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Bird Baths and Brownies...

I haven’t been writing as much over the past few months mainly because my mum was visiting from Australia. During her stay we had a great time scouring charity shops for treasures, visiting the lovely town of Faversham several times and of course cooking up many delights in the kitchen.

My mum is a master of organization! I, however am the complete opposite – although I do have ‘a system’ (it usually doesn’t work very well and results in mega tantrums). Anyway, while she was here she very kindly took it upon herself to sort through and organize my collection of recipes. There were clippings from newspapers and magazines as well as print outs from websites stuffed and stacked in various cupboards and shelves in my kitchen. It took a full 2 days (and 3 bottles of Pinot Grigio) but she did it and the result is;

• I can actually find the recipes I am looking for

• I rediscovered some long lost recipes I had always wanted to try

One of these rediscovered recipes is a Jamie Oliver one, snipped years ago from a magazine. It’s for chocolate brownies, something I enjoy eating but have never made. Well this past weekend I gave them a go and they are absolutely scrummy! However they are definitely NOT low in fat. I doubled the recipe so my husband could take some into work and let me just say that when you see a whole pack of butter disappearing into your brownie mix you know you’re in trouble!

So to balance things out (in my own mind anyway) I have been putting extra time into my garden. Over the past few days there has been a lot of pruning, re-potting and general sorting out. I was actually just enjoying one of these brownies in the garden (with a large mug of tea) as a reward for assembling my newly acquired bird bath. It was bought from the RSPB and I also become a member at the same time. Wildlife is very important to me and I love watching all the life going on in and around my little garden.

In fact I think I may have another brownie and watch to see if any birds decide its bath time!

And Thank You MUM for all your love, help and support!

Here is the original Jamie Oliver recipe:

Chocolate Brownies (Serves 4)

Ingredients

• 100g dark chocolate, broken into small pieces

• 125g butter

• 4 large organic eggs

• 300g caster sugar

• 100g self raising flour

• Pinch of salt

• 125g shelled walnuts

• Icing sugar, for dusting

Directions

• Preheat the oven to 190C (375F, gas mark 5)

• Grease a 20x20cm baking tin with a little butter, then cut a square of greaseproof paper to fit neatly in the bottom

• Melt the chocolate and butter in a glass bowl over a pan of simmering water. Remove from the heat and set aside

• Mix the eggs, sugar, flour and salt together in a bowl. Add the melted chocolate and butter mixture. Sprinkle in the walnuts. Stir and fold together being careful not to over-mix

• Spread evenly into the cake tin and bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 15 – 18 minutes, or until a crust has formed but they are still a bit wobbly (you don’t want them to be really cooked through like a cake)

• Allow the brownies to cool slightly and then cut into squares. Serve with icing sugar dusted over the top

Jamie’s top tip: If you don’t like walnuts, try the recipe with dried cherries, apricots or pecan nuts.

Luna Note: As I doubled the recipe I used 125g of walnuts and 100g of dried cranberries. It was a great combination!

If you are interested in the RSBP then please visit their website to find out the many ways you can help protect our natural world.

http://www.rspb.org.uk/

Zucchini: The Magic Ingredient For A Sweet Scrumpt...

Zucchini or courgette is what is known as a summer squash. It has a lighter texture and more delicate flavour then some of the heavier winter squashes. Looking like a greener more rugged cucumber the zucchini is an incredibly versatile vegetable.

Zucchini The Magic Ingredient

Zucchini The Magic Ingredient

They can be eaten steamed, grilled, baked or fried. They can be stuffed. They can be grated into pasta. They are also wonderful additions to stews and curries. For me one of the tastiest ways to use zucchini is in baking.

This recipe for zucchini bread is one of my tried and true all time favourites. It is moist, not too sweet and goes very well with a hot cup of tea. The addition of walnuts adds a little extra kitchen witch magic! This really is a very simple recipe and kids will love it. It’s a great way to get them to eat some veggies!

If you’ve never tried it – give it a go. You will never see a zucchini in the same way again!

