Friday, 28 September 2012

A, B, C . . . is for cake!

September appears to be recipe month! I don't know if it's the wonderful blustery dark storms sweeping in, drawing the nights in earlier, or if it's just being on a diet (8lbs gone so far!), but lately I'm even more obsessed with food than usual.  So a little later on I'm going to share another recipe with you, Good Housekeeping's Pear and Almond cake. Can you say lush?

But before we have cake I thought I would share a little blogging feature that's going around at the moment ~ the ABC of me. It's a neat thing I've seen on a few of the crafty / foodie blogs I visit and I think it's a great way to share a little about myself with you:
A} Age: 40

B} Bed Size: Double, with a King-size feather duvet on top. I ♥ my bed!

C} Chore you dislike: Oh dear, all of them! I guess I least despise ironing, because at least I can set the ironing board up in front of the tv and do two things at once! Possibly dusting / polishing is my biggest yurk ~ my house is composed of layers of clutter upon stuff surmounting bits and bobs, so dusting really means tidying too. Sadface.

D} Dogs: Nellie-egg, our rescued Podenco cross from Spain. She is sweet, timid, and when she’s been asleep in her bed for a little while she smells somewhat like a biscuit!?!

E} Essential start to your day: Coffee. No idea why as I drink decaf anyway, but the day doesn’t feel right if I haven’t had a small cup of coffee laced with hazlenut syrup.

F} Favorite Colors: Hmmm, I love all colours, all shades, depending on the where when and why, but I think perhaps emerald green tips the scales for me.

G} Gold or Silver: Gold. I do like silver’s clarity and clean look in some situations but generally I like the soft warmth of gold.

H} Height: Five foot nine.

I} Instruments you play (past/present): Remember at school they used to make you play recorder? Well, that’s my limit I’m afraid. I can’t remember how to read music but if you give me a few minutes practice I can play the themes from Star Wars and Harry Potter. What more do you need ;)

J} Job Title: Part-time office admin, full-time mother, crafter in the gaps between.

K} Kids: One son, aged eleven going on fourteen! He alternates between an angel and a nightmare, and puts the smile in my heart.

L} Live: In Portsmouth, an historic naval port on the south coast of England 

M} Mum’s name: Anne

N} Nicknames: I don’t think I have any, not that people use to my face anyway! Sometimes people call me “Fi” but not often. One guy at work calls me “Madame Fi-Fi” but I do wish he wouldn’t. I am not a poodle.

O} Overnight hospital stays: None so far, touch wood!

P} Pet Peeves: There are sooooo many! It would be quicker to list the things that don’t hack me off! But I guess most of them can be boiled down to arrogance, and a lack of consideration for others.

Q} Quote from a Movie: Oooh, again, how to pick only one! I am a big movie buff, and part of me wants to choose something obscure and/or artsy but in the end all that kept popping into my head was this Python quote: “Lord, I am affected by a bald patch”. The timing and delivery are just brilliant. Can you name the film it’s from?

R} Righty or Lefty: Right-handed for everything except cutlery, weird huh?

S} Siblings: My little baby sister is 38 now, how did that happen?!

T} Time you wake up: Just lately it seems to be around 5 – 5.30am. I’ve always been an early bird rather than a night owl, but this is getting a little early even for me!

U} URL favorite these days: The usual suspects: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, but I'm Loving My Fitness Pal lately, and IMDb is always extremely useful

V} Vegetables you don’t like: Tomatoes. They are the devil’s fruit.

W} What makes you run late: I’m usually pretty punctual, but “I’ll just quickly check my emails / facebook / twitter” pushes me close to the limit.

X} X-Rays: Only dental x-rays.

Y} Yesterday memory: Chopping apples!

Z} Zoo Animal Favorite: Not really keen on zoos, but I do love animals. Maybe a giraffe? Or a tapir? Tigers are awesome but whenever I’ve seen one in a zoo I’ve just felt sad for them. They should be prowling the jungle, not lying in a cage.

Ok, enough about me. Cake time. 

Pear and Almond Cake

225g (8oz) butter
250g (9oz) caster sugar
3 medium eggs
125g (4oz) SR flour, sifted
1/2 tsp almond essence
75g (3oz) ground almonds

For the Topping:
2 medium pears
2 tbsp demerara sugar
15g (1/2 oz) flaked almonds

Preheat oven to 180C / 350F / Gas 4

Line base and sides of a 8" (20cm) round tin with baking parchment.
Beat butter and sugar until pale and creamy. Gradually add the eggs one at a time, add 1tbsp if the mixture looks like curdling. Beat in almond essence.
Using a large metal spoon, fold in the flour and ground almonds. Scrape the mixture into the prepared tin and level the surface. Bake for 20mins.
Meanwhile, peel and core the pears then slice into approx 5mm slices. When the cake has baked for approx 20 mins, carefully take it out of the oven and arrange the pear slices prettily on top (they should sink slightly. Mine didn't, so I gave them a helping prod) Sprinkle over the demerara sugar and flaked almonds. Return the cake to the oven for a further 55 mins, or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the tin for 10 mins then turn out onto a wire rack to cool. Serve still slightly warm or at room temperature.

