Monday, 27 July 2015

Macarons - Orange and Cinnamon & Fennel and White Chocolate

The macaron adventures continue, this time re-visiting some flavours used in a one day class I attended back in January at Bertinet's Cookery School in Bath. There were two flavours I wanted to try, fennel and white chocolate and orange and cinnamon. Below you can see all the elements of the orange and cinnamon ones being brought together. The macaron shells follow the basic french meringue recipe but with ground cinnamon added for flavour and colour. This was not very successful. These shells took double the cooking time, had splatty feet and once cooled, dipped in the centre top of the shell. I haven't had this happen before and can only assume it was the addition of cinnamon to the shell mix. In future I'll add the cinnamon to the piping mixture which was a sugar and cream cheese mix. (Sorry I can't share the exact recipe because it's copyrighted.) The orange disc is made from freshly squeezed orange juice and 3 gelatin leaves. You pour this into a thin layer in a tray and once set, use a small circle cookie cutter to cut out discs to use as the filling. This was very good and a borderline genius idea I can imagine adapting to other flavours! But again, I got it wrong by using a dish which wasn't shallow enough.
You can see how tall they are here. They look quite comical and I learned a LOT by re-doing these recipes. The shell texture was a bit chewy (due to the longer cook time and cinnamon I think) but the flavour was all there. We got into a bit of a mess eating these!
By contrast the batch of fennel and white choc was far more successful. So for the shells, you dry roast some fennel seeds, grind to a fine powder and add to the meringue mix. These cooked beautifully with lovely risen feet and just the right crispness. I was very happy with them and once they were filled with caramelised fennel sieved while still warm over grated white chocolate, they were sublime. I think this has to be one of the best tasting macaron flavours I've found. They were so good we nearly ate them all before I remembered to take the pic at the top of this post of the two flavours under a domed glass ummm....dome.
As a contrast to all the sweet things, I tried my first recipe from the Honey and Co book I've had sitting on my bookshelf for a couple of months. These are seasoned flatbreads made from a bread like dough but without the yeast. They are rested in the frige for an hour before being shaped and rolled out as thin as you can. Spread some beaten egg over the top and sprinkle on your choice of zatar or salt and pepper or sesame seeds or fennel (it's Fennel Fest in my house just now!) bake and serve with homemade humous. Magic :)

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Appendicitis and a prescription for recovery (cake)

For the past 2 weeks, Himself has been recovering from an unexpected appendectomy.  It started with abdominal discomfort which got worse over the weekend and when he started looking it up on NHS direct I knew he was taking it seriously.  We were driving to our local A&E to get it checked out when his appendix ruptured.  He managed to pull over, then passed out but because I couldn't move him from the drivers seat to take over the driving for the last few minutes to the hospital we had to get rescued by ambulance.  The hospital mended him and I got him home a day later.  So what has all that got to do with a picture of some tumbled down barns?
Himself likes exercise.  Running, swimming, weight training, cycling, hitting a bag (boxing?) I mean really, properly, actually enjoys it.  I like it a bit but I think it should be kept in it's place and balanced with cake.  So what he's missed as he's recovered from his operation is exercise.  We've had a few walks to stop him going stir crazy and I thought I'd share with you some of the more picturesque parts of our village.  These old out buildings are at the back of the high street and we're sure they're a haven for all kinds of creatures.  I don't mind a farm cat or a hedgehog and I quite like a bat but I'm not fond of scuttling things.  As far as I'm concerned, if they're finding a home here that's great because it means they're not in my house.
 It was a sultry, hot day and the only things moving were butterflies and bees buzzing in the bushes.  (Ok, buzzing in the lavender but it's not as alliterative.)
The path leading to the church always has a great display of seasonal flowers.  People are very generous in giving their time to keep this a nice place to live.  I think it won best kept village of the year a couple of times.
And at the back of the church are a couple of useful benches for invalids post operative people.
The views are worth the pause.
 It looks very overcast doesn't it.  This is the point where the plateau we are perched on drops away into the deep wooded valleys of the Cotswold folds.
 There was loads of action at the village pond.  Big, bright blue dragonflies shimmered and flitted.  Despite my best efforts (ie waving my phone camera at them), they eluded me so you'll just have to believe they were there!
This was turning into a day when we were throwing caution to the wind so we visited our nearby tea shop too.  It has a good reputation and is popular with cyclists and walkers.  Normally we live so close we just go home for a cuppa but this was a good excuse to balance all that exercise with cake.  On this occasion the cake was his.  Medicinal.  
 And home again.
Since cake was a bit of a theme I had a go at the Orange and White Chocolate Loaf Cake from Ruby Tandoh's book, Crumb.
 All mushed up and plopped in the cake tin.  (Messy me.)
You make a citrusy syrup ready to spoon over the cake while it's still warm from the oven.
A tasty outcome.  Very nice.  One I'll make again.

