Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Adventures in quilting


I've been bitten by the quilting bug. Hard. When Dave suggested I buy a sewing machine a few months ago, I never thought I'd find myself making quilts. Turning up a few hems maybe, darning holes in Lucas's school trousers...but a quilt? No way!

I finished my first quilt last week, which I will eventually post about once it's been gifted, and almost immediately I found myself back at the fabric shop for supplies for my second. And then I popped into Hobbycraft for a lint brush to clean out my sewing machine--I had no idea that they needed to be cleaned!--and came out with this pretty 'jelly roll' of fabric... I clearly can't be trusted near fabric at the moment.


The world of fabric is a bit bewildering at first. There are a slew of new terms and a dizzying array of fabric types. I always thought cotton was just, well, cotton, but no. There's cotton drill, lawn, poplins and probably more!! There are also pre-cut fabric packs available, like the jelly roll which is made up of 40 x 2.5" coordinating strips and perfect for turning into a quilt.


I found an easy sounding pattern online and cut the entire thing into 6.5" strips and then tried to randomly put them together into blocks of three strips.

This should have resulted in 6.5" square blocks when sewn together and pressed, but either my seams were too wide or the fabric shrank a bit with the steam when I pressed as I now have rectangles. 

My grand adventure is temporarily stalled while I slice the finished blocks down to 5.5" square. This is every bit as tedious as you can imagine!! 

(I'm actually waiting for my car to be fixed at the garage rather than walking home and trimming the blocks!)

So that's what I've been up to of late. Hopefully I'll have a very pretty quilt top to show you in a few days!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Great Bloggers Bake Off: Baked Alaska edition

Lemon & Lime Baked Alaska
After "Bingate" I couldn't resist making a Baked Alaska for the Great Bloggers Bake Off.  I used to make one every year for Dave's birthday but once I discovered the wonderful world of cake decorating, they fell by the wayside.  Which is a shame, because a Baked Alaska done right is a cracking dessert!  (Not at all 'nasty'  or 'embarrassingly retro' as Ruby Tandoh said in The Guardian!!)


With the benefit of hindsight, I bet Iain wishes that he'd saved the very centre of the ice-cream and a bit of sponge...he could have done a mini Alaska for them to taste.  Mind you, both Mary and Paul seemed highly unsympathetic to his ice-cream being left out.  Last year, after Custardgate, they tossed out the baker who'd used the other competitor's custard.  At any rate, now that Diana's had to drop out due to ill health--losing your sense of smell and taste is just horrible, I hope it comes back in time--I am willing to bet that Iain will be back in the tent tomorrow night to make up numbers...

Enough of Bingate, and back to my own baking!  I had intended to just do a small one, since it was just the three of us, but it turns out that I don't do small.  As I poured ice-cream mix into the lined bowl I did wonder if it was perhaps a bit big, but carried on regardless.  Dave and Lucas ended up providing a Baked Alaska Home Delivery service to the family!!  Next time I make one, I'll throw a Baked Alaska party...

Dave asked for a citrus ice-cream, so I obliged with Lemon and Lime and I also added a thin layer of mandarin orange slices underneath for a Citrus Extravaganza.  If you're baking for adults only, then you could soak the sponge with Cointreau or Grand Marnier rather than fruit juice.  The slight bitterness of the liqueur would nicely offset the intense sweetness of the meringue and ice-cream.

We don't have a blowtorch at home--and I call myself a foodie--as I get a bit twitchy about something full of fuel hanging around in the drawer, so I made a French meringue and shoved it into the oven.  I thought about sitting on the kitchen floor Bake Off style and talking nervously to camera, but leaning on the counter drinking a cocktail seemed much more fun.

Eight minutes later I pulled a beautifully browned Baked Alaska out of the oven.  The meringue was gorgeously crispy on the outside and just-cooked inside so that it was marshmallow-like in texture.  It did its job really well, as the ice-cream was only just starting to melt on the outside.  Because I didn't have enough meringue to completely cover the cake layer, the bare edges got all toasty which turned out to be awesome.  Such a great textural contrast and toasted sponge tastes so, so good.


My only regret is that I didn't put together the Baked Alaska earlier in the day.  The dark evenings made photographing it a nightmare!  (Maybe I should have dyed the ice-cream a bright green for contrast?)

