Chocolate Balloon Bowl

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I actually made this a while ago before my blogging days, and have been meaning to post it for ages. This is one show stopper dessert that looks amazing, but doesn’t require much in the way of skill.

You’ll need a balloon, a packet each of dark, white and milk chocolates, a Bain Marie to melt the chocolates and something to perch the balloon in. Firstly, blow the balloon up, but not too full. Stand it in a mug or something to keep it stable, and put a piece of foil or baking paper underneath to catch any drips. Now melt the dark choc so it is just melted, check that it’s not too warm (trust me, you don’t want to spend forever wiping ribbons of dark chocolate off your kitchen because the balloon exploded!…yes, it happened to me!). If the chocolate is just warm you should be ok. Pour it over the top of the balloon and leave to set. Do the same with the white and then milk.

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Once the choc is set, remove the balloon from the mug, and place a dollop of melted choc on the baking paper and stand the upturned balloon in it. You now have a stand for your bowl.

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Once fully set, very carefully make a minute cut in the knot of the balloon aiming to let the air out very slowly. If you do it slow enough, the balloon should come off in one piece. If it doesn’t, pic away the bits that are stuck to the chocolate. Fill with your favourite dessert (I used a very simple to make Eton Mess).

Place the bowl on a large platter and smash in front of your guests upon serving.

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Tough questions: Is our eternal destiny already decided?

Sometimes there are aspects of the Christian faith which we struggle to comprehend or accept. The temptation is to skim over them and assume that they can’t really be teaching what they appear to be plainly stating.

However, 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that all scripture is God-breathed and useful for our teaching, reproof, correcting and training, so we cannot ignore sections of the Bible simply because they challenge our perceptions.

In the latest sermon series at Full Life Church we confront some aspects of scripture which can be difficult to understand and yet are, in many ways, fundamental to our faith. We will encounter some tough questions but we will also strive to find true, biblically based answers. This week we look at whether our eternal destiny is already decided.  Click here to listen.

Broccoli and Blue Cheese Soup

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Isn’t wonderful how just a few quality ingredients can produce such a tasty outcome? Today was a dreary, drizzly day and I wanted something wholesome and warming to brighten it up. After a little digging around in the fridge I concocted this simple soup using a leek, a couple of sticks of celery, a head of broccoli stalk and all, some stock, seasoning, a teaspoon of crushed garlic and a few cubes of frozen spinach.

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Soften the leek and celery in a pan with some oil, adding in the garlic after a couple of minutes. Throw in the broccoli and add the stock. I used some chicken stock and also some water I had frozen after cooking red cabbage earlier in the week.  I figured anything that turns this vivid purple colour naturally must contain some goodness!

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When the broccoli was tender I whizzed the soup up and realised that it was a revolting mushroom colour due to the blending of the green vegetables and the purple stock, so threw in a few cubes of frozen spinach to try to remedy the colour failure, along with the crumbled blue cheese.

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Thankfully it worked and some vibrancy was restored! I served this with a few Slow Roasted Herby Cherry Tomatoes and some chopped garlic chives.

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Slow roasted herby cherry tomatoes

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I’ve had a little bowl of beautiful cherry and vine tomatoes ripening nicely on the kitchen windowsill for a few days (they taste so much better when they’re not kept in the fridge), and have been looking forward to their deliciously flavoursome fate.

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By slow roasting them on a low heat with a few simple ingredients they’re elevated to a new herby, sweet, caramelised level.

Firstly take a bunch of fresh herbs. I used basil, thyme and rosemary from the garden as well as a couple of bay leaves from our enormous bay tree.

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I love the beautiful, delicate little thyme flowers that appear this time of year. Gorgeous and edible too!

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Very finely chop the herbs, leaving the bay leaves whole though, and put them in a bowl with the halved tomatoes and some crushed garlic. Drizzle with olive oil (I used extra virgin for added flavour and because the oven is set to a low temp).

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Place cut side up on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper and bake at 130oC for about an hour and fifteen minutes or until they’re sticky, and starting to darken around the edges.

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They’ll come out beautifully sweet, slightly charred and caramelised, and have an incredible depth of flavour.

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Throw them on practically anything, if they last long enough… My three year old demolished half of them within ten minutes of them coming out of the oven! I had a few on my Broccoli and Blue Cheese Soup for lunch, and Phoebe had some in her anchovy, olive and pea spaghetti for dinner, which she wolfed down! A hit all round I’d say. Enjoy!

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Tough questions… What is faith?

Sometimes scripture can take us off guard. A passage can surprise us or even shock us and challenge our perceptions of what the Bible teaches.

Sometimes there are aspects of the Christian faith which we struggle to comprehend or accept. The temptation is to skim over them and assume that they can’t really be teaching what they appear to be plainly stating.