Sunday, 12 July 2015


The rain outside has stopped play and driven us inside.  We needed a get well soon card and didn't have one in our stash of cards so I decided to make one.  I really like the round mandala style of doodles so after playing around with some patterns, came up with this one.  It's drawn straight onto brown kraft card using dark brown, light brown and white pens.  There's no sense of scale in the pic but it's about 2 inches across so quite small. 
This is version 1 coloured slightly differently to version 2 below which made it to the final greetings card.
Because I liked how the white pen looked on the brown card, I had a play with white on black.  This will be great for hand drawn christmas cards with lots of opportunities to add sparkly bits.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Rose, Pistachio and Lemon Shortbread Biscuits

I've had an idea for biscuit flavourings kicking round my head for a wee while and since I had this Saturday morning free, I gave it a go...
I made 3 flavours. 
Rose - 2 tbsp ground up rose petals and  1/4 tsp rose extract (from Lakeland)
Pistachio - ground up handful of pistachio nuts and 1/4 tsp pistachio nut paste (recent purchase from Sous Chef in preparation for making pistachio macarons) & tiny amount green food colouring
Lemon - grated lemon zest and 1/4 tsp lemon extract
 The basic shortbread recipe is:
140gm softened (room temperature) butter
170 gms plain flour
55gms cornflour
55 gms icing sugar

Put it all in a bowl and rub together with your fingers.  While still crumby, divide into 3 bowls and add the rose, pistachio and lemon flavourings to each bowl then rub together to form a pastry.
Roll out each flavoured pastry to about 5mm thick.  Then if you have a range of round cutters cut out both big and small circles from each flavour and fill the centre of a big biscuit with the small circle of a different flavour ie mix them up.  So put a small lemon circle inside a big rose circle or vice versa or pistachio with lemon or rose.  The picture below should explain that a bit more clearly.  See how the biscuit centers are different colours?  That.  But if you're not in the mood for faff, just cut out single round biscuits, they taste just as nice :)
Heat the oven to 170 Celsius fan or 190 non-fan and bake for between 14-16 minutes.  Take them out when they're still quite pale and try not to let the edges turn brown.  Try to let them cool before eating.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

5 Ways to Declutter!

If you're like me you will have too much crafting stash! After years of teaching classes and designing for magazines, I had accumulated so many stamps, ink pads, ribbons and embellishments that I arrived at a point where the stash was stifling the creativity. It was all neatly stored and labelled but that's all I was doing with it, storing it.
So, those 5 ways to declutter in no special order....
  1. Be honest, if you really loved that stamp/fabric/paper you would have already used it.
  2. If the stamps have never been used, put them in the "out" pile.
  3. Be ruthless, if you haven't used it in over a year, you're just storing it.
  4. Do you know someone who might appreciate it more than you?  A friend or youth group?  
  5. Clearing your clutter will clear your mind and free you up to be more creative.
It was my freestyle quilting machine which prompted this soul searching. It had been in storage since I moved into our little cottage and I was missing it and wanted it to complete two projects started 3 years ago and not finished. But it's big.
We managed to get the 7 foot wooden rollers and frame in the car but even though I'd measured and worked out where it was going to go in its new home, it just didn't work. It dominated each room I tried to use it in to the point where I couldn't get in the room with it. Time for a re-think. I needed a way to finish quilting my raggedy edged union jack...
The rethink became a major reassessment of which interests to keep or drop. Gone was quilling, soap making, friendly plastic, deep embossing, silk painting, lace making, the die cutter long since replaced, those spritzer paints which either clogged up or sprayed you in the face and other obscure crafts picked up in those moments when you tell yourself I can make that myself then spend ten times as much to buy the stuff. I decided to cut back dramatically and focus on fabric and paper arts. I found a buyer for my quilting machine, sold half my library of crafting and cooking books back to Amazon and packed up the stamps and crafting goodies I hadn't touched since moving house and gave them to our local Cub scouts. 
My cramped little crafting attic suddenly felt far more spacey. I could see the floor! But back to my original dilemma, how was I going to quilt? After some serious research and tough negotiation I traded in my wonderful 6.5 inch throated Janome 4900 sewing machine for a wonderfuller Janome 8900 with a massive 11 inch throat which enables you to quilt things the size of Belgium. (Yes I know there are clever people who can quilt treble king size quilts using standard domestic machines but fighting that much fabric always made me a bit sweary and put me off, hence the quilting frame.)  And here is the result of the reorganisation.  I'm verrrrry pleased with this little beauty.  
Because I had a Janome before, this step up didn't feel too strange, plus the shop I bought it from delivered it, unboxed it, set it up and gave me a tutorial on the basics. Once I've really got to know it I'll do a review because other reviews online I read prior to purchase were so helpful in making the decision.  But for now, the clutter has gone and more crafting is being done  and will be shared when I have some pictures ready to upload.