Tuesday 26 December 2017

Mini Lebkuchen Doughnuts for Christmas

Lebkuchen is a German biscuit-cum-cake, a bit like gingerbread, that is traditionally eaten at Christmas; they are easy to find in UK supermarkets but having also lived in Germany for two separate periods between the ages of 18 and 22 (both including Christmas) I became quite keen on them.

I thought about making some Lebkuchen at Christmas but didn't get around to it; instead I decided to make some baked mini doughnuts using my Wilton doughnut pan which I was going to flavour with gingerbread spices, but then remembered I had a small packet of actual mixed spices for Lebkuchen that a German colleague had given me a little while ago that I'd never used. So the doughnuts tasted of Lebkuchen and I glazed them with chocolate as Lebkuchen often are.

I used this pan and the Wilton recipe to make Halloween doughnuts last year though I found the batter really thick - possibly because my buttermilk had set quite thick in the fridge - so also added some milk, and switched the plain flour and baking power for self-raising flour as follows:

300g self-raising flour
175g caster sugar
175ml buttermilk
50ml milk
2 tbsp. butter, melted
1/2 x 15g sachet of Ostmann Lebkuchen gewurtz
to decorate: 100g plain chocolate

As an alternative to the ready made Lebkuchen spice mix, you could use:
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp ground cardamon
1/4 tsp allspice

Preheat oven to 200C. Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl until you have a batter that is a dropping consistency.

Grease a doughnut pan - you could also try making these as cupcakes in a cupcake tin - and drop in the batter so each doughnut ring is 2/3 full. This quantity will make two batches of 10-12 doughnuts. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 10-12 minutes.

Allow to cool in the tin then turn out onto a wire rack. Melt some plain chocolate in a microwave or bain-marie and spread over one side of the doughnuts and allow to set.

I allowed myself to try a bit even though I'm supposed to be cutting out sugar - it is Christmas after all and I hoped that a few bites wouldn't hurt - and they were delicious, tasting a lot like lebkuchen!

Sunday 24 December 2017

Chocolate Orange Christmas Bundt Cake

This cake is delicious and a special treat at any time of year but especially at Christmas where chocolate oranges are often a popular gift (though I also asked for a Terry's chocolate orange at Easter some years!).

I had decided to make it before finding out I had gestational diabetes and still wanted to bake the cake, as I was planning to take it to my brother in law's on Boxing Day for everyone to eat anyway - it's not like I was going to eat the whole cake myself. Depending on my blood sugar readings and what else I've had I may be able to have a very small piece of it anyway - the diabetes midwife did say it wasn't a case of not being able to ever have anything sweet, but it has to be a small amount on rare occasions.

Terry's chocolate oranges are, as I said, pretty iconic at Christmas. A month or so ago Tesco had a really good offer of 3 for the price of 1 (no that's not a typo) so I think I paid £3 for three. I decided at the time to give my husband one for Christmas and use the other two for baking.

I thought the chocolate orange slices would look great across the top of a bundt and that the cake itself should be chocolate orange flavour. I'd like to be able to say I developed my own recipe but these days I'm so busy preparing for the baby as well as doing everything else, and I am very tired all the time - I actually baked three different things today and had a nap in between as well! So I used a recipe I found online at Marsha's Baking Addiction.

It was easy to make and delicious (according to my husband who ate the offcuts when I levelled the cake) - really moist and you can taste the orange with the chocolate. I definitely recommend this recipe!

The cake came out of my Nordicware bundt tin easily after I sprayed it with PME Release A Cake Spray 600 ml - sometimes I've had problems with cakes sticking in my metal bundt tins but I really wanted to use it because the ridges around the cake are beautiful and I thought would be perfect for this particular cake.

To decorate the cake once it had cooled, I melted a whole Terry's chocolate orange (broken into segments) and stirred in about 50 ml double cream.

I planned to pour this over the top of the cake but it was still a bit thick so I spooned and spread it into the ridges, and topped each one with another piece of chocolate orange (using half of another one so you need one and a half in total). As a final touch I added some Dr. Oetker gold pearls.