I really like this cake, and it's a perfect autumnal treat. The edges had a fabulous crunch, while the centre was soft and moist. I thought the pears could have had more impact, and might try an extra pear next time I make it, but it was delicious nonetheless.
Despite the fruity element, this is not a healthy option! But I have added the nutritional info provided by the Good Housekeeping recipe to My Fitness Pal for those of you interested in calorie-counting.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Slow and Low Lamb Stew

I have another recipe for you!
Already? I know, I'm not pacing myself very well, am I! But this was something I just threw together as an experiment and not only was I quite pleased with how it turned out, I was amazed to find out how low the calories were too! I made this in my slow cooker (crock pot) but you could do it in the oven if you don't have a slow cooker, just keep it slow and low as the Beastie Boys said.

Lamb and Tomato Stew

300g diced lamb
2 large carrots (approx 200g)
1 medium onion (100g)
1 tin chopped tomatoes in juice (400g)
1 tin new potatoes, drained (345g)
1 chicken oxo cube
1 beef oxo cube
approx 1/2 tsp dried herbs (I used Herbs de Provence)

Brown the lamb quickly in a dry pan then add to the slow cooker along with the chopped onion, sliced carrots, tomatoes and herbs. Crumble the stock cubes into the empty tomato tin and make a stock with boiling water, this will give you about the right amount of liquid for your stew.
Leave the slow cooker on high for an hour or so then turn down to low for the rest of the day. Add the drained potatoes for the last half hour of cooking.

This made four good sized portions and was deliciously filling, but when I plugged all the ingredients into My Fitness Pal (my new best friend!) I found it only came to 177 calories per portion! I would have added parsnip too if I'd had any, which would add perhaps 20 calories per portion, totally worth it. The sauce is not very thick, if you prefer a thicker sauce you could mix in a blend of butter and flour (melt a tablespoon of butter, add a tablespoon of flour, mix well, then blend into stew) but obviously that would affect the calorie count a little. Please also note that you may need to keep an eye on the liquid levels if you cook in a regular oven as you will lose more fluid using that method.

I think this week I have saved enough calories for a cakey treat tomorrow, don't you?

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Creamy Courgette and Dill soup

I need to start this post with an apology. Regular readers may remember that I promised a Christmas Craftalong tutorial every month, and you may also have noticed that this hasn't happened recently. Life, I'm afraid, has kind of got in the way. I'm sorry :( I have some bits and bobs ready to make the next couple of crafts and if I can get some spare time I will get on and do them, but if I'm unable to do so then I will make sure I share some links to some awesome crafty websites where you will find lots of wonderful tutorials.

In the meantime I thought I would share a recipe. I've been dieting recently (sob!). I need to lose approx 2 stone (that's 28lbs to any US readers) partly because I am at least 2 stone overweight, and partly because I'm running the Great South Run (10 miles!) at the end of October and need to shed some weight so I don't destroy my knees! I'm using the awesome My Fitness Pal website to help and can really recommend it, apparently they also do an awesome phone app, but my phone isn't that smart. Any healthy recipes I post I will make sure are in their database too so you can easily count your calories. So let's start with this healthy adaptation of Courgette and Dill soup:
 Courgette and Dill Soup

2 big or 3 medium courgettes ( I used yellow here)
Small knob of butter
1 Tablespoon olive oil
300ml vegetable stock (I used oxo cubes)
500ml semi-skimmed milk
2 large spoons chopped dill
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Peel and slice the courgettes then fry in the butter and olive oil until soft. Add stock and milk. Bring to the boil then simmer for 15 - 20 minutes.
Pour into a blender, add the dill and blitz. Add lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

This made approx 1 litre of soup which I divided into 4 portions. It's a lovely light yet creamy soup, only 133 calories, and makes a delicious hot snack or perfect warming accompaniment to a low cal ham sandwich for lunch. To find it on My Fitness Pal simply search for Cheery Chicken Courgette and Dill soup.

I'd love to hear what you think of the soup, and I'll share more recipes here as and when time allows, each will be on My Fitness Pal for any of you who calorie count.

