Sunday, June 28, 2009

Chocolate chip cookies

The following recipe is a favourite of all who have tried the resultant cookies. The original recipe stated 1-2 cups of chocolate chips. I found that amusing. Of course the cookies should only ever be made with 2 cups of chocolate chips! When my son and his girlfriend make these cookies they like to use an assortment of chocolate chips - milk, dark, white, mini-m&ms, etc. I do the budget version - the cheapest chocolate chips I can find at the supermarket.

The recipe makes loads of biscuits - 5-6 dozen depending on how big you make them.

1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 tbsp hot water
2 tsp vanilla essence
3 1/4 cups white flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 180 degrees.

Beat butter, brown sugar and white sugar until pale and creamy. Add eggs, hot water and vanilla. Beat until fluffy then scrape into a large bowl.
Sift together and stir in the flour, salt and baking soda. Stir in the chocolate chips. Drop teaspoonfuls on greased oven trays and bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown.


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Recipe time

The following is the recipe I use to make Anzac biscuits - these have been stunningly popular with the people I work with and are simple to make. The original source of the recipe was the Australian Womens Weekly.

1 cup rolled oats
1 cup plain white flour
1 cup white sugar
3/4 cup coconut
125g (4oz) butter
2 tablespoons golden syrup
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon boiling water.

Combine oats, sugar, flour and coconut in a bowl. Gently melt butter and golden syrup, stir while melting. Mix soda with boiling water then add to melted butter mixture. Stir into dry ingredients. Place tablespoonfuls of mixture onto lightly greased oven trays, allow room for spreading. Cook in slow oven for 20 minutes (around 150 degrees). Loosen while warm, then cool on trays.

The trick to making them into a chewy biscuit seems to be to cook them slow and maybe add a bit of extra golden syrup. The recipe should produce quite a flat biscuit.

The other recipe that I've made a couple of times recently is for a gooey chocolate cake. This is divine - a nice moist rich cake which is just as good heated the day or two after.


100g dark cooking chocolate
150g raspberry jam
125ml cream

30g cocoa powder
60ml milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
90g raspberry jam
115g softened butter
65g caster sugar
2 eggs
125g plain white flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of sea salt
80g raspberries (fresh or frozen)

Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees. Generously grease a 22cm round cake tin.

For the topping, put the chocolate, jam and cream into a small pan over a medium heat. Stir until smooth, then pour into the prepared tin.

In a bowl, mix the cocoa powder with 125ml boiling water, stirring until smooth, then add the milk, vanilla and jam, whisking to combine.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a separate bowl. Using a large spoon, fold the dry ingredients and the cocoa mix into the creamed mixture, alternating the two, then fold the raspberries through.

Pour the mixture into the cake time, ensuring you spread it right to the edge and cover the topping completely. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until the cake is firm. Leave the cake to cool in the tim for 15 minutes. If you're not serving straight away you can refrigerate the cake in the tin, but you will need to warm it in the oven before turning it out.

Turn the cake out onto a plate (be warned - use a big plate as the topping tends to run everywhere!). You may need to scrape some sauce out of the tin and spread it over the top of the cake. I think the cake is best served warm. Also, the last time I made this cake I made it the day before, let it cool, refrigerated it and re-heated it the following night. It was just as good as if we had eaten it the night it was cooked.

The downside of this recipe is the vast number of bowls needed - lots of washing up to do - but the cake is delicious!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A busy weekend in the kitchen

This weekend has been a grey, dull one weather-wise so I've spent most of it in the kitchen happily trying out some new recipes.

Yesterday (Saturday) I found a new recipe on the internet for a creamy lemon chicken pasta dish. This was a great success and the family all seemed to like this one. I made garlic bread and spinach salad to go with it. Yum! For dessert I made a chocolate mousse which always goes down well.

Today (Sunday) I needed to find a recipe to use up the egg yolks left over from the chocolate mousse. I was going to a friend's house for lunch today and wanted to take a couple of things for that. I found a recipe for Cinnamon Swirl bread on a forum and spent the morning making that. For a savoury dish I made some Kumara and Cashew fritters out of one of my recipe books. They were very simple to make and tasted great.

After lunch I came home and made a banana cake to take to work and then started to prepare our dinner. I had a new curry recipe to try (Chicken Rendang) and a recipe for roti bread which I hadn't tried before. Both turned out really well - the roti bread was especially yummy! For dessert I made fluffy banana rice puddings. These tasted great but didn't rise as expected. I don't know if I would try that recipe again. In searching online there were quite a few other rice pudding recipes that I'd like to try.