I'm pleased with the way it turned out and my husband loved how it tasted so I hope the family enjoy it on Boxing Day!

I'm sharing this with We Should Cocoa hosted by Tin and Thyme and Cook Blog Share, hosted by Recipes Made Easy.

Saturday 23 December 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 Week 52

Merry Christmas! 2017 has been completely life changing in one major way as my husband and I are expecting a baby. After getting pregnant in June the second half of the year has been a whirlwind of researching buggies, buying baby clothes, coping with extreme tiredness (though luckily nothing else, not even morning sickness), trying to think of a name, and much more. Most other things have taken a backseat, including blogging, as you might have noticed!

A couple of days ago I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes- really not the best time of year to be told you can’t eat anything sweet!  It's different from type 1 and type 2 diabetes and is caused by hormones released by the placenta. It can have detrimental effects on the unborn baby so my blood sugar levels have to be monitored and controlled - mainly by cutting out refined sugars (nooo!) and cutting back on carbs. I can eat wholemeal bread and pasta and brown rice, but only tiny amounts of potatoes so will have to change my diet quite a bit.

I am eating meals at other people’s houses for five days in a row (though I am at home in between) and while some of them have asked what I can eat and tailored menus accordingly, I don't want them to have to worry about catering for me, especially as I know the family we are going to on Christmas Day and Boxing Day have already done their food order.

My sister, her partner and baby are coming to stay for new year so I've started planning meals but need to spend a bit more time thinking about it after Christmas especially now I have a more restricted diet, so this week’s meal plan is a bit incomplete for the moment, but will be continued.
You can expect to see some more GD and diabetes friendly recipes on my blog over the next few months –if you have the condition yourself and have any good meal or snack ideas, let me know in the comments! Luckily I did Sugar-Free September last year and bought a book called I Quit Sugar so that will come in handy!

Monday – Christmas Day

Breakfast – was going to have croissants but that’s now out. I bought some smoked salmon to have with wholemeal bread; I wanted eggs benedict but couldn't find a wholemeal muffin.

Lunch – midday nibbles at my brother in law’s and his family – not sure what food they will have so I will take a couple of things including houmous and oatcakes (to have with cheese).

Dinner – Christmas dinner, yay! Meat and veg is fine and I know roast potatoes will push my blood sugar readings up but they are my favourite part of the meal… I will have some but in moderation. I will probably have to skip dessert or maybe have the tiniest taste – I don’t know what they are serving and it’s too late to ask. There are desserts I can eat, like sugar-free jelly, but I don’t know if taking my own mini pot of jelly while everyone else is tucking into something nice will just be depressing! Or I could take these homemade peanut butter chocolate brownies which I could have with cream: http://www.diabeticlivingonline.com/peanut-butter-swirl-chocolate-brownies

Tuesday – Boxing Day

Breakfast – bacon roll on wholemeal bread roll
Lunch – with family. Again don’t know what food there will be; I will take a few GD-friendly snacks
Evening – usually have leftovers from Boxing Day buffet

Wednesday – at home

Breakfast – wholemeal toast with peanut butter or egg on toast
Lunch – possibly Boxing Day leftovers
Dinner – out for another buffet meal

Thursday – visiting friends

Breakfast - wholemeal toast with peanut butter or egg on toast
Lunch – either a sandwich/ leftovers on the train or out
Dinner – at my friend’s who very kindly has planned a meal that should work both for me and our vegan friend!


