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I can start with 4 ingredients in the cupboard and have 2 trays of flapjacks ready and out of the oven in less than half an hour. This is a delicious flapjack recipe – my absolute favourite, with a chewy texture and a delicious caramel taste. It’s my go-to recipe for home-made treats in a hurry. I was originally given the recipe by another ordinand’s wife when the Vicar was training for ministry and I must have baked these flapjacks at least 100 times since then without a bad batch. I usually make a double batch as it only takes a couple of minutes more than a single batch and there never seems to be any trouble in disposing of them.

Ingredients

  • 150g granulated sugar
  • 150g soft margarine
  • 4 tbspns golden syrup
  • 250g porridge oats

Melt the sugar, margarine and golden syrup together in a large microwave bowl (or in a saucepan on the stove if you don’t have a microwave) – it takes about 2 minutes on full power in my cheapo 750W microwave. To get the golden syrup out of my measuring spoon easily I dip the spoon (a metal one) in a mug of just boiled water before adding each spoonful. Once the sugar, marg and syrup have melted together, mix in the oats. Then pop the mix in a 8″x12″ baking tin, lined with silicone baking paper (or a reusable liner like I use), and flatten it down so that it’s evenly distributed and pop it in the oven.

Your oven needs to be pre-heated to 180ºC (Gas 4, Fan 170ºC). In my fan oven, the flapjack takes 15 minutes to cook, but can take 20-30mins if your oven isn’t as speedy or isn’t quite up to temperature at the beginning. Once it’s golden on top, remove from the oven and leave in the tin for five minutes before cutting into slices sized to your flapjack appetite (generally 21-24 in my experience) and leaving to cool fully in the tin. If you cook it a little longer, it’ll be crunchy rather than chewy, so you can cook differently according to your flapjack preference.

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Someone asked me recently for a low-fat traybake. Most of my cooking isn’t terribly healthy – I prefer to have a small slice of something delicious rather than a large wedge of something worthy. However, sometimes deliciousness and worthiness can combine, as is the case with these fantastic Date and Coconut Chews.

I was given this recipe by my friend Summer after we spent a very happy day off on a walk with her and her Vicar husband. We took a picnic lunch with us. I brought soup and Summer brought various treats including these. I’m not normally a fan of dates, but these slices are wonderful – chewy and sweet but full of fruit and coconut, which I think cancels out the butter and golden syrup.

Ingredients

  • 6oz/170g plain flour
  • 3 oz/85g dessicated coconut
  • 6oz/170g stoned dates, chopped
  • 6oz/170g caster sugar
  • 3oz/85g butter (you could use hard marg, but butter is tastier, isn’t it?)
  • 2 teaspoonfuls (1 dessertspoonful) golden syrup
  • 1 egg, beaten

Melt the butter, sugar and golden syrup (I always do this in the microwave, but you can do it on the stove aswell). Stir the dry ingredients together then add the hot butter mixture and the egg. Mix everything well and then spread out in a lined 9″x11″ (23cmx28cm) tin. Bake for 15-20 minutes at 180ºC (Gas 4, Fan 170ºC).

When cooled a little, cut into 24 slices. I did a little maths and reckon that each slice has about 3.5g of fat. This isn’t quite low enough to classify as ‘Low Fat’ in the US , but I think it’ll do.

[Late Edit: A Twitter pal tells me he's tried this recipe using prunes instead of dates and rice flour in the place of plain and that it worked really well. Good for those on a gluten-free diet then.]

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This week we had a quiet Sunday lunch at the Vicarage – it was just our family: Rocky had an invitation to lunch out and I’d been disorganised about having folk over. So for pudding I decided to trial a recipe I saw on 22 Words a while back. It’s a chocolate sponge speedily cooked in a  microwave in a mug.

It was a great success with the Vicarage crowd, and two portions served four of us generously (the Engineer was not in a puddingy mood). It would be lovely served with vanilla ice-cream, which was lacking in our freezer so we ate it with lashings of double cream (a half pint between us – eek!).

The recipe was originally titled ‘3 minute brownies’ but what you get is more like a hot sponge pudding. Although it takes about 3 minutes in the microwave, total production time was rather longer – a whopping ten minutes for two of them, I reckon. A perfect pause time between courses, actually.

