Busy Week!

So, remember back in late February/early March where I decided on taking my mom to Emma Bridgewater for that themed Mother’s Day gift? Well, we did that and a few days earlier – that absolutely gorgeous 24c Sunday in London – we went and took a cookie decorating class at Biscuiteers in Notting Hill!

First, Biscuiteers… It had been several years since I’d been over to Notting Hill. Honestly, I don’t get to that part of town that often. Kensington, yes, but not that little smidge bit further. If you do go up to the shop, it’s easier to take Ladbroke Grove tube rather than Notting Hill Gate. We did the Faberge-egg themed chocolate cookies! The staff were really great in instructing us too and I picked up lots of techniques to use at Christmas.

The cost of the class included all supplies, a Biscuiteers apron to keep, and a themed tin to take your cookies home in! The price is a bit high, but I had a 2 for 1 offer I redeemed from January.

And on to Emma Bridgewater! We went the day before Good Friday, so lots of M1 and A50 traffic. Lots. Most accidents were the opposite direction we were headed, but it did make for a long drive home. Tour started at 11:30 and we learned about how they make the pottery – and impressively, how so much is sourced “locally” throughout England, how it is recycled and reused when possible, and the sheer amount of local people employed by the company who started as apprentices for a number of years. My mom loved it and we came home with several pieces.

And more pictures… We were not allowed to take pictures in the design studio itself as there were a number of new designs and commissioned pieces being worked on. The decorate your own pottery was fun – a 1/2 pint mug was included in our visit, but we could’ve “upgraded” to a number of other pieces if we wanted. It’s harder than you’d think – a steady hand certainly helps.

Cookie Thief

Yep. I am. From Smitten Kitchen. Have you read her blog? If not, you should. Deb lives in NYC and has a tiny tiny kitchen. Not the normal kitchen found in most homes in America – but a proper tiny kitchen. Like you’d find pretty much anywhere in the UK unless you have a gigantic house or castle in the countryside with an AGA. I started reading her blog around 2008-2009. Once I realised I was moving to the UK, I was confident that if she could cook in a tiny kitchen, my kitchen in Scotland wouldn’t be any trouble. Or in England.

 

Screen Shot 2017-04-04 at 16.13.58

NYC kitchen photo courtesy and (c) Smitten Kitchen

Except I still really don’t cook. You’ve seen my attempts. Same with baking. I can get on a roll (no pun) though, and when I do, my waistline expands considerably. Like last week. Craving chocolate chip cookies. Not really a “thing” here in the UK. 101 cookies/biscuits of every form in the store except those. So, back to the recipe I’ve used time and time again over the years:

Crispy Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 2 cups (260g) all-purpose flour (plain flour in UK speak)
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup (170g) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup (190g) packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar (white sugar, not icing sugar)
  • 1 Tbsp (15ml) vanilla extract (you can use less if you want)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 cups (about 12oz) chocolate chips (semi-sweet, dark – your choice)
  • chopped walnuts if you want (I WANT!)

Pre-heat oven to 325F (165c). Line cookie sheets with parchment or Silpat mat (or grease as needed).

Sift flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In another bowl, cream melted butter, brown sugar, and sugar. Beat egg, egg yolk, and vanilla into the melted butter mixture until creamy. Mix in dry ingredients, chocolate chips (and nuts).

(I chilled the dough for about 1/2 hour but you don’t have to). Drop the cookies onto the sheet (about 12 will fit on a standard sized cookie sheet) about a tablespoon at a time. Bake approximately 15-17 minutes (mine were about 17-20min but they’d been chilled too). Let sit for about a minute before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

I had approximately 36 cookies. Not including the bit of dough I ate (no, I do not believe eating raw cookie dough will kill you – I’ve been doing it for 40+ years, however, use caution as there are raw eggs in the mix!) Additionally, the last time I made them, I only had dark brown sugar which made the cookies really dark and a tad hard to tell when they were done in the oven so back to the light brown sugar it is!

Really, they are crispy and chewy just like Deb’s recipe. My dad and I ate them all in 48hrs. Oink.

 

 

 

The fancy, professional photos are from Smitten Kitchen and the copyright/trademark belongs to them! 

