The ultimate 6 hour pasta sauce

I am one of these unfortunate people who is unable to cook for less than 4-6 people, ever. I almost find it impossible to cook for one or two, I always start out with the best of intentions and then have enough food for 4-6 people. This is ultimately what I love about this recipe, it makes enough to feed 10-12 people, which means I freeze it and multiple dinners are sorted. Being a southerner means I like things that go low and slow and this recipe ticks the box, you cook it low and slow for 6 hours and allow the flavours to develop. Ive been making this recipe for years and its great on cold evenings when you want something hearty and flavourful to beat the cold or a Dutch summers evening when you’re wondering how its cold and yet almost July.

Doing some research for this post, I came across the following definitions for sauces.

  • A marinara sauce is a simple tomato based sauce with no meat.
  • Bolognese sauce is a meat-based sauce originating from Bologna, Italy.
  • Pasta sauce is any sauce that is put on pasta.

I think this recipe/sauce falls under the category of Bolognese but isn’t made in the traditional way.

My nana recently asked for this recipe and my response was ‘Throw stuff in a pan and let simmer for 6 hours’, needless to say this wasn’t the response she wanted. It encouraged me to put create a proper recipe for something thats been in my head for years.

The ultimate 6 hour pasta sauce

Makes: 8-12 portions Prep time: 20-30 mins Cook time: 5-6 hours Total time: 6 hrs 30 mins

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Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1lb/500g minced beef
  • 8 small carrots
  • 3 bell peppers (I used red, yellow and green, use different colours as it gives better presentation)
  • 1 large onion
  • 250g/.5lb button mushrooms
  • 250g/.5lb cherry tomatoes
  • 1 X 400g/14oz tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 X 68g/2.3oz tin of tomato puree
  • 1 X 500g/17.6oz box of Passata
  • 3 tablespoons tomato ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 beef bouillon cubes
  • 1 tiny bottle 250ml/1cup red wine
  • 1-2 tablespoons pureed garlic
  • 3 tablespoons mixed herbs/italian seasoning
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Now to make this utterly amazing low and slow sauce:

1. Grate your carrots and chop the rest of your vegetables. The great part of this recipe is if there is another vegetable that you love or have excess of, throw it into this recipe. Ive also used leek and zucchini and they tasted great.

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2. In a very large sauce pan, add in your oil olive, grated garlic and chopped onion, sauté until soft, approximately 3-5 minutes.

3. Once your garlic and onions have softened, add in the minced beef and cook until browned, breaking up the beef. Once it has browned, remove all of the excess liquid and fat, I used a strainer (bad photo) but you want to get rid of moisture element.

4. Return the beef, onion and garlic mixture back to the pan and turn the pan on high for approximately a minute.  You will hear it sizzling, this is a good thing. Now add in your wine, this will deglaze the pan, taking all the flavour from the bottom of the pan and putting it in the mixture, stir thoroughly.

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5. Now to start adding in all the stuff that makes it a sauce. Add in tinned tomatoes, passata, tomato puree and herbs, stir well. Add in the tomato ketchup and brown sugar. The brown sugar helps to take away from the acidity of the tomatoes.

6. Now to add in the vegetables, quite literally just chuck them all in and stir.

7. Mix your 2 beef bouillon cubes with 2 cup of boiling water and stir until the cubes have dissolved. Pour this mixture into the sauce, this should basically now fill your pot. (This is the excitement on my face of realising its only 6 hours to go and then the sauce will be done!)

8. Bring your sauce to a rolling boil and then turn it down and allow it to very slowly simmer for 6 hours, stirring it every 30-60 mins. You will see it slowly reducing and I guess its more than half a pan full when its done. It will be between 1/2 to 2/3 of the pan when its simmered down, you want a really thick sauce with not much liquid, you dont want it runny basically. Taste it at this stage (making sure you dont burn your tongue) and add salt and pepper to taste. (Im not going to lie, I was running short on time and only did this one for 5 hours but honestly I could tell a difference, there was a lot of liquid on the plate when I dished it up and it really needed that extra hour)

This can be served with any pasta that you like or just with bread, to dip the bread in (Im also a big fan of this). It freezes really well, allow it to defrost 24 hours before reheating.

