Olaf birthday cake 2 2015

How Many Birthdays Fit on a Cake?

Go ahead.  Question my sanity.  It was my idea to have a family get together where we celebrate 8 out of the 12 birthdays.  Given how this year has gone from on emergency to another in the family and my sister in the middle of her recovery, there hasn’t been time to get together as a family!

I am sure I wasn’t the only one wondering what we were getting ourselves into.  It’s one thing to all get together for a meal but another to get through all the presents and cake in a short amount of time. But it was a lovely day.  The weather was gorgeous and the kids had a great time running about.  I think the cutest thing was my three year old nephew getting a hold of the hose.  This little peanut hosing down his wagon.  And of course when he turned so did the water.  We stayed out of range.  :)

The tricky bit I had to sort out was the cake.  Five of the birthdays were for the kids.  Originally I planned on doing cupcakes but I just didn’t have the time to decorate individual cupcakes, it would be faster to do a cake.  But how to do a cake for kids ranging from 3-14 without making it crowded or corny?

I really wanted each of them to be represented so it took me a couple of days to figure it out.  The littlest one is majorly into Thomas the Train.  He is just enthralled with the whole thing.  My niece loves My Little Pony, my other nephew is into Pokemon, and my son thinks Olaf is the best thing since sliced bread.  And of course my daughter who is becoming a young lady so she’s not into those types of things but she had to be represented somehow.

Olaf birthday cake 2 2015

Thank goodness for the internet.  A quick search leads to ideas on how to make a character so it actually looks like it.  It’s one thing to freehand volcanoes and castles but I can’t screw up Olaf!

I also did the pokemon circle in gum paste but due to time constraints I went store bought for the rest.  I don’t think I have the skills yet to do Thomas or My Little Pony.

Olaf birthday cake 3 2015

Olaf birthday cake 4 2015Added a bit of flowers for my daughter and a bit of whimsy with yellow.

Olaf birthday cake 1 2015

We had a wonderful day of family, good food, and laughter.  The best bit was my little nephew’s face when he realised it was Thomas on the cake.  :)

Rhubarb ginger tart 5 2015

Rhubarb Ginger Tart

As I suspected I was spoilt for Mother’s Day.   Saturday night they made me a wonderful meal of tapas from around the world.  My husband was thinking light and Spanish but the kids had other ideas!  My husband made a potato and swiss chard souffle and it was accompanied by mushrooms cooked in butter, chicken satay, and spring rolls.  Delicious all of it!  To finish off the meal they made me a pavlova which was decorated by mangoes spelling out MUM.  That was my daughter’s idea. :)

For the gift I was presented with the largest gift bag.  So either it was going to be a large gift or a small gift with lots of packaging.  After removing about a year’s supply of tissue paper I found a new tripod.  A much more sturdy tripod.  The other one, while a major help, would wobble and it made us nervous my good camera would tip over.  The lovely weekend was finished off by playing games with the kids.  My favourite way to hang out with them.  :)

I did manage to fit in some baking.  Our rhubarb isn’t quite ready but the co-op had some so I thought I’d do a treat for our kids.  My son really loves rhubarb so I couldn’t resist.  For the pastry I used the same recipe as my apple pie.  Only make one batch as you would for a pie without a cover.

Rhubarb ginger tart 1 2015

I love fresh ginger in jams and I thought it would be great with the rhubarb.  I had three stalks of rhubarb for this recipe.  Slice the rhubarb in small slices so it cooks down faster.

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Add a tablespoon or so of fresh lemon juice and begin to simmer.  If the rhubarb is on the dry side just add a bit of water while it simmers.  Grate a piece of ginger about an inch/2.5cm square.  This needs to be finely grated so it incorporates fully.

Rhubarb ginger tart 3 2015

As the fruit softens and becomes jam like add 1/4 cup of maple syrup.  The real kind.  Do you know there was a poll done and a large percent prefers the fake stuff?  Shows how sad the state of our food has become.  Allow it to cook some more and add more maple syrup if needed.  While this is cooking preheat the oven to 350F/175C.  Spoon the mixture into the pastry.

