Saturday, 20 December 2014

Drying Citrus Fruit for Christmas Decorations

This year, I supplied some of the dried fruit for the Christmas wreath.
I have purchased dried orange slices in the past, but it's so easy to do.  No special equipment is necessary.
I used oranges, lemons and limes, but the oranges were the most successful.

Here's how to do it:

  • Slice fruit thinly.
  • Blot with kitchen paper.
  • Place on wire racks on top of baking sheets to collect any drips.
  • Put in a low oven (140C) for 3 to 4 hours, checking that the fruit does not go brown. 
  • (Fruit should be a little soft when it is finished, to allow you to put wires or ribbon through it.)
  • Remove from oven and let cool.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Make Do and Mend - Putting in a False Hem

I'm still here.  I was without a computer for two months after my old one decided to quit on me. I'm so happy to be back on line.

My daughter asked me to lengthen a beautiful pair of 3/4 trousers from &and other stories. She wore them all summer as they were, but decided that they needed to be longer for the winter so they would just skim the top of her boots.  She could also wear them as shown, with beautiful flats or heels.
The trousers are made of a good quality polyester, which looks like wool crepe and they were lovely to work on.
Luckily they had a very large hem and I was able to let this down and create a false hem to give the trousers the same good finish that they had. A false hem gives a bit of weight to the trouser legs and also allows for a  hand-stitched invisible hem.
Here's how it was done:

NB It is important to use a pressing cloth to avoid making the fabric shiny.

Take down the original hem and measure it.

Press the fold line out of the trouser legs with a damp cloth.

Press the old stitching line out as well.

Measure the width of each leg, double it and add seam allowance.
If the trouser legs are narrower at the bottom than the top, allow for this

Cut lining strips to fit.

With right sides together pin and stitch along old seam line.

Finish raw edge and fold lining into place.

Under stitch  near the bottom of the hem.

Pin up hem and then turn to wrong side and do an invisible hem stitch.

Check that hems are even, then press with a damp cloth, making sure that you press in the creases as well.

A closer view

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Apple Chili Jelly

These apples, from a neighbour's tree, are more photogenic than the ones I used.
The chilis are straight from the freezer; hence the bloom on them.
We had several boxes of home grown apples this year. Most were large Bramleys, easy to peel and core to make apple sauce.  But I knew I wouldn't get much out of the smaller ones, so I decided to make apple chili jelly.  To begin with, you just chop up the apples, skins, cores, seeds and all., removing any bad bits.  They go into water and are boiled up, then strained though a muslin. Sugar is added to the juice and it is boiled again until it reaches setting point.  The jelly is delicious with roast chicken, pork chops and even cheese. Here's how it is done.

4 lbs apples, washed and chopped.
Cold water to cover.
The zest and juice of a lemon.
1 or 2 large chilis, chopped
Sugar. (I used 2 1/2 lbs.

Use about 4 pounds of apples, washed and chopped and two chilis, also chopped.
Add enough cold water to cover the apples.
Include the zest and juice of a lemon.
Bring to the boil and simmer until the fruit is soft.
Strain the fruit by putting a muslin over a plastic strainer.
(I bought my muslin from Roibert Dyas, but you could use a clean white cloth.  Just pour boiling water over it to sterilise it.)
Leave the juice to drain out completely until only the apple mush is left in the muslin. This can take a couple of hours.  Go do something nice while you are waiting.
(Do not be tempted to squeeze the muslin as this will make the jelly cloudy.  You only want the juice and not the pulp.) 
Measure the juice and put it back in the pan.
For every pint, add one pound of sugar.
Bring gently to the boil and boil until the jelly reaches setting point (about 30 minutes).
You can test for setting point but putting a small amount on a cold plate and pushing it with your finger.  If it starts to wrinkle, it is done.
While the jelly is boiling, prepare your jars.  Wash them and their lids  and rinse them in boling water.  Put them in the oven to dry and keep warm.
When the jelly is done, pour it into the jars and seal them.
Mine made a total of 4 jam jars.

Beautifully clear and delicious jelly. We had some with roast lamb today.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Apple Cobbler (with a few plums on the top)

The beautiful Bramleys in situ.

 We had an amazing apple harvest in France. The boughs of the trees were bending with the weight of the apples.  Hubby picked several boxes of them and we are feasting on them now. My favourites are the Bramleys, as they lend themselves to so many recipes,  apple sauce. apple butter, apple chutney, apple pie, apple crumble, apple cake...
Apple cobbler is so easy to make, especially if you use ready made pastry as I did. You can use any fruit in combination with the apples if you want to vary this recipe.  Blackberries, blueberries,cranberries, plums or rhubarb all work well. 

Some of our harvest.  We had lots of wild blackberries too.

