Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Feels like home to me

The post-Christmas weather has been rainy and gray and totally miserable here in Chelmsford...which has made my recovery from overeating and the cold of the decade difficult.  Yesterday I was breathing clearer and feeling up to actually getting out of the house (plus the cupboards and fridge was literally BARE) and so off to the shops I went!

I've promised myself (and David) that I will be better with the grocery budget now that Christmas is over. And so...with that in  mind, and feeling like I needed a little something to take the chill of the rain away and make the home feel homely I bought a gigantic pack of ground beef to make my mum's spaghetti save be a good make my belly and cold happy...all those things. 

My mum's spaghetti sauce recipe is a family recipe that my Nonna was taught in Italy...all Italian families have their own version...and all families think that their's is the best....well MINE IS! ha ha

The ground beef is braised with onion, garlic, carrots and spices, until tender, then tomato paste is added and boiled off, and finally jarred sauce is added (like I have the time, desire, or skill to jar my own tomato sauce) and voila.....yum yum yum.  I am sure that initially the recipe called for traditional and good home canned tomato sauce, but time and convenience....and the proper spice ratio has lead to the use of ready made sauce in this recipe. 

I made a HUGE pot using just 750g of ground beef and one 750 ml jar of tomato sauce.  The whole house smelt of braised beef goodness and totally returned me to my mum's kitchen.  It is so wonderful to be able to make these family favourites in my new house...

I used about a third of the sauce to make a gorgeous, tasty and hit-the-spot lasagna for last night's dinner, and then put the remaning 2/3rds in containers for the freezer...enough for two big pasta dinners!!! 

When my mum makes lasagna with this sauce she layers the pasta with her homemade meat sauce and shredded mozzarella cheese.  It is difficult to find hard mozzarella here in Chelmsford and the buffalo style mozzarella has too high a water content to be used as a I opted to make a simple bechemel sauce in replacement of the mozzarella cheese.  I admit to using store bought noodles (I am holding out for an attachment to my kitchen aid) but I can take credit for all the rest!

Once again, the beautiful and gorgeously green Emile Henry dish came in handy...with just enough left over for dinner tonight!!

4 meals!! How budget friendly is that??

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Hot Artichoke Dip

I found this recipe on the internet weeks ago, and can't for the life of me remember which site it came from...most likely or something like that.  Anyway, it is fabulous! The flavour and texture is EXACTLY  like something my mum used to make when I was little...and which I would devour...and trust me...this was devoured too!!

I love artichokes, fresh, tinned or in oil in a jar....this recipe uses tinned artichoke hearts in water, and while I had to trudge all over Chelmsford to find them it was worth it (and I bought more than one that I would have some for next time...I am SO SMART!)!

Hot Artichoke Dip

1 large tin artichoke hearts  in water, drained and chopped
2 cloves garlic, pressed
4oz (113 g) fresh parmesean cheese, grated
1/3 cup mayonaise

Mix all ingredients together
Pour into oven proof dish
Bake in hot oven, about 15 mins or until bubbling

**you could whizz it all up in a food processer, but I like the texture when the artichoke hearts are chopped by hand**

All that planning and it is over? Just like that?

As David's dad and sister left our house last night after our boxing day Christmas celebratoin it suddenly hit me...I started planning my cosy little dinner soiree weeks ago and 12 short hours it was all over!! Don't get me wrong, I absolutely LOVED planning and making lists and shopping for supplies early and baking and baking and baking...I guess it just hit me hard cause this was our first Christmas together in our new home, our first time having David's fam over to celebrate at our house...Our first grown-up Christmas...and it was all over before I could even really enjoy it. 

Waking up this morning (still totally stuffed up and snotty) I was kinda sad that it is all over...but then I realised that I can share it all with YOU!! 

Weeks ago I decided that I was NOT going to do turkey...I know I know I know...what is Christmas without turkey?? Luckily...David's mum served up a full and yummy turkey lunch on Christmas day...crossing that Christmas element off the list and leaving me free to make something different and more in keeping with our casual boxing day meal. 