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons self-raising flour
  • 4 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 3 tablespoons oil

First, mix the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, cocoa) in your mug. My mug (more an enormous cup, actually) had a capacity of 300ml, and I think this is about the minimum you need. Then break in the egg and add the oil and milk. Mix all together until you have a smooth batter.

Pop it in the microwave on high heat for 3-4 minutes. Mine took 3 1/2 minutes in our 800W basic Matsui machine. The sponge feels pretty wet, but is firm to the touch when cooked. Spoon into a bowl and enjoy with cream or ice-cream.

Next time I might mix up the batter in a jug for ease of stirring (although this would add to the washing up, always an important consideration I feel). And I’d quite like to try experimenting with making a lemon version. I’ll report back on that one. In the meantime, why not try it for pudding this evening?

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As I munched on yummy leftovers for lunch today, I thought it was time to blog my roast gammon recipe. Although it’s not all roasted – mostly it’s boiled, which ensures that it’s moist, whilst the roasting (with a glaze) sets in  a little crisp sweetness. Gammon is an excellent Sunday lunch joint – no waste and wonderful leftovers. And last week, in our local Tescos 2.7kg joints were going for £6! So we had one yesterday and another is in the freezer. The great advantage with gammon is that because it’s great with mashed potatoes, rather than roasted, you can have it mainly cooked before church and eat Sunday lunch at lunchtime rather than midafternoon, as tends to happen with anything involving roasties.

So this recipe is specially adapted for Vicarage dwellers, or anyone wanting to go to church on a Sunday and come back and eat within an hour or so of returning.

Cherry coke and jam ham

A great and speedy Sunday lunch - cherry coke and jam ham

Ingredients

  • Gammon joint
  • Cherry coke/coke/cranberry juice/apple juice/cider/spiced cranapple to fill pan over the meat (if there’s not quite enough top up with water) but for a 2.2kg joint I normally find 2l is enough
  • Cloves
  • Cherry jam/treacle/mustard and brown sugar

I usually rinse the joint in cold water – there’s never enough time to soak it or boil it up from cold, I find. Although lately I’ve not even bothered with this rinse. Then I simmer it for 30mins per 500g  in something tasty – cherry coke, ordinary coke, cranberry or apple juice, cider or (an excellent discovery tried this Christmas) leftover Spiced cranapple from the carol service. I usually pop an onion in alongside the joint too. Usually on a joint they tell you to cook it for 35mins per 500g plus another 35mins, but since I’m leaving the joint in warm juice during the service, I ignore their instructions.

Then when I get back from church I whack the oven up to 200C (Gas 6) and whilst it’s heating up I put the tatties on and fish the joint out and put it straight onto a roasting dish which I’ve lined with foil. Then I remove the funny plastic holder thing and carve off the top layer from the fatty skin part. I use the knife to make a diamond pattern and stud the criss-cross of each diamond with a clove. Then I cover the clovey fat with a sweet sticky topping. This might be (easiest and peasiest) black cherry jam boiled up a bit to make it stickier, or maybe some black treacle, or some brown sugar and mustard. My top tip for this is to have everything you need to hand before you start – teaspoons, cloves, mustard, sugar or whatever. It’s sticky and it’s better to get it over with quickly.

Then I pop the ham in the oven for only 15-30 minutes. Any longer and the sugary topping begins to burn and weld to the bottom of your roasting dish. So set the pinger to 15mins and check it. I consider it done when the sweet topping is caramelised but before the bottom of the pan is completely scorched.

This is why a foil lining to the dish is a good idea. I just wish I remembered that every time. Otherwise you can get the burns off by adding a sprinkle of dishwasher powder to water and boiling the mixture in your roaster on the hob. Takes off many a cooking stain. Also works on cast iron casserole dishes.

Whilst the ham is cooking, pop your veggies on, yell at the Vicar to come and carve and at the children to stop bickering, check that your guests are comfortable and very soon you’ll be enjoying a warming Sunday lunch. The leftovers of course are delicious. Very popular with Vicarage children in a pasta bake with cheese sauce, spaghetti carbonara, or the new favourite, Spanish gammon hotpot. Or picked at for lunch by the grown-ups.

