Thursday, 30 May 2013

Tuna and sweet corn pasta

Two more days of my holiday week to go. And the weather is miserable. But I haven't let that bother me, and I might just be imagining but there could be just a tiny sliver of blue sky showing right now. On Monday we finished the move, all my stuff hauled to my new temporary home. And I spent the evening cleaning every nook and cranny of my tiny little apartment. It was quite emotional, thinking of everything that has happened there, and then locking that door for the last time. On Tuesday I returned the keys to the letting agency and felt a bit homeless. But yesterday I had a wonderful day in my new home town. Well, it's not like I wouldn't have known it already, having spent most weekends of the last year here, but it was weird being out on the town without the Culinary Consultant. I ran some long overdue errands, and got my oh-so-long-overdue haircut. Now I feel like a new person. I didn't cut my hair in over a year, and it was disgusting. Now it's back to the bob I have been wearing for a few years. It's so much lighter than the full head of long hair I have suffered from lately. It's quicker to dry after the gym, and it reduces the amount of shed hair in the apartment significantly. Well, probably it doesn't affect the number of hair, but they are shorter and hence make less of a mess. I found a really nice (and reasonably priced!) hairdresser. I also managed to get an appointment to have my eyesight tested, and turns out I need new glasses. Which I was expecting. So I get to do the fun part of trying on new glasses!

On Tuesday I also had my last driving lesson. I decided to take a few driving lessons over here in topsy turvy land, just to be safe out there on the roads. I think I did quite good, and I managed to find a great teacher. So now I can't wait to buy myself a little car and get out there on the roads. It has been many years since I have had a car, and I love the idea of liberty it will give. Right now, if I want to get somewhere, I have to walk or bike. And because my bike is in several pieces right now for storage purposes, I am limited to walking. Or taking the bus. So I think when I get the car, I will drive places just because I can!

Here is another recipe from the kitchen of "use up everything you have stockpiled in your pantry". This time I got another opportunity to work on the several kilograms (yes, really) of pasta that *someone* has stockpiled in their kitchen (and no, it wasn't me!!). 

I absolutely love sweet corn, I could just eat sweet corn on the cob every day. It's just so sweet and... well.. corny. Oh, I'm so funny today, aren't I. Ok, I promise, no more attempts at un-funny jokes. So sweet corn. It goes with so many things, and one of them is definitely tuna. I just love the piles of yellow in the grocery store, I can't walk past them without picking up a cob or two. And after cooking, it turns ever brighter. You can't be depressed after having eaten sweet corn. I decided to make a really quick and easy pasta sauce with bright red tomatoes and happy yellow corn. 
Tuna and sweet corn pasta (serves 4):
2 sweet corns on the cob
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large red onion
2 tins tuna
1 tin tomatoes (plum or chopped)
150 g garlic and herb cream cheese (I used Boursin)
Black pepper

The howto:
Cook the sweet corn in boiling water for about 15 minutes, until it turns bright yellow. Let cool, and cut the corn of the cob. Finely chop onion. Get the water boiling for your pasta. Heat olive oil in a large pan and cook onion on medium heat until soft, about 10 minutes. At this point your water should be boiling, so you can throw in your pasta, whatever amount you think is fit for the number of people who will be eating. Add the tomatoes to the onion, and let cook for another 10 minutes or so, letting some of the juices evaporate. Add the tuna, corn and cream cheese, season with black pepper to taste, and let cook until your pasta is done. Drain pasta and mix with the sauce. Serve with some greens (I had steamed mange tout and green beans) or a green salad.
The verdict:
I love making pasta sauces with cream cheese. It's enough to flavour the sauce really beautifully and you don't need to worry about any other seasoning. The flavours are not too strong to overpower the tuna and the sweet corn, but the sauce is really thick and creamy. Obviously it's not directly health food, but then again, it's pasta so what can you do. We ate this after coming home from the gym, and easily destroyed about two thirds of it right then and there between the two of us. And the Culinary Consultant wants me to make it again this weekend, so I think we have a winner on our hands here. 
Card of the day:
These cards are from the archives, as obviously I don't have the space to craft right now. There is one table in the whole house, and it has a bike on it. The Culinary Consultant doesn't have a dining table at all! Talk about bachelor pad... The cards are another attempt at a male card after having some positive feedback on my previous attempt. I used the Hero Arts Sweet Threads Spirals stamp with Tim Holtz distress inks Walnut stain, Vintage photo and possibly one more colour, but I can't remember anymore... sorry! I then stamped the lion from the Tim Holtz Regal Flourish set with Walnut Stain and Vintage Photo and cut it out using a template and scissors. I stamped the sentiment using Distress inks, stamping twice with two different colours. I then used ink blending foam and distress ink around the edges of each of the pieces before matting onto orange and gold paper and attaching to craft card. The photo doesn't quite dot he colours justice, I think they turned out quite fun. I really miss crafting, I can't read any crafting blogs because it just makes me want to get my hands dirty again. I am clearly dulling my pain with shopping, as I have bought a ridiculous amount of crafting supplies on Ebay ever since I had to pack everything into boxes. I should just delete my Ebay account for my own safety. And I got some birthday presents to further fuel my crafting madness. As soon as I finally have my craft room, I won't leave it for days!!

Monday, 27 May 2013

Pineapple flambé

Often you don't know when something happens for the last time. The last time you go into a store or cafe. The last time you see someone. You say see you soon, but then for some reason that just never happens. Often when I see updates from old friends on Facebook, I realise I can't remember the last time we saw each other and if it was a goodbye or a see you soon moment. Obviously, I hope I will be seeing many of them in the future, maybe by mistake or maybe intentionally. But then there are also times when you know you are doing something for the last time. Like the last day at work. You know you are walking over to the cafeteria for the last time, you give your last presentation, you say those awkward goodbyes because you don't quite know what to say. My wonderful colleagues made my last day at work very lovely by joining me for a nice pub lunch, and I was also showered with gifts and flowers. Had I known you get this much presents for leaving, I would have done it sooner! Naah, just kidding. 

