Christmas day was a nice quiet and astonishingly warm day, as can be seen with me in a tee shirt. We took the dogs out for a walk around the village Christmas morning, and as I was dressed as Santa being carried by an elf with the dogs wearing Christmas hats I had a lot of cars going passed beeping their horns and people waving, and lots of smiles on peoples faces.
It was quite a nice easy day, but I confess we ate far too much, but I guess most people do. The girls as always enjoyed the day, and once they opened one of their presents Mazikeen decided it was open season and kept helping herself to presents, she even passed ones over to Harper to open, who was very willing.
Each year I say that I will get a smaller turkey as it is only M, me and the girls, so we really do not need something that will feed 20 people, but when it comes to it, I just cannot help it and a big one is always bought.
We did our annual charity run, so went to the supermarket and bought a trolly full of food, personals and sweets (for the kids) and took them to the homeless shelter The Whitechapel Centre in Liverpool. I know that lots of people don’t realise that there are families that are homeless and that includes kids, so we bought 30 big tubes of sweets for them in the hope that they have something to enjoy. M sponsored a few Christmas boxes for Shelter which includes a bed for the night, Christmas dinner, warm clothes, personals (toiletries) and more. He also sponsored a dog for me, funny enough also called Harper. He lives at the Dogs Trust shelter in Liverpool, so we are going to visit him in the new year which will be nice.
All in all, it was a lovely Christmas. I hope you all had a nice day too.
I do love a good mince pie, and since Christmas is on its way, I decided to start eating them this month, and today I made my own version.
Now, I know that my American readers, and, thinking on, most readers that are not it the UK may not know what the hell a mince pie is. They go by other names of Christmas Pie, Shrid Pie and Mutton Pie, and date back to Tudor times. Although we now use sweet mince and not savory fillings. Sweet mince was also a favourite of the Tudors.
Mincemeat is a sweet filling made from fruit, spices and sugars and has many veriations, but all have the same base with currents and sultanas. My version has a lemon & rose twist to it.
100g Chopped nuts (I used salted caramalised pican, almonds, cashew, hazelnuts, macadamia)
150g Golden Caster Sugar
100g Unsalted butter
½ tsp Ground clove
1 tsp Ground nutmeg
1 tsp Ground cinnamon
Zest of 1 Lemon
Zest of 1 Orange
60ml Lemon Juice
½ tsp Salt
½ tsp Rosewater
500g Short Crust Pastry
1 egg, beaten
Combine the currants, sultanas, chopped nuts, citrus zests, lemon juice, spices and salt.
Heat butter butter together with sugar in a large saucepan. When butter starts to bubble stir in fruit mixture.
Remove pan from heat. When cool add rosewater.
Roll pastry out to about 2mm thick, cut discs and fit into muffin or small tart tins. Cut discs for the tops too, or have fun and cut stars for the tops.
Place a few spoons of the filling into the pie cases and add a blob of lemon curd on top of the mixture, then add the pastry lid/star. You can use the whisked egg to bond the lid if you are not crimping the edges.
Brush with a bit of egg/eggwash.
I sprinkled the tops with some lavendar sugar that I had mad with culinary lavendar that I keep in a sealed jar.
If using disc lids cut a few little holes to allow the steam to escape.
Bake for 15 – 20 minutes at 200°C / fan 190°C / Gas mark 5 (adjust times for your oven) or until the pastry has turned golden brown.
Allow to cool slightly and dust with icing sugar before serving.
I like to serve with a dollop of extra thick double cream.
The three on the left of the photo with the slashes in are puff pastry ones I made at the same time. For this I cut out a disc of puff pastry, added the filling to the centre, brushed the edges with egg and added a puff pastry top and pressed it down, washed with egg, slashed the top and baked at the same time, but I did not add the lemon curd to these.
I hope you enjoy this recipe if you make it. But be warned, you may put on weight if consuming too many of these delicious mince pies.
