Friday 28 December 2007

The chill of a winter's day

These past few days have been decidedly gloomier and wetter. We did not get anything near a white Christmas, and in fact, it rained and drizzled all of Christmas Day. We were down to Heathfield in East Sussex that day to share in a Christmas dinner feast with friends. The heating system in our car is a real pain in the patootie and so we had to keep stopping the car to clear off the steam on the windows. It does work if you keep them open a tad, but it was raining so much that it was coming into the car. A white Christmas was certainly something I had been dreaming of, but all for naught it seems . . . that would have taken a minor miracle I guess, although the week before Christmas certainly was cold enough.

We have been having big problems here in Oak Cottage with our boiler this winter. We usually have problems with it at the beginning of every winter. It's really quite old and I think it may need replacing. The repair man has been out no less than three times so far this season to deal with it, and once again this morning, I woke up to find no heat in the place. It also heats our water and so that means no hot water for showers either.

We burn Calor gas and most of the time it gives us a lovely heat. Over here in England we only have the heat on twice a day. It's on for a couple of hours each morning and then for another few in the evening. It really doesn't get cold like it did back in Canada, so it's not necessary to have it going full blast much of the time.

I do miss forced air heating though. Radiators don't really seem to give off as much heat as I would like them to. They are nice to sit things upon though, and I often lay my coat upon the one down here in the kitchen before I have to brave the cold outside. Putting it on afterwards is like a nice warm hug.

I'm not sure when the heating engineer will come today, or even if he will come today. Nevermind, we have our electric fire here in the kitchen to keep us warm and I can make us some soup . . . a nice hot and thick soup . . . some corn chowder I think . . .

*Sweet-Corn Chowder*
Serves 4

This has always been a real family favourite in my home. It's very quickly put together and uses things that I have in my store cupboard all the time. You can have a delicious, satisfying and rib sticking meal on the table in about half an hour, give or take a few. Just perfect for a cold and damp winter's day.

4 slices smoked rindless streaky bacon
½ leek, cut in half lengthwise and then thinly sliced into half moons
2 large floury potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
boiling water or stock
1 bay leaf
½ tsp mixed herbs
Salt and pepper to taste
1 425ml tin creamed style corn*
2 cups whole full fat milk
1 lump butter

Heat a heavy bottomed medium large saucepan over medium heat and toss in the bacon. Fry until crisp. Add the slices of leek and cook for a few minutes longer until tender. Add the potatoes, bay leaf, herbs and boiling water to cover. Bring back to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Stir in the creamed corn and the milk. Gently heat until heated through. Season to taste with the salt and pepper. Add a lump of butter and serve hot with buttered crispy whole grain toast or crackers.

*Note- You can get the creamed style corn in the vegetable aisle of some grocery stores over here. Failing that you can order it from . I get a lot of American supplies from there. It's a bit pricey but they have a very quick delivery and if you order over £50 worth the delivery is free. Sometimes you just have to have what you have to have!

Sunday 23 December 2007

Yule Really Love This

Yes, it's that time of the month again, and no . . . I don't mean THAT time, I mean it's Daring Bakers Challenge time! I was so excited when I read of this month's challenge. It was something I have long wanted to make and also something very appropriate and timely for this Christmas Season time of the year! Yes, this month we were all challenged by the powers that be, namely my lovely Lis and Yvonne of Cream Puffs In Venice to make a lovely and festive Yule log, the recipe for which can be found on Yvonne's page in it's entirety!

A Yule log, sometimes known as the Great Ashen Faggot, is a large log which is burned in the hearth as a part of traditional Yule or Christmas celebrations in some cultures. It can be a part of the Winter Solstice festival or the Twelve Days of Christmas, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, or Twelfth Night.

Sometime in the late 18th to early 19th century, a facsimile of the Yule Log became a traditional French dessert. Usually, it is in the form of a large rectangular yellow cake spread with frosting and rolled up into a cylinder - one end is then lopped off and stood on end to indicate the rings of the "log." This "Bûche de Noël" became a traditional Christmas dessert, and has recently spread to other regions, where it is often referred to as a yule log.

It worked out to be perfect timing for me, as every year we have a Christmas Staff party for all of us that work up at the Big House and I usually prepare the whole meal. This year was no different and I thought to myself,this Yule log will be the perfect dessert to make for our festivities!