However, 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that all scripture is God-breathed and useful for our teaching, reproof, correcting and training, so we cannot ignore sections of the Bible simply because they challenge our perceptions.

In the latest sermon series at Full Life Church we confront some aspects of scripture which can be difficult to understand and yet are, in many ways, fundamental to our faith. We will encounter some tough questions but we will also strive to find true, biblically based answers. This week we ask what faith is. Click here to have a listen.

Size doesn’t matter, it’s what you do with it that counts.

 

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If I had a £1 for every time someone asked me how many people we have in our church congregation I’d be boarding a flight to the Tropics about now; but alas I’m here, thinking about whether bigger is better, or whether we’ve missed a trick.

Full Life Church has been going for over ten years now, and within that time we’ve ranged in size from a handful of families, to over a hundred people and back down again.  This has been for a number of reasons including various venue changes, the stepping down of the original pastor and the appointment of a new one, people emigrating, moving areas or going to a church closer to where they live, and sadly, people leaving because they perhaps feel the church hasn’t quite met their needs at a particular time. Unfortunately, we, like every other church on the planet, are far from perfect, and sometimes miss the mark.  However, we are in the midst of a new season, and a new way of thinking which is already proving fruitful.  I’d like to share a little bit of what we’ve been doing with you to encourage small churches and leaders in similar situations.

With our eyes fixed firmly on God, and prayerfully considering all decisions and ministries, we are learning to recognize and act upon the innate strengths of a smaller congregation. We are figuring out ways to be effective in our community without having a congregation of a couple of hundred. We are building solid foundations, are rooted in the Word of God, and are resting in the fact that God is with us, in us and working through us regardless of how many bums are on seats on a Sunday morning.  We realize that Sunday mornings are merely a snippet of our church, and that each and every member has their own ‘front line’ ministry outside of the confinements of our church venue and services, be that work, toddler groups, WI meetings, craft clubs, school or uni.  There is always opportunity to take our faith beyond Sunday mornings and be the hands and feet of Jesus wherever we are, whatever we’re doing and whoever we’re with. For me personally, one of the benefits of being small is that we operate as a family. We know each other well, we are real with each other, we truly love each other, we hurt when one of our members is hurting, we rejoice when someone has a success, and really importantly we recognize and utilize each others giftings and assets. Each person has a role and purpose within the church. Without them we couldn’t function as effectively as we do, and when they’re not around we miss them.

We have consciously exercised wisdom when it comes to organizing outreach events and ministries, choosing things which are simple to organize, don’t require much manpower, that are sustainable and going to appeal to the community we serve. We’ve collaborated with other organisations (such as Contact the Elderly and Creation Station) and churches to minimize pressure on ourselves, yet still have maximum effect in our community. We do a few ministries really well, which leaves us time to meet other important needs, such as delivering a meal to someone who has just had a baby, leaving little chocolate treats with a scripture for the Whist and Dominoes club, or spending one on one time with someone who just needs to talk things through and pray. We have been encouraged that, despite having only 30 or 40 people in the service, the audio links posted online on the website and facebook page, mean the sermons have a far, far wider reach and we are so joyfully surprised to hear that people across UK and further afield have had a listen.  I find it mind-blowing that the internet can be and is such a vital ministry tool. These days it’s imperative to have a good website and social media presence.

Reading this back, I’m starting to think it could be interpreted as being a little arrogant, which really is not what I intended. We still have a long way to go, and I’m not for a second suggesting this is a perfect model for a church. I am however, excited that after what seemed like an eternity in the wilderness, as a body of people we have finally accepted that instead of wrestling to grow the church numerically ourselves, we simply have to continue to be an outwards looking church, being obedient to God’s direction, seeking to show the practical love of Jesus at any given opportunity, and, very importantly, resting in the fact that God will grow His church and draw people in, in His perfect timing.  Encouragingly, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we are in His will for us, we are blessed in every sense of the word, and as a body of Christians we want the community we serve to experience the same love, blessing and acceptance we have found in Jesus regardless of whether they consider themselves a member of our congregation or not.

So next time I’m asked how many people we have in our congregation, I might suggest that a better question might be along the lines of,” how do you empower your congregation, and utilize their gifts, to be fruitful and effective  in your community irrespective of your size?”

A bag of quorn, one hour, three meals.

I am a busy mum and pastor’s wife. I love to cook, but some nights I simply don’t have the time or inclination to prepare a healthy, toddler friendly, pescatarian friendly meal from scratch. This is where my freezer comes in handy. I often find myself making double portions and freezing half so I always have a go-to homemade dinner ready to whack in the oven.

Mince is brilliantly versatile. I use quorn, mainly because the husband doesn’t eat meat, but also because it’s healthier and cheaper than its beefy counterpart.

