Sunday, 8 December 2013

Christmas Baking Recipes - Grannies Christmas Pudding

Today I want to share with you Grannies Christmas Pudding Recipe that we made last year on Stir Up Sunday and the one we used last Christmas and made on Stir Up Sunday which was on the 25th November 2012.

Stir Up Sunday is traditionally the day you make your Christmas Pudding, it is the last Sunday before the season of Advent and this year Stir Up Sunday was the 24th November and the day I started making our Christmas Pudding and Christmas Cake (I was late doing the cake, more on this years cake and pudding to follow)

Stir-up Sunday is an informal term in Anglican churches for the last Sunday before the season of Advent. The term comes from the opening words of the collect for the day in the Book of Common Prayer of 1549 and later (a translation of the Roman Missal's collect "Excita, quæsumus ", now used on the First Sunday of Advent)

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen

Ok history lesson over, in modern times Stir Up Sunday is the day to make your Christmas Pudding and for everyone in the family to take a turn at stirring the Christmas Pudding, whilst making a wish

Before Christmas puddings were sold ready-made in foil containers, they were always made at home. They were made a month before Christmas day so the flavors had plenty of time to develop before Christmas.

This recipe makes 3 puddings of different sizes, as we only needed one pudding for this Christmas, we only used a third of the recipe to make one medium pudding.

Traditional Christmas Pudding 

4oz  Fresh Breadcrumbs
4oz  Plain Flour
1tsp Salt
#2tsp Mixed Spice (Is a traditional English Pudding Spice and can be made here see recipe)
4oz  Shredded Suet (as we couldn't find suet to buy in America so we used butter in it's place)
oz   Caster Sugar
8oz  Soft Brown or Demerara Sugar
8oz  Mixed Peel
12oz Currants
8oz   Sultanas
20oz Raisins
6oz  Chopped Almonds
8oz  Apples, peeled, cored and diced
1 Grated carrot
Grated Rind and Juice of 1 Lemon
Grated Rind and Juice of 1 Orange
3 Large Eggs, beaten
½Cup of Brandy or Whiskey or Rum or Sherry
¼pint Milk – approx.

* note - this recipes makes 3 puddings.
# Mixed Spice recipe - blend together the following - 1tbs of ground allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg, along with 2tsp of ground mace and 1tsp of ground cloves, coriander and ginger - store in an airtight jar. 

1. Mix together in a large mixing bowl all the dry ingredients, the almonds, apples, grated carrot, orange and lemon rind.
2. Mix the lemon and orange juice and the alcohol with the beaten eggs and add to the dry mixture.
3. Add enough milk to give a soft dropping consistency.
4. Cover the mixture with a clean tea towel and leave overnight.
5. Grease 1 Pyrex pudding basins – 1pt, 1½pt and 2pt and place a greaseproof paper disc in the bottom of each bowl to aid release.
6. Stir the mixture before turning it into the prepared basin. - make sure all the family have a stir
7. Cover with greaseproof paper and  with a clean dry cloth or foil.
8. Steam over rapidly boiling water in a suitable pan as follows:- 1pt Pudding 5 hours, 1&1/2 pt Pudding 7 hours and a 2pt Pudding needs 9 hours.
Or in a slow cooker on low for 8 hours with an inch or so of water in the bottom.
9. When the puddings are cooked, remove from pan or slow cooker 
10.Remove the cloth or foil but leave the paper in position.
11.Recover them with a fresh cloth or foil and store in a cool place.

On the day of serving steam the puddings as follows:- 1pt Pudding - 2 hours, 1&1/2 pt Pudding - 3 hours and 2pt Pudding - 3 hours

Turn out on to a hot dish and serve with Brandy or Rum butter or for Yorkshire folk Rum Sauce. (white sauce flavored with Rum)

Warning - Don’t put Aluminum  foil directly on to the pudding, as the fruit eats into it after some weeks; this does not harm the pudding but the foil ceases to be water tight.

All dry ingredients mixed together
Almonds added
Give it all a good thorough stir

As we couldn't find suet last year (you can now buy Atora Vegetable Suet from my favorite English shop Spencer's Jolly Posh) for our recipe here in America we used grated butter instead, and are hoping it is going to come out fine.

Alcohol and egg mixture ready to be added
And into the mixture it is added

Any alcohol is good in this recipe, there is no need to go and buy any especially, just use up what is in your liquor cupboard.

All stirred in

Once all the ingredients are stirred in, cover with a clean tea towel and leave overnight. The next day the pudding needs one more good stir.

One last stir by all the family
and into the prepared basin.

