Friday, 25 January 2013

Alcoholic Brownies!

I discovered this recipe just before Christmas, and I think it is fair to say they are they most delicious brownies I have ever tasted: no modesty intended!

I have always found when making brownies that if over cooked a moment too long they can lose the stereotypical gooey inside which makes them so gorgeous and moorish.

I used brandy in my first batch of brownies, but found that whisky was just as yummy. Similarly the cranberries are also optional, if you aren't using them skip step 2.

I tried adding walnuts to my recipe which were lovely and added a crunch to the sticky gooey insides of the brownie.

This recipe is to make enough mixture to fill a 30x20cm tin.

30ml brandy/ Alcohol
100g dried cranberries (optional)
300g chocolate
200g butter
4 free range eggs
300g light muscovado sugar
200g plain flour
1 tsp mixed spice
Handful of crushed walnuts (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees and then grease and line your designated tin with grease-proof paper

2. If using cranberries gently heat brandy and add cranberries to soak while you prepare brownie mix

3.Melt chocolate and butter in bowl over simmering water

4. In a large bowl whisk eggs and sugar until pale and fluffy

5.Whisk chocolate and butter mix in and gently fold in flour, mixed spice, brandy, nuts and cranberries

6. Pour into tin, smooth surface and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes until firm to touch

7. Leave to cool in tin for 10 minutes before placing on a wire rack until cooled completely to cut into squares

Sprinkle with icing sugar to serve.

Instead of the nuts you could try chocolate chunks to add a little extra decadence.

Em x

Sunday, 20 January 2013

The War Against Cancer

In a world where the word “cancer” is becoming increasingly vocalized in our day to day lives, I find out just what some people are doing to ensure in the future we can help find a cure.
Melanie Lancaster(right) with challenge
partner, Michelle Thompson 

It was a cold winter's morning when I spoke to Melanie Lancaster over coffee about her fundraising plans this February along with her friend and rock, Michelle Thompson.

Melanie, 41 from Darlington, is married to husband Tony and lives with her two children Adam and Jordan.
This February she will be embarking on the adventure of a lifetime, all in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support.

 “The first time I heard the word cancer was when my friend, and life and soul of the party was diagnosed, and subsequently died, of Bone Cancer aged 40 leaving three children behind” she recalls.

It is a rare occasion for anyone in the UK not to have known someone who has been affected by cancer, given that the current statistics show one in four people contract cancer.

John Reed, Macmillan Cancer Support representative for northern England said: “Cancer causes more deaths every year than those caused by AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. It is important that people like Melanie continue to not only raise money for the cause, but more importantly awareness.”

The second time cancer made an appearance in Melanie’s life was when her Mum, Pam, was diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer. Pam unfortunately later lost the battle which left Melanie and her family devastated.

At the same time as all of this, along with the diagnosis of two more of her friends, Wendy and Alison, Melanie was also told herself that she had Breast Cancer and her world went into a spiral.
Fortunately after undergoing all the treatment Melanie made a full recovery, and now she feels it’s time to give something back.

She said: “I thought I must have been left here to do something after my cancer and not just sit around, but to make a difference.”
Melanie with her daughter Jordan

Her challenge partner, Michelle, also suffered from thyroid cancer ten years ago and overcame it, but her sister died age 16 of bone cancer which is the main reason she fundraises for Macmillan Cancer Support.
“It was from that point on I knew I wanted to give something back” Melanie told me.

Melanie saw the advert for the African Challenge organized by Discover Adventure on the Macmillan website back in January 2012. She spoke to Michelle and they decided they should go for it, giving them a year to train and fund-raise.

 “My challenge is in memory of my beautiful, brave friends and mam, but also to prove to the thousands of people who hear those dreaded words ‘I’m afraid you’ve got cancer’, that you can get better and it can change your life in such a positive way.”

Melanie was initially just going to take part in the African Challenge but told me she thought people would forget. Instead she decided to embark on two more challenges which she hoped would help her towards her ambitious fundraising target of £4,500.

Melanie started her fundraising by taking part in the three peaks challenge in Yorkshire with several other members of her family back in July, followed by the Great North Run with her daughter Jordan in October building up to the African Challenge in February.

The Challenge consists of a 500km bike ride starting east of Nairobi in Kenya and ending at the largest intact volcanic crater on earth, the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania.

As Melanie showed me the itinerary for the 500km cycle spread over twelve days I was in awe at the courage she and Michelle have to take on not just this challenge, but those leading up to it and the emotional challenge it also poses.  

“I have had to do a lot of training leading up to now. I started by walking up Hamsterly Forest adding two miles on every week until I got up to 18 miles and doing three gym sessions a week whilst also cycling to work. Once the walk and run were both over I began concentrating more on cycling.”

Melanie has dropped half a stone during her training which she says has built up her muscles and stamina which is important as she will be cycling 50 miles a day when in Africa.

She said: “It has been tough, but it is all worth it. I just think of all the people I have lost, and how lucky I am to still be here, and that is my inspiration.”

Melanie’s Dad, Keith Hillard, Nottingham told me how proud he is of his daughter.
He said: “It is a fantastic cause, and I am extremely proud of Melanie’s fundraising efforts. We are all behind her as a family supporting and cheering her on.”

To date, Melanie has raised £4,508.11 from this year’s fundraising efforts for a cause that is close to many people’s hearts.

She said: “It is fab that people have been so supportive and I have been able to raise so much money for such an amazing cause.”

Melanie and Michelle will fly out to Nairobi Airport from Heathrow Airport on 2 February.

“It will be hard; I’m terrified about all the bugs and spiders! I just want to help raise enough money to go towards helping people in my region who have cancer to live a bit of a better life, and so that when someone tells you ‘ you've got cancer’, there is always someone there to help you and your loved ones through the trauma.” 

You can donate to Melanie's fundraising page at