Sunday, 31 May 2009

Getting territorial


Sniff would like to point out that the quilt I commented about in the last post isn't N's at all. It's his.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Lady, step away from the fabric stash!

As you may have noticed recently I've been more than a little distracted by my sewing machine and fabric stash. I think I feel about the sewing machine the way some people feel about cars. It gives me a sense of freedom. Odd, considering I have to be sitting in a very specific place to do it (and barefoot too, does anyone else do that? I find I can control the speed better that way).I can barely believe that in five months I've managed to master the machine, and some patterns, well enough to make myself dresses, quilts, cushion covers and even wallets! This week I managed to put together a silk dress to wear to a wedding. I'll no longer feel trapped by highstreet fashion that I not only don't understand - okay, who thought bringing back the '80's was a good idea?!?! - but can't get to fit me properly (although that said I still had to take in the dress as I made it too big. Oops!)

The one thing I've really gone made for is quilting. I love it. This week I finally finished a huge quilt for the bedroom with rocket ships on it. Geeky, but I'm so pleased with it.

A few weeks ago I finished a red and white "Arsenal" quilt for N. It was my first piece using triangles and I enjoyed it so much, and was so pleased with the result, I immediately made another!
But now there's a problem. It's getting warmer, and snuggling under heavy quilts is no longer cozy, it's just hot. Oh no! Whatever will I do with myself?

Patchwork throws anyone?

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Oh, shiny thing!

Far too long ago for me to admit, the lovely Julia, was kind enough to send me a chocolate making kit. A Mayan Magic chocolate making kit to be exact.

Oh yes, a special kit in which you get all the raw ingredients for chocolate in separate little parcels, and you can make it yourself. From scratch. Seriously, how exciting is that. In my own little kitchen this week, I got to make chocolate. Not just melt some in a bowl, but actually mix and make it!There was only one problem. For some reason my pack was lacking instructions. At first I thought this was because the process was so idiot proof that even someone like me could manage it. However, I have now discovered that no, this was not intentional, there should have been instructions, my pack just didn't happen to have any.

I thought I would make that very clear before I went on. The following experiment was done entirely based on what I thought I should do. For the proper version, with a rather swanky video
I must say, you should head over to Julia's site. In fact, you should do that anyway, just because you can.

I decided that given there was coconut butter in one little packet, and cacao powder in the other, the most logical thing to do would be to melt the butter over a bowl of boiled water, and then beat in the powder. I then added some of the agave necter to sweeten it. I didn't add it all as I like my chocolate dark and bitter.
It seemed to go pretty well, but I must admit when I dipped my finger in to taste I rather wished I'd sifted the powder and whisked it in, as it was a little chalky.
I had promised Julia that I would make a Mayan inspired truffle with the chocolate once made, and so I decided to add a little oomph to the chocolate mixture itself and so added a small mound of cinnamon and chili. It took rather a lot of the spices to get the desired effect, but I got there in the end.
Finally, I poured the glossy mixture into a foil "mould" and left it to set in the fridge. I have only nibbled at the edge, and although it doesn't taste like any of your usual bog-standard chocolate from the shops, it's alright. In fact, pretty good considering I had no instructions and had to wing it!

I also only used half the ingredients, so now I can watch Julia's video, take notes and have another go! Hopefully this time it will be even better. All that remains now is for me to get my act together and make the truffles. Considering it's taken me over a month to review the kick, you might not want to hold your breath! I'll get there. Honest!

So yes, although I don't feel fully qualified to give the product a proper review I will say that I had great fun doing it, and the fact that you can adjust the sweetness and add flavourings whilst actually making chocolate from scratch is pretty exciting. I can't wait to have another go.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

It's funny 'cause it's true

Things are manic here at the moment. I'm in the middle of a big project, with something even more exciting happening before it. No clues, yet, but I will leave you with this for the time being...

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

First harvest


They may be tiny, but these fiery radish shoots are the very first harvest from the North London Garden this year!

The fruit bushes have flowers, as do the plum tomatoes, everything else is still in little pots and are really only seedlings, but they're getting taller everyday. Fingers crossed we're set to yield a little more this year than the two tomatoes and handful of potatoes of last year's rainy summer. Every day it feels like we get a step closer, ever so slightly better and more green fingered. It's been a very steep learning curve - we lost our entire crop of nine squash and courgette plants last year to mosaic disease - but we'll get there.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Who needs Paris?



Surprise! We've been in France for the weekend. A very quick trip to see N's folks, and a welcome one, because who doesn't enjoy coffee and pain au chocolate in the sunshine, walks along hill paths covered in wild rosemary, morning markets, and evening drinks? I've been dreaming of Paris trips recently, but this little touch of the vie Francaise, has reminded me that I don't necessarily need the capital to satisfy my whims.

Needless to say there's been no cooking this weekend, or sewing for that matter, just a whole lot of relaxing and wine. I'm itching to get back into the kitchen, but until then I shall have to leave you with a few images of the tres bon sud de France.





Friday, 8 May 2009

I'm a fool (for rhubarb and mango)

I'm aware that there's been more than a bit of sewing posts going on round here lately, and that I might have to admit that perhaps this blog has moved on from being entirely food-based. I like to think of this as a good thing - it certainly is for my waistline, I can tell you! - I like to think of it as me extending my skills (albeit rather slowly since I can't keep my head in a project for long).

However, the food ain't going away, and I'm still toiling away in the kitchen (okay, I never "toil" but you get the idea), because lets face it, sewing is hard work (?!) and the only way it's going to get easier is if there's a big ole chocolatey, desserty, baked piece of goodness to go with it.

