“Pretty Baby” by Mary Kubica

Welcome to 2019 everyone!

I’m going to kick off the new year with a book review. I have just finished reading “Pretty Baby” by Mary Kubica. This book grabbed my attention because it promised to be along the same lines as “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn (you can read my book review of that one over here).

To be completely honest, “Pretty Baby” by Mary Kubica wasn’t as gripping as “Gone Girl” but it did get me thinking and wondering about the background of the characters and how their stories had come about.

Let me tell you about “Pretty Baby”.

It is written from the points of view of Heidi, her husband Chris, and Willow.

Heidi has a heart for helping those in need. She is a social worker and spends all her days dealing with victims of poverty. Heidi sees a teenage girl, Willow, with a young baby at the train station for several days. Willow appears to be homeless and ill-equipped for keeping herself and the baby warm and dry in such wintry weather. Heidi can’t get the girl and the baby out of her head. She looks for them every day and eventually decides she must interfere.

Willow is very wary of Heidi, but reluctantly allows Heidi to bring her and baby Ruby to her home to care for, much to the disgust of Heidi’s husband Chris and daughter Zoe.

In Willow’s chapters her story begins to unfold. I won’t spoil things for you, but let’s just say that her life had been filled with uncertainty. The book gradually fills in the blanks about Willow’s life and it’s my curiosity that kept me reading this story.

I enjoyed “Pretty Baby” by Mary Kubica. It wasn’t completely unpredictable (despite the quote on the back of the book!) and I ended up discovering more about Heidi’s character than I expected to.

Here are the reviews of books along the same lines as “Pretty Baby” that I have written, in case you love psychological thrillers as much as I do:

“Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn

“The Girl Before” by JP Delaney (this one is my absolute favourite!)

“Luckiest Girl Alive” by Jessica Knoll

“Little Pretty Things” by Lori Rader-Day

Check some of these out if this genre is your jam.

Heads up: the next book (the one I am currently reading) is a bit different! Stay tuned for the book review of that one.

Whatever you read, read for the love of it and soak up the stories of new people, places and experiences. Words are wonderful things.

Trina xx

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A Christmas List

Christmas is coming like a steam train and I have a Christmas List or two on the go….do you? I have lists for gifts, food, guests and dates.  It all feels overwhelming until I write it down and figure out when I can do all the things and that feeling of ticking it off the list….well, it’s a great feeling! 

I can’t write your Christmas lists for you, but I can give you some tips and ideas that might help ease the chaos of the next two weeks.

List Printables

Back before Christmas 2016 I shared a blog post about Christmas lists. You can find printables for gifts, cards and food. 

Check it out here.

Presents

I keep a list of presents that I need to buy, or people that I need to buy for (I try to add gift ideas for each person before I hit the shops so that I don’t waste too much time once I get there). A list of presents that I have previous bought is something that I have shared with you before. This helps prevent me giving someone the same thing (or similar) two years in a row. 

Present cupboard

Read more about my present list here.

Advent Wreath

Do you have an Advent Wreath at your house? I like to make an Advent Wreath with candles we can light each Sunday in Advent.

Advent wreath
Advent Wreath

You can read about my Advent Wreath over here.

DIY Gifts

Giving a gift that you have made yourself is such a thoughtful and kind thing to do. These days we are so time poor that it is such a treat when somebody spends time making something for a friend.

Here are some ideas I have shared with you in the past:

Springerle Biscuits (you only just saw this last week!)

Traditional Springerle biscuits
Springerle Biscuits

Lemon Butter (this is the best recipe!)

Best Lemon Butter
Best Lemon Butter

Chocolate fudge (it’s so delicious)

Quick chocolate fudge recipe
Chocolate Fudge

Chocolate coated caramel fudge (it  doesn’t get any better than this)

Chocolate coated caramel fudge
Chocolate coated caramel fudge

For someone who needs extra care this year, you can make a Meal in a Jar. The gift of a simple meal that can be enjoyed today or later is very practical and something a little bit different.

Meal in a jar
Meal in a Jar

So I’m not going to pretend that these ideas will fix all your problems, but maybe they will inspire you and help you out as your prepare to make Christmas extra special for your friends and family.

