Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes and/or Dessert Bowls {recipe}

This is the first Thanksgiving, I think since I moved to the UK, that I haven't made pumpkin pie. It felt a little odd, but there were no complaints with the alternative.

This recipe suits cupcakes if you don't happen to have a 6 cavity dessert shell that makes cake bowls! After a quick look around the 'ol internet they don't seem to exist any more if you come across one pop a comment below and let us all know!

The special tin isn't necessary though because the recipe makes great cupcakes and when topped with the cream cheese frosting and toasted walnuts and drizzled with salted caramel it's perfection all in one little cake.

Cupcakes aren't generally something that is thought of as a dessert, but as a birthday treat or a snack with coffee. However, I would argue that cupcakes make a great dessert, who can say no to an individual cake?

I mean they can... but I don't understand those people.

No matter if these are baked as cupcakes or dessert bowls or, if you adjust times slightly, as a tray bake the cake itself is a good cake. It's a nice texture and the spices are popularly paired with pumpkin because they work well together.

So, if you are looking for an autumn or winter treat that fills your kitchen with the best smells give this one a go!

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes or dessert bowls

4 large eggs
400g sugar
200ml vegetable/sunflower oil
1 can (425g) of pureed pumpkin
325g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp bicarb of soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves

Heat the oven to 170C and line your cupcake tin or grease your 6-cavity dessert shell tin with butter or shortening.

Beat the eggs, sugar, oil, and pumpkin together. Then beat in the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, bicarb, salt, ginger, and cloves until just combined. Using a medium ice cream scoop fill your cupcake cases or your 6-cavity dessert shell tins. I made a dozen cupcakes and 6 dessert bowls; you could probably get a dozen and a half cupcakes or about a dozen bowls. If you are making bowls you don't need the frosting below, just fill with ice cream or whipped cream and sauce and nuts and whatever you want to top it with!

Cream Cheese Frosting
100g cream cheese
70g butter
1 tsp vanilla
300g icing sugar
walnut halves, toasted (optional)
salted caramel drizzle (optional)
ice cream (optional, but highly recommended)

Beat the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla together. Slowly beat in the icing sugar until combined and smooth. Place about a tablespoon or so of frosting on top and smooth out with a spatula.

Finish off the cupcakes by sprinkling or placing the walnuts on top and drizzling over about 2 tablespoons of salted caramel by placing it in either an icing bag or sandwich and just snip the tip. If you made dessert bowls, then ice cream is always a great filler, whipped cream and toasted walnuts would make a suitable alternative in my opinion!

Pumpkin spice is one of my favorite spice combinations and even though you can use it any time of year, it just feels right in the autumn months leading to winter. English winters are wet, cold, and grey a far thing from my snowy, cold, and grey winters back home, but I still like this time of year. I love sweaters and hats with bobbles and my scarf collection is endless I could literally wear a different one every day of winter... well maybe not every day!

If you like winter as much as me please leave a comment below! And if you try this recipe I hope you like it!

Franco Manca - Masterclass in Reading, Berkshire {restaurant review}

Last June/July time Franco Manca opened up a branch in Reading and I was kindly invited along to an evening of pizza and limoncello drinking! I have been back since and I will say what I said then that the pizza from Franco Manca is one of my favorites. The sourdough base is everything and because the menu changes with the seasons it's toppings are always top notch. 

So, when they asked if I'd like to come along to try out one of their masterclasses I was there! This time around I was allowed to get in the kitchen and make my own pizza! Our instructor aka Master Pizza Maker Andrea was full of knowledge and showed us how the sour dough was made before giving us our own blob to turn into our own masterpiece! 

First you have to press it down gently and firmly with your finger tips, it's sometimes referred to as knocking it back, but this is a small piece so it doesn't need as much pressure or energy if you were making a loaf of bread. 

Then gently folding it over your hand you toss it gently back and forth - this does two things. One it knocks the excess unnecessary flour off and two it stretches the dough out ready to be pizza shaped. 

Once it's, as I said, pizza shaped they have a perfectly sized ladle to pour on the tomato sauce and spread in a circle. Then the fun part. Putting whatever you want on it! I choose lots of cheese, some garlic, olives, and mushrooms. 

Very gently you move it on a paddle which then gets placed into their special wood burning oven that is kept at something ridiculous like 500 degrees - it literally takes minutes. Then using another fun tool you check to make sure the bottom is properly cooked before gently sliding it out and turning it around and putting it back in and giving it another minute to make sure it's perfect and then you place it on your plate and enjoy!! 

I couldn't recommend the pesto more, it's seasonal so varies visit to visit, it's perfect to dip crusts in. It's essential, if you like lemons and liquor, to finish your meal with a shot of their limoncello, which is sourced in Italy and brought to the UK just for them! 

If you would like to experience making your own pizza masterclasses, in Reading, are held on the second Tuesday of every month. Classes are two and half hours and cost £30 including food, wine/soft drinks. Book or find out more: reading@francomanca.co.uk or 0118 995 2086.

Classes are also held at their Chiswick, Richmond, and Bournemouth to find out more of the details for those locations check the Franco Manca website here!  

Before we left they gave us a little goody bag with a bottle of wine, some pizza toppings, and a bottle of chilli oil for if we ever get the courage to try making pizza's at home! The book below was from my first visit and if you want to read that full review with more pictures check it out here

*I was invited to attend, but I was not asked to write a review positive or otherwise, no other compensation was given. Please see my contacts/policy page above for more information. 

Homemade Christmas by Yvette Van Boven {book review}

Everyone has their own Christmas traditions, some very classic and some very obscure, but Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without food. If we get down to it a lot of our holiday's and celebrations revolve around food. We indulge and go a bit over the top when it comes to a special day and why shouldn't we?