 

 

Chicken Noodle Soup (again)

It’s still soup weather. As I stated before, I’m a lazy cook. And soup that involved broth – I always thought it was super complicated and involved boiling chickens and bones and all sorts of things. Then, I made this about 2 weeks ago, forgot to take pictures, but because the weather is so *ugh* I decided to make it again! It really couldn’t be simpler – even for non-cooks!

  • Water (a big pot full, no really any need to measure)
  • Bouillon cubes (I used 3 chicken cubes and 1 vegetable cube)
  • Bag of “soup vegetable mix” from Lidl (for real, I think this was only £0.69!!! It has potatoes, carrots, and leeks)
  • Leftover chicken from a roast chicken I’d made the night before
  • 1 “ball” of thin egg noodles I had in the pantry (use any sort of pasta you have)
  • 1-2tsp of plain flour (if you want a thicker broth)

Dump the bouillon cubes and vegetables in the stockpot, simmer until the vegetables are tender. (I did this on the lowest flame possible on my stove, for maybe an hour?)

Then add the chicken and simmer for another 15-20min. About 10min or so before you’re ready to serve it, add the noodles. Voila! Easy peasy!

Now, depending on how much water you did/didn’t put in the pot initially, you may need to add more water if it boils down too much and ends up too thick. If you want your broth a bit thicker, add a teaspoon or two of plain flour.

Gym Resolutions

Blah. New Year resolution to work out more? Nope. Lose x amount of weight? Sorta. Best way to achieve this laudable goal? New gym gear (or kit as they’d say here in the UK)! Spending a small fortune on a gym membership, package of classes, and of course clothing, is the easiest way to achieve this, right?

Well, for me it’s all well and good except I MUST put down the remote and remove myself from the Netflix, Prime, Hulu, and iPlayer for that to occur. (*laughs uncontrollably*) Since it’s supposed to snow/flurry/freeze this weekend, what better way to celebrate such a resolution than to order a bunch of workout stuff!

Affordable? The American staple of every workout gym girl and pseudo-yoga girl is Lululemon. Personally, I think it is overrated and overpriced for most items. Cultish for sure, so it ticks that box – now just go grab your Starbucks and oversized sunglasses and you should be set! Same with Sweaty Betty in the UK but I shouldn’t poke fun at either company. Both make really nice workout/gym gear for the yoga, pilates, spinning class set except it’s super pricey. Like $100/£100 for a top or pants/trousers.Too much for the majority of us who won’t make it to the gym past February. Lululemon even worked hard to resolve the rampant problem they had with “see through” pants and other quality issues about three years ago. So do we need expensive gear to leisurely walk around the park with the dog or go to the coffee shop?

Nope! As a devotee of how I can get the best value – I found Aldi and Lidl both had a great selection of gym gear at affordable prices. I made several purchases from Aldi online last week (saving me from getting up at the crack of whenever to drive to my local store when they open at 8am). A selection from Aldi:

Now, some of the items I ordered have since sold out online so it may be wise to check your local store and see if anything is left in stock. I was able to get a Zumba DVD and a fitness peanut/ball too! Everything came to less than £50 and the packaging from Aldi was perfect.

The options from Lidl were equally as good. I simply chose Aldi because I wanted to try their online order process and at this time, Lidl doesn’t offer online shopping for their weekly special buys. Once the week has passed too, you can’t view the Lidl options online either, but if you want to jump start your fitness with healthy eating, they have these options from tomorrow the 12th of January:

Having worn my new gym gear out to walk the dog and do a bit of fitness DVD at home, I can certainly say it’s nice for the amount I paid. If I become a 5-7 day a week, marathon running, intense workout type person I would certainly think I’d need to upgrade to more performance, wicking type gear for sure but for starting out – this is all perfect clothing!

In full disclosure, I’ve purchased small appliances from Aldi (food processor and kettle, both exceptional quality) and from Lidl, small baking items for the holidays (wish I’d purchased more) and more home goods. I’ve been very happy with all my purchases from both places. If your local Aldi or Lidl is out of stock, don’t fret, items like this generally come back in stock every few months though the designs, colours, or exact items may change slightly but many items have a tendency to sell out quickly so if you sign up to their respective email/online/social media notifications, you can stay up to date and maybe plan purchases accordingly.

