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Recently a good friend of mine invited me to a special event celebrating the culture of Bengal in the north-east of India. (It was being held in Glasgow by the Bengali Cultural Association, so I didn’t need to go too far afield!) I knew it would be a colourful and exotic event full of beautiful costumes and dancing, so my daughter came with me to take these photos.

The two largest cities in Bengal are Kolkata (formerly spelled “Calcutta”) and Dhaka. The majority of people in Kolkata (the capital of Bengal) are Hindu, and this festival was primarily to celebrate the arts and crafts, music, literature and food of the Hindu people of Bengal.

Around the room were tables laden with beautiful displays on different themes. The first one we looked at showed the foods and spices that are typical of Bengali cuisine. I was most impressed by the butterfly made of whole spices that my friend had created!

She had also worked very hard to put together the Bengali Wedding display, which showed an amazingly sumptuous wedding sari, stunning gold jewellery and an official wedding certificate.

At many of the tables we looked at, charming little dolls highlighted the theme of the display. Two newlyweds sat on top of the wedding table, looking very formal in their traditional costumes.

Apparently the groom on the left should have been wearing a tall, pointed white hat, but it had gone astray!

 Another table was covered in musical instruments, and two musician dolls wearing bright orange robes looked as if they were about to play a tune. There were many beautiful Bengali crafts, including wood carvings, jewellery and batik paintings, and a display about famous actors, musicians, writers and film directors who had come from Bengal.

The highlight of the festival was Dances of India, an evening performance of a wide range of dancing styles from traditional temple dances to contemporary Bollywood! Before that we were treated to a lovely dance display by the children. The first dance represented a wedding celebration in a small village. You can see the bride and groom are very small, and I think they really enjoyed being the centre of attention for this dance!

The boy with the microphone on the right is setting the scene for the audience, and you can see a brilliant backdrop behind them which shows a river running past the little village and women carrying baskets on their heads.

We tried very hard to get some pictures of the children in motion, but they were too fast for us! Every one turned out totally blurry! So you will have to believe me when I say they did a brilliant job, and in my last picture you can see how beautiful they looked.

 

 

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Something reminded me recently of a recipe I used to have for gorgeously golden cheesy muffins. I haven’t made them for years, but yesterday I was determined to track down a similar recipe and try again!

Thanks to Google I quickly found a new one, and I can tell you now that these are just as delicious as the ones I used to make. They are extra golden because they have cornmeal in them. I love cornbread and these muffins are like cornbread with cheese. Mmmmm!

I started by gathering up all the things I would need, including two mixing bowls, a grater, two muffin tins, paper muffin cups, measuring spoons, flour, butter, baking powder and an egg. Oh, and cheese! Before you start it’s a good idea to wash your hands, too.

Here is a list of the ingredients:

3/4 cup plain flour

1/2 cup fine cornmeal

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 tablespoon sugar

1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

1 egg

3/4 cup milk

2 tablespoons melted butter

The first thing to do is put all the DRY ingredients into a big mixing bowl. (It looks like I was working in a very dark kitchen, doesn’t it?) I could see fine, really! Once these are all mixed together you grate the cheese into a measuring cup and add that to the dry ingredients.

The milk, melted butter and egg must all be beaten together in a smaller mixing bowl, then poured into the dry ingredients and stirred just until the whole mixture is moistened (no beating until your arm is sore or anything like that).

Fill the muffin cups about two-thirds full with the mixture, which looks rather like scrambled eggs at this point. The recipe says it makes twelve muffins, but I found it made only ten. Perhaps my muffin tins were bigger than normal, or I was filling them too much.

Bake the muffins at 180 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit, Gas Mark 4) for about 20 minutes. Keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t get too toasty on top! Mine turned out very well, and straight out of the oven they tasted fabulous! I found they were hard to get out of the paper cups when they were warm (a lot of muffin stuck to the paper) but once they had cooled that problem disappeared. To avoid this whole issue, just rub butter or oil in the muffin tins and forget the paper cups altogether.

These muffins use Cheddar cheese, but the ones I used to make had Gouda instead. You can experiment with different cheeses if you have a particular favourite. It should work fine if you keep to the same measurements.

Good luck and happy baking!

Hallowe’en is upon us and there are lots of exciting and spooky things happening in dark and shadowy castles across the land.

If you live in Scotland, click on the Visit Scotland website to see a full listing of all the ghost trails, pumpkin festivals and other Halloween events planned across the land.