Rhubarb ginger tart 4 2015Bake for about 25 minutes until the pastry is flaky.  Let them cool completely so you don’t risk burning yourself.

Rhubarb ginger tart 5 2015The kids loved these.  Our son says he could eat rhubarb all the time so it was a fun treat.  And on a hot day a quick thing to bake without bringing the kitchen to tropical temps!

Bacon cheese muffins 8 2015

Bacon Cheese and Chive Muffins

In the interest of avoiding a rut with breakfast I asked if the kids wanted something different from the mini quiches and waffles for breakfast.  The answer was yes so I had to find something different that was easy to make and would get them through the morning without having a sugar dump.  It’s hard for our daughter as this year her lunch period is the last one of the day.

I thought muffins with bacon would be fun.  This recipe is part Pillsbury’s The Complete Book of Baking and part my own.  I used them for a base with the basic ingredients and added my twist.

Slowly render about a cup to a cup and a half of bacon with a lot of the fat cut off.  You don’t want greasy muffins.

Bacon cheese muffins 1 2015

While the bacon is cooking mix the dry ingredients together.  You need 2 cups of all purpose flour, 3 teaspoons of sugar, 3 teaspoons of baking powder, a 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, 1/4 teaspoon of salt and a handful of chopped chives.  It’s a good idea to actually read the recipe properly.  I thought it said 3 tablespoons of sugar.  Oops!  Fortunately it didn’t ruin the muffins.  I did forget the baking powder and I had to carefully add it afterwards.  Honestly, where was my head?  At this time grate fresh parmesan and jarlsberg cheese to make 3/4- 1 cup of cheese.

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Add 1 beaten egg, 1 1/4 cup of milk, and 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil.

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Now with muffins you don’t want to overwork the batter.  Gently mix the dry ingredients and wet together.  It’s ok if the batter is a bit lumpy just as long as the ingredients are incorporated.  It will be very wet.

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Fold in the bacon.  This is the part where I forgot the baking powder so I had to sprinkle it over the batter then carefully fold that in.

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Pre-heat the oven to 400F/205C.  Spoon the batter into muffin cups, about 2/3 full.

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Bake for 20-25 minutes until they are golden in colour and the toothpick test comes out clean.

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Treat yourself while they are still warm and have some with butter.

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Not only are these good for breakfast but they would be good with stews and chilli as well.

Ginger snaps 5 2015

It’s an HISTORICAL Snow Sto…I’m sorry?…Oh, It’s a Normal Snow Storm…

This was supposed to be an historical storm, in our area they were predicting over two feet.  Which some areas will see that but the storm shifted so most of us will see about a foot.  Not too bad.  I mean it is New England, we get snow but of course people went crazy with shopping for supplies.  How much they are planning to eat today, I have no idea.  People are funny.

My husband is travelling this week.  He was able to fly out before the flights were cancelled, fortunately.  So Sunday we made sure I can get the snow blower going and we had working shovels.  And thank goodness he thought of the oil!  We were on empty so we were able to get some delivered.  I am very lucky I have him, he takes good care of us.  :)

Sunday we did our usual puttering about the kitchen making things for the kids’ lunches and breakfasts.  I really enjoy that time with him.

I was flipping through the “The Complete Book of Baking” by Pillsbury and came across the recipe for Ginger Snaps. Boy did this bring back memories.  My mum would make these when we were growing up.  I love them but it was something that had faded away in the brain so I hadn’t made them before.

In the mixer cream together 1 cup of sugar and 3/4 cup of butter that has been softened.

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Add in 1/4 cup of molasses and 1 large egg.  Mix until incorporated.

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Add 2 1/4 cups of flour, 2 tsps of baking soda, 1 tsp of cinnamon, 1/2 tsp of salt, 1/2 tsp of ground ginger, 1/2 tsp of ground cloves, and a 1/4 tsp of nutmeg.