With a bag of quorn, a load of veggies, beans, herbs, spices and a spare hour I can whip up a lasagne, a chilli and smokey bbq beans. Here’s how… Gather your ingredients.
I used, 5 small onions, 3 carrots, 3 sticks of celery, a handful of mushrooms, 4 cubes frozen minced garlic, a large handful of frozen chopped spinach, a tin of kidney beans, two tins of baked beans, fresh bay leaves, thyme and rosemary, cayenne pepper, chilli powder, fresh chilli, smoked paprika, Worcestershire sauce, two cartons of passata, tomato puree, dark chocolate, cheese, butter, milk, pasta sheets, a splash of red wine, a couple of stock cubes, an egg and of course salt and pepper, oh and a bag of quorn. This sounds like a lot of ingredients, but trust me it’s more methodical and easier than you think.

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Dice all the veg, and sauté in olive oil in a large pan. Add in minced garlic, bay leaves, thyme, and a couple of stock cubes before adding in a splash of red wine if you have a bottle open. 

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After about 15 minutes of sweating them down pour in two cartons of passata, one of water and the bag of quorn mince.

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Add in a good dollop of tomato puree and season well with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer. While it’s simmering make the cheese sauce for the lasagne. Melt a large knob of butter (approx 50g) in a  pan, and whisk in a couple of tablespoons of plain flour to make a roux.

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Pour in milk, stiring all the time until you get a desired consistency. Throw in a handful of cheese and stir until it melts. At this point I whisk in a beaten egg as I like how it sets the sauce on top if the lasagne, but it will work without too.  Now layer up the dry lasagne sheets with the sauce in an oven proof dish, before pouring the cheese sauce on top and sprinkling over some extra cheese. Et voila, one down, two to go.

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Now, in another oven proof dish pour in a tin and a half of regular baked beans in tomato sauce. Sprinkle over some freshly chopped rosemary, a teaspoon of smoked paprika and some Worcestershire sauce.

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Now add in a couple of ladels of the sauce, mix well and sprinkle with cheese.

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Now, to the remaining sauce in the pan add in the other half tin of baked beans, a tin of kidney beans, some chilli, cayenne pepper and a few squares of dark chocolate.

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I portioned out some of the chilli for Phoebe before I added too much heat.

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So there you have it. Three different meals, from one bag of quorn, some veg and beans.

I baked the smokey bbq beans in the oven for about half an hour, and served with sweet potatoes. They were delicious and a hit with both the hubby and toddler.

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The lasagne is for tomorrow night and I’ve frozen the chilli food a rainy day.

How do we know if we are really saved?

Sometimes scripture can take us off guard. A passage can surprise us, even shock us and
challenge our perceptions of what the Bible teaches. Matthew 7:21-23 is one of those passages, and the temptation is to skim over it and assume that it can’t really be teaching what it appears to be plainly stating. However, 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that all scripture is
God-breathed and useful for our teaching, reproof, correcting and training, so we cannot ignore sections of the Bible simply because they challenge our perceptions.

In this sermon Ste (my husband) confronts this difficult passage
and the question that inevitably stems from it…How do we know if we are really saved?

Click here to be challenged and encouraged by the amazing truths the Bible gives us.

Rhubarb crumble cake

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Rhubarb is one of those vegetables that tastes great in a variety of dishes provided you add enough sweetness to counteract is distinctive tartness. I love it in a crumble, but wanted to make something with it that I could take to church and people could eat easily after the service without the use of bowls and spoons. Cue, the crumble cake. Moist rhubarb sponge, topped with a lovely oaty crumble.

For the cake,  mix 2, 250ml cups of plain flour with 1 cup sugar, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt. Then mix in 1 cup Greek yoghurt (I used 0%fat), 3 small lightly beaten eggs, and two and a half very long sticks of rhubarb, diced (approx 4 cups).

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The batter will be ridiculously thick, but fear not, during the cooking process all that lovely rhubarb will release its sumptuous juices to compensate for the stiff mixture. Spread it in a greased and lined baking dish.

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Now, put half a cup of cold diced salted butter in a dish with half a cup of brown sugar and plain flour respectively. Add in a teaspoon of ground cinnamon and rub together to form breadcrumb like granules. Don’t do it too fine as lumps add texture and crisp up nicely during baking.  At this point mix in a half a cup or so of oats, and sprinkle the mixture over the cake batter. As you can probably see from the pics, my crumble didn’t sprinkle well because I did not have any chilled butter, so had to use some which had been sitting at room temperature, and it never makes good crumble like that, although it will still taste delicious.

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Bake at about 180oC for about 45 minutes, or until the batter is cooked and the rhubarb is softened. Leave to cool in the tin before cutting into squares. Serve with custard or clotted cream if you do desire. 

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