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.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Educating Rita - to Sew

 My lovely neighbour, Rita, asked me to teach her to sew.  She was one of the few people who actually sewed at sewing club.  She started by making pyjama bottoms and moved on to making a top (see left) out of the left over fabric.  I suggested a top as she can learn various techniques which she can use for other things. The top has facing and interfacing, slit sides and will be bound at the armholes with bias binding.
Rita's mother was trained in tailoring in Italy when she was a girl and she, like my mother, made lots of clothes for her children.  Consequently, Rita knows some things about sewing, for example, how to hand sew a very neat hem, but she wants to know more.
In between lessons, she made a pin cushion., beautifully stitched and finished with buttons on both sides.
The next project is a covered foam cushion for an outdoor bench.
Watch this space to see the finished pyjamas and the cushion.

The beautifully made pin cushion.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Liberty's Take on the Great British Sewing Bee

One view of the African dress
Clever use of two fabrics.
The 'grass' underneath it is
made of tape measures.
 Liberty's sale is now on.  It's an excellent opportunity to stock up on Tana Lawn at half price - lots of 1 metre pieces for £12.95.  Guess what? I DIDN'T BUY ANYTHING! Hubby checked my pulse when I came home.
Why didn't I buy anything?  Because the night before I was looking for something in my fabric cupboard and I was shocked at how much fabric I already have. Just didn't find anything at Liberty that I felt I had to add to it.
Nevertheless, going to Liberty is my idea of heaven. I love the building, the displays, the clothes, the home furnishings and most of all, the fabric department. Sometimes it's enough just to look.
What I did see, was the Liberty interpretation of two of the dresses from the 'Eastern' week on GBSB - the African dress and the Mondrian dress (which I remember from my youth).  Both were lovely and worth seeing.
Last week I bought the Mondrian pattern and plan to make it - sometime.  If I do, it will be in the solid, bold colours of the original.  Still, the Liberty one is fun.

A different take on the Mondrian dress.
The Liberty fabrics are fun.

Another view of the African dress.
I loved the wax printed fabric used on GBSB
but I also love this.

My lunch  A teeny, tiny crab and fennel salad with avocado mayonnaise.
I could have eaten three of then! Delicious.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Another Easy Mid-Week Meal - Pasta with Bacon and Mushrooms

Hubby did a whole day's training in Media Law yesterday and I went out with a friend for lunch.  (Yes, I know.)
I never know if he will be hungry in the evening these days, but I feel he deserves a decent meal after a day's work.  It doesn't matter if he eats a little or a lot. I've done my bit.
Bless him.  He was hungry and had seconds.  This is  a lovely recipe for tired people as the pasta is restorative.
I can't remember if I have blogged this recipe before or not, but it's a good one.  It takes 20 minutes max and that's only because I am slow.
(I could never be a chef or even a short-order cook.)
If you are cooking this for non-meat eaters, omit the bacon and use a dollop of pesto in the creme fraiche or stir in some chopped brie which will melt deliciously.

Measurements for this recipe are flexible and I kind of use my eye rather than measuring spoons and cups, pound, kilos or ounces. I will try to be more accurate with this but if you want to use more or less of something, then do,  It will still be good,

Ingredients for 2 people:
6 to 8 ounces of pasta (fusilli or bows work best)
3 or 4 slices of bacon, cut into pieces.
4 ounces of mushrooms, cut in half or sliced
1 or 2 sliced spring onions
1/2 a small tub of creme fraiche (or more if you want more sauce)
salt, pepper and a hint of cayenne
parsley to garnish

Cook the pasta according to package directions. (About 10 minutes in boiling, salted water.)
Meanwhile, fry the bacon pieces in a little oil, then remove from pan and put to one side.
Add a knob of butter to the pan and cook the mushrooms and spring onions for 5 minutes.
Put the bacon back in the pan and add the creme fraiche.
Add the seasoning.  You may not need salt.
Stir until the creme fraiche is heated through and add the drained pasta to the sauce.
Serve in bowls or on plates and garnish with a little chopped parsley.

