2015: A look back at a year of baking adventures!

I have been blogging since 2011 and I am pretty amazed I've managed to keep it up! It's definitely changed as I've learned and become more confident not only in my baking but, in my blogging as well.

This video is a compilation of all the cookies, cakes, muffins, pies, and stuff that I baked this year.  I hope you like it! 

Please let me know in the comments if there is anything you'd like to see more of or less of in the new year! 


I hope you have had a great year 

&

I hope an even better 2016! 


All I Want for Christmas

I’m going to be honest and say that this time of year isn’t my favorite. It takes a lot for me to get myself in the thing we call “the Christmas Spirit.”

It’s probably a combination of a couple of things. One being that I’m far away from my family and our non-traditions and possibly because as soon as Christmas stuff comes out I feel nothing but stress and anxiety.

It’s the pressure that this one day is suppose to be magical and that’s a lot to ask from one day. It is hard to ignore and avoid all the media telling me how and what my “magical day” should be like.

I don't like being told what should be important to me this time of year or any time really! I just have to remind myself that no matter what I do it’s my best and that the girls will enjoy it no matter what I do and don’t do. Because they will not know any difference.

So, I thought I’d share the things that make the holiday season special (warning it’s mostly about food) and it’s all I really want.

All I Want for Christmas...


is for dinner to be stress free! I usually put something in the slow cooker. We are completely non-traditional when it comes to Christmas Dinner.

Don't forget the snacks! Crackers and cheese please! Don’t forget the chutney - store bought, maybe one day I will be prepared and make my own.


Coffee - especially as I have little people who will be up early when all I’d rather do is sleep.
A full breakfast, it is the most important meal of the day and should not be skipped even on Christmas morning.


“The best way to spread Christmas Cheer is singing Loud for all to hear!” - Elf One of the best Christmas movies ever is viewed every Christmas Eve.

Speaking of singing…. the NSync Christmas Album is my favorite Christmas Album - go ahead judge away, I don’t care. I actually remember buying it in Thief River with my sister and making her to promise not to tell anyone - oh how far I’ve come! What is your favorite Christmas album? Leave a comment below! Who knows I might have to change my mind! 


Christmas Eve Curry became a thing when I moved here due to my father-in-laws work schedule. We’ve been slacking on this tradition the last couple years as things have changed, but I always believe a good tradition is an adaptable one. 

Candy Canes - I love a good candy cane and I’ve tried a few. Best ones to get in the UK, that I know of, is from B&M. If you know where to get a good peppermint candy cane please tell me by leaving a comment below!


Buck’s Fizz - Never was a big drinker, but I love a glass of Buck’s in the afternoon with lunch/dinner. I use Prosecco of course as I could never justify champagne for myself. 

Christmas Tree Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups these I have to source from family or friends in the states or on one of the many websites that sells American candy. They are just Christmas to me. 

No one else likes sprouts which is okay by me because I do! So, I usually get some for the holidays as a treat for myself! If you too like sprouts and have a great way to cook them please leave me a comment below! I am always looking for new ways to cook them up!


Now that I have children the best part of Christmas is watching them get excited for the holidays. I love going to their Christmas productions, writing out cards with them, making cookies, and watching Christmas movies.

Happy Holidays!! 


With my girls officially off from school and the extra hours I am picking up at work until the big day this will be my last post until the new year!
Hopefully you aren't like me and stress too much about this time of year and hopefully you have an amazing couple of weeks! 
We will see you in the New Year! 

notes: all images excluding the Elf Movie Poster image and the Brussel sprouts (linked from a free photo site) are mine.

Boswell & Co. - Oxford's Department Store Visit {Tea Room}


Boswell’s is one of the oldest department stores in England having been established in 1738. It outdates Harrods, the most famous of department stores! They have recently re-opened there tea room and had invited me to their re-opening event. However, I was unable to attend due to conflicting schedules. Of course I was upset I wasn’t going to be able to make it and luckily they allowed me to arrange a date that was suitable for me!


Having spent some time in Oxford in my college days I know the place pretty well, but honestly had never been in Boswell’s. It’s right in the middle of the high street, but if you didn’t know it was there you wouldn’t know it was there. It’s very deceiving from the outside.



Because it is huge inside! With four floors of pretty much anything and everything you can imagine! There is a pharmacy, toys, bath and beauty, kitchen and of course a tea room! Which is why I was there! It’s newly refurbished and looks great!


All the staff were lovely and helpful when we asked questions in the different departments. However, the Tea Room staff were really sweet and lovely to have a chat with. We had a debate on if I should go with a slice of cake or the cinnamon roll. If the pictures below didn't give it away I decided against a cake and went for a huge cinnamon roll. It was way better then chain coffee shop cinnamon rolls.


