Sunday, 20 January 2013

Warming winter stew

This weather certainly calls for some proper hearty grub doesn't it? And what better than a scrummy stew to warm us up from the inside out?

That's exactly what I thought earlier today, as we braved the icy roads and headed to the supermarket to stock up on food for the week. So, in the trolly went:

400g stewing beef
2 large carrots
2 large parsnips
1large onion
Plain flour
Some white potatoes
Half a bottle of red wine (well...a whole bottle, but only half of it was for the stew)
Dried rosemary
Dried sage
Beef stock cubes (of which I used one, in 300ml of boiling water)
A tin of chopped tomatoes

And when I got home I set about cooking up something tasty for our Sunday night dinner. I half knew what I was doing from the stews we used to eat as kids, but I also half made it up. And this is how it went:

1.  Preheat the oven to about160°C
2.  Chop up the veg. Try to cut the carrots, potatoes and parsnips to pieces of about the same size.
3.  Put a knob of butter and a small amount of olive oil in a large casserole dish (the sort that can go on the hob and in the oven)
4.  Fry the onion on a medium heat for a couple of minutes
5.  Toss the beef in enough flour (with a touch of salt and pepper) to just about coat it
6.  Add the beef and the rest of the veg into the dish
7.  Add half a bottle of red wine, 300ml of beef stock and enough chopped tomatoes to bring the liquid up to almost cover the veg
8.  Add a sprinkling of rosemary and sage
9.  Bring up to heat and then put it in the oven. This is a slow cooking stew, so it'll need to be in the oven for quite a while. Mine was in for about 2 hours and 45 minutes, but it may take a bit more. I got hungry, so pulled it out just before it could be described as 'melt in the mouth'.

I served the stew in warm bowls on its own, but you could serve it with some lovely crusty bread to help mop up the juices.

This was a reeeeaaaally yummy stew and I'm pleased that there's enough left over to eat it a second night in a row (so that's about 4 portions in total, using the quantities I did). The Mr gave it 8/10 - he wanted his veg cut a bit smaller and was grumpy about the lack of bread. I'll go slightly more and give it a 9 - I should have waited another 15 minutes to make that beef really melt!

What's your favourite winter dish?

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Food heaven...and food hell!

As it's been pretty hideous outside today, we decided not to head out on our bikes. So, I've had some time to doing some experimenting in the kitchen. This seems like a rare treat these days, and I really enjoyed it!

I started with the one thing I've been desperate to try since Christmas: making ice cream! My lovely husband bought me the ice cream making attachment for my Kenwood Chef for Christmas, and I've been itching to use it ever since.

My absolute favourite flavour for any kind of dessert, ice creamy or otherwise, is lemon, so deciding which flavour to try first was not a tricky decision. A special friend had given me a copy of The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz, and I'd already picked out the recipe I was going to try first: Super Lemon Ice Cream on page 85 - my food heaven!

It really was very easy. This recipe didn't call for egg at all, it was just a case of mixing lemon zest, juice, sugar and cream together, letting it chill and then pouring it into the ice cream maker. So simple! And boy did it taste good! I've only ever had lemon ice cream from gelateries in Italy and I would happily say that this ice cream could compete with the best I've tried out there. Here's a pic of it, in one of the lovely retro sundae glasses that the same super friend got for me:

Unfortunately, that was the extent of my kitchen triumph today. My second mission - to make some yummy energy bars to take on our bike ride tomorrow - turned out to be an utter failure!

I'd found a recipe online - here - and was excited at the prospect of mixing two of my favourite hobbies: mountain biking and baking. So, I happily set off mixing all the ingredients together.

But, no matter how much I mixed, the ingredients just weren't sticking together and becoming 'batter' like at all. I added more butter, in an attempt to make the mix a bit wetter and this seemed to help bind the ingredient. But when they came out of the oven and were cool enough to test, they were soooo dry that it was a bit like eating sand. Yuck: food hell!

I'm not sure why the recipe didn't work, but it was pretty disappointing. I'm now on the lookout for another recipe to try out before my next big bike ride. Do you have any tips?

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

A big 'hello' to 2013!

Well here we are: 2013! The new year has come around quicker than I expected this year. Last year was a busy but excellent one for me. At times it felt like my feet hadn't touched the ground for a while and there were months at a time when I hardly had time to stop and just be. I was bridesmaid twice (magic!), got a new job, watched another friend get married, made a start on getting our scruffy little house into some semblance of a home, as well as trying to fit in bike riding, sewing and baking. Like I said, a busy but most excellent year!