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Last night we ate one of our favourite Malaysian dishes for tea at the Vicarage. I love to cook this reminder of our 51/2 years in South-East Asia. And to provide ginger warmth in a chilly kitchen. It’s easy, delicious and only uses a single dish (tho’ you might want to use a wok for some greens on the side aswell). It’s expandable for lots of people and is not too foreign for most visitors. Anyone who occasionally eats takeaway Chinese will love this.

Claypot chicken rice and bok choi

Ingredients

  • Chicken pieces (preferably skinned dark meat on the bone, chopped into bite size pieces by your local Indian butcher – but otherwise skinned thigh pieces are probably easiest or thigh fillets if you have bone-haters dining) – 1 to 2 thigh or drumstick pieces per person
  • Rice (we love Thai fragrant jasmine, but any will do) – about 120ml per adult and 60ml per child (dry measure)
  • Big chunk of fresh ginger (2-3″ here)
  • Soy sauces, light and dark (1-2 tbspns of each)
  • Oyster sauce (1-2 tbspns)
  • Sugar (1 tbspn)
  • Oil – sesame (1 tbpn if you have it) and vegetable (2 tbspns)
  • Extra treat for authenticity – pickled green chillis (chopped) on the side, marinaded in soy sauce

Ready to serve

You need about an hour from preparation to serving for this dish. But there’s time to supervise piano practice and maybe do some laundry in that hour. Or even drink a cup of tea. Or blog a recipe. You don’t need a clay pot to cook it either – I use a casserole dish. Mine has a glass lid which makes it easier to tell if stuff is cooked, but a cast iron casserole or a good sized saucepan would be fine. It’s rather easier with a non-stick pan because of the crunchy ricey bits (see below).

First pop the rice on. I have a rice cooker which has a cup sized at 160ml. For three adults and three fairly hungry children I used 4 cups. I cheated and used the rice cooker to measure the water to the right level, but the Malaysian way, which works just fine, is to put water in so that your forefinger, laid flat on the top of the (pre-rinsed) rice, is covered by the water. Put the cover on the pan and cook the rice until all the water is absorbed. This should take about 15 minutes.

Whilst the rice is cooking prepare the chicken and let it marinate in its sauce. You can quickly drizzle on the soy sauces, the oyster sauce, the sesame oil and add the sugar before mixing the pieces about to ensure that the marinade is coated over the chicken. Then you want to get the ginger’s juice without the pulp. The best way to do this is to first peel your piece of ginger and then grate or blend it. Pop the chewed up ginger pieces in a sieve and press down with a spoon to get the ginger juice out over your chicken portions. I used my chopper attachment from my stick blender to whizz the ginger first and a small plastic sieve.

Once all the water is absorbed into the rice, pop the chicken pieces and the marinade on top, together with the vegetable oil. Cover the pot again and leave it to cook on a low heat for 20 minutes. Don’t open the lid, as this will prevent the chicken from cooking thoroughly, as it steams on top of the rice.

After 20 minutes, open the lid and get a spoon and mix the chicken into the rice. You should find that some of the rice at the bottom of the pan has gone all crispy. Mmmm. Replace the lid and cook for a further 15 minutes on a low heat. Whilst this is going on, you might want to cook some veg.  It was Bok choi (with garlic, soy sauce and a little sugar) for us last night.

At the end of the 15 minutes, mix the rice and chicken up again to extract some more lovely crunchy ricey bits and serve with the veg and a side of chopped pickled green chillis in soy sauce for added zing. Warming, filling and family friendly.

Pickled chillis - ingredients and finished condiment

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Another week, another baking session. This cake is very moist and zingy with orange as you make it using the whole fruit, skin and everything. It’s also very simple as there’s no strenuous mixing involved.

The original recipe was in cups, but being a British baker, the inaccuracy of filling measuring vessels makes me nervous, so I have given a weight translation based on my cup measuring last night.

Today I topped this with a couple of candles for little Lollipop who was two, and we sang her Happy Birthday at Cake and Chat (the school mums coffee morning that I hold). I don’t think she actually ate any of the cake (more for us mums…), as it doesn’t really have enough butter icing for smaller people, but she seemed to enjoy blowing the candles out. This cake would also be good served warm with cream as a dessert.

