Monday, November 12, 2012

A winter bunny?

Having spent a bit more time in my studio recently it needed a bit of a sort out and tidy up - it always amazes me how I seem to be unable to put things back where they belong when I'm working on something.  It's never going to be immaculate but it is now a bit more organised I have table space.  I also have a very large pile of UFO's - unfinished objects.  Quilts at varying stages and a lot of half finished cross stitch and embroidery projects.  Whoops!  I know realistically I won't be finishing them all before I start something new but I have promised myself that I will make a determined effort to get some of them finished.

The first one up and is probably one of the newer members of the UFO pile is an appliqued quilt that I want to hang in the hallway.

OK, so I admit, I started this project last winter and it was supposed to be finished by the spring.  Still, better late than never!  It's an adaption of a design from Kim Diehl's book "Simple Seasons - Stunning Quilts and Savory Recipes".  It's a beautiful book, a great collection of quilts to make and some fabulous recipes, what could be crunchier?!

The "spring" quilt I started last winter was my first attempt at using yo-yo's.  I loved them (although not enough to add the 40 or so smaller ones that Kim's quilt has between the larger ones!).  I couldn't get them to close quite enough, maybe my fabric was a bit thick, but they were quite quick to create and give the quilt more depth.  The pattern is designed as a table runner, to be viewed on all sides, but I wanted mine to hang on the wall so I tweaked the design a bit more.

All I need to do now is add the hanging loops and put it on the wall in the hallway.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Under the Apple Tree

It's been a while since I last posted something.  Young Rolf has kept us very busy with his puppy shenanigans and we've also been on a bit of a road trip.  We headed south to the Minervois, where we used to live.  It's a beautiful area, full of vineyards which are all changing colour, from green to wonderful reds and golds.  We had a lovely time catching up with lots of old friends.  We drove back via more friends who had kindly invited us to stay in their own corner of Paradise in the Cevennes National Park.  They have a beautiful house and are surrounded by chestnut trees, wild herbs and mushrooms!

The leaves across the whole of France are telling us that Autumn is here.  Since we've been back the cooler days are making me want to get back into my studio for some "makes".

After my usual procrastinating of tidying (or shuffling and re-arranging) I came up with this cute little picture made with appliqued felt shapes.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Meet Rolf

We'd been thinking for a while of getting a second dog.  We've had Daisy, our brown hound that smells like biscuits, for just over 5 years and even though she's 6 she still acts like a puppy most of the time.  A friend for her would stop her getting too bored, especially when we're busy working.

Joe, never one to do things by half, favoured a Great Dane, while I, who likes things cute, liked the idea of a Dachshund.  Some how, after a couple of weeks of debate and looking at all the local refuges who are sadly packed out with dogs, we ended up making a 1700km round trip in a day to collect Rolf, a Labrador/Border Collie cross - how did that happen??

He's as cute as anything, as naughty as anything and will eat anything.

Daisy loves him, and has the puppy teeth bite marks to prove it.

Boot tolerates him but can't believe we've brought another dog into the house.  Boot can also control him with a Paddington Bear style hard stare - a look we both need to learn.

He's been with us three weeks now, has tried to destroy most things (Joe still hasn't learnt to leave his slippers out of puppy reach) and we still have a mop on standby, although this isn't used too much.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Ta-dah! I give you... the door!

So finally, after much sanding, painting, rendering, painting of windows plus the distraction of a 1800km round trip to rescue a puppy and eight days of guests we have a new look to the front of the house.

All we need now is some new door furniture, some draft excluders and to finish the hallway on the inside.  But for now, we think the outside is looking much better.



Saturday, September 22, 2012

Random Recipes #20 combined with a Tea Time Treat

This month Dom at Belleau Kitchen has teamed up with Karen from Lavender and Lovage and Kate from What Kate Baked to create the fantastic idea of a "tea time random recipe".  As Dom says, tea can mean different things to different people.  To me, a girl from Devon, tea is most definitely something you have mid afternoon - cup of tea and maybe some cake or biscuits or something grander, high tea, lots of tiny cakes and sandwiches.  But certainly not your evening meal. that, to me, is dinner.  The usual rules apply, randomly select a book from your collection, this time only select from books which are tea time based, then from that book randomly select a recipe.

