A Bake in the Life: Mince Pies

When I was younger, as soon as my mum started making mince pies I knew it was nearly Christmas time! Nowadays there is still nothing that I love more than mince pies to get me into the Christmas spirit. Making them, the smell of them baking and of course eating them 🙂 I have helped my mum to make mince pies with this recipe for as long as I can remember, but this is the first time I have made them on my own, so I hope they make her proud.

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Mince Pies

You will need:

8oz/225g Self Raising Flour

4oz/114g Butter

Pinch of Salt

2 tsp Sugar (And a bit more to top the mince pies!)

Water to bind the pastry

Mince meat (You can usually find a jar at this time of year, or you can make your own! Here I’m using my mum’s homemade mince meat)

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Let’s get started!

  • Preheat your oven to 190ºC/375ºF/Gas Mark 5, and grease a cupcake/muffin tray.
  • Begin by weighing out flour, butter, salt and sugar into a large bowl.

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  • Using a knife, cut through the ingredients until combined.
  • Add a few tablespoons of water and continue to mix using the knife.

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  • Keep adding water until the pastry comes together.
  • Carefully use your hands to pull the pastry into a ball, handling it as little as possible.
  • Flour a large chopping board/work surface with flour.

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  • Using a rolling pin (Or wine bottle covered in cling film if you don’t have one!), roll the pastry out until it is around 3mm thick.
  • Using a cookie cutter (Or cups or varying sizes if you don’t have one!), cut out sets of large and small circles.

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  • Place the larger of the circles in each of the cupcake/muffin sections, gently pressing it down.

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  • Fill each with plenty of mince meat, but not so much it will come out of the sides!

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  • Top with the smaller of the circles, pierce with a knife to allow the steam to escape when baking.

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  • Brush with water and sprinkle with sugar.
  • Bake for around 20 minutes until light brown.
  • You are all done! 🙂 

Most people seem scared about making their own pastry, but honestly it really isn’t that difficult! Just remember to add the water a bit at a time, don’t handle it too much and roll it out fairly thin as it will rise when baked and you don’t want it to be too thick. If you want to make them a bit more fancy you can use a star cutter (Or any other shape!) to make the smaller pastry top. Definitely give them a go – everyone loves a mince pie 🙂

A Bake in the Life…

A Craft in the Life: Christmas Candles!

A while back you may remember my candle making experience with Megan from ‘Megan’s Candle Corner’. She has just started stocking her Christmas candle collection, including:

  • Christmas Splendor – A festive mixture of cinnamon, orange and a whole mixture of other Christmas related smells!
  • Spiced Apple – A lovely fruity smell with a hint of Christmas Spice!
  • Sweet Cherry – Less of a Christmas scent, more just a great smell of cherries at their best!

‘We also now have a green candle dye, so you can get really festive with red and green tea light sets, red and green striped Jar candles… or any other style you can think of I will try and create!’ – Megan

If you are looking for some beautiful handmade Christmas presents this year I would definitely recommend checking out her facebook and Etsy shop!

Happy Christmas candle shopping! 🙂

A Craft in the Life…

A Bake in the Life: Chocolate Brownies

For a long time I have been searching for a really good brownie recipe that gives a gooey centre, a firm outside and a tasty but not too overpowering chocolate flavour. Although I have made plenty of brownies before I haven’t ever posted a recipe as they always turn out too cakey (I have posted a Blondies recipe though!). While I was looking through Allrecipes I found a brownie recipe that looked promising so I decided to give it ago.

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Chocolate Brownies

You will need:

14 oz/400g Caster Sugar

8 oz/225g Melted Butter

2 oz/60g Cocoa Powder

1 tsp Vanilla flavouring/extract

4 Eggs

8 oz/225g Plain Flour

½ tsp Baking Powder

½ tsp Salt

2 oz/60g Walnuts/Pecans/Chocolate Chips or chunks (You can use any combination of things you like)

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Let’s get started!