I have spent the weekend baking bread. Yesterday I baked a country malt loaf and binned it as it had the density of a black hole. Today I decided to do another malted loaf, the result is the ball-shaped one above, and I also made a sourdough loaf, on the right.
If I am truthful, neither rose the way they should have. I thought that maybe the yeast was dead, but after activating the yeast on its own rather than adding it directly to the flour I thought it would rise better, but no, it is a football size loaf weighing about 3 tonnes. The sourdough, however, is a bit of an odd one as it rose one side but not the other. But the good news is that my sourdough starter smell fantastic, and exactly the way it should do, sharp, sour and it’s bubbly, that’s one in the bag that I am counting. I have not tasted them as yet, but am hoping beyond all hope that they are good. Something inside says not though.
The thing which is odd, I used to bake bread all the time and never ever had a problem, everything worked, everything looked good, and tasted fantastic. This last attempt is making me wonder what I am doing wrong. Hell, I can make some of the finest French pastries, and I have made every type of bread successfully. I am at a loss. But, not to be defeated, I will keep going but will get some fresh yeast rather than dried.
Okay, since starting this post and now, I have just tasted the sourdough bread, and it was okay in taste, not the full sourdough taste, but not bad, the crust was crisp, there were air holes in the bread itself, but not enough, and unfortunately it was too dense, which means back to the drawing board.
So far, so good. This is 12 hours after the first feeding, near trebled in size, lots of bubbles. This morning, day three I gave it its second feeding and left it in the warmth of the kitchen, it is rising which is great. Hopefully, by the weekend, I will be able to bake some bread.
However, as it is barbeque weather I may bake a loaf on it today, we will see how I feel after sitting in the sun for an hour LOL
Oh, did I mention, day three without rain, and temperatures 24c, not exactly the heatwave promised, but I am definitely not complaining as it is just right.
Last year I decided to try my hand at making sourdough bread. Although the bread looked okay it was, in layman’s terms, it was crap. Although there was a rise in my bread basket, I had used normal flour to line it, so it stuck, and alas it lost its aeration and rise when I had to drag it out of the banneton. The other problem was the high heat I had to get the oven, as my sourdough book gave a temperature beyond the reaches of it.
The other day I was reading the tweets from Dan who makes bread all the time, but he was baking it on his BBQ, yep, turns out the best place for it. After a chat with him over it, I thought I would try his method of baking. My bbq has a temp gauge that goes to 1000 f, so I can get to whatever temperature I need. He is a fountain of knowledge and uses his bbq for all kinds of baking, which I will be trying out.
I have used rye flour as the base of the starter as this usually yields a good start for natural yeast, mixed with warm water. Tomorrow when I feed it I will be using organic stone milled flour rather than blade cut/ground flour.
So far so good. Although, I started with a headache yesterday that lasted for over 24 hours. I think that it was due to the shock on my system, that being lack of carbs and no sugars. Today I finally got it sorted by taking migraine and paracetamol tablets at 3 am then paracetamol every four hours and hey presto, gone. Thank god that is. Even when I was dieting the last time I was never good, and still had sugars and carbs and just counted calories, and did well as I kept to 1200 to 1500 calories a day. Yesterday I did my first weigh in and was 14.31 stone. I am getting on the scales each day, but will not post about each pound lost, just update each week.
Yesterday, I really was not in the mood for eating anything. I had two eggs and spinach for breakfast and a black coffee. Mid-morning I had a protein drink, lunch was a chicken salad that I struggled to eat. Mid-afternoon another protein drink and dinner was just roasted chicken with jerk spices on it. Lots of water too all day.
Today was a little less food, as I really did not want anything this morning, but knowing I had to have something, just had a small apple. Mid-morning and mid-afternoon were the same as yesterday, lunch two egg salad and dinner was roasted turkey and vegetables, followed by another small apple. I have not managed to drink as much water but still had a good go.
Yes, it is very early days, just the first 48 hours, but I don’t feel like I am on a diet. I don’t feel the need to raid the fridge and eat a block of cheese, consume a big tub of Ben & Jerrys or go to the shops and buy a big bag of sweets/candy.
