Saturday, 30 November 2013

Chili con Carne - A Winter Warmer

Lunchtime chili - served with corn chips, a dollop of sour cream
and some grated cheese.

Thanksgiving is over.  We are stuffed with turkey and pumpkin pie and ready for some simple food before we start again with rich Christmas fare.
Also, it's getting cold outside.  We have dug out our winter coats, hats, scarves and gloves from the back of the wardrobe, put on our wooly socks and boots and we are ready to brave the winter weather. Coming home to a hot meal of chill con carne is just the thing to cheer us up at the end of the day.
This meal can be made with store cupboard ingredients.  All you need to buy (or get out of the freezer) is the meat. And not only that, chili is even better the next day, so you can make it in advance and serve it or freeze  it for later - if you can wait that long.

1 1/2 pounds low fat minced (ground) beef
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 medium sized onions, sliced or diced
1 or 2 garlic cloves, chopped
8 oz tin chopped tomatoes
1 tin water and one stock cube
3 Tablespoons of tomato puree
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons - 1 Tablespoon chili powder (depending on how hot you like it)
2 teaspoons salt
1 tin mixed beans or kidney beans in a mild chill sauce

Heat the olive oil in a deep pan.
Put in the beef and brown it.
Add the onions and garlic and cook 5 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, water, stock cube and seasoning.
Stir, then cover and bring to a boil.
Immediately, turn the heat down and allow to simmer for one hour. Stir occasionally so it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan.
Add the tomato puree and the beans and simmer for 30 minutes before serving.

Serve in bowls as above or with pasta and a green salad as shown below:

Supper - chill with pasta and a green salad.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

The Thanksgiving Table

Orange flowers and candles, rust coloured napkins and 

little place cards with leaves on them.  Perfectly autumnal.

Closeup of the flowers.

We celebrated Thanksgiving on Sunday, 24 November because it is not a national holiday in Britain.

We have many British friends who join us every year to celebrate a holiday that is essentially American. It is a day filled with laughter and fun, and of course, over indulging in food and wine.

I use my mother's linen table cloths, starched and ironed, and some of her china.  As we use each thing, I remember past holidays and family and friends who are no longer with us. The joy of Thanksgiving is that it is  also a time to celebrate the here and now.  My children now bring their young adult friends who add so much to the occasion.

I always have three small centrepieces ono the table - there is no room for anything large.  This year I used orange bowls, candles and flowers and found rust coloured napkins on line.

The table looked lovely, thanks to my daughter, the local florist and friends and I want to share it with you.

Happy Thanksgiving on Thursday to all who will be celebrating it.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Three Delicious Stuffings for Thanksgiving

Apricot, Almond and Orange Stuffing

We celebrated Thanksgiving yesterday.  Because we live in London and it is not a national holiday, we have always celebrated it on the Sunday before. Most of our guests are English and there are only two of us who are genuine Americans plus our 'half and hawlf' offspring.  Hubby, who is English to the core, roasts the turkey, cooks the vegetables and makes the gravy with practised and relaxed ease.  The food arrives at the table hot and delicious and on time.  I do all the shopping, the side dishes and the pumpkin pies. This year, however, I farmed out the stuffings. What a bonus! No mad cooking in the morning, just time to decorate the table and get myself ready.  Bliss.

Apricot, Almond and Orange Stuffing was made by our friend, Lyn.  It comes from 'Make Thursdays Special', and it is special.  Delicious! I had some for breakfast this morning.


40g butter 
1 large brown onion, finely chopped 

150g ham, roughly chopped 

6 cups fresh white breadcrumbs
1 orange, finely grated rind and 1/3 cup juice 

200g large dried apricots, roughly chopped 

1/2 cup natural almonds, roughly chopped 

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 

2 eggs, beaten 

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Melt butter in a large non stick frying pan over medium heat. Add onion and ham. Cook for 3 minutes or until onion is soft. Remove from heat. Cool.

Combine onion mixture, breadcrumbs, orange rind, orange juice, dried apricots, almonds, cinnamon, eggs, salt and pepper in a large bowl.

Use as stuffing for turkey or bake separately in a loaf pan lined with baking paper at 175ºC for 35 minutes.

Sausage, Sage, Onion and Apple Stuffing

Our friend, Jo, made the second stuffing, Sausage, Sage, Onion and Apple Stuffing.  This comes from BBC Good Food.