P.S.  I AM sewing, just not blogging about it.  I will try to do so soon.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Coffee and Walnut Cake

Book club is tonight and I remembered that I promised one of the members a recipe for Coffee Walnut Cake.  I can't find the original recipe, but I tried this one out at the weekend and it is a winner.  Very easy to make, moist and delicious.
I think the recipe came from a Parish Magazine in a cottage we rented 32 years ago!  My son was little and my daughter had not been born. I remember sitting contentedly and copying out several recipes. The original was called "Bradworthy Coffee Walnut Cake".  This one is "Coffee and Walnut Traybake" and it only varies slightly.  I think it would make a very good layer cake as well as a traybake, but I made a traybake so I could use half on Sunday for company and take half to Book Club this evening. The hostess will have her own dessert for us, but she can keep this for visitors. It's always nice to have a sample of what you might make.

8 ounces of soft margarine (Stork or Flora)
4 ounces of soft, light brown sugar
4 ounces of caster sugar
10 oz of self raising flour
2 teaspoons of baking powder
4 eggs
1 teaspoon Vanilla essence
2 Tablespoons milk
2 Tablespoons strong coffee
3 unces chopped walnuts (I used more.)

3 ounces of butter
8 ounces of sifted icing sugar
2 teaspoons milk
2 teaspoons strong coffee
walnut halves

Cream the margarine and sugar.
Add the eggs, one at a time and beat well.
Sift the flour and baking powder.
Fold in the flour, milk and coffee.
Add the walnuts.
Bake in a greased, line tray 8" x 11" for 25 to 30 minutes. at 180 C/350F.  (My fan oven is very fast so mine was done after 25 minutes. Test for doneness by pressing the top.  If it springs back, it is done.
Leave the cake to cool on a rack.

Melt the butter in a milk pan.
Add the liquids and then the sifted icing sugar.
The mixture should be smooth and easy to spread.  If it is too liquid, add a little more icing sugar.

While the icing is warm, spread over the  cooled cake and then place walnut halves so each piece of cake will have one.

The first half of the cake did not last long.  Let's see what happens to the second half.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Disappearing Ice Box Cookies

Make these and watch them disappear.
I grew up calling these ice box cookies because it was what my mother always said.  She probably was referring to the days when they had an ice box and not a fridge.  I love the term.  The old-fashioned image fits these cookies perfectly.  I also love the fact that they remind me of being in the kitchen with my mother. I think, growing up, that I was more or less attached to her side. I have so many memories of standing beside her 'helping her cook'. We always made these for Christmas, along with half a dozen other recipes, to serve to guests and to give as gifts.

Nowadays they are called refrigerator cookies because they need to chill before they can be sliced and baked. The dough keeps well in the freezer and can be sliced straight from there as well and then thawed a little and baked. They can also be frozen after they are baked. My sister-in-law assures me that her youngest daughter still likes them best frozen and that solved the mystery of why they disappeared from the freezer.

I call them disappearing because when I made them recently, any that were put out disappeared in minutes.  No one can eat just one.  Because they are small, people generally eat four or five at a time.

The recipe is simple and can be made with many variations.  The ones above are made with chopped almonds (which I had in the cupboard).  I have made them with ground hazelnuts (delicious!) and with chopped pecans or walnuts (my favourites).  I have also divided the dough into two parts and mixed melted chocolate in one half, then rolled them out into two rectangles, laid one on the other and then rolled them up and cut out 'pinwheels'.  The book suggests a variation with orange zest and 1/2 cup coconut, but I have not tried these. The recipe comes from 'Modern Approach to Everyday Cooking' published by the American Dairy Association sometime in the 1960s. There must be many similar recipes online.

Slicing the chilled dough.