Not exactly the WHOLE orange cake...

Ingredients

1 orange, including the skin
180g melted butter or soft marg
3 eggs
1 cup/220g caster sugar
1½ cups/210g self-raising flour

Put the marg in a microwave or on the stove to gently melt. Whilst that’s on, blitz the orange in a blender, having chopped it first so you can remove the pips and that white pith in the middle. I use the mini chopper that came with my stick blender.

Put the melted marg and the pureed orange in a mixing bowl and stir in all the other ingredients to make quite a sloppy batter. Pop in a greased and/or lined 8″ cake tin and bake for 40-45 minutes at 180°C (Gas 4).

My original recipe came with an icing made with icing sugar, orange juice and zest and melted butter. If you like your cake very sweet feel free…

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This week I’ve not got a baking recipe for you. Instead I thought I’d share a Vicarage supper recipe. For Sunday lunch this week I cooked a gammon joint (I really must blog that recipe sometime soon aswell). The Vicar had bought the gammon, and it was on offer. Being a Scotsman, therefore, he arrived with a joint that was larger than usual. We love gammon and very much enjoyed our lunch, but there were lots of leftovers.

Normally, I’ll use leftover gammon for sandwiches and a pasta bake with cheese sauce. But I didn’t feel like a pasta bake and there was far too much left for sandwiches. So I did what all social media junkies do: I tweeted my request for recipes for leftover gammon. And bingo! Spanish hotpot, rissoles and  many other great suggestions. One of the dishes I was reminded that I could make was a spaghetti carbonara. I often find recipes a bit of a pain when they are for four, as we almost never have an easy number eating. So I’ve organised this carbonara recipe per person:

Ingredients

Per adult, you will need (I used 5 times this recipe for 3 adults and 3 kids):

  • 1 egg yolk (look at it as an opportunity to make meringues)
  • 2tbspns double cream and 2 tbspns creme fraiche (or other proportion to make a total of 60ml if you’ve not got those in the right quantities)
  • 40g grated parmesan (or emmental, gruyere, mature cheddar)
  • 70g cubed gammon, bacon or pancetta
  • 1tbspn dry vermouth (or white wine, or leave it out altogether)
  • 10g/1tbspn butter
  • chopped parsley, black pepper to garnish

First put the spaghetti on to cook.

Then mix the cream and creme fraiche with the egg yolk and cheese. I mix it in a jug so it’s ready to pour out when the spaghetti is cooked.

Then fry the bacon/gammon until sizzling and crispy. Add the vermouth to the bacon and wait until the liquid has reduced and you have a good saucey consistency.

Then all you do is wait for the spaghetti to be cooked. Drain the cooked pasta and return it to the saucepan. Add the bacon with its sauce and the butter. Put it on a low heat and add the egg mixture. Gently stir until the sauce has warmed up. Serve with parsley and black pepper (or not, if your kids are fussy or you’ve run out).

Enjoy with a glass of wine. Or you might have to wait until after the trek down the M5 to piano lessons.

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Wednesdays is my baking day and since the recipe for lemonies seemed to go down pretty well the other week, today I’m going to share another Vicarage favourite bake. I’ve adapted the recipe from one in an Aussie cookbook sent to me by my oldest friend, who now lives in Sydney.

Wildwoman is a big foodie and thought I should would enjoy Bill’s food, which I did, very much. This cake has become a staple in our house, where we always seem to have some overripe bananas attracting fruit flies in the corner of the kitchen.

If you have a kitchen mixer, like a Kenwood chef, this is extra easy, but it should be just as simple with an electric mixer, or even to do by hand. Both versions are great. The pecans seem to almost caramelise as they bake, so I think it’s my favourite. But there’s also something about chocolate and bananas…

Choc Chip or Pecan Banana Loaf

Ingredients

250g/8oz self raising flour
250g/8oz caster sugar
125g/4oz soft margarine
4 ripe bananas
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
150-200g/4-6oz chocolate chips or 100-150g/3-5oz chopped pecans

Plop everything in your mixer, or a bowl, and mix together. The batter doesn’t need to look too smooth – mine always look pretty lumpy. If your bananas are not very ripe at all, you should probably mush them up separately with a fork first. Then pop the mix into a lined (I use a nifty pre-cut reusable silicone liner) 2lb loaf tin.

