Saturday, 30 June 2012

It's the Summer Holidays!!!

The pattern that seems to be emerging now is that we get three weeks of warm sunny weather at the beginning of May and what was once the summer months have turned into monsoon season. But with the kids now off school for eight weeks, we can take a break from the normal run of the mill and there are no time restrictions on us.
We are free to explore at every opportunity that a break in the weather gives us. And even when the rain pours down from heaven, a baking day all together has all the ingredients to make some happy memories. Some of my fondest memories are learning to bake in my mothers kitchen while we listened to Maria Callas on the radio.
One more thing I'm delighted about this summer is that for the first time in three years we have owl chicks in the copse beside our house. Long Eared Owls. I often cannot sleep at night and so sit in my garden and listen to the screech of the chicks. I've counted four chicks calling so far. And I'm waiting for the day they fly into my garden as they have done in previous years. It is an amazing experience when this huge bird flies right past and lands on the fence next to where you are sitting, big eyes glowing out in the darkness.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Raisin And Walnut Muffins

This recipe is for all walnut lovers and forgive me for not trying this out first but I am not included in this category.  My mother makes these all the time and loves them.  It's an old recipe that she found on a Prestige baking tin.  It's a slightly unusual and very easy recipe.  Hope that you enjoy.

325g Plain Flour
100g Caster Sugar
1tbsp Baking Powder
1/2tsp Salt
1 Egg
325ml Milk
75ml Vegetable Oil
50ml Sweet Sherry
75g Walnut Pieces
75g Raisins


  • Sieve together the flour, salt, baking powder and sugar.
  • Beat the egg lightly and stir in the milk, vegetable oil and sherry.
  • Mix liquid into the dry ingredients.
  • Do not over mix
  • The mixture will appear slightly lumpy.
  • Stir in the walnuts and raisins.
  • Divide between the 12 muffin cups.
  • Bake at 200°C for 20/25mins.
  • Lift the muffins from tins and cool on a wire rack

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Chocolate Chip Muffins

Yipppee, finally I've managed to make up a recipe for Chocolate Chip Muffins that are light and fluffy.  Any recipe that I've tried before I found to be either too dense and heavy, too sweet or too moist.   By mixing up lots of different recipes and tweeking here and there I came up with this one.  Which proved to be so popular with the family that I had to be quick at getting my photo before they disappeared.

350g Plain Flour
40g Good Quality Cocoa Powder
175g Caster Sugar
1tbsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
300ml Buttermilk
2 Eggs, Beaten
85g Butter, Melted
1tsp Vanilla Extract
100g Milk Chocolate, Roughly Chopped (You can use dark chocolate here but I use milk because my kids prefer it)

  1. Preheat the oven to 190°C and line a 12 hole muffin tin with cases.  I use cases because I find them much cleaner in the tin and when the kids are eating them.
  2. In a large bowl combine all the dry ingredients, the flour, baking powder, salt caster sugar and then sieve in the cocoa powder.  
  3. In a jug measure out 300ml of buttermilk and add in the eggs , vanilla and melted butter. Whisk together with a fork until well combined.  One thing that I learned the hard way was to take the buttermilk out of the fridge for about 15mins before baking because even if the melted butter has cooled, if it hit cold buttermilk it solidifies again. 
  4. Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture and pour in the the liquid.  The key here is not to overmix. Gently mix until just combined.
  5. Add in the chopped chocolate and give it only a light stir.
  6. With a ice-cream scoop divide the mixture between the muffin cases
  7. Bake for 25mins until risen.
  8. Take out of the oven and leave to cool for 5mins before taking out of the tray and onto a wire rack.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Baby Mobile

Last week a good friend of mine had a little baby boy.  Ahhhh I hear you say.
And so I set about trying to decide what on earth I could give her as a present considering that she is a master crafter herself and has been knitting cardis and blankets for months and also my kids wanted to help me make something.  So I decided that a baby mobile would be a nice idea.
(Apologies in advance for the pictures but the finished mobile was so long that the only place I could hang it to photograph it was in the kitchen).

Firstly I got a bag handle and covered it on ribbon and hid the seam with a green spotted bow.
Then the kids picked out buttons and helped me to sew them on little felt flowers and stars.  Great practice for them.
We cut out shapes in fabric that the kids thought they would like on a mobile for their room. A moon, , butterfly, fish and two different hearts.  We sat on a rainy afternoon and quite happily stitched to our hearts content.  They may not have been pure perfection but there was a lot of effort put into it.
I then laid out the pieces in rows as they would appear on the mobile and with a darning needle and a long piece of embroidery floss, I began to sew them together starting with the fabric shapes and knotting the thread under each new felt shape added.

I had some thick felt rope hanging around for ages and I knew that I would eventually find a use for it and this was just ideal.
I cut up five pieces, one for the loop and four to tie to the hoop of the mobile.
I must admit I got my hubbie to do one of his fancy fisherman knots to tie it all together and then I secured it by stitching on this fabric and felt butterfly.
I hung the embroidery floss and shapes to the hoop by stitching the end of the floss to where the felt rope is attached to the hoop, securing it very tightly.

 Oh geees, I hope that this has not been too confusing!

Monday, 18 June 2012

Er, there is no crochet? What's goin on?

This is what a friend mailed to me after she read my blog. I love to crochet but as of yet I've not put any patterns or pics up here. But unfortunately most of the pieces that I've already finished have been sold or given away.
So Pam this is all that I have to show you, half a cardi and four squares for a blanket. But don't worry there will be lots more to come.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Sewing With Little Fingers!

