Sunday, 16 September 2012

Gingerbread syrup

Admission time - I'm a big Christmas fanatic. Yes, I know it's only September, but X Factor has started, the first Strictly Come Dancing was on last night, and it's dark by 7.30pm, so to me that means Christmas is on it's way.

I mentioned before I'm on a tight budget, which means I start Christmas shopping early in order to help me spread the cost across the whole year. It also means I get some bargains because I buy things when I see them - especially when I see them in sales!!

I also like to make homemade gifts - in the past I've made movie hampers (using a homemade record bowl, filled with Christmas DVDs and popcorn), pinecone firelighters, saltdough decorations, children's 'make your own bird feeder' kits and today's make - Gingerbread Syrup.

In fact, I first started making this a few years ago, not to give as gifts, but because my hubby and I are big Starbucks fans and especially their festive 'Red Cups'. Our favourite Starbucks cup is the Gingerbread Latte, but we can't afford to drink them too often (especially as a trip there now involves drinks and cakes for Mini and Dollop too), and we really missed them at the end of the festive season one year. So I searched for a recipe for something I could use at home instead. After lots and lots of making, coffee-drinking and testing, I came up with the following recipe. Incidentally, this syrup is great over icecream and in hot chocolate too. If you want to gift it, then you can buy pretty bottles, or use empty, clean ketchup bottles!

4 cups granulated sugar (for this and the water I use a standard coffee cup)
2 cup water
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon and 1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla extract
Sterilised glass bottles*

Put the sugar and water into a very large saucepan over a low heat. Gently stir until the sugar is dissolved to make a basic sugar syrup.

Add the spices and vanilla, then turn the heat up to medium, allowing the syrup to boil until it thickens slightly...til it's the consistency of something like maple syrup (runnier than goldren syrup), almost like washing up liquid! Don't worry if you get foamy stuff on top, though you can skim it if you wish. At this stage you can also strain through muslin if you like - but you don't have to.

Leave the syrup to cool slightly, remove the cinnamon stick if you haven't already strained the syrup, then pour into the sterilised bottles. Once cool, add a label. In coffee, we find that we use just enough to cover the bottom of the mug, and we love it with both instant or ground coffee. And we find it keeps best in a cool dark place, not the fridge.

*the best way I've found is to wash the bottles in hot soapy water, then rinse and put into a cold oven. Turn the oven on to about 140C, and 'cook' the bottles for around 15minutes. Fill whilst they are still hot. Hot liquid poured into cold bottles can cause the glass to crack or worse, explode.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012


I'm a planner (I know, I know...don't hate me!) but I have a small, strict budget and meal planning each week enables me to keep within my means, and make the most of leftovers and good offers at the supermarket. Despite my small budget, I want - like most mums - to give my family proper homecooked food. However, I often struggle with thinking of different things to feed them. They're not *too* fussy, and Mini is getting more experimental as he gets older.
So as I was planning this weeks meals, I realised that due to a change of plan one night (we had surprise fish and chips at the seaside) I had a packet of flour tortillas left in the cupboard. I know I could have frozen them, and often do, but Mini has just declared these tortillas to be the best things ever after Chicken and Coleslaw Wraps last week, so I thought I'd use them.
Wraps - yep but had those last week, Mexican Lasagna (the original intention, using chilli for the filling and the tortillas in place of pasta sheets) - but didn't fancy that, so thought I'd offer Quesadillas, with salad on the side. They went down really well, and both children have asked for them again another time.

So you need:
Flour tortillas - you need 2 for each Quesadilla. (1 Quesadilla per adult was enough, and half of a Quesadilla each for my two was just right).
A mozzarella ball, ripped into small pieces. (1 ball does about 4 Quesadillas)
Cheddar cheese - grated, a small handful per Quesadilla.
Salad of your choice.

Preheat a couple of frying pans - they must be large enough to lay a whole tortilla in flat. Brush each pan with a little sunflower or olive oil.
When the pans are hot, lay one tortilla in each, then dot the Mozzarella around the tortilla, sprinkle over the cheese (but not too close to the edges) and then finally lay another tortilla on top.
Give it a minute or two to cook - you want the bottom tortilla to be crisping on the outside, so carefully use a spatula to lift it and have a check. When it's crispy enough it should be easy to flip, so you can then crisp the other side. The cheese should be all oozy and melted inside.

When crisped on both sides, remove from the pan and cut into 6 or 8 wedges and serve with salad of your choice.

Including preparation and cooking these were ready in about 10 minutes, so quick for a warm meal.

In the past the NC and I have had these with Tomato Soup that's been perked up with a sprinkle of chilli powder...very yum, and in the winter I might do this for the children (without the chilli powder!). I didn't think I would feel full up after eating one of these, but I really did, and so did the NC.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Really easy cream slices

Recently we held a surprise anniversary party for my in-laws upcoming Ruby Wedding anniversary. As it was an afternoon tea party, cakes featured heavily! But I didn't want to just make cakes, so my sister in law made a load of gorgeous little sandwiches, and I made these incredibly easy cream slices too. They went down a treat, in fact the raspberry cream slices all disappeared, and there were just a few blueberry slices left.

You will need:
Puff pastry (shop bought or homemade), just a standard block
1 egg, beaten
A little caster sugar
A little flour for rolling

For the filling:
A large carton of double or whipping cream
Fresh fruit of your choice

Preheat your oven to 180C.
Sprinkle flour on your rolling surface.
Roll out the puff pastry to around half a centimetre thick. Then simply cut into 5cm squares. You can re-roll the trimmings once or twice, but after that the pastry will not puff as well and will become tough.
Place on a baking sheet and brush each square with a little beaten egg, then sprinkle a small pinch of sugar over the top.
Bake for around 10 minutes or until puffed up and golden brown. When done, immediately remove to a cooling rack.

Whilst the puffs are cooling, whisk the cream to stiff peaks and pop it into a piping bag with a large nozzle. (If you don't have a piping bag, you can use a knife or pallette knife to spread it instead).

When the puffs are cooled, gently ease the tops off each one. They should be easy to split open like this.
Then pipe or spread the cream inside, top with the fruit of your choice, and place the lids back on.

See, how easy is that?? The hardest bit is splitting the puffs open, and that's really easy! You can even make the puffs (but don't fill them) the night before, just make sure you put them in a tin (not plastic tub) which will help keep the pastry fairly crisp. And feel free to experiment - flavour your cream with vanilla or rose essence, use sliced peaches instead of berries, mix chocolate ganache with the cream, drizzle the tops with runny icing, dust with icing sugar or edible glitter...go mad.