Bank Holiday Weekend …

Our bank holidays here in the UK have a bit of a reputation for bad weather and traffic jams, I think that this one has been the exception here in Bristol. The sun has shone throughout and the furthest we have driven has been around 3 miles.
On Saturday, I made 10 napkins with some very summery beach hut material, perfect for picnics:




Whilst the sewing bit was very straightforward, the measuring and precise cutting that were needed did take some concentration!

Yesterday one of my boys asked if we could bake something together. I passed him my Paul Hollywood book and asked him to choose something. His choice was a fruit loaf (or rather, 2 fruit loaves):



The result is a delicious, moist, fruity bread, perfect for tea last night and breakfast this morning!!

Today, we went to the BBC Food Festival, we arrived quite early which was just as well because it became really busy by the time we left. It was a great foodie treat with a huge range of artisan producers. I really liked the fact that at most of the stalls, food was cooked to order and was definitely worth the wait. The boys (including my husband) tried scotch eggs, sausage rolls, Jamaican jerk chicken wraps, BBQ chicken, a selection of samosas, cider (produced just a few miles away from where we live). I had a lovely latte and treated myself to this beautiful water jug:


All in all, a great bank holiday weekend – hope yours has been just as good wherever you are and whatever the weather.


Sweet Peas, A Mellow Chilli and Other Yummy Things …

It seems to have rained for much of the time since we built our ‘shudio’, however, I did manage to get an hour or so out there this afternoon. I am attempting to grow some sweet peas, snapdragons, pansies and calendulas from seed. At the funeral of a close friend recently, every mourner was given a small envelope of seeds, I think it is a beautiful way for us to remember our friend – she was a real lover of flowers and all things green and growing. I’m really pleased that the seeds are actually growing as I’m not at all green fingered.

Here’s what my sweet peas will hopefully look like:

These are some of my sweet pea seedlings, I’ll be needing something longer than an old chopstick to support them very soon:

The tiny seedlings to the left in the photo above are my extremely slow growing chilli plants – I was given the seeds at Christmas and am determined to get these 3 survivors to the fruiting stage!

Below, you can see the tiniest Banoffee Pie in the world! They are delicious though and will be perfect on a cake stand with some other miniature desserts, perhaps as part of a celebration:

Patates Bravas is a new dish for me, I used the recipe from ‘What Katie Ate’ by Katie Quinn Davies although I did do a couple of things differently. I had to briefly shallow fry the parma ham as the grill on my oven no longer works (is this enough for me to justify buying a new oven?!) and I poached the eggs instead of frying them  because I’m not a huge fan of fried eggs. The end result was really tasty, a perfect saturday night tea:

Below is a real family favourite – poached salmon. It was wrapped in a parcel with white wine, a small knob of butter, lemon, basil and seasoning. It was then cooked for about 10-12 minutes and was served with basmati rice and carrot crisps.

It’s now obvious to me that I need to catch up a bit – these Hot Cross Buns were made in time for Easter weekend! I think I’ve only made them once before but these were sooo much tastier, being baked as they were, from Paul Hollywood’s book ‘Bake’. He recommended brushing hot apricot jam over the top but I didn’t have any, I did however have some preserving sugar which I melted and brushed over the tops, I then somewhat overdid the ‘sprinkling’ of the sugar!!It has been good fun trying out new recipes recently, the one below being a case in point. My 12 year old loves macaroni cheese (as do I), my husband and 10 year old however, dislike it intensely. When I saw this recipe in ‘What Kate Ate’, I had to give it a go. We had some delicious chorizo in the fridge and this recipe used some of it superbly. This incredibly aromatic meat permeated the whole of the dish, giving it a distinctly warm and earthy taste, the cherry tomatoes kept the dish moist. I have made this recipe since, using bacon instead of chorizo and it too passed the ‘appeals to the whole family test’.Tonight we had Heston Blumenthal’s Chilli, I wanted to see if the extra ingredients (star anise, spiced butter,paprika,tomato ketchup (?!), cumin, half a bottle of red wine) would make a difference. Obviously, it being a Heston recipe, they did. This was an unbelievably mellow chilli, despite the fresh chilli and chilli powder that were included. It took 3 hours to cook but only the first 40 minutes or so required me to be at the stove. It’s definitely a chilli that we will be having again soon:To finish off this week, here’s the view from my new ‘shudio’, the evening before the rains came:I hope to be out here painting much more over the coming weeks, hopefully enjoying some warmer weather at the same time.