My friend who came with me had a slice of the Coffee and Walnut Cake which I did have a bite of, of course! The frosting was so good! It was a light fluffy espresso buttercream and it suited the soft walnut sponge perfectly.





On my next visit I will be trying the Blueberry and Elderflower cake for sure! It looked so good! The coffees were good too, I went for a mocha that was exactly what I would expect a mocha to be.


After we finished our tea and cake we had a wonder around the store and of course ended up in the kitchen and dining floor. We were there for about an hour just looking around! We both bought new paring knifes and a few other essential bits and pieces.



Boswell’s is one of those places you could get lost in with so much to look at. If you find yourself in Oxford it is worth a stop!

Boswell & Co
1-4 Broad St
Oxford
OX1 3AG

notes: I was invited by Boswell’s to visit the Tea Room with a complimentary tea/coffee and cake. No other compensation was given - all opinions are my own, for more information please see my contact/policy page in the tabs above.

Surprise Cake! {birthday cake}

I am a bad mom.

It’s not entirely true, but mom guilt is real people.

See I don’t do birthday parties. My girls don’t seem too bothered by this as we’ve never really done birthday parties, but I still feel guilty about it.

We still celebrate with family and a few friends! She did request a special cake and insisted on pizza for dinner! She also had lots of presents of clothes and design/coloring books.

No party, though. Maybe one year we'll throw her a big party and until then I will continue to feel slightly guilty about it. Only slightly though because the part of me that doesn’t feel guilty feels relief that I don’t have the stress and cost of a party.

This year, my now 8 year old, wanted a surprise cake - one that had sweeties in the middle.


How I made the cake: I used a tried and tested vanilla cake, from Rachel Allen’s Cake book. Which didn't rise as much as it usually does, but it tasted fine so I worked with it.

I used my circle pastry cutters to put a hole in the middle of the top layer of the cake. Set aside the circle of cut out cake. With a thin layer of buttercream, lay it on top of the bottom layer. Pour a bag of sweets in the hole. Cut the saved bit of circle cake in half and squish it back in the hole. Use a little bit of buttercream to stick it back to the sides if necessary. Then frost it with the remaining buttercream and cover it with sprinkles of your choice!






Sally's Candy Addiction by Sally McKenney {book review}

As soon as I read though this book I knew it would be one I will be using time and time again! It is full of some amazing treats! The first thing I wanted to make was Buckeyes. Which you can see how and why in my previous post!

They are super easy and Sally’s instructions are easy to follow and gives great results! I have had a love affair with Sally McKenney and her blog Sally’s Baking Addiction for as long as I started writing and reading blogs!

Having read and baked from Sally’s Baking Addiction, I knew I had to have a copy of her second book Sally’s Candy Addiction! Not only because I liked the first book because making candy at home is something I am interested in.

This book particularly takes me back to my childhood with many memories like the one above! It starts with a chapter titled ‘Getting Started’ and it gives you everything you need to make great candies at home! It takes the fear out of candy making!

Then it goes to ‘Classics’ with homemade marshmallows and popcorn balls! Following with ‘The Chocolate-Covered Chapter’ which is pretty self explanatory! It’s also where the Buckeyes can be found! The the easiest, but trickiest of all the ‘Endless Truffle’ chapter followed by the don’t burn yourself chapter ‘Caramel, Toffee, and Brittle.’


Followed by the ‘Nuts and Sweet Treats’ and ‘Oh-so-Fabulous Fudge’ chapters. Last, but not least ‘Just Add Candy’ chapter that is full of baked good likes cookies and cheesecakes that include your favorite candies!


If you or someone you know likes to make homemade treats, then I couldn’t recommend this book more. Plus who doesn’t like receiving homemade treats as a gift and it is the season of gift giving is it not?


Here is a short list of things I will be trying: 

Saltwater Taffy
Chocolate Chip Cookie Bark
Chai Tea Latte Truffles
Caramel Turtles
Pumpkin Spice Toffee
Birthday Cake Fudge
Cookies n' Cream Fudge

Oh and one last thing! -It gives the ingredients in grams as well as cups which is good news for us UK readers!

notes: Sally’s Candy Addiction by Sally McKenney was given to me to review by the publishers - all opinions are my own, please see my contact/policy page above for more information. My review of Sally’s Baking Addiction can be found here!


I was very happy how these Buckeyes turned out! Read more about them in the previous post! 

Buckeyes - Holiday Memories

When I was little my parents moved us to southern Indiana from Wisconsin and for me and my sisters it was just a big adventure and it was! The hard times were the holidays: for Thanksgiving and Christmas we didn’t have the extended family to celebrate with.

