Cosy country walks and baked goods: it must be Autumn

The crisp clear mornings, the crunch of leaves underfoot and the coolness in the air – it must be bobble hat and mittens time again!

Autumn is truly my favourite time of year. I think spring and summer walks are really over-rated. I don’t want to trek for miles getting all hot and bothered when I could be kicking back with an iced lolly. For me, autumn and winter are much better times of year to be outside hiking and appreciating the countryside. I absolutely love seeing the change of seasons, and none is more magical then the beginning of autumn. Look at all the lovely gold, orange and copper tones:IMG_2775

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We are lucky to live in such a beautiful part of the country. These photos were taken at Badbury Woods on the Oxfordshire border where you can enjoy many walks through the woods and across the fields.

The nights are drawing in quite quickly now. Its twilight by 4pm and dark by 5pm. I must admit – I love the early nights. I don’t feel guilty coming home, getting into my pjs and having a hot cup of tea in front of the telly. Soon, we will have a log burner and I can’t wait!

When we came in today I felt a bit of baking was needed. Now the house smells of doughy sweetness and Earl Grey; perfect, right?IMG_2787

Biscuit time

To make my super simple basic biscuit you’ll only need the following:

500g flour

150g caster sugar

250g butter

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 tbsp milk

To make biscuit-y goodness:

  1. Mix together the flour, butter and sugar. Using your fingers, rub it together until it forms a consistency similar to breadcrumbs.
  2. Add the vanilla extract and milk and mix some more.
  3. Lightly flour a surface and roll on the mixture to about 5mm thickness.
  4. Cut out your shapes and place on a non-stick baking tray.
  5. Bake for between 12-15 minutes at 180 degrees. I prefer to turn it to up 200g for the last couple of minutes as I prefer them slightly more golden, but its up to you.

Enjoy with a brew! A perfect quick treat.

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Deep-fill steak and mushroom pie

I’ve only made a few pies in my time, despite my overwhelming love of pie, and those have always been made using the go-to cheater’s guide to pastry: Jus’ roll. But this time, I thought I’d have a go myself.

I was aiming for puff pastry but I’m quite heavy handed so it turned into some form of shortcrust pastry. Either way, it was damned delicious and I’m never buying pre-fab pastry again.IMG_2739

To make my deep-fill pie, you will need:

225g plain flour

1/4 teaspoon of salt

250g salted butter (you could use unsalted, but why would you?)

150ml of cold water

Diced beef

Mushrooms, sliced

Beef stock

Making the pastry

  1. Mix the flour and salt together in a bowl then put in the fridge for a few minutes.
  2. Cut the butter into cubes, then add to the flour and mix until coated.
  3. Pour over the water slowly and mix together. It should form a rough dough. Place on a surface and form into a sausage shape, without kneading it. Wrap in clingfilm and put in the fridge for 20-30 minutes.
  4. Once chilled, lightly flour a surface and roll out the dough into a rectangle shape. You are now going to make a square out of a rectangle; fold one-third of the pastry into the middle, then last third into the middle. Press down at the edges.
  5. Now roll out again, and fold, twice more. Place in the fridge for an hour.

The filling

  1. Whilst the pastry is in the fridge, brown the beef on a high heat.
  2. Add the mushrooms, finely sliced, and stir.
  3. Finally, add some beef stock and remove from the heat.

Pie time!

  1. Take the pastry out of the fridge and roll out to fit your pie dish.
  2. Line your pie dish, leaving enough pastry for the lid.
  3. Add your filing. As I left my beef quite dry and made up some quick, thick gravy using granules and poured a little on top. If you have a wet mix, don’t do add any more gravy/water.
  4. Finish your pie by folding the pastry over at the edges and seal with some milk.
  5. Bake for approx. 30 minutes at 180-200 degrees.

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Super simple and scrummy: squash

My father grows many different varieties of vegetables in all colours of the rainbow, so when I was handed this one I honestly believed that it was a courgette as he said, and planned my dinner accordingly.

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Except its not. A courgette that is. Its a squash. And the clue? The massive seeds inside that are similar to a pumpkin! Good job the two vegetables don’t taste vastly different or I might by having words with dearest father for ruining my meal!