I’d have a photo here but after about ten tries to get it to upload I’m giving up.  Took me long enough for the photos I can show!  Internet is being wonky today.

Chill the dough for at least an hour.  Preheat the oven to 350F/175C.

Roll the dough into 1 inch diameter balls and roll into some sugar to coat.  Space the balls about 2 inches apart.

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Bake 8-12 minutes.  If you want them to stay chewy then pull them out by 10 minutes otherwise they start getting crunchy.

Ginger snaps 5 2015

They are so good right out of the oven!  And they go well with hot chocolate. :)

Salted caramel apple bars 12

Salted Spiced Rum Caramel with Apple Bars

I have always said I couldn’t give up bread amidst the whole gluten-free fad.  I say fad because I don’t think everyone who gives up gluten needs too.  I have no doubt that once the dust settles only those who have gluten issues will stick to it.

However I had been doing research because of chronic pain and inflammation which I’ve had enough of.  I did get bloodwork done but I have the family trait of not presenting the normal way for medical issue so they came back negative.  My doctor, who is normally really good, said that some people are just built this way and are weaker.  Given that I was a 3rd degree black belt I don’t accept that.  So I am on a 30 day experiment to go without gluten to see what happens.  I’ve done it for a week now and I think I’m making progress but it’s too soon to tell.

Right now because I am being strict with it I have to be creative with the recipes as I don’t want to do two sets of meals for all of us.  Someone I know who loves to bake has also gone gluten free and she suggested finely processing oats and use that as flour as a substitution for certain desserts.  I thought this would be perfect for my date bars or this week apple bars given that we have a massive amount of apples.

And because I was baking with apples I thought I would try my hand at salted caramel.

For the caramel you will need:

2 cups sugar

12 T butter

2 tsp sea salt (some recipes call for fleur de sel but that’s crazy expensive)

A cup of heavy cream

Spiced rum to taste

Brown sugar to taste

This will make a lot so you can half the ingredients.  In a saucepan heat up the sugar.

Salted caramel apple bars 1 2014

You need the heat to be medium, medium high and stir constantly while the sugar melts.  It will get chunky then will smooth out.

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Turn off the heat when the temp reaches 350F/175C and add the butter a bit at a time.

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Stir until the butter is fully incorporated.  Then add the cream and stir well. This is where it almost went wonky for me.  When you are cooking the sugar you have to be very careful not to burn it. I had a slightly burnt taste so I needed to fix it.  I incorporated some brown sugar and a couple of tablespoons of spiced rum while adding the sea salt.  Turned out to be similar to toffee flavour and everyone gave it a thumbs up.  A happy left turn!

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Let that cool while working on the apple bars.

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Cut up 4-5 apples into smallish pieces and start to heat in a saucepan with 1/2 cup of apple cider.

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Add 1/2 cup of brown sugar. Add cinnamon and nutmeg to taste and simmer until the apples soften.

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Pulse enough oats to give you 1 1/2 cups of oat flour to replace the flour.

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Mix this with 2 cups of oats, 1 cup sugar, and 1 tsp of baking soda.  I added 3/4 cup of melted butter like the original recipe but I think next time I would add a cup to keep it moist.  Spread out half in a 8 x 11 pan then spread out the apple mixture.

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Top with the rest of the oats and bake for 25 minutes.  Drizzle with the caramel and serve.

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The caramel can be kept in the fridge for a few weeks.  To soften just microwave for 10-15 seconds.  I’ll have to come up with a few more desserts to use up the caramel!

Strawberry cookies 7 2014

Lemon Cookies with Strawberry Mint Ginger Jam

Stateside we just had our Labor Day Weekend.  The last hurrah of summer.  Best thing about it?  We had the kids!  Saturday was gorgeous so we took advantage of it and spent most of it outside.  Our daughter is trying out for the school’s soccer team and she wanted to practice her shooting.  Off we traipsed to play a bit of footie at the local playground.  Nearly did a split trying to get the ball!  Not a good thing.  Still it was a blast running round with the kids.