Yes, it takes a LOT of time initially, however, it tastes really delicious, your house smells really amazing and makes enough so that you dont have to make it regularly.

Edits: If you dont like wine or chose not to cook with wine, replace the wine with beef stock or beef bouillon. Honestly, the wine gives it a richness that cant be replaced. I hate wine, I dont drink it (it gives me bad headaches almost instantly) but I absolutely would not leave it out of this recipe, thats what a taste difference it makes.  You can also it more tomato rich by doubling the puree, passata and tinned tomatoes if you like, then half the beef bouillon that you use.

Remember to eat on a cold evening to warm yourself up and enjoy! 🙂 

 

Gluten Free Rum Raisin Carrot Cake

I recently discovered I am married to my job, Ive been doing crazy hours and I have actively started getting into my office for 6:20 each morning. Sometimes you have a realisation and realise its not for fun or giggles and that if I want to be married, it shouldn’t be to the corporate world.  However, this also means that my time is taken up working and not blogging, although I still make time to bake for work each week.

Someone recently asked me why I dont take ‘pretty pictures’ of the food that I make, I laughed. I replied,’ for the same reason that I dont take pretty selfies, I know Im pretty and more importantly I know that my food tastes amazing.’ Theres nothing worse than seeing pretty food and tasting it and it having no flavour or substance. So you get less than pretty pictures and tutorials of food that is tried, tested and tasted and approved not only by me but also by my colleagues who are my guinea pigs or as they tell me in Dutch ‘proefkonijns’, which literally translate into ‘experiment bunnies’. This is what I love about the Dutch language, it doesn’t translate literally very well.

One of my favourite spirits in Rum, we are really good friends (probably too good) and what I like about Rum most is that it doesn’t give me hangovers (for the win!). When I came across this recipe, I knew I wanted to try it and improve it.  There is no rum taste in the cake, as its all cooked out, which actually felt like a let down and honestly I think Id make it alcohol free next time (and just drink the rum instead) and substitute orange juice instead for a more citrus taste.

Gluten Free Rum Raisin Carrot Cake

Makes: 16-20 portions   Prep time: 20-30 mins Bake time: 30-60 mins Total time: 90 mins

Ingredients:

  • 3 tbsp pine nuts
  • 2 (200-250g) medium carrots
  • 1/3C (75g) raisins
  • 1/4 C (60ml) rum (or use orange juice)
  • 3/4C (150g) caster sugar
  • 1/2C (125ml) regular olive oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 C (250g) ground almonds
  • 2 tsps ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg, or to taste
  • ½ lemon, finely grated zest and juice (optional – I left it out, mostly because I didnt have a lemon on hand)

Now to make this yummy gluten free cake:

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Line the base of a 9in round springform cake tin with re-usable non-stick silicone liner or baking parchment and grease the sides with olive oil. I used a silicone pan and made my own life easier 🙂

2. Toast the pine nuts by browning them in a dry frying pan, watch them to ensure that they do not burn. This will take approximately 3-5 minutes. Set aside. (clearly I did a lot more than the 3 tbsps as I was roasting for multiple recipes)

3. Grate the carrots with a coarse grater (sadly my processor is broken but if you have one, use it), then sit them on a double layer of kitchen paper and wrap them kind of wringing them out to soak up excess liquid. Set aside.

4. Place the raisins in a small saucepan with the rum, bring to the boil, then turn down and simmer for 3 minutes.

5. Whisk the sugar and oil until creamily and airily mixed. Add in the vanilla extract and eggs, whisking well, fold in the ground almonds, nutmeg, grated carrots, raisins (with any rum that clings to them) and the lemon zest and juice (which I left out).

6. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan and smooth the surface. Sprinkle the toasted pine nuts over the cake (I also threw on some chopped pecans because I had them and well, why not?) and bake it for 30–40 minutes, or until the top is risen and golden and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out sticky but more or less clean.

7. Turn out on a wire rack and allow to cool completely. Cut into slices, store in a air tight container and ideally should be consumed within three (3) days.