You will need:
One ready made pastry shell or sheet.
A little butter or oil.
One beaten egg.
4 or 5 large Bramley apples.
1/2 a lemon.
1/2 cup sugar.
1 Tablespoon cinnamon.
1/8 cup Demerara sugar

Heat the oven to 180C or 350 F.
Oil or butter a pie tin and place the pastry in it allowing the surplus to hang over the edges.
Prick the base and brush a little beaten egg on it to seal it.
Peel, core and cut the apples into wedges.
Put the cut apples into a large bowl of water with the juice of 1/2 a lemon in it.
When you have enough apples to heap into the middle of your pastry, drain the water from them, dry the bowl and put the apples back in.
Add the sugar and cinnamon and mix well.
Place the apples in the pastry shell and pull the edges of the pastry up over the apples.  
I had a few cooked plums, so I added those to the top.
N,B. The apples will not be completely covered.
Brush the top of the pastry with egg and sprinkle over the Demerara sugar.
Place in the heated oven and bake approximately 35 minutes.  Keep an eye on the pastry so it doesn't get too brown.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool a little, then serve with cream, ice cream, creme fraiche or custard.

Apple cobbler with a few plums on the top and served with custard.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Make Do and Mend - Altering a Favourite Dress

The finished dress, accessorised with red.
Back in England and happy to be in my sewing room.

 This dress, which I bought years ago, is one of my favourite summer dresses.  It is made of linen and the neutral colour goes well with a pop of colour, (such as red, yellow or hot pink) or with black or navy.  When I put it on this year, it was noticeably tight around the waist.  It had always been a bit long in the waist for me, but when I was slimmer, it could be pulled up a bit with a belt.  Inspired by 'This Old Thing', a programme about recycling vintage clothes, I decided to see if I could do something to make this dress wearable again.
Some alterations are not that difficult and will make all the difference to the look of a garment.  For example, just shortening a dress or skirt can up date it.  In this case, I decided to shorten the bodice and then to take up the hem  as well. I did it in a morning and I am very pleased with the result. I think it looks a little 1940s.

Roughly pinned at the waist.

The first thing I did was to put it on and pull it up at the waist.  I pinned it roughly, then took it off and pinned it carefully, measuring that I was taking up the same amount of fabric all around. Luckily, I was able to adjust it between buttonholes.

I used chalk and tape measure for exact measurements and checked that the front plackets lined up.

I carefully cut through the fabric, removing the bodice from the skirt.

Turning it to the wrong side (right sides together) I pinned the bodice and skirt together and chalk marked the stitch line.

I stitched carefully along the chalk lines and then added a row of zig zag to the outside of the seam to finish it off and keep it from fraying.

I trimmed the extra fabric away from the seam allowance, then pressed it and top stitched it so the bodice looked finished.

Finally, I turned up the hem to mid-knee length, measured, pinned and machine stitched the new hem into place.

The finished dress, back view (on a mannequin).

Monday, 25 August 2014

Things to do with Left Over Bread (Besides Feeding it to the Chickens) Part 2

This little bakery, not far from our house, sells the best bread in the area.

This is Part 2 of a mini series on using up leftover bread. Since starting this, I have thought of many more recipes, but I left my laptop charger/cable in France, so will publish this immediately!
In France we often have lots of left over bread because real French bread has no additives. I am loath to throw it away, but it can be past its best by the evening of the day we bought it.  You can keep sliced bread in the freezer and it will make passable toast, but pain, baguettes, boules, etc do not freeze well, so I am making a collection of recipes which will use up the left over bread lurking in the kitchen. It salves my conscience as I have heard too many stories about rationing (in England) and the Depression (in the USA) to throw it away lightly. 

Sliced Bread

French Toast
This is an all-time favourite from my childhood.  I still love to make it for a leisurely breakfast.
Use sliced bread with crusts removed. (You can use the crusts for breadcrumbs.)
Beat an egg and about  ¼ cup of milk per person in a shallow bowl.
Dip the bread in the egg mixture and allow it to soak up some of the mixture before turning it over and allowing the other side to soak up the rest. It needs to be soggy.
Heat one Tablespoon vegetable oil and one knob of butter in a frying pan.
Fry the bread until golden on each side.
Put on a plate and sprinkle with icing sugar.
Serve with maple syrup or jam or fresh fruit.
(N.B. For posh French toast, use brioche.)

Croutons or Fried Bread
Heat enough olive oil in a pan to cover the base.
Meanwhile, slice the bread or remove the crusts and cut it into small cubes.
Fry carefully in the oil until golden. Bread burns easily, so keep an eye on it. Use it to make salads more interesting or serve it with a topping of goats cheese with walnuts and balsamic dressing. I use it as an excuse to make Caesar Salad.


