Tag Archives: gifts

Festive sweet treats round up

As much as I love the festive season, I do sigh with relief come January at the fact that I no longer have to make sure my fridge is stocked with just enough goodies to pull together a last minute treat for random drop ins. And let’s be honest, how often do you have random drop ins over the festive period? Modern life (and middle age) has made us all planners, dates are booked in months in advance and if you’re anything like me, you’ll have planned a menu weeks ahead of “impromptu” visits.

So yeah, it’s just an excuse to buy gigantic tubs of Quality Street or Celebrations. And cheese. A shit load (official collective noun) of cheese.

Last Christmas we hosted mine and the husband’s immediate families at our house. It was brilliant to host them all for the first time in our new home and we properly felt like grown ups. Given our 1970s monstrosity of a kitchen + the utterly awful oven, I decided against a traditional roast and instead went with a Moroccan spiced, slow roast lamb with bejewelled cous cous and a seasonal (read: root) vegetable tagine. And then I did a dessert table of random bits for people to choose from – chocolate brownies, meringues, raspberry coulis, hokey pokey. None of the desserts came out as well as I wanted it to, but looked pretty. Maybe a case of too much showing off?

This year, we decided to allow our families to feed us (generous to a fault, that’s us), which meant that we had three Christmases with my husband’s lot, and Christmas day with my sister.

However, we did entertain a few times over the break (with one meal mostly being a repeat of Christmas 2013) and I did make a lot of desserts to gift and help out the hostesses. Of course, I forgot to take pics, because I’m a fool and I’d eaten so much chocolate by Christmas day that I’m pretty sure my brain was 83% cocoa.

So here are some of my festive sweet treat highlights:

Cranberry spiced bundt cake

This was made in order to use up leftover fresh cranberries and show off a bit with a bundt cake taken to a party. However, I didn’t grease the pan properly so rather than being a ‘wow’ cake, I had to slice up the bit I managed to salvage (that wasn’t stuck in the tin as you can see from the photo below). I’ll do this again before cranberries are taken off shelves and share the recipe, totally worth it and probably easy enough to repeat with whatever fruit you have in the house (in berry form).

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Lemon Meringue Pie.

Liked this so much, I made it twice. In a week. The recipe is Dan Lepard’s from the Guardian and in my opinion, pretty much fool proof. It’s always been one of my favourite puddings and I reckon I’ll make this a few more times before 2015 is out.

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I used the same pie base for a chocolate mousse cake after being inspired by the chocolate tart at Newman Street Tavern. Man, that was amazing. I have no pictures for my version though, but I’d say that the NST chocolate tart is one of the best I’ve ever had. As was the pork crackling. In fact, if you’re in London, it’s a great place for a Sunday lunch.

On new year’s day, wanting to clear some space in my fridge, I made my first ever attempt at a berry clafoutis. Again to use up fruit that was about to go off. Whilst it was delicious hot out of the oven, I think my fruit to batter ratio was off, so a little bit bitterer than I would have liked (I blame the cranberries entirely). Custard sorted that right out though. However, it was even better when sliced and then pan fried in butter and brown sugar for brunch the next day. It’s basically pancakes and fruit, right?

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Finally, an amazing recipe from the lovely Edd Kimber (aka theboywhobakes) for salted caramel truffles that I gifted at a family new year party. So. Good. I’m surprised I managed to make any, the truffle mix is delicious and I definitely didn’t eat 14 spoonfuls out of the bowl before it had cooled. No sir. That’d be totally gluttonous, right?

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Thanks for a lovely time Christmas 2014, see you again next year.

The granola of unemployment (or how I learned to turn off Netflix)

I’ve now officially finished working at my last job and have spent the last four weeks or so officially not working. Which has been awesome, but I am going slightly insane, what with talking to the cat, binge watching truly terrible series on Netflix (so far four seasons of The Vampire Diaries, which is like a rubbish combination of True Blood and Buffy), hanging out with my folks and being incredibly impressed by the quality of cars in the car park when I pick my niece up from her fancy school.

