The Crazy Kitchen: November 2015

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Saturday 28 November 2015

Slow Cooker Beef & Shallots in Red Wine Gravy

Once a week all 3 kids go to an after school sports activity on the same day, at the same time, and I really relish that additional hour to myself to potter around the house, or catch up on episodes of Neighbours. The kids come home absolutely starving though, so I try and have something cooking away in the slow cooker that's ready as soon as they walk through the door.

This week I made a hearty beef stew, which I served with mash, carrots and peas. I thought that a plateful of this would fill them up, but I was wrong - eldest had a bowl of cereal before his man size dinner, and youngest followed his big sister sized portion with cereal too - I think my boys have hollow legs! I guess the clean plates meant that they liked it, and I need to double my portions for next time!

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If you're like me, and like doing most of your festive shopping online then you really must take a look at Premier Estates Wine, especially if your wine rack is in need of filling. They offer a case of single or mixed wine from just £24 (by using website discount code), or sparkling for just £36, and best of all it comes with free next day delivery, so you won't have to wait long!

I used just over half a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon in this dish, which made the gravy really intense, along with some of my allotment shallots.

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Slow Cooker Beef & Shallots in Red Wine Gravy - serves 4/5

tbsp olive oil
700g (approx) lean stewing steak, diced
2 heaped tbsp cornflour
salt & black pepper
400g shallots, peeled
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
400ml Premier Estates Cabernet Sauvignon
400ml beef stock
3 bay leaves
  • turn the slow cooker on high & add the olive oil 
  • toss the beef in the cornflour and season generously with salt & pepper
  • add this to the slow cooker with the shallots and garlic
  • give it a good mix before pouring in the wine, beef stock & bay leaves
  • cook on high for 4-5 hours, until the meat falls apart

It really was as simple as that. There's barely any prep needed, and it can be popped in the slow cooker before school and work.

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I was provided with a mixed case of Premier Estates Wine to use in my recipe, and over the festive period. This post contains a referral link.

Thursday 26 November 2015

Mocha Marshmallows and a Coffee Lovers Gift Guide

I love putting hampers together at Christmas, especially ones that follow a theme, whether it be movie night, ice cream, curry, Mexican, ginger or coffee (a few that I've made in the past). I love researching products and retailers online, as well as browsing the shops to look for a specific item for the themed hamper, in the hope that the recipient will be just as pleased when they receive it as I am when I put the final bow on.

This year I'm once again making a couple of hampers, and this time I'm going to be popping in some of my home made marshmallows in keeping with the theme. I've made these mocha marshmallows which will be great in a coffee lovers hamper, and can be enjoyed on their own or popped into a cappuccino or hot chocolate. You can now buy my marshmallows online and have them delivered to your door in the UK, from Cookies and Fluff.

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For my last marshmallow recipe I used leaf gelatine, but this time I used granules, which come in sachets, which are cheaper. Marshmallow making may look quite complex, but once you get the hang of it it's quite simple really, and very, very addictive!

Mocha Marshmallows - makes 36 bitesize pieces

coffee layer
5 tbsp strong cold coffee
1 sachet of gelatine
200g caster sugar
100ml strong cold coffee

  • add the 5tbsp coffee to a microwaveable bowl and sprinkle over the gelatine
  • give it a stir and set aside
  • add the caster sugar to a saucepan with 100ml coffee
  • heat gently until the sugar has dissolved
  • increase the heat and boil until it reaches 235 F on a candy thermometer
  • place the gelatine into the microwave for approx 20 seconds until it becomes liquid
  • add the liquid gelatine to the bowl of a food mixer with a balloon whisk attached
  • with the motor running slowly, pour the boiled sugar into the bowl
  • scrape down the sided of the bowl before slowly increasing the speed and whisking for approx 10 minutes, until thick and airy
  • pour into an 8" square silicone baking tin lightly greased with a flavourless oil, and smooth the top

chocolate layer
5 tbsp cold water
1 sachet of gelatine
200g caster sugar
1/2 tsp salt
100ml water
25g cocoa powder
grated dark chocolate

  • add 5tbsp water to a microwaveable bowl and sprinkle over the gelatine
  • give it a stir and set aside
  • add the caster sugar to a saucepan with the salt, water & cocoa powder
  • heat gently whilst whisking, until the sugar has dissolved & the cocoa incorporated
  • increase the heat and boil until it reaches 235 F on a candy thermometer
  • place the gelatine into the microwave for approx 20 seconds until it becomes liquid
  • add the liquid gelatine to the bowl of a food mixer with a balloon whisk attached
  • with the motor running slowly, pour the boiled sugar into the bowl
  • scrape down the sided of the bowl before slowly increasing the speed and whisking for approx 10 minutes, until thick and airy
  • pour onto the coffee later and smooth the top & grate some chocolate over the top
  • leave for a few hours to set before cutting into 36 pieces

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Additionally, I've included a few gift ideas for the coffee lover this Christmas.