And then there is the last time you write a blog post in the tiny shoebox of an apartment that in so many ways has been the centre of your life for the last two and a half years. Your safe place. This is the last night I spend in here. All of my stuff is hauled away to the Culinary Consultant's bachelor pad, and I have spent most of the day cleaning the apartment from floor to ceiling. Scrubbing the sinks, cleaning the fridge, wiping every possible surface, vacuuming, trying to get rid of all that nasty limescale in the shower. I'm pretty much done now, it's not only clean, it's Finnish clean (and that is a very different concept to UK clean!). Now I'm just waiting to go to sleep for the last time in my little penthouse. So much has happened here. I have laughed, I have cried. Mostly I have just been slouching on the sofa, watching Big Bang Theory. I wrote my first blog post here. I spent evenings in candlelight with someone I thought liked me (I was wrong about that). I have curled up on the sofa wrapped in blankets and blasted the radiator trying to keep warm in the middle of winter. I have gone to sleep under a wet duvet cover to cool myself down during the hottest nights of summer when the flat has been hotter than the inner circles of hell. I have woken up from dead sleep by the fire alarm and stood on the street watching flames come out of the window of the apartment under mine, hoping my place with all my stuff in it won't burn down. I have crawled home drunk after parties, and I have cried myself to sleep over boys. I cooked the first meal for the Culinary Consultant here. I had friends over for my birthday and served them Pink Unicorn cake and macaroons. I have made cards and I have eaten way too much chocolate. My wonderful man brought me flowers and ice cream when I was sad (or mad). I have been going crazy over my noisy neighbours, and I have been swearing while carrying my bike up  the 52 steps of stairs to my apartment. All of that will be a memory tomorrow. 

Today is my birthday. It's kind of weird that my birthday is my last day in this apartment. But at the same time, it's so fitting that I will have this one last night here to just go through all the motions. I am so excited about all the new things that are happening soon, but for this one night, I'm just allowing myself to be sentimental and think of everything that happened here. But yes, I knew the birthday celebrations would have to be postponed this year. I did have a nice little stack of birthday cards waiting for me this morning, along with some lovely gifts. But there was no cake this year. I'm happy to wait though, there will be time for that later. Hopefully lots of cake made in a big new kitchen. I did manage to find time to nip into Cambs and get me some birthday fudge, so today wasn't totally free of celebration. And I have had some scrummy almost-birthday meals. On Saturday we made BBQ burgers with Stilton, caramelised onions and a fruity mayo salsa (go check out the pic on my Facebook). That was a bit like a celebration, I love love love homemade burgers. And then yesterday evening we made pineapple flambé. I didn't quite know how to do it, so I googled a few recipes and then just made it up as I went along. If lighting things on fire isn't celebratory, I don't know what is!
Pineapple flambé (serves 2-3):
1/2 pineapple
25 g butter
1/4 cup light muscovado sugar
1/4 cup rum or other alcoholic beverage of choice
To serve: whipped cream, ice cream or custard

The howto:
Peel the pineapple, and cut half of it into three slices. Take out the hard middle part of each slice, so that you end up with three rings. Melt the butter in a frying pan, and add the sugar. Let melt into the butter, and caramelise for a minute or two, but make sure not to burn the sugar. Add pineapples and let cook for a few minutes on each side. While the pineapple is cooking, heat the alcohol in a saucepan. Take pineapple off the heat (turn off any gas flame). When the alcohols is warm (but before it boils!!) pour it over the pineapple and light on fire. For added dramatic effect, turn off the light. Make sure you are not doing this under an extractor fan, and also remember to have a lid close by just in case the flames get out of control. Better safe than sorry, although at least for me the flames were very moderate with no fear of anything getting out of control. After the dramatic display of flames, cook on medium heat until most of the liquid has evaporated to form a light syrup. Serve with ice cream, whipped cream or custard. 
You just have to take my word for it, but these are
some of the flames! In my defence, it's not easy
taking photographs when you are squealing
excitedly and jumping up and down.
The verdict:
So the secret (well not so much of a secret as something you just need to know) is to warm the alcohol before lighting it. Apparently, if the alcohol is room temperature, there just isn't enough alcoholic vapours for it to ignite. Also, the optimal alcohol to use for flambé is something with around 40% alcohol, such as rum or brandy. Although I think my little flambé experiment turned out rather nice, I think next time I would use a bit more sugar as the syrup wasn't quite as sweet as I would have liked. Maybe a mix of caster and muscovado. However, that will completely depend on your sweet tooth. I would also add some vanilla, which I would have done would I have remembered which box my vanilla sugar was in. The scrapings from a vanilla pod would have been even better. However, the dark rum we used gave the syrup a wonderful vanilla-y flavour. I haven't had a very good track record with flambés in the past, but this one lit up beautifully and I was jumping with joy watching the blue flames. So not a traditional birthday celebration, but I don't mind unconventional. Especially if things are lit on fire!
My going away flowers from my lovely colleagues!

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Bacon and cream cheese puffsies

So it's the last leg of the move. Well, the last leg of the first move that is. Almost everything is bundled up in boxes, bags or (very glamourously) bin bags. It's always the final stuff that is the hardest. Random things that you know you will need right up until the move, and then some other random bits and pieces which didn't fit into any box and are now just floating around. I have images flashing through my brain of binning it all, but can't go through with it. Even if it's a jug of olive oil which is almost finished, I can't throw it away if it's still useful. So it's time to make yet another box labeled "Completely random stuff" and throw in the loofah, a few jars of spices, a t-shirt and some jewellery in a box along with a bottle of rum, a fascinator and those left over key chains you know you know you will never use but just can't make yourself get rid of either. The funny thing is, I have already packed at least three "Completely random" boxes. And when I unpack them, I will just think "What the hell was I thinking". 