Luna Raye’s Recipe For Magical Scrumptious Zucchini Bread

Ingredients

3 eggs

1 cup canola oil (I didn’t have enough for this batch and used ¾ canola and ¼ olive oil)

2 cups white sugar

2 cups grated zucchini

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 cups all purpose flour

3 teaspoons all spice

1 teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

¾ cup chopped walnuts (I have alternated this with ½ cup fresh blueberries in the past)

Directions

Preheat your oven to 165 degrees C (or 325 degrees F)

Grease two 8×4 inch loaf tins

In a large bowl beat the eggs until they are light and frothy

Gradually mix in the oil and sugar

Stir in the grated zucchini and the vanilla

In a separate bowl combine the flour, all spice, baking soda, baking powder, salt and chopped walnuts (NOTE: if using blueberries instead of walnuts mix them in with the wet ingredients)

Add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix thoroughly

Divide the batter into the prepared bread tins

Bake for approx 60 – 70 minutes or until a knife inserted into the centre, comes out clean.

I cover the loaves with tinfoil about ¾ of the way through cooking to make sure they don’t brown too much on top.

Allow to cool on a wire rack.

Slice it up and enjoy with a cup of tea and a good book!

Zucchini Loaves

Zucchini Loaves

Zucchini Bread

Enjoy with a cup of tea and a good book

Mum’s Marvellous Muffins: A healthy snack and a ...

Well I have been back from Australia for just over 5 weeks now and I am still trying to get myself settled back into a daily routine. Fortunately Nutmeg hasn’t been having the same problems. Once we picked her up from the cattery and brought her home she hopped straight up onto the sofa wanting nose rubs and cuddles. All seems to be forgiven – which when dealing with cats is a good thing, however I am still sleeping with one eye open – just in case!

The time spent with my parents was very special. My husband and I spent time in Sydney, Brisbane and Airlie beach. There were some wonderful trips to nature reserves where we saw some amazing (if not slightly terrifying) wildlife. We also helped my parents move house which was an adventure in and of itself. There were restaurant visits of course but what we really enjoyed was cooking together and sharing our meals at the dining room table.

While my Dad and husband were in charge of making cocktails and occasionally throwing something on the barbeque, it was my Mum and I that did the majority of the cooking. She shared many wonderful recipes with me – some were old favourites that I hadn’t had since I was a child. Others like this muffin recipe were new to me.

I have to say this muffin recipe is one of my favourites and I have made them several times since arriving back in the UK. They are so simple to make and are perfect for breakfast or as a healthy snack during the day. They are nothing like the ’cake’ style muffins we get here in the UK and I am delighted. If I wanted cake I would eat it – but muffins should taste like muffins!

So here it is, my Mum’s Marvellous Muffin Recipe.

Ingredients:

2 ½ Cup of Raisin Bran Cereal

¼ Cup All Bran Cereal

5 dried apricots chopped in large chunks (one apricot chopped into 3 pieces works well)

5 dates chopped (same as the apricots I like to chop each date into 3 large pieces)

¼ Cup walnuts

¼ Cup dried blueberries OR cranberries

1 ½ Cup of low fat milk (I actually use 2%)

2 ½ tbsp of Oil (you can use vegetable oil or canola)

1 egg

1 ¼ Cup self raising flour

¼ Cup brown sugar

3 tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp dried ginger

¼ tsp nutmeg (the magic ingredient!)

(You can also add wheat germ or any other nuts or dried fruits you like. I did use fresh blueberries which also worked well. It made the muffins really moist)

Directions

Heat the oven to 180 degrees.

Grease the bottom of 12 medium sized muffin tins (or see my Mum’s Top Tip below)

Mix the Raisin Bran and All Bran in a large bowl and slowly add the milk.

Let this stand until the cereal has softened (about 5 minutes)

Muffin Mixture After Adding Milk

Muffin Mixture After Adding Milk

Gradually beat in the oil and egg.

Mix the remaining ingredients (including the flour) in a separate bowl and gently stir into the cereal and milk mixture.

Mix until everything is just moistened.

Divide the batter evenly among the muffin tins.

Bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Remove muffins and place on cooling rack.

Enjoy for breakfast with some fruit yoghurt on the side or in the afternoon with a cup of tea!

Top Tip

Greasing muffin tins is not only messy but it adds unnecessary calories to your cooking.

I have never felt comfortable cooking with parchment paper but my Mum showed me a really easy way to use it.

Cut some squares of parchment paper (I use 4 inches by 4 inches)

Fold the paper over the end of an upturned glass (my Mum used a can of olive oil spray)

Top Tip For Lining A Muffin Tin

Top Tip For Lining A Muffin Tin

You get a nice little ‘cup’ of paper that neatly slots into your muffin tin.