This week after much begging from my children, I agreed to do a craft class with some of their classmates.  I opened up my fabric box and told them to choose some that they like the best.  And before long the kitchen table was covered in squares of felt, balls of wool, ribbons, various coloured spools of thread and piles of buttons.
I never really expected to enjoy it quite as much as I did.  I put on some music and we sang along to the songs. We joked and laughed.  And indeed we prodded our fingers with sewing needles lots as we whipped stitched little fabric hearts or made felt and button brooches.
I must admit that I find it much easier to show kids how to sew or knit than I do adults.  I can't exactly explain why either.  Maybe it is because they ask simpler questions.  Or maybe it is because they don't expect any more of you than to be yourself and for you just to share with them what you know.  I will definitely be doing one again.  But maybe not three hours long again.!!!

Monday, 4 June 2012

Apple Tart

My brother was home from Germany lately and the one thing that he wanted me to show him how to bake was a good old fashioned Apple Tart.  He came out to my kitchen and we had a great afternoon baking together.  I was going to take pictures of the end result but my student ate it all before I got a chance to.  So here is the recipe that I promised him that I would put up.

4 Large Bramley Apples
4-5tbs Sugar
1tsp Mixed Spice or Cinnamon or 3 Whole Cloves whichever you prefer
300g Plain Flour
75g Butter
75g Baking Fat such as Cookeen
1 Egg, lightly beaten

NOTE:  for the pastry there should always be half the amount of butter or fat to flour.  For this apple tart I always use a mixture of both fat and flour because I find that it makes the pastry lighter and crispier.  But if I was to make a quiche I would use all butter and a egg and egg yolk to bind instead of water.

Apple Filling:
  1. Peel and slice the apples.  Keep back one apple to add later if you like a bit of a bite and not have them all stewed. Rinse them under the tap and drain thoroughly.  I do not add water to the apples when they are stewing as the apples themselves already contain enough juice and that along with the remaining water after rinsing is enough to stew them.
  2. Add in the sugar, cover with a lid immediately and put on a medium heat.  Some say that you should add a little lemon juice to the apples to stop them from browning but I've found that as long as you put the lid on the pot as quickly as possible, this is not a problem.
  3. After about 10mins take the apples from the heat.  Mix in your choice of spice and then taste a little to make sure it is sweet enough for you.  In this house we like it a little tart still.  
  4. If you like a bit of a bite in your apple tart, then now is the time to cut up your last apple and add it in.
  5. Leave to cool completely while you get on with the pastry.

There are two different ways to do the pastry.  By hand or in a blender.  It took me a long time to be converted to the way of the blender but now I would never look back because it takes a matter of only seconds in the blender.

Pastry By Hand:
  1. Before you begin put a dinner knife, water and butter in the fridge for a couple of hours to become very cold.  The key to very light crispy pastry is that everything must be cold.  Even your hands!!!.
  2. Weigh out the flour, butter and fat and place into a large bowl.
  3. Rub the butter and flour together between your fingers and your thumbs until they resemble breadcrumbs.
  4. Take the knife out of the fridge and adding a couple of tablespoons of water at a time, bind together using chopping movements.  It should not take very much water for it to come together.
  5. Feel the pastry, if it is crumbly then it needs more water but if it is a little wet then add a little extra flour.  But never ever knead because this will only make the pastry hard when cooked.
  6. Tip out of the bowl and roll into a ball.  Cover with cling film and place it in the fridge for a minimum of 1/2 hour.    
Pastry By Blender: 

  1. Before you begin put a jug of water and butter in the fridge for a couple of hours to become very cold.  The key to very light crispy pastry is that everything must be cold.
  2. Put flour and butter into the blender and whizz for 30sec until they resemble very fine breadcrumbs.
  3. Drizzle water a tablespoon at a time through the nozzle with the blender still on.
  4. Again this should take only take a few tablespoons in total but the only way to really know is to feel it.  If it is crumbly then it needs more water but if it is a little wet then add a little extra flour.
  5. Tip out the pastry and dust with flour before forming it into a ball, covering it in cling film and place in the fridge for at least 1/2 hour.

Forming The Apple Tart:
  1. 15mins before you want to make up your apple tart preheat the oven to 190° and put a heavy gauge baking tray into the oven.
  2. Flour and butter your flan dish.
  3. Cut away just a little over half of the pastry and roll out large enough to cover the base and sides of the dish.  Before filling it with apple, roll out the pastry for the top.
  4. Put the pastry into the bottom of the dish and ensure that it is pushed right into the side, being very careful not to tear.
  5. Brush the base of the pastry all over with the beaten egg.  This ensures the apple does not make the base soggy and soft.
  6. Fill up the case with the apple and even out.
  7. Carefully lift the top of the pastry by folding it over the top of your rolling pin and put it on top of the tart.
  8. Cut the excess and seal the tart at the same time by pressing the rolling pin along the edge of the dish.
  9. Make a hole in the centre of the tart to ensure air can get out and that the pastry doesn't puff up when cooking.  You can also make several fork holes around the top.
  10. To ensure that the case is completely sealed, make little indents by pressing a fork along the edges of the dish.
  11. Brush the top of the tart with beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar.  Decorate with any left over pastry.
  12. Bake for 30mins on top of the hot baking try.  The baking tray makes sure that the base of the tart is cooked at the same time as the top.