Monthly Archives: October 2011

Halloween treats – no tricks allowed

Happy Sunday morning!?

Hopefully your day is going slightly less downhill than mine!

Husband has been in America on a “work” trip (they call them conferences – I’ve seen the pictures – there’s not a lot of working going on…), and gotten snowed in in the freak October Nor’easter.    I would like to say this is the first time such an occasion has presented itself, but he got snowed in in Switzerland just before Christmas last year (we had over a foot of snow over here – and I got to shovel the drive with a 2 year old – three times – and we have a long drive…), and delayed somewhere else also last year.  This is the man who drove to France in his 2-CV (her name is Florence ) during the volcanic ash cloud – for work.  Bless.

This has not stopped the Halloween baking, but has certainly meant that by the end of the day, I’m simply knackered, and dinner has been mostly simple, heat and eat.

We did, however, go all out for pancakes this morning:

It looks like a mix between a cat and a pig – covered in Stawberry spread and raisins (forgot to get grapes this weekend!)

I have to say it was nice having the recipe on hand in the blog from earlier!  No more googling with a desperate toddler who wants to do cooking!

The Halloween treats have been made in stages – given the limited attention span of a 3 year old, and the limited spare time of a mummy with no daddy to take the heat off (or anyone else for that matter).  So it started on Friday whilst the lady was at Kindergarten / nursery.  With the baking.  She doesn’t like to help with some of the baking because mummy is a control freak who doesn’t let her stir all over the counter.

We went for cupcakes (so she could help decorate), and some ogre finger cookies (for another post) – made in tandem, because it’s always best to multi-task, and I do have extra arms (comes with child birth, I think)…

Spooky (ish) Halloween cupcakes (makes 12)

For the cupcakes:

Based on The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook recipe:

  • 120 g plain flour (about 4 ounces)
  • 140 g caster sugar (about 5 ounces)
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 40 g unsalted butter
  • 1 egg
  • 120ml (about 4 ounces again) milk

1.  Melt butter completely in the microwave, leave to cool
2.  mix dry ingredients
3.  add egg to cooled butter and whisk
4.  make a well in the dry ingredients, then add the butter and egg until it looks like a dough

5.  Gradually mix in milk until a batter forms (this keeps the mix from getting lumpy – and I don’t think anyone likes lumpy cupcakes!)

6.  Pour into cupcake tin lined with cupcake cases (like these!!!)

7.  Bake at 170C / 340 F until the cupcakes are lightly browned and firm to the touch (about 20 -25 minutes – mine usually take the former)

8.  Decorate as desired

We did these:

I now need to go and entertain a very kind little girl who has very patiently waited for me to finish…

Severed smushed fingers later.  Promise.

Fingers crossed that our neighbour can take the little one to nursery tomorrow morning (else I will have all the Halloween treats at home, and no one to eat them – the pink cupcakes are for us), and that the airport is fully functioning in whatever part of the US the husband is currently located (we clearly do communication on a totally different level).

Have a great weekend!



Halloween and girl’s weekend

Just about every year for the past 7 or 8 years (maybe longer?), the husband takes a trip (business trip – ish) around Halloween time.  This year is no exception.

It means no Halloween party for us (I just can’t stomach that on my own!).  At least, not this year (we’ve only had one since the Monkey-moo joined us).  It also means the Halloween treats are more muted (more below).

This has not stopped me from decorating the house appropriately:

From the fireplace (to keep us warm and cozy),

To the windows to make sure everyone knows that Halloween happens here!

I particularly like making my spiders attack my cockroaches – but that’s a personal thing.  No one else at home quite gets it.  I wonder if the postman does?

There are also spider webs (which means I don’t have to do so much dusting – because it’s supposed to be that way), and some eyeball lights, and a few other bits and bobs dotted around the house.

Aside from the decorating, I have been full on with working, and looking after my Monkey-girl.  We are exceptionally excited to have a full-girl’s weekend coming up.  We will be doing baking, shopping, playing, dressing up, painting – the works.  I will be very tired on Monday!