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coffee syrups
these are a lovely addition to a hamper, and you can buy large bottles of one specific flavour, or a gift pack with small bottles in assorted flavours, like these from Whittards £12.00

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coffee flavoured chocolates
These Dainty Dollops from Montezuma's not only have a great name but they're made in Britain from ethically sourced cocoa.  These dark chocolate dollops have a hazelnut & Columbian coffee ganache centre. available from John Lewis £7.50

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coffee gift card
For those that love coffee and a cake whilst they're out & about then a gift card is a great idea. These Christmas gift cards from Caffè Nero feature designs selected from the Victoria & Albert Museum's archive. cards can be loaded with any amount from £5-£100

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coffee scented candle
The smell of a good freshly brewed cup of coffee is divine, so why not recreate that with a Cappuccino Truffle candle from Yankee £21.99

coffee cups
how cute is this hand painted porcelain cappuccino cup & saucer, which is part of a lovely range of tableware from PiP Studio at John Lewis. £12.75 

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coffee machine

You can't have a good cup of coffee without a coffee machine, and if you're really serious about coffee then this bad boy is what you need. The Sage Oracle is 'incredible coffee made simple - it's like there's a barista inside'. It will set you back £1599 though.

Tuesday 24 November 2015

Salted Pecan & Pretzel Brittle

I've always fancied making peanut brittle, but as I didn't own a candy thermometer until recently, I didn't want to risk making it without. I loved the sweet & salty combination of this pretzel crust, so I wanted to try adding pretzels to the brittle, and combined it with one of my favourite nuts, pecans.

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Salted Pecan & Pretzel Brittle
250g caster sugar
tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp sea salt
40g salted pretzels, roughly broken
50g pecans
sprinkle of sea salt
  • add the caster sugar, vanilla & salt to a wide based saucepan or deep sided frying pan
  • scatter the pretzels & pecans onto a 8" square silicone baking sheet
  • heat gently until the sugar melts - be patient & don't stir it!
  • increase the heat and simmer until it reaches 260F (hard ball) on a candy thermometer
  • pour the caramel over the pretzels & pecans & sprinkle with a little sea salt
  • set aside to cool & firm up
  • break into shards

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Why not bag a few of these up and give them away as gifts this Christmas, or pop a few in a festive tin or box.

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Sunday 22 November 2015

Pea & Ham Soup

This pea and ham soup is not only very cheap to make (less than 50p for the peas) it also makes use of leftover gammon that I'd boiled in Dr Pepper at the weekend. There wasn't enough left to make a meal, but it was the perfect amount to add to the soup.

Whilst I'd cooked this in a saucepan it would be an ideal slow cooker recipe, which could be left cooking all day on low.

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Pea & Ham Soup - serves 4/5

300g dried marrowfat peas
cold water
splash of olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 litre stock (vegetable, chicken, pork or ham)
salt & black pepper
200g ham or gammon, diced
  • add the peas to a large bowl and cover with cold water
  • leave to soak for 6 hours, or overnight
  • heat the oil in a large saucepan and fry the onion for 2-3 minutes over a medium heat
  • drain and rinse the peas and add them to the saucepan with the stock
  • bring to the boil and simmer for around 30 minutes, until the peas are soft
  • remove from the heat and blend until smooth, with a stick blender
  • add salt & pepper to taste, and the diced ham
  • return to the heat until the ham is heated through 

The kids absolutely loved this with fresh crusty bread, and have asked me to make it again very soon!

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Thursday 19 November 2015

Marshmallow Cookie Sandwich

I've recently discovered the art of marshmallow making, and it's a lot easier than I thought it would be, as long as you have a decent stand mixer, and use the correct ingredients.

The first batch I made were a little soft, as I didn't use enough gelatine. The next batch didn't even get off the ground as I used vegetarian gelatine. The third batch were just perfect though, so this is the recipe I'll be using in future to make various flavoured marshmallows.

I added some crushed freeze dried strawberries to this batch, and some dried strawberries to the cookies, and sandwiched them together to make cookie sandwiches.

