Friday, 25 February 2011

This week I have been mostly...

Knitting carrots.
Baking cake.
Learning to make...
a cappuccino.
And nursing my bad back with painkillers, very hot baths and very cold glasses of wine.

This weekend I will be mostly celebrating a birthday with hilarity, giggles and copious pints of ale with the girls...Have a lovely weekend everyone.

Monday, 21 February 2011

A pact with myself

Having done some rather scary maths the other day whilst standing in the rain waiting for my train I discovered that despite now technically working two jobs, I am worse off financially than I have ever been. Argh! Which isn't helped of course by that pesky VAT hike. Ho hum.

As a result it's belt tightening all round this end. And so I've made a pact with myself. No more yarn (or fabric). This year, like many others around the blogging world, I am going to knit and sew from stash. I don't have a huge stash, but then I'm not the fastest crafter. I've always been someone who is conscious about the chest of yarn and the knowledge that I don't want it to get to the point where I have more than I could knit in my lifetime. I have no problem with hording for the frugal times, it just so happens that the frugal time has come around rather more quickly than expected.
But that's alright. I have at least two jumper quantities hiding out in there, and plenty of sock and lace to keep me going. The fabric stash can produce a fair few dresses and perhaps a couple of quilts. I think that's going to be plenty.
The only time I will break this rule is if we're on holiday and I see something that I absolutely cannot get anywhere else. Then again, since we don't tend to holiday in the yarn capitols of anywhere that shouldn't be too much of a problem!
Having smugly and righteously made this decision I decided there was only one course of action: a celebratory cake! A frugal one of course, using up some carrots that were loitering in the fridge, the leftover mascarpone from the tiramisu and some old oranges. I've been in the mood for a good old fashioned carrot cake for a little while, and so it seemed just the thing.

Carrot and orange cake - serves 8-10 (depending on how selfish you are with slices!)

2 eggs, separated
125g self-raising flour
1/4 tsp bicarb
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp mixed spice
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
100ml oil (something light like vegetable or sunflower)
125g light muscovado sugar
100g finely grated carrot
dash of lemon juice
zest of two oranges
45g pecans, chopped

Preheat the oven to 180C and line a 20" round, deep cake pan.

Beat together the oil and sugar in a large bowl or electric mixer, then add the zest, finally beat in the egg yolks one at a time. Add the carrots and lemon juice and mix to blend. Whisk together the dry ingredients, and beat the egg whites in a clean bowl until soft peaks form.

Gently add the flour mixture and nuts and combine. Then gently but quickly fold in the egg whites with a metal spoon. Pour into the lined tin and place in the oven for 45min, or until a toothpick comes out moist, but not covered in batter.

I iced mine with a buttercream with a hint of cream cheese:

50g Mascarpone
100G soft butter
200g icing sugar,
zest of two tangerines

Beat the mascarpone and butter together until smooth, add the zest and then icing sugar and beat until combined. Spread over the cake when completely cool.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

A good stomp

It's amazing what a good stomp through the countryside can do. After work I hastily ate lunch and went on a mission to re-discover some of the country paths that are so close to us now. It was exactly what I needed to lift me out of my winter funk. A reminder of the warmth of sunshine, the sound of birds and that sometimes all you need is a bit of fresh air to liven the brain. It was muddy enough to feel intrepid, but not enough for proper hiking boots. There was sunshine, and it was warm enough not to feel like the arctic when I stepped outside, but still cold enough to indulge in a newly knit hat and an old-favourite shawl.

One of those perfect early spring, typically English, days, with a slight haze over the landscape and a breeze still capable of reminding you that there is plenty of February to go yet. I just hope the weather holds like this a little bit so N and I can finally get our Sunday walk together without the fear of a proper drenching.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

How to pick up (and keep) a man

I completely understand why Italian women spend all their time in the kitchen. Or at least they used to, back in the day. The way to a man's heart is his stomach, and the way to my man's heart is his stomach via Italy (or India, but given my attempts at that have been less than successful, except in the preserves department, I leave all that to the wonderful people at our local curry house).
We're not big on Valentine's day. No bunches of red roses or dopey cards are found in this house, because frankly we are very much a soppy doting pair on any given day, and like it that way very much . But we do agree on any excuse for an indulgent meal, one more bottle of wine than usual and a viewing of our favourite romantic film. So I spent all of yesterday chained to, ahem, watching over, the stove.
I was going to do something very different, and poured over my cookbooks for hours. But in the end I decided to opt for our favourite starter of olives, bread and walnut pesto, followed by melanzane parmigiana for main. I did however think I should be a bit more adventurous on the dessert, and following the theme opted for Tiramisu, N's favourite and a recipe I've shamefully never made for him.It was much easier than I thought, and went down very well indeed, even illiciting the comment that it was "quite possibly the best I've ever had, and I've had many in my time." Which made me blush like anything. I know that the romantic holiday is technically over, but I can highly recommend throwing this together for your next indulgent evening together.
I read a few recipes and then decided to basically go it alone as I knew what we'd like. Dangerous, as it was my only dessert option, but it clearly worked, obviously all those pounds gained eating it in Italy has paid off!
Rebecca's Pick-me-up-a-man Tiramisu - Makes five reasonably large servings (I put them in small glasses, but you could use a small deep dish if making a large one)

3 large eggs, separated
62g caster sugar
250g mascarpone
130ml strong coffee cooled
Sponge finger biscuits
2 tbsp baileys liquour
2 tsp vanilla extract
cocoa for dusting

In a large bowl, or that of an electric mixer whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until thick and creamy. Then add the mascarpone and vanilla extract and mix until well combined.