 

 

This post is not sponsored by Aldi or Lidl in any way. All pictures are copyright/trademarked by both companies respectively.

More Christmas Baking

‘Tis the season, eh? Baking is full scale out of control here, I should be a size 1,890 by next week I’m sure!

Marshmallows made, including another box mix from Marks & Spencer which was super duper easy. Again, you can’t have general groceries from them delivered, but if you live near a larger store, it’s worth trying for only £1.50 (as of last week) a box. It is hard to see lovely marbling due to having to really coat them in powdered/icing sugar to prevent them from sticking!

Pie cookies iced, butter cookies pressed out (and I broke the damn cookie press…SMH), Russian tea cookies done and dusted, and the Linzer cookies will be this coming week. And I think I finally found a mince pie I like! Woot. I was unsure. Because it seemed so traditionally British, for the last few years I felt like I owed it to the country to try to like them. No luck with a super posh box from Harrod’s (given away after 1) or some from M&S (again, given away). I technically should like everything in them – pie crust, raisins, sultanas, apples, other dried fruits, sugar. What’s not to like?

Process of elimination has led me to think it’s the rum (or brandy) that for me, gives it an odd flavour. Also, what about suet? Maybe it’s because traditional suet is meat based? I’m not sure, but after much research (I’ve said before I’m a marketing person’s dream) and double-checking the Good Housekeeping site, the rest is history. I purchased a box of the Iceland brand luxury mince pies! With vegetable suet. Seriously. 6 for £1.50.

Recipes found on BBC Good Food indicate you can make a mince filling too without using suet which is intriguing. I’m not at the stage yet where I’m ambitious enough (or really really like them enough) yet to try that, but this recipe looked promising. Could I substitute the alcohol for water or juice? Hmmm. A project for next year I think…

 

Well, that being said, Christmas is here, so enjoy yourself and time with friends and family! Merry Christmas!

 

 

Pie pictures are courtesy Iceland and Good Housekeeping, trademarks and all that. 

Easy (Easier) Christmas Baking

My mom bakes up a storm over Christmas, but because she’s in England and didn’t pack lots of kitchen stuff (smaller kitchen, plugs are different, etc.) much of her baking in the last three Christmases has been scaled back considerably. So, for an easy, scaled back Christmas to get your GBBO on, here are two easy recipes (one isn’t even a recipe, really) – the reindeer cookies from Marks & Spencer and a recipe modified/adapted from Pinterest! The pie cookies started last year and are the newest cookie to grace my mom’s Christmas baking arsenal since, probably, 1975!

First, the reindeer cookies! Easy on a scale of 1-10, I’d say 6.5. Easy to make, PITA to assemble, but super fun if you have little kids (though supervised as some things have to be done when the cookies/baking tray are still very warm). And number two – the pie cookies are probably an 8 or 9 on the easy scale! There is no measuring or anything involved; they were made up and all baked in less than 2hrs – decorating for the next day.

Reindeer:

I was in a larger M&S food hall near my home and, on a whim, hoped they’d have cake mix. Yes, cake mix is more an American thing, but easy in a pinch when you don’t have time to make from scratch! Anyway, M&S did have the cake mix (carrot) and I found this box of reindeer cookies. The mix makes 12 cookies; comes with all the stuff – pretzels for ears, white chocolate for eyes, and jam for the noses! You literally just add butter. The cookies are shortbread, so when the come out of the oven use caution as typically, it crumbles easily. When I popped in the other day, the mix was on offer 3 for 2 or £1.50 per box!

HINT – put the pretzels in right when they come out of the oven and the cookies are still warm – don’t wait the 3-4min like the directions say!

Pie Cookies:

Adapted from Pinterest (if you have it, the link is here), they were supposed to be a topping for a turkey pie used from the leftover bits of Christmas or Thanksgiving turkey. How the idea came to turn them into cookies, I don’t remember.

