HALLOWEEN CREEPY SPIDERS!

 

Halloween creepy chocolate spiders

I just have to look at these Halloween Creepy Spiders to make me smile……..and they are fun to make and decorate especially for little fingers.  They would be a fun project for the half term holidays. 

I always loved (and still do) Halloween and Bonfire night and I can still feel the excitement that I did as a child!

We followed the Scottish tradition of ‘guising’ rather than the more American ‘trick or treating’ – you had to put some effort in before you got a reward! So it was either a song or a dance or you read a poem as this was regarded rather odd in Yorkshire we got away with mumbling a few words that were vaguely poetic before we held out our hands but we did go to town with the handmade costumes!  Bonfire night was next on the children’s calender of very exciting things. I know nowadays it is considered risky to have your own bonfire and much  ‘safer’ (probably) to go to an organised event but this misses the point. Where is the building excitement of scavenging for wood etc to burn on the fire and then building the fire (I think we had help with this part!), not to mention the anxiety that someone may maliciously set fire to it before the night.  Even more important to me was the lovely food that was associated with bonfire night, toffee apples, parkin, cinder toffee, sausages and homemade soup. Given the opportunity to go and see a spectacular firework display I’d rather stay home have a tiny fire, a packet of sparklers and the nice food any day!

Somewhere in between was the, much, more serious-Mischief night. I think this was a Yorkshire custom or at least Northern as I haven’t heard anyone else doing it other than in these areas. Opinions vary as to whether it was the night before Halloween or the night before Bonfire night. When I talk about it nowadays it always gives rise to a fair amount of consternation and tut tutting and a  lot of taking the moral high ground. Hm..mm,  it was, however,  fairly tame and ‘just’ mischief such as taking gates off hinges (putting jam under the bars of your gate usually protected yours if you were lucky), ringing doorbells and drawing smiley faces (only with lipstick) on the round orbs on some neighbour’s gate posts………………..nothing to get too worked up about unless you were that way inclined

Just to get things going I would start with these lovely chocolate spiders….

HALLOWEEN CREEPY SPIDERS

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MY FESTIVE CHERRY BERRY PECAN CAKE

 

I’m not keen on the traditional Christmas cake so this is my alternative one -my Festive Cherry Berry Pecan Cake. Not surprisingly it is packed with cherries, berries and pecans. It’s also one for marzipan lovers that don’t like icing -me! I only make it a few days before Christmas but it keeps well loosely wrapped in foil and in a cake tin. I love to eat this on boxing day afternoon with a glass of something fizzy or perhaps a sloe gin. Lovely.

Loathe marzipan? -Let me convert you with my homemade marzipan…it’s very different with a more nutty flavour rather than the tongue tingling aftertaste of artificial almond flavour. This amount of marzipan will give you lots of stars, crescents, holly leaves or whatever you have cutters for. If you leave them dry a little they will pack into bags as presents for your favourite marzipan lover.

Have a lovely Christmas and a very peaceful New Year.

 

MY FESTIVE CHERRY BERRY PECAN CAKE

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LAVENDER SHORTBREAD THINS

Lavender shortbread thins-a little taste of summer..

Lavender shortbread thins

Oops where did summer go? I’m hanging on to the idea that there is a lot more to come and crossing my fingers for an ‘Indian summer’-to be fair here in Cumbria we often have lovely weather in September ………once all the children have gone back to school. That is a shame

I love my garden and love the idea of using flowers in my recipes what could be prettier-delicate blue borage flowers in ice cubes or drinks, peppery nasturtium flowers & calendula petals in a freshly picked salad, courgette flowers stuffed with creamy ricotta cheese & fried and delicate rose petals to adorn a special cake….I could go on.

These lavender shortbread thins are delicate little biscuits perfect for serving with home made ice cream, mousses or something like a creamy lemon posset or with afternoon tea. I have used a ‘sausage’ technique for making them which easily gives thin biscuits with a good ‘snap’. You can use this method to make any sort of biscuits that require rolling out a dough and cutting out shapes. The biscuits are not perfect rounds so if you want that you will have to go back to the usual methods. You can also make these with finely chopped rosemary again take care as rosemary has a powerful flavour.

 

LAVENDER SHORTBREAD THINS*

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SIMPLE OATY BISCUITS TO BAKE AT HOME

 

 

Fiona's Oaty Biscuits
Fiona’s Oaty Biscuits

Simple oaty biscuits to bake at home?  Simple is great and it’s a shame that simple is often thought to be boring.