I had thought about making Julia Child's famous Boeuf Bourguignon recipe...remember dry the beef first before browning (thank you Julie & Julia)...but to be honest, the recipe was way too extensive for my lazy boxing day menu...I looked at a version in my fave go-to book Canadian Classics but wasn't too thrilled with method...and then there was a basic beef stew recipe in Jamie Oliver's Ministry of Food which is a stand by I use often....and in the end I just sort of mushed them all together and came up with my own version...drying and browing the meat first...sauteeing the veggies (I have to have carrot chunks and celery and leeks in my stew) in the browing fat and then adding the meat back in with some flour...and then beef stock, Chianti, tin of chopped tomatoes and spices.....into the oven for what seemd like ages....but, in the end so yummy and tender...but definetly NOT Boeuf Bourguignon....another day Julia....another day...

I was in such a rush to sit down with my guests I didn't think about snapping the main me it was gorgeous and deep in colour with beautiful melted shallots, and bits of carrots, and just full of lushness. 

For nibbles I made a plate of smoked salmon (the way my mama does it), some cheeses and crackers, and my new party piece...Hot Artichoke Dip with Corn Chips!! I found the recipe on line months ago (and totally can't remember where it came from) but after I made it, and tasted it...the texture and flavour was EXACTLY like something my mum used to make eons ago...

And then, for the post meal extravaganza... HOMEMADE Lemon Poppyseed Cheesecake Round 2 (I posted the first attempt here at the beggining of the month)...Grandma Kay's Shortbread Cookies, Nigella Lawson's Intense Chocolate Christmas Cookies, and Nanimo Bars (a classic Canadian touch to my English Christmas) go with my store bought Mince Pies and Battenburg cake...

How perfect does that sound? of the best bits??? There were no disasters! AT ALL!!  Bring on New Years Eve!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Sprouts! Sprouts! Everywhere Sprouts!

I love me a brussel fact I love me a whole PILE of brussel sprouts.  Thank God David likes them too! Tis the season for sprouts and I just can't get enough!!  I like them roasted, boiled, steamed, shredded, fried....with bacon, with chestnuts, with other veg....I LOVE THEM!

I especially love them when I am so full of a stupid cold that I can't be motivated to do much more than cook to feel some comfort.  Because I am home alone, all day....I have been left to fend for my sick self...there is no one here to care for me, to cook for me, to hand me Kleenex...just me....lounging in my pile of tissues. 

Today I did manage to pull on some sweatpants and trudge over to the market to get some comfort food for tonight's dinner (solo...David is well enough to go out...I am not...BOO).  Sausages, mashed potatoes and....yup! you guessed it...BRUSSEL SPROUTS!

The easy way out would have been to just throw them in some boiling salted water and let them bubble away.  But, sitting infront of the TV this afternoon, I decided that I would make a brussels recipe of my mum's that she got from Laura Calder's French Food at Home.  There is a great deal of preparation, but doing the majority of that watching mindless television made it easier for my poor snot filled brain. 

First, you separate all the leaves of the brussel sprouts...easily done sitting on the couch (as long as you are prepared to pick bits of sprout off your carpet).  Then you slice up some pieces of bacon and fy those off.  After you take the bacon out of the pan you pop the brussel sprout leaves into the bacon fat in the hot pan and you fry until the leaves have wilted.  And then.....the best add the bacon bits back into the pan!

Sprouts and bacon are old friends so there is no doubt that this will be good.  And, despite my cold...IT IS!

My nose is red and sore and my lips are chapped...I am going to be a fine sight on Christmas...but hey! at least my tummy is happy and I haven't lost my sense of taste quite yet!

This is SNOT funny...

Monday night David went to sleep with a cold and Tuesday morning I woke up with it!! How terrible is that? Christmas is only a few days away and I have a full fledged four alarm head cold....sinuses full of stuff.....and it just doesn't stop coming....

I lay on the couch for what seemed like hours, I didn't clean anything up from breakfast (or the few dishes from dessert the night before), I watched Dick Tracy and Jeremy Kyle (the UK's answer to Sally Jesse)...nothing could make me feel better....and then before I knew was 1:30 and I needed something comforting for lunch.