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I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised with this cake. Normally almond meal can be a bit grainy in texture but it wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated. My colleagues really enjoyed it, even though it didnt taste of rum.

Remember to share with friends (or colleagues) and enjoy! 🙂

Guacamole – not vampire friendly

Warning: if you are a vampire or allergic to garlic, this recipe is not for you 🙂

Up until about three years ago, I was really not avocado friendly, at all. I saw them as green grenades and to be avoided as though my life depended on it. As you get older your tastes change and I think this is one of the things that Im now ‘ok’ with, although it has been a process. Having been on high protein and fat diet, made avocados on the top of my list for ‘good for you foods’, so I put on my big girls pants and decided to try to eat them more regularly. Its not all been green bliss but I have made some unique things with them, like avocado brownies (being honest, I really didn’t like them).

I came across inspired taste recipe not long ago and thought, ‘wow, this is a great base, how can I make it even better?’. I came up with a few ideas which I will share with you and will elevate your ‘guac’ to a whole new level and make it good for you! This will be your new go to recipe for guac, whether it be for snacks, a side dish or as part of your main meal!

I am a fan of garlic and have even used it for ear aches (add that to the list of things I never thought I’d do in the NLs). Through roasting garlic roast the flavour becomes a bit sweeter and more mild. Garlic contains powerful phytochemicals and nutrients, which  help fight off disease, including potent anti-cancer compounds, immune-strengthening molecules and heart disease-preventing antioxidants.

This this is easy but time consuming, its not a matter of throw it all in a bowl and in less than 5 minutes you have guac. Oh no, this recipe is for those who want a unique flavour sensation guacamole!

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Guacamole 

Makes: enough for 4-6 people   Prep time: 40 mins  Make time: 20 mins per batch  Total time: 1 hour

Required Ingredients:

  • 6 small ripe Haas avocados
  • 1 Plum or Roma tomato, deseeded and diced
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 1/4 cup finely minced onion (red onion also works) – deflamed
  • 1 lime – juiced
  • 1/2 lemon – juiced
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon curry powder – medium
  • 1/4 teaspoon chilli powder – hot

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Prep:

Preheat over to 180C (350F). First you need to roast your garlic, this involves cutting off the top of the garlic (approx 1/4 in) so that you see the top of your garlic bulbs. Place the garlic head in the middle of a piece aluminium foil and drizzle over your 1 teaspoon of olive oil. Wrap the foil around the garlic and bake for 40 minutes. Allow your garlic to cool once roasted (around15-20 minutes) before handling, otherwise you are likely to burn yourself. Warning: roasting garlic will fill your house with the delicious smell of garlic.

Whilst your garlic is in the oven, put your minced onion in a bowl of water, this will remove the ‘flame’, ie the heat that you often get raw onions. This can be done for a minimum of 10 mins or the entire time the garlic is in the oven. Sieve out the water once deflamed.

You need to deseed and dice your tomato, this is done by taking out the middle of the tomato, the seeds and ‘watery’ bit of the tomato (left side of picture below) and then dicing it finely.

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Now to make this truly garlicy yummy guac!

1. Cut the avocados in half and remove seed (with a spoon or knife). Score the inside of the avocado with a spoon and scoop out the flesh into a bowl. Add in your juices, I risked it and just squeezed them in and then spent 3 minutes telling myself off whilst trying to fish out lemon seeds.

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2. Using a fork or potato masher (I find this easier), roughly mash the avocado. Guacamole should be chunky but this gives you the opportunity to make it as smooth or chunky as you like.

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3. Add in all your spices, diced tomato, deflamed onion, and squeeze in your garlic. I literally take my garlic and squeeze, you’ll see the bulbs coming out, in all their roasted glory.

4. Give it a stir and you’ve now completed your tasty guacamole. I suggest you take a taste at this point and see if it matches your taste buds, does it need more salt, pepper, or chilli? If so, add it in and see how it tastes.

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Serve immediately, I enjoyed it with homemade beef nachos and it was truly tasty. If you are not eating it immediately, plus cling film (plastic wrap) on the surface of the guacamole  to prevent air reaching it and refrigerate until ready to serve. If you do not put the cling film on the surface of the guac, the oxygen in the air causes oxidation which will turn the guacamole brown and lets be honest, no one likes brown guac!

