Friday, 28 June 2013

With a twist

I only ever make cakes when there is a purpose behind it. It doesn't need to be a big reason, having a cuppa with a friend is as good as any.  Half the point of making a cake is it's sharing qualities. Also I can't be sitting at home scoffing cake all day. However with a surfeit of citrus fruit in the house last night a lemon cake was made with reason behind it!

With a twist.... two lemons and two limes. The zest went into the cake as usual. Cake baked, time for a really sharp topping. The juice of the fruit went into a saucepan with four tablespoons of limoncello.  Limoncello does have a lot of sugar in it already but I would say that my taste does veer toward the tart side so you may want to add a little sugar. This was then reduced down to about two tablespoons worth and poured over the cake..

Top Tip: Put the cake back in the cake tin when pouring the topping over it. This makes the cake gorgeously moist and stops the topping going everywhere except on the cake.

It takes about half an hour for the topping to sink into the cake and set a little. The result is a gloriously sharp topping which is smoothed out by the sweetness of the cake.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

A patchwork quilt perfect to picnic on.

Having had a frankly vicious clear out of my wardrobe recently I had a red corduroy skirt and a very cute red white and blue dress that really were past their best. No chance on eBay and just rude to give to charity shops. Only one thing to do and that was to chop them up and attempt to make a patchwork quilt which would be large enough to cuddle under in the winter but small enough to lug around for a picnic blanket. I do like a multi-purpose project.

Through trial and error I finally think I may have some handy hints on the whole patchwork quilt thing that may not be 'correct' but I find have resulted in a reasonably competent result fairly quickly. So here goes.


Fabric scissors
Sewing machine
Padding or batting

Top Tip: I like to use old blankets for the padding. Cheaper than proper batting and stops the blankets going into landfill. Just run them through the washing machine to get rid of any moth or other nasties. 

Method - Time taken: It depends on the size but I reckon that it was about a 20 hour job spread over a number of evenings.

1. Decide how big you want your squares. To state the bloomin' obvious the larger the square the faster the project. I went for 21x21cm. Cut out your template. (Although there are 'proper' papers out there I always end up using paper swiped from my printer.)

2. Start cutting squares of fabric. Put a good film on the TV as this can get tedious.

Top Tip: Don't be tempted to cut more than one patch at a time. I find that one always ends up wonky.

3. Take your padding and lay it out on the floor  "What?" I hear you say! "Bit early for all that, isn't it?" The one thing that was driving me mad in the past was laying out the squares on the carpet to play with layout and then messing it all up as I forget what when where. SO! Lay out your padding and start playing with how you want it to look. When you are happy with it all pin the squares to the padding so that you don't lose the pattern if you can't do the whole lot in one sitting.

 This also means that you can fold the whole lot up and put it away. If like me you don't have enough fabric so need to hunt down a few more bits you can see where the gaps are and can come back to it later.

4. Squares all laid out. (I did a few mini squares to add some variation and use up some tiny bits of fabric.) Time to start stitching. This is the tricky part as the goal is to make it all match up like this:

This is the one part that even really experienced quilters (and I am really, really not including myself there) find a pain so give yourself a break and don't get too cross if it doesn't quite work every single time.

Top Tip: Put a bit of masking tape on your sewing machine to help you keep the same distance on every single square.

5. Once all the squares are nicely ironed strips pin two strips together face to face and sew together. Iron and keep adding strips.

6. Top of the quilt is done. Have a cuppa and congratulate yourself.

7. Pin the patchwork to the padding and trim the padding to fit it. (I suggest going over the edges by an inch at this stage.) Then spread out the bottom fabric and put it on top of the patchwork with the right sides together. Keep spreading and fiddling until it is all smooth and straight.

8  Pin like crazy. The more pins you use the less likelihood of slippage. It is worth pinning the three layers of fabric like this:

It is a pain to do but it stops slippage. (You can buy a walking foot for your sewing machine to help solve this problem but at £30 they are expensive unless you plan to make a lot of quilts.)

Sew the three layers together around around the outside. Leave an good sized hole in one of the sides to turn the whole lot inside out.

