The Ultimate Crumble Bar

Do you love crumbles or cobblers? Do you like things that come in a handy treat sized bar form? Then this is the perfect recipe for you, its a fruity crumble in a bar. TASTY and AWESOME! These can most certainly fall into the category of vegan and gluten free and because fruit is involved, I like to think it will hit at least one of your five a day (winning)!

What I love most about this recipe? You can interchange it with most fruits, fresh or frozen. Ive made them with cherries and mangos and both were winners. I often go for frozen fruit, as its available year around and in plentiful supply at my local Aldi freezer section, oh and cheaper than fresh more often than not.

This is a great treat for friends, families, colleagues and yourself! I tend to bake on Sundays so that my colleagues have a sweet treat on Mondays, I feel its a great way to start the week on what can otherwise be the worst day of the week. My colleagues LOVE these and are often a requested item.  They are also a great for kids!

Please note that I doubled the recipe below, hence basically double of everything in the pictures.

The Ultimate Crumble Bar

Makes: 1 9x13in Pyrex dish   Prep time: 15 mins  Cook time: 55-60mins  Total time: 75 mins

Required Ingredients:

For the crumble

  • 1/2 cup (125g) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup (128g) plain flour (you an also use gluten free flour)
  • 3/4-1 1/2 cup (105-150g) porridge oats
  • 1/2 cup (100g) caster sugar
  • 1/4 cup (50g) light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons xantham gum (if using gluten free flour)

Fruit Filling

  • 2 cups (200g) blueberries (or any fruit fresh or frozen; if using frozen don’t thaw)
  • 1/3 cup (66g) granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch/cornflour
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon

Now how to make these truly amazing crumble bars:

1.Preheat oven to 350F. Line an 8-inch square pan with greaseproof paper; put aside.

2. On the hob/stove top melt the butter (or use your microwave, I hate how inevitably it ‘pops’ and goes all over he microwave, so I find it cleaner to do on the hob).Melted butter.jpg

3. Whilst the butter is melting, in a bowl, combine the flour, oats, sugars, and cinnamon, stir to combine. Oats Mixture.jpg

4. Once the butter is melted, add to the flour and oat mixture. oats mixture.jpg

Mixture will be dry and sandy with some larger, well-formed crumble pieces. (Often I find that the mixture is still quite wet and add in another 1/2-1 cup of oats, which get it to the point of the picture below).  crumble bar mixture.jpg

5. Set 1 heaping cup mixture aside to be sprinkled on later as crumble topping.crumble bars

6. Transfer remaining mixture to prepared pan, and using a spatula or your hands, hard-pack the mixture to create an even, smooth, flat crust; set aside.20170717_150914

Once flattened, the bottom of your crust should be nice and uniform as below.20170717_151136

 

Now for the awesome fruit filling!

7. In a large mixing bowl (save on the washing and use the same you made the crust and crumble in), combine the lemon juice, sugar, cornstarch and cinnamon, stir until smooth. 20170717_151516

8. Add in your blueberries to the cornstarch mixture and stir to coat all the blueberries, this is what makes the filling extra unctuous and thick.  blueberry bars.jpg

9. Evenly scatter the blueberry mixture over the crust.20170717_152514

10. Take the last of your crumble mixture and evenly sprinkle over the blueberries. There should be chunky and thin bits in this mixture. 20170717_152715.jpg

11. Bake for about 55-60 minutes, or until edges are set and center has just set. Crumble topping should appear set and very pale golden. If using fresh berries, baking time will be less, take off a minimum of 15 minutes, possibly more. Watch the bars, not the clock, check on them from the 30 minute point onwards.blueberry crumble bars.jpg

Once out of the oven, allow to cool for at least 30 minutes, then move to a wire rack and allow bars to cool completely before slicing (you can even stick them in the fridge if you like). Dont rush the cooling process, cutting the bars before they’ve completely cooled leaves a crumble mess with many bars falling apart. Bars need to be kept in a airtight container at room temperature for up t0 3 days or in the fridge for up to 5 days.

Remember to share with friends and enjoy!

