Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Six Vegetable Soup

It's a cold, wet, windy day in London and perfect for staying in and eating hot soup and crusty bread for lunch. That,  plus all the admonishments to eat healthily in January after the excesses of the holidays, makes this a virtuous meal.
The trick is to make it thick by using lots of vegetables and tasty by adding enough seasoning to give it a bit of zing when you dip your bread in and slurp it up.
This soup is a variation of many soups that I make, but it's probably the simplest and it requires only what I already have in the fridge and  cupboard.
So, begin by assembling the vegetables you might have in the fridge. Get out the olive oil,  butter, salt and pepper and fresh thyme (if you have it), plus some chicken or vegetable stock, or a stock cube.  I sometimes have fresh stock, but more often I use a stock cube.  If you do not have fresh thyme, use dried oregano for a similar taste.
If, like many people you are going Vegan for January, omit the butter and use a vegetable stock cube.
If you require meat, top the soup with a little crispy bacon.

1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon buter (for flavour)
1 nice fat leek
2 medium onions
2 or 3 sticks of celery
2 or 3 carrots
2 medium potatoes, peeled
1 medium courgette or a few florets of broccoli
water to cover
1 stock cube
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
salt and pepper (Be generous with the pepper.)

Chop all the vegetables.
Put the olive oil and butter into a large saucepan and soften the leeks, onions and celery over low heat covered, for about five minutes.
Add the carrots and potatoes and cover and cook for another five minutes.
Add the courgettes, followed by enough water to cover, the stock cube and salt and pepper.
Throw in the sprigs of thyme, bring to a boil, turn down the heat and cook for about 30 minutes until the potatoes and carrots are tender.
Remove from the heat and take out the thyme stalks. (The leaves will have fallen off.)
Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
Using a potato masher or a stick blender, lightly crush some of the vegetables, leaving some texture in the soup.

Serve warm with crusty bread and butter.
Makes a satisfying meal for four or five people.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Starting a Quilt in my own messy way...

It's nearly a year since I last posted. I have had no desire to sew, even though I gave a few friends lessons in sewing. Now, however, I am fired up to make a new quilt.  I have had the fabric for a few years and I even did a post on them (a long time ago). I cut out the strips last spring and then couldn't decide how to put them together.
Yesterday I lay them out on a piece of wadding on the floor and played with them until I felt they were in the right order. It's a bit like putting together a puzzle. I roped in Hubby to help and his input was good.  I don't always give him credit for his colour sense, (Well, sometimes it is non-existent.) but this time he came up trumps
The rectangles are actually long strips and will form four patches each.  I plan to stitch them together from left to right and then cut them up to make the whole process quicker.
The pattern is loosely based on "Wisteria" from Quilt Me by Jane Brocket.  I love this book because all the patterns are modern and not too fiddly. (I don't do fiddly.) My original plan was to do another pattern based on a whole collection by Lotta Jansdotter. (I have some of her fabrics already sewn into strips and will make another design with them.)
The fabrics for this quilt are mostly Japanese,  made by Moda, and I love the subtle colours and simple prints.  The others have been added, thanks to a lovely woman at Creative Quilting in Hampton Court.  She gave me an inordinate amount of her time to enrich the fabrics I already had and to bulk out the quilt.
Right.  Time to get the sewing machine out. Can't wait to get started.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Make a Double-sided Blanket in an Hour

Finished dog blanket in beautiful colours. 
My friend Rita, who has a beautiful English cocker spaniel, is making dog blankets to sell. She was inspired by a blanket belonging to a friend and much loved by her dog who plays with it, sleeps on it and drags it around the house like a comfort blanket.
The blankets are two pieces of fleece sewn together and stitched around the edges to give a nice finish. Simple and effective, these would also  make great cot, crib and push-chair blankets.

Here's how she does it:

Before you cut the fabric, ensure that the edges are square. This is not always the case when meterage is hand cut.

Carefully measure the fleece (this blanket is  approximately 70cm by 55 cm but it could be larger, depending on the size of the dog).

Using a straight edge as a guide, mark and cut one piece of fleece to the correct size.  Then lay this piece on top of the other piece, right sides together and cut the second piece.