Breakfast – at my friend’s
Lunch – hopefully home in time otherwise will have to see what I can get on route, can’t think of any snacks I can easily take down on Thursday that I can then eat on the train on Friday apart from nuts
Dinner – meatballs with pasta for him and spiralized carrot for me

Saturday – my sister and her family are visiting
breakfast: yogurt (for me anyway - other choices for other people!)
lunch: not sure if they will be with us for lunch or not. Easy to do baked potatoes and sweet potato for me, to serve with beans or tuna and cheese.
dinner: baked chicken with lime, honey and soy, from Lorraine Pascal's  A Lighter Way To Bake (p65) with cauliflower rice for me and potatoes for the others
dessert: sugar free jelly 'fluff' (blog post to follow, if it works!)
Sunday – New Year's Eve, with my sister and family
Not sure what we are doing yet as we still need to find something suitable for a one year old! And I'd like to cook a special meal in the evening but tend to get very tired these days so don't want it to be too elaborate.
breakfast: yogurt  (for me anyway - other choices for other people)
lunch if we are home: bacon or sausage sandwich
dinner: steak and chips/ sweet potato fries followed by what is hopefully a gestational diabetes-friendly cheesecake.


Wednesday 20 December 2017

Personalised Hand-Decorated Ceramics: Father's Day Plate and Egg Cups

I love crafts and making homemade and personalised gifts and this year I kept seeing decorated plates and bowls that I thought looked really cool. I’d seen them on various sites including the local Facebook selling group and could tell they were homemade, so had a look online to figure out how to make them so I could do something myself!
You can buy pens that let you draw or almost paint on ceramic crockery; they are not that expensive and you can buy a basic set with a selection of colours for less than £10 on Amazon; they are also available in craft shops. It’s important to make sure that the pens are non-toxic! I bought these ones from Amazon:  Fine Paint Oil Based Art Marker Pen Permanent Chalk Pens Boxed for Metal Rubber Glass Waterproof 12 Pack Colors
Some of what I’d read online suggested you need to put the ceramics in the oven after you have decorated them, to fire and set them so the design won’t wash off. I baked the plate at 150C for 30 minutes; I followed the advice to put the plate in a cold oven so it would warm up gradually to prevent cracking.

I'd be interested to know what other people have done because my parents told me even after a few washes it looks like the colour was starting to come off a bit.

I created this plate for my dad for Father’s Day but it's also a good idea for gifts at Christmas or any time of year. I bought various bits of ceramic very cheaply at Ikea and decided a plate was the most likely thing my dad would use.
He likes a fry-up on the weekend so I decided that would be a good theme for the plate. I like Emma Bridgewater’s style with words around the edge of the plate so I decided to do something similar and started with the words ‘Dad’s big breakfast’, then a star in a different colour, then ‘fry-up’ and another star, then as I still had space, the word ‘yum’ – which makes the plate a bit fun and irreverent I think. There’s plenty of white space in the middle to put the food on, which I think looks better than if there was a design across the whole plate.
It was very quick and pretty cheap to do if you intend to use the marker pens again.
I used them again almost straight away on these two egg cups, which again were very cheap from Ikea. I had a personalised egg cup as part of a set (with a mug as well) as a young child, I remember having it when I was about 8, and I’ve still got them today! I simply wrote the names of my friend’s two daughters on the egg cups and decorated them with polka dots – I think I will give them to the girls at Christmas. 

Monday 18 December 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 Week 51

Almost Christmas!

Lunch rest of mackerel pasta
Dinner hake in lemon sauce I didn't do at the weekend for me, sausage and mash for him

Lunch  sandwich
Dinner using up leftover hake in a curry for me, from this recipe; chicken curry for him - carried over from last week as I didn't do it

Lunch sandwich
Dinner out; the other half will be at his mum's

Thursday working from home as I have an antenatal appointment
Lunch beans/macaroni cheese on toast
Dinner hunter's chicken in freezer for him, lemon and garlic prawns with spaghetti for me

Lunch sandwich
Dinner  scampi/ chicken nuggets and chips

Lunch breakfast burritos
Dinner sausage casserole and mashed potato I didn't do last week

Sunday  Christmas Eve! With my family

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Sunday 17 December 2017

3D Christmas Cookie Tree

I feel like Christmas has almost passed me by this year. Normally I do all my shopping in November if not before, and do plenty of Christmas baking. This year being pregnant has meant I'm tired a lot of the time, spending half my weekends having naps, and when I am awake I have far more important things to do like register for nurseries which have a one-year waiting list!

