Yuletide Greetings

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Indeed, Yuletide greetings to you all.

Today is the day of the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, celebrated as the festival of Yule in ancient and modern Pagan traditions. Yule was the traditional mid-Winter festival of ancient Europe, before being adopted and adapted by The Christian Church into the festival of Christmas. Being the shortest day of the year – that is, the shortest period of daylight between sunrise and sunset, obviously every day is always 24 hours long – the festival of Yule is based around the celebration of the sun returning and bringing life back to the world with the (gradual) move out of Winter towards Spring.

Whatever you want to call it – this time of year always makes me want to bake and feed people! So I do like to mark the Solstice with a bit of baking. Of course, the Chocolate Yule Log derives from the tradition of the Yule Log which was an actual wooden log that was burnt to celebrate the Solstice. I didn’t fancy lining myself up for the stress of trying to roll my own Chocolate Yule Log – instead I decided to go down the route of orange, marzipan and cinnamon as ingredients that make me think of warmth and sunshine.

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I used this recipe from Sweet Paul for Norwegian Skillingsboller, that’s Cinnamon Buns, although this recipe has an awesome twist of added marzipan! It takes a bit of time to make as it is a yeasted dough, so you need to leave it to rise, but other than the waiting the recipe is pretty easy. Note: mixing the butter into the dough is very messy!

Mine turned out a bit, haphazard looking – but this isn’t GBBO and I’m not marking myself on presentation or uniformity, it’s all about taste for me.

The finished buns are delicious, I’m going to struggle to restrain myself from eating them all. I did a taste test when they were warm and they were amazing – I’ve also had one cold and it’s still really good, but it might be worth zapping one in the microwave for a few seconds to warm before eating.

I also made these Tangerine and Marzipan Muffins from Olive Magazine. I haven’t tasted one of these yet, I’ve been too busy focussing on the Cinnamon Buns, but they smell really yummy 🙂

UPDATE: I’ve just tried one of thee and they are lovely! Light and orangey and not too sweet, surprisingly! Recommended 😊

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I have a feeling I may take a few steps backwards on my weight-loss over the next week :/

Hope you are all enjoying the festive season, whatever you celebrate and whatever you eat!

Love

Betty

Pulled Pork Stew

This summer I completely fell in love with Pulled Pork – it was cheap, easy and very, very tasty. It’s something I meant to blog about all summer but never got around to.

Now, whilst Pulled Pork is a barbecue style dish (not that mine involved the use of a barbecue) and could generally be considered to be summer food, there obviously isn’t any reason why you can’t enjoy it in the winter – slow cooked spicy meat still sounds like a great, comforting winter meal.  However, I was inspired by a recent email from Tesco to put even more of an Autumnal-Wintery twist on my summer favourite and make a Pulled Pork Stew.

One of the best things about this recipe is that it uses Pork Shoulder, which is a really affordable cut of meat – Asda have Pork Shoulders available from £3 per kilo (I used around 700 grams of shoulder steaks and that was more than enough for 4 people).
Another great thing is that it is really quite low effort – as a slow cook dish, so you can put it on in the morning and it can cook all day to be as good as ready when you get home from work 🙂

Pulled Pork Spice Rub
Pulled Pork Stew
1. Mix the rub ingredients together in a bowl. Rub half into your meat then cover and leave in the fridge for a few hours or over night.

I have previously used Pork Shoulder Joints but used Shoulder Steaks this time for the stew, however, I think I would probably recommend Joints over Steaks



2. Preheat oven to 150 degrees Celsius  Place meat into a roasting tray/tin, add a cup of water and cover the whole tray in tin foil. Cook for 4 to 5 hours (for 1 to 1.5 kilos)

To make stew mixture
(any time after putting the meat into the oven) 


3. In a large pan/casserole dish – Soften a chopped onion and sliced celery (optional) in olive oil


4. Add tinned tomatoes and water (number of cans depends on number you are feeding, I used one tin of tomatoes and one tin of water for 4 people)


5. Add chopped veg of your choice (I generally use carrot, peppers, courgette, tomatoes, green beans…)



6. Add beans – I used tinned kidney beans in chilli sauce, but you can use any type of bean, fresh, dried (and soaked) or tinned (even baked beans) or skip the beans all together if they aren’t your thing (but they are very good for you and if you cook them for a long time you’ll probably not even notice they’re there!)

