Monthly Archives: December 2012

Reflections and Christmas baking

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As I write this post it is drizzling outside, but thankfully I live in an area unaffected by the floods; my prayers and best wishes go out to all those who do.

Every year, the Christmas season seems to bring either great joy or great sorrow to people.  I was a teenager when my grandmother died in hospital on Boxing Day, but on the flipside, she died surrounded by her family, comfortable and warm, after a Christmas Day spent with her family and friends. She had lived a long life and seemed quite ready to move on.

I won’t be going any further with this, but instead prefer to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. May you all find some shred of happiness and peace, no matter the circumstances.

Onto the baking side of things.

This year hasn’t been the busiest for baking, but I am trying out new things. In the past I’ve generally kept to cakes and cupcakes, but this year I thought I’d diversify. In preparation for tomorrow’s Christmas dinner, I made chocolate tarts. I used a combination of recipes – the pastry from Chocolate & Zucchini and the filling from Gordon Ramsay on BBC Good Food. I also used a bit of Green & Black’s espresso dark chocolate to replace the equivalent quantity of plain dark chocolate because I think coffee really enhances the chocolate. However after I did that it occurred to me that using flavoured chocolates is an easy way to adapt this recipe to your personal taste. The coffee taste is subtle but there is still enough to make the tarts a little bit more special.

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Chocolate tarts with a hint of coffee

– Adapted from Chocolate & Zucchini – Absolute Chocolate Tarts and Gordon Ramsay – Gordon’s chocolate tart

Makes 5 tarts (using 10 cm tart tins)

Ingredients:

Chocolate tart shell:
200 g plain flour
100 g castor sugar
100 g butter, cut into small cubes
Remove a heaping tablespoon of flour and substitute with the same quantity of unsweetened cocoa powder (approx. 15 g)
Splash of milk

Chocolate filling:
50 g milk chocolate
50 g dark chocolate (min 70% cocoa solids)
50 g espresso dark chocolate (I used Green and Black’s)
100 mL double cream
50 mL whole milk
1 egg
1 tbsp golden castor sugar

To make the shells:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 200°C.
  2. Mix the flour, sugar and cocoa powder together in a bowl. Once mixed, add the butter to the bowl and work the ingredients together. Add a splash of milk and continue to mix. The finished mixture should resemble coarse sand.
  3. Divide the mixture and press evenly into tart tins using fingers.
  4. Prick the bases of the tarts a few times with a fork to allow air to escape when baking. Alternatively, line with parchment paper and baking weights.
  5. Blind bake for 10 minutes in the pre-heated oven.
  6. Once baked remove and cool on a wire rack.

To make the chocolate filling:

  1. Turn the oven down to 150°C.
  2. Break up the chocolate into small pieces and place into a mixing bowl. 
  3. Bring the milk and cream to a boil. Add slowly to the chocolate, stirring to melt and mix with the chocolate. Once this is all mixed, whisk in the egg and castor sugar.
  4. Allow to settle to minimise the number of air bubbles in the final product.
  5. Pour slowly into tart shells, filling them almost to the top.
  6. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes.
  7. Allow to cool.

Gordon Ramsay recommends serving this dusted with grated white chocolate, cocoa powder or icing sugar and decorated with chocolate curls. I will be serving this tomorrow with a dollop of crème fraîche and raspberries.

I admit that my chocolate tarts aren’t the prettiest, but I’ve tried one (I made a spare) and they do taste good. The presentation will come with practice.

I’m off to a Christmas Eve party in a bit and I do have to get ready so I’ll finish here. So for those who are already celebrating Christmas, Merry Christmas again, and for those who are not yet, I hope you have a great Christmas.

God bless!

Nothing is impossible

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I’ve been following Joyce Meyer: Promises for Your Everyday Life – a Daily Devotional on my iPhone Bible app and recently a lot of the lessons have focused on avoiding a negative state of mind.

One point that stood out to me today is: problems are impossible – in the natural. However, the lesson goes on to point out that God is not just natural. He is far more than that. She continues to write that focusing on who God is, and basing your mindset on His Word can lead to understanding that nothing is impossible for God. This in turn leads to positive thoughts. Finally, when you think positively, problems that previously seemed insurmountable no longer seem so and solutions begin to present themselves. 

I used to be a glass-empty sort of person. After reading these devotionals I now understand that that sort of thinking actually contradicts any statements that I make with regards to my faith in God. As I continue to declare my faith in His greatness I have to back up my statement with actions. 

The verse for today’s devotional refers to John the Baptist’s mother, Elizabeth. An angel was telling Jesus’ mother, Mary, that she would give birth to a child even though she was a virgin. When Mary voiced her doubt, the angel told her about Elizabeth, her elderly relative.

36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
Luke 1:36-38 (NIV)

So I’ve decided that from now on I will view all situations with a perspective that backs up my proclamation of faith, and to not be disheartened when things appear to work against me. God is with me and for Him, nothing is ever impossible. 

Awesomeness

Awesomeness

I recently discovered that the character Barney Stinson from How I Met Your Mother has an actual blog.
While looking through the blog today I noticed that there were copies of the posters that the character hangs in his office, and I thought I’d share the ‘Awesomeness’ poster.
Anyway I have an interview in two hours so I’m off to get ready and, well, be awesome.