Whip the egg whites until soft peaks form. Then fold briskly but gently into the mascarpone mix with a metal spoon.

Combine the coffee and baileys in a shallow dish.

Have your dish or glasses ready. Soak the sponge fingers one at a time in the coffee mix and place in a layer at the bottom of the dish, tightly packing them together. Then brush with more coffee mix. Spoon over a layer of the mascarpone mixture and smooth gently. Repeat this one more time, smoothing the top as much as possible. Place in the fridge for at least 3 hours, or overnight.

Remove from the fridge just before serving, and dust with cocoa. Enjoy, perhaps with a limoncello?

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

New things

We're only just over a month into the new year, but this week has gotten me thinking about those resolutions, or rather, hopes, I made a few weeks ago. I've been slowly taking small steps towards them and then this week I took some rather huge strides.

On Monday, I met with a friend up in town for a sophisticated brunch, some intellectual exploring, and (much to the bemusement of the staff) a knitting lesson in a pub. It was a most wonderful day, and filled with new things. New books, new ales, and new skills.
Yes, Lady M was teaching me two-at-a-time toe-up socks! I decided that as part of this years wish to up my craft game socks would be on the agenda. However, given I struggle to knit pairs of things, and suffer dreadfully from second *insert pair of things here (mittens, sleeves...)* syndrome, it seemed only logical to go all out and tackle not only toes and gussets and heels, but to knit both socks at the same time whilst doing so. It's actually much simpler than I thought, and although the socks seem to grow slowly, it is at least both of them doing so!
On Tuesday I arrived home to discover a new treat in the post. A lovely skein of hand dyed 4ply yarn from Squeaky Elliot. I had been admiring her yarn in a magazine and then low and behold she walked into the shop on Saturday! Rather fortunately for me, as I was able to bully, ahem, persuade her, to put the yarn aside for me. I wasn't supposed to be buying yarn, I need to knit from my stash for a good while, but sometimes you see something and you can't exist. I'm thinking shawl?
Then on Wednesday the really big new thing happened. I officially started my new job. Yep! That's right, mornings have become more hectic because suddenly I'm having to be up and out before eight, and so am mucking up N's routine like anything. From now on I shall be working a second part time job in a local delicatessen. It's a small step towards that whole career plan thing I was talking about. I'm working with food, talking about food and making food, and who knows, there might be some space for some preserves in there too.
I hope so, because I noticed today during a rainy potter around the garden that the rhubarb is up and about, the currant bushes have started growing again and the rosemary is looking very healthy.
Which is good, because my new scales have arrived and are amazing me with their shinyness and accuracy. I've been testing them out this afternoon. Not with something new, with an old classic, that I shall share more about in a couple of days.
Out with the old, and in with the new!

Friday, 4 February 2011


Things are changing around here. Mornings are set to get a little bit more hectic.
But for now I am savouring the few extra moments I have that allow for a quick blog browse, or knitting planning, and that extra half-mug of coffee.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Never get a man to do a woman's job.

I rarely post anything here that is political or topical, unless it's my love of the milk chocolate hobnob, or obsession with slicing oranges and stuffing them in jars.
However sometimes something comes along and it's impossible for me not to comment. Last week there was a whole load of fuss in the football world, about women, male commentators, and the offside rule. It all rather irked me, for a number of reasons, as I'm sure you can imagine. So I shall leave it to you to picture my reaction when a male assistant in last night's match failed to have any understanding of the law, as he let a player YARDS offside continue on to score a goal. There was some shouting about men and women's jobs, and much smirking and nodding from those around me.


Anyway! Rant over. Let's talk about cookies...oaty, chocolatey, nutty and orangy. Got your attention yet, those of you who phased out when I started blabbing about football (I'm looking at you Lady M and Lady J)?!

My scales have still not arrived, and so I finally gave in and went in search of something I could bake with only the use of my cup measures. I know it's not hard, with the multitude of American recipes out there, but every time I decided what I fancied I was drawn to English cooks and bakers and their cursed use of weights and measures.
And then, as ever, Smitten Kitchen saved me. I didn't know I wanted cookies (I was convinced I wanted brownies) until I saw one of her recipes. I had all the ingredients, and suddenly decided that actually the faff of brownies was over-rated. There's birthday knitting to get finished, and cats to love, and honey and lemon to drink (yes, impending February colds are being kept at bay here). Suddenly I only had 15mins and wanted soft oaty chewy goodness.

So I divided and tweaked and threw together these delicious morsels. I've already eaten one, I might go back for a second (ahem, or a third) and there is the possibility that dinner might be cookies too. These are just the thing for breaking the resolutions of diets on a cold foggy February afternoon.
Chocolate Orange Oaty cookies - makes aprox. 10 largish cookies.

4tbsps soft butter
1/4 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup light muscovado sugar
pinch of salt
1 large egg
1/2 tsp mixed spice
dash of vanilla extract
3/4 cup plain flour
1/2 cup oats
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup pecans
1/2 cup dark chocolate, chopped

Preheat oven to 180C and line two baking sheets with parchment.

Cream the butter and sugars until fluffy, adding a dash of vanilla and pinch of salt half way through. Add the egg and beat to combine, then mix in the orange zest. Whisk together the flour, baking soda and spice and add to the batter in two additions. Then stir in the oats, chocolate and pecans.

Place rounded tablespoons well spaced on the baking sheets (I got six on one sheet and four on another) and bake for aprox 10-11 mins, turning half way. Watch as they darken quickly. They may not seem done, but they will firm up slightly as they cool.

Allow to cool on a rack until just warm enough to hold together, and then eat your first one whilst warm and still slightly gooey.'s like and oaty dark chocolate orange.
zest of half an orange