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Crunchy Chocolate and Peanut cupcakes

Here’s a delicious recipe for crunchy chocolate and peanut cupcakes. Our wonderful baking bookkeeper, Jo B, produced these cracking cupcakes for our member of staff Maggie, who was celebrating her birthday!

Makes 12

For the cakes:

  • 125g butter
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs, large
  • 125g of self-raising flour, sifted
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 75g milk chocolate chips

For the frosting:

  • 100g butter, softened
  • 160g smooth peanut butter (nice with almond butter too)
  • 60g icing sugar, sifted
  • 21/2 tbsp milk
  1. Preheat the oven to 170˚C/150˚C fan /gas mark 3 and line a 12 hole muffin tin with paper cases. For the cakes, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and eggs then beat well until thoroughly combined. Add the flour and milk and mix until smooth and fully incorporated.
  2. Fold the chocolate chips into the cake mixture then divide equally between the paper cases. Bake for 18-20 mins or until firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove from the tins and place on a wire rack to cool.
  3. For the frosting, beat the butter and peanut butter together until smooth and fluffy. Add the icing sugar and milk and beat together slowly until combined then beat a little faster until soft
  4. Now make the honeycomb which, by the way, could be used in ice cream or just gobbled by grandchildren!
  5. 200g caster sugar, 4 tablespoons golden syrup, 3 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda and chocolate to melt (optional)
  6. Put sugar and syrup into a pan and bring to the boil. Then gently simmer for 6 minutes. Add the bicarb and mix around quickly because it will immediately begin to fizz.
  7. Pour into a greased tray (the butter wrapper works well if you have one) and leave for 5 minutes, then gently begin prising from the tin. Leave for another 5 minutes and completely remove from tin. Break into pieces and keep in an airtight container.
  8. To clean the pan, add water and bring to the boil and just use the spoon to scrape.
  9. You can then half dip pieces of the honeycomb in chocolate if you wish – indeed I suspect serving just the honeycomb dipped in chocolate could get great granny points for me!

 

 

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Eurovision – love it or hate it!

Copyright: https://eurovision.tv/story/ukraine-is-ready-to-celebrate-diversity-in-2017

There will be much excitement in our household this Saturday as it is Eurovision party night – woo-hoo! Rather like Marmite, Eurovision does tend to divide people into ‘love’ and ‘hate’ camps. I love it!

Yes, most of the music is awful and the costumes bizarre but it is so wonderfully naff and eccentric, I think it is a joy. Terry Wogan was, of course, the master of Eurovision but I have to say that Graham Norton makes a very good job of it too. Must be something about the Irish sense of humour.

The days of other countries voting for the UK seem to be long gone, but the spectacle of it all is still worth watching, not least because so many countries take it so very, very seriously. We Brits, with our ironic sense of humour, are able to take our ‘nul points’ with good grace. However, this year’s UK entrant, Lucie Jones is, apparently ‘one of the favourites’… we shall see!

This year is the 62nd edition (wow!) and it is being held in Kiev in the Ukraine. One of the great things about the show is seeing all the participants backstage laughing and having a wonderful time together with no sign of any divisions or political argument, which has to be a good thing, surely?

And so, we will be getting together with family and any friends potty enough to join us, and cheering and booing and doing our own scoring of the 42 countries taking part… if we can stay awake that long! I have such fond memories of previous Eurovision parties organised by my wonderful Mother. One year, we all dressed up as our designated country (I’m sure someone came as the Eiffel Tower!) while Granny always concentrated on wearing the colours of the French or Italian flags. Ah, such happy memories…

Why not host your own Eurovision party? It’s a great opportunity for silly hats and themed food! Here are some suggestions:

  1. Pizza! Perfect Eurovision fare!

    In tribute to France – garlic bread

  2. For Italy – pizza
  3. German sausage
  4. Some Danish bacon
  5. A few Belgian chocolates to round everything off!

But let’s remember one very important thing – if it wasn’t for this crazy annual music fest, we might never have discovered Abba!! Need I say more?

