Chocolate brownie heaven

A brilliant reason to have kids is ‘Mother’s Day’. (Kidding!) I love Mother’s Day. It’s basically like a Birthday but without getting a year older. Brilliant! Bring it on.

I am lucky enough to receive a lovely card, (usually made by my little girl), gifts and I am spoilt all day long which of course I relish. And I’m sure as she gets older I will be able to milk this occasion even more by demanding things like breakfast in bed, hourly cups of tea and of course, chocolate brownies. She isn’t quite old enough to boil a kettle yet, but as soon as she is…

CD100198.04.13_IMG_7135Mother’s Day has been my focus these past few weeks as I’ve been designing products for my shop. There is now a collection of pretty cards and I’ve even remembered Nanna’s and Grandma’s as they are lucky enough to be able to Celebrate both Mother’s Day AND the new ‘Grandparents’ day!

And for those of us who want to give our Mum a little something other than flowers then I’ve got the perfect personalised gift with my new ‘Ring for service bell’. A great way to make your Mum smile and to receive a beautiful gift totally personalised for her.

BEL00001.31.08_IMG_7126My daughter’s school is also embracing Mother’s Day by inviting Mums to join their children for lunch, which is a lovely idea. Well, apart from having to sit on those itty-bitty chairs. And with my long legs it means I will have to eat my lunch with my knees level with my face. That and having to sit with other little ones, with table manners not exactly being their strong point.

Both Amelie and I have very delicate tums so it doesn’t take much to make us heave. There was the time when my brother’s Boxer dog stood in their lounge with dribble coming from his mouth which is usual for Boxer dogs. I turned to find Amelie stood there retching! She has told me on several occasions that she has almost been sick during lunch at school due to other kids table manners (or lack of). So you can understand my nervousness about this lunch. I’m hoping it will be incident-free and it’s not like feeding time at the zoo with Amelie and I taking it in turns to share the sick bag!

Choc brownie smallNow, onto much nicer things! I mentioned chocolate brownies earlier. I LOVE brownies and I have THE best recipe. They have a nice flaky top but they are lovely and soft in the middle. I know there are brownies out there that are classed as ‘healthy brownies’ as they include avocado and beetroot in their ingredients. But my brownies do not even pretend to be even the slightest bit healthy. They do not contain any ingredients that you would normally find in a salad. In my opinion, that is just wrong.  They are full-on chocolate, full-fat chocolate brownies, which I bake as a treat for special occasions. I’d have to eat chocolate brownies on a daily basis to want to make a ‘healthy version’. Bake and eat them on a special occasion such as Mother’s Day as a treat and we’ll be fine. And yes I love them that much I don’t even mind baking them myself, for myself!

Amelie won’t be able to eat them, as they’re not gluten-free. BUT, before you start to think I’m the worst Mummy ever, Amelie doesn’t like brownies! “WHAT!?” I hear you cry. I know – it’s just not right is it? How can a daughter of mine not like brownies? But on the upside it means there are more for me to scoff. (And then whine that I’ve put on weight afterwards).

So, as my little gift to you I’m going to share my brownie recipe in honour of Mother’s Day. They make the perfect gift cut into squares and wrapped prettily in cellophane tied with a ribbon. Hopefully you will have these baked for you, but if like me you’ll have to bake them yourself then it just means you get to eat the first one as that is the number one rule of baking.

The best-ever chocolate brownies

Ingredients

200g (7oz) unsalted butter
200g (7oz) good quality dark chocolate (70% cocoa)
3 medium eggs
300g (10.5oz) caster sugar
175g (6oz) plain flour, sifted
100g (3.5oz) dark chocolate drops (70% cocoa)

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 190°C, 375°F, Gas 5. Line two 28cm x 19cm (7.5” x 11”) baking tins with grease-proof paper and set aside. I sometimes use one large tin to make a chunkier brownie, but that’s me being a piggy!
  2. Melt the butter (slice into chunks) and chocolate (snapped into small pieces) together in a bowl over a pan of gently simmering water. Set aside and allow to cool completely. Or if you are in a rush, you can cheat and put the mixture in the fridge to speed up the cooling process. (I’ve done this a couple of times and the brownies have turned out just fine. Just give it a mix with a spoon after taking it out of the fridge).
  3. Meanwhile, beat the eggs and sugar together with an electric whisk until pale and creamy. Using a large metal spoon, gently fold in the chocolate mixture, then the flour and three-quarters of the chocolate drops.
  4. Divide the brownie mixture evenly between the two prepared tins (or one larger tin), then scatter with the remaining chocolate drops. Bake for 25 minutes, until set and a cocktail stick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  5. Allow to cool on a wire rack. Once completely cooled, cut each ‘cake’ into eight brownies (or more if you have used one large tin). Best eaten on the day of baking, but they do last for a few days if kept in an airtight tin.
  6. If you are being kind and making these as a gift for Mother’s Day then wrap a couple of the brownies in pretty cellophane and tie with a ribbon or string.