 

Over ripe bananas

Sometimes your cat likes to give you a gentle reminder to let you know you’re spending too much time on the Pinterest and not enough time with them.  First world cat problems.Elka.jpg

I dont really like to eat bananas on their own, I find them just too hard in texture. Having said that, I do like to bake with bananas. I like them to be overly ripe with black patches all over them, which is generally the state in which households let their bananas get to. I found a recipe for flapjacks that is as healthy as they come! As an American I grew up with granola bars, no such things really exist in the UK, you get flapjacks. Whats the difference? Granola bars tend to have more things in them, including chocolate and and lots of nuts, where as flapjacks tend to be more oat based with no extras. So I taken the humble version of a flapjack and utterly pimped it out!

This is a baked no processed sugar or diary gluten free vegan friendly treat that will leave you coming back for seconds or thirds, assuming you haven’t already eaten them already!

Banana flapjacks

 

Banana Flapjacks

Makes: 1 9x13in Pyrex dish   Prep time: 10 mins  Cook time: 25mins  Total time: 35 mins

Required Ingredients:

  • 3 1/3 cups (300g) gluten-free oats
  • 3 bananas
  • 1/3 cup (80ml) olive oil
  • 1/3 cup (80ml) honey
  • 1/3 cup (50g) pecan nuts, chopped
  • 1/3 cup (50g) flaked/slivered almonds
  • 1/3 cup (50g) dried cranberries
  • 1/3 cup (50g) toasted coconut
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon

Now how to make these pimped out flapjacks:

  1. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper and preheat the oven to 350°F/ 180°C.
  2. In food processor, throw in your peeled bananas and whizz into oblivion (or until smooth), alternatively smash your bananas in a bowl. I choose the easy option as per below.

processed banana.jpg

3. In a mixing bowl, mix the processed bananas, oats, honey, oil, pecans, almonds, cranberries, coconut and cinnamon. *handy trip, measure out the oil first and then the honey and the honey comes straight out without any extra persuasion.

20170715_161816

Your mixture should look something like this.20170715_161918-e1501014014401.jpg

4. Dump the mixture into your lined pan and spread out evenly into the pan, using your spatula to evenly smooth the surface, getting a even thickness throughout. 20170715_162235

5. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the top is lightly browned.  Leave to cool, once cooled, cut into bars.banana flapjacks.jpg

Store in a air tight container and in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. banana flapjacks.jpg

Edits: you can pimp these out even further by adding not so healthy things such as chocolate chips or you can add even more healthy things like raisins or seeds. Have fun with them and make them to suit your taste.

Remember to share with friends and enjoy!

Tales of a Crazy Cat Lady and her PPPs (pampered pedigree pussies)

I am a crazy cat lady.

Growing up, my family always had cats, much to my fathers own upset. It was uncommon for us to have anything less 5 cats and most summers we had more than 10.  Growing up, the main family cat was Cavity. As with all fun animal names, Cavity got his a result of a family dental trip on the same day we got him. As children our parents always reminded us and quizzed us over our toothbrushing habits and ‘have you brushed your teeth?’, ‘Are you sure you brushed your teeth?’, “let me smell your breath’, typical sayings parents use.  My father was keen to ensure that we brushed our teeth, as ultimately he was the one who’d pay the bill if we didn’t.  On the day we got Cavity, our family of five visited the dentist, the three kids and my mother had no cavities (WIN WIN), however my father wasn’t so lucky and had a few. As children we found this hilarious, given all the constant reminders we had and thought that we should name the cat Cavity as it what would be a 16 year reminder to my father to brush his teeth.

I adore all cats, I rub every cat I see, ok, maybe not the overly ill looking ones but Ive renamed all of my neighbours cats and they run to me when they see me.