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Marshmallows - makes 25/30

8 leaves gelatine
cold water
400g caster sugar
50g golden syrup
1/2 tsp salt
100ml water
tsp vanilla extract
20g freeze dried strawberries, crushed
equal parts cornflour & icing sugar
  • add the gelatine leaves to a bowl and cover with cold water & set aside
  • prepare an 8"x10" baking tin by lightly greasing with a flavourless oil, or cooking spray (I use a silicone baking tin which makes it easy to remove the marshmallows)
  • add the caster sugar, golden syrup, salt, 100ml water & vanilla to a large saucepan
  • gently heat until the sugar has dissolved
  • increase the heat and bring to the boil
  • let the syrup bubble away without stirring, until it reaches 235C on a candy thermometer (soft ball stage)
  • squeeze the liquid from the gelatine leaves and add the leaves to the bowl of a food mixer
  • with the motor running and a balloon whisk attached, pour the syrup onto the gelatine leaves
  • whisk for approx 10 minutes until soft peaks form, and then add the crushed strawberries & whisk to combine
  • pour into your prepared tin and leave for a few hours to set
  • once set, turn out onto a surface dusted with your cornflour/icing sugar
  • using a sharp knife (lightly greased) cut into squares, dusting with the cornflour/icing sugar as you go

Cookies - makes 12 large round cookies

225g caster sugar
60g butter, softened
225g self raising flour
1/2 tsp salt
tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
50g dried strawberries
  • beat the sugar and butter together
  • stir in the flour, salt, vanilla and egg, until well combined
  • stir in the dried strawberries, and mix well
  • if you want large round cookies then divide into 12 and roll dough into balls, then place well spaced apart onto one or two greased & lined baking sheets
  • for square cookies :spread the dough onto a greased & lined baking sheet and flatten out
  • bake in a preheated 180C oven for approx 10-15 minutes until puffed up & golden brown
  • cool the round cookies on a wire rack
  • for square cookies :slice the large cookie into squares and allow to cool for 10 minutes on the baking sheet before cooling on a wire rack

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For added indulgence, add a little strawberry jam onto the cookies, and microwave for 5-8 seconds

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Monday 16 November 2015

Pegboard Advent Calendar

The new John Lewis Christmas ad has appeared on our TV's, which means I can now mention the C word on my blog once again. The last few months have flown by and I can't believe that Christmas is almost here again. I'm determined to be organised this year and get the Christmas presents bought before the beginning of December, and it all seems to be going to plan so far. The tree won't be going up for another month as the decorator is coming to finish off our lounge just before then, although I will probably be pestered into putting one in the kitchen at the beginning of the month.

Last year I made a gingerbread house advent calendar, but I've kept it nice and simple this year with a pegboard advent calendar on my desk (waiting for the decorator to come before I hang it on the wall).

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It takes only a few minutes to put together, and you can hang your favourite chocolates on it. I used these Lindor chocolate orange truffles, but if you want to go for a Scandi look you could use the milk truffles in red packaging.

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You will need :

length of ribbon
24 mini pegs
Sharpie pen
24 sweets/chocolates
  • tie loops in both ends of your ribbon & attach to hooks on your pegboard or wall
  • number your pegs from 1 to 24 with the Sharpie
  • place each peg over the ribbon, gripping both the ribbon and the edge of a chocolate wrapper

It's a simple, yet effective, advent calendar that can be used year after year with your favourite chocolates

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I bought both the ribbon and pegs from Ebay.

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As always, Lindt has a fab range of Christmas chocolates, including the famous Reindeer, and these mini Santas, bears and Santas Helpers, which make great stocking fillers.

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I wonder how long it will be before they disappear from my desk!

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I received a selection of Lindt chocolate to use in this post

Friday 13 November 2015

Chocolate Finger and Sweets Covered Chocolate Birthday Cake

Last week my eldest child turned 15. FIFTEEN! How on earth did that happen? It doesn't seem very long ago that he was born, yet fifteen years before that I was only fifteen myself, and I don't recall those fifteen years passing as quickly. I really hope the next fifteen don't pass as quickly, because you don't need to be a genius to work out how old I will be then!

Enough about my age though, and onto the cake. Thankfully it seems as though my character birthday cake making days are behind me, and the kids are happy to settle for a chocolate or carrot cake for their birthday, following a takeaway pizza. This time I made one of my favourite cakes with chocolate fingers around and sweets on top, and as my eldest loves Dolly Mixtures I added some of these, along with some red, white & blue M&M's which I found in the pound shop - 2 bags for £1! 