I can hardly fit into my apartment with all the boxes and bundles all around. I have divided the apartment into two parts, the clean part and the stuffed part. The clean part is a small corner that I have vacuumed, mopped, dusted and am now using to pile the cleaned stuff I won't be taking with me (my apartment is furnished). About a week to go before I leave for good, and I just descaled my kettle and cleaned all bread crumbs from the toaster. They are now waiting in the clean pile for the kitchen to get throughly cleaned so that they can go back to where they belong. Then there is the cluttered part. Which is filled floor to ceiling with boxes and weird bags and other bundles of stuff waiting to be moved. I just wish I could get rid of it all so I could get the rest of the apartment all cleaned out. Patience is definitely not my thing. So much still to clean, even if I've tried to do as many bits and pieces as I can along the way. 

I'm also trying to get rid of a few last bits and pieces of food. There is also an embarrassingly large number of boxes and bags filled with food I didn't manage to use pre-move. I think we will be able to live for at least a month, if not more, without grocery shopping with all the stuff me and the Culinary Consultant have stockpiled. And I have hardly bought any groceries at all this month! A few pints of milk, some fresh veg, but that's pretty much it. I have been a bit bad and bought some bread as well, and some evenings I have just eaten bread instead of working my way through my stashes. But at least the beans are gone! Huzzah!!

I had some left over puff pastry in the freezer, so I bought a pack of cream cheese and used up some left over onions and the last of what has turned out to be a huge bacon stash in my freezer. These small cheesy puffs are quick and easy to prepare, you could eat them as a side or as an appetizer or finger food snack. Or as I probably will, as a late night snack when I'm sick of tossing and turning in my bed without being able to go to sleep. 
Garlic, herb, bacon and onion puffsies* (makes about 12):
1 tbsp oil
4 rashers of bacon
1 yellow onion
puff pastry (about a 30x20 cm sheet) I had some pastry that came in two ready rolled sheets, and used one of them here
200 g (150g would be enough) cream cheese (I used Philadelphia garlic and herb)
(1 egg for egg wash)

Preheat oven to 200 degrees C. In a frying pan, heat the olive oil, and cook chopped onion until translucent and starting to soften a bit. Add finely chopped bacon, and cook until bacon is cooked through. Spread the cream cheese onto the pastry, leaving about an inch along the longer side of the rectangle free of cheese. Add onion and bacon mixture on top. You could season with some black pepper at this point if you like. Roll into a tight roll, and cut into 12 pieces. I find it easier to pinch using dental floss instead of a knife to keep the filling from oozing out. Brush with egg wash if you want a really golden finish (as usual I couldn't be bothered to do that). Bake for about 20-25 minutes, until golden and puffy. 
*yes, puffsies is a word because I say it is.
The verdict:
It's puff pastry, cheese and bacon. What's not to love. Apart from the effect it has on my waist. Well, the part that used to be a waist and now is a shapeless ball. I will use my standard response, I'm stressed because of the move, and I have to be at home packing and cleaning (i.e. sitting on the sofa thinking about all the things that need to be done) instead of going to the gym. This is why I need my routines. I can't  live without my beloved routines, it all gets effed up. So, now I will dig into my cheese and bacon puffsies and stare at the mess that is my life. Just another week to go. In this mess. Then there will be a new mess. But I'm just trying to fool myself into thinking this is the only mess I need to get out of and things are getting better after that. Self deception is the best form of deception. 
Card of the day:
This is one from the archives, as I haven't had space or time for crafting for a while. This was a birthday card for a friend. I used the Hero Arts handbag background stamp and coloured it with Tim Holtz Distress markers. I matted the bags onto two different papers from the Dovecraft Back to Basics III set. The sentiment is a Tim Holtz Stampers anonymous stamp which I stamped in Walnut Stain Distress ink and heat embossed with clear embossing powder. I used ink blending foam to apply Spun Sugar and Worn Lipstick Distress ink around the edges of the sentiment. I added a pink ribbon, and attached the sentiment using foam adhesive.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Awesome quinoa burgers

My life is a mess. I mean literally. The move is about 50% through, and my apartment just looks worse and worse even though it should actually look like less of a mess as we have already hauled two carloads of stuff out of here. This move is completely stressing me out. And I have actually no idea why, because in theory, I'm really excited and can't wait to get it over and done with. Maybe it's the thought of having to do it all again in a few weeks time. At the same time, I'm really stressed about the thought that we won't be moving again in a few weeks time. What if things don't go according to plan with the dream house? I have packed all my stuff so that I will only have access to enough clothes to get me through a few weeks. I will be living out of a suitcase. I mean, for real. I'll show you a photo as soon as my suitcase is packed. All this while starting a new job. Which I'm excited and happy about. In theory. But I haven't slept well in weeks. Apart from two nights ago, but that's probably because I was wrapped in elephants. I'm also stressed about maybe having poisoned myself just now. I was taking a shower, and decided to start the first round of bathroom cleaning. I went a bit wild spraying limescale remover all around, and all of a sudden I felt like I was choking. My tongue actually started to tingle. What sort of horrible chemicals are we using to clean our houses? But I have to get the place clean. Hopefully I won't die of poisoning tonight. Hopefully I will be able to go to sleep thinking about all the exciting and positive things, and not worrying about everything that could go wrong. I'm stressed about all my kitchen stuff being packed and out of reach. As is my crafting stuff. I'm worried I will go crazy. I'm stressed about all the work that we need to do on the Culinary Consultant's house to get it ready for prospective tenants. But we can't do anything while all my stuff is filling every nook and cranny. So even if I get the dream house, we will be spending all summer doing up the old place and not enjoying the new one. I'm stressed I have packed something essential deep down in one of my gazillion moving boxes, and having to go in search of it later. At times I feel a bit like I'm going slightly mad. But I know that it will all be worth it, and it will all sort itself out. Things tend to do that. Now if I could only make my brain understand that too...

Just to get my brain out of stressing for a short while, I will tell you about quinoa burgers. It might not seem like much, but then you haven't heard about *these* quinoa burgers. I have talked before about food kismet. Or Pinterest kismet as it's more likely to be in my world. I love Pinterest, it's the best way to spend your time while waiting for the bus. Or to get you through your lonely lunch hours after your best friend just abandons you and moves to another country.

In my eagerness to spend all my efforts on trying to get rid of my piles of beans (and I'm happy to report, I finally managed to finish off the last two cans today!!!), I have completely neglected the mounds of quinoa I have managed to stock. I usually keep two packs of quinoa in the house. One of them is the one I'm using, and I have a fresh one I move to when I finish the previous one. And then I buy a new one waiting for that one to be used up. And so it goes, in circles. However, due to stockpiling too much food in a tiny space some things just disappear to the back of my storage space. I have managed to bury several half used packs of quinoa, which I have now unearthed in my archeological digs of my pantry. So quite a bit of quinoa to use up. Which is not a problem, I love quinoa. But sometimes just eating it as is can be a bit boring. So when this recipe from a blog called Eating well - living thin(er) popped up on Pinterest, I knew I immediately had to try it. Immediately, as in the same evening. So I broke my rule of not buying any groceries and bought a pack of cottage cheese. I think it was worth it as I was able to use quite a bit of stuff from my stash: quinoa, the last sad and slightly sloppy carrots from my fridge, the last frozen piece of cheddar hiding at the back of my freezer.

I modified the recipe slightly from the original, which had scallions instead of onions. I also reduced the amount of cheddar from 3/4 cups to about 1/2 a cup as that was all I had. I replaced all purpose flour with gluten free flour mix as I'm trying to use that up, probably any flour would do like coconut, rice, whole wheat etc. I was going to cook the burgers in coconut oil, but was distracted while cooking so I automatically reached for the olive oil bottle instead.

And as usual I have to apologise about the photos. This time, I was just about to dig my fork into my burger when my two lonely brain cells managed to connect and remind me that a food blogger should always photograph first, and eat second. Of course being a rather greedy food blogger, I tend to forget this. But then again, at least I can say I show the food just as it is. You know how looking at pictures in interior design magazines you go "no way does anyone's house ever look like that, there should be dirty underwear on the floor and disgusting dirty plates on the tables". Well that is how I feel like when I look at all the wonderful food blogs out there. Yes, the pictures are breathtaking. But my food never looks like that! My food looks like the pictures on my blog. And thats the excuse I'm going with, and I'm pretending I'm all happy about it. Smirk.

Quinoa burgers (makes 8-10 burgers):
cooked quinoa (1 cup uncooked)

1/2 stock cube for cooking the quinoa (I went with beef stock as that's what I had on hand, go for veg stock if you want them to be vegetarian)
1 yellow onion
2 cloves of (smoked) garlic
olive oil for cooking
1/2 cup grated cheddar
1/2 cup cottage cheese (they only had low fat in my local grocery store)

2 small carrots grated (original recipe says you can replace by 1 cup shredded zucchini)
3 eggs
3 tbsp all purpose flour (I used gluten free)

1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried coriander

Cook the quinoa in about 2.5 cups of water (or according to instructions) with 1/2 stock cube. Let cool. Sauté chopped onion in oil until translucent, add finely chopped garlic and cook for a few more minutes. Mix the cooled, cooked quinoa with the onion and the rest of the ingredients. It will be quite a runny dough. Don't expect to be able to make nice balls out of the batter, I just scooped it with a 1/4 cup measure straight onto the pan and tried to shape nice, round and symmetric burgers. I totally failed at that. As the batter was quite runny, I didn't think the burgers would stay in one piece during cooking, but to my surprise, they did so very well! As suggested I cooked on a medium-low temperature to let a crust form before turning the burger and that helped keep it in one piece.

The verdict:
I love my quinoa, and thought I would probably like these, but was also a bit worried that they might taste a bit bland. Well, not only were they far from bland, they were really delicious. Even the Culinary Consultant, who usually would not choose a completely vegetarian meal said he would be happy to have these again. They were super tasty actually. I served them simply with a side of avocado and tomato slices and some garlic mayo. I can't wait until lunch tomorrow when I get to have another one of these!

Oh and there will be no card of the day today. On accounts of all my crafting stuff being packed away in the middle of that:

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Bean and bacon lasagna

Greetings again from my little shoebox of an apartment, which is made even smaller by the piles of moving boxes waiting for the end of May. I'm lucky we will have a bank holiday Monday coming up in a few weeks, which will be a perfect moving day. Sadly it will mean I won't have time for any birthday celebrations this year, but hopefully I can make up for that later in the summer. For now, I'm still busy trying to use up all the food I have stockpiled in my kitchen. Oh how I wish I would learn from this and not hoard food in the future. It's crazy, I will probably be able to go all of May without grocery shopping (apart from the occasional fresh fruit/veg and milk) and just use up stuff I have hoarded. I keep thinking I will have to be incredibly firm with the whole no-hoarding rule in the new kitchen though, as the Culinary Consultant is even worse at hoarding than I am. Maybe we should join hoarders anonymous or something. I will have to give up the luxury of being within walking distance of a handful of grocery stores though. Well, I will be giving up on the luxury of being within walking distance of anything but sheep, it seems. Maybe a cow or two also, but that's it. And I worry, that if I have managed to stockpile all this food into a kitchen the size of a stamp, what will happen when I have a proper kitchen with loads of cupboards? I can already see it in my head. Piles and piles of tins, beans and rice which are months if not years out of date. Does anyone have a good system to prevent this? Maybe hook everything up to a database with expiry dates, which would send emails when things are about to expire. "Warning, you have three kilograms of pasta which will expire in three days."

I have been wracking my brain to come up with ways to use up all the beans in my pantry. And to add insult to injury, I found another four packs of chickpeas hiding at the bottom of a bag stuffed into a corner. I have been throwing various things into the slow cooker over the last few weeks, mainly tinned tomatoes and beans. This time I just had to come up with something different. So after rooting through my pantry a bit more, I also found some lasagna that needed using up. Perfect, bean and bacon lasagna it is. This actually helped me get rid of not only the lasagna but also a pack of chickpeas, two tins of beans, two packs of tomato passata and some bacon and parsley that have been hiding in the back of my freezer. Now I think I'm down to only two tins of beans and three packs of chickpeas. And a freezer bursting at the seams of the various more-or-less disgusting slow cooker bean stews. Pork, beans, tomato and barley or how about chicken, pineapple, coconut milk, beans and quinoa. I still have loads of tinned tomatoes, so I see another few weird bean-and-tomato-and-whatever-else-I-can-find-in-the-house combinations.

Making lasagna from scratch has quite a few steps, but it's worth it in the end. Making your own Bechamel is really rewarding. I used this recipe from Delia on BBC Food. I guess this is as close I will ever come to supporting the Culinary Consultant's football team. Apparently after the last game, they are safe from being relegated, so crisis is averted for this season. I just can't wait for the same craziness to start again next season...

Bean and bacon lasagna (serves 6-8):
Bechamel sauce
1 l semi-skimmed milk
2 bay leaves
20 whole black peppercorns
2 slices onion (1/4 inch or 5mm thick)
80 g butter
40 g flour
salt and black pepper

In a saucepan slowly bring milk, parsley, bay leaves, peppers and onion to a boil to infuse the flavours. Strain the boiled milk into a jug and discard the flavourings. In a saucepan, melt butter and add flour. Using a wooden spoon, whisk the mixture until smooth. On medium heat, add milk a little at a time (a few tablespoons) and mix until completely smooth before adding more milk. After adding about half of the milk, you can start adding more milk at a time. Keep whisking so that no lumps form. Turn down the heat to low, and let cook for 5 minutes and season to taste (I added a bit of black pepper but no salt, the bacon in the lasagna will be salty enough for my taste).

1/2 tbsp olive oil
8 strips of bacon
2 cloves of garlic (I used smoked garlic because I just loooove it)
2 tins (400 g each) beans (I used butter beans and borlotti beans)
1 pack (380 g) chickpeas
2 packs (390 g) tomato passata (mine had basil in it)
500 g lasagna
1/2 cup of grated cheese (I used mature cheddar)
Bechamel sauce as described above

Finely chop garlic, and cook for a minute or two in a pan with the oil. Add bacon and cook until cooked through. Finely chop the bacon and mix with with the cooked garlic. Preheat oven to 200 degres C. Assemble lasagna in an oven proof dish. Start with about a third of the bechamel sauce, then lasagna, top with one tin of beans and half of chickpeas. Add half of the bacon/garlic mixture. Add one pack of tomato passata and about a third of the cheese. Add another layer of lasagna, the other tin of beans and the rest of the chickpeas. Add the remaining bacon/garlic mix and the other pack of tomato passata. Top with one more layer of lasagna, and add the rest of the bechamel on top, along with the rest of the cheese. Bake for about an hour until golden and bubbly.
The verdict:
As so many times before, I apologize for the utterly terrible photos. The tiny apartment makes any kind of food photography challenging under the best of circumstances. As the apartment is currently full of moving boxes, I would say that's a far shot from the best of circumstances. Also, as usual I was cooking way too late in the evening to have any resemblance of daylight left when the food was done, and the alternatives were taking crappy pictures or taking no pictures at all. I will leave it up to you to decide which one you would prefer, but this is what I went with. However, to my utter joy the flavour of the food was nothing like the pictures. Unlike most of my recent bean concoctions which have ranged from almost acceptable to purely disgusting, this actually turned out really delicious. If you want to make it vegetarian, you can exclude the bacon, but I think it really brings a lovely flavour to the rather mild beans, along with the soft and full flavour of the smoked garlic. I fed this to the Culinary Consultant, and he also ate it without any complaints. Although to be fair, he eats pretty much anything without complaints. But still, I consider this creation quite a success, and after I have gotten over my trauma of eating nothing but beans for the better part of two months, I might even make this again. I think this goes to show that as long as you have tomato passata and bechamel, anything you put between sheets of lasagna will taste like proper lasagna. Oh and if you are looking for other somewhat non-traditional takes on lasagna, take a look at my accidental sea-food lasagna.

Card of the day:
I made this for a chocoholic friend, with a sentiment inside saying "if all else fails, there's always chocolate". I cut out two different sized squares from brown cardstock, and used vintage photo and walnut stain distress inks around the edges. I attached them using dimensionals to look like pieces of a chocolate bar. For the bottom of the card, I used a part of a real chocolate wrapper and some aluminium foil. I stamped the sentiment using Hobbycraft black pigment ink, cut it out with scissors and used ink blending foam and spun sugar distress ink around the edges. Matted with some white cardstock, again with vintage photo and walnut stain blended around the edges, and to finish, everything was adhered onto pink cardstock.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Blueberry buttermilk scones and moving boxes

Happy Mother's Day to all the mumsy people out there! Unfortunately I won't be able to cook my Mum a proper Mother's Day brunch, but hopefully I will get the chance to do that soon enough. Until then, Mum I want you to know I was thinking of you when I was eating these scones!