  • Preheat your oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4.
  • Grease and line a 2cm/1in deep square/rectangular tin with grease proof/baking paper.

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  • Measure your butter into a microwavable safe bowl and microwave for around 1 minute until fully melted.
  • Combine all the ingredients into a large bowl and mix until smooth.

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  • Pour mixture into the tin and bake for around 20-25 minutes until the outside is solid, but the centre is still a little gooey.
  • Allow to cool in the tin, then remove and cut into equal portions.

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  • You are all done! 🙂

I think I have found a brownie recipe I love! First off the recipe is sooo simple so they only take around half an hour to make and bake. Secondly, they taste amazing: a gooey middle, firm outside and good chocolate flavour – just what I like in a brownie! You can personlise them really easily, with nuts or more chocolate. If you like you can also finish them off with a sprinkle of icing sugar. I would definitely recommend giving them ago!

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A Bake in the Life…

A Year in the Lab: Indole Testing

After spending last week out of the lab to work on literature work, I was really glad to find that my Kovac’s reagent had been delivered! So I headed back into the lab on Monday morning to get started on re growing my bacterial samples so I could conduct Indole testing.

Monday 18th November

While I was inputting data into my database spreadsheet last week I also made a note of those samples which needed to be Indole tested, and those which for what ever reason hadn’t been Gram stained, Oxidase or Motility tested yet. So I began the week by getting these samples out of the freezer, letting them reach room temperature before vortexing them.

IMG_3575Aseptic set up for spread plating samples onto MacConkey agar

I had a batch of MacConkey agar plates already made so I then spread plated my samples as before and incubated them overnight at 30ºC. As I will need more MacConkey agar plates I decided to make, autoclave and pour another batch.

Tuesday 19th November

I started the day by making more MacConkey agar and getting it onto autoclave. I also decided to make up some fresh Tryptone broth, decanting it out into universal jars (5ml each) before autoclaving.

While these were autoclaving I got my spread plates out of the incubator and viewed them using the colony counter, as before. I made detailed notes and took close up photographs of the colonies on each plate.

IMG_3591 IMG_3584 Selection of MacConkey spread plates showing colonies observed

I then heat fixed slides and Gram stained those samples which hadn’t been viewed yet. I observed these under light microscopy, making notes on whether the samples were Gram negative or positive and the cell morphology.

IMG_3627Gram staining heat fixed slides

I also conducted oxidase testing on those samples which hadn’t been tested yet. I took notes on whether the samples were oxidase positive or negative.

As my MacConkey agar and Tryptone broth had finished autoclaving, I removed them both from the autoclave and allowed them to cool. Once cool enough I poured my MacConkey agar plates aseptically, allowing them to set before inverting them.

Once my Tryptone broth had cooled, I labelled each bottle with the sample number and aseptically inoculated each.

How to inoculate Tryptone Broth

  • Begin by setting up an aseptic work space.

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  • Ensure you have a wire loop, spread plated samples and labelled tryptone broth in universal jars (4ml each).
  • Sterlise the wire loop by placing it in the hottest part of the flame, until as much of the wire section as possible turns red hot.
  • Allow to cool slightly, and then pick up one colony from the overnight agar plate, making sure not to put the wire loop down or touch anything.
  • Carefully open the labelled tryptone broth universal jar, flaming the neck of the jar (Remembering not to put the lid on the bench) before putting the wire loop into the broth and swirling it around gently.
  • Remove the wire loop, flaming again before putting it down on the bench.
  • Re flame the neck of the universal jar and replace the lid.
  • Incubate for 24-48 hours at 35ºC.

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  • After incubation: Add 5 drops of Kovac’s reagent and read colour change. A positive result is indicated by the development of a cherry-red coloured ring. A negative result is indicated by no colour change.

I have inoculated other broths before, but not tryptone broth, however I found this procedure pretty simple and problem free.