7. Add more tomatoes and/or water if more liquid is needed

8. Season to taste – salt, pepper, smoked paprika/cayenne pepper/chilli, tomato purée

9. Now you have a choice, which partly depends on how long you have left til the meat is cooked
– If it is still a few hours til the meat is ready you can either put the pot in the oven with the meat (make sure it is oven proof) and leave to slow cook or you can simply turn it off and leave it covered
– If the meat will be ready soon (within 30 minutes to one hour) you can leave the pot, covered, on a low heat on the hob or pop it in the oven with the meat

Bringing things together


10. Once the meat is cooked, remove the layer of fat (which will be weird and squidgy, not like crackling as Pete is always disappointed to find) then take two forks and pull the meat apart (hence PULLED pork) and mix in the spicy juices in bottom of the tin

11. Add the meat to the stew mixture – If you took the stew mixture off the heat while the meat cooked then do warm it up on a mid to low heat hob, or in the oven, before mixing the meat in

12. Serve. 
I served mine with savoury corn muffins made using this recipe, although substituting buttermilk for soy milk with a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar.

I certainly enjoyed it, and everyone else seemed to as well.

I hope you are all well and enjoying some hearty and warming meals now autumn has definitely arrived.

Love



Halloween 2013

Halloween this year was not quite as much of an event for me as it had been in previous year.

A combination of factors including our recent move, work and a lousy mood that overcame me for most of last week meant I didn’t have the time, effort or cause for a big fuss.
I got to dress up a bit on the Wednesday when I helped with children’s craft activities at the National Trust property where my mum works. I wore the same Pearls & Swine Devil Horn fascinator as last year because, well, there aren’t exactly a great range of occasions when one can wear a devil horn fascinator. It was an enjoyable but very tiring day – something in the order of 120 kids got involved in making Halloween Trick or Treat bags and kept me on my feet (in heels) for 6 straight hours without a break! 
On Halloween itself I found time to bake a cake; orange with chocolate fudge frosting. I’m not sure what happened but my first attempt went horribly wrong and barely rose at all. That one had to be consigned to waste and I had a second go that was marginally more successful. I was rather disappointed as it was a recipe I have used several times before and has always produced brilliant light, fluffy sponge. It was perfectly edible and tasted nice, but it fell short of my expectations and I don’t get on well with baking failures 😦
My Halloween Orange and Chocolate cake, with pumpkin, ghost and bat sprinkles
As I had been quite busy I was rather tired, that combined with my low mood meant I didn’t really feel like going to the cinema in the evening, so we didn’t get to see Frankenstein. Again, I’m a little disappointed in myself now that I didn’t feel up to it. Fortunately there is another opportunity to see it, this time with Jonny Lee Miller as The Creature, later in the month, so I hope to still get to see it.
Instead, Pete and I carved pumpkins (also rather delayed by being do busy) and watched The Walking Dead. We’re a bit late to The Walking Dead and are only on Season 2 at the moment, only 2 episodes from the end of the season now. I was even quite lack-lustre in my pumpkin carving and stuck with a fairly classic scary face. It was still a nice evening and appropriately Halloween-y.
Pete’s Spooky Ale
My Demon Face pumpkin and Pete’s Alf inspired design
Alf was a little unsure of his pumpkin doppelgänger
Apologies for the poor quality of the photographs. Taking pictures with my camera is another thing I’ve not been so good at lately, so these are just ones I have taken with my iPod. If you want to see more pictures from me you can follow me on Instagram.
I hope you all had a good Halloween, whatever you did or didn’t get up to 🙂
Listening to: Alkaline Trio (the only band for Halloween)
Watching: The Walking Dead, Season 2
Reading: Wuthering Heights (I’ve been reading this for ages and am trying to slog through the last few chapters)
Love,

Blackberry Crumble Cake

One of the best things about having moved from our titchy flat into my parent’s house (temporarily) is their kitchen. In the flat we had a pitifully small box masquerading as a kitchen with barely enough storage space let alone enough surface space to indulge my joy of cooking and baking. I think I did pretty well with the space I had, but it’s so nice to have the space to move around and not have to stack ingredients, bowls and tins on top of each other whilst baking.

I had decided I wanted to make something for dessert after Sunday dinner over the weekend, but was torn between a good old cake or a warming autumnal crumble using the blackberries my mum had gathered from the garden. Luckily enough, I came across the idea of a crumble cake and my decision was made!

Frozen Blackberries & Cooked Blackberries

I used a combination of two recipes; the preparation of the berries from this one from the BBC and the overall method from this one from Hippapotamousse (although I used Vitalite instead of butter due to Pete not eating dairy).