Baking therapy

So today I had two lots of disappointing news. I won’t bore you with the facts but suffice to say it definitely crushed me today.

Well, I got home and then immediately started baking. First I started with shortbread. It’s a simple recipe, with only three ingredients: butter, sugar and flour. The recipe is one from the ever faithful BBC Food website and every time I make it the shortbread comes out perfect. Also, while the original recipe suggests dusting with icing sugar, I didn’t have any; however castor sugar seemed to work just fine.

I’ve been making the shortbread as presents and this picture was taken after I’d wrapped them, so I had to hastily unwrap one for the camera.

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Next I decided to make Baci di Dama cookies. I was reading a blog written by a chef called David Lebovitz. He’s American but he lives in Paris and the pictures of the food he makes never fail to make me salivate. It might just be because I have a huge sweet tooth and he tends towards cakes and desserts.

Anyway, I’d spotted the recipe for these cookies and have been meaning to make them for ages, but the main ingredient is hazelnuts, and I keep forgetting to buy some.

Well, I finally got round to it and decided that today would be as good as any to finally make these lovely cookies. The dough was fairly simple and kneading it by hand was strangely satisfying. While dividing the dough into marble-sized balls, I couldn’t resist trying it. After all, it was simply hazelnuts, butter, sugar and flour. Delicious.

Another note is that I made my cookies with wheat flour, which was the alternative to the rice flour recommended in the original recipe. As I’ve not tried the rice flour version I can’t really compare the two, but the cookies I made tasted and looked fine to me.

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Baking each batch only took about 11 minutes per batch and I made 4 trays of hazelnutty goodness. After they were baked I let them cool, and then sandwiched melted dark chocolate between two dome-shaped cookies. This is the result:

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I have to admit that dinner tonight consisted almost entirely of ‘misshapen’ shortbread and Baci di Dama cookies. Well, I did have an apple, a pear and an orange. That’s already three of my five a day!

Blueberry and vanilla vodka cocktail

Blueberry and vanilla vodka cocktail

On a completely different note, I made a rather nice cocktail the other day. There was an offer on vodka in Tesco so we bought a bottle of blueberry and a bottle of vanilla vodka. We tried individual vodka with the typical mixers – Cherry Coke and vanilla vodka, lemonade and blueberry vodka and ginger ale and vanilla vodka.
Then I thought I’d try to mix both blueberry and vanilla with some lemonade over ice, garnished with a wedge of lime (we didn’t have lemons).
It came out rather like a blueberry tart, which I quite liked. As for why my drink was served in a jam jar, well, we kept breaking glasses in the house and it was either that or coffee mugs.

Still- Hillsong

One of my favourite worship songs simply because it reminds me of God’s constant presence and how I just need to stay calm and not panic because He is in charge of everything and he will look after me.
I was just reading Psalms 16, and it struck me that verses 7 and 8 link quite well with this song:
7 I will bless the Lord who guides me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
8 I know the Lord is always with me.
I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me. (NLT)

White and yellow

I went for a run yesterday, the first in a week. I decided to take a route that meanders slowly and constantly uphill for the first mile, after which the gradient very abruptly goes on a steep climb for only a quarter of a mile but what seems like another whole mile to my poor legs. 

That said, it was a very enjoyable run. The sun was out for most of it and the pavement wasn’t too frosty.  I finished up the run alternating sprints and slow jogging all the way home. 

One of the reasons I work out is so I can eat things like this: 

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A few weeks ago my housemate decided he wanted a pavlova, so he walked down to the shop, bought all the ingredients and made the pavlova. We found the recipe for Nigella Lawson’s chocolate and raspberry pavlova on Google. It was delicious. I think the best thing about pavlova is the contradictions – there’s the simultaneous crunch and squish from the meringue and the sharpness of the raspberry that prevents the rich smoothness of the cream from overwhelming you. 

That said, after we made the meringue we were left with six egg yolks. We didn’t want to throw them away so it was back to Google and searching for recipes that used egg yolks, which brought us back to Nigella’s website, although the recipe was a community recipe, rather than one personally from Nigella Lawson.

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I’ll admit that the egg yolk sponge cake I made was one of the ugliest cakes I’ve ever baked, but this might be down to my baking technique rather than the recipe (I took it out before it’d properly cooled). That said it was easy to make, very tasty and kept well in the fridge. It’s one of those cakes that goes well with anything; we tried it plain, with more raspberries and a touch of cream, yoghurt and chocolate fudge sauce and they all worked.

Tomorrow we’ll be having a night out but we’ll be having drinks at home. I’ve bought a bottle of vanilla vodka, so I’ll be trying out my cocktail making skills and hopefully the drinks I make are up to scratch. I’ve never made cocktails before so I’ll definitely be keeping things simple. Wish me luck!

 

Comfort food – cheesy pasta

Comfort food - cheesy pasta

Pasta with a cheesy sauce – there is not much in this meal that would endear me to proponents of healthy eating but it is very high up on my list of favourite comfort food.
First I made a roux (flour, butter and milk), to which I added plenty of cheddar cheese. Then I simply tossed some quick cook pasta in the cheesy goodness, topped it with freshly ground black pepper and voila! A perfect, quick dinner for the cold night ahead.