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Chocolate Loaf Cake

A new loaf tin and lining papers for £2 lead to the disposal of my silicone loaf tin which kept spreading and not forming a nice shape. I do like the silicone cake tins, just not the loaf shape. Paper tin liners are super, speeding up the tin prep and reducing the clean up - although the loaf doesn't look as nice to my eye as the finished article. Still tastes amazing though.

This chocolate loaf cake can be made by my kids it's versatile and works cupcakes or mini loaves, just reduce the cooking time. If you want it even richer then fold in 200g of choc chips before pouring it into the tin.

175g butter, room temperature
175g golden caster sugar
3 eggs - these are best at room temperature for this if possible
200g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
110 ml of milk
4 tablespoons coco powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Optional -  200g chocolate chips

1. Preheat the oven to 160 C  prepare your loaf tin - loving being able to just drop a lining paper in
2. In a large bowl, combine the butter and sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Sift in the flour then add the baking powder, milk, coco powder and vanilla extract. Beat until well blended and light
3. If using the choc chips add them now with the minimum stirring possible. Pour into the prepared loaf tin and smooth the top
4. Bake in the oven for 50 to 60 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and remove from the tin and place onto a cooling rack

Power Balls - Growth Spurt Hero's

Looking a bit like meal balls here - oopsy!
I've been browsing to find a high protein snack for our family as Junior Gingerbread is having a growth spurt and most days needs a top up before bed. A large glass of milk and a couple of digestive biscuits, golden syrup and date flapjack or an extra bowl of Weetabix were getting boring. These 'power balls' from Trisha Yearwood are a step up in utrition and quite filling  - 4g of protein and 132 calories according to the source recipe.  Varying the fruit keeps them interesting - the original has cranberries which I have successfully swapped for raisins, apricots or a mix (depending on what's open and needs using in the cupboard).

2 cups of rolled oats
1 cup of extra crunchy peanut butter - I've settled on 'Meridian Extra Crunchy' after some research this seemed a quality one with no hidden 'extras' and use a whole 280g jar
1/2 cup honey - a bit less if you don't have a sweet tooth
1/2 cup choc chips
1/2  sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons of flax seeds (thanks Auntie Bec)

Pop everything into a food processor and whizz together to get a crumb mixture. Chill for 30 mins then roll into 30 balls. Roughly 2 flat tablespoons per ball. This is a bit fiddly and they crumble to start with! Then chill for a further 30 mins before eating - this really helps them keep their shape. Store them in the fridge in an airtight container.

From the original - can't vouch personally
for the values, but, looks good

Paella la Familia

Letting the side down - no decoration
of peppers
Mr Gingerbreadman is Spanish, as you can imagine paella features high up on his list of favourite food. Junior Gingerbread isn't keen on seafood and Princess Gingerbread loves it. The answer for us is a chicken and chorizo paella which pleases everyone with a side dish of prawns or calamari.

I've learned that paella is a bit like a British roast dinner - the main concept is the same but everyone's Mum makes it slightly differently and that's what that Spaniard recognises as the ultimate version. My mother in law taught me how to make this, in turn I've customised it for us. So hers is the best according to Mr Gingerbreadman, my kids love ours.

It's worth noting that the sauce takes the longest to do - it needs to be packed with flavour to make the dish amazing rather than average. My 'cheat' is to make a double batch and freeze one. 'Made ahead' sauce works great as a 'we've got guests and nothing sorted meal' as you can cook it whilst they socialise or Sunday lunch.

You don't need a paella pan  - a large shallow pan will do the job. Serves 4 (2 adults, 2 kids), with salad.

Bell peppers x3
Tin of chopped tomatoes or fresh tomatoes (skin removed by blanching and chopped)
2 onions
Garlic 2 cloves
Chicken - allow a breast per person or two thighs
Chorizo - handful, cubed
Stock - chose one that matches the protein element - fish, chicken, or vegetable all work nicely. Chef's note - either follow the instructions on your rice or work on 1 cup of rice to 3 cups of stock
250g Paella or short grain rice - if 4 adults increase, work on 75g to 100g per person depending on appetites and second helpings
Paella seasoning mix or saffron, paprika - I use smoked paprika or hot paprika if you want to really pep the flavour up - it's all down to your own taste

1. Cut the bell peppers into quarters, turn in a little olive oil and roast off on a tray in the over until the skins lift. Leave to cool and then peel the skins off and discard. My mother in law does this in the pan and removed the skin whilst they are hot - impressive heat handling skills!
2. Chop the onions and fry them off gently until they are soft, if using fresh garlic add this in at the end to cook through quickly
3. If using fresh tomatoes blanches these remove the skins and chop - or open the tin! IF using fresh tomatoes feel free to fry them in the pan to produce a puree
4. Pop the peppers, onion and tomato into a blender and whizz up to make a course sauce - don't over do it  - you want a bit of texture not soup