Free to a good home. This is a slogan that I grew up with, was given cats on, gave many cats away on and truly believe in. This is a slogan is practically non-existent in the UK. The majority of people charge for kittens and puppies and basically any animal. Basic prices start at about £35 and go up to £200 ($40-$250) and this is non pedigree animals. People believe that they shouldn’t be out of pocket when their non-spayed animals get knocked up. Some people truly believe that charging a large amount ensures a good home. When I have previously suggested the idea of giving them away for free, eyes have bulged, gasps have been made, all followed up with severe head shaking. I think the British just aren’t ready for ‘free to a good home’. My own personal opinion is that paying for animals which aren’t pedigree doesn’t encourage the owner to spay their animal (and rarely do they use this money to spay their animal), it does the opposite, by encouraging them to allow their animal to procreate for profit.  I am all for spaying and believe that unless you specifically want a pedigree animal, shelters are great places to rehome a animal who needs a home.

I crossed paths a Maine Coon when I lived in the states and honestly, I just remember it being this massive massive cat, (I was a child and now kind of remember it being sasquatch sized, so not entirely accurate), with loads of fur and thinking I will have one when Im an adult.  I do enjoy the Snopes post of why the dog ran away.

As part of my divorce I bought two Maine Coons and have never looked back. I am now a PPP (pampered pedigree princess/prince or pussy) snob. Sadly what I have learned with pedigree animals is that they have substantially shorter life (RIP Maizy and Tillie) and that seeing the family line is vital when buying the pet. I now have two Maine Coon kittens (roughly 14 months old), Callie and George and they are brother and sister. When I purchased the two, I went to a fellow crazy cat ladies house who has 17 Maine Coons, I looked at her and literally said ‘You are my future’ and we both laughed awkwardly. She has lots of space and runs for the cats and is a proper breeder. What I was able to see was the heritage, she had the grandmother, grandfather and both parents for the kittens. Rarely are you able to view more than one parent when buying cats, so this was a major win and it was great to see their size, attitudes, personalities and life span of the cats. Its obvious that they have come from a great line of healthy cats, which is so important. After the ill health and loss of Maizy and Tilli, its not something that I am ever prepared to compromise on again.

George and Callie Maine Coons.jpg

Three cats.jpg

George and Callie Maine Coons.jpg

Elka (who is the non pedigree who has outlived many other cats), is also another member of the household and the matriarch. She is 11 years old with arthritis and tolerates the kittens, as best as she can.

Elka.jpg

Callie and George are both very quirky.  Callie is basically me in the cat form, so very very quirky and more than a little bit thick in the hip. George is very friendly but requires utter gentleness, which means hes not overly keen on me. They both want to be friends with Elka, however George just wants to play, which means he spoils it for both himself and Callie, as Elka just wants to sleep.

How are they getting to the land of clogs? I was keen to fly them, however, due to the George and Callies size, they are too big for the cabin (ideal solution) and the idea of putting them through as baggage has been panned by many of my colleagues, apparently this is cruel and can make them much more nervous than they already are. As they are literally treated like baggage, they go through the belt system and then literally sit on the tarmac as long a the luggage does with no special treatment and in all weather conditions. The noises and constant changing of surroundings are a sensory overload and scares the cats to the point of no return. My colleagues who have flown their cats as baggage have said they’d never do it again or allow anyone they know to do it either… So flying is not an option. Apparently flying them as cargo is an option (a very expensive option) and the animals are treated substantially better, however, because the distance I am going is only short, this is not an option available to me. Luckily there are courier companies who just deal with animals, HORRAY! So the answer to the problem is to have the cats couriered over, it ranges in prices but works out to be just over the price of flying them and it means that Im not the one having to drive them, listening to them howl for 12 hours straight, WIN for me.

Summer started off chill this year, so no summer shaves were given, however, they did have a belly shave to allow for some fresh air.  On the 5 hot days we’ve had my poor PPPs have now coped, so the answer was to get a hard swimming pool for them to play in and actually, its worked! They do love water anyway, so it seemed the right answer. The decision was then made to ‘pimp the pool’, a submersible pump was bought to give the water more movement (after these pictures were taken) and its even more of a luxury cool play area for them. Cats who require swimming pools to play in are quite possible too delicate to be shipped as luggage!

The 2 B’s, baking and brownies

I grew up in southern America, in the mountains of North Carolina. America is incredibly diverse and every area is different to the next, even within the southern states.