So no cooking posts today – but the Halloween themed food will come, because I love Halloween.  And just because we only get about 6 kids a year to the house, that’s 6 kids more than we got when we lived in a different town, and I will enjoy that.  And I will make certain that my colleagues know just how much I love Halloween by bringing in appropriate edibles. Nothing terribly original, and there will have to be some pink sparkly things for the Monkey-princess, but there will be treats.  And I am looking forward to it.

Happy Friday!


Grape expectations

The brilliant Stacey at Stacey Snacks did it again for me with sausages and grapes (  I love the idea of roasting grapes, and the thought of grapes and sausages together just sounded perfect – so I gave it a go with some minor alterations.  Stacey served her sausages over a cauliflower purée, I just didn’t want to do that many dishes, so I added it to the dish, along with some other things – so here it goes:

Roasted Sausages with grapes and mixed veg

Serves 2

  • 4 sausages of choice
  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
  • two handfuls of grapes
  • 1 small bulb of fennel, cut into chunks
  • two handfuls of cherry tomatoes
  • one large red onion, cut into large dice
  • one tbsp oil (I used rice bran oil)
  • one tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • dash of worcester sauce
  • salt and pepper


Toss vegetables together in a large zip lock bag, and add seasonings. Toss to mix.

Put mixed veg in a prepared roasting tin (I usually just put a wee bit of oil and some sea salt in the bottom of mine to keep things from sticking and add flavour).

Top with sausages.

Bake at 180C / about 350F for 40 minutes or so (depending on how browned you like your sausages / veg)


Am I the only person out there who still thinks of snausages when you say sausages – it was dog food, I think???

Weekend eats – it’s all about the family

The Americans have been and gone.  I think we showed them the best time we could, and I know a certain someone who  was particularly pleased to have her Auntie and Uncle about (I think she may have worn them out regularly, but that’s what you do at 3 (and a half)…

It’s been a slightly mad and mushed in weekend (or long weekend, as it started on Thursday).  The jet-lag on their part has been very helpful in accommodating to our schedules!

They arrived on Thursday afternoon, (and I now know that the lay-flat beds in first and business class aren’t as exciting as I thought – I think the perception changes when you’re used to the knees-in-the-seat-in-front-of-you position, but let’s not go there just now…).  And they brought some wonderful things with them!  I have a tin of pumpkin!  I have Extra Dessert Delights gum, I have cinnamon gum, I have mint flavoured oreo-cookies, and an exceptionally exciting Wilton Haunted Gingerbread House kit – (thank you thank you thank you).  And Monkey has a lovely, pink, sparkly, Barbie princess costume for Halloween 🙂

After we picked the little one up from nursery and she got over her shyness and giddiness (she just laughed for a good hour or so), we headed out to our favourite local eatery, Brotherton’s Brasserie (, AKA, The Dinner Store (because it is a store that sells dinner), for some wonderful pizza and pasta, although my brother had the guinea fowl (everything is nice there – so love it).   No starters (we usually don’t have room in the tummies for all that), and we were all too tired for pudding on this occasion, but the mains were excellent.  I had the Capricosa pizza, which was loaded with really fresh vegetables, whilst D had a red onion and salami pizza which looked outstanding, SIL had the pasta fruti di mare, which I have had before (she confirmed its lushness), Bro-bro had the guinea fowl with peppercorn sauce, and Monks had her favourite pasta bolognese.  The three adults excluding me had Moretti to drink (as it’s on tap).  No pictures were taken (I find it a bit difficult to pop out a camera at the dinner table when you’re out – at home is one thing, out is another).  But it looked a bit like this:

On the Friday, we had a full day together.  After the happy couple had their hotel breakfast, I went to get them and we went into town for the day.  I was the day’s driver, and only slightly horrified (actually, really, really horrified) to find that parking in the city is now GBP4 for 2 hours, and that 2 hours was the max…  This did not leave much time for much of anything.  We hit a museum, a bit of shopping, and the covered market where fresh dates were purchased (so good), before a quick trip to a pub for a drink (I got to explain the difference between an eating and a drinking pub…), then back towards home before the parking expired and the meter man came to ticket me, for lunch at another local eatery, Hampers (  We had taramasalata to start, then SIL had the quiche, bro-bro had the pork-pie ploughman’s, and I had a standard ploughman”s.  All delicious.  We usually go there for the sandwiches, but we were not long before dinner, and honestly, the food was quite filling!