With that in mind I think it's about time I shared another recipe from the tonne that I've been making (and tasting) recently. Tonight I was in a mad dash to use up a whole bunch of stuff that was in fear of festering in the fridge during our busy weekend.

I had some cream leftover from another project - more about that another time - and a mango that was positively oozing with ripeness. As I was standing with the fridge door open, totally unecologically pondering what to do with mango and cream, the rhubarb caught my eye. Now I had three things to work with.

Do rhubarb and mango go together?
I figured they must and set to work.
Slice, chop and puree mango. Whip cream loosely, add mango to cream. Voila! Mango fool. Slice rhubarb and lay in pyrex dish, squeeze over the juice of an orange and drizzle with a tablespoon of honey. Roast in a preheated 200C oven, for 25mins, or until tender, sloshing juice over every so often. Cool. Bung scoops of fool into wine glasses and top with cooled rhubarb and a bit of the cooking juices.

The result: Mango fool topped with honey and orange roasted rhubard. Sounds impressive, took about five mintes (minus the cooking time of course!). We haven't scoffed it yet as N is still on his way home from the pub. But we will, soon (I can't wait much longer!), and based on sneaky licks of the bowl and spoon, it's going to be very nice indeed.

Go forth and fool!


p.s. I realised that I didn't give you any measurements, mostly because I didn't take any. I reckoned it was about 200ml of double cream, one medium mango, about 350g rhubarb (once chopped). It would easily serve four if you used smaller glasses, but I was generous and made three servings.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

The things to come..

I'm in a strange position at the moment where I'm about to run out of plan. My whole life I've had one, and suddenly it's going to come to an end.

Now this is not all bad. The plan is ending because the plan will be finished, in fact not only finished, but achieved (one hopes, best not to tempt fate too early, eh!).

And so begins a summer of wild speculation as to where I might find myself post-plan. Exciting, terrifying and more than a little distracting!

I wonder if it'll involve a few of these?

Monday, 4 May 2009

Randomville



I can't believe the bank holiday weekend is almost over. The past three days has flown past. In fact, to be honest the past week has disappeared in a haze of editing, crafting, cooking, eating, drinking and campaigning.

I have to admit I was a little apprehensive about this weekend. In an unusual turn of form for us we'd decided to forgo a three day laze-fest in favour of a weekend of socialising and events. Now, don't get me wrong, we're pretty social people, and have a very lovely bunch of friends indeed. It's just, we also value some quiet time in the flat, with the cat, helping him guard the sofa, or in the garden generally pottering, or reading and crafting with a nice cup of tea. With this in mind our usual plan is to split the weekend into a day where we "do something" and a day where we don't. This weekend, all of that went out of the window as a variety of circumstances aligned to bring us a socially packed two and a half(ish) days. As a result I was a littel twitchy about losing the quiet time and starting the week already exhausted.Of course, there was no reason to worry. It was a delightful weekend, and I even managed to get some sewing done while N was in the pub catching up with a friend. This was followed by dinner with friends and a hilarious card game, then a Sunday full of dungeons and dragons, and a visit to see a friend's amazing band play, which is always a pleasure. Then, more chatting and a different friend crashing - much to Sniff's confusion, and yet another lazy communal breakfast.

All in all, a very random collection of events, but one that filled the weekend with grins and music, good food and good company.

And speaking of good food, I shall finally give you the recipe for the caramel shortbread slices that I hope lured you into this post. They look a little tempting don't they? I've been wanting to try them for months, especially given N's love of caramel, but wanted an occasion when the two of us wouldn't be left in the flat to finish them off ourselves, because believe me, I knew we would! I adapted the recipe from one in the Sainsbury's magazine and served them up with strong coffee during our DnD session. I think Kelly will be pleased to know they will definitely keep you going whilst fending off zombies.


Beware, these are very sweet, even after I used 78% chocolate on them. They are best in small doses, with a strong coffee, in my opinion. I made the full recipe because of having company, but I'm sure you could halve it or freeze them.

Caramel shortbread slices: makes between 12 and 18 slices, depending on how you cut them.

base:
100g plain flour
75g soft unsalted butter
25g caster (superfine) sugar

caramel:
150g unsalted butter
150g light muscovado sugar
400g light condensed milk

topping:
150G 78-85% dark chocolate
50g white chocolate
1 1/2 tbsp groundnut oil

Grease and line a 18cm square tin (mine was actually slightly larger, I don't think it mattered)

Preheat the oven to 180C. Mix the base ingredients in a food processor, or rub the butter and sugar into the flour lightly by hand until the mixture is sandy, a bit like crumble. Push evenly into the base of the tin and bake for 20mins until golden. Cool.

Put the caramel ingredients into a large heavy-based pan on a low heat and stir gently until the butter has melted and sugar disolved. Increase the heat and simmer for about 10mins until the mixture is a medium dark caramel colour. Don't let it boil and stir constantly whilst doing this.

Pour this caramel over the cooled mixture, spread to even out if necessary and leave to cool for an hour.

Melt the dark chocolate in a bowl over simmering water with 1 tbsp of the oil. At the same time melt the white chocolate in the same way in another bowl with the remaining 1/2 tbsp of oil. Pour the dark chocolate over the cooled caramel and spread evenly, then drizzle the white chocolate to great a swirl. Leave to cool, then set in the fridge for 4 hours, or overnight. Bring to room temperature, then cut with a sharp knife.