Here's how to make them:

1/2 cup (4 oz) softened butter
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar.
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
2 cups sifted flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped nuts


Cream the butter and gradually add the sugars.
Beat in eggs and vanilla.
Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.
Add  nuts and stir.
On parchment paper, form dough into rolls about 1" in diameter, then roll up the dough inside the parchment to keep the shape.
Chill several hours or overnight.
Cut rolls into 1/8" slices and place on greased baking sheets or parchment paper.
Bake 8 0 10 minutes at 400 F or 200 C.
Place on wire rack and hide if you don't want them all eaten immediately.

See what I mean?

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Making a Wearable Toile (Muslin)

My wearable toile,
made from a Batik cotton,
Aa long time ago, when I was sewing for other people, I learned the hard way that when I want to cut out something from really good fabric, it is important to make a toile. It allows me to asses the style and shape and, most importantly, the fit. This also applies to things I make for myself. Normally I would make a toile out of muslin or plain white fabric. This is important if you are making something complicated as you are not distracted by the fabric, but by making a simple, wearable toile, I can do all those things and have something useful at the end of the process. This pretty fabric has been in my stash for several years.  I had always intended to make it into a top and now I have done just that.

What I learned from this toile is that the neckline is too wide and the sleeves are a little too short.  I was also not happy with the narrow hems and the finish of the neckline, for which I used bias binding. (Just call me Mrs Fussy.) So I intend to make another wearable toile (start to finish it only takes about two hours, and I am slow) and get the finish absolutely correct before I make the final garment.  The joy of this is that I will have TWO new tops for summer and who wouldn't be happy about that.

For the my next toile, I will add one inch to the sleeves (otherwise, I might distort the fit) and cut a proper facing for the neck.  Watch this space to see my progress.

The fabric I want to use eventually is a beautiful ivory polyester crepe from Minerva Crafts.  I want something classic and packable that will look good under a jacket for my trip to Russia in May so I better get cracking on the second toile today!

This is the original pattern.  Simple, but effective.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Three Ways to Copy Multi-sized Patterns

This great little pattern would suit a variety of ages
and sizes.
Back in the day when you bought a pattern, you bought it in your own size and there was only that one size in the envelope. Today,  most patterns come in multiple sizes. Many, like the one on the left, would suit a variety of ages. However, once you have cut it out in your size, there is no going back.  All you have left is scraps with the edges of the larger sizes printed on them.  Any smaller sizes are printed inside the one you have cut out and you can't really use them as you will destroy the one you want.
Occasionally, you will want to use the other sizes as well. This top would suit my daughter and I know several people who might like to make it. If you are making children's clothes, you may want to use the larger sizes later. For my sewing club, I made three patterns for pyjama bottoms - small, medium and large and we had a pyjama-making session.

It's really not difficult to copy out the sizes and get maximum value from the outlay on your pattern.
Here are three different ways to do it.

This is the cheapest and easiest way to copy a pattern and would even work on Burda patterns.  On Burda patterns, though, I would add an extra step - use a felt tip pen to draw around your size.  Otherwise, you may find it hard to identify which lines to trace.
What you need:
Your pattern, a soft pencil, a ruler, pins or sello tape, scissors and some greaseproof paper.

A pattern spanning sizes 10 to 22.
Greaseproof paper is very good - sturdy, transparent and will probably last longer than the original paper.
Begin by laying out your pattern and securing the greaseproof paper over it. I used a few pins, but you could use a bit of sellotape.
I carefully traced over the pattern lines, using a ruler where necessary. ( The dressmaker's curves were not really useful on this pattern, but may suit another one. They go back to my pattern making days and were definitely useful then.)
Cut out your pattern and label it. Don't forget the notches, darts, straight grain line and markings like 'cut on fold' and the pattern number and size.
Proceed to next size. I traced sizes 10 to 16.
Covering the pattern with greaseproof paper.

Tools for tracing.