I made dinner at home for us all, and we had cake for pudding (that pumpkin cake), before all separating into our parts, as it were, and calling it a day.

The Saturday resembled the Friday, with a spot more shopping, and we took them to another of our favourite local places, The Crown and Tuns, better known as The Pie Place, (  They pretty much only serve pie (they have 2 or 3 non-pie dishes, but really, why bother?).  We had a turkey, sage and onion stuffing pie, the venison with bacon and shoe-string potato pie, the lamb hot pot pie, and the peppercorn beef pie.  The little one had a bit of our pies, as these are honking big pies.  And D was ever so happy as he convinced bro-bro and SIL to have pudding – I think he has regular dreams of their bread and butter pudding…  It’s a lot of pie, so going that extra way in the stomach stretching department is unusual, but has to be done on occasion.  I should stress that the ability to have both pie and pudding is something that is gained over time, and is best not accomplished at once.

Again, no photos on the day, but it looked a bit like this:

Or at least, it used to…

Today, we’re taking them to a brewery, then Yesterday, we took them for a late Sunday lunch at The White Hart (our posh local eatery-  We have a tendency to love it there, and hate it at the same time.  We haven’t been in a few years, but alas, it’s still the same.  Excellent food, terribly slow service (we’ve been forgotten before!).  What to do!?  Roast dinners, burger and stuffed aubergine were had by the table, along with two appetizers (baked Camembert, and a pint of prawns – literally – ie, served in a pint glass – clever), and a plate of pasta for the pasta monster (but it had cheese so she wouldn’t eat it).  My only complaints are:
1.  Far too much oil – my salad just had a pool of it sitting in the bottom of the bowl – no vinegar, salt or pepper, just oil, and not particularly flavourful oil… huh.
2.  The streak of hummous on my plate / tile (trying to be ultra-posh, they substituted slate tiles for plates for some dishes – didn’t always work, and so not practical).  If hummous is on a plate, shouldn’t there be something to scoop it up with?  I kept wondering where my veggies or pita had gone to.  Lovely stuff, but missing that bit.

We didn’t stay for pudding – which was just fine and dandy, although when they’re on top form, they do a lovely dessert.  They just weren’t there yesterday.

The bro-bro and wife-wife have now left our not-so-sunny shores for more French climes – and the Alps.  At the very least, they won’t be hungry for a while!

A different kind of pumpkin pie

The Americans came, they saw and they had cake!  All was superb.

Whilst I know it was only by brother and sister-in-law visiting, they still came an awful long way to see me, (even if it was a stop over on the way to Switzerland –  I won’t hold that against them – yet), and that kind of effort deserves at least a similar cake effort.

As I noted earlier, my brother was mightily impressed when I did Beantown Baker’s Red Velvet Cheesecake cake (, so I wanted to recreate, but add a bit of a spin.  So out went the red velvet to make room for something more autumnal and Halloween-y!  (I love Halloween – more so since I’ve been over in the UK, as they just do it so poorly here – and it could just be sooooo good!).  In came Buttermilk spice cheesecake cake, with a Halloween twist – so here goes:

Buttermilk spice cheesecake cake – adapted from the Beantown Baker (


2.5 c all purpose flour
1.5c sugar
1 tsp. baking soda / bicarb.
2Tbsp (or to taste) cinnamon
.5 Tbsp ground ginger
.25 Tbsp mace
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1.5 c vegetable oil
1 c buttermilk
Optional mix of yellow and red food colouring to turn the cake orange (or keep it the warm brown shade if preferred)
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp white vinegar

575g cream cheese (I always use light, but not ultra light – adds more nutrition and I think the taste is nicer)
0.75 c sugar
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp coarse sea salt
2 eggs
0.5 c sour cream (again, I go for reduced fat here – it’s an indulgent cake, but why can’t it be indulgent and a bit more nutrient dense?)

