Friday, 28 September 2012

Ale Bread and a Poorly Girl

Every Friday, the littlest and I open up our village hall to local mums for a few hours for some tea and a play.  After finding a few spots on her hands, feet, and mouth (see where I'm going with this?), I soon realised that our Friday morning routine was about to be smashed.  Instead we would spend a lot of cuddle time on the sofa, which is never really a bad thing.  It's just a shame one of us needs to be feeling like a bag of nails for that to happen.  So we cuddled. A lot.

Then she fell asleep and I snuck off to the kitchen and made something yummy that I thought I'd share with you.

A few years ago I found this recipe for beer bread somewhere. I'm sure it was a food blog but I cannot remember which one. I had copied the recipe down in my notebook and have made this time and time again.  If you are afraid of working with yeast, short of time, or just plain lazy, this recipe is for you.  It takes just a few minutes to mix up and about 45 minutes to bake. It's perfect for when you have dinner company at short notice and you still want to impress or if you want to whip up some fresh bread for lunch. Any baking ability can handle this. So even if you are a novice baker or never baked anything in your life before, please give this one a go.

Ale Bread (or Beer Bread)
Makes one loaf

You can make this with beer or ale. Today I used ale because that is all I had. I think I prefer a lighter beer compared to ale, but I think my husband prefers the deeper flavour of the ale. You can add cheese, chives, garlic, or whatever you fancy. It's a pretty versatile recipe.  It has some sugar added, but I only find this faintly sweet, but you might want to use less if you want a less sweeter bread.  Again, this recipe is written with cup measurements.  I was going to weigh everything out for this post, but got carried away and only remembered after it was too late. I'll come back later and add them another time.

3 cups self-raising flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
350 ml ale or beer
2 tbsp melted butter

Preheat oven to 170 C (375 F) in a fan oven and grease a loaf tin (no need to line with parchment)

In a medium sized bowl mix the flour, sugar, and salt.

Pour in ale or beer and stir until combined into a sticky, wet dough.  Pour into tin.


Bake in the centre of the oven for 40 minutes.

Now drink the leftover ale while you wait. It would be wasteful not to!

Take out of the oven and brush melted butter on top and pop it back in the oven for another 5 minutes.  Let cool or 5 minutes before turning out and letting cool on a wire rack.

We are having this tonight with a chicken thigh, chorizo, and butternut squash casserole. I cannot wait to soak up all the yummy red chorizo juice with this bread!  Please let me know if you make it and how you get on.
By the way, it makes excellent toast. I highly recommend a good slathering of butter and marmite if you are so inclined.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Church Cook Books and Carrot Cake

In American churches, it is common to compile recipes from the congregation and make a cook book to raise funds.  Some churches are more well known for their recipes than others.  If you hear  that one of these particular churches has just printed their collection, you can bet that they will sell out fast. These books are little gems.  While not all of the recipes are up to snuff (like using a box cake mix!! yes, really!), you can find some keepers.  I have two of these books in my ever growing cookery book collection.  When I need some of the comforts of North Carolina, I always reach for these.

Many of the recipes bring me back to my childhood when I'm feeling a bit homesick.  On one of these occasions, I had a hankering for a good old-fashioned carrot cake.  I grabbed my both of my books and searched.  Just before the massive collection of pound cakes (I promise to write about these another time), I found one carrot cake recipe.  The recipe looked easy and that was exactly what I had in mind. 

With the cold air and shorter days a comin', I thought this would be a perfect cake to bake for my son's school's fund raising event tomorrow.  To help them make a bit more money, I have made these into cupcakes. To be honest, I really wanted to make this so that my house will smell like autumn and spices. 

When I ran my cake business, these cupcakes were one of my top sellers at craft fairs.  I had people swear that they hated carrot cake and when I gave them a sample, they were converted.  This cake is made with oil, which makes it super moist.  Try not to notice all of the sugar and oil and you'll think it is healthy. I mean, it has carrots, right? I have tweaked it slightly and added a bit of orange oil to the batter and a touch more spice with the addition of ground cloves.  I normally top these with cream cheese buttercream, but in my usual form, I forgot the cream cheese yesterday when I did my shopping. Oh well, they are still delicious with vanilla buttercream.  You can even add a touch of orange oil to the buttercream if you leave it out of the cake.  Add pecans or walnuts in the cake or on top of the icing. Swap the sultanas or raisin with dried cranberries or dried cherries.  Make it your own!

Carrot Cake  (this makes me giggle: the original was labelled "Carrot Cake- World's Best")
Recipe adapted from Edith Thomas, Heavenly Delights, Morningstar Lutheran, Matthews, NC, USA 2004

The ingredients are measured in American cups. One day I will take the time and convert them for you. Measuring cups are so easy to get now, so I doubt it will cause you too much grief.