I needed heat....both temperature and spice...I needed something to get my nose running even more freely...normally I would make up a sort-of asian broth, with hot chili sauce, ginger, carrots, celery and rice noodles (toss in some left over chicken).....but there was no site of anything like that in my fridge....there was, however, a small broccoli and a medium calabrese broccoli needing some attention...

My mum makes a yummy broccoli soup with curry powder...Just what I needed! Vegetable Vitamens, hot hot soup and hot hot spice from the curry. 

Leeks, Broccoli, Parsely, curry poweder and stock....simple and yummy....puree with trusty NEW hand blender and voila.....get the Kleenex ready it is going to be a runny nose kind of week!


Don't Panic!!!!

Monday, 21 December 2009

Spiced Butternut Squash Loaf with Cream Cheese

A few weeks ago I went totally gaga over a recipe for Pumpkin and Cream Cheese Swirl Bread posted by Karine over at Food Gourmand.  First of all...I go gaga over everyone of Karine's recipes, and second I was totally craving some good North American Pumpkinny baked goods.  The problem you ask? Finding canned pumpkin is near impossible on this side of the pond, let alone in little Chelmsford!  I know there are a handful of places where I can get it in the capital...but am hard up to find anything here where I live. 

Mental note: stock up on canned pumpkin next time in London. my pleasure and total joy we got an itty bitty butternut squash in our veggie box last week! I had already been toying with the idea of substituting butternut squash for the pumpkin in the bread recipe...and low and behold there it was this morning just sitting there on my couter begging me to work my magic. 

I don't really know if it was magic that I ended up working, as the loaf didn't turn out quite like Karine's gorgeous picture, or that from Boys n Biscuits...but it is probably all down to the consistency of the pureed butternut squash, the fact that I halved the original recipe and my sheer desperation to have something to snack on.

I have been baking Christmas gifites for the last couple of weeks and it has been total torture having the gingerbread and shortbread sitting in the dining room taunting us.  We can't can't can't indulge and it has been really difficult.  So I partially blame the loaf oddity on the baked goods withdrawl I have been suffering.

For some reason the cream cheese layer (supposed to be a layer of squash batter, cream cheese swirl, layer of squash batter) didn't work, the top layer of the squash batter just sunk right through the cream cheese stuff.  I am going to give it another go, I think that perhaps the cream cheese mixture wasn't thick enough, and the squash batter was a bit too heavy...but the taste of the finished porduct is yummy....will be made better by a creamy cheesy centre next time!

Spiced Butternut Squash Loaf with Cream Cheese
*makes one 2lb loaf

for the butternut squash puree:
Peel and de-seed 1 small butternut squash (I didn't even weigh need a big enough squash for 1 cup of puree).
Cut into cubes and boil until tender.
Drain and mash sqush into a puree with potato masher

for cream cheese layer:
4 oz cream cheese, softened
3 Tbsp white sugar
1/2 egg
1/4 tsp vanilla

Put all ingredients in bowl, mix with beaters until smooth and creamy.

for cake batter:
1 1/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup vegetable or canola oil
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup butternut squash puree
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp mixed spice
1 2/3 cup flour
1/3 cup water

Pre Heat Oven to 350f
In large bowl (or stand mixer) combine sugar and vegetable oil until light and fluffy.
Add eggs one at a time, mix
Add butternut squash puree
While mixing add baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and mixed spice. 
Slowly add half of flour, mix to combine
Add half of water
Add remaining flour, mix to combine
Add remaining water

Pour 1/2 of batter into greased/llined loaf pan
Spread cream cheese mixture ontop
Pour remaining batter on top

Bake in pre-heated oven for 50-60 mins, until tester comes out clean ( I think it took me a bit longer than that....just keep checking!)

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Christmas Gingerbread Pancakes

These pancakes are so yummy they don't have to be JUST for Christmas...but the hint of ginger and cinnamon mixed with the yummy sweet syrupy maple syrup David smuggled back from Canada just screamed CHRISTMAS this morning. 