Now make a cup of tea, turn the phone off, grab a book or a magazine and enjoy your delicious chocolate brownie in peace.

To all the Mums out there, I hope you have a really lovely Mother’s Day on Sunday 26 March 2017! xx

It’s official. The countdown has begun…

christmas-sleepsI always know when I can ‘officially’ start thinking about and planning Christmas when I receive the December issues of my magazines. I’ve subscribed to Ideal Home, Country Living and Country Homes & Interiors for years, as I love interior design and enjoy having a nosey at other people’s homes. Often getting a serious case of house envy!

The pages are full of photos of homes beautifully decorated with gorgeous trees, twinkly lights and candles. There are always shots of doorways with posh red wellies lined up outside, a luscious wreath hanging on the door, a pile of Christmas presents (all beautifully wrapped) and a lantern. I know it’s fake – as who really piles up their gifts outside their front door? But I’m still drawn in and it kickstarts my Christmas planning.

I’m looking forward to decorating our home this year, as this will be our first Christmas here. I have lots of new places where I can hang decorations and fairy lights, which is very exciting and means I have to buy yet more Christmas lights. (You can never have too many in my view). And to add to the excitement, this year we are going to get ‘Dave’ a friend. Dave is our Christmas tree. We always have a real tree and at the beginning of December you’ll hear me announce: “It’s time to get Dave”. We have had much discussion over what to call Dave’s friend, but we have settled on ‘Bob’. So it’ll soon be time to get Bob and Dave. I think we may need a bigger car!

jens-bauble_1As Bob is new I’ve obviously had to buy lots more tree decorations and lights for him. I’ve gone for white and blush as a colour scheme. I’ve been buying baubles like something possessed and also making my own baubles (see photo), which is a faff and very time-consuming but can be done in the evenings whilst sat in front of the telly. But it will be worth it to see Bob looking so pretty, or perhaps I should say handsome?

When it comes to thinking about Christmas shopping, every year I always contemplate the idea of making something rather than buying. (Cute I know). We have often discussed this as a family over the years; as between us we have a range of talents and are very ‘handy’ or ‘crafty’. (To be clear: ‘Crafty’, as in glue and glitter and stuff, not devious). For example, Mum makes yummy damson gin, and as we now know Mr G has a workshop (which Santa will be envious of) where he can build all sorts of gifts. My brother is a builder so I’m sure he wouldn’t mind building my new kitchen-diner as his gift to his bestest (only) sister. But each year we all cop-out due to either time restraints or lack of confidence in our own abilities.

Instead we all fall back on buying each other something that in all honesty we could buy for ourselves at half the price come January. Obviously for Amelie I wouldn’t dare present her on Christmas morning with something ‘Mummy has made’. Can you imagine the disappointment in Santa when she had written an in-depth letter to him clearly stating the latest in kid’s gadgets and over-priced plastic tut! Although this years (draft) letter to Santa literally brought tears to my eyes. Of course she has asked for gadgets and gizmo’s and plastic-fantastic tut, but she also asked for ‘lots of money’. At first I was disappointed, but when I read the rest of the sentence my heart swelled with pride. She wants lots of money to give to children in need. It was a real ‘proud mummy’ moment. So I (Santa) will definitely be including an envelope of cash, which she can then donate to charity. Bless her.

One idea I’d actually like to try this year is the Mason jar cookie kit. The humble Mason jars are being used for all sorts of wonderful things. Oh no, we’re not using them for just pickling and preserving anymore. We are now serving cocktails in them! They are the ‘new’ lunchbox – filled with layers of healthy salad stuff (Hmmm…). The jars are being used in the shed to house screws and bolts and bits and bobs in bathrooms. They are even being used as pendant lighting. But at Christmas time they come into their own – their use is endless,  with twinkly lights, sweets, craft kits and storing ingredients for Christmas cookies or cake. Pinterest has loads of fabulous ideas here. I’m now wondering if I can squeeze Mr G’s Christmas jumper in one ready for Christmas day. And then he can use the jar to keep nails in for his workshop. Two gifts in one – genius!