The first Christmas we went home to Wisconsin and it was such a kerfuffle that it was the last time we did that. We did what we had to do, reinvent Christmas as our own without the extended family. Once we’d been there for a few years my parents made friends, Pat and Jim as we called them, they used to invite us around at Christmas time.

It was super boring.

They didn’t have kids my younger sister and my ages. It was an time were a book and a walkman were our only entertainment! The one thing I looked forward to on those visits were the homemade Buckeyes that Pat would make!

Peanut butter fudge like balls partially dipped in chocolate to look like the nut from the Ohio Buckeye tree.

When I came across this recipe for Buckeye’s in Sally’s Candy Addiction I knew I had to make them! This recipes makes approximately 32 buckeyes, but because of my abnormal rolling abilities I think I had like 38 or something? Anyway here’s how you make them using grams, cups and ounces are given in the book if you prefer!

Buckeyes

114g unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
194g creamy peanut butter (not natural style)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
360g icing sugar
450g semi-sweet chocolate

Line two or more baking tins with greaseproof paper. Here in the UK freezer space can be awkward, so find tins/pans/sheets that fit in your fridge or freezer comfortably.
Beat the butter for a minute or two until creamy, add the peanut butter, vanilla, and salt and beat until combined. Switch the mixer to low and add a quarter of the icing sugar at a time until combined. I do this to stop the icing sugar exploding everywhere. It should be soft and slightly crumbly. Roll about a tablespoon of the mixture into a 1 inch ball, repeat until all the mixture is used. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
Place on the prepared tins/pans/sheets and place in the fridge or freezer for a minimum of 30 minutes.
Melt half of the chocolate in a double boiler or if confident enough in a small sauce pan, take it off the heat and add the rest of the chocolate bit by bit until it is all melted and silky smooth.
Dip the peanut butter balls in the chocolate using a fork or preferred method for dipping, be sure to leave part of the ball chocolate free, as shown in the picture. 
Place back on/in the tins/pans/sheets leave to set, once set then enjoy!




notes: See my review of Sally's Candy Addiction! or my review for Sally's Baking Addiction!

The Pastry Challenge November Round-Up {Pies and Tarts}

When I was at work the other day we were discussing holidays and this conversation came to be:

Co-worker: Are you already for Christmas? 
Me: Getting there, have a few things to pick up. We don't really go to crazy with presents and stuff. 
CW: That's because you get most of your presents for Thanksgiving. 
Note it was stated as fact not a question.
Me: Ah? What? 
Another co-worker stocking shelves staring at the first co-worker like she's grown horns right in front of him. 
CW: Isn't that what Thanksgiving is all about? 
Me: No. No, Thanksgiving is all about food and feeling thankful for what you have. 
The other co-worker looks at me and shakes his head. 
CW: Oh, I thought Thanksgiving was like Christmas? 

Perception is everything. Thanksgiving isn't celebrated here, so most people can only assume and guess what it's like or what it is! It's all determined by media - either movies or TV or the internet. Although I'm not sure where she got the idea we exchange presents on Thanksgiving? It did give me a good laugh, bless her! 

I bring this up because Thanksgiving is why I made this month's theme pies and tarts, tis the season and all that. I was not disappointed as yet again we had some great entries!! 

from
Belleau Kitchen 

If you haven't visited this blog I suggest you do! Dominic has entered our linky most months and always with something great! His blog has much more then pastry and is a wonderful mix of sweet and savoury dishes. If he ever wrote a cookbook I would be the first to pre-order it! 

from
Chardonnay and Samphire

This tart is gluten free and dairy free! Which doesn't matter much to me as I can eat both, but that wouldn't stop me from making it! It's my first experience with this blog and it looks so clean and refreshing I'm sure I'll visit it again pastry or no! 

from 
Green Gourmet Giraffe

Green is my favorite color and giraffe's are cool so it's no surprise that Johanna's blog is pretty cool too! She's entered the pastry challenge a few times always giving us something new and tasty! Check out her post as there is another version of this galette. 

from 
Gluten Free Alchemist

There is something about the simplicity of a jam tart that makes it so elegant. The light pastry filled with the ruby colored jam is very appealing! It'd be hard to stop at just one! And these are gluten free! 

from
The more than occasional baker

Salted Caramel is amazing and paired with apples these hand pies must have been amazing! I'd love to be able to crimp like Ros! I once tried to make hand pies and they leaked everywhere! I will definitely be referring to this post next time I attempt hand pies! 

from 
Cakey Goodness

I love apples and crumbles! Then they are mini pies! Gotta love it! These would go great with some of the ice cream I had with my pumpkin pie below! I wasn't hungry until just now! 

from 
United Cakedom

Me! Follow the link to see how I got on this Thanksgiving! Once again I made pumpkin pie and it was so good! Especially topped with cinnamon biscuit ice cream! Also check out my new pie dish! It's green and cream and I love it!! 