Karine over at Food Gourmand made gingerbread pancakes last week and after reading her post I was just dieing to try something similar for our Lazy Sunday breakfast this weekend.  Trust me, they didn't disappoint. 

I have tried a few different standard pancake recipes over the last couple of years and I keep coming back to the Joy of Cooking for a no-fail light and fluffy American-style pancake, to which I added 1 tsp ground ginger and 1 tsp ground cinnamon. 

People love all sorts of things on their pancakes.  I am partial to good ol' fashioned Canadian Maple Syrup (or President's Choice...if that's all you can smuggle in to the country) or apple sauce (which I didn't have on hand today). Of course, bacon MUST accompany...the salty crunch of the bacon combined with the gingery fluffyness of the pancakes topped off with the syrupy goodness...Pancake Heaven!

Sew what?

Last weekend while I was catching up on some of my friends' adventures through the wonder of the blogosphere I was inspired by a sort of homesick blog by my totally artsy and fabbo Australian friend Amanda's post Sewing my way out of the blues and got my creative sewing juices flowing...

Amanda's homesick blues led her to re-fab an old cardi using bits of fabric from other charity shop heap clothes...and I thought WHAT A BRILLIANT WAY to patch up my sad looking moth eaten navy blue jumper!!! My poor jumper, which I dragged my mum and David all over Oxford street to find last Christmas, was devoured by moths some point over the summer and I am just not ready to trash it yet. 

So, with Amanda's inspiration, an old shirt, a bit of thread and my ONLY sewing needle I patchworked my way to a rejuvenated and less moth-eaten looking sweater!

Friday, 18 December 2009

Thai turkey pat-teeny pita pockets

Last night's dinner was a result of total inspiration, no recipes, no adaptations, just my brilliance...well ok, perhaps that isn't entirely true...I mean, we are all products of those around us, so I am sure that I have had something like this before...but last night, when I was getting creative in the kitchen it was all me!

What I really wanted to make was Thai CHICKEN burgers...but it is unbelievably difficult to find ground chicken here in the UK (and don't get me started on tukey/chicken bacon).  I haven't built the courage up to ask the butcher in the market yet if they will grind me some, and I don't think that David would be able to understand the need to get the meat grinder attachment for my Kitchen Aid (incredible I KNOW!).  So turkey became the default meat of choice.

Ground turkey, minced ginger, minced garlic, chopped coriander, chopped red chili, minced onion and a squeeze of lemon juice. 

I didn't bother with breadcrumbs or egg...mostly because I didn't have either and also because I had decided to make the patties itty-bitty.  At the store I bought pita pockets for the patties, instead of buns (teehee BUNS) cause I invisioned a sort-of shredded salad-type buffet with pita pockets and turkey pat-teenys spread welcoming David home from work. 

Shredded lettuce, carrots and raw beetroot (the veggie box came yesterday) with chopped tomatoes and thai sweet chili sauce...pita pockets...and mini thai turkey patties (served in a gorgeous bright green Emile Henry dish...thank you Aunt Sandi)

Ground turkey is a little bit dry...I mean it is turkey after all! So I ended up having a good dollop of sweet chili sauce....but yummy nonetheless!! And...even better, they stay in relatively good shape while warming in the oven if your honey is an HOUR late coming home from work! oops!

I would definetly make these again, but next time I'll have to think about some sort of side dish? Suggestions?

Walking in a winter wonderland...

I absolutely LOVE walking in freshly fallen snow.  I love feeling the crisp air on my cheeks and the constant stream running from my nose.  I love when the sun comes out and reflects in my eyes.  I love how white everything is.  I love love love it.  Most of all, I love how it makes me feel closer to Canada. 

After half a day though...I am over it. 

Here are some pictures of an eerily abandoned Chelmsford this morning when I went for a little stroll all wrapped up in my finest Canadian woolies and MEC puffys!

this morning!!!

Thursday, 17 December 2009

I'm dreaming of a whiiiiiite christmas

It is snowing! And...even better...the snow is SETTLING!

Successful Stroganoff (with a twist)

So yesterday was a really great day for me and after the Borscht mishap the night before I think you will agree I was due a smooth ride. 

