My New Favourite Thing …

Is my slow cooker:

Crockpot

Work commitments plus the social lives of my children mean that there’s not always much time for cooking, especially during the working week. I found that I was cooking the same kind of meals each week because they were quick and easy but they weren’t always particularly tasty or interesting. I did a bit of research on the internet and read various reviews, we went to the shops and I chose the ‘Crockpot’ above. The fact that the ceramic dish can be used on the hob to brown meat first and/or soften onions etc is a real bonus. We’ve had our slow cooker for just over a week and I’ve used it 4 times so far to cook: salmon; lamb; pork and chicken. All have been delicious and ‘melt-in-the-mouth’ tender. The lamb korma below was incredible – I tried to persuade my family that it was down to my skills as a cook and had nothing to do with the crockpot but I don’t think they fell for it!

Lamb Korma

Yesterday we had pulled pork wraps, again the meat was succulent and tender – not at all dry or chewy. The pork joint had been slow cooking for 8 hours in orange juice and beer, an interesting yet tasty combination. It had been rubbed with a variety of herbs and spices which gave it a very subtle, warm rather than spicy flavour.

Pulled Pork Wraps

I think that the best thing about our crockpot slow cooker is that there are now days when I come home from work and the house is filled with the aroma of a delicious home cooked meal – my husband says that now I know what it’s like for him when he gets home, what a lucky man he is!!!

What a Treat …

Doughnuts are something that I’ve never made before, thinking that they would be too difficult and probably just as good as their shop bought counterparts. How wrong was I ?!!
Not only were these incredibly easy to make, they tasted delicious – my son licked his plate clean!!

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We were very restrained and didn’t eat them all in one go – one with a vanilla latte later today is something I’m looking forward to!

Stunningly Simple …

I’m a huge fan of Nigel Slater, not least because his recipes are delicious and they ALWAYS work! This chicken recipe was taken from ‘eat‘, a perfectly pocket sized recipe book. The chicken is flattened and then liberally sprinkled with salt, the zest of lemons and limes and some chilli flakes. The grill is then used to quickly cook the chicken without it drying out. I served ours with boiled rice and steamed broccoli – for a more decadent meal next time, I think I’ll cook the rice in coconut milk:

 

To follow we had  vanilla cupcakes. I made these for my son and his school football team as the dessert at their ‘Sportsman’s Dinner’. They were topped with fudge cubes and chocolate coated popping candy!!

A Birthday Feast …

It was my Dad’s birthday this week and yesterday, he and my Mum came for a celebratory lunch. I got up early (really early for a Saturday) and spent a lovely morning preparing, baking and cooking. Cooking without a set time limit (lunch would begin between 1pm and 2pm) was great as there was never any real time pressure.
To begin, we had caramelised red onion and goat’s cheese tartlets:

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Our main course was called ‘Rigas’s Lamb’, it was a slow roasted leg of lamb served with macaroni cooked in tomato passata. I really wasn’t sure about this recipe, I hoped it would work. As it turned out, it really did work, the fresh and dried mint added an extra layer of flavour:

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It wouldn’t have been a proper celebration of my Dad’s birthday without some form of meringue, I decided on an ‘ultimate’ pavlova – strawberries and raspberries mixed with some meringue and double cream (Eton Mess), on top of a large meringue base:

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As an alternative/addition to the pavlova, I made some Salted Caramel Cupcakes:

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I think we will need to be on meagre rations for the rest of the week!!

An Early 2014 Catch Up …

Looking back through photos taken since the start of the year, I realise how little I’ve blogged recently, hence the catch up.
Brush:
This recent picture, similar to a watercolour that I painted a few weeks ago, was done with brush pens and ink. I’m still trying to decide which one I prefer:

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Needle:
Both knitting and sewing needles feature here. First off, I spent about 6-8 weeks knitting my latest blanket, combining my favourite colour combinations of purple, dark pink and green. This is a wonderfully stretchy blanket, it was knitted on a pair of size 20 circular needles and it’s huge!!