 

Notes: Im really not a fan of hot or spicy food at all, AT ALL, if you want a hotter version of this recipe, feel free to add diced jalapeños (with or without the seeds) or up the powdered chilli/curry element to 1/2-1teaspoon of each. I found this with a bit of sour cream (staple in my life) worked well and wasnt an assault on the tongue.

I am also not a fan of cilantro, pieces of green sticking between my teeth? No thank you. The taste also annoys me, I know its a usual ingredient in guacamole but I leave it out! However, if you are a member of the cilantro fan club, please add in as little or much as you like.

Enjoy this yourself, serve at a dinner party or share with friends! 🙂

No Bake Granola Bars

I love a good granola bar but I really dont love having to pay around the €2 mark for one that looks unappealing and tastes like cardboard. I use to bulk buy them from Costco (being honest, I shipped over with me around 60 Protein Natures Valley bars but Im kind of over them) but I dont have the option to buy more once they are gone and theres a sense of accomplishment in being able to make your own. This is my go to recipe, that Ive made successfully (yah!) and not so successfully (damn you oven, burning my oats rather than roasting them – ok maybe I got carried away multi tasking and forgot them).

This recipes makes super thick bars, which are VERY yummy.  It also requires a lot of prep work but is well worth it and the best thing about this recipe? You can change it to suit your taste, as per the notes at the bottom. Take out ingredients that you dont like (or don’t have in the cupboard) and add in things that you do love (or have in your cupboard). You can take out of the chocolate (remember that life is SO much better with chocolate) or you can drizzle melted white and milk chocolate over the top (refer to previous statement). If you dont fancy feeding your neighbour, cut the recipe in half or if you want to feed your colleagues, local school and fellow passengers on your flight, double the recipe!

These are technically roasted no bake granola bars, all of which will become clear below.

No Bake Granola Bars 

Makes: 20+ bars (makes 9X13 pan)   Prep time: 15 mins Make time: 10 mins   Total time: 25 mins

Required Ingredients:

  • 4 cups (360g) old fashioned oats
  • 2 C (50g) rice crispy cereal
  • 1/2 C (50g) shredded coconut
  • 1/2 C (125g) butter
  • 1/2 C (170g) honey
  • 1 C (200g) brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 C (120g) dried cranberries
  • 1 C (150g) raisins
  • 1 C (190g) dried mango
  • 1 C (190g) dried apricots
  • 2 C (350g) semi sweet chocolate
  • Wax / Baking paper

Now to be converted to these home made granola bars!

1. Take your oats and roast them in the oven for roughly 15 mins at 180C/350F, turning them every 5 mins.  Simply pour them into a pan/cookie sheet (dont grease the pan) and let them do their roasting thing. (Instant oats is seriously not a thing in Europe and as is a specific no bake recipe, you really dont want crunchy oats – tried, tested and was NOT a win). After 5 mins, you will notice the edges starting to brown and the smell of oats.  Start to turn the oats, pulling them in from the edges and putting them to the middle. Remember to keep an eye on them and not to let them burn.

2. Whilst your oats are toasting, dice up your fruit and set to the side.

3. Once oats have cooled,  in a large mixing bowl, mix together the oats, cereal and coconut.

4. In a saucepan melt the honey, butter,  brown sugar, and salt together.  Stir together then leave it alone as it comes to a boil. Once the boil has reached all the way around the edges of the pan, begin timing.  Allow this mixture to boil for a minimum of 2 minutes and 15 seconds.  During this time, you will most likely need to turn the heat down, so it doesn’t overflow, but be sure it keeps boiling.  In short, let the mixture boil no less than 2 mins 15 seconds but its ok if you boil it longer, I normally do, try to avoid it boiling for longer than 5 mins.

5. Whilst your honey butter mixture is boiling, melt your chocolate, I blast it in the microwave 30 secs a go, stirring in between blasts until you can stir is smooth. Take your pan, put a layer of wax paper in it (or baking paper as its called in the UK), then put the melted chocolate in the bottom of the pan.  You dont have to use chocolate in this recipe at all, however, I find it a good ‘glue’ to help hold the bars together.  Smooth over the chocolate to an even layer in the pan.