I'm hard at work using up stuff from my pantry in anticipation of the move. And after the move, there will be the Culinary Consultant's kitchen to clean out in anticipation of potential move number two. It seems likely I will spend the next few months carrying moving boxes from place A to place B and then from place B to place C. With the inevitable outcome that for the next few months, I will only have access to a fraction of my clothes, none of my kitchen stuff and no space for crafting. And the little baking and cooking I will be able to do, will be done amongst moving boxes. And could someone tell me how I managed to collect all this stuff, especially as I had decided I wouldn't buy any unnecessary things. The thought that will get me through this is that should everything go as planned, there is an entire craft room in the foreseeable future. Along with a huge kitchen, conservatory and garden. But it's still early days, and for now, all I can do is hope and keep my fingers crossed that everything is going as planned.

So this time on my list of things to use up was blueberries and buttermilk. And what else could that mean than blueberry scones. I have not had much success with scones in the past, apart from my easy cheese scones. But sweet scones usually end up in a complete mess, like the time when I forgot to turn on the oven and was wondering why the scones didn't bake at all. Well, this time I did remember to turn on the oven. I used this recipe from Martha Stewart. I made a few minor substitutions, like using the flour I happened to have around, and substituting dark sugar for caster sugar. I also thought making 12 scones out of this batch would make them too small to my taste, so I made 10.

Blueberry buttermilk scones (makes 10-12):
2 cups flour (the original recipe said 1 1/2 cup all purpose and 1/2 cup cake flour, I used 3/4 cup brown wheat and 1 1/4 all purpose)
3 tbsp granulated sugar (I used dark brown sugar)
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
115 g butter (cold)
1 cup blueberries
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
(1 egg for the egg wash plus sugar for sprinkling on top)

The howto:
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C (375 degrees F). Mix flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add butter and use your fingers to mix it in until the dough is the consistency of course sand (or use a pastry cutter). Add blueberries. In another bowl, mix buttermilk, egg and vanilla and add to the dough. Don't over mix. Very quickly knead once or twice to incorporate all ingredients, form into a disc and cut into 10 or 12 pieces. If you want to, you can brush the scones with egg wash and sprinkle sugar on top (I didn't as I was short of eggs, which is very unusual in this house). Bake for 20 minutes, and transfer onto a rack to cool.

The verdict:
These scones have a really great crumbly texture. I thought that the brown flour might make them less crumbly but I think it worked really well, and the scones didn't taste healthy at all. However, I like my scones really sweet, so I would possibly add a bit more sugar next time. This might also be a consequence of switching caster sugar for brown sugar, but I do like the caramel-y flavour of dark sugar. The buttermilk keeps the scones wonderfully moist. My blueberries were absolutely gigantic, and they made lovely juicy little surprises in the scones. This will definitely be my go-to recipe for scones, and I will keep the brown flour as a permanent part of the recipe.

Card of the day:
Obviously the card of the day had to be a Mother's day card. Well, two in fact, one for my Mum and one for my Grandma. The first one, I stamped flowers and swirls using Tim Holtz distress inks, then embossed with a swirly embossing folder. The butterflies are also stamped using distress ink and fussy cut using scissors. I cut the form for the sentiment using scissors and stamped swirls and "Happy Mother's Day" in Finnish. I sponged ink onto the edges of the card and the sentiment and finished with a bit of bakery's twine.

The second card is for my Gradma and is a combination of water coloured flowers and distress ink applied using ink blending foam through a paper doily.


Monday, 6 May 2013

Artisan no-knead bread, success finally

Woohoo, I have finally mastered the artisan no-knead bread. This recipe pops up everywhere and all the comments to all blogposts just rave about how easy and failsafe it is. Well, so far I haven't really had too much success, although I have to admit the first time I tried it I didn't have a Le Creuset to make it in. I just baked it like a regular loaf of bread, and it wasn't bad even if it didn't quite blow my mind. Then there was the disaster in the picture below. Not only did the bread not rise at all, the cheese stuck to my Le Creuset really badly. After that cheese incident I decided I would definitely use parchment paper in the future.
And now finally, I have conquered the no-knead bread. I'm not quite sure still what went wrong in the past, I think my dough might have been a bit too runny. But this time the bread finally looked like bread, nice and round with a perfect nice domed top. And surprisingly, this batch was made using brown and whole wheat flour, so I thought it would end up hard and dense, but it didn't. Admittedly after a few days, it was only nice after toasting, but it's still one of the most successful breads I have made without using any white flour. I did end up adding about a tablespoon of gluten to the dough and I think that helped a lot with the texture.

There are two really good blog posts about how to make this bread here and here. There is a huge list of questions and answers, alternative ways to bake the bread if you don't have a Le Creuset, and many options on flavouring choices. There are  also much more detailed instructions for how to make the bread over on Simply So Good, so I warmly recommend you hop over there to have a look. It's a really great blog in general, so be prepared to be lost in browsing for a while. 
No knead artisan bread (makes one loaf):
3 cups of all-purpose flour (I used two cups brown wheat and one whole wheat)
1/2 teaspoon instant or rapid rise yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups cool tap water 
1 tbsp wheat gluten (optional)
The howto:
Mix all ingredient until a rather soggy dough forms. Let stand 12-18 hours (or a bit less or a bit more, mine usually hangs around for about 24 hours before being baked). Preheat oven to 225 degrees C (450 F) and pre-heat your enamel pot for half an hour. During that time, shape the bread into a round loaf with well floured hands and place on a parchment paper to proof until the pot has heated up. Place in pot and bake with the lid on for 30 minutes, take the lid off and bake for another 15 minutes. 
The verdict:
Like I said, I have finally conquered the no-knead bread. I think there has been various reasons for my failures in the past. A few times I think I have left the dough a bit too runny, it's supposed to be rather soft but you should still be able to make a round loaf out of it. A few times I haven't been able to shape the dough at all, and just ended pouring it into the pot in the form of a big blob. If that happens, try adding just a touch more flour the next time. It's a live and learn type of thing. And trust me, you will get there. 