Top Tip: Ensure you have loads of cotton on your bobbin. Few things are more annoying than getting to the end of a seam and discovering that it is only half done because the cotton has run out.

9. Now cut away the excess padding as close to the seams as you can while leaving enough to hold it in place. Small scissors make this easier. Snip all three layers diagonally across the corners close to the seam to help the corners look pointy.

10. Turn it inside out and press the edges with a hot iron with plenty of steam. The aim is to get the edges to look neat and flat.

11. Sew up the hole in the side.

12. You are done! If you want to add some quilty definition you can. I machine sewed around the smaller blocks in the middle to pick out the pattern a little.

Top Tip: If the bottom fabric is a different colour to the top use a different coloured thread in the bobbin so that the stitching is more discreet.

Have a picnic in the park. Or if the weather isn't going your way have an indoor picnic. I would seriously recommend an indoor picnic. It feels like being a child again with a tent made out of blankets.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

It's been a year

I married my Matey just over a year ago and it was, and still is, great! At some point I may go over some of the mad DIY bits we did for the day but here are a few very general things that I think are worth bearing in mind if you are planning to tie the knot.

Phone everybody you’ll be inviting and tell them the good news. Don’t email. Yes you’ll get loads of lovely emails back but nothing beats spending a week having chats about it all with your friends and family, you will not stop smiling all week. You will also discover that by the end of it you have the first draft of your guest list

Decide as a couple which things are REALLY important to you and which things are not so vital if you have to sacrifice them?

Our cake was very simple with the words from 'The Red Tree' handprinted around it. Apparently it took nine hours for my brother-in-law to print. Simple doesn't mean quick or easy apparently!

Whatever your budget make a spreadsheet and list everything with expected costs. Things can add up so even if you buy a bargain for 50p for the wedding it goes on the spreadsheet.

You don’t have to have a theme if you don’t want one! You don’t have to have a colour scheme if you don’t want one! (Not having a colour scheme makes life so much easier. I did not want to spend hours trying to match a particular shade of anything) Dare I say that you don't have to have something old, new, borrowed, or blue if you don't want to.

Chocolate leaves!

Don't forget to focus as much, if not more, attention on the service itself. It is easy to get carried away with the fluffy stuff for the reception which is great fun to plot. The service is the point of the day (to state the bloomin' obvious) which  everybody is there to see and will be focusing  properly on with no distractions.

Making things for a wedding takes a lot of time and the materials are not always cheap. If you are on a budget do some calculations to see whether it really is cheaper. We designed our invitations, order of service, menus and thank you cards and printed them on beautiful thick card at home which would only fit through the print one sheet at time. With 400 bits of card to print we spent HOURS standing over the printer which died post honeymoon. Factor in the cost of a new printer, inks, wasted card and suddenly the cost of going pro is cheaper. In hindsight we should have designed them and had the lot printed professionally.

Oh the madness of scanning 100 images from classic books so each person had a different one in their place setting envelope. The words 'Whose idea was this?' may have been said a few time. I would do it all again though.
Be realistic with what can be achieved in the time you have. Look at how many months you have left and aim to be pretty much done a month before your wedding. Trust me you will have a lot to do in the last month so don’t leave making 200 metres of bunting till then. You will probably have loads of offers to help but it may prove impossible to coordinate so assume you are on your own and go yippee if jobs are taken off your plate.

Terrible photo. 100 cushions which took 5 days to make. I felt sick at the sight of them by the  end.
Just enjoy the day. Things will go wrong but nobody will know. You may not notice either. I spent hours fireproofing string to make jamjar lanterns for candles in the evening. Never got used and I didn't notice till we collected all our stuff three weeks later. At the end of the day you have just got married so does it really matter?!
If you can, take the greetings cards with you when you leave. It is weird when it goes from being everybody to just you two and there is no way you will go to sleep. Having a glass of fizz together while opening cards and talking about the day gets it all back to normal and ends the day with it just being the pair of you.

Friday, 21 June 2013


I may have mentioned my matey works in chocolate. I got this pretty thing last night.

