When Helen from The Crazy Kitchen and Susan Mann set a challenge to create a Halloween Gingerbread house, I joined in with the banter on twitter and found myself sucked into participating. Armed with a Tesco Recipe recommended by Helen, I set off to create my masterpiece.
The recipe is very simple and I will use it for gingerbread biscuits for shaping again.
Simply mix the flour, spices and bicarbonate of soda with the melted butter, sugar and syrup
Once mixed, kneed and divide into 6 equal balls. Roll each out to 5mm thick and cut to the shape of your house. I used the Tesco template but you can create your own.
I used roughly crushed boiled sweets for the windows and door and popped it in a medium oven for 8 minutes. I had so much dough left I made a base for my house and some reinforcing beams in case of areas of weakness developing in the assembly! When I took the base out I roughly assembled the cooled house section on the warm base top create a grove in the foundation to help the house stand.
Going against the advise of my tweeting experts who from experience swore by chocolate cake covering, I boldly ploughed on with my own idea of thick butter icing for my cement, largely since I already had all the ingredients to make this! It proved to be very easy to work with and my house came together a treat. It was in retrospect not the best option since it never fully sets and after a few hours of decorating and carrying outside to photograph the roof was beginning to slip!
I rummaged through the trick or treating bags hidden ready for our Coombe Mill Party games on 31st October and came across some Halloween Haribos. This and some red and black icing writing tubes formed my decorations all stuck on with more butter icing. A scarily delicious gooey mess masquerading as a Gingerbread Halloween house!
Do join the gingerbread challenge, link up to the blog hop with your entry and see some of the other amazing creations on display by some truly awesome baking goddesses!
I am also linking up with Tara over at Sticky Fingers where the theme this week is Frightful!
I love this casserole on a chilly winter’s evening. It has a hearty feel to it and fills the kitchen with delicious country cooking smells
thanks to the herbs and amply red wine! It can be made in advance which is perfect when you know you are going to be busy around dinner time or for entertaining when you want to heat a meal that tastes and looks amazing without the stress of having just that minute made it!
You might need a good butcher to find venison. Ideally you want casserole joints like haunch, though if you are feeling extravagant the steaks will work beautifully and need a little less cooking time. Ask for it chopped into chunks if you can as I find the boning the hardest and longest part of the preparation. It is an incredibly lean meat with very little fat yet a rich red meat flavour that works with red wine like apple pie with custard! All quantities are very forgiving so don’t be afraid to add your own twist to my recommendations.
Venison cut into large cube size pieces, I never remember to weigh things to write them down but I am guessing I work on about 2 to 2.5 lbs. This Fed 11 of us easily for dinner with a couple of portions over.
Garlic cloves crushed or chopped
3 large onions
Pack of mushrooms any variety will do
Cup of dried prunes with stones removed
2 tablespoons of redcurrant jelly
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
4 to 5 tablespoons of plain white flour
few sprigs of sage and rosemary. I have these in the garden, but supermarkets have fresh herbs or even dried herbs will do.
About half a bottle of red wine
4 beef oxo cubes
Tin of chopped tomatoes
Brown the meat with the finely chopped herbs and a tablespoon of olive oil, it really does just need a dash
While the meat is browning, fry the bacon and garlic till golden and sticking to the base.
Move the bacon to one side of the pan, add a spoonful of olive oil and fry the onions and mushrooms, gradually working in the bacon and sticky bits from the base of the pan till the onion and mushroom just begin to soften and colour. Remove from the heat.
Place the tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce pepper and crushed oxo cubes to a 1 pint measuring jug. Fill to the top with red wine.
When the meat is sealed turn the heat right down so as not to burn on the base of the pan. Sprinkle in the flour and stir gently on a low heat for 1 minute to coat each piece evenly.
Add the wine mix then the bacon mix and combine. Top up with red wine if it looks too thick.
Place in a preheated oven at 170 for 1 hour.
Remove and stir in the prunes and redcurrant jelly. Top up with red wine if thickening too fast.
Return to the oven and reduce the heat to 150 for a further hour.
We enjoyed ours with roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, roasted vegetables and green vegetables for a family supper with friends.
When I make this recipe for my freezer meals for our guests I add carrots to the casserole and top with a layer of saute potato which then crisps up beautifully on defrosting and reheating whilst preventing the casserole drying out. It is a perfect dish to make in advance or freeze as the more cooking and resting you allow, the more the taste develops.
Country Kids is one this week. When I began a year ago, still in my first year as a blogger, it was beyond my wildest dreams so see so many enjoying posting about their outdoor fun and supporting the whole ethos of outdoor family time, fresh air and rosy cheeks. One year on and I am loving hosting the linky, struggling to choose just one of your posts a month for my Country Kids sun hat, and delighting in reading and learning from what others are doing. Our Happy Birthday mud pie cake was inspired by Laura from The Life and Times of the Working Mum. The light was fading as the triplets rushed to change from school and help with our special cake.
We set off to the river for some squelchy mud armed with spades, hands, a large glass bowl as a mold and a tray. I love this bit, soggy trousers, filthy wellies and mud everywhere but truly happy Country Kids!
We carefully placed the tray on top of the bowl and turned the whole thing over to release a perfectly formed mud cake. The children then delighted in running off round the gardens and meadows and farm hedgerows collecting all the pretty coloured leaves and flowers to decorate their perfectly formed mud pie cake. I do love some of the photos here, I think it is the boys looking angelic with flowers after being caked in mud just a few minutes earlier!