Getting The Muffin Tins Ready

Getting The Muffin Tins Ready

Carefully spoon the batter into each cup.

Mum's Marvellous Muffins About To Go In The Oven

Mum's Marvellous Muffins About To Go In The Oven

Once the muffins are cooked the parchment paper peels off really easily.

There was no mess and no fuss!

Mum's Marvellous Muffins

Mum's Marvellous Muffins

The Joy of Local Produce: Apple and Rhubarb Crumbl...

Since my husband or I don’t know how to drive, much of the Kent countryside has remained a mystery to us. There simply are some places we can’t get to via bus or train. As for cycling, I wouldn’t feel comfortable on the small winding country roads.

When Jessica was here she rented a car and we were able to do some exploring! One of the highlights was discovering farmer’s markets and the many farm shops selling local produce. One such farm shop was in a lovely little town called Hadlow in Tonbridge. The shelves were full of home made pickles and jams. There was loads of fresh produce as well and some beautiful rhubarb caught our eye.

We bought a few goodies and made our way home! Unfortunately, our plans for an apple and rhubarb crumble didn’t materialize while Jess was still here. I ended up making it the day after she flew back home. I have to say it was delicious (sorry Jess!)

So here it is:

Luna Raye’s Scrumptious Farm Shop Apple and Rhubarb Crumble.

Ingredients

3 large cooking apples peeled, cored and chopped into chunks.

3 medium sized rhubarb stalks, cut into chunks.

½ cup of sultanas.

2 Tablespoons ground All Spice.

50 grams unsalted butter.

3 Tablespoons brown sugar.

Splash of water.

For the Crumble Topping

150 grams of flour.

50 grams cold unsalted butter.

50 grams granulated sugar.

2 Tablespoons crushed pecans or walnuts.

Directions

Place unsalted butter in a saucepan and add the chopped apples.

Mix in the brown sugar and all spice and coat the apples.

Add a splash of water if you need more moisture.

After 5 minutes or when the apples start to soften, add the rhubarb and sultanas and mix all together.

When everything is nice and soft add to a large oven proof dish.

Directions for the Crumble Topping

Add the flour and granulated sugar into a bowl.

Cut the cold unsalted butter into chunks and gradually add to the flour and sugar mixture.

Use your hands to mix the butter in. You should end up with a mixture that is similar to bread crumbs.

Add the pecans to the crumble topping before spreading over the apple and rhubarb mixture.

Place in the oven preheated to 180 and cook for 30 – 45 minutes.

Serve with a drizzle of cream or a scoop of ice cream and enjoy!

Scrumptious Apple and Rhubarb Crumble

Scrumptious Apple and Rhubarb Crumble

Please Sir, I Want Some More……..Porridge....

This past summer my husband and I had the pleasure of taking my sister on holiday to Edinburgh for a few days. It is a city we have been visiting for many years (usually for the famous fringe festival in August). I adore Scotland and for me, Edinburgh really is one of the most magical and beautiful cities in the world – yes even in the rain, although my sister might disagree with the rain part.

We stayed in a well located hostel and to our delight we noticed a small café just opposite. It looked relatively new and we didn’t remember it from any of our previous trips. For the life of me I can’t remember the name of the café but we could see it through the window of our room. In the mornings we would hover by the window watching eagerly for signs of the café opening its doors.

So what exactly made this café so special? Well aside from a cosy and friendly atmosphere, they served porridge. Now there are many restaurants and cafes serving porridge in Edinburgh but this was by far the best any of us had ever tasted. The consistency was perfectly smooth, rich and creamy. But the real crowning glory of this porridge was the addition of crème fraiche and fruit jam on top. It was absolutely amazing and we couldn’t get enough of it. We ate there everyday and always had the porridge. Not only was it delicious but it prepared us for a full day of drizzly weather conditions and fringe theatre.

I had always loved porridge as a child and I confess to actually eating Quaker Porridge Oats straight out of the little packets my mom used to buy. Maple and brown sugar being my all time favourite flavour! My great grandmother also used to make me porridge and I loved the way she prepared it. She would let it simmer away on the hob and as she served it up she would put some buttered saltine crackers on top with a little splash of milk. It was always a perfect bowl of comforting goodness.