And now we've reached the next one. I have high hopes for 2013. It started brilliantly, with an amazing mountain bike ride on new year's day, followed by a bit of hexie sewing. I hope that's a good indicator of the year ahead.

Like many other bloggers out there, I've decided not to make new year's resolutions. I usually find that I can't stick to them, and end up feeling like I've let myself down. So this year, I've decided to try something new. I'm taking a leaf out of Ali Edwards' book and have decided to pick a word to try to live by in the coming year. I'm not taking part in Ali's workshop, but I really love the idea of keeping a word prominent in my mind for a year, to try to help me achieve and live happily throughout the year. The word I've chosen is: 'now'. I hope that by remembering this word, I'll remember not to dwell on times past and not to worry about the future as much as I tend to. I need to learn to live in the moment and I hope that this little reminder will help me do that. I'll let you know.....

In other news, I'm considering a slightly new direction for my blog. I'm thinking about moving away from the goal of becoming a domestic goddess and moving more into the all encompassing realm of Goddess!! That sounds ridiculously grand, but what I mean is that I'd like to blog about a wider range of things that I get up to, not just focussing on the cake and cushions! I'm thinking about writing about self-improvement more generally, so that I tell you about my adventures on my bike(s) and the new skills I learn there, as well as continuing to write about my making and baking exploits.

What do you think? I hope that you'll be interested in the stories I have to tell.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

An abundance of birthday fun!

I recently turned 29. Not quite 30, but I'm getting there and getting nervous about it! I decided that as this was my last birthday of my twenties, I ought to fill it with my favourite things, and that is exactly what I did!

I took the Friday off work, so that I could make a long weekend of it and spent the day getting very muddy in the Forest of Dean on my mountain bike. I know this blog isn't about my mountain biking adventures, but here's a little pic from the end of the ride:

On the Saturday, I had a real treat. The Mr took me to the Bristol Lido for the afternoon. This is a little bit of magic, tucked away in Clifton in Bristol, where you can swim as the Victorians did in an open air pool. We enjoyed a couple of hours swimming, steaming and hot tubbing in beautiful surroundings, before tucking in to a rather yummy afternoon tea in the bar area. This consisted of smoked salmon on toast, prosecco, massive scones and a pot of tea. It's safe to say it was entirely lovely. I'd certainly recommend it for a relaxing day out. Here are a few pictures from the day:

Yum yum!

So, to Sunday and my actual birthday. And how did I chose to spend it? Making pyjamas at a sewing workshop of course! I went with one of my best friends to Cordial and Grace in Bristol to eat cake and learn to make pyjama bottoms. This was another thoroughly enjoyable day in lovely surroundings and with great company.

The workshop was three hours long and in that time we each made a pair of pyjama bottoms with a tie fastening. This involved my first ever encounter with making button holes, and I have to admit, I quite enjoyed that bit (even if mine did come out a bit wonky!). It always feels so good to learn something new on the sewing machine and I'm now inspired to try some more sewing over the coming months.

Here's a piccie of my finished pjs. They are ENORMOUS and I'll be trying to take them in, but they were great fun to make and I think you'll agree that I picked some super fabric!

So, that was my 29th birthday done and dusted. I wonder what adventures the year ahead has in store for me....

Monday, 15 October 2012

Souping it up!

Well autumn is now well and truly upon us. It's my favourite autumn, for more reason than one. Firstly it gives us days like this:

That was in the lovely Wells on Saturday. It was one of those beautiful, crisp autumnal days that make you feel happy just to be alive.

But the weather is not the only reason to love autumn. It's the time of year when I start getting interested in cooking again. Through the summer it's all about salads and cold foods, but in the autumn I crave good, hearty food and so my cookery books come out and I try new things.

In the last couple of weeks, I've tried out two soup recipes. The first was from The Little Paris Kitchen recipe book (which seems to be on offer on Amazon!). I tried the chicken dumpling soup recipe in an evening after work. It was pretty easy to make, but I'm not sure I did it quite right! That is, I didn't like it!

I'd never tried dumplings before and I really didn't enjoy them. Whilst the flavours in the soup were scrummy, I found the texture of the dumplings a bit odd. But, according to the Mr, the texture was just right and the soup was delicious! So I think it might just be that I don't like dumplings...!

Has anyone else tried this recipe? I'd be interested to hear your thoughts...