My mother is a Scot and I was brought up eating lots of oats, porridge, oat cakes, haggis, muesli, flap jacks, oaty bread, oaty biscuits and a delicious pudding called cranachan, a creamy mix of raspberries, toasted oatmeal and whisky. I have to admit to preferring porridge made with rolled oats (not pinhead), milk (not water) and sugar (not salt). We were subjected to ‘proper’ porridge on visits over the border to see grandparents and I still shudder at the memory. Our rolled oats of choice was Scott’s Porage Oats. Who could resist the athletic, kilted Scots man on the packet about to release his shotput over the glorious highlands?.

Oats are healthy to eat, high in fibre, cheap to buy, nutritious and their slow release, wholegrain goodness will keep you going until lunchtime and beyond…what’s not to love?

This recipe for oaty biscuits comes from a Scottish (of course) friend Fiona, have a go they are simply delicious!

FIONA’S OATY BISCUITS

125g  Plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

125g rolled oats

125g  unrefined caster sugar

125g  block margarine or butter

Generous tablespoon golden syrup

Splash of milk

Prepare a baking tray with baking paper.  (It is helpful to have two trays if you have them as the biscuits take up quite a lot of space in the oven)

 

  • Put the flour, baking powder and oats in a bowl and mix together.
  • Melt the sugar, margarine and syrup in a small pan and then add to the dry ingredients.
  • Stir until incorporated. The mixture should be quite stiff but add a very little milk if it doesn’t come off the spoon easily. Drop approx. a small desert spoonful of mixture onto the baking sheet, it helps to use a teaspoon to push the mixture off the spoon.
  • Bake for about 20 minutes in a medium oven at approximately 160C, Gas mark 2. When golden remove from the oven, allows them to cool a little and then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.

 

NOTE: It is easy to put too much too much mixture on the tray, the biscuits need room to spread or you will end up with one large (but equally delicious) biscuit!

SAUSAGE & EGG PICNIC PIES

 

 

 

 

Sausage & Egg Picnic Pies

 

School holidays and sunshine (well it is here in the West, sorry East but it is usually us in the rain and cold!). Time to head out for a picnic-these portable, Sausage & Egg Picnic Pies are scrumptious. They are  a bit more of a fiddle to make than a cheese sandwich but they don’t curl up around the edges when you leave them out in the sun and……………they are delicious. If you can get hold of a nice, meaty, sausage rather than a more processed one that is better.

So head off in to the great outdoors or just down to the bottom of the garden or local park and have fun in the sun! Toodle pip

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MOTHER’S DAY CAKE for a special mum

Mother's day cake
My special Mother’s Day cake

A special cake for a special day-what could be a nicer gift than a home baked one made with love? This is a rather special mother’s day cake which, ditching the bunting, you could use for all sorts of celebrations-the crystallized rose petals giving it a very pretty, vintage look.

I have a long history of making cakes for Mothering Sunday..with various degrees of success..for some reason my sisters and I thought it would be a good idea (and perfectly feasible) to get up very early in the morning bake a cake AND ice it….yes, you can imagine what happened but I’m sure my mum looked at the wonky cake with the icing sliding down the sides and thought it was the best present ever!

Nowadays we have ready made fondant icing  which is very easy to use and gives a perfectly smooth professional looking finish -it’s as easy as child’s play to put it on just have a look at some You tube videos to show you how. I confess I am not a fan of eating it and I think that the synthetic, vanilla flavour is over sweet and spoils my lovely cake! It is a waste as I cut mine off before I eat it.. I could be harsh and say it often is used to cover up a poor quality cake and, from a business point of view, gives it a very long shelf life.

Home made marzipan is a revelation to convert even the most ardent ‘I hate marzipan’ brigade and I confess to being quite evangelical about singing it’s praises.  It is easy peasy to make just stir the sugars together and bind with egg and it doesn’t have the sharp, chemical after taste of bought marzipan. Almonds are expensive so it makes commercial sense not to use too much and then to get the ‘almond’ flavour by adding a cheap, artificial flavour.

I made the bunting for a special Mother’s day message, it was a fiddle although you can buy the little paper flags from a craft shop. These I glued onto the ribbon (using a high tac glue that dries quickly and clear) and tied the ribbon onto some paper straws. Move them around to get the right ‘hanging effect’ before you sink them into the cake. also used crystallized fresh rose petals which look so..oooooooooooooooo pretty. You can also crystallise primroses, violets or forget me nots, the loveliness is endless. I did try it with snowdrops one year, they looked ok but are really too fleshy to do properly and you really need a flower with an ‘open’ face. Give it a go and you will be amazed at how easy it is.

 

A simply iced cake for any celebration
A simply iced cake for any celebration

Here is my mother’s day  cake-appropriately for Mothering Sunday I have used my mother’s own recipe for it. I used a Madiera cake as it is quite firm so a good base if you want to cover it with marzipan and icing. The cake has a dense texture and lemony flavour and traditionally it was served topped with very thin slices of crystallized lemon peel.