So I stacked up all my cake/biscuit/teatime recipe books (there were over 30 of the lovely things) and used a random number generator which gave me... Fat Witch Brownies by Patricia Helding (with Bryna Levin).   I know Brownies aren't necessarily what you would associate as a British tea time treat, I think they're far to good to miss out on, plus this is one of my favourite "treat" books.  I've cooked quite a few of the recipes already, the basic Fat Witch Brownie is fantastic, as are the PB & J Bars, oh, and the White Chocolate Bars and Banana Bread Brownies...  To pick a recipe I hadn't tried before was going to take a bit of luck but the first page number I picked gave me Hazelnut Cream Cheese Brownies which was new to me.

Hazelnut Cream Cheese Brownies

3oz cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2tsp fresh lemon juice
1/2tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup finely chopped hazelnuts

Brownie Batter
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
5tbsp unsalted butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup unbleached flour
1/4tsp salt
3/4 cup coarsely chopped hazelnuts

Grease a 9x9inch pan with butter and dust with flour.
Preheat the oven to 350F

To make the filling, beat the cream cheese and sugar together in a medium bowl until smooth.  Add the egg, lemon juice and vanilla.  Beat until well combined.  Stir in the hazelnuts by hand.  Cover the bowl and place in the fridge.

To make the brownie batter, melt the chocolate and butter in a small saucepan over a low heat.  Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Beat the sugar, eggs and vanilla until smooth.  Add the cooled chocolate mixture and continue beating until well combined.

Sift the flour and salt directly into the brownie batter, mixing gently until well combined and no trace of the dry ingredients remains.  Stir in the hazelnuts.

Spread half the brownie batter evenly into the baking tin.  Spread the chilled filling over the batter, then refrigerate for 10 minutes.  Gently spread the rest of the brownie batter on top of the filling.

Dip a butter knife into the pan and lift straight up, creating a marbled effect in the batter.  Repeat to create a pattern. (I didn't really need to do this as spreading of the batter gave mixed it slightly with the filling to give it a marbled look)

Bake for 33 minutes.  Let it cool for 1hr on a rack.  Cut just before serving.  Uneaten brownies (as if!) should be covered and stored in the refrigerator.

Another yummy recipe from this book!

Friday, September 7, 2012

A winter tipple

Behind our garage we have a couple of elder trees, last year I made some fabulous elder-flower syrup but this year I was doubled over with a pesky dose of sciatica when they were flowering so I didn't get a chance to make any.  To make up for it I'm trying some elderberry liqueur this year.  I haven't tried this before but I've read that elderberries are full of antioxidants and very high in vitamin C.  So much so that it can be used medicinally to deter colds and flu so, if nothing else, that's a good enough excuse to make some.

I read several recipes online and elsewhere which all differed but appeared to follow a similar theme so when it came to actually putting it all in a bottle I made it up as I went along... We shall have to wait to see what it turns out like!

The berries are sweeter after the first frost so I popped them into the freezer for a week before using them.  I then took an old litre bottle, roughly quarter filled with the berries, added 750ml of vodka (cheap stuff from the supermarket) and then topped up with sugar.  The bottle is now tucked away in a dark cupboard where, when I remember, I take it out for a shake around.  In a couple of months I'm planning on straining the liquid, checking the taste and adding more sugar if necessary before bottling it up again ready for drinking.  I'm also going to try a similar thing with blackberries but will use gin for that rather than vodka as I've read it gives a better taste.

Unlike the plum wine we have bubbling away in the hall, it looks really pretty!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

More on the door

Well there's not been much making or baking here for the last week or so, only some filling, sanding, filling, sanding, filling sanding... and sadly that's not edible filling either.  We've put oursleves on a bit of a diet following several months of not worring about such things so my trusty Rosemary Conley's Low Fat Cookbook has made it's way back into the kitchen.  The recipes are surpisingly good and tasty but there are very few cake recipes in there!  Plus, these chillier mornings and evenings are starting to make me think of autumnal food, caseroles, roasts, sausages, cheese, crumbles...

Still, to take our mind off such things, we have Project Front Door.  Work on the front door has been moving very slowly, everytime we think we're nearly there it takes a small step backwards but, fingers crossed, it's going to be painted today.  The beautiful hinges already have two coats of a matt black metal paint and the oak door step is a couple of coats of varnish away from being finished.  Weather permitting, the knocking a hole in the wall could soon be upon us.  Maybe we can have a cake to celebrate!

Here's some photos of the progress so far:

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Forget salt and vinegar and cheese and onion...

Joe and I are both rather partial to a crisp, we know they’re not great for us but sometimes you just have to have that salty crunch that only crisps will give you.  We both got very excited when our local supermarket started to stock Kettle Chips.  

Anyway, while thumbing through the weekly “pub” (the reams of supermarket offers and shopping information that arrive each week) I was slightly disturbed/intrigued to see two new flavours of crisps.  I’ll happily admit I’ve sniggered at crisp flavours here in France and then been very pleasantly surprised – both the Cheeseburger and Pepperoni Pizza flavour crisps that I bought out of pure curiosity were surprisingly good and really did taste of Cheeseburger and Pepperoni Pizza which was quite strange to say the least.  

The two new flavours I spied were Marine which sounded intriguing, the second was the one I’m really not so sure about – Salted Caramel.  Now the producers of both these flavours is a Breton company and the Bretons do love their salted caramel, but crisps?  I’m not sure.

Last week I spied some of the Marine flavoured ones so bought a pack out of curiosity.  I have to say I quite liked them.  They certainly do taste of the sea, surprisingly like eating a fresh oyster, although obviously a very different texture.  As for the salted caramel, we’ll have to wait and see.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Random Recipes #19 - A French Re-discovery.

It was with some trepidation that I set out to pick my first "proper" Random Recipe Challenge from Dom at Belleau Kitchen.  I was a RRV (Random Recipe Virgin) last month.  The challenge then was to take photographs of my cookery books which wasn't too tricky but I couldn't understand quite why Dom felt that the numerous RRV's who had taken part might find the regular version of the challenge so hard.  Then I gave it some real thought.  I have to admit I've got a few books that, for one reason or another, I've not cooked anything from.  There are also some recipes that I'm frankly intimidated by and I never really got over the disaster I once had with a fresh squid.  I was suddenly aware of how difficult this might be!

Still, not wanting to shy away from a challenge I updated my cookery book database (a little OCD I know but it evolved from logging all our books into Excel when we moved house the last couple of times and is very useful - even if it does clearly state how many cookbooks I own, 230 but don't tell anyone).  I then asked Joe to add a random function especially for this challenge (VLookup and Randbetween apparently (???!)).  Bracing myself I pressed F9 to update and the function picked Floyd on France by the flamboyant Keith Floyd.

I'm a bit young to have fully appreciated Keith Floyd when he was at his prime (that's the story I'm sticking to anyway).  I was probably still at school when he was gracing our TVs with his cooking and wasn't that interested in watching cookery programmes at the time.  I bought the book second hand several years ago, not long after we bought our first house in France.  It came highly recommend with lots of great reviews but, I have to admit, I've never cooked anything from it.  Now I really see the point of your Random Recipe Challenge, Dom!

Slightly concerned about the amount of butter I was going to have to use and how much wine I was going to have to consume while cooking I selected the recipe using a combination of the very technical method of "eyes shut" with "open and point".  My random recipe this month will be Potatoes with Prunes and Raisins or Pommes de terre aux pruneaux et raisins, a dish from the Savoy region of France.  It comes under the vegetable dish section and like many French vegetable dishes they've manage to sneak some bacon in.  Mr Floyd suggests that it can be eaten as a pudding (it does have a very large prune and raisin ratio) but frankly with the bacon and potato I don't get it as a pudding.  His other suggestion is as a "sweet and sour vegetable dish to go with a little roast leg of pork..." which sounds a much better idea to me.  The recipe is as follows:

Potatoes with Prunes and Raisins or Pommes de terre aux pruneaux et raisins

Serves 4 (I made half the quantity, which, as side dish, would be plenty for 4 as it's pretty rich).

3 large potatoes, peeled and grated, well rinsed, drained and dried
500g prunes, stoned, soaked and drained
250g raisins, soaked and drained
Dash of eau de vie (I used bourbon)
2 tablespoons of flour
1 tablespoon of sugar
500g diced bacon

Ready to go into the oven
Mix all the ingredients together, except the bacon which you fry and then add to the mixture.  Put the whole lot in a baking dish, press it in really hard, pop into a bain-marie and cook in the oven, at gas mark 5, 190C for a couple of hours, until it becomes a kind of cake.  This is the traditional way of preparing it.  (Mr Floyd does suggest that you can fry it for 15 mins each side like you would with rosti).   I opted for the traditional method, mostly because it involved less effort on my part!

The finished dish
Some of the prunes did go rather too brown (although not as black as they look in the photo!) even though I covered it with foil half way through cooking time and, despite pressing the mix down hard into the dish, it didn't really become a "cake". Maybe older or a different variety of potatoes would have helped.

I have to say I was a bit dubious about this dish to start with, without this challenge I can't imagine it would have caught my eye (it certainly hadn't for the last 8 years of owning the book!).  Its ingredients were all good but not something I would necessarily put together, especially in these quantities, however the end result is tastes pretty good.  It's definitly very sweet - maybe lose the extra sugar and some of the prunes, their taste is very strong, but as an accompaniment to some grilled meat it's lovely.  In my opinion it's more of a wintery dish with some game as Keith Floyd suggests.  That said, I would be tempted to cook it to go with a barbeque in the summer.

Thank you for the challenge Dom, it was good to try out something I wouldn't normally have choosen to cook.  It was also good to rediscover this rather forgotten book - not long after buying Floyd on France we moved to France and, don't tell anyone, but after a while, I found myself not really liking French food (sacre bleu!).  I think there is some truth in the reports of French cooking being in decline, certainly in some areas of France.  We used to live in the Languedoc and virtually gave up eating out as the quality of most restaurants was so bad.  However flicking through the pages of this book I've been reminded that there is some fantastic cooking out there and some great recipes to try. I'm off to dig out my other French recipe books for a browse and maybe a cook.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A shopping trip

During our trip to the UK last weekend we managed to sneek in a visit to Fagins Antiques in Devon.  Fagins is a fabulous place full of antiques, reclamation, collectables and more.  Whether you’re looking for something in particular or just browsing it’s a fascinating place and well worth a visit even if you are only slightly nearby.  

We went along with the object of looking for a front door and managed to come away with… a front door!  That has to be a first.  A beautiful gothic arched door with fabulous hinges.  It might have something of the condemned building look about it at the moment but it will be beautiful, I promise, after some hard work.
The "new" door in situ
Earlier this year we spent a while working on our hallway, after lots of painting we took out some of the first floor and created a galleried landing.  The only thing the hallway needs now is a front door.  At the moment it can only be accessed from the room either side.  There’s a very obvious place on the outside that the door should be, and there are some definite looking stones that show through the plaster that make it look as though there was a front door there before.

So, the restoration begins.  Joe has managed to get all the door furniture off, no easy task.  Next we need to remove all the layers of paint using our new best friend, the hot air gun.  Better get back to it!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Roscoff and some very crunchy lights

We spent last Friday night in Roscoff, Brittany as we had an early ferry to catch on Saturday morning.  It’s a lovely old fishing town with some beautiful houses.  We arrived mid-afternoon and had a wander around.

Later that evening we had a fantastic meal at La Bonne Etoile, a beautifully decorated restaurant near the harbour.  The food was all homemade and localy sourced.  It was a very hard decision but in the end I decided on a Breton onion tart with chitterlings to start.  The pastry base was beautifully crumbly, the onions soft and very sweet and the chitterlings gave a contrasting salty taste.  My main course translated as sauerkraut of the sea which really didn’t do it justice.  It was white fish, salmon, prawns and mussels, all perfectly cooked, served on a bed of lightly cooked lemony shredded cabbage with a cream sauce and some steamed new potatoes.  Very tasty!  For pudding I had baked custard served in a Parfait jar and a Breton biscuit.  Unfortunately I ate everything before I remembered to take any photos – it was all so delicious!

I did take some photographs of the inside of the restaurant though.  It was so very crunchy and snickety.  As you can see I loved the lights, all made up of vintage kitchenware.  I took plenty of photos for future reference and dropped very un-subtle hints to Joe about how “we” could make some like them!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

What's (been) cookin'?

It's been over a week since the wiring in of my lovely new cooker and I’ve been spending a lot of time in the kitchen baking, while watching the Olympics of course.  It’s been great fun.

So far the oven has produced pizza, roast pork with all the trimmings (both of these got devoured before I could get to them with the camera), there’s also been cakes, biscuits, bread, and pasties.