I have long admired Yule logs, but this was my very first attempt at making one for myself. I was quite surprised at how easy it really was to do! Could this be my very first successful Daring Baker's challenge?

The eggs whipped up beautifully for the genoise and I have to say I felt really like a true baker when I was folding the flour into the lovely airy mixture. It was going all according to plan thus far.

Into the oven the lovely cake went and it looked absolutely perfect when it came out. My only real misgiving came when I was making the buttercream.

I was not quite sure as I went along if it was really coming out as it should. It was looking quite granular at one point,but then . . . all of a sudden it came together and started to look really good, smooth and creamy.

I was humming Christmas Carols to myself as I spread the butter cream over the cake prior to rolling it up. I was really feeling quite festive at that point, and the smell in the kitchen of the baked genoise was really quite wonderful. Even the housekeeper came down to the kitchen to have a closer look at what was smelling so good!

I could hardly wait for it to chill long enough that I could decorate it. Patience is not one of my virtues, I have to confess. It was great fun making the marzipan mushrooms. My creative side really came out! I admit that I ran out of time and was not able to get all the ingredients necessary to make the marzipan from scratch that I did cheat and buy some ready made. I hope that I am forgiven!

I think that they really turned out quite cute. I used one of my paint brushes (clean of course!) to dust the tops with cocoa powder and I also tried to make something resembling gills underneath by using chocolate sprinkles, not all that successfully of course, but they did look quite good.

I cut the two ends off like the recipe asked for, but then I could not decided what to do with one of the ends, and so I ate it! Just to test it like . . . after all, I wouldn't want to serve anything to a bunch of people that I didn't already know tasted good!!! It was quite yummy if I don't say so myself!

I attached one of the ends to the top and held it in place with some toothpicks and it looked a bit odd at first, but once I got all the buttercream on it, it ended up looking not half bad. Then came the fun part, deciding where to put the mushrooms. I used a bit of literary bakers licence and dusted it all over with some cocoa powder and also some chocolate sprinkles and I do have to admit I thought it looked quite lovely when it was done.

At the party we feasted on Roast Crown of Pork with all the trimmings. We were all quite stuffed by the end of that, but I have to say everyone at the party oooohed and ahhhhed when it came out and belts were loosened. They all said it looked so nice it was such a shame to dig into it, but dig in they did and my goodness but they really enjoyed it! Their verdict was that it was quite yummy, and they left not a crumb or mushroom behind!

I am so thrilled to be a part of the Daring Bakers, and honored to be one of the group. I so much appreciate all the work that Lis and Yvonne do each month in organizing us and keeping us all in line and together. I know it can't always be all that easy and that it must take an incredible amount of time on their part! I am also so thankful for all the other bakers who take part and all the lovely challenges they meet each month. I love visiting their pages and having a look, which is all a part of the fun. I may not always leave a comment, but I do try to look at as many as I can! It's always so interesting to see all the different interpretations of each challenge.

I want to take this opportunity to say a HUGE thank you to Lis and Yvonne for all their hard work and also to the other Daring Bakers for counting me as one of the crew, and I want wish them all, and each of you a very Happy Yule! Merry Christmas one and all!

Monday 17 December 2007

Christmas Bling and Cookies too!

It's hard to believe that Christmas is only one week away. The time these past couple of months seems to have whizzed by at light speed! I had plans to do all sorts, but can clearly see now that there will not be enough time to get everything done . . . oh well, there is always next year.

We did manage to get our tree up and the cottage decorated. In that area Todd and I differ completely. He is from the old school, and he's not happy unless every corner is hung and festooned with glittery garlands and Christmas bling.

Myself, I prefer a more understated look, but each year I indulge him and allow his Christmas fancies to take over. He spent far too many years on his own, before we met each other, too many solitary Christmas's . . . I let him have his way and try to make up for them now, even if it means living in a cottage that closely resembles Santa's Magic Grotto for several weeks every year.

I have a fondness for gingerbread men and my tree is covered with them, in one form or another . . . some softly sewn, other's made of glass, ceremic or wood . . . all of them quaint and beautiful in their own unique ways. I do relent and allow a few Christmas baubles and balls . . .

It reminds me of a tree that I had years ago when my children were all small and Christmas's seemed full of magic and child-like dreams. With five young bodies to please and not a lot of money in the bank, there was not much extra to spend for baubles and little pleasures on and beneath our tree. That year I decided that I would bake gingerbread cookies and decorate them to hang on the tree for decoration, along with red ribbon bows. The garland would be made of popcorn and cranberries that we strung ourselves, with white fairy lights sparkling in the background. What a fun time we had baking the gingerbread men and decorating them with white icing and cinnamon hearts!!! Each one was lovingly hung on the tree with bits of gold thread that I had been saving for just such an occasion.