Makes roughly 32 large cupcakes (not fairy cake size) or 2 8-in or 9-in round layers

2 cups plain flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp bicarb of soda
1 tsp salt

2 cups granulated sugar
3 cups carrots, grated finely
1 1/2 cups (350 ml) vegetable oil (any flavourless oil will work)
4 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp orange oil (optional)
1 cup sultanas (or dried fruit of your choice)

Preheat a fan oven to 160 C (350 F).  Line muffin tins or if making layers, grease two round tins and line with a parchment circle. 

Whisk the flour, cinnamon, cloves, bicarb, and salt in a medium sized bowl. Stir in chopped nuts if using.

In a larger bowl, whisk the sugar, oil, eggs, vanilla, and orange oil (if using).  Stir in carrots.

While stirring, slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet. Stir until there is no trace of flour. Stir in the sultanas.

If making cupcakes:

Using a large ice cream scoop, fill each muffin case about 2/3 full. Bake for 20-22 minutes. Let cool in muffin tin for 5 minutes before taking out to cool on a wire rack. 

If making cake layers:

Fill each tin evenly.  Bake for 45-50 minutes until springy and cake begins pulling away from the sides. Let cool in tins for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack and removing the parchment. 

Let cupcakes and cake cool completely before icing.

Cream Cheese Buttercream

People often ask me how I make a cream cheese buttercream that isn't runny. Butter is the key.  The butter is higher in saturated fat and sets better than cream cheese. The butter is the cream cheese's big fat friend. So, this isn't very good for you, but used as a treat for every now and then can't hurt.  Please, please, please use a good quality vanilla extract here. Or even better, use vanilla beans straight from the pod. If you use a poor quality vanilla, you will taste a metallic, alcohol flavour that will ruin it. And again, turn your head at the huge quantity of icing sugar.

250 g unsalted butter, just below room temperature
250 g cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 kg icing sugar
a few tablespoons of milk if necessary.

In an electric mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the butter until light and creamy.  Add the cream cheese and beat until combined.  Add half of the icing sugar and stir with a rubber spatula until it has moistened most of the sugar.  Stir in the remaining icing sugar. Doing this in stages helps keep icing sugar plumes down! Return the bowl to the mixer and beat until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla.  If the icing is too thick, add milk 1 tablespoon at a time, beating in between to check consistency.

Ice them babies and enjoy!


Monday, 24 September 2012

Getting Crafty Again

I can remember laying on my mom's 1970's lino floored kitchen painting rainbow after rainbow.  I loved all of the bright colours needed. There was always a big pink tulip sitting under the rainbow. Always.  In our house we were always making things and baking.  I loved to be my mom's assistant whenever she would let me.  My making days continued until boys began to interfere.  I think I lost my creative side when I moved away to school and got a boyfriend. Suddenly other things became much more important than rainbows.  When I became a teacher, I almost recaptured my rainbow making self, but not quite. I began drawing for my students while at school, but that is about where it stopped.  After school, I would be busy grading papers and getting ready for the next day, I often was too tired to do anything crafty.  Then another boy man entered my life, I got married, and moved to England.  Kids quickly followed and my time was eaten up chasing after two very "spirited" children.  I do try to make things with my kids as often as I can, but it is mainly baking that happens.  I bake to relax (and to stuff my face) and I love sharing it with my two little ones.  My oldest loves to get on his apron and assist just as I did with my mother nearly 30 years ago.  My youngest hasn't shown too much interest yet, but I'm sure it won't be long before she's doning an apron too. 

In an effort to recapture my creative side, I've been dabbling in some new crafts in the past year.  I have taken several crochet classes from the talented Mrs. Scrace (Not So Granny) and I think I am reallly starting to make progress.  Nearly every night before bed I read craft and food blogs until my eyes bleed. I'm pretty new to craft blogs, but I have been reading food blogs for a while now.  Let me warn you, they are dangerous! Very dangerous.  My waistline can tell you. So, I thought craft blogs would be a bit safer. Ermmm, not really. They are dangerous too. While they are not doing anything negative to my beeehind, my purse is starting to feel the strain.  And please, let's not share this my dear husband.
Inspired by a recent blog post by Claireabellemakes, I am going to be making my daughter a pretty little shadow box with the letter "C" made of buttons. The thread and beads are for friendship bracelets also from her post.

Much to my husbands dismay, we have an entire half of a large cupboard filled with empty jars and containers.  There was no way that I could throw out these nifty little chutney jars. They were a perfect fit for my new buttons and I think they look very sweet.


I'm not one to buy a book off of a shelf without reading plenty of reviews first.  While in the craft shop today, I picked this book up and had a little flip through.  I was instantly drawn to so many of the cute and easy patterns in this book.  After reading some of the patterns, I thought that I might actually be able to make some of them. So, I slipped in my shopping basket wondering how I will explain this to the other half.  But hey, it's my birthday coming up. I'll just tell him that it's one less present to buy. 