Flowers, Sheds and New Recipes …

This could possibly be the worlds most romantic gesture and I don’t think I’m exaggerating! Not only is my husband investing in a brand new shed (we thought our current one was going to collapse soon after we moved in here 12 years ago, we then thought it would collapse when we rotated it 90º a few years ago but it still held strong) but he has offered me a 50-50 share in it. He has spent much of the weekend clearing and sorting through our current shed, he has 3 weeks till the new one arrives and there’s lots to sort through. The plan is that I’ll be able to paint in there when it’s warm enough (might have to invest in a small heater …) instead of having to clear all my painting gear away from the table whenever we want to eat. Needless to say, I’ve had LOTS of ideas regarding the decor, something along the lines of my painting today springs to mind:

ShedWhether I manage to sneak in some bunting, fairy lights and flowers remains to be seen…

Last weekend, I bought a few new plants for the garden, there was such a lovely display of hellebores at the garden centre that I ended up buying three of them. I’ve not managed to take photos of them in colour that really do them justice, so I resorted to black and white, this is my favourite:

Despite forecasts of snow, there is definitely a sense of spring in the garden: For some reason (I am really not sure why, maybe just because I could) I threaded shells onto some string this week and hung them in the garden. We’ve collected hundreds of them over the years, each time we go to our favourite beaches in North Devon, we collect a few more. Anyway, at least they are seen displayed like this instead of being hidden away: I love the simplicity of these flowers:Food wise, we’ve tried out some new recipes this weekend. Yesterday, I made us a ‘Heston’ inspired dinner. We had home made pasta served with his take on a Carbonara Sauce. It was really tasty and as I had help with the pasta machine (from my youngest), it was really straightforward to make:
As the carbonara sauce required 6 egg yolks, I literally had no other option than to try Heston’s meringue recipe! The sugar in his recipe is half caster and half icing. The result was an incredibly smooth meringue mixture. I did then add some vanilla extract which wasn’t in Heston’s recipe but I do like it in meringues. We then added a spot of cream, raspberries, maltesers and really small marshmallows: 


Today, we had Pulled Pork served with a Spicy Sauce, Red Cabbage Slaw and Real Ale Bread Rolls (another Paul Hollywood recipe):

It was a delicious combination, we will be having the leftovers for our lunches over the coming days, it was a great way to use a slow roasted joint of pork.


A Week of Comfort Food …

We all need comfort food at some point, I’m sure! Anyone one who says they don’t is probably only kidding themselves. Last week was a case in point for us. Not only had the beautiful snow turned to ice and slush but the weather remained bitterly cold all week. As I mentioned in a previous post, we are all very concerned for a dear friend and her family. It was very hard to carry on as normal as she was and continues to be (rightly) uppermost in our thoughts. It was good to chat things through with my family, around the table over some plates of warming and indeed comforting food:

This Lemon Drizzle Cake was without a shadow of a doubt the best Lemon Drizzle Cake that I have ever made. The recipe is from Paul Hollywood and he uses home made lemon curd in his recipe, this made the sponge incredible lemon-y and it also gave the cake a real depth of flavour. The cake baked evenly too, which is always a bonus!

IMG_2332I also cooked from my ‘Spice Trip’ recipe book this week and the following were a real hit with everyone – my son who will quite happily eat a raw chilli or two, loved this chilli dipping sauce. Not only were there chillies and sugar in the recipe, there was also Thai fish sauce, rice wine and rice wine vinegar. We still have a little left in the fridge, having used it instead of ketchup on many occasions this week.IMG_2330 My other son is not such a fan of hot, spicy food but he loved this shallow fried chicken as it was coated in a delicious spice mix which included freshly ground cloves, star anise, cinnamon stick and fennel seeds. This is definitely one meal we shall be having again soon.IMG_2331Later in the week, we had some ‘open’ sausage rolls:

As I mixed the sausage meat to break it up a little, I managed to add onions, mushrooms and celery, without either of my boys noticing and they cleared their plates!!