I grew up with Betty Crocker. Shes amazing and knows her baking and almost always comes out perfectly! Growing up, I thought baking with Betty was baking from scratch, oh, how I couldn’t have been more wrong if I tried! Betty Crocker is a boxed baking brand, you add eggs, water and oil to the mix and TADA you’re done.  Its easy, its simple and it ultimately almost always tastes amazing. I was always told this was ‘baking’ and for years I really did think I was baking from scratch. It was only when I moved out of the states that I realised this wasn’t the case and it was a shock! I wont lie, I did get more than a little bit excited when I noticed my local grocery story started to carry Betty.  In America, Betty Crocker is one of the major baking ranges that have practically everything you could ever need, from cake mixes, brownies, and cobblers to frostings.

Living in Europe, means that I now bake from scratch! The amount of boxed items 15 years ago when I moved over were incredibly limited (maybe one or two only), where as now its better. Honestly, nothing frustrates me more than when Im looking at a cake recipe on the internets and it says in the list of ingredients ‘1 box cake mix’, you’ve got to be kidding me!

Having learnt to adapt means that Ive mastered some things and still fail at others, no matter how hard I try I am completely unable to make a white cake.

One of my wins which I am so proud of are these amazingly awesome unctuous fudgey brownies. From the base recipe, you can keep it as it is or you can dress it up and make it an adult only espresso brownie, which is my favourite! Why espresso? It doesnt taste like coffee but actually enhances the chocolate flavour, giving them a deep richness that keeps you going back for more!

Ive also made them with gluten free flour and they work just as well, still coming out fudgey.

I hope you go off and make these and enjoy them as much as I do!

Unctuous awesome fudgey brownies

Unctuous awesome fudgey brownies

Makes: 1 9x13in Pyrex dish   Prep time: 15 mins  Cook time: 25mins  Total time: 45 mins

Required Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (250g) unsalted butter
  • ⅔ cups (55g) of unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 cups (450g) of sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tsp of vanilla
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 cup (128g) plain flour
  • ⅔ cup (115g) Chocolate chips and peanut butter chips (optional)
  • 1 shot espresso (if making the adult version of this)

Now how to make these truly awesome brownies:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F and line the pan with greaseproof paper.
  2. Melt your butter on the hob/stove top with the cocoa powder. Once the butter and cocoa have completely melted, add in the sugar.  Put this off the side to cool down for 10 mins, sit down, have a cup of coffee, read a book, take a break.
  3. Once the butter, cocoa, and sugar mixture have cooled down, whisk  in the eggs, salt and vanilla, mixing until completely incorporated and smooth in texture. (If making the adult version add in your shot of expresso now)
  4. Add flour and chips to the liquid mixture, and stir until just combined (do NOT over mix).
  5. Pour the brownie batter into the baking dish, put in the oven on the middle rack and bake for 25 minutes. Make sure it’s on the middle rack, not the top one
  6. When the brownie cools down, cut it into squares.  Store in  a air tight container for up to 4 days.

Edits:

Do not over bake! Its so easy to over bake a brownie, they are suppose to look slightly undercooked, as they then firm up and finish cooking off as it cools down.  25-30 mins at the very most is more than enough time to cook a brownie that has been placed in a pre-heated oven.

I love that you can add anything to these brownies! As per the picture below, I made the standard brownie and then I made an adult version, in my adult version, in addition to the espresso, I chopped up a white, dark, and milk chocolate bar and put it on top for extra unctuous ooey-gooeyness and then for crunch I added ½ cup toasted coconut and ½ cup chopped pecans. They were AMAZING.

home made brownies.jpg

 

I also made them gluten free by swapping gluten free flour for plain and adding in 2 tsp of xanthan gum.

Remember to share with friends and enjoy!

No sugar, no fun?

I love the white stuff! Im not talking about a class a drug here (jeez!), Im far to boring for that(and prefer to spend my money on cats and shoes). Im talking processed sugar. Of course its not good for you but none of the yummy good things are! I grew up on Kool-Aid and know people who put in their kids bottles. It only took me living abroad to realise that this isn’t healthy or good for you.

