Christmas Cross Stitch Project 2016- “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”

My special Christmas project for 2016, a sampler designed by Nia Cross Stitch,
My special Christmas project for 2016, a sampler designed by Nia Cross Stitch.

Along with baking and cooking, cross stitch is another great hobby.  I love to sit down on an evening and stitch, especially on a cold winter’s evening with the fire on and something decent to watch on the TV. I can’t just sit down with empty hands, I have to be busy doing something.  Cross stitch helped me relax in my down time doing exams,  during school holidays as a teacher and also throughout my two pregnancies.

Christmas is always a special time for showing off your cross stitch projects and over the years I’ve made a few decorations.  Each year I try to do something new but as work gets busier it ends up that the project doesn’t get finished til after Christmas. Last year I stitched a nativity scene which was so detailed it took me til well into January.  I still haven’t stitched the gold star sequins on it either.  This year was no exception, except I managed to finish my Christmas project on New Years’ Day! Well at least I’m organised for this Christmas!

Back in November I was looking on Amazon and came across a gorgeous wall hanging kit.  It was from a range by Nia Cross Stitch, a Welsh designer who produces beautiful, high quality kits in both Welsh and English.  I have stitched a few of Nia’s designs before: two wedding samplers, a Pearl anniversary sampler, an 18th birthday sampler and finally a teacher themed one last summer.  I love Nia’s quirky lettering, the vibrant colours she uses in her thread palette and also the cheerful motifs on her samplers.  This “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” sampler was no exception and I just had to order it.  Though it took me a couple of weeks to get round to starting it as I was in the middle of another project at the time.

Fast forward to 8th December and I finally got to start on the project.

Starting at the centre  with the “s” and “t” of  Christmas and one of the two candy canes in the design.

Not much stitching gor done in the next few days.

It’s Christmas Day and it’s nowhere near ready! At least I have time to finish it over the Christmas holidays.
My sister in law’s gorgeous dog wanted me to stop stitching and play ball with him!
Slowly but surely the design begins to appear on the canvas.  I’m really enjoying the various threads apart from the standard DMC stranded cotton.  I get to use gold Marlitt and a bluey white Light effect thread to stitch the snowflakes and the outline around the snowman, Santa’s hat and around the icing on the Christmas pudding!

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fullsizerender-2Finally after lots of time spent glued to the sofa over the Christmas holidays I finally got my sampler finished on New Year’s Day in the afternoon.  The air was blue trying to thread my beading needle to add the red and white seed beads to the sampler. I just couldn’t thread it so I gave up and did very messy French knots instead.  Now a couple of days later as I type I’m thinking of what I could do with the sampler. I think I’ll make it into a wall hanging once I find the perfect backing fabric.

Happy Stitching.

Love Sam xx

Christmas Leftovers- Mincemeat Loaf Cake.

I know it’s New Year now but I can’t bear throwing things out or wasting things.  As I’ve been doing Slimming World up to Christmas and hoping to start back at my local group on 4th January, I can’t really be baking things or eating leftover cake and mince pies.

But what to do with the two spare jars of homemade mincemeat which were sat taking up space in my cupboard? Mr SmartCookieSam said it would last until next Christmas but I’m not always so sure.  So I had a look through my recipe books and spotted an ideal way of using up a whole jar of mincemeat without taking too much time and effort up.

This Mincemeat Loaf Cake recipe comes from Mary Berry’s Christmas Collection. The recipe actually makes two small loaves.

As Mary says in the recipe notes: ” These are great to have on hand at Christmas time. They freeze superbly and make a nice present…. the mincemeat adds spice and moisture to the cakes,”

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The idea that the cakes freeze well was a real winner for me.  I don’t want to be eating cakes right now but there is room in my freezer to put the loaves away and bring out for another time.  They’re always useful if one of my friends pops round for a cuppa or for taking into work to share with colleagues.

The recipe was simple to make.  I mixed mincemeat, softened butter, light muscovado sugar, 2 beaten eggs, self raising flour, currants and raisins together in a large mixing bowl.  To this I also added an extra teaspoonful of ground mixed spice. This was all mixed together and put into two loaf tins lined with special loaf tin liners.