French Bread Pizza
On holiday with our young children, we used to make these out of baguettes. Everyone loved them because they could have the toppings they liked and they were quick and easy to make. Served with a salad they make a nutritious meal.
Heat the oven or the grill.
Slice the baguettes lengthways and then in manageable lengths, i.e. 4 – 6 inches.
Spread the cut side of each one with tomato puree and then add the toppings you like.  These might include salami, ham, mushrooms. fresh tomatoes, olives, etc.
Top with grated cheese (in France we use grated Emmenthal).
Grill or bake until the cheese is melted and bubbling.  Watch them disappear.

Garlic Bread
Slice baguettes in half lengthways and smear the cut sides with butter and garlic seasoning.  Alternatively, you can make garlic butter by using softened butter and crushed garlic. (This version is more authentic.) Put the buttered sides together and wrap in foil.  Bake about 10 minutes until the bread is warm and the butter is oozing. N.B. For a healthier version, use olive oil, garlic  and add a little chopped parsley to give flavor.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Things to do with Left Over Bread (Besides Feeding it to the Ducks).

In France we often have lots of left over bread because real French bread has no additives. I am loath to throw it away, but it can be past its best by the evening of the day we bought it.  You can keep sliced bread in the freezer and it will make passable toast, but pain, baguettes, boules, etc do not freeze well, so I am making a collection of recipes which will use up the left over bread lurking in the kitchen. It salves my conscience as I have heard too many stories about rationing (in England) and the Depression (in the USA) to throw it away lightly. I am going to post these recipes as a mini series starting with recipes for breadcrumbs.

Things to do with Breadcrumbs

Gratin topping
Use enough breadcrumbs to completely cover your dish.  Dot with butter and sprinkle  with grated cheese.  Bake in the oven until the topping is golden and crusty. You can use this for anything from macaroni cheese to a casserole.  My favourite is ratatouille.  Covering it with a cheesy breadcrumb topping makes it into a good vegetarian meal.

Panna gritatta
Yum. These are just fried breadcrumbs which can be used to top simple pasta dishes. They give the dish texture. Jamie Oliver makes this by whizzing up bread crumbs, garlic and oil in a food processer then frying it gently in a dry pan. I’m wary of making my food processer smell of garlic, so I whiz up the bread crumbs and then heat the oil in a frying pan with a sliced clove of garlic. I fry the breadcrumbs in the seasoned oil and remove the garlic before serving to avoid overpowering everything. This is good on simple pasta dishes.  I use it on spaghetti with butter and parsley or on spaghetti with anchovies and garlic melted in a frying pan with a little oil.

Stuffed Tomatoes
Somewhere at home I have my late mother-in-law’s recipe for Tomatoes Farcie.  I think it goes like this:
Use one large tomato per person.
Slice each tomato in half horizontally and scoop out the seeds.
Turn upside down and drain on kitchen paper.
Mix breadcrumbs with melted butter and crushed garlic, then add some parsley, finely chopped and salt and pepper to taste.
Stuff each tomato generously so that the stuffing is rounded at the top.
Put in the oven until the stuffing is golden and crispy.
These are lovely served with lamb chops or as a starter on a bed of dark green leaves such as lambs lettuce or rocket. (N.B. You could use this stuffing in courgettes, marrows or peppers.  If you use peppers, you will need to blanch them first and serve them with a tomato sauce. Otherwise they will be quite dry.)

 Brown Tom

This is a recipe for when tomatoes are plentiful.  It consists of brown bread crumbs layered with tomatoes and baked in the oven. It could be a main lunch or supper dish.
You will need:
1 lb sliced tomatoes
1 onion (finely chopped)
Brown bread crumbs (about 4 slices)
Some bacon bits, finely cut up (optional)
Salt and pepper
A little caster sugar
Butter an ovenproof dish.
Mix the breadcrumbs, bacon, onion and herbs together.
Make layers of the breadcrumb mixture, then the sliced tomatoes, seasoning them with salt, pepper and a tiny bit of sugar.
Continue until the ingredients are used up and finishing with the breadcrumb layer.
Dot with butter and bake at 200C/400F for 30 to 35 minutes until brown and bubbling.


Hubby never quite makes enough of this as we are all very greedy and there will be an undignified jostle to scrape out the last remaining crumbs from the serving dish.  There are no specific measurements here. This is one to just estimate what is enough of everything.  Soften  some chopped onions in a generous amount of oil and a little knob of butter.   (about 10 minutes)  Add a few chopped sage leaves or a little fresh thyme and some lemon zest to the pan and cook for another minute. Stir all of this into enough breadcrumbs to fill a buttered dish together with a beaten egg to bind the dish together.  Bake at 350 F / 180 C for about 30 minutes or until crusty on the top. We always have this as an accompaniment to a roast, but I think it would be good with poached eggs as well.