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??


Monday, 28 May 2012

Beginners' dressmaking at Millie Moon

Well hello there my lovelies. How are you all? It's been a while since my last post. This is because I've had very little time to do any baking or any making recently. I've been busy with the new house and busy with my new job. It's all good news, but has left me lacking in time to spend on the task of becoming a domestic goddess.

But, it all changed this weekend! On Sunday, I had that most wonderful day at the oh-so-fabulous Millie Moon Haberdashery in Wells. As you probably know, I am a big fan of Millie Moon and have blogged about the shop in Frome in the past. This time I wasn't there just for a browse, but for a day's course in dressmaking.

I had been looking forward to the course for a long time, as I booked it weeks ago, and it didn't disappoint. I was a little nervous beforehand, as I was worried that my limited sewing skills wouldn't be up to the task in hand. But I was met by a very smiley tutor called Lucy, who made me feel welcome and I knew immediately that this was going to be a brilliant day. The planned outcome for the day was that each member of the small group would have a complete A-line skirt to take away.

We started the morning with measurements - waist, hips, waist to hips and length, to be precise. This was because we weren't just using a pattern from a book, but we were making our own! That's right - a skirt made to fit our individual shapes and sizes. How cool?!

So, once we had measured up, it was time to draw the pattern:


We used pattern-making paper, which meant that my geometry failings didn't matter - straight lines could be drawn simply by joining the dots! I've found the paper for sale here, and fully intend to make a purchase.

Once our patterns were ready, it was time to mock up a toile (a dummy run in calico). This stage saw me facing a big fear and sewing a zip for the very first time! With some excellent instructions and encouragement from Lucy, I blooming well did it and it looked like this:


That's right - I sewed a zip in!

When our toiles were complete, we had to try them on and Lucy pinned in where we needed to add darts, to make sure the final skirts fitted us perfectly. She then showed us how to draw the darts onto the pattern and how to transfer them onto the fabric. This was done using a clever little technique, sewing loops into the three points of the darts and pulling the pattern off. But before we could take this step, we had to do the most difficult part of the day - choosing the fabric for the final skirts!

Next it was a case of sewing in the darts (something else I had never done before), adding the zip, and sewing the pieces together. We even finished the edges of the seam allowances neatly with a zigzag stitch, to stop them from fraying. Then we added bias binding around the top, hemmed the bottom and added a hook and eye. And then......


Ta-dah!!



I made that! From scratch! I still can't quite believe it, because I never thought I would be able to make something that I could actually wear. Not only can I wear it, but it fits beautifully and I am so proud of the fact that I created it myself.

I would absolutely recommend this workshop to anyone who needs a little more confidence in their sewing skills. It is a friendly, pressure-free course, run by smiley people in a really lovely environment. I picked up so many little tips, that it was easily worth the fee. And I cannot believe that I can now sew zips and darts!

And, in case you want to see it....here's my very pleasing zip:


Sunday, 1 April 2012

A little taste of Paris

I am sure I am not alone in stating my love for the lovely new cookery show The Little Paris Kitchen. I love it in equal parts for Rachel Khoo's dresses, her lifestyle and her lovely, simple-seeming French cooking, with her own little twist. It's a programme that is making me smile and one that I hope will continue for long while to come.

I have to admit, I have always dreamed of a life in Paris. I would love to wake up to croissants, go for a stroll down the Seine and eat dinner in a little bistro with a view of the Eiffel Tower. But that is a dream and, for now, being inspired by Rachel Khoo and her Little Paris Kitchen will just have to do. And inspired is exactly how I felt when I saw Rachel baking some beautiful little French choux pastry snacks in her tiny little apartment. As a wannabe domestic goddess, I felt certain that choux pastry was something that I needed to master. I mean, if I can't cook profiteroles there's no way I will ever be able to claim that domestic goddess title is there?!

So, I set about seeking out a recipe for these beautiful little snacks, known by the French as Chouquettes. Unfortunately, the recipe isn't included on the BBC website for the show (presumably because Rachel has a book to sell!), but I did find a simple looking recipe on this site. I was very nervous before setting out on my choux pasty mission, especially after the epic failure that was my attempt at Michel Roux Jnr's Parisian gnocchi. But, I bit the bullet and went for it, and boy am I pleased I did!

There was an awful lot of arm work involved in making the pastry. It's imperative to keep the doughy mixture moving to prevent the eggs from cooking as you mix them in, and this means a good ol' workout for the arms. I also struggled a little with the piping bag, but my little blobs of dough got neater and neater as I went on, so next time, they'll be perfect. And I will certainly be making these little bites of magic again, for they were truly delicious, especially when dipped in melted chocolate! Here are some piccies of these delightful treats:




I strongly recommend you try this recipe. It's far simpler than you might think and the pleasure in every little bite is well worth the arm ache! Good luck x

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Scrummy roast beef and massive Yorkshire puddings

In an earlier post, I promised to share with you the amazing roast beef and Yorkshire puddings recipe my sister sent me when I told her that one of my new year's resolutions was to make a roast using something other than chicken. Prior to trying this recipe, I was always fairly scared of roasting anything else, as I had got into my head that it would be a very difficult thing to do. But I figured that if I am ever really going to be able to call myself a domestic goddess, this would be something that I had to tackle.