 To finish off I needed to stud whole almonds into the top of the loaves.  I realised I didn’t have any whole almonds left, only flaked ones.  I sprinkled some flaked almonds on and also added some whole glace cherries before sticking the loaves in the oven.  They baked for about 1 1 /4 hours while I got on with the ironing.  As I was doing the ironing there was a lovely smell wafting about the kitchen, very tempting but not helpful when trying to lose weight!

The loaves didn’t look that big compared to what I was expecting, I would have preferred to have baked one big loaf instead of two tiny ones.  It smelled wonderful though and once it had cooled down I was tempted to cut one of the loaves open and see what the inside looked like.  I didn’t eat any, honest!

Wrapped up in cling film they’re now in the freezer.  Let’s hope I don’t forget I’ve made them!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Our New Years’ Day Tradition- Steak and Mushroom Pie.

Happy New Year!  I hope that 2017 brings you luck, health and happiness. 2016 was a mixed year for a lot of people and I just hope this year doesn’t continue in the same way.  I feel a different person to the one I was at the beginning of 2016 and now I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. I will be going back to Slimming World after not being able to make recent group meetings as well as trying to breathe life into this blog. It’s been a bit neglected recently.  This I would love to change.

Every New Year’s Day in the past we have usually eaten a big lunch at home and then gone out for a walk afterwards.  I tend to bake a pie and serve it with lots of vegetables and gravy.  This year things were different.  My son had been out at a party and got back in the afternoon from his friends’ house.  My daughter was working from lunchtime until the evening.  Our family New Years’ Day lunch ended up being a quiet tea time instead.

I chose to bake a Steak and Mushroom Pie this time as I had some braising steak in the freezer.  It was a cinch to make as I made a cheat’s shortcut. Not with the shortcrust pastry- that was homemade but with the pie filling.  I love Gordon Rhodes’ Gourmet Sauce Mixes and buy them regularly from my local farm shop.  I used their Slow Comfortable Stew mix with braising steak, a large onion, a tin of chopped tomatoes and a little water. Cooked for about 6 hours on a low heat in my slow cooker, it made the beef melt in the mouth and taste deliciously tender. I can’t bear tough beef. The sauce mix also suggests adding in chopped potato and carrot but I didn’t do this seeing as I wanted to serve these with the pie. Instead, nearer the end of the cooking time I put 250g of halved mushrooms into the slow cooker to soften for the last half hour.

The shortcrust pastry was made with 175g cold butter cut into cubes, 350g of plain flout and ice cold water to mix.  There was plenty of pastry dough left over so I gathered it into a ball, wrapped it in cling film and put it in the freezer for another time.  I bet I’ll forget about it, go to the freezer in a few week’s time and think “What the hell is this?”

As it was New Year’s Day I found my large number cookie cutters and cut out 2017 to stick on the top.  Mr SmartCookieSam said it looked too nice to cut up.

Not a scrap left of the pie. I’m beginning to feel like who ate all the pies here after all I’ve eaten.  But I won’t give up baking, I’ll just have to keep myself away from it!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Sugar and Crumbs’ Natural Icing Sugar Winter Flavours- Creme Brulee Snowflake Bundt and Cupcakes.

I really love Sugar and Crumbs’ Natural flavoured icing sugars and was really keen to try out their new limited edition flavours brought out for this Christmas and the Winter season.  I was lucky enough to win a £25 gift voucher from them in a Great British Bake Off competition on their Facebook page. We had to predict the winner of the Bake Off for this year. My name along with another lady, won because we were drawn out of the names who predicted Candice would win. I was so happy when I heard I’d won the prize as I wanted to buy packets of the new four flavours released in time for Christmas.  Not only that but I wanted to get some more packets of my favourite flavours, like Chocolate Mint and Salted Caramel.

The four new flavours included the decadent sounding Creme Brulee.  I love Creme Brulee although I never make it at home.  It sounded like a perfect creamy vanilla flavour to enhance a Christmas themed sponge, cupcakes or fudge.