It was actually very quick (other than the 40-60 minute bake) and easy to make and I was very pleased with the result. More importantly, it was also very yummy. I had maybe expected the berries to be a bit more tart but I don’t know if the lack of zing is due to the wild berries or the method of preparation from the BBC recipe.
It all went down very well with the family. My parents had theirs with yoghurt while Pete and I had ours with ice cream (vegan ice cream for Pete, obviously). I was quite tempted to zap it in the microwave for a few seconds before serving, to properly embody the crumble side, but didn’t in the end as I was worried the jammy fruity middle might get unnecessarily hot and destroy my taste buds. If I make this again I think I might take the risk though.

Cake Layer, Berry Layer, Crumble Layer

I only found Hippopotamousse’s blog while searching for a good recipe for a blackberry crumble cake, her’s was by far my favourite and I’ve also had a good look around the rest of the site and really like her recipes, as well as the fact that she is also a scientist. Plus, she is a far better photographer than I am – beware looking at her site if you’re hungry!

I have, of course, been keeping up with The Great British Bake-Off, which has fuelled my desire to bake somewhat. I’m a bit torn on my favourite this year – I quite like Kimberley and shee seems to be a very good baker, but she’s possibly a bit over confident, I like Christine and Becca but their baking has seemed a little hit and miss, I’m very torn on Frances, she’s very inventive but can also be a bit hit and miss and I’m not totally convinced by all of her novelty bakes (although I adored her Secret Squirrel Cake), I am not a fan of Ruby at all, I find her annoying and I don’t like the way she seems to skate by by the seat of her pants.

Who else watches GBBO? Do you have a favourite, or least favourite?

Hope you are all well,
Love

I had a scream!

It’s no secret that Halloween is one of my favourite occasions of the year. I love the dressing up, themed food and cheesy not-very-scary camp horror (not so much the proper scary horror).

As Halloween fell on a Wednesday this year, we only had a small gathering of a few friends, a few drinks, loads of cake and a scary movie. I would have quite happily gone with Tucker and Dale Vs Evil (if you haven’t seen it you really should) but we ended up watching The Woman in Black. Everyone spent the week telling me how scary and jumpy it was, so I was pretty scared to watch it, but it honestly wasn’t that bad – thankfully.

I struggled to come up with a costume idea this year, especially as I’m working on limited funds. My dilemma was resolved thanks to The Vintage Fair who ran a competition to win a Pearls & Swine Devil Horn Fascinator, which I won! So that obviously had to be the centre piece of whatever I wore. In the end I just went for a demon type look, pale face, dark eyes, dark lips, blood and horns.

My boyfriend Pete dressed up as some kind of scary Viking warrior. He completely covered his face in fake blood. Fortunately it was slightly easier to get off than the masses of black face paint he wore last year that took forever to scrub out of his beard. It’s probably a good job we didn’t get any trick-or-treaters.

I also did a fair bit of baking. We recently had a new oven fitted in our flat, and I was very excited to find out how much better it was at baking cakes than the old one. They turned out fantastically 🙂
In recent weeks I seem to have had a fair amount if luck in competitions I have entered. As well as the horned fascinator, I also won a Halloween Modelling Kit from Renshaw. The Kit was only available to buy at The Cake & Bake Show, or through this competition, so I was pretty excited to have won one! Fondant modelling has never been a strong point of mine, but I gave it a go. The ghosts and pumpkins were much easier than the witches hat, black cat or spider, so I mostly stuck to those.
I went a little crazy on the decorating front and used a mixture of rice paper eyeballs, sprinkles, plastic toppers, fondant models and fondant covered biscuit shapes. Oh yeah, and edible glitter, lots of edible glitter!!

Of course we had pumpkins too! We were both set on out-doing last years efforts. Mine didn’t work out to be quite as impressive as I had intended, and Pete very nearly bit off more than he could chew. In our own tradition, our pumpkins go to the vote to see whose is best – based on judgement of our guests, I think I won this year. What do you think? Mine is the haunted house, Pete’s is the howling wolf.

I hope you all had a great Halloween. It is a great excuse for a party, some indulgence and a bit of silliness 🙂 Any good ideas for next year’s fancy dress would be more than welcome!

Next event on the calendar – Thanksgiving! So I’ve only got a few weeks to work off all of the Halloween cupcakes before then :/

Love,

Homemade Nutella

To be honest, I’ve never been a big fan of Nutella. I’d always rather have a straight-up, no messing chocolate spread than a hazelnut chocolate spread. However, I first decided to make my own ‘Nutella’ a few months ago when I was reading Sarah Wilson’s ‘I Quit Sugar’ book and cookbook and really trying to reduce the amount of processed foods and sugars in my diet.
Recently I have let things slide a bit and have been no where near as good at watching what I eat. However, I still always have a jar of this spread in my fridge for some slightly-less-guilty snack time. As it’s based on Sarah Wilson’s recipe it is low sugar and so much healthier than regular Nutella – not that that’s hard, real Nutella is more than 50% sugar (56.7g of sugar per 100g). I am personally horrified that this stuff is advertised as a great breakfast for kids, and don’t even get me started in Nesquik….anyway.