Lucas, who had never eaten Baked Alaska before, loved it.  For Dave and I it was a nice citrusy trip down memory lane.  I'm pondering doing it again, but using little pudding basins to give individual Baked Alaskas that could happily live in the freezer for a few weeks as emergency "I Need Sugar!" desserts.

If the trials and tribulations of the GBBO contestants have put you off making your own Baked Alaska, think again!  You can do so much in advance, and you absolutely don't have to make your own sponge or ice-cream--Mary Berry's recipe uses a bought sponge and jam--if you don't want to.  Give it a go!

Lemon and lime no-churn ice-cream


2 lemons
2 limes
175g icing sugar
568ml tub double cream

Zest and juice the fruit into a large bowl (your mixer bowl is ideal for this), making sure to remove all the pips!  Add the sugar and stir until dissolved.  Add the cream and whisk on a medium speed until soft peaks form.

Line a pyrex or pudding bowl with a couple of layers of clingfilm and carefully fill it to the top with the ice-cream mixture.  Press a layer of clingfilm over the top and seal.  Freeze until hard.  This took about six hours.  Overnight (or longer) is fine.

Sponge cake


110g caster sugar
110g unsalted butter, room temperature
110g self-raising flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon milk

Preheat oven to 180C (160C fan oven).  Grease a loose-bottomed 8" sandwich tin with butter.  Set aside.

Place all ingredients, except for the milk, into your food processor.  Blend until a cake batter forms.  Slowly pour in the milk, pulsing the mixture.

Scrape all the cake batter into the prepared tin. Level the surface.  Bake for about 25 minutes until the top springs back when pressed.

Cool in the tin, on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then turn the cake out of the tin and leave to cool completely.

To finish


3 large egg whites
175g caster sugar
Fruit of your choice, sliced as necessary (optional)
Liqueur to sprinkle the sponge base with (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200C.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the sponge layer on top.

In a mixing bowl whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Slowly add the sugar to the egg whites and keep whisking until glossy and the peaks are very stiff.

Sprinkle the sponge with fruit juice or liqueur and arrange a thin layer of fruit on top of the sponge.  I used tinned mandarin oranges and kept the layer as thin as possible.  Remove the ice-cream from the bowl--it should come out easily if you lined it with clingfilm--and place on top of the fruit.  Make sure you remove all the clingfilm!

Working quickly cover the ice-cream with the meringue, bringing it down to the cake and make sure there are no gaps.  The meringue insulates the ice-cream, so gappage means melty ice-cream!

Bake for 8-10 minutes, slide onto a serving plate and serve immediately in thick slices!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Welcome to The Cornershop


After several weeks of tripping over the box in the hallway, I finally unpacked my sewing machine and within hours I was in the grip of a torrid affair with it.  (Lucas brought me a square of chocolate and it sat beside me for a good hour before I noticed.  That's how intense it's been!)  I think I've sewn something every day since.  It is positively addictive, as evidenced by my shiny new loyalty card for the local fabric shop.  (And the lack of posts recently--sorry!)

Given my new stitchy love, I thought today would be a good time to write about The Cornershop art installation in Bethnal Green, London.  We popped in a couple of weekends ago when we were up in the Smoke.


Meet Lucy Sparrow, an urban textile artist.  The Cornershop is her brainchild (and source of RSI).  I have sympathy pains in my wrists from just thinking about all that sewing.

It started with an idea.  Then there was a Kickstarter, followed by arts grants, and now after seven months of sewing we have a wonderfully fuzzy corner shop to explore, complete with 'dodgy geezers' and 'local drunks' for local colour.  It's an amazing achievement!  

From the outside, The Cornershop looks like any old corner shop.  An unsuspecting shopper could nip in for a pint of milk without realising that they were surrounded by felt shop stock.  And in fact, this has happened!  Lucy said that it was her proudest moment when someone brought a two-pinter of milk up to the counter before doing a double-take!  Some of the felt goodies are very convincing indeed!  Particularly the sweeties at the counter...