Thank you to everyone who entered!! I love seeing what everyone enters! I hope you all have a great holiday season and are enjoying your festivities! Hopefully with lots of delicious food! 

note: all images were taken from the linked blog post and owned by those sites

Christmas Food, Fashion, and Fun {at The Oracle - Reading, Berkshire}

It’s dark out and it’s not even dinner time. It happens every year and every year no one is happy  about this change in light and dark. However, there is something to be said about all the lights, festive or street lights or a combination of both that gives this time of year a sense of wonder. Like you’re in a slightly different world or on a movie set.


Last week I ventured into town after dark for a night of shopping and drinks! We, myself and a small group of other local bloggers, met at Browns Restaurant for drinks (Prosecco) and canapés. We were able to try one of their sharing platters that is called Taste of Browns and comes with chicken lollipops, smoked haddock croquettes, prawn cocktail, asparagus soldiers, and pulled pork & pig cheek rillettes - along with a selection of dips!

I have been to Browns for dinner before and it was good, I would like to book myself in for their Afternoon Tea and I might have to visit them on a Thursday night for their Lobster Night or their Champagne and Lobster Brunch. I like lobster! (Check your local location.)

The Riverside has a variety of restaurants: wide range of food variations and cost. A perfect place to rest after a day/night of shopping!


We were then taken to Top Shop to check out the currant fashion trends! Some party wear and some classic winter wear! The colors this season are precious gem colors. Like rubies, sapphires, and emeralds, which a lot of people look good in no matter their skin tones.

I asked about shoes and jackets because they are usually an over sight for me. I get all ready to go out in my new outfit and I don’t have shoes nor a jacket that suits! I was informed that leather and a classic bomber jacket are perfect for going out! And one can never go wrong with a comfortable pair of black boots!


Last, but not least, we stopped in a newer shop to the Oracle KIKO. After the sales ladies shared with us their new Christmas line we were free to look around and try out some of the products!

I have a small wishlist:  I really like the Twin Stars Nail polish and Lipstick set in Lavish Beige and the Moon Dust Face Powder. The limited edition perfumes were light and refreshing as well, think I will be making another trip in there, I mean someone has to fill my stocking right? I did treat myself on the night with the Double Glam Eyeliner (112-Black/Butter) and I do love it.

One of the very nice ladies showed me one way to use the eyeliner (top picture below) She made it look so easy they are like just do this and then do that wah-la you’re ready to go! Perhaps I should apply for a job there so I can learn how to do it like they do! Although I don't think I did such a bad job myself (bottom picture below), I was going for a Christmas lunch so it's not quite the same.


It was a good night out and gave me a few ideas for Christmas presents… not just for myself! The Oracle is open daily 9:30AM-8PM Monday-Friday 9AM-7PM Saturday and 11AM-5PM on Sunday.

Need a refuel after shopping? If you’re looking for a snack I recommend Auntie Anne’s for a preztel, a cookie from Ben’s Cookies, or a frozen yogurt from Snog! Or if you’re just thirsty I love the Strawberry Dream smoothie from Fuel juice bar!

I do need to try this Bad Brownie place I saw on the lower level as well as the Manhattan Coffee Club on the upper level. Looks like I will be venturing out after dark again very soon!

notes: I was invited to the event and compensated for my time by the Oracle’s PR agency, all opinions are my own: for further information please see my contact/policy page (tab found above).

If you like this post check out my recent visit to Lush

Pumpkin Pie - Post Thanksgiving {expat pro con list}


I’m not like other bloggers.

Other bloggers were going on about Thanksgiving since the first of November, I’m mentioning it today the last day of November - a time when other bloggers are shouting about Christmas.

I live in the now, not in the future. Which means that when I get around to blogging it’s the past. I suppose next year I will have this post to share early….just thinking out loud.

Celebrating Thanksgiving as an expat is an experience in itself. I’ve made a Pro/Con list to try to explain.


Pro and Cons of Thanksgiving as an ExPat: 

Pros: 


  • You can buy a turkey on the day, because no one else needs one. 
  • Pumpkin Pie 
  • If you get tonsillitis and need to cancel Thanksgiving no one really misses out but you.
  • Having those friends try Pumpkin Pie!
  • No pressure
  • Inviting friends to celebrate with you.