As our pudding was made on Stir Up Sunday, we all made sure we had a stir of the pudding before it was placed in the bowl for cooking -  a good tradition to do with your family too regardless of when you make your pudding.

Grannie preparing the pud for cooking

Slow Cooker Cooking

We cooked ours in the slow cooker the next day, which just so happened to be the day Grannie & Grandad where leaving, so we got the pudding into the slow cooker at lunchtime and left it for 8 hours, it was all nicely cooked by the time we came back from the airport.

I left the greaseproof paper on and re-wrapped the pudding in clean foil and stored it in a nice dark cool place to develop further ready for Christmas Day.

Oh and I have confession to make, I didn't make the Christmas Pudding, Mr C and Grannie did all the hard work, I just cooked it the next day. 

As we made this Christmas pudding last year, I can certainly say it was most delicious we enjoyed it immensely, the girls weren't keen on it, we'll try again this year with them. 

And we saved a portion of it to make Christmas Pudding Ice Cream - whoops must get on to that.....

Friday, 15 November 2013

The Best Pumpkin Bread

I saw this recipe on Pinterest and knew I just had to give it a go - does it live up to it's name as the Best Pumpkin Bread Recipe Ever - it sure does, it is deliciously good, almost like a gingerbread but not quite.

The recipe is from Recipe Girl a favorite of mine as she does have some wonderful baking recipes, I'm always pinning.

The Best Ever Pumpkin Bread

4 large eggs
*1 & 1/2 - 2 cups granulated white sugar (the recipe calls for 3 cups of sugar arghhh see note below)
1 cup canola or vegetable oil (or 1/2 cup oil & 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce)
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups pure (unsweetened) pumpkin puree
2/3 cup water

*The recipe calls for 3 cups of sugar which I find to be an incredible amount of sugar, the first time I made this, I only used 2 cups and the last time I made it, I only used 1&1/2 cups of sugar and I find that is more than enough for this recipe without losing any taste or sweetness.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9x5-inch loaf pans. You can use 8x5 pans too, but they'll rise quite high while baking.
2. In large bowl, or your stand mixer whisk together eggs, sugar and oil.
3. In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients together (flour through salt)
4. Add dry ingredient mixture into the wet mixture to combine.
5. Add pumpkin and water and stir until combined.
4. Divide the batter between the prepared pans. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Recipe yields two loaves, and doesn't take long to devour. I put one of ours in the freezer and ended up taking it the next day as the first loaf was devoured in days.

You may also use 8 mini loaf pans- bake 45 minutes to an hour.
This bread freezes well. When cooled, cover with plastic wrap, then foil & freeze until ready to eat. It should keep well in the freezer for several weeks.

Source: Slightly adapted from

Eggs, oil and sugar beaten together.

All the dry ingredients ready to be combined - all the spices together, smell truly wonderful.

My helper Ruby after combining all the dry ingredients together for me she careful added the dry mixture to the wet mixture.

Mixture after the pumpkin and water has been added. All ready to divided between the loaf tins

Ready to cook, mixture smells and tasted delicious - as tasted by Ruby, when I caught her sneaking off to lick the bowl clean.

Serve with a nice cup of tea and enjoy.

I have to say this bread is scrumptious, it is lovely and moist and the flavours so nice, you wouldn't even know it was pumpkin, as it is so close to tasting almost like a gingerbread bread.

We all love it in our family and I'm looking forward to making it for my mum when she comes over next week, I can imagine this will be lovely with some custard on top too.


Saturday, 12 October 2013

My Nanna Comes For A Visit

My lovely gorgeous Nanna, who is 93 years young, I have to add, has come for a visit, all the way from England to America, her first time across the Pond (Atlantic Ocean) and her first time to Chicago.

My ever so lovely Dad offered to bring her over, as she so much wanted to come and without a partner in crime, she probably wouldn't have managed it by herself. My Nan is still in great health, ok her eyesight is failing and she's not that great on her pins, but she didn't let that stop her when she decided she wanted to come for a visit.

They both had a good flight over, and my Dad made me laugh when he told me halfway through the flight, my Nanna asked him, if they'd stopped - too funny.

Since they have arrived we've had some fun, Nanna is enjoying being with us all. Nanna & I have been enjoying lots of girl time, sitting out in the late September sun, on the deck chatting chatting andeven more chatting, Nanna soaking up the sun and me knitting - perfect.

Nanna, Dad & I also enjoyed a rare night out together, as Craig and the girls where on a Daddy & Daughters camp night, and we went for a lovely dinner at Pete Millers.

The next day once the girls were home, we took Nanna down to Lighthouse Beach to have a little walk out and around.