When I got home, I looked up the author, Nicky Trench. and I was pleased to see that she has a blog. She is also an author of several other books too.  I love being able to find out a bit more about an author. Makes it all seem so much more personal.  Now I am sure some of you know exactly who Nicky Trench is and this just highlights my crafty novice. But if you didn't, I thought I'd share.  I think these curtain ties will be added to my ever growing project list.  Now, I must go change the loads of washing even though I desparately want to get started on these.


Saturday, 22 September 2012

Flowers, Crumble, and a Quiet House

I do sometimes feel like I need to pinch myself.  My life here in England is more than I ever could have imagined.  While there is always the dull ache for "home," I have made my home here and I could not want more.  This morning, I kissed the family goodbye so I could indulge in a bit of me time.  After picking up the crafty teacher, Joanne from Not So Granny, we headed off to Cambridge for a class in crochet flowers at The Sheep Shop.  Joanne is a master of all things wooly and the teacher of this particular class.  Along with three others, we gathered around the cozy table in the shop and learned how to make three different types of crochet flowers, one of which Joanne designed herself; The Granny Gertie Flower. The atmosphere in the shop was lovely. I could easily spend a lot of time there. It's a shame, but probably good for my purse that I don't live closer.  Sarah has obviously worked very hard to make such a sweet little shop. Three hours quickly flew by while we crocheted, knattered, drank tea and ate some suprisingly yummy chocolate muffins from Tesco (thank you Sarah).  I really should have taken photos, but I was so engrossed with flower making that the thought never crossed my mind.  Claire, from Claireabellemakes was there too and I think she might have caught the flower-making bug too.

I didn't have quite enough time to finish the big flower in the shop, but don't you know that's exactly what I did when I got home.  One kidlet was asleep for her afternoon nap, the other was snuggled up with a sleep daddy on the sofa, so I had the perfect opportunity to finish it up and even start on some new ones.  My plan is to make some poppies and give them to some family and friends in November.

After the youngest was up from her nap, I finally had to get down to the most important business of the day. Crumble. The darling husband had picked a few of our bramleys the other day, along with some brambles.  I had promised him a crumble with this bounty, of course.  I quickly made a double batch of crumble topping. One half goes in the freezer for another day.  It's the best treat to find a bag of frozen crumble in the freezer when I really can't be arsed to make any. I always thank myself and think of me as very clever when this happens. 

The husband and boy went off to football, the Grandad came and took the little girl to feed the chickens and all was quiet.  So after surprisingly finding myself alone in the house, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.  I quickly put the kettle on, scooped up a heaping blob of ice cream (hey, it was the light kind!) and crumble. The house is still quiet while I sit here and I'm watching a beautiful sun set across the field.  I'm not really sure what I've done to deserve this peace, but I will definitely soak every last second of it up. 

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Surviving The Summer Holidays

It's nearly the end.  These have been six very long weeks.  Don't get me wrong I love my two monkeys, but we need some space from each other.  I always thought that the world would be such a better place if everyone thought like me, acted like me, and generally were just me. I was dead wrong.  My children are miniture clones of me, even though they look like their daddy.  As far as personality goes, they are me.  They are stubborn, borderline OCD, strong-willed, and moody.  Having three Kellys in the house is just asking for trouble. Ask my husband, he will nod is head violently and roll his squinty little eyes.  If they could have just inherited his laidback attitude towards life instead of my uptight, crazy ways, we'd be sitting pretty. But, they are me in miniture, so we do our very best.  Despite all of this, they are the biggest joys of my life. They make me laugh more than they make me cry.  In fact, as I am typing this, my littliest has just bounced up to me, smacking her little feet across the floor and planted a big kiss on my arm. Her bright blues are now staring up and me and I'm a blob of goo on the floor.  Of course, in her usual style, she has broken the  little bubble and is now trying to nibble on my arm instead. Like I said, monkeys.

In three days we will be starting a brand new set of routines.  My eldest will be starting reception at the school where his dad, grandad and grandparents went to.  My daughter will be going back to preschool for a few days a week and I will be given some more time to myself.  Yes, I am not ashamed to say that I am overcome with glee at this idea. We get along so much better if there is time away from each other. 

After many, many cups of tea, biscuits, and visits to our local soft play, we have nearly made it.  It's taken a lot of life out of me, but we are almost there. 

These are for my sanity.

We've tried to stay busy. Here is a glimsp of what we've been up to:

We made it to the Olympics in London. Here we are posing with the ever curious
 Olympic mascot, Wenlock. I was lucky enough to go down twice and loved it.

We even took the boy down for a day.

Before going to the Blur concert at Hyde Park, we had to get a shot of the
 Tower Bridge and all its Olympic ring glory.

A summer evening walking the dog.

Best swing at a park EVER.

Checking out the seals at the zoo.

Dogsitting a pretty cool Maggie.

These rides have come a long way since I was a kid.
They were content to play in it without even putting money in.

I've managed to have a bit of hooky time.

More on these squares later.