The house is feeling festive, the cookies are baked, most of the provisions are bought, David's gifts from me and Santa are wrapped, ready and waiting, the laundry is basically up to date and the wedding invitations are almost finished.  What a wonderful time of the year it is! 

I got a little crafty in the afternoon...finished product to be revealed over the weekend I hope! And then, before I knew it DING DING DING it was time to get started on dinner.  Continuing the Russian theme I decided that I was going to make a Stroganoff....cause c'mon who doesn't love a little bit of cream and meat with a hint of lemon juice every now and again? MMMMMMMM says I. 

The twist you ask? Is not just the lemony goodness added at the end....The real twist is that I use CHICKEN! I know....I know...I know...not real Russian rich and lush beef stroganoff...but trust is so good!

Just imagine, Leeks boiled in white wine, chicken, button mushrooms and cream...all bubbling together... finished off with a good squeeze of lemon and served over rice with lots and lots of parsely (brought home by the wonderful David).  The whole meal takes about 20 minutes to cook...basically you put on the rice and then get down and dirty with the leeks and chicken...simple, tasty and not too heavy.  A SUCCESS!

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

How lucky am I?

From my honey...when he came home from work
(with the parsley)


I love beets, I love pickled beets, I love cold boiled beets, I love shredded raw beets in salad, I love roasted beets with goats cheese...I love the colour, I love the texture, I love the taste. There are so many fantastic beet recipes in my cookbooks waiting to be discovered, the problem....the beet is usually a side, a compliment to a main...for something that takes a heck of a lot of time to prepare and cook it doesn't seem to have had its proper dues. 

After the sucess of the Beetroot Relish on Monday I was itching to get stuck into my next beetroot adventure.  Donning my University of Arizona BURGUNDY coloured t-shirt (a gift from my brother) and my yellow rubber gloves I was ready to attack the last 1.5 lbs of beets lurking in the crisper drawer.  What better for a cold miserable winter's day than BORSCHT?! I have never made Borscht myself, but my friend used to make an Austrian version which she served with pasta is more like a beetroot bouillon with pasta....yummy but not the hearty root vegetable meal I imagine Northern Russians serving up. 

The recipe I used came from the Riverford Organics Website, which you can find here.  Of the ten or so recipes I looked at on-line and the one from my Canadian Classics cookbook this was the easiest, and what I thought to be the most beetroot-based version.  The longest part of the process is, of course, the boiling and peeling of the beets.

But, once that tediousness is over (and rubber gloves well and truly purpley) it takes no longer than half an hour to cook the soup.  Pretty simple so far? Where does this so-called "borscht blunder" come in, you ask?

I say it was a BLUNDER more than being an INICIDENT or ACCIDENT or, even worse, a DISASTER...but it certainly instigated a "DINNER IS RUINED" moment.  I will admit, in hindsight, that my reaction was actually based in ignorance. 

Ok enough of a build up....So in my head I thought, make the soup and then...puree it....right? cause that's how I thought Boscht was served.....ALWAYS....with a nice swirl of sour cream....

So I let the soup cool down a bit, and then got out my ingenious handheld blender.  And then....then....then...


The blender just stopped!!  David came in and had a go....wouldn't work....tried a different outlet....wouldn't work...CHANGED THE FUSE...wouldn't work...IT WAS BUSTED! I totally thought dinner was ruined.  The Borscht wasn't pureed therefore dinner was ruined.  I got the potato masher and had a go at mashing by hand...but hey! Beetroot certainly isn't that soft EVER (but the potato in the soup that was ok).

Defeated, I served the uber chunky borscht and David and I ate in our cold dining room by the dim light of the Christmas tree....all we needed was some Vodka to get the atmosphere right (ok....maybe the tree lights should really be candels on the tables...)

The soup was actually really nice, once you got over the large chunks of beetroot.  After dinner I did some further research on the internet and discovered that a chunky borscht is certainly more authentic than a pureed one anyway...Looking back, if I had cut the beets up smaller everything would have been fine sans blender. 