A friends wife is avoiding processed sugar, no white stuff. She allows herself fructose (the natural sugars in fruit and in the fruit form) and honey. Fair enough a good gust of wind will blow her away but is it worth it?!?! Im going to say no and ask you to give me a massive piece of unctuous yummy cake filled with processed sugar and all things naughty.

So the challenge was set to make something sweet without using the white stuff.  Luckily I have a raspberry bush thats completely in season at the moment, hooray for fresh raspberries! Not hooray for when the kittens play in the raspberry bush and then come covered in raspberry bush, looking like they are bleeding all over.  Originally the raspberries started out as about 6 plants and now its well over 40, it offers several kilos of fresh berries each year now.

Raspberry bush  fresh raspberries

So I started to search for raspberry based recipes and came across some cookies with no white stuff! I was inspired by this recipe but changed it up slightly to suit my tastebuds.

Sadly I was on a baking spree whilst making these and just forgot to take pictures.

Raspberry Oat Cookies

Makes: 9 large cookies   Prep time: 1 hr  Cook time: 15 mins per batch  Total time: 2 hrs

Required Ingredients:

  • 1 cup scottish porridge oats
  • ¾ cup gluten free flour or plain flour
  • 2 tsp xanthan gum (if using gluten free flour)
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • ½ cup honey
  • ½ cup fresh raspberries, chopped

Now how to make these amazing cookies:

  1. Take your oats and grind them down in a food processor until they basically no longer resemble oats.  This will allow for a quicker and more even cook (cookies are  not in the oven for long).
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the oats, flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and xanthan gum (if using).
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the butter, egg, and vanilla. Stir in the honey until completely mixed.
  4. Add in the flour mixture, stirring just until just combined. Fold in the raspberries. Chill the dough for at least 30 minutes, I recommend 1 hour but I let mine chill for 4 hours, as I was making other things. (If chilling longer than 30 mins, cover with plastic wrap, pushing it down to touch the entire surface of the cookie dough.)
  5. Preheat the oven to 325°F, and line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.
  6. Drop the cookie dough into 9 slightly mis-shapen balls on the baking sheet. (If chilled longer than 1.5 hours, flatten slightly.) Bake at 325°F for 13-15 minutes.

These were an absolutely hit! Of course I could have made the cookies smaller and had more portions but who doesn’t love a big cookie? I made mine gluten free and everyone loved them, they were practically fighting over them and a load of ‘awwww’s when they had all been eaten, the irony being that I didn’t actually have one.

Remember to share with friends and enjoy!

BBQ, you say?

At work I like to get to know my colleagues on a personal level. I find often when you see someone at work its hard to then think that they are a husband or a father or even that someone might love them who isn’t their mother! I always ask about families and relationship dynamics. Its easier to understand someone and how they work when you know more about them.

I work with a guy who has 6 kids, I find this incredibly intriguing, even more so England, where there is such little space! We have become friendly over the year of working on the same project and he thinks its hilarious that I call him ‘kitten’ and bake for his family, who are all gluten free. Ive made some amazing gluten free items and Ive also had a few fails but all because of working with him. I tend to take baked goods in to work on a Monday to start the week off on a sweet note, Im adorable, I know.  It keeps me popular and colleagues as happy as they can be on a Monday.

As a thank you for all the baked goods Ive made over the months, he invited me round for a BBQ at his to meet the family. Exciting! However, any time I go anywhere, my inner American comes out and I can NEVER show up empty handed, EVER, it might as well be against the law. He did specifically tell me not to bring anything, at which I laughed and say ‘no really, thats not going to happen’. My dear Pinterest came to the rescue, followed by 2 days of baking and cooking. Another colleague joined us with his family, his wife is a veggie who eats fish and is trying a no processed sugar diet! As if making gluten free wasn’t exciting enough, now trying to come up with recipes that contain no processed sugar, oh sweet Jesus, where has all the fun gone?!?! However, Pinterest to the rescue and I had a few wins! Let me assure you its easier to be fat and have the processed white stuff! Oh sugar, how I love you!

