Thursday, 31 January 2013

Homebaked January - the finish line!

I have thoroughly enjoyed my baking challenge this month. Producing all our baked goods has definitely been interesting, if time-consuming. I originally thought that baking enough bread would be the hardest part; actually it has been keeping up with our biscuit consumption that has taken the most time! It has been quite an eye-opener finding out how many we get through. 

I was hoping to try out lots of new recipes, but it didn't actually work out that way. I made standbys such as tea bread that I knew I could bake quickly and would get eaten. I rediscovered a few old recipes such as Mars bar cake that I hadn't made for years. What I didn't do was experiment with new recipes as I didn't want to spend any extra time in the kitchen. However, yesterday I made these chocolate brownies from this recipe here in a luscious blog called "Posie Gets Cozy". Reading it is like perusing a beautiful glossy magazine and there is some stunning photography.

These brownies were easy to make and tasted amazing. The recipe called for unsweetened chocolate which I believe is plain chocolate. I substituted half plain  value brand chocolate and half milk chocolate. They still tasted great!

So as we march on into February there will be a little less baking going on in our household! DH likes having shop-bought bread around because it is easy to toast a few slices without risking fingers. (I did have a few plasters which made crochet very difficult). So as a compromise there will be home-baked bread at the weekend and home-baked rolls for the children's lunch boxes. There will hopefully always be something sweet and homemade in a tin, but there will be shop bought back ups in the cupboard just in case. Hopefully there will be a little less biscuit eating going on!

Monday, 28 January 2013

The Art of Noticing

  "The winter is past...Flowers appear on the earth." Song of Songs 2:11  

Last week I managed to sprain my ankle. I was very sensible in all the snow and ice and then slipped down the stairs! It has made me slow down a bit from my usual frenetic race through life. This more sedate pace has enabled me to notice things more; I noticed that the snow had melted to reveal the first signs of Spring. I notice that we have a pair of robins in the garden. I have more time for the children. It has made me reconsider my usual lifestyle. I want to notice things more; both the beauty of nature and the needs of those around me.

PS Those of you who know your Bible well will realise I missed out a bit of the above verse - "the rains are over and gone". Not in Britain!

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Veally interesting

When I was 17 I turned vegetarian for a few years, along with half of my year group at school. I'm not entirely sure what caused this mass outbreak of meat  avoidance - for me it was an entirely personal decision based on concerns about animal welfare. While I was at university I spent a summer working in the favelas of Brazil, and had to return to a carnivorous diet in order not to starve! Since then I have eaten meat, but with a weather eye on the ethical credentials of each product. But I would never have imagined that I would eat veal, having been told about calves being kept their whole lives inside in cramped conditions.

Earlier this month I was pawing through the yellow-stickered items in the supermarket when I found some veal, which I haven't seen on the shelves for years. What's more, it had the  RSPCA's Freedom Food logo on it! I remembered that Jimmy Doherty had been extolling the virtues of British rose veal during "Jimmy and the Giant Supermarket" on Channel 4 last year. This uses meat from bull calves born to dairy cows which would otherwise be slaughtered. The welfare standards are much higher than other types of veal, and Jimmy was attempting to persuade the supermarket to stock it. Well, he obviously succeeded!

As this was cheaper than normal beef mince I took it home to have a go. I was intrigued by the Archers connection; who knew that Ruth and David produced veal?! 

I will probably shock any gastronomically sensitive readers by stating that I made burgers with it! I figured that this would be the best way to taste the actual meat. It has a more subtle flavour than beef from older cattle, and makes rather bland burgers, but I am sure it is delicious with the right ingredients, (and a different cook!).

PS Apologies for the dreadful pun in the title!

Edited to add:

I appear to have offended some of my readers by advocating eating "little baby calves". I have to say that this is not the case - these are calves which would otherwise have been slaughtered at birth, but are raised in high welfare conditions for 35 weeks. The RSPCA have stringent standards. I would never advocate eating any other veal.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Mars bar cake

Or what to do when you have had enough of baking and need something really easy to make! I regularly helped my Mum make these; the taste of them instantly transports me to the 1980s.


2oz/50g margarine or butter
2 standard size Mars bars
2 cups Rice Krispies (or supermarket puffed rice cereal)
100g - 200g chocolate


1. Grease and line a 20cm x 20cm shallow tin or a near equivalent.

2. Chop up the Mars bars and melt with the marge in a large heavy-based saucepan. This takes a little while and does not look pretty!

3. Remove from the heat and gently stir in the Rice Krispies. Tip into the tin and flatten with the back of a spoon.

4. When the mixture has cooled, cover with melted chocolate. The amount is up to you, personally I prefer more! Put into the fridge to set and then cut into squares.

I am now resisting the urge to crack open my "Johnny Hates Jazz" and Rick Astley tapes!

Saturday, 19 January 2013


It's snowing outside... 

and inside!

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Home-baked January - half way there!

I can hardly believe that we are already half way through January! This week I have had a bit of a setback to my baking challenge. My beloved Kenwood Chef mixer, which I blogged about so proudly last week, decided that it had mixed one cake too many and went on strike. After much fiddling with screwdrivers, trawling of the internet and muttering under his breath, DH pronounced it irreparable. This led to a bout of soul-searching - can I justify the money for another one?

I have a slightly strange relationship with money. I am very fortunate that DH brings in a good income - my role in our partnership is to manage it. I am frugal by nature and conviction and tend to overjustify every purchase. After listening patiently to my blathering for a while DH went online and found a basic model for about half price. That decided me and my new mixer is already sitting proudly on my work surface.

Picture from Amazon
Rather amazingly, given that my new model is about thirty years younger than my old one, all the old attachments fit my new mixer. So I have two bowls and two beaters, which is really useful when baking in bulk.