This morning two great things happened...first I realised there is no more beetroot in my crisper drawer (until tomorrow's delivery) and second I took the blender back to the shop and got a full refund! I then took my money and went to a different store and bought a different fingers crossed!

And....if today couldn't get any better....IT IS SNOW FLURRYING HERE IN CHELMSFORD!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

If you have a spare second...

I think this deserves a separate post.  I don't want her to get lost in the MONSTER I just posted.  My really good and wonderful friend Lee has just started her own blog about living and cooking in student accommodation in Tel Aviv.  Check her out here if you get a chance! xo

Purple Fingers and Christmassy Nonsense

I have to admit I was completely lazy over the weekend nothing much was done other than a lot of tv watching and a brief trip into town to buy provisions for our weekend hibernation.  David has done really well over the last few weeks studying for his exams, writing them and then straight back to work, so this past weekend was our first weekend together since I've been back where David didn't have to study...and so we enjoyed a well deserved lazy weekend!

Well it was back to work for David yesterday morning, early and in the cold leaving me to my own devices...

Sunday night I discovered that one of our crisper drawers in the fridge is filled to the brim with beetroot! I think I have just been dumping the beetroot from the veggie boxes and the allotment in there and trying to forget about it, and now...we are overrun with GIGANTIC beetroot.  That was all well and good until I had a look on line and realised that we would be receiving EVEN more beetroot with our delivery on Thursday! Tis the Season I suppose...

I don't know if I really have to declare this or not...but if you haven't guessed already...we are bound to have beetroot all week long! David was spared yesterday though because I used a good 3 lbs up making beetroot relish during the day (for xmas gifties) resulting in a nice dent in the beetroot supply.  I had been faffing about with the idea of making chutney or relish months ago to give away at xmas, and was saving jars....and then I decided that I wouldn't bother and want to use the jars as makeshift vases for the wedding....and then, well, the beetroot situation got out of after adding a few other ingredients I was left with a sticky sweet and sour beetroot tasted sharp and sugary while still warm and I can't wait wait wait to try it now that it is cooled down.  I managed to get 5 jars of various sizes out of this recipe, with a small tupperwear container left for me and David. 

I did a quick web search for beetroot relish and adapted a few different posts I found on allotment forums and greenliving websites. I don't normally post recipes but I think that this is such a simple relish to make that I have to share it!!!

Beetroot Relish My Way

3 lbs beetroot
1 large cooking onion
1 large cooking apple
12 oz white sugar
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 pint white vinegar
(handful of sultana raisens-optional)

Cook beetroot with skin on in a large saucepan of water until tender.  Drain and let cool until you can bare to handle them.  Using your fingers or the back of a knife peel the beetroot and then dice into small pieces. 

Peel and dice onion and apple.

Put all the ingredients into a large saucepan.  Bring to the boil and then simmer until soft and the liquid has thickened. 

Spoon still hot relish into sterilized jars and leave to cool before putting in the fridge. 

****TOP TIP wear rubber glooves when handling beetroot to save you fingers from turning pink (as well as anything else you touch!)

While the relish was bubbling away on the stove I worked on my wedding invitations, and dreamed of all the Christmassy things I have in mind for the house.  It is really hard to keep my craftyness focused on one thing, and realistically the wedding should be at the top of the list....but Christmas is so so so soon...and I have TONS of time after Christmas to do wedding crafting....right? right? RIGHT? The invitations, of course are the exception...they have to be done NOW...or else...NO WEDDING GUESTS! oh dear....I am desperate to share the design with you but have to resist until they are mailed out and mostly received! Until then....shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

Between beetroot relish and wedding invitations most of yesterday was taken up, but luckily and sweetly and wonderfully and all those things....David made a gorgeous stew on Sunday night for dinner and we were frugal and disciplined enough to leave leftovers for Monday night dinner, which meant that I had nothing to prepare leaving me extra time to craft....turing my attention to Christmas I got on with the second half of my housewife tasks for the day....

POP POP POP!!! Popcorn and Cranberry Garlands for the tree!!!