My beloved cat was also unwell over the past week but is much better now, and I feel a bit more awake at the moment (I hope that lasts!) so decided it was about time I did something festive. Yesterday I listened to Christmas music while wrapping gifts and actually did some baking.

I bought the Lakeland 3D Christmas cookie cutter set in their January sale last year and hadn't used it yet so this was the perfect time. You get a set of star shaped plastic cookie cutters in varying sizes and two piping bags and nozzles.

There's a recipe on the back of the box which I followed though I also added some cinnamon for a more Christmassy taste. You need to make two cookies from each cutter, though I found the recipe recommended baking the cookies for 12 minutes, which I think works for the larger ones but once you get to the very small cookies, 12 minutes is too long. I baked them in batches and reduced the oven time as the cookies got smaller.

I left them all to cool, then mixed up some icing sugar with water to make a thick paste that I could pipe. I found the nozzle provided in the kit a bit thin so just snipped off the end of the piping bag and piped an outline around the edge of each cookie star. I then added some Dr Oetker gold pearls to the tip of each star while the icing was still soft.

Next I made up some thinner icing and used it to flood the inside of the cookies, and left them all to set.

The final step is to layer the cookies starting with the largest on the bottom; as you have two of each size, rotate one so that the points on the star are sticking out between the points of the cookie underneath.

I placed the final small star standing up on the top of the 'tree' though you could also add another decoration on top if you like.

The effect is really pretty and it is a little time consuming to bake this many cookies when you can't get them all in the oven at once but otherwise it's a very easy kit to use and something you could do with children. The cookies tasted really nice too - we tucked into them after helping my mother-in-law decorate her tree.

I'm sharing this with Cook Blog Share, hosted this week by Hijacked by Twins.

Monday 11 December 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 - Week 50

This week I need to eat a special diet for three days ahead of a glucose tolerance test - the three days started on Sunday so it's really only Monday and Tuesday this week. It's a carb-heavy diet so shouldn't be too difficult!

Breakfast yogurt, fruit juice, toast from the canteen at work, tea with milk
Lunch ham or tuna sandwich/ bagel, packet of crisps (it's actually a high carb diet!), piece of fruit
afternoon snack: 3 rich tea biscuits
Dinner pasta with chicken, glass of milk, 3 rich tea biscuits

Breakfast yogurt, fruit juice, toast from the canteen at work, tea with milk
Lunch ham or tuna sandwich/ bagel, packet of crisps (it's actually a high carb diet!), piece of fruit
afternoon snack: 3 rich tea biscuits
Dinner lamb grillsteak/ chicken chargrill with mashed potato and veg, glass of milk, 3 rich tea biscuits

Wednesday - at hospital in the morning then working from home
Breakfast nothing - fasting overnight
Lunch something quick like a sandwich when I am finally allowed to eat after my tests!
Dinner sausage casserole and mashed potato

Breakfast yogurt
Lunch sandwich or soup
Dinner chicken in breadcrumbs with chips or mashed potato for him, ready made fish pie for me

Breakfast  cereal
Lunch out - work Christmas lunch
Dinner hopefully out seeing Star Wars (so dinner will depend on time of film) but we haven't actually booked it yet!

Lunch jacket potatoes
Dinner pan-fried hake in lemon butter sauce I was going to make a few weeks back but didn't - the hake is still in the freezer!

Lunch smoked mackerel pasta for me, carbonara pasta for him
Dinner using up leftover hake in a curry for me, from this recipe; chicken curry for him

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Friday 8 December 2017

Forever Friends Decoupage Christmas Cards

A year or even two years ago I bought a set of Forever Friends decoupage Christmas pictures in Wilkinson’s – I remember it well as I only ever go into that shop about once a year as it’s not in a place I visit very often. I hadn’t opened the packs and came across them the other day when I was supposed to be tidying my craft supplies. I thought the cards would be so quick to make that I could justify pausing my tidy-up to make a couple!