The shelves are packed with everything you could possibly want in a corner shop.  There's a fine selection of biscuits--loved the HobNobs--bin bags, toothpaste, soups, and jam.  And beer!  Loads of beer!  In the chiller cabinet there's the usual milk, butter and sandwiches, and the freezer has loads of ice-creams and oven chips.  It's just a shame that you can't eat any of it!






As you can see, they stock all the essentials...


The combination of machine embroidery, hand stitching, and appliqué is incredibly effective.  Everything looks pretty damn real from a distance, and each object only gets more impressive when you bend in and take a really good look.  Even if you're the sort of person who doesn't see the point of this sort of thing, you have to admire the sheer level of skill and creativity on display!

Unsurprisingly, I had to buy something.  After lots of thought, I went for a tub of Cadbury's Hot Chocolate powder.  (I really, really wanted a newspaper, but £150 is a bit too rich for my blood.)  I can't wait for it to wend its fuzzy way to me in September once the installation ends.  I think it should take pride of place in my new sewing corner.

The most amazing till! 
Hurry!  The Cornershop closes its doors on the 31st of August!  

The Cornershop
19 Wellington Row
London
E2 7BB



Friday, August 22, 2014

The Sodbury Sheep Search


Last Wednesday Lucas and I spent the morning chasing around Chipping Sodbury, trying to capture twenty-five escaped sheep.  We're awesome like that.

Actually, we were taking part in a fun trail around the town to find the fluffy sheep who had escaped from their field and were hiding out in shop windows.  Not only was this a fantastic low-cost way to spend a morning, but it also introduced me to lots of new shops that I'd never been into before.  Exactly what the local Chamber of Commerce wanted I suspect!

Celebrating National Afternoon Tea Week, perhaps?
We ambled up and down the High Street, and spent ages peering into shop windows and happily browsing in any shops we fancied the look of. Lucas can spot a sheep from a considerable distance!  I had to be really sneaky to spot a sheep before his eagle eyes!!


As per usual I had to stop in at Hobbs House, even if only to look longingly at their cakes and meringues.  Damn you fast days!!  I love their butcher's bike so much!  It's a great (and unusual advertising) method; so much better than a sandwich board.

I admired the Bake Off themed window in Swagger--I really want the tray they had in the window with enamel pictures of British cakes and biscuits on it--for ages until Lucas dragged me along to Purple Parrot who specialise in miniatures for dolls houses and had some impossibly tiny toys in the window.

Along the way I found myself noticing little details, like the house with the magenta-painted windowsills and door with an original boot scraper outside, some beautiful carvings, and all manner of gorgeous doors.  Apparently I have a thing for a nice knocker--who knew?






The details on the police station are amazing.  I love the beautifully carved Public Entrance sign--that must have been a talented stone mason--and the old olice lamp had me snapping photos like a crazy person!  Surprisingly the police station is still in use and hasn't been turned into a dreadful themed pub, a fate that too many of our gorgeous old buildings face.


As we were leaving, we spotted a lonely sheep chained to a bench.  The label around her neck said that she was looking for a husband.  Apparently she'd be no trouble, all she'd need would be a bit of dusting now and then and a few loving words.  If you fancy a low-maintenance wife, she's waiting for you outside the Penny Farthing gift shop on the High Street!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Photo Every Hour (almost)

Saturday was my first attempt at Jane's Photo Every Hour challenge.  I think my offering would be better described as "A Photo When I Remember", but hey-ho...we were busy having fun!

8ish - On the M4 zooming towards London.  We surprised Lucas by getting up an hour earlier than we'd told him, then I told him that he wasn't getting to go to athletics today--his face fell--but we were going to London instead--his face was an absolute picture!


9ish - In a traffic jam at Trafalgar square.  A not very good snap of the giant blue cockerel and Nelson's column.


10ish - the Peter Pan book bench beside St Paul's.  I really wanted to go into St Paul's but was appalled by the entry price for the three of us.  We settled for starting our Book Bench hunt instead.


11ish - South of the river now and a pit-stop for coffee at Starbuck's near Shakespeare's Globe.  It took Lucas a while to notice that we'd been assimilated into Dave's collective...


12ish - After walking down the Thames Path, Dave took us into the Hay's Galleria for a quick look around.  It's a gorgeous building and positively festooned with bunting!  I love bunting.