Usually when I bake bread, I like to use at least a third or so white flour, as usually heavier flours tend to result in a more dense bread, at least in my hands. Which is why I was really surprised that this bread turned out nice, soft and chewy. After a few days, it did become a bit dry and crumbly, but I used it to make a few oven-sandwiches (smother bread with mayo, add some tuna and grated cheese, and bake in the oven until the cheese has melted and is nice and golden brown). I'm so happy I finally managed to bake this bread properly, as it has really been nagging at me. Why does everyone else come up with these beautiful perfectly domed loaves and I only manage to produce horrible pancakes. This one loaf could obviously be a fluke, so I will have to try again soon to see if I can manage to repeat my success.

Card of the day:
The card of the day is a simple birthday card. I stamped the Tim Holtz hand written script using Distress Clear Embossing ink and Hobbycraft black ink with the Tim Holtz Heart n soul stamp and then heat embossed using clear powder onto ivory cardstock. I used ink blending foam and distress inks for the background, the colours are Wild honey, Worn Lipstick, Broken China, Peeled paint and Fired brick. The sentiment is from the Hobbycraft clear sentiments set, stamped using Hobbycraft black pigment ink. I added a layer of purple glittery paper for the background (I don't know the brand as I got it from a friend) and also used ink blending foam and Dusty Concord Distress ink around the edges of the sentiment. Finally I attached it all onto a white card.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Heart attack breakfast

Well, this one is for all my Finnish friends who are hung over from celebrating Vappu, and could use something really substantial for breakfast. Of course, today most of them will be out in the parks, having champagne brunch picnics. But soon, my friends, soon. The hangover is out to get you.

First, to torture you, a random true  story. A few days ago I had the type of day that makes you believe in the good of people. When I was grocery shopping the other day, I lost my gym membership card. It's always in the same compartment with my phone in my backpack (you know that little handy pouch thing on the shoulder strap of the backpack so that you can reach your phone all the time). I got out my phone to check my grocery list. I got my phone out of it's little pouch, and didn't notice that the velcro didn't close properly, and the little pouch-y thing was hanging upside down in my shopping trolley. So somewhere along my trek through the grocery store I dropped my card without realising. I thought I would have to go to the gym today admitting I was unable to take responsibility of my card and needed a new one. But on my way to the gym I dropped by the grocery store, and someone had found my card and handed it in to the lost and found! I was so happy, that really made my day. Ok, random life moment part of the blog is over and done with, so let's get on to the main course now.

To continue with my theme of health food after my mayonnaise extravaganza the other day, I thought I would blog about a breakfast which is guaranteed to clog your arteries faster than you can say chorizo. I realise this is a bit on the heavy side for a breakfast, but in the weekends, I like to replace breakfast and lunch with a nice brunch that will get me all through the day to dinner. And this most certainly is one of those. The little sausages are Mini Chorizos from Morrisons. The culinary consultant loves his chorizo and I thought the little sausages were so cute, although I'm personally not a huge fan of sausage. And let me apologise profusely for the even more horrible than usual photos, as I was taking pictures in suboptimal lighting with my phone. At least soon all my cooking will be done in the same house where my camera is, so hopefully the photos will be a little less horrible.

"Yes please, I would love a heart attack" omelette (serves 3-4):
1-2 tbsp 
1 red onion
5-6 mushrooms
7 mini chorizos (or other sausage)
6 eggs
1 tomato
3 tbsp grated cheddar
salt and pepper for seasoning
The howto:
Slice the onion, mushrooms and tomato. Crack the eggs into a bowl, and lightly whisk with a fork. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a big skillet and add the onion, mushrooms and chorizos. Cook for a few minutes, keep turning the sausages so that they cook on all sides. When the onion is starting to soften, add the eggs, and add the tomato slices on top. Sprinkle cheese on top, and let cook over medium heat until the eggs set (about 30 minutes). Serve immediately.

The verdict:
This is an easy breakfast, it only takes a few minutes of preparation, and the omelette will practically cook itself while you get back in bed for that extra half hour of dozing off (but if you do that, remember to set an alarm clock so that you don't end up setting your house on fire). If you like hearty breakfasts, this is definitely for you. If you are a dry toast and half a grapefruit type of person, maybe you should skip this. This certainly kept me going all day until dinner. Actually, it would probably make a good lunch too, or maybe a quick and easy dinner. It will certainly please any carnivorous males if you happen to have any of those around.

Card of the day:
Talking about carnivorous males, I tried to create a male themed card. Sure, it's easy enough to make cute cards for children, or pretty flower or shoe themed cards for your mum, aunt or best friend. But the men... Football? Beer? Well at least the culinary consultant loves all sorts of mechanical machine thingys, so I thought the Chronology Cogs background stamp would work. I stamped using Tim Holtz distress ink Walnut Stain, and embossed using Ranger Fine Detail clear embossing powder. I used distress inks for the borders. On another cream card I stamped the clock and cogs from another Chronology stamp set and the compass is a Tim Holtz stamp, all stamped using Walnut Stain and cut them out using scissors. I really like the compass stamp, and the cogs are really fun, I can see lots of opportunities with them.

Rhubarb buttermilk pound cake

Back home people are off to celebrate Vappu (Walpurgis Night). In Finland Vappu is one of the major holidays. People gather on the 30th of April and first of May for picnics in the parks and drink oodles of champagne (or any other alcoholic beverage, at least later in the evening). Particularly students tend to party hardy on Vappu. It's also pretty much tradition that the weather is very unpredictable during this outdoor event. I have distinct memories of icy wind and sleet and of trying to grab a bottle with fingers numb from the pain. When I was a child the family Vappu tradition was to go and see the huge bonfire in one of the villages close to where I lived. We would get balloons (you know those nice foil balloons, not the boring regular ones) and we would eat sausages and potato salad and a special donut type Vappu pastry called Tippaleipä (funnel cake). Which I will make some day. But not today. Today I will settle for a nice rhubarb bundt cake and think of all my friends who are partying and enjoying the day off tomorrow. I will, however, be enjoying a morning without a hangover, which might be the envy of some. But unfortunately I will still have to go to work.