Each sheet in the set came with three or four layers, starting with a background rectangle, then sections where you build up the bear. I used adhesive pads to make each layer stand out, and used a sentiment from another pack on the bottom of the card. The Christmas print background papers, which I covered each card with initially, were also from the same Forever Friends set I think.
It’s nice to be more creative and not just follow the designs prescribed but on the other hand these look quite professional – I didn’t even have to cut out the decoupage layers myself, they popped straight out of the pack!

I'm sharing these with the That's Crafty! Challenge and Papers Creators Crafts Christmas themed challeges.

Thursday 7 December 2017

Review: Novotel London Excel

It’s very rare that I stay overnight in a hotel in London as it’s where I work and I live just on the outskirts. In fact I can’t actually remember the last time I stayed in a hotel in the city or indeed if I ever actually have!

Recently I was put up overnight in a hotel near the Excel centre for an event I was attending there - the Novotel London Excel. It was going to finish at 11.30 which was too late for me to be able to get a train home –Excel is out to the east –and a taxi would probably have been nearly as expensive as the room, considering I’m fairly sure the event organisers would have got a block booking discount.
The Novotel London Excel is right next to the Excel centre – literally a five minute walk which is great if you are attending an event there. Unsurprisingly there are several hotels in the area, many of them along a little row that also has a couple of restaurants and convenience stores – the Ibis next door, the Crowne Plaza a bit further up, and even a fancy yacht that’s actually a floating hotel.

Check in and check out were both as quick and efficient as you might imagine at a hotel next to a big conference centre – they must have times when there are huge numbers of people wanting to check out at the same time! The lobby looked very modern and nicer than I was expecting for a chain hotel, complete with Christmas decorations. The room was also bigger than I expected, with a cool London design on the wall above the bed, though the toilet was separate to the bathroom and in such a tiny room it was hard to squeeze in with my baby bump!

I didn’t spend a huge amount of time in the hotel itself but I did have breakfast there. Again as speed and efficiency is probably quite important, it was a buffet breakfast, with various hot and cold options. I’m not a big fan of cooked breakfasts so went to make myself a sausage sandwich, but when I cut into the sausages they were completely pink and undercooked inside. I wouldn’t have been keen on eating them that way normally but as I’m pregnant there was no way I was eating them, so went back to the buffet and picked two more sausages that looked better cooked. They were equally pink inside so I gave up, told a member of staff and had a croissant instead, which was a bit disappointing!

It also took me until about half way through breakfast, after all the faffing around with the sausages, before I was able to find someone to ask for a cup of tea – there was nowhere to help yourself and they didn’t come to my table, which again was a bit disappointing. It seemed a pretty good hotel otherwise so it was a shame that I felt a bit let down by the breakfast. Having said that I was lucky not to be evacuated at 2.30 am by a fire alarm that went off in one of the nearby hotels so I did at least get a good night’s sleep!

Tuesday 5 December 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 - Week 49

I seem to be blogging even less and less these days. This weekend my husband and his dad built our new cot, moved the bed to the other spare room and moved the futon that was in there into the nursery. I was re-organising and tidying as they went, which is about the only thing I achieved this weekend as I spent half of Saturday and half of Sunday asleep! I don't know why I'm so tired - I'm not anaemic and most of the friends I've spoken to didn't experience this, apart from one who told me she often had to close her office door during the day and take a nap!

I didn't post my meal plan yesterday for two reasons, I hadn't actually written it (!) and also I had a rare night out on Monday night which ended with my connecting train being cancelled and having to stand in a mini-cab queue late at night by myself in a not particularly nice area. Sigh. I haven't really arranged any other pre-Christmas get-togethers with friends which is a shame but based on last night I don't really fancy it right now anyway!

So here's this week's meal plan

Lunch ham sandwich
Dinner you know when you're out drinking and you don't actually have dinner then get a snack at the train station on the way home? (Londoners who commute will know what I mean, anyway). When you're not drinking you suddenly realise part way through the evening that you are really hungry... and then your train is there and there's no time to get food, then your connecting train is cancelled and you're left in a dodgy area where the only thing open is KFC which really doesn't look that appealing.. and by the time you get home all you can find that you can eat (as you want hot food that's quick) is a packet of micro-chips in the freezer. That.