And now I have a secret to share with you and it's one my mum kept hidden for so many years: cooking roast beef with Yorkshire puddings is really flipping easy! And this is how it's done: (I believe the original recipe was one by Gordon Ramsey)

Ingredients:

Joint of beef (the size depends on how many you are cooking for. Your butcher can help with this, or if you are buying in the supermarket, the packet tells you how many your joint will serve).

For 12 (ish) puds:

225g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 eggs, beaten
300ml milk
About 4 tablespoons of vegetable oil for cooking 

Whatever veggies you fancy. I went for carrots, parsnips, potatoes and green beans. All but the green beans can be roasted in a single pan, saving on a lot of washing up. Part boil the potatoes and parsnips, chop them and the carrots into similar size chunks and put them in the oven in hot, seasoned olive at the same time as the beef. My sister says you can even put them in the same pan as the beef, but I didn't do that. Cook them for the duration, rather than removing them from the oven when you remove the beef.

Method:

1. Heat the oven to 200°C/Gas mark 6.
2. Season the beef and put it in a hot pan with a little olive oil, searing to brown on all sides. This takes 3-4 minutes on each side.
3. Transfer the beef to the oven and roast, allowing 15 minutes per 450g for rare or 20 minutes per 450g medium.
4. For the Yorkshires, sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Add the eggs and half the milk and beat until smooth.
5. Mix in the remaining milk and leave the batter to rest.
6. When the beef is cooked, transfer it to a warmed plate and leave to rest, covered in foil, in a warm place whilst you cook the Yorkshire puddings.
7. Increase the oven temperature to 230°C/Gas mark 8.
8. Put 1 teaspoon of oil into each hole in the Yorkshire pudding tray (or cupcake tray!) and put into the oven until very hot.
9. Meanwhile, whisk the batter again.
10. As soon as you take the tray of oil from the oven, ladle in the batter so that each hole is three quarters full.
11. Immediately put back in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, until the Yorkshires are well risen and golden brown (my puds rose so high that they stuck to the roof of the oven!).
****DON'T OPEN THE OVEN DOOR UNTIL THE PUDS ARE READY OR THEY WON'T RISE****

For gravy, use the juices from the beef and a little bit of plain flour to make a roux (mix them together over a gentle heat), then add beef stock (boiling water and a stock cube will do) and add a touch of wine for a richer flavour. Keep stirring until it thickens, adding more flour if it's needed. Stirring is important here, to prevent lumps. For more thorough instructions, try Delia.

I strongly recommend that you try this recipe, as it truly is delicious and so very simple. Afterall, all domestic goddesses ought to be able to make a proper Sunday roast!

The piccie was in poor light, so doesn't really do the finished meal justice, but here you go:


Roast and enjoy! xx

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Food bloggers unplugged

There's a great food bloggers challenge on at the moment, called Food Bloggers Unplugged. The aim is to learn a little more about the foodies we follow on Twitter or read about on their blogs. I was challenged by the oh so lovely Rebecca at Fasting Foodie. My blog is not a 'food blog' in its purest sense, but I do like to blog about cooking, so I guess it counts! Here is my entry:


What, or who inspired you to start a blog?

I had been thinking about blogging for a little while, although was concerned about being thought a narcissist if I actually started up my own. However, there was a time when I would come home from a day at work feeling frazzled and unhappy and I needed some form of escapism to allow me to be creative in a way that my day job doesn't. It was then that I decided to take the leap and learn some new skills and thought that blogging about them would keep my interest up. And I was right! I love blogging and learning from other people's creativity and inspiration. And I love the sense of community that is felt amongst bloggers worldwide. Blogging plays an important role in my life: it makes me happy!

Who is your foodie inspiration?

I have to agree with Rebecca on this one: Michel Roux Junior is a wee bit fabulous. I am inspired by passion and there is nobody on the planet who exudes passion about food in quite the same way that Chef Michel does.

Your greasiest, batter-splattered food/drink book is?

I love Jamie Oliver's cook books and they are probably my most used books. They are full of recipes that I know that I will be able to find the ingredients for and that I won't need all day to prepare. Real food for real people.

In terms of baking, my Great British Bake Off book is amongst my favourites. And I often use my ipad as a recipe book, using the BBC Good Food apps. 


Tell us all about the best thing you have ever eaten in another country, where was it, what was it?

Oooh, this one's a toughy! Does Scotland count as another country? If so, it was the bread and butter pudding I ate at the Broadsheet Bistro in the Fraser Suites in Edinburgh. My husband and I were staying in the hotel for a romantic trip away, but I was recovering from a nasty cold and didn't want to go far for food. We decided to have food in the hotel's restaurant and I ordered the bread and butter pudding for desert. My, my, it was good! Fluffy, light and served with a delicious berry compote and custard. I was in heaven. It was so good that we went back the following night!

If you are ever in Edinburgh, do not be put off if the Broadsheet Bistro is quiet, as it was the nights we were there, the food is simply sublime. Go there.  