Merry Christmas to you from me!

Trina xx

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Springerle German biscuits

 

Every Christmas, for many years now, I have been baking these traditional Springerle German biscuits. They date back as far as the 14th century (I just Googled it – I haven’t been making them that whole time.). The original old recipe flavours this biscuit with anise extract but we are not big fans of that taste so I add vanilla extract instead. The vanilla gives these biscuits a delicious flavour. The name Springerle refers to the “spring” in the dough as it rises up so nicely.

Traditional Springerle biscuits

I bought my German Springerle roller online years ago and I really love it. It is wooden and has images of flowers and birds. I also really like that it prints onto the pastry in squares so it makes cutting them up to put on the tray really easy. When I roll it onto the dough I always roll the dough our with a normal rolling pin, then lightly flour the dough and press evenly with my Springerle roller using my hands on the roller itself. I don’t use the handles because I find I can’t distribute the pressure as evenly. You can also find Springerle boards instead of rollers. If you don’t have either of these, you could just cut shapes out of your dough. They will work just as well.

Springerle German biscuits

Springerle German biscuits

Ingredients

  • 4 eggs
  • 3 3/4 cups icing sugar (confectioners' sugar)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 cups Plain flour (sifted) - note, you may need to add more to get the consistency of the dough right. I just start with 4 cups and add more if I need to.
  • 2 tsp baking powder

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, beat eggs until light with an electric mixer on high speed.
  2. Reduce speed and add the vanilla extract and icing sugar. Continue beating a medium speed until well combined.
  3. Sift together the flour and baking powder; stir into the egg mixture. The dough will be stiff.
  4. Tip dough out onto lightly floured board. Knead until smooth.
  5. Roll dough out to 1 cm thickness. Lightly flour the dough surface.
  6. Imprint with a springerle roller and cut apart. Place biscuits onto a lined baking sheet and let rest uncovered overnight.
  7. The next day, preheat oven to 175 deg C (350 deg F).
  8. Bake biscuits for 7-10 minutes. (They will rise up underneath)
http://trinamichellehouse.com/springerle-german-biscuits/

You will see that the recipe requires that you leave the cut biscuit dough uncovered on the trays overnight. This is a weird instruction but I always do it and I think it’s the secret to a good Springerle biscuit.

Springerle cookies

These Springerle German biscuits make lovely gifts for friends or the kid’s teachers. They are a bit special and unique.

You don’t have to be German to give these a try! (You could even experiment with different flavours. I’m sure orange extract or cinnamon would also work – although I haven’t tried it – we love the vanilla). Make these as something special this Christmas. They might just become a new traditional baking treat in your house.

Trina xx

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Couscous minestrone soup

For Meatless Monday this week I made Couscous minestrone soup. It was a rushed day. I had been working, then picked up my girls from school. I dropped one off at her after school job, and then took the other one to an Orthodontics appointment. We got home later than usual and I didn’t have much time to cook dinner. So this recipe was the perfect solution.

Minestrone soup on the stove

A while ago I had seen a TV show we have here called The Cook’s Pantry.  A recipe they demonstrated on the show was this one for Couscous Minestrone Soup. Of course their recipe is full of brands that sponsor the show, but still, it was full of ingredients that I keep on hand and are familiar with (even if the brands weren’t all the same).

I changed the recipe very slightly. The one written below is almost the same as the original but without the brand names they use on the TV show.

You can find the original recipe over at The Cook’s Pantry website. Here is my modified recipe:

Couscous minestrone soup

COUSCOUS MINESTRONE SOUP

SERVING SIZE:

4 people

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 tins of cherry tomatoes
  • 500ml vegetable stock (made up from a powder or homemade)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1 zucchini, diced small
  • 1 celery stick, diced
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 cup couscous
  • 1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbs Olive Oil
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • Parmesan cheese, to serve
  • Sourdough, to serve

 

METHOD :

  • Put a large pot over stove. Pour in olive oil, and start to fry off carrot, onion and celery.
  • Add zucchini to the pot, stirring through. Fry for 3-4 minutes, or until vegetables are softened but not browned.
  • Once vegetables have softened, pour in tinned tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce and vegetable stock. Stir through so ingredients are well combined. Bring pot to a boil then reduce to a simmer, cooking for 15 minutes, or until vegetables are soft. (TIP: The smaller you chop the veggies the quicker it will cook.)
  • Pour couscous into pot and cook for 2 minutes, or until couscous has cooked. Take pot off heat.
  • Mix half parsley through soup.
  • Serve with Parmesan and fresh parsley sprinkled over the top and toasted sourdough bread on the side.