Those of you who read my blog regularly might see I’ve not been writing much recently. This is down to me working full time with a position in a nursery.  It has been very long hours and as soon as I get in on an evening, the last thing I think about is baking or blogging.  But baking is a massive part of my life, it keeps me sane and helps me relax.  I really missed it.

Before the end of last term it was going to be a Christmas tea party at the nursery I’ve been working in.  I baked some plain vanilla cupcakes with glace icing and snowflake sugarpaste shapes for the children.  I didn’t want the adults to miss out, after all in the busy lead up to Christmas you definitely need a sugar boost to get you through the day.

Plain vanilla cupcakes baked for the children to eat at their tea party.

The Snowflake Creme Brulee Bundt was a great excuse to use my Nordicware snowflake bundt pan bought back in July when on holiday in Canada.  I couldn’t believe my luck when I saw it on the shelf in Williams Sonoma in Edmonton. I made sure I greased the bundt pan carefully with cake release, then got on with baking the bundt itself.  The recipe I used is adapted from The Hummingbird Bakery’s book Life Is Sweet.  On page 28 there is a delicious recipe for a Tunnel of Fudge Bundt cake.  Here is my adaptation:

SNOWFLAKE CREME BRULEE BUNDT

INGREDIENTS:

390g unsalted, softened butter

375g caster sugar

6 large eggs

250g icing sugar (Sugar and Crumbs’ Creme Brulee natural flavour)

395g plain flour

1 tsp vanilla extract

extra icing sugar to dust 

To begin with preheat the oven to 170oC/ 325oF or Gas Mark 3.Grease the bundt pan with Cake release.

In a mixing bowl with a hand held electric mixer or a freestanding mixer, beat the softened butter and the caster sugar together until it is light and creamy.

Then add the eggs one at a time, beating the mixture after each addition. Then add the icing sugar to the bowl, followed by the vanilla extract.

After that, add in the plain flour. Mix this with a metal spoon by folding in the flour until everything is incorporated.  

Spoon the mixture into the prepared bundt tin.  I found that there was some mixture left over when I use a smaller bundt pan.  I ended up having enough mixture to bake several cupcakes.  Of course this does depend on the size of your bundt pan, just make sure it is filled to three quarters full. 

Bake your bundt cake in the oven for about 55-60 minutes. I usually need to check with a skewer inserted into the cake but it is usually done when the cake starts to come away from the side of the tin.

As the snowflake bundt has so much pretty detail on it, I felt it didn’t need any icing. All it needed was a dusting of the creme brulee icing sugar on top and it was finished.

The remainder of the 500g packet of creme brulee icing sugar was turned into a simple glace icing for the top of the cupcakes.I then cut out some sugarpaste snowflake shapes with some mini plunger cutters bought from Lakeland.  They were gorgeous and looked pretty on top of the cupcakes in their sparkly foil cases.

The Creme Brulee Snowflake Bundt in all its glory.
The snowflake bundt only needed a dusting of icing sugar to show the beautiful detail off.
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Love these pretty snowflake plunger cutters from Lakeland.
Cupcakes baked with the remaining mixture which was left.  Topped with the remaining creme brulee icing and finished with sugarpaste snowflakes
Different snowflake patterns

Everything went down very well at work.  Though it’s nearly 3 weeks since I made them now, such a distant memory. But I’m determined to get myself organised and blog more in 2017.  Wonder if I’ll still be saying that next month!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

 SmartCookieSam’s Christmas Baking.

I dream about baking and love any excuse to get in my kitchen.  But the week before Christmas I just couldn’t get into it. I knew I had lots to make but every time I thought “Right, let’s make that fudge,” something would happen and it would get pushed to the wayside.  I started off the week with a thumping fuzzy headache.  It was brought on by having to get everything I hadn’t done sorted out in three days flat because of all the work commitments leading up to the end of term. In the end I decided I would have to get up at 5.30am and get cracking on what was needed for foodie presents and for our own Christmas food.

It was a very long day and by the time I sat down at 10pm having cleaned the kitchen floor, I was ready for bed.  These photos showed what I made.