6. Remove your honey butter mixture from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Pour the mixture over the oats, using a rubber spatula to get all the sugar mixture out of the pan.  Mix the ingredients together until the oats are completely coated.  Add in the chopped fruit and mix well, to ensure honey butter mixture coats all.

7. Pour the mixture and press very firmly into your pan.

8. Now for my stoke of genius (doesn’t happen often but this was a good one!).  Cover the top of the bars with another layer of wax paper and use a can/tin of something (I used beans) and press down the mixture. I went over the pan about 5 or 6 times, ensuring to go over the entire size of the pan.  This gives the pressure required to ensure that the bars dont fall apart when you go to eat them. You’ll need to press down the edges of the pan with your fingers, as the roundness of the can/tin means that it doesn’t go right up to the corners. You will visibly be able to see the the mixtures has been presses down more than just with your hands.

9. Place them in the fridge for 2 hours then cut to size.  I tend to leave mine in the fridge for a couple of hours, because I have other things going on and like the idea of leaving things and dealing with them later.  If you dont use chocolate on the bottom, leave them in the fridge 30 mins instead, as the chocolate will not need to set up.

 

*Notes: you can mix and match this recipe and the ‘add ons’ as much as you like, you will always need the honey butter mixture (not to be altered) but you here are a few things you can add in or change out to make this recipe EVEN better: 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ginger or nutmeg, peanut butter chips, chocolate chips, 1 cup of American peanut butter to the honey butter mixture, 1 cup diced maraschino cherry, or candied peel.

* For a extra touch toast off your coconut for added flavour!

*Should your granola bars fall apart (this has happened to me), dont throw it away but use it as cereal instead, a yummy breakfast treat.

Remember to share with friends and enjoy! 🙂 

DIY Chocolate Cake Lip Balm

So I came across a recipe that combines chocolate with lip balm, hooray! I mean really, who doesn’t love chocolate? So naturally I decided to adapt it to fit me and I have to say its been a success! I found out that my lip balms were quite soft (VERY soft), in my adaptation Ive added in more beeswax.

Chocolate lip balm

DIY Chocolate Cake Lip Balm

Makes: 12 lip balms Making time: 1 hour  Dry time: 24 hours minimum Overall time: 25 hours

  • 4 1/2 teaspoons grated beeswax or beeswax pellets
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon almond oil
  • 1tablespoon cocoa butter (grated)
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon vitamin E oil,
  • 1/8 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract

1.  Over  a ban marie or double boiler (or cheat like I do and use a Pyrex jug in a pan with water) add the beeswax, coconut oil, almond oil, and cocoa butter in a small heat proof bowl. Bring the water to the boil and then allow to simmer, stirring mixture until just melted.

2. Whilst your oils and butter are melting together, get your lip balm containers ready. I find it easy to use 5-8 and wrap a rubber band (loom bands work perfectly) around them, this stops them falling over when filling them. I also like to put them in a small plastic container, so that if there is any spillage, its contained. I find it easier to use my Pyrex jug making lip balm, as the spout on the jug allows for easy pouring.20171024_164914

3.  Once fully melted, turn off heat and take container out of the pan. Stir in the honey, cocoa powder, vitamin e oil, almond and vanilla extract. Make sure all ingredients are fully mixed and even. Be quick and mix well!

4. Pour the mixture into the lip balm tubes and allow to cool completely. Do NOT pour all of the mixture into the tubes (leave 1-2 teaspoons spare). After you have poured two, stir the mixture again, do this until you’ve filled all your tubes (this is important!!! With mine I just poured the mixture and was basically left with just cocoa and honey at the bottom of my pyrex jug, this wasn’t what I wanted). As your mixture cools, A (small) depression will form in the center, use the spare balm that you didn’t use to fill this in, leaving a even finish. Simply reheat the leftover balm and add it to the tubes. Allow your lip balms to set over night.