Bake for 1hr-1hr15mins in your oven at 180ºC (Gas 4, Fan 170ºC). When it’s done, it will be firm to the touch and a skewer should come out pretty clean. Leave it to cool in the tin. This cake keeps really well, if you can manage not to eat it.

Here’s last week’s Pecan Banana loaf, which was popular with both the family and the gang at Cake and Chat.

I really hope you're not here for the quality of the photography

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It’s been a while since I posted a Vicar’s wife job description and yesterday was particularly manic, so I thought I’d give you yet another glimpse of life in our Vicarage from my perspective.

Yesterday I cooked:

  • Meringues (using up leftovers) for Thursday’s coffee morning.
  • Bread for lunch for mini mission team (7 adults expected, tho’ only 5 ate in the end).
  • Soup for ditto.
  • Lasagne for Diamond, a school gate mum friend who’s just moved house, and her family.
  • Roast chicken, mashed potatoes & parsnip and steamed cabbage for the family, including Happy.
  • Chicken stock from the chicken bones (see above).
  • Yesterday I hoovered:

  • The hall
  • The family room. This took longer than you’d think, due to wood burning stove dust getting into every crevice and me not having deep hoovered for er-hum weeks now.

Yesterday I organised:

  • Our 5 year college reunion, including individually emailing everyone who’d not yet got back to me.
  • My pantry. I would not have chosen to do this, you understand, but a shelf was on the point of collapse, so I had to empty it and the Vicar had to do some manly stuff with a drill. Result: lots of dust followed by safe, clean and reorganised shelf.
  • Piano practice by three children.
  • Quiz papers to be carried out by three children.
  • Myself and two other women to start a new ministry in our church – we’re thinking of calling it ‘The Brunch Bunch’.
  • The vast pile of odd socks and pants to prevent morning underwear crises, of which there are far too many in the Vicarage.

Yesterday I did not:

  • Hoover the stairs and upper landing. Again.
  • Pick up the form from school about applying to be a parent governor.
  • Nobble the teacher who’s meant to be organising the volunteers so that I can start making use of my CRB form by going into school to help out.
  • Remember to give the reply about the party to the Engineer’s friend’s mother.

Today I am going to:

  • Hoover the stairs and landings. I am.
  • Attend a prayer meeting.
  • Help with preparation of lunch club vegetables and the deep cleaning of the church hall kitchen.
  • Get those governor forms and nobble that teacher. And the mother.
  • Take the kids to swimming lessons.
  • Cook a curry so that everyone can eat – at different times due to the Vicar having Governors and a baptism meeting.
  • Make a list of all the work that needs doing to the house – we have our Quinquennial tomorrow.

Wish me luck!

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After the guest list, next up for consideration for the Vicarage Sunday lunch is the menu. Our Sunday lunches have a few criteria to meet:

  • Cheap, otherwise the Vicar’s stipend would be sorely stretched. This means fancy organic meat and any red meat not on special offer is usually off the menu.
  • Acceptable for consumption by all the guests. This is why I tend to stick to pretty traditional roasts. We don’t live in an area where we can cook our beef raw or serve the lamb with a fancy salsa verde. And since I cooked roast pork for some dear friends in our last parish and only discovered on serving that one of them couldn’t abide it, I ALWAYS check whether there is anything that people won’t consume. I’ve been surprised by people’s dietary restrictions.
  • Possible to cook on the oven timer, or otherwise be worked around our absence at church between about 10.00am and 12.30pm. And we want to eat by 2.30pm at the latest, otherwise the Vicar has indigestion at the Evening Service and the children have consumed so many snacks that they don’t eat the lovely meal I’ve just slaved over.
  • I like if possible to make desserts the day before, or have a dessert that’s really speedy to make on a Sunday. There’s enough stress in the Vicarage on a Sunday morning without having to whip cream.
  • A few good leftovers always makes a good meal perfect.

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