The second method:
What you need:
Large sheets of paper. I used the A2 paper from my husband's whiteboard. You could use newsprint (cheap, unprinted paper) or even newspaper although you would need to ensure the ink did not harm your fabric.

Cut out the largest size that you want to copy.  Lay it on the paper and pin it just like fabric.  Cut around the pattern and label it with straight grain line, notches, darts 'cut on fold' line pattern number and size. Continue with each smaller consecutive size taking care where pattern sizes overlap.

Cutting out the pattern and then the copy on paper.

The third method: Tracing the pattern.
What you need: 
You will need large paper again and a tracing wheel and dressmaker's carbon paper.
Sandwich the pattern, carbon paper (carbon side down) and paper and secure with pins.
You may need to put a few layers of newspaper underneath to allow the tracing wheel to do its work.
Trace around the pattern including markings and notches. Then cut out the pattern and label it.

Dressmaker's carbon paper and a tracing wheel.

Using the tracing wheel and dark dressmaker's carbon paper.

The traced pattern.

The shell top ready to cut out in my size.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Salmon, Leek and Spinach Tart

Salmon, Leek and Spinach Tart
As Nigella Lawson says, 'It's not meant to be restaurant quality, it's meant to look homemade.' and this tart does look homemade, but that is part of its charm.

Last week was a friend's birthday and to celebrate we had a little dinner party here.  She does not eat meat, and not everyone can arrive on time.  Two of my guests have young children and cannot get here until the little ones are safely tucked into bed.  So the menu had to be one that could be kept at room temperature and not be spoiled.  I wanted an easy option and something that could be cooked in advance. I like to be part of the fun, not stuck in the kitchen once guests arrive. This tart was perfect. It was done an hour ahead and we had drinks and nibbles until everyone was here and ready to eat.

I served the tart with roasted tomatoes and a Salade Nicoise, which consisted of Little Gem and Cos lettuce, new potatoes, spring onions, French beans,and avocado.
The cake was a lemon sponge filled with lemon curd and topped with lemon icing.  I served it with vanilla ice cream.
It was a pretty meal, enjoyed by everyone and the 'birthday girl', who usually hosts the birthdays, was delighted.

Here's how to make the tart. It looks complicated, but it is not.
For an even easier option, you could used tinned salmon.

1 package pre-rolled shortcrust pastry
( You can make your own, but I went for the easy option.)
2 fillets of salmon.
1 leek, washed, split lengthways and chopped.
1/2 packet of baby spinach. (The rest can go in the salad.)
2 eggs
5 oz cream or creme fraiche
10 oz milk
1/2 cup grated Cheddar.
salt and pepper
a little dash of nutmeg or cayenne pepper (optional)

Fit the pastry to the tart tin.
Put in the fridge for 10 minutes.  This seems to prevent it shrinking.
Brush with a little egg mixed with water.
Blind bake at 200 C for 10 minutes.

While the pastry is in the fridge, put the salmon fillets in a piece of foil, add salt and pepper and a little white wine or lemon juice.
Wrap the foil loosely, ensuring the juices will not escape.
Bake at 180 F for 10 minutes.
Remove from oven, open the foil and allow the salmon to cool enough so you can handle it,
Gently flake the salmon and remove the skin.

Put chopped leeks in a frying pan and saute gently in oil and butter for five minutes to soften.

When the pastry shell has been baked, layer the leeks in the bottom, then the flaked salmon, then the spinach and finally the cheese.

In a small bowl, whisk the two eggs, cream and milk and add seasoning,
Pour the mixture over the salmon, leeks and spinach and put in the oven.
Bake for approximately 25 minutes at 180 F. Keep your eye on it near the end so it doesn't go too brown.
Test the centre with a skewer to see if it is set.
Remove from oven.  Remember that it will continue to cook while it is warm (a bit like scrambled eggs).

Let it cool to room temperature and serve.