I splurged and purchased a few boxes of candy canes. They looked very festive nestled in amongst the branches. It took us what seemed like hours to string the popcorn and cranberries onto dental floss, but my goodness, they looked so pretty when we were done, with the added benefit being, that the birds would get to enjoy their goodness once Christmas was over.

We were so proud of that tree and to this day it remains my favourite of all the Christmas trees we ever had. Never mind that we chose the wrong recipe of Gingerbread. Although it had been nice and crisp when it came out of the oven, it softened as the days went by . . . our Christmas celebrations that year were punctuated by the occasional soft plop of the odd gingerbread man falling off the tree as the gold threads slowly worked their way though it's sweet and fragrantly spicy softening crust.

I think sometimes the best Christmas's of all are the simplest ones . . . ones with homemade cards, decorations and oodles of Christmas cookies and goodies to enjoy . . .

Like these lovely cookies. I call them Christmas Split Seconds. The recipe is based on another recipe I have for Jelly Split seconds, but one year I thought . . .why not mincemeat instead of jelly. It's such a Christmas thing . . . with the delicious hint of cinnamon spice in the buttery crisp base and a tasty and crunchy topping of cinnamon nut streusel, these are real winners! Not only that, they are quick to make . . . I suppose that's why they are called Split Seconds . . .

*Christmas Split Seconds*

Makes 4 dozen

Called split seconds because they can be thrown together quickly and baked just as quick as a wink, these are lovely Christmas cookies for your holiday cookie trays. They are good keepers and oh so very tasty!

2 cups plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup golden caster sugar
1 large egg
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 to 3/4 cup purchased mincemeat
1/2 cup streusal topping (see recipe below)
1 cup icing sugar, sifted
Milk as needed to make a runny glaze

Pre-heat the oven to 180*C/350*C. Line two shallow baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and the caster sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla, beating until smooth. Beat in the flour mixture until the dough is well mixed together. Divide the dough into quarters.

Shape each quarter into a long thick sausage shape on the parchment paper, each about 13 inches long and about 3/4 of an inch wide. Place the logs 2 inches from the edges of the pan and at least four or five inches apart. Press it a bit flat with your fingers and square it off at the ends. Taking the handle of a wooden spoon make a depression down the centre of each log lengthwise about 1/4 of an inch deep. Spoon the mincemeat carefully down the centre of each filling the depression. Sprinkle the streusal evenly over the top of each.

Bake in the heated oven for 13 to 18minutes or until they start to colour and are firm. Remove from the pan and while they are still warm and using a sharp knife cut each log into 12 diagonal slices. Slide the paper onto wire racks to allow them to cool completely before separating them. Once they are completely cold, make a glaze with the icing sugar and only enough milk to make it loose enough to drizzle. Drizzle some of this over each cookie. Let it harden before storing in air tight containers. Will keep at least a week, that's if you have them that long! They also freeze very well.

*Cinnamon Streusal Topping*
Makes 2 3/4 cup

This is very handy stuff to have in the freezer to use on muffins, cakes and cookies.

3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup flour
1 tablespoon water
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup chopped toasted pecans or walnuts

Mix all ingredients together until crumbly. Use to sprinkle over cookies, cakes or muffins before baking for a deliciously crunchy and spicy topping. You may freeze this and use as needed.

If you have a Christmas cookie you are wanting to share with the food blogging world be sure to head over to Food Blogga and get all the details. You can also go here: to see all the tasty and delicious entries!

Tuesday 11 December 2007

Christmas Cookies and Treats

There's something about these colder days and longer nights, and this exciting time leading up to Christmas. You can take the Canadian out of Canada, but you just can't take the Canada out of the Canadian, and although I am now living some two thousand miles away from my kith and kin, and have done so for seven years now, this is the time of year that my fingers get itching to bake Christmas cookies.

Years ago , when I had a house full of little feet and hands, these weeks running up towards Christmas would see me in a frenzy of baking. I made batch after batch of cookies for the holidays . . . egg nog logs, pork pies ( dainty little date tarts sweetly iced) sugar cookies, frying pan cookies, candy cane cookies, santa's whiskers . . . oodles and oodles of delicious confectionary and tempting treats to help make wonderful Christmas memories for my family.