– 500 g cream cheese (don’t go with light here, unless you want to up the butter content to compensate – you need the fat to make the frosting stiffer)
– 150g butter
– 900 g icing sugar (I’ll need to buy more before I can make my Christmas chocs this year :-()
– food colouring to tint – as desired


Cake (make the cake first!):

– oven to 350 F / 170 C
– line two baking tins – I  use spring-form pans
– mix together dry ingredients in one bowl, wet in another (excluding food colouring)
– make a well in the dry ingredients and combine in wet stirring until smooth
– add food colouring to desired colour saturation
– divide batter evenly between the greased and lined cake tins (mine are non-stick – you may want to flour yours)
– bake 30 minutes, rotating half way through, until top feels firm and toothpick test is confirmed
– set to cool
– once cool, remove from tins and wash up tins
– once absolutely cool, wrap in clingfilm / plastic wrap and pop in freezer (this is not a one day bake!)

– oven to 160C/ 325F
– get a large roasting tin out which will fit the same pan in which the cake was made inside it
– line the cake tin, then wrap the outside in foil (you’re going to put it in a water bath, so wrap appropriately!)
– Beat cream cheese until it loosens, add sugar, lemon zest and juice, salt, eggs, and lastly, sour cream – beat until well combined)
– pour into prepared cake tin already sitting in roasting pan (or similar)
– pour boiling water in to roasting pan so that it comes to about halfway up cheesecake tin
– Bake 45-50 minutes, until the cheesecake looks set in the centre (it will still be wobbly, but not runny)
– Remove from water, and let cool for 20 minutes before running a knife around the sides of the tin, and releasing sides of springform pan
– let cool completely, then pop it in the fridge for a night’s sleep
– in the morning, or whenever you get a chance the next day, wrap in cling film and put in the freezer, base still attached

Assemble and decorate

– no earlier than the day before you’re ready to serve, get your cakes out of the freezer, remove wrap, and set on a wire rack to defrost
– although I didn’t do it this time, I would certainly go ahead and make your frosting at this point (start by mixing the butter and cream cheese together, then add sugar until the desired consistency is reached, then add colouring if using, adding sugar if it becomes too loose)
– when fully defrosted (important that they defrost all the way or your layers will get mushy when put together), take your cheesecake out of the freezer, unwrap, and start to defrost briefly (about 20-30 minutes)
– lay your bottom layer of cake on a plate, and apply a layer of frosting (didn’t do this, but should have done – would have been really visually fantastic!)
– prepare to detach cheesecake from base of tin – it should still be sufficiently firm to manage some manhandling at this point.
– if the cheesecake has defrosted just enough, you should be able to release it by simply turning it over, running a knife along the edge of the cake and tin base, placing it on top of the bottom layer cake, and pulling slightly – if this doesn’t work, wait a bit longer, or consider getting a hair dryer out to warm the base a bit
– once tin is removed and cheesecake is in place, peel of parchment/ greaseproof paper from base of cheesecake (which has now become the top), and top with another layer of frosting, then second cake
– frost and decorate!

<– there’s a view of the inside (pumpkin brains!) – I’m not genius at cake slicing…

Things I would have done differently:
– the frosting both under and on top of cheesecake – I only put it on top of the cheesecake
– my frosting was too runny – I should have gone full fat / more butter, although I got a smoother finish as I could use it as more of a glaze than a frosting
– put crushed nuts or chocolate sprinkles up the sides – would have looked great, but I am dealing with fussy eaters, and I don’t want to be the only one eating this cake (been there, done that)

What’s sweet and savoury and green all over?

Not a newspaper (gosh how I loved that one when I was little…), but done of the more extravagant week-night meals we’ve had for some time!

This mighty green mix was based on what I had available and needed to use rather than anything planned, and I think it came out quite well as there were no leftovers (always a good sign).  Also, that I was able to do this on a week-night, AFTER putting the little one to bed and a body pump workout made is especially fulfilling!