2 onions, sliced
25g butter
1 small Bramley apple, peeled, cored and diced
2 x 400g packs meaty Cumberland sausages, removed from their skins
handful sage, leaves chopped, plus extra for topping
140g granary breadcrumbs


Fry the onion in the butter for 5 mins, then add the apple and cook briefly.
 Cool, then mix with remaining ingredients and seasoning.

Pack the whole mixture into a 1kg loaf tin and top with extra sage leaves. 
Bake with turkey for 30-40 mins. Drain off any fat and serve sliced.

Our daughter, who is a very good cook, made the third stuffing, Apple and Herb Stuffing.  Unfortunately, I slipped up and did not get a photo. so I have used one from the site. The smell wafting up from the kitchen was seductive.  I scraped the bottom of the pan this morning and ate that for breakfast too.  The recipe comes from one of my new, favourite blogs, You will have to go there to look at the recipe and photos.  You will be hooked. 

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Heidi's Cookies - A Quick and Easy Bake for the Weekend

Heidi's cookies.  Full of chocolate and walnuts - Yum.

I don't know exactly where this recipe came from.  It was in one of the London evening papers many years ago.  A friend suggested it for a school fete and I still have it written on a crumpled and stained piece of paper.  It takes minutes to make and bake;  it is cookie-like in texture (think Tollhouse cookies) and it is made in squares. (No time is wasted dropping batter onto a cookie sheet.) Also, it does not require hauling the big  Kenwood up onto the worktop. That is a big plus with me. So, whenever I have a chocolate and nut craving, out comes this recipe.

How to make Heidi's cookies:

4 Tablespoons of vegetable oil (something that does not have a strong flavour of its own.)
3 oz of butter (softened)
3 oz of white sugar
3 oz of brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon good Vanilla essence
7 oz Self Raising Flour
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 oz chopped walnuts ( I bash mine in a plastic bag with a meat mallet.)
6 oz dark chocolate in chunks or chips (If I don't have chocolate chips, I bash up some dark chocolate bars.)


Soften the butter in a small saucepan. - Keep an eye on it so it does not burn.
Add the oil to the butter.

In a bowl, mix the oil and butter with the two sugars and beat with a spoon or a whisk.
Add the egg and vanilla and beat again,.

Sift the flour, bicarb and salt and fold this into the mixture.

Pat this mixture into a greased 9" x 13" tin.

Sprinkle the nuts and chocolate over the mixture and gently press it in.  This ensures an even distribution.

Bake at 190 C, 375 F for 15 - 18 minutes.  DO NOT OVER BAKE or the squares will be very hard.

Cool, then cut into squares and serve.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Have a Butcher's...How to Make a Pretty, Coordinated Apron

See how well the fabrics work together.

Have a butcher's is Cockney rhyming slang for look - 'Have a butcher's hook'. Usually the last (rhyming) word is left off.
Cockney rhyming slang began in the mid 19th century, in the East End of London and was thought to be used by market traders to talk among themselves in front of customers and also by criminals to confuse the police. It is not much used now, but has a quaint reminiscence of Victorian London. Here, I am using it as a pun for two butchers' aprons.
These two aprons were inspired by Gudrun Sjoden, a Swedish designer, whose shop opened in Seven Dials  last year. Her sense of colour and playfulness in fabrics is wonderful, particularly in a climate where there is a predominance of grey. As usual, drawn to the colours and fabrics, I couldn't resist a metre of each of these coordinating fabrics.  I thought it would be fun to combine them in two aprons, using one for the base of each apron and the other for the pockets and trims. I could have made fancier, frillier aprons, but I really like the shape of a butcher's apron.  It is good and large for protection from spatters and spills, adjustable for many shapes and sizes and unisex.
These aprons could be made in a couple of hours, as the cutting and sewing is relatively simple.  Because I had a miserable cold and I was trying to photograph each step, they took me a week, doing a little each day,

What you need:

To make one apron you need:
1 metre of furnishing fabric. (150 cm wide).
1/2 metre of contrasting fabric.
a small piece of iron on interfacing.
a package of bias binding in a coordinating colour.
2 D rings.
Matching thread.

Main part of apron:
If you don't have a pattern, make one by laying an existing apron on paper and tracing around it.
Measure the pockets and make a pattern using the measurements. (My existing apron had a rounded pocket, but I squared it off for easier stitching. Add seam allowances all around (5/8" or 1.5 cm) and an extra 2" (5 cm) at the bib and skirt of the apron for hems.