Gingerbread men are a classic Christmas biscuit. So giving the ingredients, method and even the cutter in a Mason jar would be like ‘Christmas in a jar’. As Amelie is Coeliac most of my baking is now gluten-free (GF). Unfortunately for GF baking you can’t just replace a wheat-based flour with a GF version. You usually have to have a pantry full of all sorts of different flours, from cornflour to rice and coconut flour. Then add a generous spoonful of unicorn dust and a sprinkling of various other ingredients which most of us wouldn’t have previously heard of and you’ll have the GF version. Baking without gluten takes practice and when you first start out it can be very hit and miss. Mr G has witnessed me shouting at various GF cake and biscuit baking disasters. It’s therapeutic! Thankfully there are some GF recipes such as cookies that don’t require a mix of four different flours or essence of unicorn and are easy to make. Yey!

gingerbread-2The Gingerbread man is one such recipe and it makes loads of the little dudes! AND you can freeze them so you don’t have to scoff them all at once. But feel free if you want to – it’s Christmas after all. (The diet can wait until January). All of the dry ingredients can be layered in a jar (so they look pretty) and sealed with a Christmas ribbon and a gingerbread man shaped tag (use the cookie cutter as a stencil). Ta-da!!! A simple homemade gift for Christmas.

Amelie’s favourite GF Gingerbread man recipe is from Adriana Rabinovich:

350g     GF plain flour (I use Dove’s)
2 tsp     Ground ginger
1 tsp     Bicarbonate of soda
100g     Cold butter, diced (For the gift jars, include a note that they need to add this)
100g     Dark brown sugar
75g       Caster sugar
1            Egg (For the gift jars, include a note that they need to add this)
4 tsp    Honey

Method:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 190°C (375°F) Gas 5. Lightly grease a baking sheet. Or sheets as these little guys multiply like Gremlins in water!
  • Sift the flour into a large bowl. Add the ginger and bicarbonate of soda. Rub the butter into the flour mixture using your fingers (remember to take your rings off first) until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the sugars, egg and honey and blend to make a soft dough. If the dough appears to be too wet, add a little more flour. If too dry, add a few drops of water or a little more egg. (I find water works just fine).
  • Knead the dough until smooth on a lightly floured surface. Roll it out evenly as possible to a thickness of 5mm, or thereabouts.
  • Using shaped cookie cutters, cut out gingerbread shapes (kids love this bit) and carefully place on the baking sheet(s). At this point you can add raisins or glacé cherries for decoration.
  • Bake for about 12 minutes until just lightly brown. Leave to cool.
  • We usually decorate our Gingerbread men with icing.

So forget about stuffing the turkey this year, and stuff jars instead!

Warning! Trillions of calories…

The clocks have gone back, nights are drawing in, you have to spend ten minutes in a morning de-frosting your car (that was a shock this week) and all thoughts of having salad for dinner have been replaced with pie and mash. And it’s that time of year when there are events in the calendar that mean we HAVE to eat sweets, chocolates and nice treats.

tin-of-treatsIt kicked off this week with Halloween – our first here in Suffolk and it didn’t disappoint. Even the weather was on our side, it kept dry and it was misty. Perfect setting for ‘trick or treat’. Amelie dressed up as a very glam witch and as we were off ‘trick or treating’ ourselves we left a little something for fellow ‘trickers’ outside with our three pumpkins. One of which is ‘Stuart’ the Minion (a traditional Halloween character!).

As we are the newbies in our lane we were kindly invited into neighbours houses when we knocked on doors and wished them “Trick or Treat” which is code for “Hand over the sweets”. I hoped nobody actually said “trick” as I’d have had to have improvised as we hadn’t come prepared for that! Thankfully everyone took one look at Amelie looking cute (and scary) and handed over fistfuls of sweet treats. See, as well as getting use of the parent and child parking spaces at the supermarket, your cute kid also wins you lots of sweets. Those are two reasons to have kids right there! And if like Amelie they suffer from Coeliac disease, you must check the sweets are gluten-free, because if they aren’t Mummy sacrifices her body (yet again) and scoffs them on her behalf.

