corner of the web - thank you!

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Quick Chocolate Pudding

I’ve seen cornflour-based puddings in many places – cookery books, blogs, in add-milk only packets on supermarket shelves – but it was only a couple of weeks ago that I decided to try my hand at making one, on a day when I felt like chocolate but wanted something that didn’t feel too naughty. This pudding, which resulted, felt about as bad as an evening cup of cocoa – i.e. not at all and really rather comforting. The recipe below makes one serving and the cup measurement is based on a 250 ml mug as equal to one cup.


What you’ll need:

2 heaped tsp cocoa powder

2 rounded tsp brown sugar

1 heaped tsp cornflour

1 cup milk

Your choice of garnish, such as whipped cream, Greek yoghurt, fresh fruit or chocolate shavings

What to do:

1. Put the cocoa powder, brown sugar and cornflour into a small saucepan. Add a small amount of the milk and mix everything together into a smooth paste.




2. Add the rest of the milk and whisk everything together thoroughly.



3. Put the saucepan over a medium heat and bring slowly to the bowl, whisking regularly. Keep the saucepan over the heat until the mixture starts to thicken and reaches a consistency slightly thicker than custard (unfortunately the camera was not prepared to fight through all the steam associated with this stage to get a good picture, so there isn’t one…).

4. Remove the pan from the heat and either serve immediately or (and I much prefer this option) wait a few minutes for the mixture to cool a bit, and then pour it into a serving bowl and then cool completely in the fridge before garnishing and serving.



Sunday, 16 September 2012

Sticky Toffee Cake

I don’t remember the first time I ate sticky toffee pudding. Most of the time when I’ve been tempted by it as a menu option, it has followed a hearty pub meal, and these are times when I am more tempted by options such as brownies and ice cream or lemon tart. However, once I tried it I was sold on it. Not so sold that I’ll never again choose brownies and ice cream or lemon tart over sticky toffee pudding, but sold enough for it to always be a viable contender. A couple of weeks ago, it won the pudding-menu-option-fight and I had an average to good sticky toffee pudding. Since then, I’ve been craving more sticky toffee pudding. However, I decided to try making it in cake form rather than as a steamed pudding. This had the advantage not only of being much quicker to prepare but also meant that I was able to sneak a quick slice for ‘elevenses’ yesterday morning (not something I usually have). This is good served hot from the oven in the same way you would serve sticky toffee pudding (my preference is with custard, but, if you’re not familiar with this pudding, cream or ice cream also work well) or cold. The sauce on top sinks to the bottom to make a thin gooey layer, although this does seem to dry pretty quickly once the cake has been cut. The cup measurements below are all based on a 250 ml mug as equal to 1 cup and I baked it in a baking pan (actually a roasting tin) which measured about 12 inches long by 9 inches wide by 2 inches deep. This cake is quite sweet – decrease the sugar slightly if you’d prefer yours less sweet. You can also vary the taste slightly by using ground ginger in place of the mixed spice and/or add a generous handful of nuts, such as walnuts of pecans, either to the cake batter or sprinkled on top after adding the sauce. If you’d like extra sauce to serve alongside the cake, make another batch using the same quantities as those given below, but with extra milk or cream to bring it to an easy pouring consistency.


What you’ll need:

For the cake:

250 gram package of stoned dates

3/4 cup boiling water

1/2 cup butter

1 1/4 cup dark brown sugar

3 eggs

2 cups self-raising flour

Pinch salt

1 heaped teaspoon ground mixed spice

For the sauce:

1/2 cup butter

1 cup dark brown sugar

1/4 cup milk

What to do:

1. Roughly chop the dates. Put them in a heatproof bowl and then cover them with the water and set them aside for later.


2. Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4 (180º C or 350º F) and grease the pan well with butter or margarine.

3. In a new, clean bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer.



4. Beat the eggs into the creamed butter and sugar, one at a time, with an electric mixer.





5. Sift the flour, salt and mixed spice into the butter/sugar/egg mixture and fold in.



6. Tip the soaked dates and any unabsorbed water into the butter/sugar/egg/flour mixture and fold in thoroughly. My batter looked slightly curdled at this stage – probably because my butter and eggs were pretty cool; however, it did not seem to affect the cake so don’t worry if yours looks curdled too.



7. Tip the cake batter into the greased pan and spread out evenly across the pan and then set aside whilst you make the sauce.


8. To make the sauce, put in a small saucepan the butter, sugar and milk and then put the pan over a low heat. You may need to give it a quick mix once or twice or swill the milk/melting butter around the bottom edges of the pan to ensure that all the sugar is incorporated. The butter and sugar should soon melt fully and the mixture will reach a rolling boil. Once this point is reached, keep the pan over the heat for a further minute or so, at boiling point, and then remove from the heat. Leave the sauce to cool in the pan for a minute or two.



9. When the sauce has cooled slightly, pour it over the top of the cake batter and then swirl it into the batter with the end of a butter knife.





10. Bake the cake in the middle of the pre-heated oven for 45 to 55 minutes or until done. You will need to test it but checking to see that it is beginning to pull away from the sides and is springy to the touch – a skewer may not come out clean as the sauce will have settled at the bottom of the pan and made a thin layer of gooey goodness. Please excuse the little bit of ‘quality control’ in the corner of the pan – I was initially confused when this came out of the oven as the cake looked cooked but I didn’t expect the gooey layer at the bottom and so was confused about why my skewer wasn’t coming out clean…


11. When the cake has cooked, remove it from the oven and either leave to cool in the pan on a cooling rack or serve immediately with your choice of sauces and accompaniments.