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Sewing needles arrived earlier this week in the form of a sewing machine. Sewing has always been something that I wished I could do, neatly and well, however I’ve never really managed it. My husband very kindly bought me my lovely machine and I’ve already made something, can you tell what it is?!

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Yes, it’s a bag for my sewing machine pedal and plug!
I have a few other projects in mind for the coming weeks and I’m really enjoying learning how to use my sewing machine. I hope that once I’ve had lots of practice and no doubt loads of advice from my mum (who used to create amazing things on her sewing machine), I’ll be able to attempt to make some new curtains for our dining room.

Whisk:
Last week we celebrated Chinese New Year by having deliciously crispy duck with pancakes, hoisin sauce, plum sauce and prawn crackers. We went to our local Chinese supermarket, I’m ashamed to say for the first time in 13 years, and it was incredible. There were dragons parading outside and inside the shop was a complete riot of colour and noise. It definitely won’t be another 13 years before we go there again:

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Before I go, I’ll leave you with the additions that we’ve made to our shed/studio (or shudio, if you prefer) – our current weather has made it really difficult for me to get out there without getting covered in mud, however, these concrete slabs, cleverly designed as logs mean that I can get there and back without walking mud through the house:

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Feeling the need to make my art space a little more cosy, I’ve added some cheery lights. I must have spent over 30 minutes faffing about with these before deciding to clump them together in the corner:

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and yes, that is a set of wool & fur covered headphones hanging up there too – they are incredibly warm!!

Lebanon and Leon …

Two of my favourite Christmas gifts were unsurprisingly cookbooks, one from my husband and one from his parents. My parents-in-law came for lunch today and I decided to use my two new books for our meal.

Our main course was taken from ‘Lebanese Kitchen‘ by Salma Hage. This is a huge tome of a book, full of a delicious range of recipes. We had the Lamb Meatballs with Lebanese Flatbread:

 

The meatballs were mildly spiced with cumin and cinnamon and they were gorgeous, far more ‘flavourful’ than our usual meatball recipe. The book contains several kofta recipes, I look forward to trying them all out so we can decide on a favourite.

The flatbreads were skilfully made by my 11 year old son, he is particularly good at kneading bread dough with his elbows!

To follow, we had Lemon Slices with Raspberry Coulis and cream:

The recipe for the Lemon Slices was taken from ‘Leon Book 3, Baking and Desserts‘ by Claire Ptak and Henry Dimbleby. I’ve cooked quite a few recipes from this book and they have all been really tasty. You can’t really see it in this photo but the lemon curd-like mixture in the middle was really gooey and was slightly caramelised around the edges – most of us had second helpings and there’s just enough left for a taste tomorrow evening.

 

Happy New Year …

It’s a bit late I know but I wish everyone ‘wordpress related’, be they readers, followers or bloggers, a very Happy 2014. We’ve spent yet another day being bombarded by rain and wind, we were in real need of some sunshine. For us, our sunshine came in bowls and in a bottle:

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This lemongrass cordial was made prior to Christmas and still tastes light and refreshing. Our dinner this evening was a Prawn Biryani, one of our favourite prawn curries – the key I think is in the spice blend: shallots, garlic, fresh ginger, cloves, cinnamon stick, cardamom seeds, turmeric, coriander seeds and a finely chopped chilli:

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To finish, we had the most amazingly light Lemon Sponge. The recipe was from my new ‘Leon, Book 2, Baking and Puddings’ which my mother-in-law gave me at Christmas. I’ve tried a few recipes from this book (including Coconut Macaroons which I made yesterday, honey was included in the recipe and they tasted incredible, I’ll have to make them again just so I can photograph them) and each one has worked really well. This sponge pudding has an element of soufflé about it, it’s really light and the lemon hit givs it a real zing:

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So, whilst we’ve had non-stop rain today, we’ve had at least a small ray of sunshine in terms of food. Hopefully tomorrow will be little less wet!