Now my weekend creativity is at an end - it's time for bed and the start of another working week tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Fitness and health

One of the parts of my current "mission" is to improve and maintain my fitness as well as staying healthy. In addition I want to pass on to my family any tips I can so that they may benefit as well.

On the fitness side, I have always been quite an active person and up for a challenge. As I age my body is not so keen on some things which I find a real source of frustration. Over the past few years I have been a regular gym goer and have got into cycling (road). I used to hate cycling but stuck with it until I reached my current state of loving it. Unfortunately I have a severe elbow injury and have been warned it may be 12 months before I can ride my bike again. I have also been a runner in the past but that has always ended in tears (and injury).

Anyway, my belief is that I should be doing something active 6 days of the week and I give myself one day for my body to relax (and recover). At the moment it's all at the gym until I can get back on my bike. I kick-started my year by signing up to a programme at the gym to "drop a dress size". The exercise was hard out and the programme also covered off nutritional guidelines. I dropped 5 kilos over 6 weeks which I was very happy with. Since the programme finished I have lost another kilo and am happy with the weight I am now at. My current exercise regime is 3 or 4 spin classes a week, 1 or 2 weights classes and 1 or 2 cardio / weights programme. I try to mix it up a bit each week so I don't get bored and so my body doesn't get too used to a particular regime. I'm investigating yoga currently as I would like to stretch more, gain strength and relax.

For me, in the past, when I have been less fit I wasn't happy. I would find I was lacking in energy and was unhappy about how I looked. To me that is my motivator. Feeling energised and comfortable in my own skin is incredibly important. My exercise regime may seem over the top to some but, for me, it is just right. I think any activity we do on a regular basis is good for the body and soul - from walking to swimming to running to dancing. Anything that gets the body moving. On the financial side of things it would be good to not be paying for a gym membership but while I am coping with this injury the gym gives me the ability to keep my level of fitness up.

On the health side of things, I believe that eating well-balanced meals and getting adequate rest are must-haves and key to being healthy and well.

The majority of our meals are cooked from scratch and I am focused on reducing our intake of processed foods as much as possible. I have been caffeine free for a few years now and this year have drastically cut my alcohol intake. I now go for weeks without any alcohol and feel so much better for it. I've cut down the amount of meat I consume but I don't think I will be going vegetarian any time soon - I like meat too much to do that. :)

I enjoy cooking which is lucky for my family and am always looking for interesting new recipes to give us some variety. I work hard to ensure we get a good amount of fruit and vegetables as much as possible and love it when our garden is producing a variety of vegetables. I'm looking forward to spring and getting back into the garden. With hard frosts it is difficult keeping the garden going through the winter. Sleep is important to me. I am an early riser (up at 5:10 during the week) so I am definitely an early to bed person each night. Funny thing is, the odd late night now doesn't impact me like they used to in the past - maybe being stronger and fitter has reduced my dependence on sleep a bit?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

It's all in the attitude!

I've been mulling over what to write next and decided that an article on attitude would be useful for me as it will help me to refocus.

There are times when stress kicks in, the bills pile up and the weather is horrible (welcome to winter in Wellington, NZ!) when it is hard to stay positive. These are the times, for me, when it starts to get hard to stick to the budget. The thought of dining out, running away for a few days or booking a holiday in a warmer climate becomes incredibly tempting.

We've made a commitment to hold off on spending outside of the budget until our nastiest debt has been cleared. So these are a few tricks I try to make sure I stay on track.

1. I bake and I cook. To me there is nothing better, on a nasty day when I am grumpy, than turning the oven on and cooking up a storm. There is something about the aroma of cookies in the oven and soup bubbling on the stove that lifts my mood immediately.

2. I look at how far we have come since our budget has been in place. I find it inspiring to see that we are managing to chip away at our debt, bit by bit. I like to imagine what life will be like once those payments can be routed into savings instead - that will be a wonderful feeling!

3. I read. I "do the rounds" of all the blogs I follow on the subject of finance and frugality. Often I will come across a post that provides me with the boost I need. If I come up empty-handed I will spend some time searching for new blogs or websites until I find one that gives me the inspiration I need.

4. I plan something. This may be an outing to the movies (using the vouchers I received for my birthday) or we might invite someone round for a meal or we might look at the budget for the next month and squeeze in something special - like a cheap night away somewhere.

5. I take some personal time out. On the weekend just gone, this was curling up in bed with a good book and having a snooze. Those who know me well will know this is completely out of character for me but it really did me a lot of good. My other way of escaping the world is to run a hot bath, make a cup of tea, apply a facial mask and soak for as long as I want.

These may all seem pretty simple fixes but they are do the trick for me. Deep down I know that we are on track to improving things vastly for our future so it's important we don't give up now!