We've agreed that the tree is done now.  Mostly homemade decorations this year with the few that I have collected the last couple of years and those I couldn't resist buying in Toronto.  We have TONS of time to acquire gaudy sparkly lovely baubles and other decorations.  For now, I absolutely LOVE our tree!! 

It took a while to thread the garlands and it was a painful operation, poor little sticky bloody fingers, but the finished product was well worth it (Kirstie Allsopp eat your heart out again!!! this is quickly becoming my catchphrase this Christmas)!!

After dinner we were both still a little bit peckish and round up the Christmassy day I baked a batch of Grandma Kay's Shortbread Cookies.  YUM!

These shortbread cookies are a tradition in our family, especially at Christmas (although I am a firm believer that shortbread can be eaten all year round, morning, noon or night especially Grandma Kay's!). My Grandma decorates them with half a glacee cherry (red or green) or with a few rows of fork pricks, simple and gorgeous!!  These shortbread cookies have a smooth and buttery texture and are less crumbly than the traditional store bought variety (although I would kill for a Marks and Spencers Shortbread in June).  The difference in texture is down to using Icing Sugar instead of regular granulated sugar in the mixture leave it smooth and OH SO GOOD!

I'll be making a couple more batches over the next week to include with my beetroot relish christmas goodies.  For now these cookies bring me home and make me feel less far away from my family than I am. 

ps I feel like I have to mention that I have already accepted that I may have to wear a pair of tummy sucking in underwear under my wedding dress (sorry Zia) I just can't reign myself in over Christmas!

Friday, 11 December 2009

Kirstie Allsopp eat your heart out!!

For the past few days I have been watching Kirstie Allsopp's (of Location, Location fame) new Christmas show called Kirstie's Homemade Christmas.  Basically she is outfitting her Devon home with homemade goods and presents by visiting a number of artisans who are teaching how to sew, make wreaths, make chutney, blow glass, make soap, decorate cakes, sew a teddy bear...etc. etc. etc.

In general the program is very Christmassy and Kirstie explains the processes she is going through in classic Kirstie manner.  What I can't stand, and it just has driven me crazy, is that she presents the program as a way to cut costs.  But nonetheless she has inspired me to DECORATE!

David and I trekked out last night in the cold and the dark to buy our Christmas tree.  What an adventure! As I've said before I have first hand experience in Christmas tree selection...but nothing prepared me for the heap of trees chilling at the local garden centre. 

After unwrapping a number of cut trees to determine straightnes and girth we finally settled on a Normand Fir (apparently doesn't drop its needles....) and carried it home!! I helped carrying I promise! We put it up almost immediately....sorry Dad, there was no way I was going to let the branches "fall down" was in the door and up up up!!!!

We haven't bought any decorations yet, the few we have already I brought from Toronto (cause I couldn't pass them up) and we are still in debate over what decorations to purchase.  We can't decide if we should theme our baubles or just hodgepodge them.  But...Luckily....David's mum has a heap of decorations she isn't using this year and has offered for us to go and root through them....I think that is what we will do (especially as the shop's stock is dwindling!).

Today has been all about the DECORATION of a different sort...When we got the tree home it completely took over the dining room.  We don't have a large dining room by any stretch of the imagination and with the tree it was more like a tree room and less like a dining room.

But never fear! Brilliant David to the RESCUE!!

CHOP CHOP CHOP off went the bottom three branches and taaadaaaaaa a perfect conical tree!!!

So those three boughs hanging out under the tree lounged there last night and then came under attack by me today! Using David's trusty swiss army knife I sawed those suckkas up and used some garden twine and....taaaadaaaaaaa

two gorgeous wreaths! The Large one is now hanging in the dining room on our bare wall, and the smaller wreath on the right is happily freezing outside beside the door.  Fir boughs and ribbon! What more could a girl ask for?

I just couldn't stop after making those two gorgeous wreaths, I had had had to stay Christmassy...and so I turned my hand to icing the gingerbread men and hearts I made last week.  I didn't want to make Royal Icing (with egg whites) but I found a recipe online that called for corn syrup instead (I guess it gives a bit more hold than just icing sugar and milk, not to mention GLOSS).  The only thing with using corn or golden syrup is that the icing takes on a slight yellow a few drops of red food colouring later....

