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Gingerbread

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without gingerbread. Whether it’s gingerbread men, a gingerbread house or other gingerbread shapes, the mix of spices and the smell of it baking makes me feel all warm and Christmas-y!

Making gingerbread with your little ones is a wonderful activity to do (and not just at Christmas time). It’s easy to make, immense fun to make shapes out of and cooks quickly so you can start decorating sooner.

If you’re cooking with toddlers, you could make the dough yourself beforehand (the dough keeps in the fridge easily for a day) and get your munchkin involved from the ‘cutting out shapes’ stage. Older kids can help make the dough from scratch and while it’s chilling in the fridge, they can start choosing cookie cutters and think about how they’ll decorate them.

Gingerbread keeps wonderfully (in an airtight container) for a couple of weeks. It’s also a lovely present your kids can make and then give to friends and family. We’ve just finished decorating some Christmas trees to give to the staff at Nicholas’ preschool.

Gingerbread Christmas treesThis recipe has been the only one I’ve used to make gingerbread for the last few years. It’s slightly adapted from a Waitrose recipe. If I remember correctly, I just reduced the amount of bicarbonate of soda, as I really don’t like it when I can taste it in the finished product. There’s still enough of it though to puff up the gingerbread a little.

To make cleaning up easier, I like to roll the gingerbread on a piece of baking paper rather than on a floured surface, with a piece of plastic wrap on the top so the rolling pin stays clean too. This also means that your gingerbread won’t accidently stick to your work surface.

Christmas

GINGERBREAD

Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 9 mins
Makes about 30 medium-sized biscuits

125g unsalted butter
100g dark muscovado sugar
4 tbsp golden syrup
325g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
3 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg

Preheat oven to 190C. Line at least two baking trays with baking paper.

Melt the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a small saucepan over a low heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.

Mix the flour, bicarbonate of soda, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Stir in the melted ingredients to make a stiff dough. Shape into a ball and refrigerate for 10 mins (if you’re not going to cook your gingerbread immediately, wrap in clingfilm and leave in the fridge).

Roll out onto a lightly floured surface to a thickness of 3-5mm. Cut out shapes and place on your lined baking trays. Bake for 9 minutes until golden brown.

Leave on a wire rack to cool completely before decorating.

Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

Tip: before measuring out your golden syrup, rub a drop of oil over the spoon; the syrup will easily slide off.

What sweets are your favourite for decorating gingerbread?

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Christmas food inspiration

Christmas is almost here. If you’re still in need of inspiration, maybe these very cute ideas can help get your creative juices flowing.

Santa Cookies by My Poppet
I love how simple yet effective Cintia’s biscuits are – two colours of dough, some white icing, some raisins and voila, little santas!

Reindeer Cupcakes by With Sprinkles on Top
Pretzels make great antlers!

Five-Minute Fudge Wreath by Rachael Ray
This doesn’t require any cooking, just mixing and you only need a plain old round tin.

Reindeer Cookies by mommy2owen on Cake Central

Reindeer Cookies by mommy2owen on Cake Central
Such a brilliant idea using gingerbread men shapes turned upside down!

Snowman Cheese Ball by Betty Crocker

Snowman Cheese Ball by Betty Crocker
Take two cheese balls, put one on top of the other, add a few garnishes and you have a snowman!

What fun food are you making for Christmas?

Cute lunches: snowman snow globe

Keeping my snow globe theme, here’s a cute snowman to brighten up your day.

cute lunches: snowman snow globe

What you need:
2 tortilla wraps (I used wholemeal ones)
blue food colouring
pastry brush
tortilla filling of your choice (I used avocado and ricotta)
a piece of mozarella (or other cheese such as ricotta or cream cheese)
a piece of cucumber
1 slice of red pepper (or tomato)
1 slice of red apple (or red pepper or tomato)

Directions:

Using a small bowl as a template, cut out two circles from the tortilla wraps (mine were about 12cm in diameter). From the scraps, cut out one snow globe base and the trunk of the Christmas tree.