It was a team effort to decorate our cake with all their beautiful findings. We discovered this is such a fantastic time of year for rich vibrant colours. They left a space in the centre to light a tea candle just like a proper birthday cake. The children were so proud of the finished result and rightly so. I was even more proud of the way they supported one another and marvelled over each other’s decorations, rather than squabbling over details and who did the most. I did allow them each a turn at lighting the candle or that would have been sure to have caused ructions!
A round of singing ‘Happy Birthday’ was then in order, some of our guests came to see what we were celebrating and joined in with the singing too, as they had been following Country Kids on the blog news before coming on holiday.
I am delighted to be carrying on into year two with Country Kids and hope you will join me in grabbing the badge and linking up your outdoor family fun. Anywhere from the Country to the City is fine, so long as it involves some fresh air and rosy cheeks. Please try and take a look at a few others here as there are always some great ideas and leave them a comment too.
Last Saturday I had my birthday party. I organised it jointly with another Fiona and with some help from good friends we had the time of our lives. It made me sit back and think, what is it that makes a party really go with a swing, and enjoyable even when you are the host?
We over bought and friends kindly brought a bottle too, but I would rather that than run out any day. People relax and enjoy themselves if the wine is flowing. Farmer Nick was the perfect host all night, no one was left holding an empty glass!
Everyone is hungry when there is a good spread of temping food, and let’s face it you need food when your glass is being topped up all night! I have gone for hot food and cold in the past. This year I decided on cold sliced meats, which I could cook the day before including our very own home cured Parma ham, a whole cooked salmon, baked potatoes, garlic bread and a huge variety of colourful and tasty salads. With around 6 puddings and 2 cheese boards there was plenty to go around and even the children had a chance to come down and tuck in too. On balance I would say this is easier than hot food where you really need to serve people.
We decided on Hollywood glamour. The idea was from the MADs awards night. It gave a focus to decorating our kitchen for the evening and a dress code for the night. I was sorted; my lovely Littlewoods outfit from MADs would have another airing! It doesn’t matter if the theme is sensible or dressing up, a dress code is a talking point and creates the party mood.
I used to think if I was hosting a party then I had to do it all. Now if someone offers I gladly accept. I shared my party jointly with my good friend going by the same name of the same age. We brainstormed the theme together, agreed the invite list and shared out the food. It made a real difference. I also had 2 friends spend all day helping to decorate the room. We really went to town with old Hollywood stars around the room, A Hollywood sign outside and even a red carpet and photo call for everyone as they arrived, which was then projected onto a white sheet for the evening, people always like to have a giggle at photos of themselves. The beautiful baked salmon was also cooked by one of my friends, and anyone who asked if they could bring something I asked for a pudding. No way could I have managed all this alone on a busy changeover day at Coombe Mill!
I have fallen short on this one in the past testing the volume in an empty room and thinking all was well, then rigging up the music on the night only to discover in the throng of people chatting you couldn’t hear anything, no one is going to find their dancing feet if there isn’t a good beat calling them! Think about a good play list too, we had softer music to chat and the start and during the meal, then stepped up into disco music from the 1969-s to today on a random mix. This really worked a treat with everyone guessing the song and the artist and bopping on down regardless.
A silly game, quiz or such like adds fun to the evening. I did some Hollywood style awards with silly little presents for things like best dancer and best dressed man, it was just a bit of fun and providing an excellent way to publically thank those who had helped me. This was the first time I had tried anything like this and I would definitely weave a fun game or something into a party evening again.
Mine are now beyond the age of going to bed before a party starts and love to sneak down and join in too. Provided they are behaving and being charming rather than a nuisance I am happy to encourage this, it helps them develop their social confidence too and realize it is not only them who can enjoy a party! Mine took it upon themselves to raid their wardrobes and the dressing up clothes and improvise to be in theme. They also had a couple of friends round whose parents were here too, so when they were fed up they could all play together upstairs or go to bed (some hope) without moving beyond the charming phase!
Guy and Jed dressed as Humphrey Bogart from the photo behind them! They charmed the guests for the first hour or so then disappeared upstairs as the grownups became boring (loud and under the influence)!
I have spent too many parties in the past worrying about everyone else and just stopping to sit down and chat only to find everyone thanking me and leaving! This time with a combination of all the above factors and the confidence of my lovely dress I enjoyed every minute and had my fill of chat, drink and food!
The next few events are family ones to share with our Coombe Mill guests and friends.
I will be challenging my children and those staying on the 31st October to prepare their houses for trick or treating with dressing up of the house front and the children all part of the fun. This year we are also looking to deck out an old property as a haunted house with some fun inside for the children.
Held this year on November 4th, the evening includes a BBQ with plenty to go round and drinks for all,
the most amazing bonfire which is already in building with of course a Guy Fawkes made by our children and finished with a magnificent firework display thanks to Farmer Nick. It all runs from 4.30 to 6.30 so as to fit in with bed times for our younger visitors. Last Year’s was amazing; this year’s bonfire is going to need some building up in the next week but I know Nick will pull it off again (no pressure)!
For those staying over Christmas we have a lovely open house supper on Christmas Eve. This is a family occasion and starts after the local Church nativity service for as long as people want to stay. I have grand plans to use our new indoor BBQ hut in the garden as a Santa grotto where Farmer Nick will be sizzling sausages. There will be more fun and food in our party kitchen with plenty of Christmas music to excite the children even more!
Our kitchen was humming again at the party last year!
If you are tempted to get away for any of these occasions we do still have some availability and are now taking short breaks too. Come and help me party, and if you can’t be with us, best of luck with your party season, remember relax and enjoy yourself!