Five fun Eurovision facts:

  1. Fifty-two countries have participated in the Eurovision Song Contest since it started in 1956. Of these, 25 have won the contest.
  2. The “Euro” in “Eurovision” has no direct connection with the European Union! Several countries outside the boundaries of Europe have competed: Israel, Cyprus and Armenia, in Western Asia, Morocco, in North Africa and Australia making a debut in the 2015 contest! How did that happen?
  3. Ireland has won a record 7 times, Luxembourg, while France and the United Kingdom have won 5 times. Sweden and the Netherlands won 4 times.
  4. Poor old Norway has ended last 9 times! They came last in 1963, 1969, 1974, 1976, 1978, 1981, 1990, 1997 and 2001.
  5. In 1981 the UK act Bucks Fizz stunned viewers with their Velcro rip-away skirts and within 48 hours, Velcro had sold out across the country. Fabulous!
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Homemade bread

I have been making my own soup for years and we have long been thinking we might try making homemade bread to go with the soup – instant homemade lunches!

However this good idea was shelved along with so many others we have, as we got busier and busier. Then whilst at my sister’s house last week we got up one morning to the most amazing smell of bread .. I wondered if she had one of those part-baked loaves in the oven or some frozen croissants, but this really was a very strong scent… enough to raise Richard into an enthusiastic early breakfast!

Kate (my sister) assured us it was real home made bread, courtesy of her bread making machine and it was sitting waiting for us to road test the latest loaf. Cutting a long and delicious story short, it was wonderful and Richard especially, was madly keen as he loves bread and cheese or bread and soup even more than I do.

So courtesy of Amazon we pressed a button and this machine arrived a day or so later. Richard has now taken full control and it is obviously going to be a man thing, a bit like the BBQ. However you will hear no complaints from me – it’s lovely to share the cooking.

We have tried three different recipes this week: a French bread (delicious but a different shape to usual French bread obviously!), a standard white and a 50/50% wholemeal and white and I can honestly say that every crumb has been consumed and little Grace, our granddaughter, gave an enthusiastic thumbs up to the ‘Grandpa’ bread she ate for lunch today.

We chose the Panasonic SD-2511 as that’s what my sister had – seemed easier than choosing a different one and it not being as good. Then all you really need to keep in the cupboard is strong flour, water, salt, dried yeast and a touch of butter. There are plenty of other things you can add but the basics have worked well so far.

I have bought several books on machine bread making and I think we will be trying loaves with delicious little extras like olives or pecan nuts and maple syrup soon. But for now, I think it is unlikely we will bother to buy much regular bread from the supermarket as we just love having it all set on a timer and having that smell of baking bread first thing in the morning.

 

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Quirky museums for Easter holiday fun

The year seems to be galloping by and, tomorrow, it will be April! If you find yourself looking for a way to entertain youngsters during the school holidays, why not try some of the country’s more quirky museums? There are some amazing ones around – have a Google and you’ll see. I’ve picked out a few ‘interesting’ ones that you might like to visit…

(Click on the museum names to visit their websites).

The Dog Collar Museum

Copyright: Leeds Castle.

I absolutely had to include this museum! Leeds Castle (which is in Kent, not Leeds) has a unique collection of historic and fascinating dog collars that is now the largest of its kind on public display anywhere in the world.

The colossal collection of canine neckwear, spanning five centuries, is fun for children and adults alike. There are over 130 rare and valuable collars with the earliest dating back to the late 15th century – a Spanish iron herd mastiff’s collar, which would have been worn for protection against wolves and bears roaming Europe at the time.

Other collars range from 16th-century German iron collars with fearsome spikes to ornate gilt collars of the Baroque period, through to finely-chased nineteenth century silver collars and twentieth century examples fashioned from tyres, beads and plastic.

Museum of Witchcraft and Magic

Copyright: Museum of Witchcraft and Magic.

Located in the picturesque Cornish harbour of Boscastle, this museum was started in 1960 and is now one of the most visited museums in the Westcountry. It claims to have the world’s largest collection of items relating to witchcraft, magic and the occult. Exhibitions change regularly so there’s always something new to see. 2017 boasts an exhibition of ‘poppets, pins and power: the craft of cursing’, which sounds well worth a visit! Being in such a lovely coastal setting, there’s plenty to see and do as well as explore this mysterious museum.

The Bakelite Museum

Copyright: The Bakelite Museum, above, and main header.