Technically now you are done with your lip balm, HORRAY.  However, I decided to take it a step further and created the labels for the tubes. I had a few glossy adhesive sheets, which were perfect for this! I thought this would be easy, sadly it wasn’t as straight forward as I wanted and I ended up having a fight with Word. (Be sure to clean the outside of your tubes before applying the labels! You will have drips and this will affect the adhesion!)

So here are a few resources that I found and were SUPER helpful (ish). Whilst I dont sell my products I still want to present them in a professional way. Labeling Your Products : Lip Balm gives great advice on how to create labels that meet a USA legal standard, even offering a free downloadable template. I wasn’t sure how to even create a template, as I wanted mine to be unique and this free template was the right size for small lip balm tubes. I tried using it but Word and I started getting into a fight and my images were shifting and yeah… In the end I measured my tubes, length and width (kind of guessed here) and then went into word, made four columns, sized them accurately for the tube and went from there. Oh and if you didnt know, you can get all kinds of great royalty free photos at Pixabay, a great selection you can use across all your crafts!20171024_222052

Im really pleased with the results. I also put mine in the refrigerator overnight to set but honestly, it wasn’t necessary. The top of my lip balms were cocoa and honey, which tastes great but it is a bit weird at first, luckily it was used by the first 3 uses. This lip does go on clear but if you wipe at your mouth you will see a slight brown tint but no one would know you were wearing chocolate cake lip balm. 🙂

Notes: You can change this to White Chocolate by using white chocolate drink POWDER instead of cocoa powder. Additionally you can add in flavours if you want to by replacing them with the almond extract, which is what Im planning on doing next. Ill update with my next lip balm creation.

I bought my lip balm tubes on ebay but they can be found a variety of different stores.

Remember to share with friends! 🙂

Pear Butter

Have you ever heard of Apple Butter? No? Im not surprised, its a proper southern American delicacy. Its like a spice filled applesauce, no actual butter in it, that you spread on toast. The name comes from its smooth and butter like texture. Its really nice and English people didn’t really get it and used it as more of a sauce on over ice cream, which also works really well.

I have had a load of pears and I figured, as Ive been subbing them out for everything else apple related, why not try out pear butter too? What I realised in the tasting stage? If you like the graininess of pears, this is absolutely for you, if you prefer the smoothness of apples, this recipe is not for you.

Pear Butter

Makes: Just 2 – 320g jars and 1 720g jar Prep time: 10 mins  Cook time: 2.5 hours  Total time: 2 hours 40 mins minimum

  • 2 kilos of pears – cored and put into quarters or chunks
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 2 cups sugar – I used 1 cup normal and 1 cup brown
  • 2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon mixed spice
  • 1 lemon (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla paste (optional)

Now how to make this uniquely southern spread:

1. Combine all ingredients in a large pan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring occasionally, until the pears are soft, roughly 20-30 minutes. At first you will think there isn’t enough liquid but once the pears start to break down, they will release liquid, which will get you to the final picture.

2. Transfer pear mixture to a food processor (or you can use an immersion blender) and purée just until a uniform texture is achieved.

 

3. Return your pear mixture to the pan and reduce the heat to low and cook low and slow for 1.5-2 hours, stirring frequently to prevent sticking (and burning) until the mixture is very thick. The idea is that you cook out the natural water in the fruit and turn this into a thick spread.20171006_201628.jpg

4. At the last 30 mins of cooking, you need to sterilise your jars so that they are ready when your pear butter is. I put mine in the oven at 90-100C until the jam was ready. The lids you will need put in a large mug or pyrex bowl and cover with boiling water.

5. Pour the pear butter into hot sterilised jars and cover with the hot lid. (BE CAREFUL, EVERYTHING IS HOT!) As the jars cool, you will hear the lids popping from the pressure, which is a good thing. You want them to be complete sealed and closed. I used a soup ladle to pour into the jars and jam funnel but a normal funnel will also work.

Enjoy on buttered toast (the southern American way) or have it ice cream or rice pudding (the English way). I had literally just enough left in the pan to cover some caramel pecan ice cream, it worked VERY well!

Remember to share with friends and enjoy!