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ESPRESSO COFFEE CAKE

Coffee & Tia Maria cake just for the grown ups!
Coffee & Tia Maria cake just for the grown ups!

Grown up’s espresso coffee cake with ‘Tia Maria’

If I’d known you were coming I would have baked you a cake…tra la la so it goes and what could be nicer to give to someone but a home made cake? This espresso coffee cake is a sophisticated marble cake with ‘Tia Maria’ liquer rather gorgeous and strictly for the grown ups. Hands off my little ones this is all mine. I’m not really one for the strict New Year resolutions viz a viz the ‘great cake eating/healthy eating debate’ so I’m going for the ‘a little of what you fancy does you good’ standpoint. Much more successful with me at any rate-what about you?

I have decorated the cake with chocolate covered coffee beans – you can find them on the counter in some of the larger coffee shops or in Italian type  delis etc. They are worth searching out to decorate this cake. Here is my recipe:

ESPRESSO COFFEE CAKE WITH ‘TIA MARIA’

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CHRISTMAS ROCKY ROAD

Christmas Rocky Road
Christmas Rocky Road

Here is a Christmas treat, easy for children to make (with supervision) and a lovely present for them to give (if you can wrest it out of their hands). Best to make two lots I think. Don’t deviate from the recipe-it has to be Rich Tea biscuits and mini marshmallows, good butter and good chocolate…simple and delicious for everybody.

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HOT CROSS BUNS

 

Hot Cross Buns an Easter tradition

 

I am a traditional girl at heart and Hot Cross Buns-made just once every year-are an Easter treat. I love the smell of them baking not to mention eating them straight from the oven smothered with butter or toasted later on.  A good Hot Cross Bun should have a good volume and texture somewhere between a bread roll and fruit loaf. It should be nice and fruity, with a hint of spice,  a shiny glaze and a cross on top that doesn’t fall off. I piped on the cross with a small icing bag and a thick paste of flour and water. I seem to recall that many years ago, in school domestic science lessons, we cut pastry into strips and put these into a cross shape on the top-they always fell off before home time and this piping worked much better.

I found this a tricky make starting off with a Paul Hollywood recipe and a Delia Smith recipe plus my own ideas and tips and attempted to combine them all……………….a recipe for disaster if ever there was one! Too much fruit/not enough fruit/too much kneading/not enough kneading/2 rises or 3 rises/dried yeast/easy blend yeast/oven too hot or too cool/too much salt/too little salt and countless other variables. I have to admit one batch went in the bin and couldn’t be redeemed even with toasting and liberal amounts of apricot jam. As to kneading the dough by hand or using an electric mixer with a dough hook it’s a personal choice and you get good results with both. Plus it was good to do as I was decidedly ‘cross’ after the episode with the poor ones

Why knead the dough?

·        By kneading you develop the gluten in the flour. The mixture is transformed from a ‘shaggy’ looking mix to a smooth and pliable ball. This will give the bread a better, more even texture. By leaving it to ‘prove’ in a warm place the yeast develops and makes the bread rise to give a lighter end result.

·        The technique for kneading is important but it is easily learnt. Use both hands-use the heal of one hand to stretch the dough away from you and then fold it back on its self. Use the other hand to keep turning it and continue stretching, folding and turning for about 8 minutes. The mixture will, quite miraculously, become soft, elastic and smooth. You will need to do this for at least 8 minutes. It is difficult to over knead but stop if it starts to feel heavy.

·        It is quite tiring to do and you can use a free standing, electric mixer with a dough hook. These work well. Personally I enjoy the hand kneading, it is quite therapeutic and good exercise for your arms!

So give these a go and have a Happy Easter

HOT CROSS BUNS

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BLUEBERRY AND OAT MUFFINS FOR MOTHER’S DAY

 

Breakfast Blueberry and Oat muffins Here is a homemade treat for you to make on Mother’s day (or on any other day if you wish)-Blueberry and Oat muffins. I can imagine these served on a breakfast tray or with brunch, afternoon tea or just as an in betweeny sort of  light snack .

I have never been a fan of  of the bought sort of muffins, cloyingly sweet and hugely ‘puffed up’ with raising agents..the bigger the better  to attract the customer and make maximum profits and this has always put me off making them.  I’m glad that I overcame my misgivings and had a go-  these muffins are delicious! The blueberries burst in the heat of the oven making them moist and fruity and the oats add a healthy sort of bite and texture and they are not too sweet.

Both oats and blueberries are regarded as ‘superfoods’ what more can I say-super foods for a super mum because, of course, we’re worth it.

BLUEBERRY AND OAT BREAKFAST MUFFINS

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