And the holiday weekend is never complete without our annual trek to the go-carts.  But dang it if I didn’t get the slow car again!  It was like a Sunday drive.  I want a car with oomph!

The weekend was topped off with marathon sessions of Settler’s of Catan.  That game is seriously addicting.

I came across a delicious recipe for lemon cookies with strawberry jam that looked super easy.  And if you are going to have marathon sessions of games with the kids there needs to be treats available!

First I made the jam.  I usually do the jam with ginger but I wanted to add another layer of flavour.  We have a ton of mint in our garden and I thought it would give a nice balance to this cookie.

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In a small sauce pan add about 1 1/2 cup of chopped strawberries, 2T of lemon juice, and a small handful of mint.  Grate fresh ginger over the strawberries to your taste and bring to a simmer.

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Remove from the heat once it gets to the jam consistency.  Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 350F/175C

For the cookie dough you will need:

1 cup butter

2/3 cup sugar

zest of 1 lemon

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Cream the butter and sugar together and add the lemon zest.

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Add the flour and mix well.  If the butter is cold like mine was because I spaced on getting the butter out of the freezer in time you may find it crumbly but that is ok.  The cookies may not spread out as much as warmer butter but it will still be delicious!

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Roll the dough into 1 inch balls.  Use a finger to make dents into the dough and fill with a small amount of strawberry jam.  Bake for 9-11 minutes.

While it is baking mix up a glaze of 1 cup powdered sugar, 1/2 tsp almond extract, and 2T of milk.  Mix with a whisk.  If it is still too thick add more milk.

When the cookies are still warm drizzle the glaze over the cookie.

Strawberry cookies 7 2014

Not only these really easy to make they are fabulously delicious!  And it was a great way to use up some leftover strawberries.

 

Mini quiches 5 2014

Shaking Up The School Morning Breakfast…

The kids survived their first day of school and handled the homework.  They both really like their teachers and they were really happy to catch up with their friends after a busy summer.  Though our daughter is already doing the countdown for the number of the days left!

We had been getting into a rut with school morning breakfasts of toast because with getting the kids ready, dogs, walked, and lunches made time can get a bit crunched in the morning.  The kids are much better at getting ready without much prompting but there is still a lot to do.  Remember when the South Beach Diet was all the rage?  One of the things they suggested was to make up some little quiches so you could reheat them during the week.  I remembered this idea this week and thought I would do my quiches in mini form.  The response from the kids was yes and can it have bacon?  :)

Preheat the oven to 425F/220C

Mini quiches 1 2014

In a small skillet start cooking and rendering 5 rashers of streaky bacon.  Add 1/2 a chopped onion, 2 cloves of chopped garlic, 2 teaspoons of fresh thyme, and a few splashes of dry sherry.

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In a separate bowl beat 4 eggs.  Add 1 1/2 – 2 cups of milk or light cream.  The more watery it is the less you want to use.  Mix in 1 1/2 cups of grated jarlsberg, tsp of salt, pinch of nutmeg, a couple pinches of cayenne pepper, and pepper to taste.

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Pour into 12 regular size muffin cups that are lightly greased.  Don’t over grease as it will get absorbed into the quiche.

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Bake for 8 minutes then reduce the temperature to 350F/175C and bake until golden and the egg is cooked.  If you get the mixture wrong with using low fat milk and they come out a bit watery, put them on a baking sheet and bake at 350F/175C until the quiches is less wet.

Mini quiches 5 2014

Served them this morning and the kids loved them.  Easy to make, easy to heat up, and healthy for the kids.  Can’t go wrong!

Strawberry cream puff 9 2014

Strawberry Cream Puffs

And poof!  Summer is over.  The kids were off to school today.  Both are in the final years at their prospective schools.  Our son is in 5th grade and our daughter is in 8th.  Seems like we were just bringing our son to kindergarten.  It can be bittersweet.  We are so proud of the people our kids are becoming but childhood just flies by.