Anyone who has clocked up their half century will have come across Bakelite! The first proper plastic, Bakelite was a revolutionary material. It enabled mass-production and was known as ‘the material of a thousand uses’ and, in various guises, was used by everybody. The museum is an enormous collection of vintage plastics, from the earliest experimental materials to 1970s kitsch. It includes Bakelite objects in a huge variety of shapes, colours and functions – radios, telephones, eggcups, musical instruments, toys, tie-presses and even a coffin. There are also domestic and work related things from the Bakelite era, mainly the 1920s to the 1950s, and the whole collection is a nostalgic treat, a vintage wonderland and an educational eye-opener.

The exhibits are displayed in an atmospheric 18th-century watermill, in the heart of the beautiful Somerset countryside between Taunton, Minehead and Bridgewater. Williton Station, on the West Somerset Railway, the longest stretch of restored steam railway in the country, is just a 20-minute walk away. They also serve Somerset cream teas – so what’s not to love about this museum as a great day out!

Gnome World

Copyright: Gnome Reserve.

Yes, really! This north Devon attraction promises ‘a completely unique 100% fun experience, simultaneously 100% ecologically interesting, with an extra 100% wonder and magic mixed in’.

Set between Bideford and Bude, the 1000+ gnomes and pixies reside in a lovely 4 acre-reserve, with woodland, stream, pond, meadow and garden. Visitors will be delighted to learn that gnome hats are loaned free of charge together with fishing rods and you are encouraged to embarrass the family with some truly memorable photos for the family album!

The House of Marbles

Copyright: House of Marbles.

I don’t know why most of these museums are in the Westcountry, I was looking nationwide… goodness knows what it says about those of us that live down here! Anyway, I absolutely must give a final mention to The House of Marbles, here in Bovey Tracey, Devon, owned by some old friends of mine. Whenever you look up unusual museums or great places to visit – the House of Marbles is up there at the top of the list. No less than three museums, an enormous marble run and the chance to see glass being blown, it’s a great place to visit whatever your age. Oh, and it also has a very popular restaurant and great shops!

Have fun!

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Tree-mendous!

Trees are such a familiar part of our countryside that I think we often take them for granted. Not only are trees ‘the lungs’ of our world they are also incredibly beautiful, varied and inspiring. People write poetry about them, paint them and hug them.

I am lucky in that I live quite a rural life and Devon has a reasonable amount of woodland. However, I was somewhat surprised to read that the UK has one of the lowest tree cover rates in Europe, just 13% compared to a European average of 37%.

The Woodland Trust has launched an ambitious plan to plant 64 million trees by 2025 and they want us all to help. They are offering a free pack of seeds containing rowan, dog rose, alder, buckthorn and holly, and it comes with full planting instructions and care advice. What a great idea! They will also offer help and advice as your seedlings germinate and grow.

The seeds they send you will be kept moist with compost to help them germinate. This means it will be harder to tell the different seeds apart when they arrive. If you would like to try and identify the seeds you’re planting you can wash the compost off but then the seeds must be sown immediately. It will be much easier to identify your seedling once it has germinated. To claim your free seed pack click on the link here.

I think this is an absolutely brilliant scheme and the more of us that get involved the better. I will be claiming my pack today.

If you are lucky enough to already have trees in your garden, have you ever considered collecting seeds from them, propagating the seedlings and then either planting more yourself or perhaps giving them away as gifts?

The top four methods for seed collection used on the UK National Tree Seed Project (UKNTSP) are easily remembered through the handy acronym SEED:

Shake tree over a large laid out tarpaulin

Extra-long pole to prune off seeds clusters

Encase branch ends in a cotton fine-meshed bag to collect small wind-dispersed seed

Delicately hand-pick fleshy berries

When collecting seeds it’s best not to collect from the ground, to avoid collecting old seeds from previous years. Never take more than 20% of the seed crop, remember seeds create the next generation of plants and sustain wildlife. There are lots of good reasons to collect seeds and you can read all about it here.

So, the next time you’re out collecting seeds or growing them in your garden, just think of the extraordinary journey their counterparts are on. Heading towards the ultimate goal of ensuring your great-great grandchildren can have the same experience you’re having. The simple yet irreplaceable delights of planting and watching your own seed grow from a tiny speck into a monumental tree.

The Woodland Trust is well worth supporting, and its website is full of interesting facts. Do have a look if you have a moment…

All photos copyright Julia Wherrell. Top illustration – The Woodland Trust.

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