Cons: 


  • Having to give history lessons to friends and family about what Thanksgiving is. 
  • Having to have it on the following Saturday because the Thursday isn’t a day off. 
  • Having to source a pumpkin or pumpkin puree (Waitrose stocks Libby’s Pumpkin Puree) 
  • Not having my family around. 
  • The lack of Thanksgiving decorations.



I went from not celebrating it at all because as a 22 year old I didn’t cook. Then I tried having it Thursday after my husband got in from work, but that was a stress and way too much to eat at 6 or 7 o’clock in the evening. Then I moved it to Saturday, which worked until one year I got tonsillitis and had to cancel because no one else was around to take up the cooking it was all me or nothing. It seems more hassle then not these last few years, but it’s something I want my girls to see as a holiday even if the rest of the country doesn’t.

One day I hope they love Pumpkin Pie as much as I do. I remember my first taste of pumpkin pie was after we moved to Terre Haute, Indiana and had Thanksgiving with one of my dad’s co-workers who invited us to his house. It was a big affair with loads of people. My fifth grade teacher was there and it was super weird seeing him there.

Food has always been used to celebrate and I hope to pass this recipe down to my girls one day. It’s not an original or anything I got it from Joanne Chang of Flour bakery in Boston, Massachusetts, but it’s super good and all recipes come from somewhere!



Pumpkin Pie 

Short Crust Pastry Pie Crust

140g plain flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
128g unsalted butter, cut into 8/9 cubes
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons cold milk

Mix the flour, sugar, and salt together. In a freestanding mixer or with a handheld mixer mix in the 8-9 cubes of butter. You want the cubes fairly big because you don’t want them completely incorporated into the flour mixture. You want lumps of butter in the dough.
Gently beat the egg yolk and milk together and add it to the flour mixture. Beat on low until the dough just comes together, it will not be a smooth dough … yet.
Dump out onto a lightly floured surface and bring the dough together as best you can into a ball. Then smear the lumps of butter into the dough by using the palm of your hand and pushing the ball down and away from you. Turn the dough ball and repeat for 4 turns or so or until the butter is stretched through out. Bring it back together into a round disk, wrap with clingfilm and place in the fridge for a minimum of 4 hours. I always make this the night before I want my pie.

Pie Filling

454g (1 can) pumpkin puree
150g light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
200g condensed milk
170g evaporated milk
3 eggs
1 egg yolk
180g double cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Remove the shortcrust pastry from the fridge and roll it out between to sheets of cling film or on a lightly dusted work top, to about 1/8 inch (.32 cm) thick and about 12 inches (30 cm). Line a pie tin/pan/plate trim or crimp the over hang. Don’t trim it too much as there will be shrinkage in the oven. Leave to chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
While you wait heat the oven to 180C or 350F.
Line the pastry with greaseproof baking paper and fill with baking beads or your choice of dried grains and blind bake for 35-45 minutes.

While it’s baking make the filling by mixing the pumpkin puree and brown sugar in a meduim sauce pan over a medium heat, stirring until it’s a thick paste 35-40 minutes or so. It will have reduced almost by half and be a lot darker. 
Whisk in the spices: ginger, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt. Then whisk in the condensed and evaporated milk.
Beat the eggs and egg yolk with the cream until combined before gradually whisking it into the pumpkin mixture.

Remove the baking paper and baking beads from the baked crust and add the pie filling. Place in the already heated oven for 45-50 minutes until the pumpkin filling is set, it will puff up a little, but the middle should still have a little wobble. Leave to cool for 2 hours before serving.
When it’s ready to be served top with whipped cream or make it al a mode with a scoop of ice cream. I used a cinnamon biscuit ice cream that suited the pumpkin pie perfectly!

notes: as mentioned above this recipe is adapted from Flour by Joanne Chang, another version of this recipe can be found here. I reviewed both flour and flour too here on the blog. My cousin reviewed it as well and went for a book signing back in the day she wrote about her experience here!
I am entering this into my own blogging challenge The Pastry Challenge! with my friend and fellow blogger Jen!

Captain America Shield Sugar Cookies & Trailer

Today I saw the new Captain American Civil War trailer and I have to say I haven’t been this excited to see a movie in a while. It looks amazing!!

Watch it below.



Anyway it’s interesting because last week I borrowed my friends star cookie cutter and made these cookies:











I just used my tried and trusted sugar cookie recipe and followed this videos instructions!

Mine weren't as round because I might have been a bit squishy when cutting it. Also I don't think I divided my dough very well as I ended up with some cookies missing layers and stuff. I also maybe made too many stars. But over all they turned out well and were tasty - chewy in the middle and crunchy on the outside.

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