  • 2 pre-made refrigerated pie crust (in the US, use your standard Pillsbury – in the UK use any standard shortcrust…I used some from Sainsbury’s that was on sale)
  • Chopped walnuts or pecans, or a mix (I just used a knife to coarsely chop mine)
  • Dried fruit (I had a mix of raisins, sultanas, cherrys, apricots, cranberries – or one or the other, whatever you prefer)
  • For the icing: Confectioners (icing) sugar, orange zest from a fresh orange, and rather than water, use the juice of the orange instead

Let the pie crust sit out for about half an hour to get to room temperature. Pre-heat your oven to 220c/425F.

Then lightly dust your work surface with flour so the crust doesn’t stick & is a bit easier to roll out. Roll out 1 crust so it’s a bit thinner and seal any seams (particularly in the Pillsbury crust). Sprinkle the nuts and dried fruit on the pie crust, then place the second pie crust on top and again, lightly roll out so the crusts are now even and the crusts are pretty well stuck together.

Cut out with a small 2″ round cutter, or be even more simple and use a knife or pizza cutter to easily cut them into squares! The pie crust will be a bit gappy – unless you go and try to pinch each individual round cookie together around the edges. Take all the bits of scrap dough together, ball it up, and roll it out again to get those last bits of cookie! (The cookies that are made with the scrap dough are square below, the just plain “sandwich” method had them round.)

Now, the alternative method, which I’m starting to think works better, would be to sandwich the nuts and dried fruit between the dough as above, but start with balling it up and then rolling it out (so you’ll have lots of cookies that will look like the square ones in my photos). The dough doesn’t seem to separate this way when baking. Go figure. Either way…

Bake for 15min (anywhere between 8-15 depending on your oven though – just lightly golden coloured). Based on the size of the cookies, and using up all the scrap dough, I got 58 cookies. If the square scrap bits had been a bit more even, easily 60 cookies – no bad.

After they’re cool, mix up some powdered sugar, orange zest, and orange juice to make a little royal icing glaze to drizzle over the tops. (Mine were still cooling at the time of this post). You could even sprinkle coarse sugar on the top before baking if you don’t like the idea of royal icing.

What’s not to like about pie crust, dried fruit, and nuts?!?!

 

Let the Baking Commence

Ahh, finally sorta, maybe, kinda, starting to be Christmas here. Maybe. A little bit. This weekend started with gingerbread cookies (cheating with IKEA UK chilled dough, Pepparkaka Deg, now sold out at my local store). Easy. Moving on to gingerbread houses. Time-consuming!

Honestly, I have cheated the last few years. Pre-made house kits courtesy IKEA UK (not available online, but still available in store for £1.95 for IKEA Family members). As a kid, my mom would make the dough from scratch. Molasses, brown sugar, the whole bit. The kitchen would be a disaster. My dad made templates from cardboard that would be safely tucked away with the ornaments every year. I’m sure they’re still there! Lots of powdered sugar for royal icing. Royal icing hardens into sugared concrete and has been known to give the recipient the feeling of a broken tooth on occasion. Really. Combine royal icing with some of those silver dragée balls, and you will surely lose a tooth! (Kidding, but not. Seriously, don’t let little kids eat them for sure!)

dragees-silver-4mm

Royal icing is tricky anyway. Too much water, too runny. Too little, too stiff. It’s a fine balancing act to get the consistency right and keep the icing soft enough to be piped & used as “glue” for decorating purposes. Then, the trick that is often over-looked. Soup cans. Or cans of any sort. You CANNOT just “glue” your house together with icing and walk away. IT WILL COLLAPSE!

Nope. You need cans. Glue, place, then use cans to gently support the house until it dries, which can easily take a whole day or more. And how steady is your hand? Piping those seams can take a good amount of steady work and the pressure after several hours will leave most people with hand cramps.

Here are all the bits and pieces:

As you saw from the post that half-posted the other day (and my subsequent apology for not being able to catch & edit the same), I was hospitalised for three days and never had a chance to finish assembling the houses myself. My mom and dad did it so she could take them to her work before everyone left for the Christmas holiday!

But if you do try and attempt it yourself, bright, fun, creative, and colourful should be the way to go for your candies! I purchased all of mine from Sainsbury’s as they honestly had the best selection – even better than the fancy candy shop in town.

Back to regularly scheduled content now that I’m home and feeling much, much better…