Couscous minestrone soup at table

I like the addition of Worcestershire sauce. I add this instead of salt (the stock adds enough salt in my opinion) and it gives it a lovely flavour. Worcestershire sauce is added to my bolognese sauce too.

Those of you living in countries where it is getting colder might like to give this recipe a try. It’s a great one for the winter months and was on the table very quickly (I chopped my veggies pretty small!).  We have had a bit of a cold snap here in Melbourne, Australia, over the last week, so salads have been shelved while I sneak in the last soup nights we’ll probably enjoy for a few months.

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do.

Trina xx

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Boiled chocolate raspberry cake

It was my birthday this week and so I made a big boiled chocolate raspberry cake to take in to work. It’s office policy!

This recipe makes a nice big cake and it’s really delicious without being too rich. The addition of fresh strawberries on the top also help to soften the blow. I cut mine into sixteen generous slices.

Chocolate cake in the office

Chocolate cake slices

My favourite thing about this cake is it’s texture. It is really moist and dense but not too heavy when you eat it. I decided to cover it with a whipped chocolate ganache (it’s like a chocolate mousse) but normal chocolate icing is still really good. This cake feeds a crowd really well, but you can halve the recipe if you don’t want a cake quite as big (just remember to shorten the baking time if you do this). I also really like the way this cake cuts so cleanly. It’s an easy one to slice up, so you won’t be dreading that job.

Boiled chocolate and raspberry cake

If you are going to make this boiled chocolate raspberry cake, it does require a bit of forethought. I like to boil the butter, sugar cocoa and water the night before so that it is completely cool going into the mixture. You don’t have to do it that early, but as long as the liquid component has completely cooled before using. Otherwise the result is not as good.

Here is the delicious recipe:

Boiled chocolate raspberry cake

Boiled chocolate raspberry cake

Ingredients

  • 250g butter
  • 4 Tbsp cocoa
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tsp bicarb soda
  • 3 cups self raising flour
  • 1 cup frozen raspberries
  • Fresh strawberries to serve
    Whipped chocolate ganache
  • 125g dark chocolate
  • 300ml thickened cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Instructions

  1. Place butter, cocoa, sugar and water into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Stir to dissolve sugar, then cool completely (I like to leave mine overnight).
  2. Add remaining ingredients (add frozen raspberries last), mix well and pour mixture into a well greased and lined 24cm diameter springform tin.
  3. Bake in 180°C oven for around 1 1/2 hours, or until a skewer comes out clean.
  4. Cool in tin 10 minutes, then remove sides and turn out onto a rack (remove base) to cool completely.
  5. Meanwhile, make the ganache.
    Whipped chocolate ganache
  1. Put chocolate in food processor and pulverise chocolate until it resembles breadcrumbs.
  2. Heat cream in a jug in the microwave to boiling point (I do 1 minute on HIGH).
  3. With food processor running, pour hot cream in on the chocolate in a steady stream.
  4. Process for a few seconds until smooth.
  5. Refrigerate for 30 minutes (or while cake cools....can be an hour or so) until cold (but don't leave it too long or it will be too stiff).
  6. Add vanilla and beat on low speed in an electric mixer for about 5 minutes, until soft peaks form.
  7. Cover cake with ganache then store covered in fridge until required.
  8. I serve cake topped with sliced fresh strawberries.
http://trinamichellehouse.com/boiled-chocolate-raspberry-cake/

It was warm weather over here in Melbourne, so storing this cake in the fridge was a good option.

By the end of the day, this cake was completely all gone! If you need to make a large cake for an occasion, this one is a winner!

It’s a great option for your Christmas parties and gatherings. Give it a try and let us know how you like it.

Trina xx

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