You may recognise the style of the cover of the book because Yvette Van Boven has several other books out and if you have had the pleasure to own or read them you will know what to expect from Homemade Christmas and if you haven't well there is no reason you shouldn't start with this one!

Not only does the author give us some amazing recipes there are tips to help keep Christmas as stress free as possible. And if you have read any of my older posts from this time of year you will know that this time of year is not my favorite.

Even though I have taught myself over the years to just chill and do what I need to do for my family and myself there is still a level of pressure from ... well do we really even know? Who is in control of all this pressure? Know one really knows.

After reading this book I learned two things. First that with the help of this book I can ease some of that pressure I feel by following some of Yvette's tops tips. And two this book isn't just for Christmas. It's full of heartwarming dishes that are good all autumn/winter long.

The book is broken down starting with Christmas Stress-Relief Tips (which I desperately needed), The Morning, Drinks, Snacks, Soups, Small Plates, Main Courses, Side Dishes, Desserts, all which are pretty self explanatory. The book finishes up with Pantry aka essential things to keep in your pantry followed by Menus. Which is extremely useful because it breaks it down by menus such as Cold Buffet, Romantic Christmas Dinner Menu, as well Christmas Breakfast and/or Brunch and includes menus for Veggies!!

It's an overall great book. I say that a lot and I fear that it is losing it's meaning, but I do love a good cookbook. The thing is I don't talk about the books that I don't keep or that just didn't interest me much. So, when I do say it's a great book I do mean it. Yvette has a great style and clear writing I don't know why I haven't ever read anything else by her before. Definitely something that will need to change!

Even though I am an American living outside of the US I always celebrate Thanksgiving with my children, in hopes that some of my traditions are ingrained in them. This book has offered me some great suggestions and recipes to try for my up coming Thanksgiving meal. When I do I will be sure to share pictures on all my social media channels. 

Have a look at Yvette's website for her other titles as well as recipes! All the photo's of the food are pictures I took of the book. 

*I was provided a copy of Homemade Christmas by Yvette Van Boven (photography by Oof Verschuren) to review by the publisher, Abrams, retails at £26.99 and available now from your local book retailers or online! All opinions are my own, I was not given any other compensation nor was I asked to give a positive review, please see my contact/policy page for more information.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Bars - healthy vs unhealthy {recipe}

Baking was really popular for a while, with shows like the Great British Bake Off fuelling it's popularity. It's still popular, but not like it was because "clean eating" became the fad. It's the stupidest thing to call food "clean" because that is suggesting that other food is "dirty."

That might be okay when we describe going out for a dirty burger after a night out or a long day that calls for a food that literally could be dirty. I mean a burger topped with all the good stuff never all stays in the bun. 

But it's not okay to label every day food as clean/dirty, good/bad, guilt-free/guilty, healthy/unhealthy and so on. You may be surprised that I think it's a bad idea to label food as healthy or unhealthy, but it's all the same in your head if you are one of those people who punishes yourself for eating "bad" food. 

A lot of people, of various sizes, have unhealthy relationships with food. Because we are fed so much crap online across all media sources telling us in one article of a new miracle food that cures all and in the next telling us that same food is the cause of all that is wrong with the world. It's really hard to keep up. 

But the thing is we don't need to keep up. Because everyone is different our diets all vary. When it comes to baked goods like cake, cookies, brownies etc... they aren't unhealthy, they aren't bad, and they are certainly not dirty. 

They are exactly what they say they are and even more basic they are food. Plain and simple. 

I was cleaning out my cupboard and came across of a soon to expire bag of rolled oats and I scoured my cookbook collection for a recipe that I could use them up in and came across this one in Sally's Baking Addiction by Sally McKenney. It was adapted to suit what I had in my cupboards.

The reason I had a long rant about labelling food is because this one is inadvertently labelled as a nutrition bar. It could be compared I suppose, but why can't it just be what it is. Tasty. 

It's full of peanut butter and whatever you want to add: chocolate chips, raisins, dried apple, etc... 

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Bars

100g light brown sugar
265g smooth peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla paste
120g whole wheat flour
80g rolled oats
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
120ml milk
120-200g of chocolate chips, raisins or other dried fruit 

drizzle (optional) - 50g chocolate chips and 20g smooth peanut butter

Heat the oven to 170/180C (depending on your oven) or 350F - line an 8x8 square baking tin with grease proof paper so that some of it hangs over (easier to get out.) 

Beat the brown sugar and peanut butter together for about a minute until it's smooth, add the vanilla and mix until just combined. Scrape down the sides and add the flour, oats, salt, and bicarb of soda give it a quick mix until it all comes together. Add the milk in a steady stream while beating on low, once it resembles a cookie dough fold in your choice of additions. (I used Whitworth's Mix n' Bake Choc Salted Caramel: dried apple, chocolate coated salted caramel, and sultanas. I bought it on sale for 93p.)
Dump it into the prepared tin and press down until even and then bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes depending again on your oven. When done it should be golden on top. Leave to cool in the tin before using the over hanging baking paper to remove. 

If making the drizzle on a low heat melt the chocolate and peanut butter together and put into a sandwich bag and cut the corner and drizzle across the slab in any way you want. Leave to set before cutting into squares. I cut mine to get 16, but you could cut them bigger to get 9 it's your life you decide! 

*Recipe adapted from Sally's Baking Addiction by Sally McKenney - my review of the book can be found here. There is this guy on instagram that I started following @unfattening who is just amazing at debunking all food related crap as I say and bollocks as he says.