I also used to make a creative and delicious gingerbread house for them every year . . . a laboriously time consuming affair, but a wonderful labour of love that I got a great deal of satisfaction from. Every candy, dragee and ornament lovingly applied with thoughts of their gleeful happy faces looking upon it in appreciation when it was done.

One year I even made them a gingerbread Christmas tree. It stood about 12 inches tall and was three dimensional. It's green iced branches sweetly adorned with silver dragee garlands, jelly bear ornaments, candy baubles and eensy weensy gingergread candles on the tip of every branch.

Each passing year saw me making up trays of cookies to be shared with friends and family, a gift loving made and produced with my own hands, and one that was always eagerly anticipated and very much appreciated.

Living so far away from family as I do now, there is not much need for all these delicious and tempting treats. There are only Todd and I to enjoy them, and in all honesty, my waistline can no longer take the abuse, more's the pity.

Todd is not one with a overly sweet tooth, and, although he seems to be able to eat anything he wants without the problems of gaining weight, unlike myself (who only has to sniff things it seems . . .) he doesn't really appreciate all these tempting Christmas treats and little pleasures . . . and so, baking for him is a pointless effort. I do bake a few things for friends but not in the manner in which I used to apply myself.

Sunday was such a blustery day though, and after we had put up our Christmas tree, I had such a hankering for home and family and a white Christmas, that I applied myself to making a lovely little confection to dress our kitchen table with. Pretty to look at it is . . . with it's dainty gingerbread cookies and lovely spice candle in the centre, the extras that don't fit are ours to enjoy, well . . . ok, mine to enjoy . . .

*Gingerbread Cookie Wreath*
Serves 16

A wonderful confection that is not only pleasing to the eye to behold, but mighty pleasing to the taste buds to eat as well . . . a delightfully delicious centre piece for your Christmas table.

3 TBS all purpose flour
1 batch of gingerbread cookie dough (see below)
2 cups icing sugar
3 to 4 TBS water or milk
Food colouring (if desires)
assorted small candy sprinkles, edible glitter and or decorator sugar

Heat the oven to 350*F/180*C. LIne a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Draw a ten inch circle on the paper. Turn the paper over so that the ink is underneath, but you can still see it through the paper.

Sprinkle 1 TBs of the flour on the workspace. Shape 1/3 of the cough into a ball and press it down into the flour. Press the dough to form a 6 inch round, turning it and coating it with flour frequently. Place it in the centre of the circle on the baking sheet. Roll to form a 10 inch round about 1/4 inch thick. Cut a four inch round from out of the centre and set aside to use for cut out cookies.

Bake the wreath for 7 to 9 minutes or until light golden brown. Remove from the cookie sheet and place on a rack to cool completely.

Meanwhile roll half of the remaining dough out on the floured surface to 1/4 inch thickness. With 1 1/2 inch to 3 inch Christmas cookie cutters, cut out shapes. Place on an ungreased baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough scraps and flour until it is all used up.

Bake the shapes for 7 to 9 minutes or until light golden brown. Remove from the baking sheets and place on wire racks to cool before decorating and icing.

In a small bowl blend together the icing sugar and enough water to make a spreading consistency. Divide into small bowls and add colouring if desired. Frost and decorate cookies as you wish with various coloured sugars, sprinkles and dragees. With dabs of frosting, attach the decorated cookies to the cookie wreath, allowing one layer of cookies to set before adding another.

*Old Fashioned Ginger Cut Outs*

These deliciously crisp and spicy cookies are a wonderful addition to any holiday tray.

8 TBs softened butter
1/2 cup packed light soft brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1 large egg
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 TBS ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cardamon

Pre-heat the oven to 160*C/350*F. Cream together butter and sugar. Then beat in the molasses and egg.

Sift the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Add to the creamed mixture and mix until well blended. Put into a plastic bag and refrigerate for one hour.

Roll out onto a lightly floured surface, 1/4 inch thick. Cut into 3 inch squares or use your choice of cookie cutters to cut out shapes. Place on baking sheets and bake for 7 to 9 minutes until set and lightly browned. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

This is my contribution to Waiting for Christmas 2007, at , being hosted by Francesca. You might want to pop on over and enter a recipe or two yourself! You have until the Friday the 14th of December to do so!