Notes: Any time I put things in jars, I also use wax discs to cover the contents, Im not really sure why I do but its a habit I cant get out of. You dont have to do it but you are more than welcome to join in paranoia about using them.

You can peel the pears if you prefer but I think there are great nutrients in the peel.

If you don’t want to bother with canning, just freeze the apple butter in quantities that you can use within a week. Remove from freezer as needed and allow to thaw in the refrigerator.

Comforting Spice Jam

Following on with my pear theme (please bear with me (AHHHHH, a bear is with me!) as I make my way through my pear recipes, I have gone through kilos of pears, thank you tree!) I decided to make a pear jam. I didn’t want a jam that you eat and think ‘yeah thats pears’, I wanted something that was different, completely yummy and comforting, like  soul food jam! It makes your kitchen/house smell fantastically wonderful as its cooking. (Ive been told a few times my house smells like Christmas when I make these kinds of things)

First let me tell you about my search for jars! Mason jars are everywhere here, apparently they are trendy but equally they are EXPENSIVE! So my technique in the UK was to buy super cheap jam, throw out the jam (seriously, I rarely ate it) and keep the jar, I think I was paying like 18-20p and then I was keeping all my various jars from other food based items. When I moved all the glass was recycled and not brought over, glass is heavy (yo), even when empty and takes up space! And if I can get cheap jars in a country thats not overly keen on recycling, no reason to think I couldn’t get even cheaper glass jars in the NLs… I couldn’t have been more wrong! So my hunt for cheap glass jars started, cheap jam does NOT exist here, so thats out… what else can I find cheap? Imagine me stalking up and down the isles of Albert Heijn like a cheetah on the prowl, comparing prices, picking up jars, putting them down, putting them in my basket, taking them out, Im not kidding when I say this went on for over an hour.  I then decided to try Lidl, I mean they do cheap jam, right? Oh hell no… The verdict? Sweet onions… AH Basic Silverskin Onions at 45 cent, this is also Lidls cheapest product (silverskin onions) at the same price for a 320g jar… The next winner is AH Basic Apple Sauce at 49 cent for a 720g jar.

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45 cent for a jar isn’t a great price considering what I use to get, so I checked online and unless I wanted to buy a minimum of 200 jars at a time it wasn’t really comparable in price. 1 problem solved but another one created, do you know what stinks and I mean STINKS of silverskin onions? The lids which are on the silverskin onion jars! If you’re going to join me down this crazy cheap jar path, prepare to make your dishwasher stink and buy quite a lot baking soda! So the answer is to neutralise the onion smell with baking soda, you can either make a very thick paste with water and baking soda and leave it for a few hours or sprinkle (liberally) baking soda into the lid and leave over night.  I still didn’t quite get the entire smell out but Im secretly hoping no one will notice and it will soak up my spice smell instead…. One can hope and dream…

I came across this amazing recipe, which called for apples and I changed it up and made it my own, giddy up! This jam is great for you, your loved ones, friends, family, neighbours and makes a great gift!

Comforting Spice Jam

Makes: Just over 4 320g jars but possibly more  Prep time: 15 mins  Cook time: 2 hours  Total time: 2 hours 15 mins minimum, I did it over 2 days.

Required Ingredients:

  • 3 kilos of pears
  • 4-5 cinnamon sticks
  • a thumb of ginger (4-8 cm long) peeled
  • Juice and peel of 1 lemon
  • Teaspoon of nutmeg (you can even substitute Mixed Spice if you prefer)
  • peel of 1 orange
  • 1.35kgs jam sugar (Van Gil­se Ge­lei­sui­ker) – and yes, it is a lot!
  • 300ml apple cider vinegar
  • Handful of cloves

*My jam didn’t come as clear as the original recipe, as I used grated/ground spices, which darkens the jam, if you want a clear jam, you will need to use whole spices in their original form that aren’t grated/ground.

Now how to make this soul warming jam/jelly:

1. Peel your orange and lemon and orange, I just use a peeler as you can see. Juice the lemon. I didn’t use the orange juice, as I thought it would take away from the flavour if you’re being adventurous, go for it!