Yes I know I should have kept it lovingly for a few days but unfortunately I am also a teeny bit greedy.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Birthday Victoria Sponge Cake for my Matey

It was my Matey's birthday on Sunday. It was only sensible to decide the day before we left for a weeks happy holiday to arrange a surprise birthday party for the day after we came back. Having bought him a suitably manly present of a barbeque it was equally sensible to arrange the customary charring of meat. This led to obsessive weather forecast reading and fun and games trying to arrange a food delivery on Sunday morning 'for his birthday' without showing that I was ordering enough for a small army. The game was up when the bunting from our wedding was dragged out!

A birthday without cake just isn't right. I could have got away with a caterpillar cake but the shop didn't have any and as he made me a cake for my birthday last year it was matter of pride to churn something out. Fortunately commonsense prevailed a little and I went for a relatively simple Victoria Sponge. (I should add that he really likes Victoria Sponge!)

 Note the Batman apron making the cake look a bit less girly. Grr!
4 eggs
8oz self raising flour
8oz caster sugar
8oz butter or margarine
1/2tsp vanilla extract

Filling - This is with my lower fat buttercream
4oz icing sugar
1 oz butter
1/2 tsp of vanilla extract

1. Heat the oven to 180C. Grease and dust with flour two round baking tins.
2. Cream the sugar and butter together then add the flour, vanilla and eggs. Mix well until the mixture looks light and fluffy. (I sometimes add a teaspoon of allspice as well. It isn't traditional but tastes great!)
3. Divide the mix between the tins and bake in the centre of the oven for 30 minutes or until a skewer comes out of the cakes clean. Cool on a wire rack.
4.While the cakes are cooling make the buttercream by mixing the icing sugar with the butter, vanilla and a drizzle of milk. If it is still a little crumbly add a little more milk until is nice and smooth.
5. Choose which cake will be the top one and spread jam on the top of the other. Then spread the buttercream onto the bottom of the top cake and place on top of the jammy cake with a nice squidge. 

Top Tip: Do not be tempted to try spreading the the buttercream onto the jam. It slides all over the place. Yes this is too obvious for words but very easy to do automatically before realising that it is a bad idea.

6. Dust with icing sugar and put on a plate or cake stand.

Top Tip: It's more of a suggestion than a tip....have a cake stand in your life. They make things feel special on an ordinary day, add height to a table of food and are surprisingly handy for more than just cake.

Having not made a Victoria Sponge for ages I had a mini moment when I dragged out my Great Grandma's baking tins. Aside from being high in sentimental value they have curved edges which give the cakes a slightly rounded bottom that please me immensely.

I will be honest and say that this time round wasn't quite as aesthetically perfect as I might have liked, too many other things to do, but this is a pretty foolproof cake to make and indecently large slices were scoffed.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Hot weather on the way....Lemonade time!

Having looked at this weeks weather forecast  I am happy to say it looks like it might be gloriously hot for a while....Time to make lemonade.

Lemonade conjurers up a conflicting image in my head of Enid Blyton style adventures, freckles and mud combined with floating around in a fabulous 30s gown saying that it is "Simply too hot for tennis." (I have a feeling that I have just disclosed my inner psyche.)

Life is too short to make lemonade isn't it? Actually no. It is jolly easy and takes no time at all. It's also a spiffing way to use up lemons that are threatening to go off. This recipe owes much to the one in Jane Brocket's splendid book 'Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer' but I find that it works best when I follow the method but add the ingredients in what I feel are the right quantities for that day.

Lemons - I do vary this wildly depending on what I've got and how lemony I want it to be but as a guide 4 lemons will make 1 litre of lemonade.
White Sugar

1. Wash the lemons to get rid of any supermarket gunk.
2. Roll them like they are a rolling pin on a hard surface. It helps the juice come out more easily so you get everything possible from the fruit.
3. Gently peel the the zest off with a potato peeler.
4. Put the zest in a bowl or jug, juice the lemons and put the whole lot into the bowl. Yes; include the juiced lemon, lots of flavour there. Add water and leave for as long as you can. Overnight is the ideal goal.
5. Strain the lemonade to get rid of all the lemons and start adding sugar. This is a personal thing. I reckon on a teaspoonful per glassful plus one for luck but then I like it quite sharp. Keep adding sugar till you like it! (You may also want to add more water.)