Wednesday 20th November

I started the day by removing my inoculated tryptone broth samples from the incubator, then added 5 drops of Kovac’s reagent and observed any colour changes. I made notes of the results for each sample and took photographs.

IMG_3647Adding Kovac’s reagent to incubated inoculated tryptone broth

Although I haven’t performed Indole testing before, I found it really easy to differentiate between those which were Indole positive, and displayed a cherry-red ring and those which were Indole negative and displayed no colour change.

Thursday 21st  – Friday 22nd November

I had full and very busy days on Thursday and Friday (Lab demonstrating and other work) so I didn’t visit the lab again this week. Instead I inputted my new data into my database spreadsheet and carried on identifying my samples based on this data.

IMG_3615Collection of MacConkey agar spread plates, in stacks of suspected organism

Next week…

I’m very glad to have been able to start Indole testing, as well as completing any other tests that hadn’t been finished yet. I will be carrying on with Indole testing next week, as I ran out of time this week. Hopefully all testing will be completed by next week and I may even get chance to finally start working with the Spiral plater!

A Year in the Life…

A Craft in the Life: Christmas Stockings

Last year I decided to try and make my own miniature felt stockings after seeing several for sale and as decorations over Christmas. They turned out to be much easier than I thought and I ended up making quite a few with the initials of family members, for gifts. This year I decided to make a few more to add to my Christmas tree decoration collection and experiment with the designs a bit. I also made a few more for friends, again personalised with their initials for hanging on their Christmas trees or just as seasonal decorations.

I think this is a really good starter craft for those who haven’t done much sewing before as it doesn’t require a sewing machine or any special equipment, just a needle and thread. For the more experienced crafter there is plenty of room for experimentation and personalisation through changes in fabric, size and design.

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Christmas Stockings

You will need:

Fabric of your choice (I used red and green felt to give a Christmas look, but you can use any type/pattern/colour of fabric. I brought half a metre of each and that is plenty to make at least 20 if not more stockings if you place your template carefully)

Needle and thread (I used thicker white thread to fit with my Christmas coloured red and green stocking, but you can use matching coloured thread – choose a needle to suit the size of your thread)

Sewing machine (If you don’t want to stitch the pieces together by hand)

Pins

Scissors

Paper template (I made this myself by finding a stocking image online and adjusted the size to suit my needs)

Ribbon (You can choose whatever you would like to make the stocking handle, or you can leave this off)

Let’s get started!

  • Start by making your paper template, either by printing off a template or laying paper over your screen and tracing the image. You can then adjust the template size to suit you.

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  • Once you have your template, fold your fabric in half so you when you cut it out you will have two layers of fabric.

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  • Pin the template to your two layers of fabric, and carefully cut it out.

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  • Continue pinning and cutting out until you have your desired amount of stockings.

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  • If you choose to add some decoration to your stocking do it now before you stitch the two layers of fabric together.
  • I decided to decorate mine with the initials of the people I was making them for, but you could decorate them with snowflakes, Christmas trees or anything else you can think of!
  • If you want the stitching to be seamless, then pin the stocking pieces right sides together and stitch all the way around expect for the top opening – then turn the right way out.
  • If like me you like the look of the stitching, just pin the two pieces together with the design facing out and stitch all the way around expect for the top opening.

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  • I chose to hand stitch my stockings together, but you can always use a sewing machine if you like.

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  • Fold a piece of ribbon in half lengthways and cut to your desired length.
  • Using a needle and thread stitch this handle onto the top corner of your stocking (This will depend on which way your stocking faces).
  • You are all done! 🙂

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You can leave your stocking empty and simply give them as Christmas tree/room decorations or you can fill them with small gifts such as candy canes, sweets or miniature presents. If you want you could also leave off the initials and instead decorate them with stars, trees or snow flakes – or of course just leave them plain.

A Craft in the Life…