Thursday 6 December 2007

A Little Christmas Cheer

There's been a flurry of activity at our Cottage this week. Between working full time, and getting all the things done around here at home that need doing I've been putting my hand to crafting. Something that I used to do a lot of when I was a stay at home mom, but have had precious little time for now that I'm a working woman.

I was surfing the net, as you do, the other day and came across some lovely little felt stockings on Hers were done in a variety of pastel colours, and she had them strung up through her house on ribbons, somewhat like Christmas bunting. A very novel and refreshing idea.

I really would have loved to do some of them here in that way for the cottage, and may still yet find the time, but upon seeing them I was inspired to do something completely different with them.

I have lots of friends and each Christmas I like to make a gift of something small for each one of them. Nothing too complicated, just a tiny remembrance and show of appreciation for all that they do for and mean to me. It's just a simple thing.

In years past, I have baked tons and tons of cookies, and piled a nice variety of them onto plastic Christmas trays. All wrapped up and tied with a ribbon, they make a beautiful gift and one that's very much appreciated at this busy time of year.

I wanted to do something different this year though . . . something much more personal. Looking at those little pastel stockings, I was inspired to do something unique with them, something all my own. I have always loved the look of red work embroidery and I do love to embroider. I also had a rather large piece of white wool felt in my craft room, and so I decided to make some little felt stocking gift holders and embroider them in such a way.

I had recently purchased some lovely little stamping patterns to do some pillow cases. (There is nothing nicer than beautifully hand embroidered white pillow cases in a country cottage) As a thank you for buying them ,I had also received a cute little set of Christmas embroidery patterns. I decided that these would be the perfect size for my project.

My bag of flosses and bundles of felt were brought downstairs along with my button box and a variety of ribbons. Embellishments are always a nice touch, and each one can help a gift be made so personal and just right for the person intended.

Several hours later, I had a nice little bundle of stockings finished. I was quite pleased with the results. They looked so lovely with their pretty red stitching and I loved the ribbon and button touches. I even found a bag in my craft room of odd bits of jewelry that helped to dress them up even more. I hope that my friends enjoy receiving one of these little beauties and you know, as my mother always said . . . the nicest things come in small packages.

All that craft activity whetted my appetite for some Christmas baking. With just Todd and myself living here, there is not a lot that I can do now in the way of Christmas baking. Most of what I make gets given away to friends. Todd likes his Christmas pudding on Christmas day, and a Christmas cake of course, but I sometimes miss the treats from home that my mother always made every Christmas when I was growing up. and that had also become traditional for my own growing family when they were all still at home.

One such tradition was this lovely gumdrop cake, a recipe that I got from my sister quite a few years back. Everyone in my family loves this cake and it just would not be Christmas without one about. My mother once baked one and realized after it went into the oven that half of her plastic spatula was missing . . . that year instead of everyone looking for the special sixpence in the Christmas cake we were all vying to be the one who found the plastic spatula in the gumdrop cake . . . such are the things that legends are built upon . . .

I shall probably have to bake another one before Christmas, as this will be probably long gone and only a tasty memory by then.

*Portugese Gumdrop Cake*
Makes one bundt sized cake

It just wouldn't be Christmas without one of these delicious cakes in the larder. I'm not sure why it is called Portugese Gumdrop Cake or even it is actually Portugese. I only know for sure that is is moist, delicious and chock full of wonderful sweet gumdrops. Much, much tastier than a fruitcake . . . everyone loves this! It also freezes very well.

1 cup butter
1 1/2 cup caster sugar
3 large eggs, separated
3 cups plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
generous pinch of salt
1 cup whole milk
1 tsp lemon essence
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup sultana raisins
1 cup candy gum drops, cut in half (save the black ones for eating)

Pre-heat the oven to 150*C/300*F. Grease and flour a tube pan (I use my fluted bundt pan) and set it aside.

Cream together the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks.mixing them in well.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir together the milk and the vanilla essence. Beat the egg whites until stiff.

Add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture, alternating with the milk, beginning and ending with dry. Mix it all in well. Fold in the beaten egg whites. Try hard not to over mix the batter and deflate the whites. Carefully fold in the gumdrops and the raisins.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the pre-heated oven for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until it springs back when lightly touched and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. If it is browning too quicly on top, cover with some aluminum foil.

Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for at least 15 minutes before you remove it to a wire rack to cool completely. You may dust the top with icing sugar before serving.