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.