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2. Wash your pears and cut them into quarters or chunks, it doesn’t matter. You dont need to peel them or core them, pectin is in the fruit and flavour is in the core.

3. Chuck literally everything into the pan. It looks pretty and you can already get a hint the amazing smell its going to give as it cooks. Cover with 1.2 litres of water. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down and simmer on low with a lid on for 90 mins.

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This is what the mixture looks like after 90 mins of cooking, looks mushy!20171003_210604.jpg

4. Pour your pear spice mixture in a colander lined with a muslin or a J-cloth (which I used), suspended over a large bowl. Leave to drip for a minimum of 2 hrs (until it stops dripping) or overnight (this is what I did). Do not push the liquid though the sieve or your jam will become cloudy and potentially you could push through fruit pulp which would also change the consistency of the jam.

Be careful when pouring, the liquid is super hot and your cloth may want to escape.  When I started to pour into the j-cloth, it feel over and into the liquid meaning it wasnt sieving at all, 4 hands is kind of better than 2 with the pouring, to ensure no ‘accidents’ like mine.

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The hang to drip thing was never really going to work for me, if it wasn’t for bad luck, Id have no luck at all, and honestly I didn’t fancy pear spice juice all over my kitchen. I made a new plan a which involved 2 bowls instead of 1. I poured the majority of the pear spice juice over/into the largest bowl first. 20171003_211307

I was then only left with what was left in the fruit. I then put this over a much smaller bowl and left over night to ‘drip’ into the bowl. The liquid that came out of this was practically crystal clear. I then combined the juices from the two bowls and went to the next step.

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5. Before you start turning your juice into jam, you need to sterilise your jars so that they are ready when your jam is.  I put mine in the oven at 90-100C until the jam was ready. The lids you will need put in a large mug or pyrex bowl and cover with boiling water.

6. At this stage I had roughly 1.8 litres. Pour the liquid into a large pan along with the jam sugar and vinegar (at this stage I completely BALLS it up and my maths completely and utterly failed me and I added WAY to much vinegar but in the end it worked, horay).

Start on a low heat to dissolve the sugar, stirring constantly. Once dissolved, turn up the heat to high and bring to the boil. Boil rapidly for 15 mins, or until setting point is reached, skimming away any scum that rises to the surface. If you have a thermometer, you will need it! It helps dramatically when making these kinds of things.

This is me skimming away the ‘scum’.

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You will see the colour of the liquid change too, from a clear to a more red colour, this may have also just been a one off for me, as I had to boil it off for so long. Normally this will take 15 mins at a rolling boil. You must watch your mixture, as it will boil and bubble up the pan, if it looks like its going to go over the side of the pan, turn the heat down slightly. Quite simply, try not to cover your hob in jam like I did.

My maths was SOOOO off that I added WAYYY too much vinegar, that I ended up having to boil most of it off which took well over an hour!!! An hour of me swearing quite profusely at the jam and vinegar but clearly never at myself…

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7. Pour the jelly into hot sterilised jars and cover with the hot lid. (BE CAREFUL, EVERYTHING IS HOT!) Allow to set overnight. As the jars cool, you will hear the lids popping from the pressure, which is a good thing. You want them to be complete sealed and closed. I used a soup ladle to pour into the jars and jam funnel but a normal funnel will also work. Its always better to have more jars than you need rather than not enough jars. From all the boiling you can see that my juice reduce probably 5/7ths from the original juice, damn my math skills!

If you have a clear(er) liquid than I do, at the pouring into the jar stage you can add in spices to make it pretty, such as cloves, star-anise, or even cinnamon sticks.

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Finished product! Now just to give them to friends and family and how they dont question the onion smelling lid!

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Remember to share with friends and enjoy (they will love you for it)!

Notes: Being an American, having lived in the UK and now in the Netherlands, means that Im always confused with the English language, I should technically be calling this recipe jelly but after 17 years in England, I call it jam instead. In the UK American Jelly is called Jam, in the UK jelly is the American version of Jello, confused? Yeah, thats me constantly!

 

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

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.

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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.

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Your mixture should look something like this.banana flapjacks.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!

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.

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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!