Sweet and savoury green stir-fry

Ingredients (totally adjustable)

– 250g each mangetout and sugar snap peas
– 4 leeks – trimmed and sliced as thinly as you like
– one large courgette /  zucchini, diced
– soup spoon or to taste of each minced garlic and ginger
– tsp or more (to taste) chili paste
– 1/4 c total tahini and peanut butter (all of one or mix)
– about 2 soup spoons (or more) soy sauce – I use reduced sodium
– zest and juice of one orange
– four egg whites and two yolks (or some other protein source – this was what I had on hand)
– one bunch of soba noodles per person (I did two, but this would easily feed 4)
– oil of choice for frying

Method (in the madness)

  • get a large pot of water boiling for the noodles
  • head up oil in large frying pan or wok (I used a dutch oven)
  • once oil is hot, add garlic, ginger and chilli.  Cook for a few minutes, stirring regularly.  Add tahini, nut butter and orange zest.  Cook a while longer until nut/seed butters start to get melty.
  • Add veg (I pre-cooked mine in the microwave for a few minutes first), cook for as long as you like (depending on preferred textures), stirring frequently
  • Add soy sauce and orange juice and reduce heat, but continue to stir, just less frequently.
  • Whilst the veg is cooking away, crack and stir up your eggs and scramble in a frying pan.  Once they start to set, pop your soba noodles into the boiling water

ultimate multi-tasking!

Love the look of soba noodles boiling away…

  • Once the egg is set, mix in to veg

  • Keep heat on low whilst noodles finish cooking
  • Drain and rinse soba noodles, then serve up!

By the by, the husband came with the complete Le Crueset set – and no, I didn’t just marry him for that, although I won’t say it didn’t factor in to the decision somewhere along the way… (but boy are they heavy!)

Happy Friday!  Americans to entertain 🙂

When life gives you fennel, make fennel tea

We do a lot of gardening around here.  Husband prefers flowers, but takes pity on me and my “thriftiness” and agrees to grow fruit and veg in a smaller, dedicated section of the garde, which is sort of walled off by bushes from his precious flowers.  You should see the games he plays with Monk’s slide – if it just stayed in one place, then the beloved grass might suffer…  G-d forbid we ever have a swing set… I think that’s the real reason why one has been in planning for the past two years.

Anywho – as the season’s getting late, we’re left with what we’re left with – we’re not advanced enough gardeners to have produce from it all year long.  We’re down to some scraggly baby courgettes / zuchinni (but just think what you would pay for those in a shop – bargain!), a few raspberries (but those never get eaten by me), and one raised bed which has had some bit of success with mixed veg.  Predominantly, this holds fennel, a bit of chard, and one or two kohlrabi (I don’t think these last ones will ever get big enough to eat before the frost gets them – do they over winter?).

The chard I find quite easy to use – and to be honest, there just isn’t that much of it to be concerned with (I keep hearing about people having gluts of bountiful harvest in their home gardens – I have never personally experienced this, but I am really hopeful that it will happen some day).  The fennel, however, is a bit more tricky.

We’re not the biggest of Anise lovers, so the flavour needs to be used a bit sparingly.  I’ve so far managed to roast the heads twice (great with a bit of balsamic and mustard, and even better mixed with other things), but am unlikely to get away with much more (although ideas are greatly appreciated).  It’s those darn frilly heads that I’ve been more concerned with.

It all goes back to my “thriftiness” (which some might categorise as tight, hard up, or simply cheap).  I just hate to spend and hate to waste even more!

We don’t really do stock (I don’t think there’s enough value add in making your own vs buying – and I like the saltiness of the store bought).  It’s unlikely to be accepted in salads (see anise comment above).  So I figured, I might as well make tea.


Add boiling water to one largish fennel frond and leave to steep as long as you want.

The fennel stays in the tea pot whilst you pour, but as ours are home-grown, there is a bit of bug straining that needs doing – it all adds to the flavour, right?

I’ve seen loads of fennel tea in the supermarkets – apparently it’s full of health benefits – great for digestive health too.  And so much more expensive in store than at home.  So a great budget friendly drink that’s good for my insides and for my wallet (and therefore my sanity).