Mix 1 or 2 drops of blue food colouring with 2 tbsp water. Using a pastry brush, lightly paint one tortilla circle (don’t let it get too wet) and leave to dry.

Put your other circle on your serving plate and top with your filling. Place the base cut from the remaining pieces of tortilla at the bottom of your plate.

Cut out three small circles from your mozzarella, making each a little bit smaller than the last. Cut a larger piece of mozarella for the snow at the bottom of the globe. (If using a softer cheese, spread it at the bottom of the globe.)

Once your coloured tortilla circle is dry, place it on top of your filling and place the mozarella pieces on top.

Cut a piece of cucumber for the snowman’s hat and finely dice some more cucumber for his eyes and buttons.

Cut a nose and hat pompom from the red pepper. Cut two very thin strips from the apple to make the scarf.

Finally, break off small pieces of mozzarella for the falling snow and scatter them around your tree. (If using a softer cheese, drop tiny dollops around for the snow.)

Nutella pizza stars

Nutella pizza stars

We had so much fun making our mini pizzas, that we’ve been using the pizza dough to make other things, sweet things!

Cooking the pizza dough a bit longer and without any topping, creates a lovely crispy biscuit texture. And even though the dough isn’t sweet, adding something sweet on top is enough to turn the savoury dough into a sweet treat.

Little ones can help make the dough, roll it out and cut out the shapes, and there’s no easier decoration than spreading Nutella and dusting with icing sugar. They’re going to love their creations!

NUTELLA PIZZA STARS

Prep time: 1 hr 40 mins (for dough to rise twice)
Cook time: 5 mins
Makes about 30 biscuits
Uncooked dough can be frozen

7 g dried yeast
1/4 cup warm water
2 cups strong white bread flour such as “OO” flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup cold water
A handful of semolina (optional)
1 jar of Nutella
icing sugar to serve

Put the warm water in a small bowl and add the yeast. Leave for 15 mins for it to froth up.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, salt, olive oil and cold water. Add the yeast mixture and mix until it comes together in a ball.

Knead the dough on a floured work surface for about 5 mins. It should feel elastic and soft, and be a bit sticky.

Put the dough back into the bowl, cover and leave to prove for 20 mins.

Divide the dough into two, place the second piece in another bowl, cover both and leave to prove again for an hour (the dough should double in size).

Heat oven to 220C and leave the tray you’ll use (preferably a heavy-based one) inside to heat up (this helps cook the bottom of the pizzas).

Lightly flour your work bench and roll out one piece of the dough as thin as you can. Use a star-shaped cookie cutter to cut out your shapes.

Lightly cover a cutting board with semolina, place your pizza stars on top and drizzle with a dash of olive oil. Open the oven and bring the hot tray out enough so you can  sprinkle on some more semolina and slide the stars from the cutting board on to the tray (the semolina will help them move more easily).

The time it takes to cook your pizza stars depends on the thickness of your dough, but they should only take about 5 mins so keep a close eye on them. They’ll probably puff up a little. They’re done when the dough is golden brown on the edges.

Put the stars on a wire rack to cool. Once cool, spread with some Nutella and dust with icing sugar.

Nutella pizza stars

Cute lunches: pasta Christmas tree

Seeing pesto-covered farfalle pasta yesterday made me think not of butterflies, but of lovely thick Christmas tree branches and I couldn’t resist making another Christmas-themed cute lunch!

pasta Christmas tree

What you need:
cooked farfalle pasta (I used 8 pasta shapes)
pesto sauce (or avocado pasta sauce)
a small piece of wholemeal tortilla (or bread)
1 slice of cheddar cheese
1 black olive
1 slice of orange pepper
1 slice of red pepper

Directions:

Cut a trunk shape from the tortilla and place it on the plate.

Mix the pesto sauce through the cooked pasta. Starting from the bottom of the tree, place the pasta in a tree shape on the plate.

Cut a square from the slice of red pepper and a smaller square from the orange pepper. Put them next to the tree.