My Gingerbread House Bundt Cake baked as an alternative to Christmas cake.
Using a recipe from the Sugar and Crumbs website I made their simple fudge using Salted Caramel icing sugar, condensed milk and butter. So easy to make.
Brownies always go down well for foodie presents and I baked three different batches, starting with these Mint M&M ones.
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Brownies baked with Oreo Cookies inside, yum yum!
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Some baking for us: Mince Pies and homemade sausage rolls.
For those who don’t like mince pies I baked some peanut butter M&M cookies.  

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Gingerbread Cupcakes using the scrumptious and delicious smelling Sugar and Crumbs Gingerbread Icing sugar in the buttercream.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Clandestine Cake Club “A Year Of Cake” December Bakealong- Nordic Spice Cake.

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I love being a member of the internationally renowned Clandestine Cake Club.  I’ve made lots of lovely friends through chatting over cake. I can honestly say that cake club has changed my life in lots of ways and I wouldn’t be without it.  I haven’t been able to get along to any events for a couple of months due to work commitments but I’m excited to be getting back to it in January!

For those who can’t always make the events and meet up with friends there are a couple of other options.  Members can join in a virtual cake event or a bakealong.  I have joined in with several of these in the past, including the CCCBook Club “A Year Of Cake” bakealong.  These events are monthly and by the end of that month those who want to take part choose to bake a cake which features in that particular chapter of the Year Of Cake book. You take photos and email this with a short description of the cake and why you baked it, etc for Lynn Hill founder of the Clandestine Cake Club to put into a write up or blog post of the event. Though sometimes I’ve forgotten to post the photos by the deadline and missed it a couple of times!

Anyway, being December it was the last of the Year Of Cake bakealongs.  There were twelve scrumptious recipes to choose from all of which I would love to have baked.  I had to go with something I know everyone would eat at home.  I decided on the Nordic Spice Cake.  It is a cake typical of the flavours in Scandinavian cooking which is shared at the time of St. Lucia’s Day (the Swedish festival of lights) Baked in a circular bundt pan it could be resplendent of an Advent wreath or a St Lucia crown.

I chose to bake my version in the Gingerbread House Bundt pan instead of a wreath shape.  This is because I’m absolutely rubbish at making gingerbread houses, they always collapse on me no matter how much icing I throw on them. So I could have a cakey version instead.  It was 8.30am on December 23rd and I had so much to do. The gingerbread house was only one of a few things I was going to bake.

First things first- to grease the gingerbread house pan.  This was a complex job as it had lots of nooks and crannies.  Lots of Cake Release needed here! Then I made sure the oven was on and preheating with the top shelf removed so I could get the tin in without knocking it.

Then for the cake itself. I creamed together butter and brown sugar until it became light and fluffy.  Next I beat eggs, natural yoghurt and the zest of a large orange together in another bowl.  Finally in another bowl I measured out sifted self raising flour and three teaspoonfuls of my friend Heidi’s special Christmas Spice.  Lynn Hill’s recipe also uses 35ml of mulled wine in the mix.  I didn’t have mulled wine so instead I added in the juice of the orange I had taken the zest off first. The aroma coming out of the kitchen smelled wonderful and I couldn’t wait to try it.  Nothing smells as nice to me as the smell of baking gingerbread.

With the gingerbread house bundt pan being an uneven shape I usually put it on a flat baking tray in the oven so it can bake flat. Nothing worse than the gingerbread house’s chimney sticking through the gap in the oven tray and the mixture all falling out on the bottom of the oven. Believe me, I’ve been there.

As luck would have it the cake baked perfectly and came out of the pan in one piece. I couldn’t decorate it straight away as I had other things to do. So the gingerbread house went into a corner of the kitchen for a few hours while I started on some fudge.

Decorated with piped glace icing and some Wilton Gingerbread house sugar shapes as well as some M&Ms the cake looked really festive.  It made a beautiful centrepiece on Christmas Eve and also tasted fantastic.  Not everyone likes fruit cake or marzipan and this was a perfect alternative.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx