Monday, 30 December 2013

Christmas leftover casserole

I cannot believe 2013 is quickly drawing to a close. It feels like it was only just New Year 2013. Thinking back of the year, so much has happened. It was a bad year, it was a great year. We found our dream house and are so happy here, getting settled, enjoying the garden and planning all the things we will do with the house when we can afford it. But from a professional view it was a disastrous year. Which brings me to why I haven't been bloggin in the last few months. And also to why it will hopefully change from now on. 

As I have alluded to before, I have had a rather rough autumn as I have really been miserable at work. I was so excited about my new job in the beginning of the summer, but it turned out to be more or less a nightmare. So I spent most of the fall being completely miserable and then I finally decided I have to do something about it. Since then, pretty much all my energy has been directed at finding a new job. Which I eventually did, and I will start my new job at the University of Cambridge in March. Unfortunately I still have two months left of my old job due to my unreasonably long three month notice period, but it's easier to bear that when I know it will come to an end soon. Not that I'm counting, but when I go back to work after New Year, I have 38 working days to get through. Monday February 24th will be my last day at work and then I have nine glorious days of holiday before I start my new job in Cambridge. 

So eventually 2013 turned out to be the year I quit two jobs. Obviously the first resignation was expected as I came to the end of my post-doc fellowship, but the second one was completely unexpected. I have never truly resigned from any of my jobs before. But there is a first for everything. And one thing I have come to realise is that life is too short to be miserable, even if it did mean I am taking a bit of a pay cut now that I'm changing jobs. I'm not convinced my new job is my all time dream job, but until proven otherwise I will believe it can't be worse than the one I've got now. And hopefully I will stay for more than 9 months, which is how long I managed in the current one. 

But hopefully now that all my evenings won't be spent job hunting I can focus more on cooking and blogging again. And hopefully I will be able to start fulfilling some of my plans such as improving my food photos here on the blog. Now I finally have a bit more space for the food photography, I need to set up some nice backgrounds I can use for my photos.

I started my blog in 2012 and managed a respectable 103 blog posts in the first nine months (I started the blog in April 2012). Sadly, in 2013 I only managed 65 blog posts all through the year, with only four measly posts in the last quarter of the year. Although I don't believe in New Year's resolutions, I am making a New Years wish. I wish I will be able to beat my 65 blog posts in 2014, and I hope I will keep discovering amazing and exciting recipes. 

This year I didn't go back home for Christmas, but we hosted Christmas for the first time in our own home. And not only one Christmas, but two Christmases. In Finland the main Christmas dinner is eaten on Christmas Eve. So for Christmas Eve, me the Culinary Consultant and Sis enjoyed a traditional Finnish Christmas Dinner. Then for Christmas Day, we cooked a British Roast Dinner for the Culinary Consultant's family. Cooking two dinners was a bit overwhelming, but on the upside all turned out great. We were also left with a ridiculously huge amount of leftovers. I love leftovers, I love being able to just pile stuff from the fridge onto my plate and eat a mix of everything that was served over Christmas. And I love trying to figure out ways to make something new and delicious from leftovers.

Breakfast casseroles are excellent places to use up leftovers. You can hide anything in a nice mix of eggs and cream. I got rid of my left over sausage meat, leftover ham, some leftover egg yolks, leftover cream and leftover cheese. Actually, the only thing not left over was eggs and the onion. You can replace the sausage meat and ham with any left over meat you happen to have lying around such as beef or turkey.

Christmas leftover breakfast casserole (serves 4):
1 onion
1 tbsp olive oil
250 g sausage meat
3 slices of Christmas ham
5 eggs (I used 4 eggs and 2 leftover egg yolks)
2-3 tbsp leftover cream (can be omitted)
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
75 g grated leftover cheese (I used cheddar)

The howto:
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Chop the onion and the ham. Heat the oil in a pan and cook the onion until translucent. Add sausage meat and cook for about 10 minutes. In a bowl, lightly beat eggs and cream, add black pepper. Add ham to the onion and sausage meat mix and transfer to an oven proof bowl. Pour egg mixture on top, and top with grated cheese. Cook in the oven for about 30-40 minutes until egg has cooked and top is golden brown.

The verdict:
I love breakfast casseroles, I make them all year round. They are perfect for getting rid of practically any leftovers, sometimes I use leftover veg, meat, cheese, practically anything I need to get rid of. Just add eggs (and cream if I happen to have any lying around, but I never get cream specifically for the casserole) and top with cheese. If I'm trying to be really healthy, I leave out the cheese. But as it is still Christmas (kind of) , I added both cream and cheese for that extra yummy finish. The sausage meat we had was also really great, we bought it from our local farm (Johnston of Old Hurst, and no I'm not getting compensated for writing about them, I just happen to like the produce very much). The breakfast casserole turned out really delicious and was a perfect brunch/lunch with a slice of bread.

Card of the day:
I had so many Christmas cards I wanted to show you, but they will have to wait until next December. Also, I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who sent us Christmas Cards, it has been great to get your greetings and I have all the cards out in our living room, sending good thoughts your way and hoping you all had a wonderful Christmas. 

And now, as the days have started to get longer again, it's time to start getting excited about the arrival of spring. I admit I'm a bit early as we haven't even made it to New Year yet, but I can't wait for all the planting to start. I can't decide which herbs I want, all I know is the abundance of parsley currently occupying the herb garden will go and be replaced by other herbs such as coriander, dill, basil and thyme.

Today's card is made using the Stampin Up' Mixed Bunch stamps and Blossom Punch. The idea is stolen with very little modification from this Pin. The colours are Daffodil Delight, Marina Mist and Pear Pizzazz. The paper is from the International Bazaar DSP and the sentiment is from the Hobbycraft General Sentiments. The ribbon is from my stash of random ribbons. I love the card as it's so versatile and you can add any sentiment inside the card to follow on from the "Just a note to say...". 

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Pickled cucumbers and gingerbread houses

I cannot believe it's over a month and a half since my last blog post. I am going through a difficult phase in my life right now, and although I am working really hard to make it better, every time I get close to getting things resolved, I slip right back to the start. I am trying really hard to be positive and believe things will get better, but recently I have been so exhausted that everything apart from the absolute minimum required, i.e. getting out of bed to go to work, have been put on the back burner.

However, I am trying not to sink further into the swamp I feel I am in right now, and trying to get back into some old routines. I suddenly felt like I wanted to write a blog post again. Although I'm not cooking nearly as much as I used to, I am trying to make just a little bit of something every once in a while. The problem is, I haven't been photographing most of my food as blogging has been very far from my mind. I have been crafting a little bit recently, as currently it is a better outlet for my anxiety and depression than any other of my hobbies. So I think for a while, the blog posts will focus more on cards than on cooking.

A while ago, I made some pickled cucumbers. I had no idea how they would turn out, but I took a few photos of them just in case they turned out good enough to blog about. Surprisingly, they turned out not just good enough, but really good! Next year I will definitely make a bigger batch of pickled cucumbers if we manage to get a good cucumber crops. It was also surprisingly easy, although I was a bit worried about sterilising the jar and things like that. But like with so many other things, once you actually get going, it's not as complicated as you made it out in your mind to be. So if you like pickled cucumbers but think it's too hard to make yourself, don't worry, just go ahead and try!

I googled several recipes and made a bit of an amalgamation of them all. They all seem to be along the same lines, although the Culinary Consultant picked this particular one as he liked the thought of the sweet peppers in there with the cucumbers. 

Pickled cucumbers:
3 lbs cucumber (I used one really big cucumber)
3 cups sugar
2 cups vinegar (I used pickling vinegar)
1/4 cup salt (recipe said canning salt, I used regular sea salt)
2 medium white onions
2 sweet peppers
1 teaspoon mustard seeds

The howto:
Slice the cucumber thinly in any shape or form you prefer. My cucumber was getting a little out of date, so I scooped out all the seeds, and then sliced it thinly. I also sliced the onion very thin. Most recipes then instruct you to put the cucumbers and onions in a colander, mix with some salt, weigh down with a plate and leave over night to drain. I was too impatient so I only drained the cucumbers for a few hours. After that, rinse and drain well.

To prepare the jar (I used a Kilner 1l canning jar), wash it well in hot, soapy water. Line a baking sheet with newspaper, and after letting the most of the water drain off the jar, place on the sheet. Preheat oven to 140 degrees C, and place jar into the oven for at least 10 minutes, or until all the water has evaporated. Keep it in the oven so that it is hot until you use it (you should never put the hot pickle mixture into a cold jar). If your jar has a rubber sealing ring, it should be placed into cooking water for a few minutes.

To prepare the pickles, mix the sugar, vinegar and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add cucumber, onions and peppers, bring to a boil and let cook for one minute. Add the mustard seeds and dill. Scoop into the can and seal. Let pickle for at least a week or two. I made my pickles a month ago, and they are still fine, so seems like they keep for at least a month, probably much longer. I make sure I only use a clean fork when I scoop my cucumbers from the jar to keep it as sterile as possible, I think this should definitely help keep the cucumbers good for longer.

The verdict:
I was very sceptical about how this whole thing would turn out, especially since the giant cucumber I was using was looking a bit... weird. But the end product is absolutely amazing, and tastes exactly like pickled cucumbers are supposed to taste. We have been using them a lot on sandwiches and burgers. I never thought we would get through the whole big jar, but we have already eaten half of it in a month! Next year I think I will make two different batches, one with the peppers and one without and see whether that makes any difference to the flavour. 

Card of the day:
I recently bought a papercrafting magazine and it came with some free giveaways, such as Christmas themed papers and chipboard cutouts of gingerbread houses. I couldn't resist to play with them a bit and these are the cards I made. Almost all of the materials, apart from the kraft card, some brown cardstock and some ribbon I had in my stash came with the magazine. I also used some Tim Holtz vintage photo distress ink to ink around the edges of the papers to give them a bit of a vintage look.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Pear and apple butter

I can't believe how much food we have already received from our garden in the short three months we have lived here. First there was the cherries and raspberries. And then of course the tomatoes, which still haven't quite finished, although these days we get one or two tomatoes a day compared to dozens and dozens at peak season. Then there were the gooseberries and of course all the herbs. And plums, some of them ripening so fast we missed out completely. There has been the odd fig and a few strawberries. And the wonder of growing our own cucumbers, that was such a thrill for me. We also managed to rescue a few courgettes from the greedy mouths of the slugs. And did I mention the grapes? The grapes are so good, really sweet and juicy. We need to read up on what to do with the vines though, as they didn't produce that many grapes, maybe we didn't take care of them correctly. And now we are moving towards the last of the garden produce for the season, the apples and pears. The pear tree is literally heavy with fruit, and what beautiful fruit! All perfectly formed pears, the kind you see in the store. Large, juicy and flawless. Unfortunately the apples aren't doing quite as well, they have clearly had some disease or parasite as almost every apple is full of dark spots and the insides of the apple have gone bad. 

I have been agonising about how to store all our produce as we were completely out of freezer space. We ordered a new freezer over a month ago, but it was out of stock with the manufacturer, so we had to wait for quite a while. Luckily it arrived last weekend, right towards the end of the plum season, so we got a small bit of the plum crop stored in the freezer. This weekend, after some rather heavy wind, we had a lot of windfall, both from the apple and pear tree. The culinary consultant brought quite a pile of fruit into the kitchen. Although our apples don't look very good, we decided to rescue what we could from them and use all the good bits for some apple and pear butter. I decided I want to store my butter in the freezer, that way it will keep for quite a few months, and you don't have to worry about canning and sterilising jars and other fuss like that. It was actually much easier than I had expected, with minimal fuss apart from the time-consuming peeling and dicing the fruit.

Pear and apple butter:
1 kg fruit (I used about half pears, half apples)
1.5 cups water
1/2 cup sugar (or to taste)
1 cinnamon stick
8 cloves
(the second batch I made also had 2 star anises to mix it up a bit)

The howto:
Peel, core and dice the fruit. Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan, cover with a lid and bring to a boil. Cook for about 15 minutes until the fruit starts to soften, and then remove the lid. Let cook for 1-1/2 hours, using a potato masher to mash the fruit while it cooks. Cook until the butter has reached your desired consistency, taking care to stir more often towards the end of the cooking time as the butter starts to thicken. I also kept gradually turning the heat lower and lower as the sauce thickened. Let cool, and pick out the cloves and cinnamon stick. If you want a smooth butter, use a food processor. Dispense into containers. Freeze. In my hands, this recipe was enough to fill 4 small and 2 medium freezer jars with a cup or so left over to enjoy immediately.
The verdict:
Given that I had no real recipe and made everything up on the spot, the product turned out not only good but really delicious. I spooned quite a bit of the butter right into my mouth while cooking it. The amount of spice is just right, enough to give a bit of complexity to the flavours but not too much to overwhelm the apple and pear. And the scent was fantastic, all that apple and pear and spice. Although this will keep for a few months in the freezer, I don't think it will stay there for that long. I can imaging this would be perfect with oatmeal or yoghurt in the morning or with ice cream as pudding. This is a really efficient way to use up a large amount of fruit and still store it without taking too much space, while retaining and concentrating all those wonderful flavours of the sweet fruit.
Card of the day:
I made these cards a while ago, but they seem very autumn-y to me, so I thought they would be perfect for this post. I started by inking the background with Tim Holtz distress inks using ink blending foam. I used the Tim Holtz script stamp and stamped several times to fill the card using Walnut Stain Distress ink. I then stamped the Hobbycraft Tree or Thistle stamp in Black Soot in the middle of the card. I finished by spraying with Perfect Pear mist and matted onto random scrap pieces of paper or cardstock I had lying around and then attached to kraft cardstock. I really like the tri-coloured backgrounds, I think they turned out really nice.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Pudding meets cake

I have been feeling very melancholic lately. It is probably because the summer has definitely ended and fall is here, but also because I have finally time to consider all the recent big changes in my life now that I'm not desperately busy every single waking minute of every single day. I have been contemplating where the line is between appreciating what you have instead of focussing on what you don't have and not settling and giving up on your dreams. I haven't gotten very far with any conclusions yet, but the older you get, the more you realise everything you get in life comes with a price. And it's all well if you know the price you are going to pay, and you can decide to either do that or not, but sometimes it only dawns on you later what you really had to give up to make things happen, that's when it can be hard to accept. Suddenly you realise this wasn't at all what you signed up for. 

On to more mundane things. Such as plums. Lots and lots of plums. We have two plum trees in the garden, and both were heavy with plums. They were a bit raw up until about a week ago, when pretty much every single plum in the bigger tree just turned into over-ripe in a matter of a day or two. So we missed out on a lot of plums because last weekend there just wasn't any time for gardening. The other tree looked promising, but a few weeks ago when I picked a few of the first plums it turned out they all had a disgusting larvae inside, along with weird dark spots which I later learned were larval poo. Yicky!!! So I wasn't too excited about picking any more plums off that tree, until I read online that the most likely culprit was some sort of plum moth, and usually the first plums of the season were the ones affected with the parasite, and later crop should be fine. Luckily, that is what it seems like, lately I haven't run into a single disgusting creature in any of the plums I have used from that tree.

I am desperately trying to come up with plum recipes to use up at least a fraction of our plum crop. Unfortunately our very limited freezer space is occupied to pretty much every square inch, so there is no way of freezing any of those lovely plums. Apparently you can just freeze the plums whole or halved and then use for all sorts of lovely plummy puds later in the year. We should be getting a new, large freezer next weekend, and I'm hoping there will still be a few plums left to pick by then. If not, there is always the pears, the pear tree is so full of fruit, and they all look lovely. I have tried a few pears, but they are not very sweet yet but I can tell they will be really tasty when they ripen a bit more.

I have been googling plum cakes and pies for the last few weeks, and have made a few. For this one, I decided I would peel the plums, as I put them in with the peel on for my last plum dessert and it turned out that the plums were a bit bitter. So although it's an extra step and takes a bit of an effort, for our plums it really was worth the extra effort. Whether or not you need to do it will probably depend on the plums you use. I found this lovely looking Jamie Oliver recipe online, but made a few changes to it. I made the cake in a smaller cake tin (actually a cake silicon) so I halved the recipe for the cake part of the recipe. However, I did not halve the recipe for the topping, as everyone knows the topping is the best part. If you are a fan of really moist and super sweet cakes which have the texture almost like pudding, you will love this version. If you don't like overly sweet and super moist desserts, you should probably go with the original measures for everything. The recipe below contains the measures I used, see the original here if you think that would be more down your alley.

Plum upside down cake by Jamie Oliver (serves 5-6):
125 g butter
150 light brown sugar (I only had dark brown, so I used that)
about 12 plums

120 g butter
120 g caster sugar
2 eggs beaten with 1.5 tbsp milk
50 g ground almonds (I had a little less than that, about 40 g)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
75 g plain flour
(25 g unblanched almonds, chopped. I didn't have any, so I skipped this and added 2 tbsp more flour instead)

The howto:
I started by peeling my plums, although you don't have to if you don't want to. I halved the plums and took out the pits, and poured boiling hot water over the plums and let them stand for a minute. Then I rinsed with cold water, and peeled off the skins. Most came off without any problem, although a few required a bit of teasing with a knife. I didn't slice the plums any finer than halves, but the original recipe says cut into about 1cm slices. If you don't have a silicone cake mould, butter your cake tin. Then, prepare the topping. Melt the butter in a saucepan, add sugar and cook for 2-3 minutes until the mixture is "foamy and pale" according to the instructions. Mine was dark (because of the dark sugar) and not foamy at all. But it worked perfectly anyways, so don't worry too much. Pour the sugar mixture into the cake mould/tin and arrange the plums on top. 
Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Cream together butter and caster sugar and then add the eggs in two batches, mixing between additions. Then add the ground almonds, baking powder, salt and vanilla. Mix and then gently fold in the flour. Last, if you are using the chopped almonds, stir them into the mixture. Pour on top of the plums and bake for about 45 minutes (1 hour for the full size cake if you are following the original recipe). Jamie's recipe says to let rest for 2 minutes and then inverting onto a plate. I let it cool for much longer, probably about 45 minutes, and then inverted it and served with custard. 

The verdict:
I realised from the start that not halving the topping while halving the actual cake would change the texture of the cake quite drastically. I think my solution was great, but then again, I love really moist and super sweet puddings. The cake was delicious both warm and cold. I absolutely loved the sweet topping with the plums, and the way the topping had soaked into the cake as well to make it really moist and almost gooey. Between me and the Culinary Consultant, we actually managed to eat half of the cake in one sitting, so I would say it was truly a success. Fortunately, I might have to make it again, as there are so many plums to use up!
Card of the day:
Today's card is a birthday card I made for a friend. I like this simple but nice looking technique of cutting the cardstock into three equally wide sections, inking them up with distress ink and then stamping using the same colour. The colours on the card are Chipped Sapphire, Peeled Paint and Fired Brick. The stamp is a random stamp I bought from eBay. The sentiment is from my Hobbycraft sentiments stamp set, and I used Vintage Photo to ink around the edges of the banner. I matted the coloured strips onto black cardstock and attached everything to a white card. I like this technique, it has so many variations you can do by combining different colours and using different stamps. It's also really quick and easy to do. Next time I think I will leave a bit more of the black cardstock showing though between the panels to add another element to the card.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Snake Cake

I have been planning this cake for ages, and this weekend we were celebrating a birthday so I got to put my plans into practice. Cakes never end up looking like you imagine them in your head during the planning process. Or maybe they do for professionals, but mine always turn out completely different. But it's all about going with the flow, what happens happens. Of course, having enough icing to cover the cake usually makes things easier, this should be a note to myself to always double the amount you think you need, because it looks like a lot until it's rolled out and then all of a sudden it's not enough after all. 
I took the easy way our and got ready coloured icing this time. I have coloured some of my icing myself in the past, but I was a bit constrained on time so I though I might as well make it easy on myself. Other than that, this cake was quick and relatively easy to put together. I had already decided on the basic design of it, I would do it as a swiss roll. Unfortunately, I used a Finnish recipe for swiss roll which I have been used to work with in the past, but it requires potato flour, which I couldn't find in the UK. Potato flour is similar to corn flour, so I substituted with that, but in my mind the cake was a bit too soft and fragile, I'm not sure if it's because I made the cake thinner than it should be or because of the flour substitution. In the end, the ugly and somewhat torn cake didn't matter as it all got covered with buttercream and icing. In my original plan, it was supposed to be a snake tightly rolled up into a ball like our snakes usually are, but it was impossible to get the swiss roll to bend onto a tight ball like structure, so it ended up looking like it did.
This recipe is for a swiss roll cake which in Finnish is called unelmatorttu (that translates roughly to dream cake or dream tart). I remember it from my childhood, my mum used to make it a lot. It is basically a chocolate swiss roll filled with buttercream. I added some cream cheese and white chocolate to the buttercream to add some extra flavour, but I also like the original version with only butter, sugar and an egg yolk very much. I borrowed the recipe from the Kinuskikissa blog (in Finnish). Pop over there to see how the cake is supposed to look if you just want to make the swiss roll if you are baking for an occasion where a snake theme might not be very appropriate (although of course I can't think of any occasion like that).

Dream cake (swiss roll, serves 6-8):
3 eggs
1 1/2 dl (150ml or 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp) sugar
1 dl (100 ml or 1/2 cup minus 1 tbsp) potato flour (or cornflour)
1/2 dl (1/4 cup minus 1 tsp) cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder

Filling (enough for filling and coating the cake, if you just want to make the swiss roll, make half the recipe):
250 g butter (at room temperature!)
2 dl (200ml, 3/4 cups plus 2 tbsp) icing sugar
300 g cream cheese
100 g white chocolate
light brown and dark brown icing to cover the cake
candy melts to decorate

The howto:
Start by making the cake. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Whisk the eggs and sugar with an electric whisk until light and fluffy. Mix the potato flour, cocoa powder and baking powder, and sift into the sugar and egg foam. Very gently fold in the dry ingredients. Spread onto a baking tray which has been covered in parchment paper. I have a big oven with a baking tray which is approximately 40x30 cm which was perfect as I wanted a slightly thinner cake, but this recipe is designed for a 30x30 cm (about 12x12 inches) baking tray if you want to make the regular swiss roll which will give you a slightly thicker sponge. Bake for about 8 minutes. While the sponge is baking, sprinkle sugar onto a piece of parchment paper. When you take the cake out of the oven, immediately invert the cake onto the sugar coated paper and remove the parchment paper from the bottom of the cake. Let cool covered by a tea towel.
If you are only making a swiss roll, not the snake cake, only prepare half of the filling indicated above. Melt the chocolate. Cream the butter and icing sugar. Add cream cheese and white chocolate and mix. 
To assemble a regular swiss roll, spread the filling onto the cake, leaving about an inch or so free of filling at one edge. Roll into a tight roll, using the parchment paper for help. Let cool in the fridge at least for a few hours, preferably over night. You could cover the log with chocolate ganache if you like.
If you are assembling the snake cake, cut the cake into two equally big pieces along the long edge, so you have two long but narrow rectangles. Spread about a quarter of the filling on each, and roll into tight and slim rolls. I wrapped the cakes in parchment paper and let rest in the fridge for about two hours before shaping into a snake shape. I shaped the tail and head just by moulding the roll, it's pretty soft and kept it's shape well. Cover with the rest of the buttercream. Then roll out the light brown icing and cover the cake. Make details from darker brown icing, and make a tongue. I used chocolate chips for eyes. Finally, I melted the Candy melts in the microwave and put into a piping bag and piped some patterns loosely based on the patterning of our snake.

The verdict:
The cake definitely didn't look pretty before the buttercream went on, the cake kept tearing where it had been rolled, but also where I tried to shape some bends in the snake's body. But that doesn't matter, you can patch up ugly bits and bobs with the buttercream, and it will all be covered by icing nonetheless. When it comes to making cake, you can get away with pretty much anything because it will be covered up. The cake was just as delicious as I remember from my childhood, and it went down very well with the birthday boy and guests as well so I would say it was a success. It's not the most healthy of cakes, and it tastes exactly like that. The creamy and full flavour of the buttercream is nicely enhanced by the cream cheese, wrapped in fluffy chocolate sponge and the sweet icing. This is a picture of the cake and the model, you can hardly tell them apart!
Card of the day:
As there was a birthday cake, there obviously was a birthday card as well. The theme is a bit of an inside joke, as elephants have played a role in one of the bigger arguments we have ever had, so they have stuck around. Another thing we tend to... disagree... about is colours, as I like cold colours and the Culinary Consultant like warm colours. So I chose to use Stampin Up Real Red cardstock and stamped the elephant from the Animal Stories stamp set in the same same colour. I used markers to colour the Celebrate stamp from the Tag It set and cut it out using one of the Chalk Talk framelits. I used the outer edge of the same framelit to create the red backing for the tage. The green gekko is stamped in Old Olive, the stamp is from a random set of creatures i bought off Ebay ages ago. Using the gekko stamp again reminded me how you get what you pay for, the stamps were not expensive, but they are also extremely bad. The actual stamp is not high enough, so when you ink it up, you get loads of ink all over the background, and it's really hard to stamp without getting smudges all over the place. Also, no matter how hard you press, not all parts of the stamp come in contact with the paper, leaving ugly white dots all over the place. So lesson of the day, only buy good stamps, they are expensive but it's well worth the investment.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Cottage pie

The other day in the grocery store, the Culinary Consultant pointed out to me that the butter brand I usually use had a campaign where you got a enamel pie dish with two packs of butter for a rather reasonable price. I thought the traditional blue lined white enamel dish was rather cute, and I needed butter anyways so I thought it was a good deal. In addition I think it was the Culinary Consultant's way of pointing out to me that I should cook more pies. The dish came with a recipe for Cottage pie. I'm quite set in my cooking ways, and I cook the food I am used to, which basically is what my Mum used to cook for us when we were kids. Obviously I have added a lot of things to it, but my comfort food is what my mum used to cook for me. I have tried to get a bit into cooking English dishes as well, as I know that's what my Culinary Consultant grew up with and what he likes most. I have practiced Sunday roasts, roast veg and roast chicken has become a staple in our diet.
Today I thought I might as well continue my journey into the world of English food. I decided to give the Cottage pie a try, as we had a big bag of delicious potatoes from the Culinary Consultant's dad's own allotment which needed using up. And obviously, I wanted to use my new, cute pie dish. 
Cottage pie (serves 4):
butter or olive oil for cooking
1 onion
1 clove of garlic
1 large carrot
1 stick of celery
400 g beef mince
small glass of red wine
2 sprigs of fresh thyme (I substituted by dried thyme)
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp tomato puree (I substituted with tomato ketchup)
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp plain flour
250 ml beef stock
40 g butter (30 g + 10 g separated)
750 g floury potatoes (eg. Maris Piper)
2 tbsp milk
The howto:
Peel and roughly chop the potatoes. Heat up water in a large saucepan, and cook until tender in salted water. Meanwhile, chop onion and garlic, and roughly chop the carrot and celery. Heat oil or butter in a deep pan or casserole dish and cook onion and garlic on medium heat until soft, about 5 min. Add the carrot and celery, and continue cooking for another 10 minutes or so. Turn up the heat and add the mince, break it up with a fork and cook until browned. Add the red wine and thyme, and cook until most of the wine has evaporated. At this point, also pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees C. Add the bay leaf, tomato puree, Worcestershire sauce, flour and beef stock to the mince and cook for about 20 minutes.  If too much of the liquid evaporates, add more beef stock (or as I did, red wine. More red wine can never hurt, right?). When the potatoes have cooked, mash them together with the milk and 30 g butter. Transfer the mince into an oven proof dish, and cover with the mash. Fluff the mash with a fork, and dot the remaining 10 g of butter over the top. Cook for about 30 minutes until the top of the pie is golden.
The verdict:
I didn't expect to like the Cottage pie as much as I did. It was really tasty, although I did end up pouring in about a quarter of a bottle of red wine in there. I don't think I have ever had Cottage pie before, so I wasn't quite sure if it ended up tasting right, but the Culinary Consultant assured me that it turned out as expected. It was a really hearty minced meat stew with a delicious gravy, topped by the fluffy potatoes which are lovely and crisp on the top.
If you want to watch your carbs, you can replace some of the potatoes with other root veg, such as swede or carrot. Or you can even make the mash entirely out of cauliflower.
Card of the day:
Today's card is the recent birthday card I made for my Mum. I stamped the Stampin Up Swallowtail stamp and heat embossed with Papermania Copper embossing powder. The background is Tim Holtz embossed with a Spellbinders Garden Delight folder. I then used Tim Holtz distress markers (Aged Mahogany, Worn Lipstick, Victorian Velvet, Spun Sugar and Bundled Sage) to colour the butterfly.I fussycut the butterfly with scissors. The sentiment is from the Tim Holtz Grunge Cirque stamp set. I coloured the stamp using Tim Holtz distress markers Worn Lipstick, Bundled Sage and Aged Mahogany. I used a Hobbycraft border punch to create the heart borders and inked with Spun Sugar Distress ink. I used the same ink on the doily. For finishing touches, I added pink organza ribbon and green bakers twine, green rhinestones for the sentiment and finally some Ranger Ice Stickles in Coffee Ice on the butterfly. I really love the swallowtail stamp, expect to see some more of it shortly.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Oven barbecued sausages

It is with great relief I announce that the bachelor pad is done. All done, painted, sanded, tiled and cleaned. And not a moment too soon. I'm so over DIY. It's simply not my thing. I can't wait to have my evenings freed up to other things. I do feel like we achieved something big getting it all done, and the majority of the credit definitely goes to the Culinary Consultant. But in the end, we did spend close to two months on the place, spending most of our weekday evenings after work there. Now all we can hope for is that the tenants take good care of the place.

This morning we celebrated our great achievement by sleeping in, followed by a lazy champagne brunch. We had croissants with gravlax and poached eggs, and marshmallows, strawberries and Nutella for dessert. All this with several glasses of champagne, a bottle we placed in the fridge to chill when we moved into New House, just waiting for this day when we were done with the Bachelor Pad.  A very relaxing start to the weekend! (As an aside, my poached eggs weren't nearly as much of a disaster as they usually are. Gently boiling water, a good pour of vinegar, a good swirl in the water and a very gentle touch when submerging the egg in the water seems to do the trick)

Today's recipe is from a great food blog called the English Kitchen. It's full of really great, simple and tasty recipes. We had a pack of sausages coming close to their best by date, so when this recipe popped up on my RSS feed, I knew it was meant to be. I did a few small changes to the original, I reduced the amount of sugar and added some wholegrain mustard, but other than that I stuck with the recipe. 

Oven barbecued sausages (serves 4-6):
8 sausages (such as Cumberland)
2 onions
1 cup tomato ketchup
1 cup water
30 ml cider vinegar
1.5 tbsp brown sugar (original recipe suggested 4 tbsp)
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
a pinch of cayenne pepper

The howto:
Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Peel and slice onions. Bring a saucepan of water to a boil, add the onions and sausages. Boil for about five minutes. Next, cook the sausages on a frying pan in a bit of olive oil or butter for about five minutes to give them nice colour all around. Drain the onions from the cooking water and place at the bottom of an oven proof dish, add sausages on top. Mix the rest of the ingredients and pour on top of the sausages. Cook in the oven for about 30-40 minutes until the sauce has thickened a bit and sausages are cooked through and somewhat glazed. 

The verdict:
I'm not a big fan of sausages, but the Culinary Consultant likes them so every now and then, we cook sausages on the BBQ. However, we are definitely coming to the end of BBQ season in the UK with the weather being rather grey and dull. This was a great way to use up some left-over sausages which were originally intended for the BBQ. One substitution I made was to reduce the amount of sugar in the original recipe quite a bit as I think it sounded like a lot to me. I'm a bit uncomfortable with using sugar in savoury food, apart from a small dash here and there to balance the flavours, but I don't want my food to be too sweet. I think the amount I used was more than enough, and could even be reduced a little bit further, especially as tomato ketchup is quite sweet in itself, I think it could be completely omitted. Other than that, the sausages went down a treat with mashed potatoes and will definitely be on the list to make again as we have a few packs of sausages in the freezer waiting to be used up.
Card of the day: 
Today's cards are baby cards I made quite a while ago. It's always good to have a few baby cards in stock, you never know when they are needed. And I love making baby cards, you can go overboard with the cuteness factor. Fo these cards, I used the heat embossing resist technique with Tim Holtz distress inks for background. First I stamped the Baby girl and Oh Boy texts using my trusty Hobbycraft alphabet stamps using Tim Holtz distress embossing ink and heat embossed using clear embossing powder. I did the same for the heart background using a Hobbycraft heart background stamp. The bear was stamped using the Forever Friends Mini Clear Stamps Happy Birthday stamp and fussycut using scissors. For the babygirl background and bear I used Spun Sugar, Worn Lipstick and Dusty Concord inks and for the Oh Boy background and bear I used Broken China, Chipped Sapphire and Dusty Concord inks. I added a pink and blue ribbon, and folded the bows using the instructions here from a piece of white paper I had inked with the same colours as the card. I finished with a butterfly using a Fiskars punch for the babygirl card and a blue rhinestone for the Oh boy card.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

This little piggy

Another lazy Saturday after a hectic week at work. I am in such a motivational slump right now, I just keep wishing I didn't have to work. But unfortunately there are bills to pay and all that. At least I'm getting back to the gym routine again, I surprised myself yesterday with surviving a Pump and Attack back to back combo. Today I'll let my poor body have a break, and tomorrow it's Combat and Pump. I am looking forward to getting back into shape, I can't wait to get rid of all this muscle pain after every workout. Also, as soon as I'm back to the gym, I find it a bit easier to motivate myself to eat healthier. Next week hopefully I'll be able to stick to chicken and veg all the way. Maybe with a little cheeky biscuit or chocolate snuck in between at some point. I just need a bit of sugar to get me through the day at work. That's a bit sad, isn't it?
The Culinary Consultant is very fond of big chunks of meat. Any meat, and the bigger the better. For me that means I have had to learn how to cook said huge mountains of meat. Last weekend when we were grocery shopping, this huge chunk of pork shoulder joint somehow made it into our shopping basket. My plan was to cook it in my Le Creuset in the oven. However, turns out I have misplaced my beloved purple friend. I'm sure he is up somewhere in the loft as that is the only place left with some unopened moving boxes. So I had to device a plan B for the pork. Plan B is always google. I happened upon this recipe for 6 hour roasted pork shoulder from Jamie. I thought Jamie probably knows what he is talking about, so I went with this recipe. Unfortunately it was about 5pm before I had a chance to get the piggy into the oven so we had to settle for leftovers from the day before for dinner, and only got a chance to try the pork the next day. Note to self - if you are going to cook slow roast pork, get it going in the morning. Also note to self, if cooking pork, the house will smell disgusting for the next few days. 

Slow roast pork (serves many, or two people for a week...)
Pork shoulder (about 2kg, Jamie's recipe says keep the bone in for added flavour, our chunk of meat was boneless but it still worked quite well)
sea salt
black pepper

The howto:
Preheat oven to 220 degrees C. First you are supposed to make incisions into the skin to have somewhere to rub the salt into. I'm very glad our porky already had some incisions made into the skin, as none of my knifes would cut into the skin. Apparently you need a scalpel or something similar to be able to make the incisions. You can also get your butcher to do it if you buy from a butcher's shop. Rub salt and pepper all over the meat and transfer into a roasting tray. Roast for half an hour to get the skin all crispy, then reduce oven to 190 degrees C, cover the dish with foil and roast for 4.5 hours. At this point, Jamie suggests to add veggies and roast for another hour. I skipped this last bit as it was past 10pm. The pork still turned out very juicy and tender. For the last 15 minutes, I upped the temperature back to 220 degrees C and removed the foil to crisp up the skin a bit more.
The verdict:
I probably should have written this part after having the pork for the first time, not after having eaten nothing but pork for a week. But the pork turned out nice and tender, although I have to admit pork is not my favourite meat because of the flavour of the pork fat. However, if you are a fan of pork, this is a really great way to cook it for juicy and very tender meat. We made some really delicious sandwiches with cole slaw, pickled cucumber and tomatoes. The Culinary Consultant also thoroughly enjoyed the crackle, I had a taste and it was nice and crisp, although a bit too porky for my taste.

Card(s) of the day:
These cards have been around for a while, but I never got around to blogging about them. The idea is based on a card from Darlene Design I found on Pinterest which I think is gorgeous. I was also inspired by many amazing cards using distress ink backgrounds.
For the foreground I used the Kanban clear stamp (Its a set with two floral stamps, unfortunately it doesn't seem to have any name. I bought mine from Hobbycraft) on white cardstock. I stamped using Tim Holtz embossing ink and embossed with clear embossing powder. I applied Tim Holtz distress inks for the background using a foam applicator. I then spritzed with PefectPearls mixed in water from a MiniMister. For the background panels I used the Tim Holtz Old Script stamp and repeated it as many times as needed to cover the panels using Black Soot or Walnut Stain distress inks. Again, I used distress inks with a foam applicator to colour the panels, adding some Vintage photo around the edges for an aged look. For matting, I used random scraps of leftover paper, many of the ones you see are actually gift wrapping paper (used) that I recycled for this project. To finish, I used my Fiskars butterfly stamp to add some butterflies, and some rhinestones for a bit of bling. My definite favourite is the blue-pink-green colour combo, I think it turned out nicest. For the card on the separate photo, I made an origami bow using instructions here.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Tomato omelette

Another night at the Bachelor pad. We are getting there, and the last two nights have been about cleaning. I have literally been down on my knees scrubbing floors. There are no words to express how much I'm looking forward to September 20th. That is the day the the tenants are moving in. I can't believe we are only 9 days away from finishing the huge project. I'm glad I didn't know going into it how much work it would be I would never have agreed to do it. And I have to admit I have definitely put in less hours than the Culinary Consultant, he has been working so hard. So just a few more evenings of hard work, and then there will finally be time for the gym! And hopefully a bit more blogging. And crafting of course.

Today's recipe is another instalment in the "this is a bit too simple to be a recipe, really" series. This is what I have been eating for breakfast practically every weekend since our tomato plants started producing unbelievable amounts of tomatoes. They have been churning out amazing, sweet tomatoes for about a month. Sadly, the production is clearly dwindling down now, although the last few very warm days resulted in a few more flowers. Whether the flowers will result in actual tomatoes remains to be seen. Also the size of the tomatoes have been significantly reduced from what they were a month ago. But I'm happy, I have the freezer full of tomatoes for the fall (we only have a small freezer so I doubt they will be lasting all the way to winter). Who am I to say no to all these free tomatoes. And after the luxury of having my own tomatoes going back to store bought tomatoes will be really hard as they taste nothing like the juicy and sweet red baubles of yumminess you get from your own greenhouse.

As I said, this has been my staple breakfast lately. It's great because it only takes a few minutes to throw together and can be left cooking in the oven while you return to bed for a bit of a snooze. Just make sure you have an alarm going off in case you fall back asleep...

Tomato omelette (serves 4-5):
8-10 eggs (depending on the size of your dish)
4-5 ripe tomatoes
1/4-1/2 cup grated mature cheddar (or to taste)
black pepper
(fresh herbs finely chopped)

The howto:
Preheat oven to 190 degrees C in a fan oven (or 200 degrees C if using a regular oven). Cut tomatoes into slices and place in one layer in an ovenproof dish. Mix eggs, grated cheese and black pepper (and herbs if using) and pour on top. Cook for about 30 minutes or until set.

The verdict:
This is a really great breakfast as it will cook without supervision so you can slip back into bed or go on with your morning chores while it's cooking. You can easily make a big batch and either feed an army or have leftovers for the next (few) day(s). I think it's really yummy, I like eggs in all forms, but I find it a bit tedious to slave over the stove in the morning to make omelette in a pan, so I like this method much better. The tomatoes bring a lovely fresh flavour to the omelette. I think sundried tomatoes also work really well, but obviously I have been keen to use up all my lovely fresh tomatoes. And you can easily make it more healthy by reducing, or completely removing, the cheese if you want.

Card of the day:
I made this card for a friend who just bought her first home. The castle stamp is from Lawn Fawn Critters Ever After, and I coloured it with Tim Holtz distress markers and fussycut using scissors. The flower is stamped in Tempting Turquoise using the Mixed Bunch stamp and punched using the Blossom punch. The paper is from Dovecraft Princess Fairytale and the sentiment is stamped using a set of alphabet stamps I have had lying around for ages. This reminds me, I really need to make time to play with the Critters Ever After stamp set. I ordered it all the way from the US, but hardly had any time to use it yet. 

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Pimp your mashed potatoes

Another leisurely Saturday coming to an end. I have done nothing except a little bit of cleaning, and spent the rest of the day crafting. More correctly, I have spent the day stamping, but I have only managed to put together one card. Everything else is in a big mess on my table but I'm a bit short of inspiration right now (see pic of the chaos that is my craft room below). But I need to keep my hands busy. I am going through a weird patch of melancholia. It must be the fall coming, and the thought of a long, dark winter ahead. And things at work are rather stressful.

However, I'm trying to focus on the bright sides. We have a tenant for the Bachelor Pad, and the re-decoration is almost finished. The remaining things that need to be done are small DIY stuff that I can't help with, so I have been freed from DIY duty. And even better, I finally managed to join a gym last week. Based on my first visit yesterday I'm rather impressed. We had to do a gym induction with a gym employee who can't have been more than 18 years old and looked like she would rather have been anywhere else. But the actual gym is really nice. It's a council gym, so I had my doubts, but it has recently been completely refurbished and has completely new studios and gym equipment. And best of all, a spa with different saunas, steam rooms and "experience showers". Tomorrow I'm going for my first Les Mills class in three months, and I'm hoping and praying that the instructors are nice, as I am quite an instructor snob after being fortunate enough to get to work out with the most amazing Les Mills instructors over the last few years. I do feel like I'm cheating on them but I just couldn't drive all the way back to Cambridge for a gym session, and I would never have made it on time for the classes. While I'm really excited to get back to working out again, I know it will be a long and painful road to get back to where I was. But I really need to get a handle on my expanding figure, I can't let all the hard work I did go to waste.

Today's recipe is most certainly not one for the health conscious, but it is a nice treat for the weekend. If I remember correctly, the recipe is from a cooking class in high school. This recipe was from a girl who spent a year in the US as an exchange student. I think she said it was a Thanksgiving recipe. I have long since lost the original recipe, but I remember it was basically mashed potatoes with sour creme added in. I think the original recipe also had chopped chives in it, but I didn't have any chives handy when I made this so I have omitted them from the recipe.

Pimped up mashed potatoes (serves 4-6):
8 medium potatoes
25 g butter
250 g Crème fraîche (or sour cream)
salt to taste
(bread crumbs and/or grated cheese for topping)
Before going into the oven.

The howto:
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C/400 degrees F/gas mark 6. Peel potatoes and cut into small pieces. Cook in boiling water until soft. Drain water and mash. I like to keep my mash a bit lumpy as it adds texture, but feel free to go as wild with your masher as you like. Add butter, sour cream and salt and mix. Transfer to an oven proof dish and bake until golden on top, about 25-30 minutes. 

The verdict:
I went almost two years without buying a single potato. After starting to cook for my Culinary Consultant I have slipped back into bad habits, and have been known to enjoy a bit of potato every now and then. And I do like a simple mashed potato with just a bit of butter and salt, but this is so much better. The sour cream really adds a nice richness to the potatoes. I think sometimes I have also added a bit of cream cheese in the mix to make it even more decadent. I like to serve the potatoes with oven baked salmon, but they also work nicely with sausages or a meat stew.

Card of the day:
I made these cards for my trip to Finland a few weeks ago. One was for my good friend who got married, and the other is for my cousin who is getting married in a few weeks. I was very short of time so I had to make a really simple card to get it all done before my trip back home and I remembered seeing cards like this on Pinterest and thought they were a rather funny idea so I decided to give it a try. I fussycut all pieces using a template I drew freehand, and embossed the white dresses using Cuttlebug folders. I then sprayed them with Perfect Pear mist before adding the embellishments and attaching everything to the black cardstock. Very simple and quick.