1ish - Leon!! I've wanted to eat at Leon for years.  They've always been heaving whenever I've tried but we stumbled across this one near Southwark Cathedral which was empty and I couldn't pass up eating lunch there!

We all loved the food, so much so that I popped into Foyles later on and bought one of their books!


2ish - We walked over Tower Bridge and slowly walked around the Tower, marvelling at the poppies.  The sheer number is staggering and it brings home just how horrifying World War 1 was.  Lucas really struggled with the idea that something which represented so much death could be so beautiful, especially after he lost count of the poppies...


3ish Walking through the back streets of Westminster we stumbled across New Scotland Yard.  I had no idea that it was a mere stone's throw from Parliament.  I got ridiculously excited by this, but I'll spare you the photo of me grinning like a lunatic in favour of this slightly more iconic one!


4ish - Afternoon tea at the Intercontinental Westminster.  I loved this flower arrangement with artfully arranged succulents in glass teapots.


5 o'clock and all is definitely well - this was the dessert course of our British Summer Holiday afternoon tea.  All beach huts should be made of brownie and chocolate mousse!  I did feel a bit Hansel and Gretel when I neatly prised off the roof of the hut...


6ish -  Look Mum, No Hands!  We stumbled across the Look Mum No Hands! pop-up on the Southbank as we walked back to the hotel.  Lucas couldn't resist posing... I somehow managed to resist their jugs of Pimms.



7ish - We stopped for a SNOG at the bright pink SNOG bus.  (From a distance I'd assumed it was a disco!)


8 o'clock - This was a very welcome sign as it meant we were almost back at the hotel.  It also marks a learning experience for me: bridges can be windy!  I wound up doing a Marilyn all the way across the bridge in my flippy skirt.  Thank god for leggings!


Our day ends rather early by my usual standards...by the time we got back to the hotel we'd managed to clock up just shy of nine miles and I was asleep by about 9:30!

Next time I'll be slightly more organised and actually remember to keep an eye on the time!  Head over to Jane's blog to see who else took part in this month's challenge.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Great Bloggers Bake Off: Swiss Roll edition

I painted that plate!
I've been a massive fan of the Great British Bake Off since the very first episode aired, but it's never dawned upon me that I could bake along with the contestants.  Bit slow sometimes, me.  A couple of days ago I saw an absolutely delicious Mary Berry Cherry Cake from Clare on my Bloglovin' feed and then Jenny mentioned on Twitter that she was baking a Swiss roll, a la Bake Off.  I just had to join in!

I took the opportunity to try something I've been meaning to for absolutely ages, baking a pattern into the cake.  I've seen DIYs and tutorials for this all over Pinterest but I've never had an occasion to try it.

Turns out, it's super-easy.  All you need is a steady (ish) hand for piping and you can turn out something that looks rather special with ease.  Drawing a template with a thick marker and sliding it under the parchment would be a good idea if you're a bit nervous about free-handing.  It won't take much longer than making your usual Swiss roll recipe, honest!


I'm not sure what Mary and Paul would have thought of my efforts, though.  I used a little too much food colouring and alas, not only did the pink turn out a little on the garish side, but there was a slightly bitter taste which I'm putting down to chucking too much colouring in.  My advice?  One tiny dab of colouring at a time!!  I think Paul might have fixed me with his icy blue eyes and said, "Style over substance."  However Lucas described it as delicious, and he's my favourite critic, so that's all right.

Can't wait to see what the bakers get up to in Wednesday's episode!

Vanilla and Strawberry Swiss Roll


For the decorative paste

30g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg white
30g caster sugar
40g plain flour
a drop of vanilla extract (optional)
food colouring gel of your choice

For the cake

4 large eggs
100g caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla paste
100g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
caster sugar for dusting

For the filling

100g unsalted butter, softened
150g icing sugar, sifted
40g strawberry and vanilla jam (or just strawberry jam and add a drop of vanilla extract)

Grease and line a Swiss roll tin (23x30cm) and brush the parchment with melted butter.

Make the paste: beat the egg white into the melted butter followed by the sugar and flour.  Add food colouring, carefully, as too much will make the paste taste slightly bitter.  This will probably make more than you need, but it's hard to divide since it only uses a single egg white!  Also, having a bit of excess is handy if you want to do a multi-colour pattern...