1. Cube the chicken breasts, or flatten out the thighs and fry them gently in the paella pan - getting all that flavour into the pan. This is different to a seafood paella where that is precooked and goes in towards the end
2. Once cooked put the meat to one side
3. Put a glug of oil in the pan and add the rice. Toast the rice in the pan a little to warm through and coat in the meat juices. Set the rice to one side
4. Add the stock to match the amount of rice you are using to the pan - either follow the instructions on your rice or work on a 1 cup or rice to 3 cups of stock
5. Stir in the vegetable sauce
6. Add the seasoning - I bring  'el Aeroplano' back from Spain for the colour, however, a generous pinch of saffron to gives the famous yellow colour, with a teaspoon of paprika, salt and pepper or even a supermarket seasoning kit. Adjust the smokey taste and spicy heat to match your palette as you go
7. Sprinkle the rice evenly across the liquid in the pan
8. Cook it on a medium to low heat - slow and steady! Its takes 45 minutes to an hour. Once the rice has started to absorb the stock, add the chicken and chorizo. The paprika and chorizo will make it a deeper colour
9. DO NOT STIR the paella if you can help it - you want to avoid making the rice gloopy. Sort of redistribute the rice if you see a patch of sauce with out any
10. If the rice is still crunchy and it's looking a little dry top up with a glug of hot water as required - resting it for a few minutes before serving helps the rice absorb the sauce - less is more if you do this
11. Serve with a salad and if really going for Spanish style sliced fresh crusty bread. Squeeze some lemon juice generously over the paella

The crunchy bit from the bottom of the pan is considered the best bit!
Fail at making a tidy plate for a picture - too hungry!

Pearl Barley, tomato and Coriander salad 'Southwestern Barley Salad'

I'm so excited by this salad - I just can't get enough of it for lunches at the moment. It is soooo good. I take this to work - two large portions to keep me going all day or three smaller ones. Its great as a bring along at a BBQ or family gathering and super as an alternative side dish to fish or oven baked chicken.

1 cup uncooked barley
1 cup cooked sweetcorn (I use frozen, tinned is fine)
1½ cup cherry tomatoes (about 12), quartered
¼ cup chopped fresh coriander
4 thinly chopped spring onions
Juice of 2 large limes
¼ cup olive oil (or a bit less, see how you get on)
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste - I put quite a lot in to give an extra peppery heat

Cook the pearl barley according to the instructions on the packet and let cool (I rinse mine under a cold tap)
Cook the sweetcorn if you are using frozen and cool
Chop the coriander, tomatoes and spring onions
Mix gently together all the ingredients in a large bowl
Add the olive oil and lime juice

Recipe based on this one - actually almost the same just 'anglicized', without the sugar and more pepper.

16 Quick Dough Balls

A tasty treat that the kids can make with minimal supervision. Add interesting ingredients to make them unique for example a bit of cheese, garlic, herbs and so on.

200g or 1½ cups strong plain flour
½ tsp instant dried yeast
1 tsp salt
125 ml  or ½ cup water

Mix everything together to form a wet sticky dough
Leave until doubled in size*
Pre heat the oven to 220c
Chop into 16 pieces the same size
Knead each piece slightly and then 'tuck' the corners underneath to bake a ball
Pop on an oven tray and leave for a couple of minutes
Bake for 8 minutes

*With these dough balls, you can get away with little or no proving, though under-proved dough cracks when baked (not that it matters if your priority is quick bread). Proving gives you beautifully rounded dough balls and takes about 45 minutes depending on your room temperature. To test for fully risen dough give it a little prod, the dough should spring back quickly. If you're aiming for speed, a ten minute prove will do

Perfect Oven Cooked Chicken Breasts

I've been cooking chicken breasts wrong - they have always been a bit dry. Here is the way I've found to cook them (shared in many places online once I bothered to research it) that guarantees they turn out every time.

1. Pre-heat the oven to 200C
2. Try and make sure your chicken breasts are about the same size so they are ready at the same time
3. Glug some olive oil into an oven proof dish, then add the chicken. Turn them over in the oil a couple of times so that they are lightly coated
4. Sprinkle a coating of paprika, a few mixed herbs on top and season with salt and pepper
5. Cook for 10 minutes in the oven, turn over and and then cook for a further 10 minutes
6. Let stand for a few minutes before serving - I tend to put a tea towel under the dish to tilt it slightly so the juices run into one corner out of the way

Swap the paprika for any sort of seasoning you fancy - lemon, piri piri, bbq and so on.

Lemon Drizzle Traybake

The is a crowd pleaser - it always disappears quickly on the treat table at work. Lovely with a cup of tea with friends as something other than a cupcake. The crunchy, lemony sugar topping that helps keep it moist is the best bit!

225g softened butter
225g caster sugar (I use golden caster sugar)
275g self raising flour
2 level teaspoons of baking powder
4 large eggs
4 tablespoons of milk (I only have semi skimmed which works fine)
Finely grated rind of two lemons

For the topping
175g granulated sugar
The juice of the two lemons

1. Preheat the oven to 160c a grease your traybake tin. I use a silicone one and don't have to line it aswell - with a metal one you would probably want to. A lip of  greaseproof paper can make it easier to get out of the tin
2. Measure all the ingredients into a bowl and mix together well
3. Scoop it all into your tin and smooth - the back of a warm spoon does the job nicely
4. Bake for 30 - 40 minutes until it has shrunk away from the edges of the tin
5. Make the topping - simply mix the two things together in a small bowl
6. Leave in the tin to cool for a few minutes and pop onto a cooling wrack
7. Spoon the topping over the cake whilst it's still warm
8. Cut into 30 smaller or 15 larger (nom nom) squares

Blooper - the first time I made this I messed it up by putting the topping on whilst it was still in the tin - made it very tricky to get out of the tin and cut up - oops!

I think this is Mary Berry recipe, my crumpled printout from a friend didn't say.