Being a southern American means you can never show up to a picnic or a BBQ without deviled eggs and/or potato salad.  I got caught up making everything else that I forgot to take pictures of the eggs process, but I vaguely followed this recipe.  Once you go southern American potato salad, you never go back!

SS Potato Salad

Southern Potato salad

Serves: 6 (easily)    Prep time: 20mins    Cook time: 20 mins   Total time: 40mins

Ingredients:

  • 1 kilo or 4 large potatoes
  • 1 tbsp white vinegar
  • 3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
  • 1 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 green onion stalks, diced
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 tbsp mustard
  • 1 tbsp sweet pickle relish
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • 200g bacon lardons
  • 100g grated cheese (optional but worth it!)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

(I doubled this recipe as I was cooking for 12 people!)

Now how to make this amazing stuff:

  1. First, peel and then boil the potatoes. In a separate pot (or in the same pot for at the last 10 mins – save yourself a pot!), boil the eggs. In a frying pan, go ahead and fry off your lardons. Drain them off on a paper towel (kitchen roll).
  2. Whilst potatoes and eggs are boiling, chop the celery and green onions, you can make them as thin or chunky as you like, I tend to go for a inbetween the two of thin and chunky.
  3. Whilst your potatoes and eggs are cooling off/down, its time to make the dressing! Mix together the vinegar, mayonnaise, mustard, relish, and sugar.
  4. Cut your eggs up and potatoes up and then add in the lardons and chopped celery and green onions(and cheese if using).  Now to add on the dressing to make it saucy.  Mix until everything is well combined and coated.
  5. Add in salt and pepper to taste.

Enjoy!

Southern Style Potato Salad

This is the final product looks like this and let me assure it tastes fantastically better than it looks! I was trying to take pictures as I went but I was making three things at the same time and kind of forgot, focusing on the sweet stuff instead.

The potato salad was a hit with kids and adults a like and really it has bacon in, whats not to like?

Remember to share with friends and enjoy!

 

Going Dutch

In June last year, Britain voted to leave the EU, this is officially known as Brexit.  I am what is officially known as a ‘remoaner’, this is a person who voted remain (in the EU) and now moans constantly about Brexit (and about all the people who voted to leave).

After the Brexit vote last year, the decision was made to leave to remain.  I am leaving England to move to the Netherlands. ie to remain in the EU. This has been in the planning stage for roughly a year, which really talking about it for about ten months and slow action starting in the 11th month and the 12th month and moving date is close and now panic is on the horizon.

I did a 24 hour jaunt in Amsterdam this week to look at houses.  I have an adorable estate broker who is managing it all, which makes a massive difference and equally means I could just show up for 24 hours and look at 12 houses and make a decision on the day. A house was found on the outskirts of Amsterdam, which to say Im in love with it is a complete understatement. Negotiations have now begun with the landlord to sort out all the details. In a ideal world, the keys will be handed over on or around the 1st of August.

Moving really upsets my inner hoarder, Im getting rid of a LOT. Why have 1 of anything when I can have 12?!?! Its my inner American really but it still makes getting rid of anything a real inner battle.

Why the Netherlands? Ive lived there as an exchange student 1999-2000 and now speak the language very badly, I kid you not but apparently being able to do it with confidence makes the difference.

I often have the itch to move, every five or so years Im determined its time to get up and go, so I think this move is what I need. Given that Ive been in England for over 15 years and have a visa to Australia that has long expired and never used. Am I excited? No, actually Im (not so) silently mortified. I worry about the basics, like finding a job similar to the one I do now and having a similar income.

I recently read Dutched Up!: Rocking the Clogs Expat Style as a primer for moving.  Whilst it made it giggle on several levels, it also worked as a reminder of the issues I am very likely to have as a expat. I am looking forward to it, once I am settled in my ideal dream rental with a job that suits me on a bike doing it all dutch style.  

T minus 1 month to the move. The idea is to be completely moved and settled in the Netherlands by the end of August 2017.