Pin and stitch around the outer edges leaving a space for turning.

Clip the corners.

Turn to right side and hand stitch the gap closed.

Smooth the fabric out and top stitch about 1.5 cm from the edge.
No pressing required. Your blanket is finished.

I plan to make some for all the new babies friends' and relatives' children are having.

Cutting the second piece of fleece by laying the first one on top of it.

Carefully trimming the edges.

Clipping the corners

Clipping the corners

Rita's Stash of Fabrics for the Next Blankets

Monday, 23 January 2017

Apple Upside Down Cake to Make Ahead and Keep (if you are lucky)

This cake is quick to make, can be served warm or cold and will keep for several days in the fridge (as long as it is covered). We had some Granny Smith apples lurking n the fridge and Hubby very kindly peeled, cored and sliced them then cooked them in a little water until they were soft. I think he had apple sauce in mind, but G S's don't cook down like Bramleys do,  so I used my pineapple upside down cake recipe to turn them into something delicious.  The caramelised base  was just the right compliment to the apples and the cake was wolfed down by everyone.  I served it warm with ice cream but it is equally delicious with cream. I think you could make this cake without cooking the apples first, just put them in a little water with lemon juice to  keep them from going brown while you assemble the cake.

The finished cake.  Note the caramel glaze.

4 or 5 firm apple, peeled, cored and sliced

For the glaze:
1 Tablespoon butter
4 Tablespoons golden syrup
1 Tablespoon soft brown sugar

For the cake batter:
4 oz of butter or soft margarine
4 oz sugar
2 eggs
6 oz self raising flour, sifted
3 Tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 180 C or 350 F.
Melt butter, golden syrup and brown sugar in the bottom of your cake pan. (I used a 9 " tart tin.)
Revoke from oven and grease the sides of the tin.
Carefully place apples slices on top of the warm glaze.
Cream butter and sugar.
Add eggs and beat well.
Fold in the flour by hand and add enough of the milk to make the batter a dropping consistency.
Drop the cake batter by large spoonfuls onto the apples, taking care not to move them about.
Place the cake tin in the oven and bake for about 25 minutes.
Check that the cake is cooked by inserting a skewer into the centre of the batter. If it comes out clean, the cake is done.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pan for 5 minutes.
Run a knife around the edge of the pan.
Place a plate on the top of the cake and flip it over.

Serve warm or cold with cream or ice cream.

There weren't many slices left by the end of the evening.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Dirty Eating - Cream of Mushroom Soup

Home-made cream of mushroom soup
It's January.  It's  cold out there and I have heard and read enough about dieting, exercising and 'clean eating'. What IS clean eating?  We eat healthily with a few exceptions, but we are not fanatical about it.  Nor do we have any food allergies (Of course I sympathise with those who do), but there is so much hype about existing on a kale leaf or a sludgy green smoothie after the Christmas indulgences that I feel no guilt about winter pick-me-ups like a dollop of cream, or a hearty steamed pudding.  Yes, my tummy is bigger after the holidays, but I just intend to eat a LITTLE less.
This recipe will brighten a grey day and make you feel good. You will see in the corner that I had mine with Ryvita, but that is just because we had no bread in the house. I sneakily topped it with a large helping of cream cheese to compensate.
This soup is quick and easy to make and will serve four people.  I have used it as a starter in days past when I made starters for three course dinner parties.  These days Hubby does a roast or I do a casserole and we skip the starters.

Mushroom Soup
1 knob of butter
1 Tablespoon of oil
1 onion or leek, chopped
1 pound (450 grams) mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (Reserve a few for garnish.)
3 Tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano or two sticks of fresh thyme
a dash of cayenne pepper
bay leaf
chicken stock or water and a stock cube to cover
single cream to drizzle over the top (or a dollop of cream fraiche)
chopped parsley (optional)

Melt the butter with the oil in a large saucepan.
Add leeks or onions and soften (about 5 minutes).
Add flour and stir to make a roux.
Add seasoning and cook for one minute.
Put mushrooms in pan and cover with stock or stock cube dissolved in water.
Bring to boil then reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes.
Remove bay leaf.
Using a hand blender, blend the soup a little to thicken it, leaving some texture.
Serve with sliced mushrooms to garnish and a little cream and parsley.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