We've spent days, chatting, hanging out together, going out for lunch, Nanna decided as much as she was on holiday, so was I. We showed her around our little city, where the girls go to school and we even managed a bit of clothes shopping. My Nanna loves her clothes.

Another place we took Nanna too, was the lovely Chicago Botanical Gardens, which she loved, we also said Grandad would have loved this place too, it is beautiful. We took the road train around the gardenS and enjoyed the Model Railway too, it was such a perfect day out.

We also visited Lincoln Park Zoo - which is truly lovely zoo, just outside the city, it's a great place to go and it's free too and again the weather was just perfect for a day at the Zoo

The day after Tilly's 5th Birthday party (more on that too follow) we took Nanna & D-Dad up to Apple Holler for a day out, it's a short drive into Wisconsin and as the weather was still glorious, it was also very busy.

We had a fab day out, the kids loved it, apple picking, playing in the farm/play area, lunch at the restaurant & eating apples.

Nanna really enjoyed seeing the animals, she loves horses and the goats got a pet too, but she wasn't keen on the pig racing.

We ended the day buying a homemade Cherry Pie and some apple cider doughnuts - yummy

In their last week with us we took Nanna down into Chicago city itself, she couldn't get over how tall the building were, we had a look around Navy Pier and then took her up the John Hancock Building, this time not for cocktails (as it was too early) but for a coffee at the lovely bar on level 96.

Nanna really enjoyed the views from the Hancock Building, it is, as always, very impressive.

And to end their holiday, whilst Tilly was at Pre school followed by lunch bunch, Nanna, D-Dad and I escaped into the city to do an open top bus tour of Chicago - we went with Chicago Trolley & Double Decker Tours and did the full round trip, which lasted just over 2 hours and was great fun and very interesting too, it was the only day so far that had been grey, but it was still warm.

Enjoying the sights & building of Chicago and learning about it's fascinating history.

We timed the day perfectly, having enough time to park, do the tour and get back in time to pick Tilly up from school. Luckily I discovered a great app/website called Spothero where you can find cheap central parking in Chicago, so we got parking in the Loop close to Millennium Park for only $10 bargain.

The day before Nanna & D-Dad left, the sun was back out it was 26c and a half day at school, so after picking the girls up, we bought sandwiches and coffee and had a little picnic at a park overlooking the lake, with terrific views of Chicago City in the distance, if the girls hadn't have had swimming we could have stayed there all day, we were enjoying the sunshine and the girls were enjoying the playground.

I had to take my opportunity to Instagram Nanna - I love this photo.

And on their final day, we took it easy, buying last minute presents, packing etc, the weather wasn't quite as warm to enjoy sandwiches by the lake as we had planned, but we still enjoyed our last day together, and as soon as Ruby finished school we were off to the airport for a very tearful goodbye.

I am still in awe of my fabulous Nanna, not letting her age stop her from a visit to Chicago, in fact she doesn't let her age stop her from doing anything, she's always been an adventurous one, and has always had plenty of get up and go, she has been my true inspiration in life, a lady I have and will always look up too, oh and did I mention determined too, she's determined to live to 100, and determined to come back again that's my Nan and I know for sure she will do both. Nanna I love you.

And I can't leave without saying a big HUGE thank you to my dad who truly made this visit possible - I will be forever grateful to you Dad.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Travelling With Kids

Ok I will admit it, traveling with kids is not easy, if you were 6 & 4 would you like hours and hours in the car to get to places and along the way visit stuff that didn't consist of Lego - no, me neither and neither did my two girls some of the time, but I do have to say that most of the time they were good and took the long distances and hours in the car well.

I did go prepared though, ensuring the girls had plenty to do in the car, the most used thing being the white boards we bought for a $1 each from the dollar shop - the girls played tic tac toe, made up menu's and drew on them for hours on end. The other big hit was a clipboard and plain paper - for drawing writing etc and I spy I cannot tell you how many games of I-Spy we played Tilly absolutely loves this game.

My Top Ten Tips for traveling with small kids is......

1) Be prepared - pack toys, games, pens, pencils, paper, your kids favorite things,  make a music CD - our girls love pop music (Taylor Swift etc) and audio books are fab too - makes life in the car easy

2) Stop regularly - 6 hours in the car is a long time for any kid - we can comprehend it, we know we need to spend this time in the car to get to where we are going, but a child who has no time concept does not understand this, therefore breaking it up with the odd coffee/ice cream/park/look around/visit stop is well worth it and breaks the journey up for the kiddlums.