The second soup I tried was a delicious concoction from Rachel's Food for Living, by Rachel Allen. This is a book I really like, as it includes recipes for things that I think everyone but me knows how to make. I recommend the lasagne recipe in it, that's for sure. On this occasion I tried the Spanish Chorizo and Chickpea Soup. I made it this evening and it was truly yummy. It's a very simple recipe and only took about 40 minutes to cook, but it's so full of flavour and surprisingly filling. I can't wait to eat the rest for lunch tomorrow!

 Here's a quick piccie:

Mmmmm! I do love autumn!

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Autumn's here and so am I!

Well, it's safe to say I've not been here for a while! I commented to my husband the other day that I hadn't done any baking or sewing in aaaaages, and his response was: "it's summer, there are far too many other things to be doing".

And I think that's probably what' s happened here. I've been busy arranging hen dos, attending weddings, bridesmaiding, holidaying in Italy, mountain biking, visiting family.... all of which has meant that I've not been working on my domestic goddess skills, or blogging!

But, now the autumn has arrived and with it has my desire to get baking and enjoying the best of what my favourite season has to offer. And when I realised that a slightly unsightly bush in my garden was adorned with blackberries, I just knew that I wasn't going to stay out of the kitchen for long.

My plan for today had been to get diy-ing and tidying up the garden, but after a bit of an incident on my mountain bike yesterday, I haven't really been able to do much with my right arm all day. In times past this might also have meant that I couldn't have baked either, but due to the joys of my Kenwood Chef mixer I was able to get stuck into a simple blackberry muffin recipe this afternoon.

I found a recipe online for these muffins. It was very simple and didn't need any fancy techniques or ingredients, just a bit of mixing and dolloping into the muffin tray. After dolloping, the muffins looked like this:

And twenty minutes later they looked more like this:

After leaving them to cool, the Mr insisted that we needed to try them with a nice cup of tea. And the verdict? Not as flavoursome as I had hoped, but I don't know if that's because this was an early picking of blackberries, so perhaps they could've been a little riper. I would also be tempted to add a touch of vanilla essence next time. That said, I won't be turning my nose up at the rest, which I intend to enjoy with a large serving of custard!

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Beano birthday fun!

I've wanted to share a project with you for a while now, but because the project was for a gift I had to wait until now to write about it!

As avid readers will know, just over a year ago my big sister gave birth to George, my first nephew. In a way, he was the one that started me on my mission of making and baking, as it was for him that I first sewed a baby quilt. There have been two more since, but George's was the original and it taught me to sew! And what better way to celebrate his being one year old than to make him another something special?

For his first birthday, I wanted to make something that would last and would be special for much longer than a couple of months - not clothes, not toys. So, when a colleague started talking about a chair that she had been decorating with Beanos for her little boy, I wanted in!

The chair started as an old classroom chair, from the days before these things were made out of plastic. It was a bit battered and scruffy, but it was the perfect blank canvas for this project:

The first task was to fill the uneven surfaces, before sanding it and filling it and sanding it again. This was to give a smooth base for a coat or two of gloss paint.

And then came the fun part! My colleague donated five or six Beanos for me to cut bits from, to decorate the chair with. Some of them were from 1987 and others were from the early 1990s. I had a great time flicking through, picking the bits I wanted to use and lost a number of hours of my life to the task!

Then came the gluing! I just used ordinary PVA glue to stick the pieces to the chair, carefully choosing which bits to place where. This took far longer than I had planned, as I wanted to get it just right. I didn't want it looking too uniform and too meticulously thought out, which meant I spent hours meticulously thinking it over! Like that perfectly disheveled bed hair look that guys can only get by spending 45 minutes in front of a mirror with a tub of hair wax!

Once the Beano pieces were all glued on and dry, it was time for varnish. I am lucky as my husband's job means he owns a compressor and a spray gun, which he used to apply the varnish. And then we sanded, and he sprayed, sanded and sprayed, until the seat was as smooth as could be. It was then a case of touching up the edges and adding a final coat of white to the bits I hadn't covered with paper.

And the result? See for youselves:

Isn't is brilliant?!

I have to admit, it was a real labour of love and was not a quick and easy make by any stretch of the imagination. It took far longer than I thought it would, but the result was so worth it. And even more so when I saw George's reaction to it!

George isn't sure what a chair is for. Is it for sitting on so you can reach your toys?

 Hmm, nope. Is it for playing peepo with?

It's fun, but it's not the real purpose of a chair. No. The real purpose of a chair is to keep a little boy stable as he pushes it around the living room using it as a walker, like a loony!

And that is what he does with it, day in day out! Not sure my sister's laminate floor is enjoying it much, but then she's wanted a nice new carpet for a while now. Perhaps this is just the excuse she needs??