I wanted to make a summer dessert as a special treat for their last day of “freedom” and we had some fresh strawberries on hand.  I thought cream puffs with a strawberry sauce would do the trick!

Choux pastry is easy to make, you just need a bit of elbow grease to make it happen.  I referenced Julia Child for this recipe.

You will need:

1 cup water

6 Tablespoons of butter

a pinch of salt

a pinch of nutmeg

1 tsp of salt

3/4 cups of flour

4 eggs

Preheat the oven to 425F/220C

Strawberry cream puff 1 2014

In a small saucepan combine the water, butter, salt, nutmeg, and sugar.  Bring to a boil to melt the butter.

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Remove from the heat and add the flour stirring very well and continuously until the flour is incorporated.

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Put it back on medium high heat, mixing the entire time, for a couple of minutes until the dough starts to leave a film on the pan.

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Remove from the heat again and add the eggs one at a time.  For the first egg you’ll need to move quickly so you don’t end up with cooked egg so stir fast.  After the first egg is absorbed add the next one and so on.

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Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag with a tip that is large enough for the size pastry you want.  For example if you want 3″ pastry use a 3/4″ tip.  Squeeze the pastry onto a greased cookie sheet.  I made the mistake assuming that our baking sheet was nonstick enough.  Don’t do that!  Space the pastry dollops the same distance as the diameter of the dollops.

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Beat one egg and dab the tops of the dollops without letting the egg drip down.  You don’t want the egg to pin the pastry down.

Strawberry cream puff 7 2014If you are doing small pastries that are about an 1 1/2″ or smaller bake for 20 minutes.  If you are doing larger pastries about 3″ then bake for 20 minutes and then reduce the temperature to 375F/190C for another 10-15 minutes until golden brown.  For both sizes put an inch slit in the side of each puff and put it back in the oven with the oven turned off and the door ajar for 10 minutes.  Julia Child did mention that if the dough in the larger puffs are still moist in the centre to scoop it out.

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The strawberry sauce is super simple.  In a small saucepan add strawberries, grated ginger, a bit of lemon juice, and 1/8 cup of brown sugar.  Bring to a simmer for a few minutes to soften the strawberries and melt the sugar.  Because I didn’t grease the baking sheet properly I ended up with puff cups rather than puff balls.  So I turned them upside down and put in fresh whipped cream and topped with the strawberries.

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A nice way to end the summer before getting back into the routine of school and the coming fall.

Frangipane 15 2014

Pear Frangipane and Getting In My Own Way…

This was three days in the making.  Yes, three days.  Not because this an elaborate recipe, there are several steps, but because I was my own worse enemy this weekend.  Normally this is a few hours of work but I started it on Friday and finally finished it yesterday afternoon.

My husband and I were struggling with a summer cold on Friday.  So we were dragging.  But I figured I’d be ambitious and bake a frangipane.  My sister had made this a few times before and it’s delicious.  I finally remembered to buy pears and they were ripe and ready to go.  I got the butter and the flour in the freezer then went to get out the food processor and dropped a pasta attachment on my toe.  Fortunately it only dropped a few inches because that solid steel really hurt!  So off I went to elevate it and ice it. That day was done.

Saturday just got away from us.  We were finding storage solutions for our son’s room so he can organise the crazy amount of Lego he has acquired.  Shopping takes a lot out of you so that day was shot!  Yesterday was the day to make this happen.

This is the recipe I used.

For the pastry you will need:  9T butter, 1 1/2 cups of flour, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1/3 cup of water.  Cut the butter in 1/2″ slices and place in the freezer for 1/2 an hour.  Chill the water in the fridge.

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In a food processor pulse the butter, flour, and salt together until the flour and butter are incorporated in a crumbly mixture.

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Slowly add the water while pulsing the food processor.  Stop pulsing when all the water has been added.  You want the pastry to feel dry still.  Tip it onto the counter.

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Press the pastry in a kneading fashion to bring the pastry together.  This will take a few minutes.