I have various chocolate cake recipes that I use, and this time I made a basic one that replaces some of the flour with cocoa powder. Two other chocolate cake recipes can be found here : chocolate fudge cake, chocolate orange cake, which can both be used as a base for this cake.

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Chocolate Finger Birthday Cake

4 medium eggs (weighed in their shells they were 260g - use this weight for your flour,sugar & butter)
260g butter, softened
260g caster sugar
260g self raising flour (remove 1 heaped tbsp & replace with the cocoa powder)
1 heaped tbsp cocoa powder

200g full fat cream cheese
200g chocolate spread

to decorate
2.5 packs of Cadbury chocolate fingers
sweets & chocolates

  • beat the butter and sugar together until light & fluffy
  • beat in the eggs one at a time
  • sift the icing sugar and cocoa powder together and fold into the batter
  • divide the batter into two greased & lined 8" sandwich tins
  • bake in a preheated 180C oven for approx 25 minutes
  • cool for 10 minutes in the tins before turning out on a wire rack to cool completely
  • beat the cream cheese and chocolate spread together
  • use some of this to sandwich the cakes together, and cover the rest over the top and sides of the cake
  • position chocolate fingers around the edge of the cake, and place 6 on the top to divide into 6 sections
  • add sweets into the sections on top of the cake

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Tuesday 10 November 2015

Slow Cooker Marmite Chicken and Vegetables

Life has been getting in the way a bit recently, and almost another week has gone by without me sharing any recipes on this blog. I promise to try and improve things over the next few weeks, and share some delicious sweet treats, but in the meantime you're going to have to make do with another slow cooker recipe. It's a great recipe for busy families as it only takes a few minutes to prepare, which means it can be done before leaving for work in the morning.

Marmite is a great flavour enhancer, and I often add a spoonful here and there, but this dish was flavoured entirely with the lovely stuff - just don't tell the husband as he hates it! (mwahahahaha) It also makes a great gravy, and the cooking juices from this dish can be thickened with a little cornflour to make a delicious gravy to pour over.

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Slow Cooker Marmite Chicken and Vegetables - serves 4/5

65g Marmite
2 tbsp boiling water
800g skinless & boneless chicken thighs
3 leeks, sliced
2 corn on the cob, sliced
1kg Charlotte potatoes
tbsp cornflour mixed with a little water
fresh Thyme
  • Mix the Marmite with the water
  • Place the chicken in a large bowl and add the Marmite & water, and mix to coat well
  • Add the leeks, corn and potatoes to a slow cooker
  • Add the chicken to the slow cooker and give it a quick stir
  • Cook on medium for 5 hours
  • Spoon everything into an ovenproof dish, setting the juices aside
  • Place under a hot grill for a few minutes to give the potatoes some colour
  • Bring the juices to the boil and add a little of the cornflour to thicken for your gravy
  • Serve scattered with fresh thyme 
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For more ideas for using Marmite in recipes have a look at my Pinterest board.

Thursday 5 November 2015

Slow Cooker Sausages in Onion Gravy

As the nights are drawing in and the temperature begins to drop, we start to wonder when that first frost will be here, and whether we'll we be able to find the ice scraper we tossed aside after last winter, as we ran joyfully into Spring.

As it's British Sausage week this week it would be rude not to share a recipe for one of my family's favourite dishes, sausage and mash, which is perfect comfort food for this miserable weather.

I've been pretty busy recently and have been using my slow cooker a lot more, which makes cooking the evening meal so much easier. Onion gravy cooked in the slow cooker is amazing, and the onions just melt in your mouth - forget the sausages, I would be happy with a bowl of gravy and mash!

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Slow Cooker Sausages in Onion Gravy - serves 4/5

tbsp oil
10-12 thick pork sausages
2 large onions, sliced
2 tbsp plain flour
750ml beef stock
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
tbsp Marmite or Bovril
black pepper
  • Heat the oil in a large frying pan
  • Add the sausages and cook over a high heat to brown
  • Add the onions and fry for one minute, stirring continuously 
  • Remove the sausages & onions from the pan and add the flour to the juices in the pan
  • Cook over a low heat for 2 minutes, adding stock, a little at a time, to make a watery paste
  • Add the rest of the stock and stir
  • Add the sausages, onions and gravy to your slow cooker and cook on high for 3-4 hours, until the onions are melt in your mouth soft

Serve with mash and steamed green vegetables - here I served mine with a buttery mash of sweet potato and white potatoes

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