If you would like to sponsor me for the Great South Run (I'm raising money for the RNLI, our brave Lifeboat men who are entirely funded by charity) then please go to my Fundraising page. Every penny helps and will be greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

A Bounty of Berries

August is a busy month for me. 'Tis Harvest Time - the original reason for allowing children a summer holiday from school - and the main harvest in my house is blackberries. For any of you who have never been blackberrying, then you really ought to try it ~ it’s free food after all! You don’t need a lot of time or equipment, you don’t even to travel far to do it. Blackberries grow in cities just as well as they do in the countryside, try looking around the edge of parks, allotments, even business parks / industrial estates. There is some snobbery that city berries will be covered in petrol fumes and dirt, but unless they’re growing on an exceptionally busy road this really isn’t the case.

Having said that, it’s a much nicer activity to pick in a green place. I go to the local woods (which is still on the island!) with son and dog in tow, a toy bucket or an empty ice-cream tub in a carrier bag ready for my treasure. Do not wear your best white t-shirt! The juice can stain, and you will at the very least go home with purple fingers (and probably lips too!) The ripe berries are a plump glossy black, don’t pick the dark red as they’re not fully ripe and will just be sour and unpleasant. Likewise, avoid those with a dull sheen as they have gone beyond ripe and are beginning to moulder. An hour with a decent crop on the bushes should be plenty of time to fill a 2 litre ice-cream tub, which will give you approx 1 kilo of fruit. When you get them home stand the tub under a gently running tap and wash the berries handful by handful, draining in a sieve. Layer them on a sheet of paper kitchen towel (to absorb some of the water) in another empty ice-cream tub, removing each sheet of paper once the layer is full. This helps soak up some of the water and makes it easier to get the berries out once they are frozen. When the tub is full, simply replace the lid and pop it in your freezer. You now have berries to hand all year round!

As well as being delicious, blackberries have a multitude of health benefits:

1. Blackberries are one of the top ten foods containing antioxidants.

2. Blackberries are packed with polyphenols helping to prevent cancer and heart disease.

3. Blackberries are filled with anthocyanins (antioxidants which give blackberries their deep purple colour) which help in memory retention and the risk of hypertension.

4. Blackberries are said to strengthen blood vessels, help fight heart disease and help improve eyesight.

5. The high tannin content of blackberries help tighten tissue, relieve intestinal inflammation, and help reduce hemorrhoids and stomach disorders.

6. Ohio State University found that blackberries may protect against esophageal cancer, a cancer caused by gastric reflux disease.

7. Blackberries have shown to protect against other types of cancers. They contain phytoestrogens (plant estrogens), a compound believed to play a vital role in preventing breast and cervical cancer.

8. Blackberries are high in Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, Manganese and fibre.
9. The high fibre content of blackberries help reduce risk of intestinal disease and the risk of developing diabetes.

10. Blackberries are a healthy food choice that kids and adults love. They are a great way to refuel after a hard workout and help aid in fighting obesity.

One cup of fresh blackberries has 62 calories, 1 gram of fat, 15 carbohydrates, 8 grams of fiber, 2 grams of protein and only 1 mg of sodium.

(from ingredients, inc.)

So, what are you going to make with them? My main uses of blackberries are jam, crumbles, and blackberry vinegar; but they are extremely versatile and can be used in many recipes. Try stirring them through muffin batter in place of blueberries, or blitz a handful of berries in a blender with a banana and some milk for a delicious smoothie – this is a particularly good use of the frozen berries as they chill the smoothie as well as adding flavour and a fabulous purple colour.   

Below is a quick and easy crumble recipe for you to try. I always use eating apples as they are what I have to hand. However if you want to use cooking apples by all means do so, but I would recommend adding a couple of spoons of sugar to the fruit mix.


Blackberry and Apple Crumble

Cooking time: 35-45 minutes
Serves:  4

250g Blackberries
500g Apples

Crumble Topping:
170 Rolled oats
50g Wholemeal flour
40g Demerara sugar
50g Butter

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350F / Gas 4.

Peel, core and slice the apples. Put in a large, ovenproof dish and stir in the berries.
Place the rolled oats, flour, sugar and butter in a bowl and rub together until well mixed. Sprinkle over fruit and bake for 45 minutes until golden brown. Serve warm with vanilla ice-cream. Or custard.

The juice and grated rind of an orange makes a lovely addition to the fruity filling of this crumble, or why not try a little cinnamon in the crumble topping?

Blackberries are usually in season from early August until mid-late September, so you still have a couple of weeks left to enjoy them. I'd love to hear what you make with your berries!