Tracing my favourite apron.

I used two large sheets (A2) of paper taped together.

A view of the whole pattern which will be cut on the fold.

Apron pocket pattern with measurements written on it.

Lay out your fabric. Pin your pattern on making sure it is on the straight grain of the fabric, then cut out carefully.
Cut out a piece of iron on interfacing (2" x the width of the top of the bib) and iron it on to the inside of the bib of your apron.  (It is essential to be re-enforce the bib because of the pull of the strap that you will attach later.)

View of wrong side with interfacing.

To hem the curves of the apron, use bias binding.  With right sides together, stitch bias binding along the curves of the apron.  Press under and stitch along the edge of the binding.

Facing the curves with home-made bias binding. 

Hem the bib of the apron by turning under 1/4" (.5cm) at the top of the bib.  Press.
Turn under the sides of the bib in line with the bound edges of the curves and press.
Now turn down the bib hem (the rest of the 2", 5 cm), press and machine stitch along the edge on the wrong side.

Bibs ready to stitch. Side edges are folded and tucked in. (Not shown.)

Hem the sides of the apron by pressing under 1/4"(.5 cm) and then another 1/2 " (1 cm) and stitching.

Hemming the sides.

Now hem the skirt of the apron by turning under 1/4" and then 1 3/4" and stitching.

Fold the apron in half length wise and press to mark the centre. This will help with the pocket placement.


Hem the top edge of the pocket b turning under twice (about 1/2" each time).
Press and stitch.
Zig zap the other edges to neaten, then turn under 1/2" and press.

Pockets finished on the inside and ready to stitch on.

Measure down 12" (30 cm) from the top of the bib, centre the pocket and ensure that both sides are exactly the same distance from the top. Keep measuring while you pin as it can easily go wonky.

Measuring for pocket placement. You can see where the pressed centre makes it easier.

Stitch into place with two rows of stitching.


Cut three lengths of fabric 30" (76cm) long and 4"(10 cm) wide.
Fold in one short edge on each length approx. 1/2" (1 cm) and press.
Press each long edge in 1/2" (1 cm).
Then fold in half  lengthwise, press again and stitch along  edges.
Zig zag raw end of each strap.
Take one strap to use for the neck  and cut off  4 1/2 " (11 cm).
Fold in half, placing D rings inside fold.
Stitch as close to the D rings as you can.
Zig zag the raw edges together.


Neck strap and D rings stitched on with 'boxed X'.

Ties pinned in place and ready to be stitched with ''boxed X'.

Place and pin the neckline strap and the D ring strap onto the inside of the bib.
Stitch firmly into place by stitching a square with an X in the middle.
Place and pin the waist ties into place and stitch in the same way.
Press the apron.

Here they are modelled by Matilda.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Creamy Leek and Onion Soup with Fried Sage Leaves

Creamy soup with sage leaves.

I love making soup for lunch, particularly on cool days.  This one is simple and very tasty. Unfortunately, I had to take photos with my old camera, which turns everything yellow.  The soup was actually a beautiful creamy colour and the sage leaves were a crispy, delicate brown.
Ingredients for the soup
olive oil
2 large leeks, white part only
1 large onion
1 - 2 sticks of celery, with leaves, if possible
stock of water and stock cube
salt and pepper
nutmeg, if desired
a few sage leaves
Ingredients for the white sauce
1 oz butter (about a tablespoon)
1 oz flour (about a tablespoon)
1 cup milk
Salt and pepper

Begin by chopping up the white parts of two large leeks, one large onion and one or two sticks of celery.

Put a tablespoon of olive oil in a large saucepan and add the vegetables.

Cover and sauté gently for about 10 minutes until the vegetables are soft, but not brown.

Add a medium sized diced potato to thicken the soup, salt, papper and seasoning (I used a bit of nutmeg) and enough stock or water plus one stock cube to cover the vegetables.

Bring to boil, lower heat to medium and cook for 20 minutes or so until the potatoes are tender.

Meanwhile make a cup of white sauce by melting 1 tablespoon of butter in a small saucepan.  Add 1 tablespoon of flour and stir to make a roux.
 Remove from heat and add one cup of milk, then put back on heat and bring to a boil, stirring all the time.

Use a hand blender or a potato masher to crush some of the vegetables, then add the white sauce to the soup mixture and continue whisking until it is blended in. Heat gently until it is back to temperature.

While it is heating, fry a few sage leaves in a little olive oil and use to garnish the soup.