This cake is not my fault. This cake is what happens when your best friend moves to another country, and donates the contents of her fridge and freezer to you. And I have a very small freezer, so I had to use up most of the things she gave me. I threw a mixed lot of pork, tomato passata, beans, sugarsnaps, dried mushrooms, barley and chickpeas in a slow cooker. I love my slow cooker, you can throw anything in there, and it comes out an undefined mushy consistency and you just eat it without asking too many questions. All sorts of sins have been hidden in a slow cooked tomato passata based stew. As I will also be moving in exactly one month, I really have to work hard to empty out my kitchen. Especially as I'm moving into a house with a kitchen even more stocked to the brim than mine. And that kitchen also needs to be emptied before the upcoming Big Move. But more about that later.

What this rant is really about is a bag of frozen rhubarb. When I was growing up, we had a rhubarb plant growing in our garden. And I wasn't too appreciative of rhubarb in those days. It was quite a substantial plant, and produced more rhubarb than we consumed, so my mum was happy to give some away to anybody who asked. These days, I would be so happy to have that rhubarb plant at hand. But for now I have to stick to store bought rhubarb, and it tends to be quite expensive except in high season, so any rhubarb outside of that short timespan is precious. So of course I had to use it right up. The other day I picked up a jar of buttermilk from the grocery store with no specific plan in mind. Seems like there was a bigger plan in action that day, as that buttermilk turned out to be a perfect companion with my gift of rhubarb. And the spoils from my friend's freezer also contained lemons (who knew you could freeze lemons, but apparently you can!) So I threw rhubarb and buttermilk into google, and out came this. I didn't make any big alterations to the recipe, except I only made 2/3 of the original recipe, hence the somewhat whacky measures for some things and I didn't change the amounts of some ingredients like the lemon zest, baking powder or lemon oil (yes, I'm inconsistent and you should not do what I did but use the original recipe instead unless you are a crazy kitchen rebel). The amount of ingredients listed below are what I used, for the full sized cake, see the original recipe.
Rhubarb buttermilk bundt cake:
150 g butter at room temperature
1 cup plus 2 1/2 tbsp caster sugar
zest of one lemon (somewhat increased from the original recipe, but hey, I like lemon)
2 eggs
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour (I used 1 cup all purpose and 3/4 cups brown because that's what I had on hand)
1 tsp baking powder
2/3 tsp salt
1/2 tsp lemon oil (like the original recipe, I didn't have any so I used lemon extract)
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 cups rhubarb cut into small pieces

juice from 1 lemon
1 tbsp very soft butter
1.5-2 cups icing sugar

The howto:
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C (original recipe says 175 degrees C/350 degrees F) and butter a bundt cake tin. Using an electric whisk, cream the butter, caster sugar and lemon zest until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time and keep whisking. In a separate bowl, mix together flour, baking powder and salt. Add the lemon oil to the butter and sugar cream, and then the buttermilk and flour in small, alternating, batches. Don't over mix. Finally, gently fold in the rhubarb (which according to the original recipe should first be tossed with a few tbsp flour). Transfer batter into the bundt pan and bake for about 30 minutes, then rotate your tin in the oven and bake for another approximately 20-25 minutes. Let cool for about 30 minutes. While the cake is cooling, mix the ingredients for the glaze. After cooling the cake, remove from tin and drizzle the glaze on top.

The verdict:
I'm not traditionally a big fan of bundt cakes. But this one has both rhubarb and buttermilk, so I thought there is probably not too much risk that it would turn out dry. And I was indeed right! This is the most decadently moist bundt cake I have ever had. It was absolute perfection. I hate recipes that say the cake was even better the next day, because who has time to wait. But I have to be blunt, this cake really was even better the next day when the moisture had seeped all through the cake and it had cooled completely. Not saying it was bad right after baking either, but it was just somehow more balanced the next day. So this is definitely something you can make ahead of time. 

I had one little technical difficulty with this cake. I had a really hard time removing the cake from the pan, as you can see from the pictures. But this was completely my own fault as I couldn't be bothered to butter the cake tin. I thought the non-stick coating would be enough to prevent it from sticking. Well, it wasn't. But that just gave me an excuse to drizzle the glaze on extra thickly. And everyone knows the glaze is always the best part anyways. I was actually going to add white chocolate drops into the cake as well, and I think they would have complemented the rhubarb really nicely, but at the same time, I like it that the cake wasn't too sweet and the rhubarb flavour came through really strongly. But I might try it some other time with the chocolate added in. And this cake batter would probably work really well for any sort of berry or fruit cake. I can imagine strawberries would be great, or maybe peaches or even pineapple. 

Card of the day:
As Vappu is the start of spring, I thought today's card should be something spring-y. Flowers, butterflies and pretty colours. I used Tim Holtz Distess inks Spun Sugar, Broken China and Bundled sage to stamp flowers and swirly patterns onto cream cardstock. I then embossed with a swirly embossing folder (using the rolling pin method, as I don't think I can buy my much awaited Big Shot until I have a craft room where I can actually put said thing). I cut out the scalloped ovals using scissors (I have this smart system where I have printed different shapes onto paper, and then using a permanent marker, traced the shapes onto a transparent sheet, cut that out and then used a pencil to trace the outline onto cardstock and then cut that out. Easy and convenient, right?). I stamped parts of the swirly stamp onto my scalloped ovals, embossed using clear embossing powder and then used ink blending foam to ink the edges of the scalloped ovals. I used Antique Linen distress ink to stamp the Hero Arts Flourish Background onto an oval of cream cardstock, and then Vintage Photo or Chipped Sapphire distress ink to stamp the butterfly. I used the foam to blend some distress inks around the edges of the butterfly ovals as well as the background. Finished with ribbons and bows, and matted with coloured cardstock before attaching to white cardstock. If these cards don't epitomise spring, I don't know what will.