3) Book hotels that offer free breakfasts and if your kids love swimming like ours do - book one with a pool. We found after traveling there was nothing better to the girls than jumping in a pool, and on a morning going for breakfast was a big hit, it was over and done with before we hit the road and we didn't need to worry about looking for places for breakfast.

4) Have a good mixture of kid friendly activities planned as well as enjoying the things you want too see, 6 & 4 year old do not like to be dragged around museums/places that hold no interest to them, mix it up with museums and places that are kid friendly or have kid sections to it for them to play and explore - it's a win win

5) Go exploring - get off the beaten track and explore, take a small short hike around a lake and look for animal tracks, climb rocks, have an unplanned dip in the sea or lake.

6) Pack light - all hotels have washing machines, I followed this great tip I found on pinterest, I packed a set of clothes for each girl into one bag per day, the girls even helped out with what outfits they would like to wear, it was that easy everything for the day for both girls, including underwear was packed into each bag and I took 10 bags with me, 8 of clothes, 1 for pj's and 1 for spares.

7) Pocket Money/Postcards - When we stopped at a place of interest we allowed the girls to pick a postcard to remind them of their holiday and where they went - we planned (as we have not done it yet) to put these in a journal. We also had fun writing and sending some to friends many miles away in Australia and the UK. Or give your kids a $1 a day and let them spend on a little souvenir or fun thing.

8) Relax - remember to take time out and relax, it is so easy to just keep going, and trying to fit everything in, we knew we had a lot of driving to do, and lots of places we wanted to see and explore, but 2 of the best mornings we had, were when we chilled out in the pool for a few hours of fun, rest and relaxation.

9) Keep a towel and baby wipes handy in the car, no matter what age your kids are, baby wipes are essential, what road trip isn't a road trip without a kid in a car seat being sick everywhere - yes it usually happens to us every time with Tilly.

10) Remember your essentials - pack a torch, makes finding things in the car easier when dark, a small first aid kit, trash can/rubbish bin (I use a plastic cereal container with a plastic bag in it - stops smells), toilet roll - well you never know, kitchen roll. We also packed some cutlery including a small sharp knife, a corkscrew, chopping board, and some plates and bowls - useful when you are buying your own food and not relying on takeout all the time.

And that is my top 10 travel tips for a long Road Trip - they made our lives easy, the road trip fun and of course we plan to do it all over again next year.

Monday, 2 September 2013

The End of Summer

Today is Labor Day here in the US, and for us living in Chicago it officially marks the end of the Summer Season which started back in May on Memorial Day (May 27th).

The end of the summer season means the beaches, although open, do not have lifeguards on duty regardless of the weather.

The twice weekly summer fireworks at Navy Pier cease, the tourist season starts to slow down and lots places start closing until next summer - water parks etc.

For us it means school has started again - Ruby has just had her first week back at school as a first grader and she enjoyed her first week back, making new friends and playing with old ones, and she really really likes her new teacher - bonus.

So to celebrate the end of the summer season, with the glorious temperatures of 30c plus, yesterday, the girls and I went to a water park (as they close today too). 

The water park was so much fun, the girls and I had lots of fun, there was a great play area for the kids, with tunnel slides and a big bucket that dumped water onto anyone who was underneath it, there was also a cute splash area for all, but the really little ones loved it, as did my two until Ruby slipped and grazed her knee. Along with the walk in pool there was also another big water slide area, consisting of three tunnel slides, with one you went down on big yellow rubber rings, we all went on the big rubber rings it was so much fun.

We intended to only go for a couple of hours but 5 hours later, hungry and tired we dragged ourselves away, home for pizza and a movie.

Our other big event last week was Mr C's Birthday, we celebrated early on the eve of his birthday with dinner at Mr C's favourite restaurant Spacca Napoli, always a great meal there.

On the morning of his birthday we celebrated with presents and cards, proper English bacon butties for breakfast, coffee out, a game of adventure/crazy golf and of course birthday cake.

Ruby made Mr C a great present - Star Wars inspired, she made it all by herself, with a little help from me ironing the beads and assembling it in the photo frame. I think she did a great job.

 The birthday cake was made by moi and lovingly decorated by the girls - it was delicious too.

And now I am gearing myself up for Tilly starting her pre-k year at preschool on tomorrow. She is doing 4 mornings a week, even though she turns 5 less than a month after preschool starts, as it is after the 1st September she can't start school until next year (here in Illinois, children have to be 5 on or before the 1st September to start school) - bonus is she'll be one of the eldest in her year which I'm pleased with.

I am going to miss having my little friend and helper around, but on the other hand I am looking forward to having some kid free time too.