I have been getting a bit, no, scrap that, a lot lazier the past few months with any forms of exercise and dieting/healthy eating. It can be so hard and let’s be honest, we need some sort of motivation. My last motivation was my mate Mark, we were both on diets and determined to lose weight and get fitter, but doing it our own way and checking in. However, he has totally given up and weighs more now that he did at the beginning of the year. Thankfully, I have not done that, but if I carry on with the lazy streak then I will turn into Ten Tonne Tessy like he has.
M wants to slim down and so that is now my motivation to get moving, get fitter and drop a stone in weight. As such, I have decided to shred for the summer. I have set my goal, that is to lose x amount of weight, tone up completely, and if I end up building muscle mass as a by-product of this, then great. The other reason why, is that I am 50 at the end of the year, and I see quite a lot of men on Instagram and Twitter who either look terrible at 50 or quite fantastic for their age. I am, however, under no illusion that the guys who look stunning are mostly gym rats, they have taken 20+ photos to make sure they look their best, then published it. I have been using social media since 2006, so know the script, but all the same, it is a point of reference for me to look at, aim, and understand that they are goals that I may not reach, but hell, I want to try.
Since it is the last bank holiday in the UK for 3 months we decided to clear out the cupboards and fridge of all the “shite” and either bin it or eat it so that we have no further temptation at hand. I took pleasure in binning a large container of sweets (candy) that had sat there for some time, with me picking at it from time to time. I even check my bedside unit to ensure that nothing tempting was it in. Surprisingly enough there was, so that has now been removed and disposed of.
From tomorrow, we are sticking to protein, lots of it, vegetables and a moderate amount of healthy fats. We are aiming at stating with a low carb diet, but not making the mistake of low fat too as that is one of the failure points, so good fats like nuts, avocado, olive oil, grass-fed butter etc. So, out with the crap and in with good stuff, so the fridge is now full of eggs, chicken, turkey, vegetable. The fruit bowl is full, and the determination is set.
I have also decided to take in more exercise too. I have my new Apple Watch with lots of different apps to make/nag me into getting up off my arse and moving. I also have the dogs as an excuse to get out more and walk the legs off them too. M is going to join me, but due to his disabilities he will be going slow and anything he can do will be at his own pace. One of the things that do not help me is that I tend to go at something at 100 miles an hour rather than gradually building up. M said he would remind me and I am conscious that I need to build up.
So, there it is, my plan for summer, and fingers crossed, something that we keep doing rather than saying screw it today I need cake. I will still have my black coffee, so all will be well. I am not saying that I will be good for the rest of the time either, let’s face it, life without a little treat is really not a good life LOL, but I am not going to go back to my old ways. I am tired all the time, lack energy and with it motivation, and it is all down to being lazy and eating all this crap, sugar being the main problem. I used to drink my coffee with lots of full-fat milk and 2 spoons of sugar, but at the beginning of the year, I decided that it had to go and I now love black coffee without sugar now, in fact, I also love black tea with no sugar too. I stopped buying coke as the sugar tax in the UK made a usual £1.50 bottle of coke £2.50, so that put me off buying it. I missed it quite a lot, to begin with, but now although I do get it on the very odd occasion I do not miss it, and I guess that is why I have fewer headaches too. I have seen all the celebs going on about sugar-free diets, but at the time I was of the opinion that it was a goal that was not obtainable as everything seems to be laced with sugar. I cannot have aspartame as it gives me violent migraines, something that is not considered in these diets, and by our money grabbing government with its sugar tax. Those of you outside the UK have no idea how insane our government is with its taxes, from TV Tax to Sugar Tax, and not forgetting the latest tax to be implemented this year is the self-service checkout tax, no, that wasn’t a joke. I digress!