Honestly, this so yummy and really not very hard to make – I have it smothered on rich tea biscuits, often as a mid-afternoon snack 🙂

The recipe is based on one from Sarah Wilson’s ‘I Quit Sugar’ cookbook, I have made some changes based on personal taste and availability of ingredients.

Homemade (Low-Sugar) Nutella

  • 1 cup nuts – I have mostly used hazelnuts (obviously), but have also tried mixing in some other nuts, particularly Brazils, but you can experiment
  • 1/4 cup cocoa (Sarah Wilson states Raw Cacao, as this doesn’t have added sugar, I have used both raw cacao and regular cocoa and don’t notice much difference in taste)
  • 4 tablespoons honey (Sarah uses Brown Rice Syrup as this contains more complex sugars, but I have found it really hard to get hold of and, personally, have no problem with honey!)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla 
  • 1 tablespoon nut oil (Sarah says Macadamia, I use Groundnut, but I don’t see why you can’t just use your own oil of choice)
  • 1/2 cup milk (again, Sarah says coconut but I use soy but regular milk, or any other milk should be fine. Amount can be increased or reduced depending on your desired final texture)
  1. Spread nuts on a baking tray and bake at 180 degrees C for 10 minutes (until browned)
  2. Rub as much of the skin off the nuts as you can
  3. Grind nuts in a blender/food processor (I only have a mini food chopper, which doesn’t completely puree the nuts but I quite like the slightly rough texture it produces)
  4. Mix in the rest of the ingredients
  5. Spoon the mixture into a sterilised jar* and keep in the fridge
The latest batch that I made and photographed actually turned out a little thicker and drier than past batches, which you can kind of see in the pictures. I think I may not have put enough milk in. You can also see it’s  not as smooth as ‘proper’ Nutella, but that’s because of the limitations of my food processor, I quite like the chunks, makes it feel a bit healthier 😉 It’s still yummy despite all this 🙂
In theory, having this should help me be healthier, if I eat a couple of rich teas with this spread instead of a more calorific dessert. I’m still working on that in practise though :/
Anyone discovered any interesting or different recipes lately?
Love

*To sterilise a jar, wash it and place the jar and lid (not a plastic lid) in the oven at around 150 degrees C for 20 minutes. Fill and seal jar straight from the oven (using oven gloves!)

Butternut Squash Cupcakes

I like experimenting with slightly unusual recipes and ingredients. I saw a recipe for butternut squash cupcakes ages ago, but it was only a few days ago, when I had some left over butternut that needed using, that I got around to giving it a go.

The recipe is really simple and the cakes turned out really well. The final product is reminiscent of a sticky toffee pudding, sweet and sticky, dark coloured and dense but still soft and not cloying.

Butternut Squash Cupcakes
200g Butternut Squash (skinned, de-seeded and cut into cubes)
175g Soft Dark Brown Sugar
2 Eggs
150g Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1/2 tsp Ground Ginger
90ml Oil
Pinch of salt

  • Place the cubed butternut into a blender/mixer and blend until very finely chopped


  • Place blended butternut into a bowl and mix in the remaining ingredients. Take care not to over-mix



  • Spoon mixture into cupcake cases and bake at 180 degrees C for 20 to 25 minutes.


  • Allow to cool then decorate. I just put a simple icing on mine, but you can do a buttercream or cream cheese frosting would also work well, or, given the sticky toffee pudding like taste, a toffee sauce would be awesome!



My brown sugar was a little lumpy and I didn’t take enough time to make sure it was all mixed properly, but that meant a lot of the cakes have little spots of melted brown sugar caramel in them, so that worked out ok! I might try a little less sugar next time actually, to see if I can make them a little less sticky. 
As I baked such a huge batch I had to sent half into work with my boyfriend, mostly to save me from myself as I would have eaten many more cakes than would have been good for me :/
I have a few more vegetable based cake recipes up my sleeve that I hope to be able to try out soon. It’s great to surprise people by telling them that they just ate veg in a cake.
I also have a lot of posts lined up that I need to write, but so many things seem to be getting between me and blogging lately 😦 Hopefully I’ll get a couple more in this week.
Hope you are well.
Love,