Halloween_1.jpg

And then there is Bonfire night this weekend which is another excuse to eat comfort food, sweet treats like toffee apples or scrummy honeycomb chocolate fudge which I made for the school firework cake sale this afternoon. I found the recipe on Pinterest (I flipping love Pinterest!) but adding a secret ingredient to make it more in-keeping with Bonfire night – Popping candy. I added it to the mixture and also sprinkled it on top. Being the kind-hearted person I am, I tried some last night to make sure it was OK for the school to sell this afternoon. It’s delicious, but the only downside is there are about a TRILLION calories per chunk! Better get back on the cross-trainer…

Bag of fudge.jpgI bagged up the chunks and tied them with a little gold ribbon and took them into school today, worried that maybe I hadn’t done enough and I should have made the bonfire cupcakes as well. Only to find a lone bag of BOUGHT donuts on the table in the school hall and then in the village shop a parent bought a couple of packs of biscuits to donate. (Us parents have to buy back the goodies this afternoon at the cake sale). So panic over, I think I’ve done enough. Give the recipe a try as it is scrummy. I’ve promised Mr G that I’ll make it again at Christmas. Ooh Christmas. I love Christmas and will introduce you to ‘Dave’ and the newcomer – ‘Bob’ very soon. Happy bonfire weekend.

 

 

“I’m singing in church and I need to take veg”

In our garden we have an apple tree (cooking apples, no idea what sort!) which, when we first moved here we thought was charming. I had thoughts of baking my own apple pie in my country kitchen, filing the house with the aroma of apples and cinnamon. And apple pie is the perfect excuse for custard (I LOVE custard). In this dream-like state I imagined baking it in the Rayburn oven but as of yet I haven’t been brave enough to use it. It just sits there in the heart of the kitchen making odd noises and basically saying “Come on, give me a go if you’re brave enough”. I’m not.

As it’s autumn, the apples have started to drop from the tree. All three of us were very excited by this and Amelie was in charge of collecting the apples (in a cute little basket). Amelie thought this was the best job ever. (Needless to say the novelty has since worn off for Amelie). apples.jpg

And now I have so many apples I don’t know what to do with them. I literally can’t give them away! My lovely neighbour up the road generously gave me some of her Bantam hen eggs, so I suggested we swop the eggs for some cooking apples from our tree. She politely declined. Arghhhhh!

An aside – I have never seen apples so big! Some could pass for mini pumpkins and if they fell on your head they would probably knock you out. And yet, we have made a rope swing for Amelie in the apple tree. Hmmm, don’t think I’ll be getting the ‘Mum of the year’ trophy this year. 

I have to own up and admit that I’ve never made either apple pie or apple crumble before (hangs head in shame) so although I was excited about using our very own apples, I was also a little daunted. We are in the country, we have our own cooking apples – I MUST make a good job of this! The pressure was on. Oh and to throw another thing into the mix; my daughter Amelie is Coeliac so it also had to be gluten free. Gluten free (GF) baking isn’t easy, but that is another story. I’d never even heard of ‘Xantham gum’ before Amelie was diagnosed. I will share the delights of GF baking another day.

I decided to make an apple crumble, as that is far easier than trying to make GF pastry. I took the recipe from Doves web site and took note of the comments from others attempting the recipe and replaced some of the flour with ground almonds and didn’t add all of the butter (and felt SO virtuous by doing so).

By some miracle the apple crumble was a success (Hooray!) and Mr G was suitably impressed, telling me I can “make it again anytime”. Lucky me! Amelie liked the topping but being a kid didn’t like the healthier part – the apples. Mind you, any slither of healthiness in this pud was totally obliterated with the gallons of custard we had with it. Oops.

rope-swingA couple of days later, Amelie announced to me as she came out of school today that she is going to be singing in church next week and “we have to take some veg”. Eh? Is this a village tradition that churchgoers sit there with a butternut squash on the pew beside them? Is this the sort of carry-on that happens in Suffolk villages? But then it clicked and I asked Amelie if she meant it was for Harvest Festival. Thankfully she said yes.

So come Harvest Festival day I generously packed Amelie off to school with a good couple of tonnes of our apples. I know, I know – I’m all heart.