I have still managed to produce all our baked goods despite being stupidly busy at school, (for a governor - I definitely wouldn't manage it if I was a teacher!)  Surprisingly, bread has been the easiest to manage due to my breadmaker. (I feel slightly nervous praising it here in case it also decides to retire!) I have made biscuits or cakes nearly every day and frozen quite a stockpile "just in case". I found a really good recipe for chocolate chip cookies here. I've tried a few different recipes for these and this is easily the best.

I have discovered a few interesting facts this week:
  • Biscuits spontaneously disappear. I have no idea where they go!
  • No matter how organised your cupboard is, the bicarb is never where it should be.
  • Home-baked cakes are much harder to resist than the shop-bought kind.
  • However much your family love your baking, they will still crave Kit Kats!

Monday, 14 January 2013

Crochet bag finally finished

Last year I decided to learn to crochet, after a few failed attempts in the past. So what did I do for my first project? Something nice and small? Maybe some squares for a blanket? No, I decided that my living room would not be complete without a bag to store my various crafty projects in. So I found a pattern by the talented Lucy at Attic 24 and set off. And got distracted. And got going again. And got distracted....and picked it up again in a rush of determination. Last weekend I sewed on the handles and it was finished! 
It is a large bag and comfortably carries at least three projects of different sizes. I used far more yarn than I expected. Rather naively I bought three balls to start with and had to keep going back to top up! There is a bit of a line halfway up the bag where I changed lots, which proves that you should always buy your yarn in one batch. I actually quite like it that way but I can see it would be annoying in a scarf or jumper. 

DD modelling for me!
Lucy has flowers on her bag; I don't have enough yarn left for that but I do rather like the shell-edging.

Although it was time-consuming, it was a simple pattern. I can honestly say that I can now manage double crochet and treble crochet successfully! My living room corner also looks a lot tidier and DH, who has an aversion to extraneous carrier bags, is a happier man.

Friday, 11 January 2013

A first outing with the crock pot

I have finally taken my new slow cooker for it's maiden voyage. Usually when I make stew I just throw in the dodgy looking vegetables from the salad crypt, but for my first venture I thought that I should follow a recipe. As Morgan and Angela said, there are lots of websites out there. I found that the Netmums website had lots of useful recipes. I've never looked at the Netmums site; my children were slightly older when it became popular and I associated it with potty training and weaning! I appear to have underestimated it.

I chose a simple beef stew recipe. It felt a bit strange to be chopping onions and browning meat at 7.30am, and the kids found the smell a little strange while they were munching cereal, but we went with it. The smell soon changed into one of delicious cooking. I kept peeking in to check progress, and as soon as the children got home from school they wanted to know when tea would be ready.


The final results did not disappoint, the stew was lovely. I am not normally a gravy person, and I added slightly less stock than recommended to the pot. As a result the gravy was beautifully thick. I am looking forward now to experimenting with it, and seeing what I can produce. I am particularly intrigued by the idea of cooking a whole chicken in it!

Monday, 7 January 2013

Anyone for tea?

It is a bit of a standing joke in my house that I am a chain tea-drinker. I can't get going in the mornings without a cup and need frequent top-ups throughout the day, much to the bemusement of DH who survives on minimal amounts of coffee.

So I was pretty excited to read about "The Great Tea Swap" over at Lucy "in the sky". The basic idea is to exchange exotic varieties of tea-bags with other bloggers - the details are available here. So if you are a tea-aholic like me, it is worth a look! The list of tea-drinkers will be open for a few more days yet.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Home-baked January; a slow start!

The first week of my baking challenge has been a bit of a phony war! I had a bit of a stockpile of cake and bread to use up, as it would be a bit of a false economy to let them go stale. However, we have now finished all the cake and I am down to the last loaf of bread.

Bread will be our biggest issue. I think that I, (OK - the breadmaker!), will probably need to produce a loaf of bread every morning, and have some rolls in the freezer for the children's lunches. Fresh bread doesn't tend to last much past breakfast! I have baked some parmesan rolls to stock up the freezer as I had some quasi-parmesan in the fridge. I am going to tweak this recipe to use normal/cheaper cheese and will blog it if it is any good.

I have also made a kind of mocha chocolate sponge. I baked a recipe using six eggs so I used my Kenwood Chef which originally belonged to my Mother-in-Law.

I love it because I know that it has been used to bake countless cakes, including many enjoyed by DH when he was small. It has a very on-trend retro look and it also does the job beautifully. I made four sponges, froze two and filled two with chocolate butter icing. The mocha cake had mixed reviews; DD thought it needed more coffee, DS thought it had too much! You can't please all the people...DH maintained a diplomatic silence!

I have also stocked up on biscuits. I used the hob-nob recipe which Morgan kindly gave me the link to. The recipe is supposed to be for 20 cookies, but I doubled up the quantities and made 88, so some maths has gone awry somewhere. I should have enough to keep us going for a while anyway!

We have also made flapjack, gingerbread men (from a Christmas kit), plum tarts (least said, soonest mended) and tiffin. I know that for many people this is a normal way of life, and you are probably wondering what I am making such a fuss about! For me it feels like a natural progression, but the real test will start next week as the kids go back to school and normal routines resume.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

A new crock!

I have been thinking about buying a slow cooker for a while now, enticed by the idea that it uses less power than my main oven but unsure if it is really worth the outlay. However, I spotted this little beauty on offer today in the supermarket. How could I resist? After all, it will save me money in the long run. Honestly.

So now I've just got to learn how to use it! I know that lots of you in this corner of the blogosphere use one, and I am looking forward to getting to grips with it.