Porridge is a funny thing and people can be very particular about how it’s made. I prefer mine to be made with full fat milk and no water. This makes for a very smooth rich creamy porridge, similar to the café’s. For some though it can be a little too intense so using half milk and half water is better. Of course there is nothing wrong with just using water, but the consistency is much thinner. Personally I feel the addition of milk makes the porridge a real treat and find it help keeps me fuller for longer.

There are all sorts of wonderful ingredients you can add to porridge to make it a healthy but decadent breakfast.

• Buttered and crumbled saltine crackers (my great grandmother’s way).
• Maple syrup with chopped nuts (walnuts and pecans are delicious).
• Brown sugar with cinnamon (you can also add raisins or dried apples and apricots).
• Assorted fresh fruit and berries (bananas, blueberries, strawberries, peach and apple. You can get a little more exotic and add mango or papaya and some desiccated coconut)
• Crème fraiche with a fruit jam (raspberry is especially tasty).

I won’t go on about the many health benefits of oats but they really are one of the best foods you can eat to start your day. They are good for your digestive health, they can help prevent heart disease and lower cholesterol levels, their slow release in the body can help control blood sugar levels and keep you feeling fuller for longer. You can use oats in many different ways but having porridge is one of the most delicious and magical!

Porridge with Creme Fraiche and Raspberry Jam

Best Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies In The World!!...

Well it’s that dreaded time of year…. tax time! Tonight I will be sorting through receipts and paperwork which isn’t the best way to spend a Friday night. So, to make the task more enjoyable I have made some chocolate chip cookies.

I am not much of a baker but this recipe for the best big fat chewy chocolate chip cookies is quick, simple and foolproof.

Some top tips for extra chewiness;

  • After mixing the wet and dry ingredients allow the mixture to rest for at least 45 minutes to an hour. This allows the hot melted butter to cool.
  • Half way through baking take the cookies out and bang the oven tray once on a heat proof surface before placing back in the oven for the remainder of the cooking time.

When making these I like to substitute half the chocolate chips for some chopped walnuts or pecans .

If you like cookies then give these a go – they are simply delicious! Now to put the kettle on, I think it’s going to be a long night!

Banana Bread: Old Favourite, New Favourite!...

I know we are already well into the New Year but I am still recovering from all the fuss and general craziness of the holiday season. During the holidays I was able to spend a bit more time in the kitchen trying out different recipes and experimenting with some new kitchen gadgets.  However, I was so caught up in exploring the new and different that I neglected a few things in my kitchen.

The main casualty of my neglect was a bunch of bananas which were almost at the point of no return. Not wanting to waste them, I found myself going back to one of my all time favourite recipes – Banana Bread.

Banana Bread is one of the easiest things to make. What is so wonderful is that you can have it just as it is OR you can jazz it up a bit if you want. Here are just some of the things I love to add to a basic Banana Bread recipe:

  • Chopped Walnuts or Pecans
  • Fresh Blueberries or Raspberries (you can also use frozen)
  • Grated Courgette (Zucchini)
  • Grated Carrot
  • Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips

For this particular recipe – which is a low fat version – my husband and I decided to add 2 Heaping Tablespoons of Un-Sweetened Coco Powder and approximately 9 Glace Cherries cut into quarters. We also used a spring form cake tin rather than a loaf tin. The results were simply amazing and ok we confess… not as low fat as it could have been. However it was absolutely divine with a cup of tea and an episode of Columbo.

I found the recipe on the following site; lowfatcooking.about.com, which is brilliant. Have a go with the recipe as it is – or add a little something extra. Then sit back, relax and enjoy!

For low fat banana bread recipe click here

I have also written out the recipe below.

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened or 1/4 cup trans-fat free shortening
  • 2 large eggs or 1/2 cup egg substitute
  • 1 1/2 cups mashed ripe banana (about 3 small bananas)
  • 1/3 cup plain fat-free yogurt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spoon flour gently into measuring cups and level with a knife. Stir flour, baking soda and salt together in a medium bowl. Put aside. Place sugar and butter in a large bowl and beat at low speed with a mixer until well blended. Add one egg at a time and blend well after each one. Add in mashed banana, yogurt and vanilla extract, beat until blended. Add flour mixture and blend until just moist. Do not over-mix. Spray an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray. Pour batter into pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 60-70 minutes (until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean). Remove from pan after 10 minutes or so and cool on a wire rack.

Yield: one loaf, 14 slices.