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Roll out the pastry until it is about 1/2″ thick and cover with cling film and chill in the fridge for at least an hour.  It can be chilled for up to 24 hours.

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For the Frangipane you will need: 1 cup of almonds, 1/2 cup of sugar, 2 T of flour, 1 egg, 5 T butter, 1 tsp of vanilla extract, 1/2 tsp of almond extract, pinch of salt.

In the food processor pulse the almonds and sugar together until you get a fine meal.

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Add in the rest of the ingredients and pulse until blended.  I put in the butter in one lump and it took awhile to blend so I recommend cutting the butter first into small pieces.

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For the pears you will need: 3-4 Bartlett pears, 1/3 cup sugar, 2 T flour, pinch of salt, zest of one lemon, 1T of lemon juice.

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As my pears were really ripe this part was very messy.  But peel and slice the pears.  In a bowl add the sugar, salt, flour, and lemon zest.  Mix well then add the pears and lemon juice.  Set aside.

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Pre heat the oven to 425F/220C.

Roll out the pastry to about 16″.  If the pastry is too hard let it warm up a bit.  In the centre add the frangipane.

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Layer the pears over the frangipane and fold the pastry over the top.

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Beat one egg and add about a tablespoon of water to the egg.  Brush this over the pastry and sprinkle with sugar.

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Lower the temp to 400F/205C.  Bake for 40 minutes.

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Let it cool before serving.  Serve it with whipped cream.

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It was a long weekend but this was a great treat to end it.  My husband made a fabulous cheese souffle for dinner so we had an excellent meal all round!

I noticed halfway of writing this post that I was back to the new style but it gave me the chance to go back to classic.  Luckily I copied what I wrote before I switched back because when you do that it erases any work you have done.  I’d like it to stick to classic!

 

Blackcurrant bars 6 2014

Blackcurrant Bars – On The Tart Side Of Life

We are looking at a blow for freedom as my mum likes to say.  What is it you ask?  Why getting rid of cable!  The bane of many of us.  I’m sure many of you have heard loads of horror stories lately about what happens when customers try to cancel the cable.  I am keeping my fingers crossed that we won’t have issues.  But it’s time to cut the cord as they say.  We only watch a handful of channels so it isn’t economical to have it.  Today we’ve been testing a digital antenna all round the house to find the best spot.  Where we live, we only get PBS but that is fine because with Hulu Plus and Netflix, we are pretty much covered.  The dogs spent the day looking at us funny while we stood in different rooms seeing if there was any improvement!

This weekend we also had a fun date night and went to see the movie Chef.  I really liked that movie.  Aside from a display of fabulous food the music was outstanding!  It was hard not to get up and dance. 

All the blackcurrants have been picked now.  I froze a bunch for later in the year but I saw a link to blackcurrant bars.  When I went to pin it it said it was a spam link but it sparked an idea.  I used my mother’s date bar recipe for the bar portion of it and then made up an apple blackcurrant jam. 

I did the jam ahead of time because the week got a little nutty.  Okay, a lot nutty.  Thank goodness for weekends!  But you can make the jam just before you bake the bars. Either way is fine. 

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In a small saucepan add a cup to a cup and a half of blackcurrants and a diced apple.  Add about a 1/4 cup of water and a few splashes of lemon juice.

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Bring to a simmer and allow to simmer until the fruit breaks down while stirring frequently.  Add 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of brown sugar depending on your taste.  Some like it to be really tart. 

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When you are ready to bake preheat the oven to 375F/190C.  Melt 6 tablespoons in a small bowl.  In another bowl mix 1 cup quick oats, 1/2 cup sugar, 3/4 cup flour, and 1/2 tsp of baking soda.  This is half the recipe of the date bars as the jam amount for the black currant is about half of what the date bar has.  Add the melted butter and mix well.  Press half into the baking tin.

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Spread the jam over the oat mixture.

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Put the rest of the oat mixture over the jam and bake for about 25 minutes until golden.

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This was definitely tart!  But my husband loved it.  :)

Wish me luck with the cable company!