Another food blogger’s table you’d like to eat at is?

I would be very happy to be served anything baked by Holly Bell from the Great British Bake Off. Her cakes look utterly divine!

What is the one kitchen gadget you would ask Santa for this year (money no object of course)?

Not so much a gadget, but I'd love love love a Le Creuset casserole. Surely anything cooked in there would taste just beautiful?!

Who taught you how to cook?

Nobody really. I guess my mum instilled a few skills, but we were never a family that spent time cooking together (although we ate together around the table every night). I have learnt a lot from watching cookery programmes and trying new recipes from books with good pictures! I guess that's why I still see myself as a learner - I learn with every dish I attempt.

I’m coming to you for dinner. What’s your signature dish?

Probably roast chicken with all the trimmings. But I also make a mean mushroom lasagne, so veggies are catered for too!

What is your guilty food pleasure?

Really good fish and chips! But they need to be properly brilliant and not in the least bit soggy. There is a fish and chip shop in Salcombe in Devon that always has a queue out of the door in the summer months, with good reason. Fish and chips on a sea wall cannot be beaten!

Reveal something about yourself that others would be surprised to learn?

I am a fearful cook. I am always so determined to make everything perfect at the first attempt, that I often get myself in a pickle and get very upset if it doesn't go to plan. Luckily, I know how silly this is so get over it pretty quickly, but it can be problematic if I'm making dinner for friends.

The next nominees are:
I think the foodie bloggers I know have done this already. So, I won't be nominating. However, if you fancy having a go at answering the questions, do so on your blog and link in the comments below. I'd love to see your answers.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Cake, cushions and Wolf and Willow doorstops

Well, hello! Long time no see. I'm so sorry I've been away for such a long time. I have a perfectly valid excuse though - no internet! As some of you may be aware, just before Christmas the goddess-in-training household upped and moved. The husband and I have moved from our tiny, but perfectly formed, one-bed coach house in a massive new estate to a slightly tatty two-bed semi in a village about 5 minutes away. The new house is somewhat less perfectly formed than our first home, but that just means it has character...right?! And it gives me plenty of opportunity to make my mark, as and when funds permit.

My advice to you is to never move on the 22nd December. This is for a number of reasons. Firstly, you will not be able to get that Christmassy feeling whilst all your belongings, including the decorations, are packed away in boxes. Secondly, you will find yourself beyond stressed and less able to enjoy the Christmas break. Thirdly, you will find that all the useful companies that you need shut down over all the bank holidays and so you will not be able to get an internet connection until over a month later. Hmmph!

But, we are in. And we are happy. And the long break from blogging just means that I have lots of piccies to show you, as I have not been being idle since my last post.

I shall start with a Christmas cake update (I know, who discusses Christmas cake on the 27th January?!). I haven't updated you since the cake came out of the oven, so I thought you may like to know that it worked. I fed it with brandy every few days between baking and Christmas and with a day to go to the big move, I iced it. And this is how it turned out:


A top goddess-in-training tip for you is this: before you spend bloomin' ages rolling out your icing until it is perfectly sized, make sure you cover your work surface with icing sugar. This is to stop your lovely icing sticking to the worktop and falling apart before your very eyes as you try to peel it carefully off. I speak from experience....! But in the end, it was all good and Delia's delightful recipe did me proud. In fact, my mum has already requested that I make the cake for next Christmas.

Whilst we are on food, I ought to tell you that I am now able to say that I can cook a flipping good roast beef dinner! This was one of my new year's resolutions: to cook a roast with meat other than chicken. And I did it. I did it within just a few days of making the resolution and it was fab. I'll blog soon with the recipe I used...

In sewing news, I have completed a couple of lovely projects since I last posted. I finally got round to making a cushion with the beautiful fabric one of my best friends got me for my birthday. She and I always drink copious amounts of tea (usually accompanied by a big slice of cake) when we meet, so it seemed rather fitting that she bought me fabric with teapots on it for my birthday! And here is what I made:



I'd never made a cushion cover before and couldn't believe how easy it was. I will blog a tutorial for making a simple envelope cushion like this one soon, as I know there are others out there who are new to sewing too.

January has seen me being very busy making fabric doorstops. I made one for my sister as a house warming present and suddenly everyone who visited her house wanted one too! So, I've been busy sewing away in my little craft room (yes, craft room - photo below!), making doorstops using a pattern I found on the very lovely Wolf and Willow blog. 

Here is a photo of two of the ones I made:


I have to admit, I did find these trickier than maybe I should have. It was something to do with them being round I think - I found it difficult to get the bottom circle to match perfectly with cylinder I had already made. It took a lot of unpicking and re-sewing, but it did give me a good go at practicing my tiny hand-stitching, sewing up the gap after turning each one the right way out.

And finally, as this post is getting rather long, I shall leave you with a couple of pictures from my new house. My two favourite things about the new house are:

1. I have a room dedicated to crafting


2. We have an open fire! The fireplace is somewhat dated, but that can be improved later. For now, I will just bask in the glow of the flickering flames.


Bye for now my lovelies. I promise to write again soon. xx