Pour a glass with plenty of ice and a sprig of mint and enjoy the fact that it is too hot for tennis but that the old castle seems to have a mysterious amount of activity going on which must be investigated.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Summery Lemony Pasta with Smoked Salmon

It may be tempting fate but it looks like summer is actually here at last. I have worn a pretty summer frock all day without getting a bit chilly and the thick black tights which cover my milk bottle white legs are being dragged out less and less.
We barely used the garden last year but this year we really are getting out there and enjoying it. This is probably down to the fact that last year it was a plantless yard but this year we have greenery and things are actually growing pretty nicely.  All of which leads to my Matey and I using the barbeque more and more. Unfortunately on Monday night a slight mistake led to the the barbeque being destroyed. It was a £2-bought-at-the-end-of-summer-two-years-ago barbeque so hardly the end of the world. Time to dig out recipes that have that summery feel without being made up of slightly charred meat and veg.

This originates from a Jamie Oliver recipe that has been used and abused according to what we have in the fridge and the utensils we actually have. This version came about because we had some left over smoked salmon last night.

1 egg yolk
60g Parmesan cheese
2 small lemons (or one big one)
Fresh basil
Pasta - Yes fresh is best but I used dried and found it tasty!
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
salt & pepper
Smoked Salmon (optional and you don't need too much as it is a strong flavour.)

1. Grate the parmesan and put aside.
2. Zest one lemon and juice them both. (This is for a really lemony dish, adjust to your taste)
3. Separate the egg and put the yolk into a bowl.
4. Mix in the parmesan, olive oil, zest and lemon juice. Season to taste. (It looks horrible at this stage!)
5. Boil a saucepan of water and add the pasta. Chop some basil and shed some smoked salmon while you are waiting.
6. When the pasta is cooked drain it thoroughly and quickly add to the mix. The heat from the pasta will cook the small amount of egg and the sauce will suddenly turn smooth and yummy looking.
7. Quickly stir in the chopped basil and smoked salmon (if using) and serve.

Eat with a crunchy salad in the garden or with the windows wide open.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Boot Fair tat and a new project to tackle

On what felt like the first weekend of the summer my Matey and I decided that nothing could beat a potter around a boot fair on the hunt for things that we have never needed but inexplicably want when we see them. Add a bit of a haggle into the mix and that is one very enjoyable few hours.

Leaping out of bed (sort of) at the crack of dawn (plus a few hours) and headed towards Battersea. Now the Battersea boot fair doesn't open till 11:30 but it is worth getting there early if driving as there are some handy free parking spots just opposite. With a few hours to kill it was time for breakfast (Eggs Benedict for moi and cheese and ham croissant for my Matey. Needless to say he had the food envy as mine was clearly the better choice.) and Sunday paper reading at a handy cafe. A little amble around the park to burn it all off and to prepare for the bargain hunting.

Battersea boot fair isn't the cheapest. They have a sliding scale of £5 to get in early, £3 to get in a little later the 50p to get in much later. Trust me, it is worth every penny to get in early. When it gets to the 50p stage it is madness and almost impossible to get to a stand. Oh and the good stuff will have gone.

So what were my best buys of the day?

A muffin warmer:

What do you mean 'That's a useless piece of tat.'? It's incredibly useful when one wants to warm a muffin. It would clearly work well with a crumpet as well. After all who wants a cold crumpet?

A cutlery chest of drawers:

Now this really will be handy when converted to a straight mini chest of drawers. I plan to keep the scrappy pieces of paper and other rubbish that are currently looking messy in magazine files. The only snag is that it needs a lot of TLC to get it looking fabulous again. With an almost finished quilt, a spare room to be redecorated and the kitchen to polish off I do not have time for this. Sigh. I started last night.

The insides of the drawers came out beautifully easily but left a layer of gluey paper. I then discovered that the fronts of the drawers had been covered with a truly revolting plastic wood veneer. I suspect that it was put on to cover the sun damage on the drawers. It came off quite easily but has left a lovely sticky layer to be scraped off.

As it was getting a bit late to tackle light sanding properly and I do want to stay friendly with the neighbours I contented myself testing a few small areas to give me hope that there is something lovely underneath the layer of grime.
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