So, in my downtime from all that hard work, I’m spending a lot of time in my kitchen. My 1970s monstrosity of a kitchen, but a kitchen nonetheless. And as it’s (nearly) Christmas, there’s many an aroma of cinnamon and ginger and cloves emanating from within its orange and beige interior. But baking and eating aforementioned baked goods, doesn’t really promote good heart health when the most exercise you get all day is walking from the fridge to the sofa and back again.

From my earlier post, you’ll see that I’ve been on a bit of a juice binge recently but a girl cannot live on juice alone so I’ve been experimenting with granola and crackers.

First up, granola. On paper, I should hate granola – it’s dried fruit and nuts, neither of which makes me salivate. But turns out, coating them in a mix of honey and butter and baking them with oats, seeds and the merest hint of spices and a sprinkling of dark muscovado and then baking till they’re gooey and crunchy at the same time makes them utterly delicious. And it’s incredibly simple too, you just need to decide what you want to add to the oats and seeds.

I’m using US measurements (sorry) but I couldn’t find a good granola recipe to adapt on a UK site. And besides, it is a little trial and error because everyone likes different flavours or more or less crunch so don’t panic if you’re not happy with how this turns out, just try different variants on cooking time or oven heat.

Base ingredients: 

  • 1/2 stick of butter (this is about 57g in metric measurements)
  • 1/3 cup of honey
  • 2.5 cups of oats – not the quick cook kind but proper old school oats
  • A selection of seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, etc etc)
  • 1/3 cup of sugar – I used dark muscovado because I like the treacly taste, but use whatever you have apart from icing sugar
  • Pinch of salt (about half a teaspoon but depending on what fruits you use, it could take more)
  • A selection of ground spices – cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, all work well. Add to your taste, I do about two tsps of cinnamon to half a tsp of ginger and a pinch of cloves

Other ingredients 

  • 1/2 cup of nuts – pecans, almonds, brazils, cashews all work well – I find the taste of walnut a little overpowering but that’s just personal preference
  • 3/4 cup of dried fruit – raisins, cranberries, blueberries, apricots (chopped, obviously), pineapple (I’m stopping there before this becomes a long list of fruit that can be dried- that’d be tedious)
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips (do this instead of the fruit or half the amounts if you’re doing a combination of fruit and chocolate)

Method

  • Preheat your oven to gas mark 6 or equivalent and line a large baking tray with greaseproof paper
  • Melt together the butter and honey over a low heat till its all combined and set aside to cool whilst you mix the dry ingredients
  • Put all the dry ingredients into a bowl including whatever nuts you choose – but don’t add the fruit at this stage
  • Mix all the dry ingredients together – using your hands seems to make it easier to get everything evenly distributed
  • Pour in the honey and butter mix and stir till every oat is coated in butter and honey
  • Spoon the mixture into the baking try and press flat
  • Bake for approximately 15-25 minutes, giving the mix a stir half way through

You’re looking for a glorious golden shade on your oats so keep an eye on them to make sure you’re not going from gloriously golden to ‘burnt toast’ – this can happen quite quickly

  • After you’ve removed the tray from the oven at the end of the cooking time, quickly stir in the dried fruit or chocolate chips of your choice and then press flat again
  • Leave to cool in the tray – after it’s cooled, you should have a crunchy toasty tray full of delicious granola – break into bite sized chunks and store in an airtight jar. I’m gifting this with some crackers for Christmas, so have put into small Kilner jars
  • It should keep fresh for a good couple of weeks like this. It’s perfect as a healthy snack, on yoghurt or as a smoothie topping. Or just with milk for breakfast – it’s terribly versatile

Today I’ve made two batches: the first featured almonds, walnuts, cranberries, raisins and the second was cherries, blueberries, pecans and dessicated coconut. I added the coconut at the first stir (halfway through the baking) so it didn’t get tooooo toasted. The second batch I screwed up a little (hell, we all make mistakes, right?) by using the wrong sized cup to measure oats so the mix is a little chewier than I’d like.

Here they are:

granola: ready for gifting Granola: raisins, cranberries, almonds Granola: blueberries, cherries, coconut