Tuesday  morning off to visit a very cool nursery that has its own mini farm complete with miniature goats and what they claim are micropigs that are just all grown up now.. I think someone conned them into buying normal pigs as they were huge!
Lunch coronation chicken sandwich bought from the bakery on the way home
Dinner homemade chicken pie using chicken from Sunday's roast

Wednesday working from home as I have an antenatal appointment
Lunch soup possibly - homemade if time but I never seem to get time these days!
Dinner chicken curry

Lunch bagel if they haven't gone off already as I can't remember where I bought them!
Dinner lamb/ beef grillsteak with mashed potato

Lunch maybe a sandwich
Dinner might go to yoga as it was cancelled last week and I couldn't go for a few weeks so if I do, I'll have a baked potato or microwave risotto for dinner and my husband can have a frozen pizza

Lunch sausage sandwich if we have bread, or baked potatoes if not
Dinner caramelised minute steaks with mustard and potato wedges based on this recipe

Sunday need to eat a special diet for three days ahead of a glucose tolerance test
Breakfast 2 crumpets, fruit juice, tea with milk
Lunch tuna melt bagel (pizza bagel for him), packet of crisps, glass of milk
snack: 3 rich tea biscuits
Dinner pork chop with roast potatoes and veg - sausages and Yorkshire pudding for my husband - followed by 3 rich tea biscuits and potentially 1/3 packet sugar-free angel delight

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Sunday 3 December 2017

Tattered Lace Ornate Reindeer Christmas Cards

When I got my Sizzix Big Shot cutter two Christmases ago, I also received a beautiful tattered lace die called 'ornate reindeer'. I cut out several reindeer from sparkly cardstock almost right away, with a view to making cards for the following Christmas, but then that Christmas (last year) I made a few cards but think I forgot about these die cuts! So when I came across them earlier this year I made a few cards that I am now able to send out this year.

I've written before about using the die cutter and tattered lace dies. This one was particularly fiddly in places so my poking tool came in handy!

What I hadn't realised initially was the size of these dies - they take up most of the size of a standard 6x4 card blank, not leaving much room for other embellishments.

I did try out some different things though I'm not sure which of these works best and I don't feel like I'm really doing justice to the tattered lace die cuts. If you have this die and some good ideas for how to use it, please let me know!

For these first two cards I used large gold card blanks so I wouldn't need any other background. For one card I cut a gold oval with scalloped edges using another die, and mounted the reindeer on it - the reindeer is cut from sparkly red card. I added the words 'winter joy' which are from another die - I think it's actually a die of Christmas baubles with the words in the middle.

For the card on the right, I cut the reindeer from sparkly black card and mounted it using the smallest adhesive pads I could find which I even cut in half but you can still see them behind the reindeer. The ornate shapes around the edges are offcuts from die cutting - as this was so long ago I can't remember if they were the bits that came out from the spaces in between the antlers or from another die altogether. I used a 'merry Christmas' gold outline sticker to finish the card.

Here I covered the card blank on the left with two pieces of printed paper in complementary light blue colours - you can't see too well but I think they both have a snowflake design. I cut the reindeer from sparkly gold card and stuck it on the top half of the card, and a wooden gold card topper saying 'joy' - from a pack from The Works - on the bottom.

For the second card, I turned a gold card blank sideways and put two reindeers facing each other - one made from sparkly bronze card, the other from sparkly gold, with a 'merry Christmas' outline sticker in the middle and two little gold stars in the corners.

Finally I made a CAS (clean and simple) reindeer card using a green card blank and a reindeer die cut from gold card (non-sparkly this time) and a 'merry Chrismas' out line sticker.

I found the last of these in particular quite masculine so am linking up with the Cardz 4 Guyz challenge where the theme this week is reindeer.