Finely dice the remaining pepper and scatter them over the tree.

Cut a star from the slice of cheese and place it on top of the tree.

Cut two thin strips of cheese and place them on the red pepper for ribbon.

Finally cut the olive in half lengthways and slice two thin strips from it. Place them on the orange pepper for ribbon.

inspecting the 'presents'

Cute lunches: penguin snow globe

Another Christmas-inspired snow globe lunch, this time featuring one of Nicholas’ favourite animals, an adorable penguin.cute lunches: penguin snow globe

What you need:
2 tortilla wraps (I used wholemeal ones)
blue food colouring
pastry brush
tortilla filling of your choice (I used cooked spinach and ricotta)
2 tbsp ricotta (or other cheese such as mozarella or cream cheese)
2 pitted black olives
1 slice of orange pepper

Directions:

Using a small bowl as a template, cut out two circles from the tortilla wraps (mine were about 12cm in diameter). From the scraps, cut out one snow globe base and the trunk of the Christmas tree.

Mix 1 or 2 drops of blue food colouring with 2 tbsp water. Using a pastry brush, lightly paint one tortilla circle (don’t let it get too wet) and leave to dry.

Put your other circle on your serving plate and top with your filling. Place the base cut from the remaining pieces of tortilla at the bottom of your plate.

Once your coloured tortilla circle is dry, place it on top of your filling and spread some of the ricotta at the bottom for snow.

Cut one olive in half lengthways, then cut 6 thin strips from the sides. Using 4 strips, make the outline of the penguin’s round body and add its flippers. Cut the other olive in half lengthways and trim down the sides of one piece to form the penguin’s head.

Fill the penguin’s body with some ricotta and add two small dollops of ricotta for its eyes.

Cut a nose and feet from the orange pepper. Cut two small squares from the remaining olive piece to finish the eyes.

Finally, drop tiny dollops of ricotta around the penguin for the snow.

scrutinising his lunch

Cute lunches: Christmas tree snow globe

I love browsing other blogs looking at ways other people make food cute and fun. There is amazing creativity out there. Just google ‘cute lunches’ or ‘cute bento boxes’ and you’ll see what I mean.

But apart from having great fun creating my Halloween tasting plate and coming up with some cute ideas for breakfasts for Mindful Mum, I hadn’t allowed my imagination to run a little wild. Not until now that is!

Here is my first cute lunch idea (hopefully the first of many), inspired by Christmas. I hope you like it.

cute lunches: Christmas tree snow globe

What you need:
2 tortilla wraps (I used wholemeal ones)
blue food colouring
pastry brush
tortilla filling of your choice (I used ham and cheddar)
4 slices of cucumber
1 slice of cheddar cheese
a piece of mozzarella (or other cheese such as ricotta or cream cheese)
1 slice of red pepper (or tomato)

Directions:

Using a small bowl as a template, cut out two circles from the tortilla wraps (mine were about 12cm in diameter). From the scraps, cut out one snow globe base and the trunk of the Christmas tree.

Mix 1 or 2 drops of blue food colouring with 2 tbsp water. Using a pastry brush, lightly paint one tortilla circle (don’t let it get too wet) and leave to dry.

Put your other circle on your serving plate and top with your filling. Place the base cut from the remaining pieces of tortilla at the bottom of your plate.

Chop the cucumber slices in half. Once your coloured tortilla circle is dry, place it on top of your filling and layer the cucumbers, starting from the bottom, to create your tree.

Cut out a star from your cheddar and place it on the top of your tree.

Finely dice the red pepper and sprinkle over to create Christmas baubles. Tuck the trunk under the bottom cucumber slices.

Cut a larger piece of mozzarella for the snow at the bottom of the globe. Break off small pieces of mozzarella for the falling snow and scatter them around your tree. (If using a softer cheese, spread it at the bottom of the globe and drop tiny dollops around for the snow.)

inspecting his lunch

It really isn’t difficult at all to create something cute. I’ve got some other ideas as to what I can put in a Christmas snow globe. What would you make?