I need to tidy up before David gets home from work...LOTS of needles to sweep up and I am sure that I will find a few in odd places over the next couple of weeks, not to mention months!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Recipe Guinea Pigs...

My mom always told me that if you find a great recipe for a dinner party and want to serve it you MUST MUST MUST try it out on your nearest and dearest first.  Makes sense doesn't it? Well...I sorta did it the opposite way around yesterday! Not entirely opposite...but a slight variation on that rule perhaps?

A couple of weekends ago David's mum had a "Practice Christmas Lunch" dinner.  She totally outdid herself and made (I am not exaggerating) AN ENTIRE CHRISTMAS DINNER! I'm talking, turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, bread sauce, brussel sprouts, roast potatoes, roast carrots and parsnips, braised cabbage, gravy, carrots cooked in some booze...and I am sure that I am forgetting something.  It was incredible! It was amazing! It was Christmas! And then for dessert she made christmas cake ice cream with a gingery cake on the side....DROOOOOOOOOOOOOL. 

All of that is what she is ACTUALLY going to serve on Christmas Day.  I mean, she REALLY tried out her recipes....ALL of them.  It was great! 

I am getting away from the main point a bit.  I have offered to make YET ANOTHER DESSERT (like we need anymore) for Christmas Day because not everybody likes Christmas Cake (unbelievable I know).  It took me a few days thinking and debating to decide on what to make.  Christmas lunch is a big deal...I mean after all the effort David's mum is putting in I can't just show up with a marble has to be special, it has to be something I wouldn't just throw together, it has to be something GOOOOOOOD...but not necessarily Christmassy at the same time for those who aren't keen on Christmas dessert flavours....and so....trolling though my recipes and books and the library and the internet I decided on something new for me. 

LEMON POPPYSEED CHEESECAKE! Everyone one likes cheesecake right? Well...other than those who can't have dairy....or gluten (or in this case seeds...) but other than those people EVERYONE LOVES CHEESECAKE! When I was visiting my family last month I had looted my mom's recipe books and scribbled down some yummy delights.  This particular cheesecake comes from a Donna Hay book, I can't remember which one off hand. If you have looked through or used Donna Hay books you'll know that it looked beautiful in the picture and the instructions were simple to follow (both major points in cookbook selection for me). 

Making it was simple enough...oh except the 1kg of cream cheese I needed! Here in the UK 200g is pretty much the largest package of cream cheese you can 5 of those went into my shopping basket.  "Looks like you are making a dessert" said the cashier....

And a dessert I did make my cashier friend!

So on Tuesday I mixed and baked and cooled (and cried over cracks) this lovely cheesecake in PRACTICE for Christmas.  The slight variation to the rule is that I also SERVED it to a couple of friends who came over for dinner last night....thereby making something NEW for a dinner party...

For a first attempt at a cheesecake I was pretty happy it turned out at all.  The cracks were inevitable.  I have since done research online and via my mother (who makes a KILLER chocolate cheesecake) and will try the basin of water in the oven trick next time.  I've also read that if you leave the cheesecake to cool in the oven it shouldn't crack, or if you cool it on the counter cover it with a large mixing bowl, and to makesure to release the springform sides after about 10 mins.  All these tips mean....MORE CHEESECAKES MUST BE MADE!

Confession time....David and I "tested" the cheesecake Tuesday night to ensure that it would be edible for our guests.  It had been in the fridge for about 4 hours, but in my opinion it hadn't really set yet.  By last night, however, after 12 hours in the fridge it was firm and creamy...totally cheesecakey.  In the end the only thing I was unsure of was the addition of poppyseeds.  I know that is what makes this cheesecake unique but they made the texture a bit grainy.  I have to think hard about whether they will make the cut for Christmas or if I will be making a plain lemon cheesecake piled high with fruit.   Suggestions?? 

Regardless there is about half a cheesecake hanging out in my lots of opportunity to debate the texture issue over the next few days!