If you live in England, there are all sorts of ghoulish goings-on, thanks to English Heritage. This year Halloween falls in the school half-term holiday, so there are lots of activities organised for families. Brave the Tunnel of Terror at Dover Castle, or have a creepy family sleepover at Kenilworth Castle. Click on the English Heritage link above to see a full list of all the events with times and prices.

Maybe you’re planning a Hallowe’en party of your own. Have you decided what kind of costume you will wear this year? Last year my son wore a giant banana costume, and this year he is going to wear a big, hairy wig and beard to be… a big, hairy bearded guy.

When I was growing up in Canada, the last day in October was usually freezing, and we used to go around the neighbourhood trick-or-treating in the snow! That meant our costumes had to be warm. Forget about being a ballerina or a fairy. You were much better going as a ghost, with a big sheet over you and lots of thick clothes underneath! Or a mummy wrapped in lots and lots of bandages!

If you’ve got a Hallowe’en party to go to, I wonder if you’ll be taking some special Hallowe’en food? I found a great website (based in the US) which has some fantastic ideas for spooky snacks. It’s called Family Fun and has a whole section on Hallowe’en goodies!

Here are some examples that I thought looked gruesome and tasty:

These are called Apple Bites, with teeth made of sliced almonds!

Don’t these Carrot Fingers look real? I’m sure they’d make me jump!

These are called Night of the Living Bread (as they’re made with pita pockets).

And I love this Hairy Daddy Longlegs!

HAPPY HALLOWE’EN EVERYONE!

When I was a kid my favourite biscuit was a gingerbread man. When I grew up I tried loads of different recipes to make my own ginger biscuits, but they were always too hard or too soft or too sweet or not gingery enough.

At last I found a fantastic recipe for ginger biscuits that works perfectly every time and makes the BEST biscuits you’ve ever tasted! And today I’m going to share it with you.

Here is what you need:

Ingredients

350 g / 12 oz self-raising flour

200 g / 7 oz brown sugar

125 g / 4 1/2 oz butter

1 tablespoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

a pinch of salt

75 g / 2 3/4 oz honey

1 egg

This is what you do:

Put the flour, sugar, salt, bicarbonate of soda and ground ginger into a big mixing bowl. Stir them all up until they are completely mixed. Squish any lumps of sugar you find so they mix in properly.

In a regular china bowl, chop the butter into slices (to make it melt faster) and put them in the microwave on DEFROST or LOW for about 20 seconds. When the butter is half melted, take it out and stir the unmelted bits in until it’s all runny but not too hot.

Crack open the egg into a small bowl and mix it up until it’s all smooth. Add the egg to the melted butter, stirring gently. Then add the honey to this mixture and stir again.

Add the gooey egg-honey-butter mixture to the dry stuff in the big bowl. Stir it all together with a big wooden spoon (this takes some doing) and if it’s a wee bit dry still, sprinkle a tablespoon of water over it and stir some more.

Take a soup spoon and dig out a big spoonful of the mixture. Roll it into a ball (make sure your hands are clean first!) and press it down on a non-stick baking tray. Do this lots and lots of times until the baking tray is full. (You need to leave a bit of space between them because they expand to about twice their size.) I make my biscuits quite big so I get about 11 on one baking tray.

While one batch is baking (for about 15 minutes at 160C / 325F / Gas Mark 3) I roll more little balls and flatten them out on another baking tray. At the size I make them, this recipe gives me about 24 biscuits altogether.

If you watch them bake, the biscuits puff up at first and look quite pale. Then slowly they flatten down again. They are perfectly done when they are flat and a lovely golden colour. The longer you leave them, the crunchier they get – but don’t burn them! What a terrible waste that would be!

My children love these biscuits any time of day, and especially in their lunch boxes. I hope you like them too!

Today is a holiday so I’ve made lovely banana pancakes for the whole family!  It’s great to have a lazy day and enjoy a special breakfast in the sunshine.  If you want to try and make these yourself, I’ll show you how:

Ingredients

1 cup self-raising flour

2 big bananas

1 egg

1 cup pineapple juice

What to do:

Put the flour in a mixing bowl. Take the two bananas and squish them all to a soft mush before you open the skins. (That’s much easier than mushing them after you open them.) Peel the mushed bananas and put them in the bowl. Mix the banana and flour to make a thick paste, then add the egg. Mix again until it’s all evenly mixed. Last, add the juice gradually to thin out the mixture until it’s just right for pouring. When your frying pan is nice and hot, pour out little circles of the mixture and get flipping!

You might need a grown-up to help you with the actual cooking, as the frying pan gets very hot. Good luck with your own yummy banana pancakes!