Anyway, I happen to love squash and figured it would still work. So here it is, my quick and simple mid-week dinner: squash with bolognaise sauce, topped with Parmesan. A low-carb super-tasty alternative to pasta.

You will need:

1 squash (this will only work if your squash is bowl-shaped)

Quorn mince (or meat, of course)

Mushrooms

Spinach

Garlic

Chilli (optional)

Tomatoes (fresh, tinned – its up to you)

Parmesan, grated

How to make:

  1. Cut the squash about a third of the way down from the stalk, all the way around. Scoop out the seeds and place on a baking tray.
  2. Cover the squash with foil and bake in the oven for approximately 40 minutes at 200 degrees.
  3. Whilst the squash is cooking, brown off the mince and mushrooms in a frying pan, adding garlic and chilli as you wish. Add the tomatoes and salt and pepper for seasoning, and let it simmer.
  4. Once the bolognaise sauce is nearly ready, add a handful of spinach leaves and let them wilt in the steam before mixing them into the sauce. Leave on a low heat.
  5. Remove the foil from the squash and bake uncovered for another 8-10 minutes.

It really is that simple. Remove the squash from the oven, pour on your sauce and enjoy! You can eat the squash rind, but make sure it is soft and supple or it will have the texture of orange pith.

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We are moving house shortly and I am really looking forward to growing my own vegetables and herbs. Sam is going to make me a vegetable trug and I’m hoping to get a small greenhouse too. Its so exciting – a bit like The Good Life! I can barely keep a few flowers alive each year, so this will definitely be a challenge for me, but one I am going to embrace whole-heartedly. If anyone has any tips for a super-newbie gardener, do let me know what to do and not do!

Recipe: white bloomer bread

I honestly have the memory of a goldfish. I’d completely forgotten to share my bread recipe with you all and let you know the results of our little village fete a couple of weeks ago!

The fete was far better than we imagined it would be for such a small village. There were over one hundred entries and at least 5/6 in each category. We were quite proud to have taken part! The main contenders were in the popular categories as you’d expect – there were no fewer than 13 Victoria sponges. In the amateur-baker category of ‘artistic cake’, were these stunning bakes:

I loved looking at all the vegetables though – there were leeks as thick as my arms and runner beans nearly 2 feet long. It really inspired me to get growing my own vegetables once we’ve moved house – there is just nothing like fresh home-grown produce really.

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Anyway, we didn’t win the cookie nor the bread categories.

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Can you spot ours?

I was a bit annoyed as the cookies were lumped in the same category as biscuits, and biscuits placed in all three top spots despite there being several cookie entries. I think the judges were probably traditionalists and not on the cookie band-wagon.

Whilst we are of course slightly biased, the bread was definitely the most eye-catching entry and when we collected it at the end many people came up to us and said we should have won. We won The People’s Choice Award in my opinion given all the amazing comments we had!

So, if you want to make bread that looks a bit like this, follow our easy recipe below.

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You will need:

500g flour

Teaspoon of salt

Instant yeast

30g butter

320ml water

Baking time!

  1. Mix the flour, salt and yeast together in a mixing bowl.
  2. Add the butter and about ¾ of the water and carry on mixing together, adding the remaining water as you go. The dough should be soft and not too wet when its ready.
  3. Now cover your table with a bit of flour and start to knead the bread. I find kneading quite hard – I think you need strong arm muscles to do it properly! I find circular motions are easier and most effective, but whatever works for you. Knead for about 10 minutes until the dough is malleable and smooth.
  4. Now to prove it. Place in a bowl and cover with cling film or a tea towel or anything similar. Leave it on the side for a couple of hours until the dough has nearly doubled in size (some people I know put theirs in the fridge but I don’t think that works as well). Towards the end of the prove, start to preheat your oven to 220 degrees.
  5. Put some flour on your kitchen table and place the dough on top and start to roll. BE CAREFUL – I find the harder/more I roll the less air is in the bread and it becomes more dense. This is less so if you are using proper white bread flour, but not if you are using a standard white flour. Roll into a long-ish rectangle and then divide length-ways into three sections.
  6. Those three sections will form the plait. If you don’t know how to plait, you simply place the outside strands into the middle of the other two strands, working from side to side; line up the three strands and then pull the 1st far-left strand into the middle between strands 2 and 3. Now, pull the now-3rd strand into the middle of strands 1 and 2. And repeat. Try to keep the plait fairly tight so there are not large holes. At the bottom and top simply tuck the strands together and underneath itself.Some people plait bread differently by only plaiting half way and then turning the dough over and finishing the plait. Apparently this gives the bread a bit of stability but I personally do not notice any difference in the bake. I have long hair and plait it all the time – maybe I’m a pro-plaiter!
  7. Depending on the size of your loaf you may need to prove it again for another hour. See below for an alternative to this.
  8. Next, line a tray with some baking parchment – I like to butter the tray first but I think that’s just because I can be quite clumsy! Place your bread on the tray and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes at 220 degrees. I like to dust some flour on top beforehand but its up to you.
  9. Then leave to cool on a rack for 10 minutes and enjoy whilst its still warm!