Put the paste into a piping bag with a fine, round nozzle, or simply snip the end off the bag when you want to start piping..  If it's a hot day it might seem a bit too soft, so pop it in the fridge for about 10 minutes.

Pipe your design onto the prepared tin.  If you make a mistake, you can scrape it off the parchment and pop the paste back into the piping bag.  Once you're happy with it, put the tin in the freezer while you make the cake batter.

Preheat the oven to 180C (160C fan).

Let the cake cool for two minutes before sliding it onto a wire rack, keep the parchment on.  Sprinkle the surface of the cooked cake lightly with caster sugar to prevent sticking.  Starting from a short end, fold in the baking parchment and start rolling the cake up.  You might want to protect your hands with a tea towel as the cake is hot!  Allow to cool on a wire rack for about an hour.

Make the buttercream: in a mixer, beat the butter until it pales.  Add the icing sugar and beat in slowly--covering with a clean tea towel is advisable--then add the jam.  Keep beating until fluffy.

Carefully unroll the cake and spread the buttercream in an even layer.  Gently peel the parchment away from the cake and roll it up tightly using the parchment to help roll it all together.  Chill for about half an hour before serving to set the buttercream slightly.

Best eaten on the day of baking.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Strawberry and vanilla jam

Strawberry & vanilla jam

After our strawberry picking adventures at Chosen Hill Farm a few weeks ago, all I could think about as we drove home, the scent of strawberries thick and heady in the car, was making jam.  Those berries smelled amazing, I just wanted to bottle the smell and save it forever.  Well, for as long as jar of jam ever lasts!

Strawberries in a colander
Strawberry jam is a classic for very good reason--it's such a pure and bright flavour--but I wanted to make it extra special by adding some vanilla.  I'm sure that I'm not the first person to add vanilla to strawberry jam, after all strawberries taste amazing with Chantilly cream, but I felt like I'd made some alchemical discovery when I tasted the finished jam!  The vanilla really kicks up the strawberry flavour.

I'm not ashamed to say that we all stood around the cooled pan, armed with spoons, and scraped the remnants from the pan and ladle.  It was amazing, even better than the berries themselves!

The jam is absolutely delicious simply spread on hot buttered toast and sublime as part of a cream tea with .  If a jar survives into autumn or winter, then I reckon it would taste fantastic dolloped on top of a bowl of rice pudding!  Perhaps rippling it into ice-cream would be fun, or you know...you could just eat it from the jar with a spoon.

I've always been quite keen on making the occasional jar of jam and curd, but now I can easily see how people wind up with cupboards upon cupboards full of jam.  I'm saving every jam jar and planning to go blackberrying very soon, as well as making some chutney.  I'm going to turn into a crazy jam lady, aren't I?

Strawberry & vanilla jam


Strawberry and vanilla jam

(Adapted ever-so-slightly from Mary Berry's excellent recipe.)
Makes 4 jars of jam.

1kg strawberries, rinsed, dabbed dry, and hulled
juice of one lemon
1kg jam sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

First things first, click through and watch the video that accompanies Mary Berry's recipe.  Making jam is such a visual thing, it's hard to describe in words and the video really helps!

Put a couple of saucers into the freezer to chill.  Wash and sterilise jam jars.

If the strawberries are large, cut them in half. The general rule of thumb is that the strawberries should be small enough to fit on top of a scone in the finished jam.  Put the strawberries and lemon juice into a large pan. Heat for a few minutes to soften, add the vanilla paste and sugar and stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved.

Once the sugar has dissolved and the liquid is clear, boil steadily for about four minutes, or until at setting point. The jam should cook at a fast, rolling boil that you can't stir down.

To test if the jam is at setting point, spoon a little onto a cold plate, leave for a minute and then push the jam with your finger. If the jam crinkles and separates without flooding back, setting point has been reached.

Set aside to cool for ten minutes.  (This ensures that the strawberries will stay evenly suspended in the jam, rather than all bobbing to the top in the jar.)  Spoon into sterilised jars, label and seal with wax paper and a lid.  Leave to cool completely.

How to make Strawberry & vanilla jam :: Little Apple Tree blog


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