The Beauty of Christmas Memories - My Mother's Fruitcake

Christmas is a time when I most remember the past.. I do this by telling the story of every ornament on the tree; baking cookies from family recipes; and particularly, by making my mother's fruit cake.
I'm sure I used to get under her feet when she was baking, but I always loved being in the kitchen with her.  She taught me to love and respect food and to this day, I do.
I have kept note of every fruitcake I have made - how successful it was- whether it baked perfectly or was underdone or over baked and this is a way of making sure that I have a good result.

The story of my mother's recipe is a charming one.  As a young bride, recently moved from Canada to Detroit where my father found work, she lived in rooms in the home of a Scottish lady whose name I can no longer remember.  This lady took my mother, only 19 years old and away from her family, under her wing.  She taught her the proper way to make tea (always hot the pot) and gave her two fruitcake recipes - one light and one dark. We always preferred the  light one and that is the one that was handed down to me.
When I moved to England, I wrote and asked for the recipes and eventually, got a rather grumpy reply that this was the fourth time she had written it out for me. I found every one. Bless her.  No computers then.

I used to see making fruit cake as a daunting task, and although we all love it, the whole recipe made five fruitcakes - way too much for us and our friends. Recently, I started making half the recipe.  It makes three small loaf tins and all have been eaten by the end of the festive season, leaving us anticipating having the again the next year.
It takes quite a lot of ingredients, but this year, I found all the fruit and nuts in the freezer. They kept very well and Hubby says they are the best fruitcakes ever.

My Mother's hand-written recipe.

The fruit and nuts in a large bowl.

The loaf tins lined with parchment paper. I only used three.

Adding the batter to the fruit and nuts.

Sampling the first one.

The Recipe

3/4 cup (6 oz) of soft butter
3 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups sifted flour
1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 pound sultanas
I tub glace cherries
1/8 lb orange peel (Do not over do this. I did one year and it was unpleasant.)
1 small bag candied pineapple (about 4 oz)
1 - 1 1/2 pounds of mixed nuts. (I use almonds, Brazil nuts (broken up),
walnuts, pecans and hazelnuts (if I have them)
1 Tablespoon vanilla essence
1/4 teaspoon almond essence
1/4 cup sweet sherry, sweet wine or apple juice.

Mix the fruit and nuts in a large bowl.
In your mixer cream butter, add sugar and beat until pale yellow.
Add eggs one at a time and mix well.
Sift flour, salt and baking powder and stir into the mixture.

Dollop all the batter onto the fruit and nuts.
With clean, wet hands, mix the batter and the fruit and nuts together.

Put the mixture into loaf tins or other small tins, lined with greaseproof or parchment paper.

Bake in a pre-heated oven at 150 C or 300 F for 30 minutes.
Turn pans around to bake evenly.  Cover with foil to prevent burning or uneven browning.
Bake another 30 minutes.
Test with a skewer.  If the skewer does not have any raw batter on it, remove from oven and cool.
(We couldn't wait that long and ate some warm.)

When the cakes are thoroughly cool, wrap in muslin (or paper towels) soaked in sherry, etc.
Put in plastic bags or a tin and allow the liquid to infuse the cakes and soften them.
You may want to top up the sherry, etc, but they should not be soaking wet. You want firm cake that can be easily sliced.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Inspirations from France

My husband calls this The Button Shop.  I call it heaven.

I have not blogged much this year.  Nor have I done much sewing.  A summer in France has been my inspiration to get sewing again - and blogging.  Here are some things I saw that inspired me.

Purchases from La Drogerie:  Sticky circles for my friend to use on bunting, a scarf to add tassels to for another friend, a small piece of very bright fabric and a notebook for me.

Interior of La Drogerie seen from the window.

Buttons and Trims.

An amazing boutique (they still exist in France) of original things.

Another very chic boutique filled with vintage things. Love the chair.

African bags.  These would be fun to make in the tradition of the African-inspired dresses seen on The Great British Sewing Bee.