Whilst the dough needs proving as at step 4, I’ve found that proving the three individual strands of the plait separately works a bit better – however you need to keep them straight on a flat surface and sometimes the strands may swell more in certain places. I will leave it to you to decide!

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Yummmmmm-y.

Recipe: Gooey Daim Cookies

We received a small paper leaflet through the post a few weeks ago advertising for our local village fete. We like to support local activities but then realised this fete was very local and invited people to show various fruits, vegetables, flowers, crafts and bakes. It was 15p to enter a particular category and the prize money – get this – was 75p for first place and 50p for second place!

So obviously with that amount of prize money up for grabs we had to enter (!)

We scoured the various categories and eventually settled on making bread (any type) and cookies (very specifically, only 6 were to be shown). I wanted to do a slightly different take on a chocolate cookie so decided to use Daim bars as I think they have a slightly more bitter, salty taste.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Now, I should probably say that whilst I love cooking and baking I am not actually very good at it. Cake baking I find hard as I don’t really like measuring out the ingredients but I’ve quickly learnt that that is pretty key! This was also my first time making cookies and I was really worried they would just spread out on the baking tray and be too thin and burn, or be too soggy. As it was, they turned out pretty good!

I did a trial run a couple of nights before and realised that I should have left them to bake for a couple of minutes longer, as although the chocolate had started to melt, the dough was still super soft underneath.

So, lesson learnt I set about to make the second batch and they turned out lovely!

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You will need: (makes approximately 20-25 tasty, gooey cookies)

150g of butter

300g all-purpose flour

1/2 tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda

1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract/sugar

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

150g light brown soft sugar

100g caster sugar

1 egg

1 egg yolk

2 tablespoons of milk

5 Daim bars, chopped into small pieces

Lets bake!

  1. Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan and put to one side to cool.
  2. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, bicarbonate of soda, salt and vanilla.
  3. Mix the two sugars together and add to the butter, stirring to remove any lumps. Add the egg, the egg yolk and the milk and stir until smooth.
  4. Slowly add the flour and mix, ensuring there are no lumps.
  5. Add the Daim pieces and stir through to even them out.
  6. Place in a mixing bowl and cover with cling film and place it in the fridge for a few hours.
  7. Preheat your oven to 190 degrees and grease a baking tray, covering with baking paper.
  8. Form the dough into rough balls (trust me, mine weren’t balls but more like odd-shaped blobs!) and place on the baking tray, about 2 inches apart.
  9. Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes. I found that setting a timer for 7 minutes and then monitoring it minute by minute helped. Although you want the Daim bars to be gooey, you also the cookies to have a lovely golden colour to them so try not to take them out too early. About 9 minutes is perfect depending on your oven.

Enjoy!!

I was up at 7am this morning finishing off the bake so that they would be fresh for the fete today. Then Sam said that presentation was likely to add points, so I couldn’t possibly just put them on a plate! After a bit of panicking I came across a super-simple way of creating a little box from a paper plate on Google, so sent Sam to the shop to buy some paper plates.

To make the box, you just need to make 4 cuts, 2 at the top about 2 inches apart, and 2 at the bottom. Then fold from cut to cut on each side, and then across so that the fold dissects the cuts at 90 degrees. Then sellotape into place. These are possibly the worst instructions in the world so I’ve copied a picture of where the cuts and folds need to be below:

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Photocredit: http://www.musely.com

& here are the amazing hopefully-category-winning Daim cookies!