We’re now feeling that some Olympic training might be in order to burn off some of the calories!


Monday, July 30, 2012

A wet walk along the beach

On Sunday we decided a trip to the beach was in order.  We're lucky that one of our nearest beaches allows dogs all year around as it's so big, there's room for everyone and everything.  Our dog Daisy loves the beach, Joe's not so keen on all the sand in the car afterwards, or the hairs, or the dog slobber on the window...

We set off with our picnic packed which mostly consisted of cakes from my Saturday "new oven bake-athon" (more on that later this week).  We left home in cool sunshine but by the time we got to the beach the rain had set in.  After the last week or so of beautiful weather it was actually quite nice to have a small break from it but a warning and some waterproof clothing might have helped!

A very murky Mont St Michel

One very happy, speedy, sandy dog (who was incredibly tired when she got home and snoring very loudly last night).

Thursday, July 26, 2012

À bientôt Remoska

Today is an exciting day.  Not only is it the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympics (I feel very sad not to be there to enjoy the party) but also, for me, it's New Oven Day.  The electrican will be arriving shortly and later today the new oven should be up and running and I can't wait. It was more than a year ago that I gave up on the gas guzzling, bottom burning oven that we inherited with the house and turned it into a cupboard.  What have I cooked with in the meantime?  Well...

Last summer, after much deliberation, we bought a Remoska from Lakeland   The Remoska is a mini oven that has been used in the Czech Republic since before the Second World War.  In 1990 two Czechs bought the manufacturing equipment and started making them again.  It's so easy to use - it just has an on-off switch, that's it!  It's all Teflon coated so easy to clean and runs on a fraction of the electricity of a standard oven.

It was one of the best purchases we have made.  OK, it's not overly attractive, especially as mine doesn't look as clean and shiny as this anymore as it's been so well used, but it is such a great thing.  Over the last year it has helped me rustle up full roasts, lasagnes, cakes, scones, biscuits, toasted sandwiches and so much more.  The claims on the Lakeland website are completely true (although I've never managed crisp roast potatoes in it).  Whilst I'm really looking forward to the versatility and size of a normal oven it won't be goodbye "Moska", you'll still be brought out for smaller things when I don't need a full oven.

Tonight though, I'm dusting off the pizza stone, cranking up the new oven and will be eating celebratory pizza for the Opening Ceremony.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What to bake first...

The cooker countdown is well underway, it's less than a week before my lovely new cooker is fully up and running so now I have the big question of what to cook first.  It's a lovely decision to have.   Thinking ahead as ever, when we brought the oven over from the UK I also bought some new baking books!  I was able to get three books I'd had my eye on for ages from The Book People;

The Boy Who Bakes by Edd Kimber
Home Bake by Eric Lanlard
Tea with Bea by Bea's of Bloomsbury.

I also snuck in Miss Hope's Chocolate Box by Hope and Greenwood.

I've had plenty of time to study all three (sometimes while eating chocolates from Miss Hope's book) but now decision time is upon me - what to bake first?  All I can say at the moment is that over the next few weeks we're going to be eating rather a lot of cake, biscuits and tarts as I just can't decide.  So many delicious things to choose from.  Infact, as the weather is so good, I may just have to have another afternoon in the sun with the books to make a decision...

Meanwhile...I'm looking for suggestions as to what to cook to christen the new oven.  Feel free to send them in!

Monday, July 23, 2012

A vide grenier bargain.

Look what Mr Joe spotted at a recent vide grenier (a sort of car boot sale)!

It was missing it's base but we couldn't resist.  We've been looking for a raised pie tin for a while but didn't want to spend the £90+ that they seem to cost.  This bottomless antique one was a bargain at only €10 but Mr Joe still managed to haggle and got it for €8!  Even more of a bargain was the collection of other pie dishes which were only €1.  Some of them are very well used - imagine all the tarts that have been baked in them before...

They were pretty rusty when we got them but we thought that one of them could donate itself as a base for the raised pie tin.  I've given them a quick scrub with vinegar, lemon juice and bicarbonate of soda to remove the rust. Some of them need another go with the mix but I think at least three of them will be useable such as the brioche and circular pan.  In the meantime, our lovely neighbour has since very kindly made me a base for the pie tin so 0I don't have to sacrifice any of these.