I will lose weight/fat
I will get fitter
I will stop eating crap including sugar
I will drink more water
I will stop using excuses
I will post about my ups, downs, successes and failures in order to keep going
I will make it to 50 feeling and hopefully, looking great
I love my kitchen gadgets, and have many, from meat slicers to meat mincers, dehydrators to steam pressure ovens, you name it, I seem to have it. But, I have been looking at getting a Sous Vide water bath cooker. I have always fancied one, and I know that a lot of the top chefs use them. I admit I do have the vacuum sealer and lots of rolls of sealing bags, and I use this quite a lot, not only for preserving things but for when I freeze things too.
However, I have never gone to the expense of a Sous Vide cooker. Yes, a piece of steak may take 20 hours to cook, but the flavour is never lost, and quick flash fry in the pan to add colour makes it is the best steak ever. I dined at a 2 Michelin Star restaurant at the end of November, 17 courses, and I know that some of the food was prepared using the water bath method. Every course was quite literally to die for, and I do not say that lightly, it was a dining experience like no other.
My question to anyone out there who may have experience of a Sous Vide water bath, please let me know your thoughts, and for those that do not have experience, let me know your thoughts about it too. What should I do? Will it be a cupboard item? Is it worth getting and waiting for the perfect bite?
I love to bake. I mean bake anything. There is just something so satisfying about the whole process. I did make sourdough bread last weekend, but to be honest, it was a bit crap, however, that will not put me off, and I will keep going until I get it right. The instructions for the proving overnight in the fridge was good, but the dough collapsed when I was putting it onto the baking sheet. The other loaf stuck to the banneton as I had used flour rather than rice flour, so that was crap too. The other thing I had problems with was the heat in the oven. The instructions said for 500f which is mega hot, and as I was cooking it on a stone dish it just seemed to sear and the crust was tough, so tough it could be in the marines. It was supposed to bake for 20 minutes at 500f then 30 minutes at 450f, again, mega hot. I have never cooked any bread at this temperature so it would happen that it was cooked on the outside and slightly doughy on the inside. Not a bad crumb though. It also didn’t taste like sourdough does, so I think that was the fault of the leaven as it had not bubbled and matured enough. So now I know or think I know what went wrong I will try again. I may do a variation too so that I know I can control rather than using the heat of the sun.
As mentioned, I love to bake, so here are some photos of my other bakes, successful bakes too LOL
Today I decided to make Pumpkin & Bacon Soup, and what a triumph, so here it is for you all to enjoy.
Olive Oil 50g Butter 1 Onion – diced fine 150g Dry-cured bacon chopped – I used oak smoked dry cured Small pumpkin, you will need about 800g of flesh, peeled and de-seeded. 1-litre chicken stock 100ml double cream 3 tablespoons of pumpkin seeds Maple syrup
In a large pan heat about a tablespoon of oil with half the butter, add the onion a good pinch of salt and cook on a low heat for about 10 minutes. Add about 60g of the bacon and cook for 5 mins more. Increase the heat, add the stock and pumpkin and season. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, cover with a lid and leave for about 40 minutes until the pumpkin is soft. Depending on how big the chunks are, changes this time. Add the cream and again, bring to the boil then remove from the heat. Whilst the soup is cooking toast the pumpkin seeds in a dry pan, not too hot, and beware as they can pop and jump about. They need to be coloured browns but don’t over toast. Depending on what equipment you have depends on how you do this, but I used a stick blender in the pan to turn the chunky soup into a smooth silky soup. You could put it in a liquidiser, but do it in batches as the hot soup will expand whilst in the blender and no one looks good with hot soup all over them and the kitchen. Next, return the blended soup to the pan. Melt the rest of the butter in another pan and cook the rest of the bacon for about 5 minutes, remove and pat dry of the butter and fats. Re-heat the soup if needed.
Put the cooked bacon in the bottom of the soup dishes and pour the soup over. Scatter with the toasted seeds and drizzle maple syrup over the soup, not too much as you done want a sugary soup. Add seasoning to taste.
I toasted sourdough bread and cut it into strips to serve with the soup. It added another layer of texture to it and is delicious.