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We’re off to the fete now so I’ll let you let you know it goes! Wish us luck!

We also made some bloomer bread as well so I’ll have to remember to post our recipe for that soon too.

 

Scrumptious chocolate marmalade cake

At the weekend I made a chocolate marmalade cake. I was really excited and had been looking forward to it for days. I love the taste of sticky orange marmalade – especially the thick cut variety. So when I set down to make the cake I decided to follow a recipe to the tee so that it would taste delicious! I often go off on a tangent of my own when cooking and rarely weigh any ingredients, so this was pretty much a first me.

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I settled on a recipe made famous by Nigella Lawson, though I strongly recommend you adjust the cooking time unless your oven doesn’t actually bake anything! My cake was done in half the time Nigella said it would take, so it ended up a bit burnt!

To make a chocolate marmalade cake you will need:

Ingredients

  • 125 g butter (plus optional 50g for the topping)
  • 100 g good quality dark chocolate (plus optional 50g for the topping)
  • 300 g marmalade (plus optional 50g for the topping)
  • 150 g castor sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 150 flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • A little orange zest for decoration

Let’s bake!

  1. First you should preheat the oven to 180 C
  2. Then sift together flour and baking powder in a bowl and set aside.
  3. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a low heat. When it has melted completely, add the chocolate pieces, stirring as you go and allow them to melt. Keep stirring until the chocolate-butter mixture is completely smooth and has no lumps.
  4. Now add your marmalade(!) sugar and the beaten eggs. Keep stirring until it is all mixed together.
  5. Sieve in the flour little by little until there are no lumps or streaks.
  6. Pour the mixture into a greased 9-inch baking tin and bake at 180 C for 40 minutes (you made need even less than this if your oven is top-notch like mine!) or until a skewer inserted comes out clean.
  7. Once the cake is done, allow it to cool for a few minutes.
  8. Next, make chocolate butter cream by melting chocolate in a bowl over boiling water (do not let the water touch the bowl).
  9. Beat the butter until is has a smooth, creamy texture then mix into the melted chocolate.
  10. Spread the remaining marmalade over the top of the cake and, whilst it is sticky, pour over the chocolate buttercream.
  11. Grate some orange zest over the top to finish.

Ta dah!

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It really does not look as impressive as it tastes

If I bake this cake again I think I’d make a two tier sponge and use marmalade in the middle, or make a loaf cake. On its own, the single tier as Nigella recommends doesn’t do the cake justice – it tastes lovely but looks a bit… sorry for itself!

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Home-made parsnip soup

Sam’s gran bought a soup maker recently. I’ve never come across one before and I’ve always made my soup using a stove and blender. I have to say, it was pretty damn good! Sam’s gran has a Morphy Richards one.

You simply put in 700g of vegetables, water and put it on for 21 minutes. It heats up and blends all in one.

Well I never!

It also stays incredibly hot for a long time due to the insulation. Pretty ideal if you’re pushed for time or want to shower whilst its on without fear of it bubbling over! And the finished article was pretty damn tasty.

So I thought I’d share with you my favourite parsnip soup recipe. You will need:

40g butter

1 onion, chopped

225g potatoes, peeled and chopped

400g parsnips, peeled and chopped

4tsp paprika

1 litre of vegetable stock

450ml of milk

4 tbsp of double cream

salt and pepper to season

parsnip crisps and freshly grated Parmesan to serve

  1. First you need to make the parsnip crisps. To do that simply put shavings of parsnips in a warm oven (about 180 degrees) for about 20 minutes.
  2. Next, the soup. Melt the butter in a pan on a low heat. Add the onion and gently cook for 5 minutes. Then add the potatoes, parsnips and paprika. Mix well and stir occasionally for 15 minutes.
  3. Add the stock, milk, cream and then the salt and pepper. Bring to the boil and then reduce it to a simmer for about 25 minutes.
  4. Let the soup cool a little and then whiz it in batches until it is of a consistency you like – I often find blending 2/3 is good.
  5. To serve, reheat the soup and ladle into warm bowls. Top with the parsnip crisps and add a little Parmesan.

Let me know what you think 🙂