To follow our main course, we had pancakes. It’s been a while since I used my ‘go-to’ recipe for pancakes so I thought it was time to give it a whirl. We had our lovely pancakes with thinly sliced banana, caramalised apples and a dribble of maple syrup – yum! IMG_2343 To finish off our week of comfort inspired food, we had Lemon and Lavender Chicken. This is a very simple recipe from Rachel Khoo’s ‘Little Paris Kitchen’ and although I didn’t have any fresh lavender seeds to hand, I used some heavily lavender infused honey which worked really well as a glaze on the chicken. I had run out of kitchen foil and so covered the chicken, quite tightly in baking parchment. It really worked – as the parchment became damp it kept the chicken really moist. It’s great when you discover something new completely by accident!IMG_2337That’s it for our ‘comfort food eating week’, I’m sure there will be some more next week too.


Hollywood Star …

As in Paul Hollywood, author of the wondrous ‘How to Bake’ book. Every recipe that I’ve tried from here has worked superbly. The instructions are clear and the end results have thus far been delicious.

First off yesterday were Cheese Biscuits. I’ve made cheese straws and even cheesy feet (cheese straw dough rolled out and cut with a foot shaped cutter) but these little biscuits were in a different league. They were light, crispy and full of flavour:

For our dessert yesterday, I made a chocolate and vanilla loaf cake. This is a cake for lovers of savoury food as it was not at all sweet. It did however have lots of flavour and served with some mint choc chip ice cream, was perfect:

Today, we had pancakes. Not our usual recipe though, we tried PH’s recipe – he made his with blueberries but as we didn’t have any, we had some sliced banana instead. We’ve decided that, delicious as these were, next time we will caramelise some apples and layer them between each pancake, we will also add some crème fraîche on the side:



Sous-chef, so helpful …

We didn’t have anything planned for yesterday afternoon so I decided to do some baking as well as prepare something extra tasty for our dinner. My 10 year old decided that he wanted to help. I wasn’t sure if he meant help a little or if he was going to last the full duration. I needed have worried, he was a full on ‘sous-chef’, in fact I think there were times when I was helping him rather than the other way round!!

We began with the baking – some simple cupcakes and white chocolate cookies to take to my in-laws when we go there for lunch later today. We then went on to the more demanding aspect of our afternoon: foccacia bread and home made spinach and ricotta ravioli.

Using Paul Hollywood’s ‘How to Bake’ Foccacia recipe, we made 2 beautiful foccacia loaves, one was made by my son in its entirety and the other made by me:

I was really impressed, we ate my son’s loaf with our dinner and it was delicious, it was perfectly ‘springy’ to the touch, baked right through and it looked and smelled incredible.

I was glad that I followed Paul Hollywood’s recipe as it totally changed how I make bread. I’ve noticed the following in many of his recipes and if they all turn out this well, I’ll be making them again and again:

  • Cold water should be added to the flour/yeast/salt, I’ve always added warm or even fairly hot water, mistakenly thinking that this would activate the yeast in a more efficient and speedy manner
  • Bread dough should be kneaded on an oiled work surface, rather than floured, this stops the dough from sticking and it prevents additional flour from being added to the mix which alters the proportions of the ingredients. There are some exceptions to this rule, all of which are indicated in his recipes
  • Dough should be left somewhere to prove, that is room temperature. Again, previously I’ve always tried to leave it somewhere warm, thinking this would aid the proving process
  • Proving can and should take as long as possible. In his recipes PH recommends that both first and second proving take at least an hour each and if possible, longer. I’ve always stuck to the times given in other recipes and didn’t realise that the longer and slower the proving process, the better the flavour of the bread. I have to say that based on the evidence yesterday, he’s right!

Next was making the ravioli filling. This did not turn out as we had hoped. It was way too runny to put inside ravioli so we made the decision to make wide ribbons of pasta instead. We then heated the spinach/gruyère/cream cheese/parmesan combination (we didn’t have any ricotta so had to improvise) and then we tossed the freshly cooked pasta in it to coat the ‘ribbons’.

Making the pasta was good fun, my other son joined in so that we had 3 pairs of hands turning the handle, feeding the pasta sheets through and collecting it as it came out of the machine, we then used our pasta tree to dry it a little whilst we made the rest:

We all agreed that the meal was delicious – even the spinach! I’ll certainly be asking my ‘sous-chefs’ for their help again.



A Savoury Sensation …

We had a lovely trip to Cardiff today, despite the rain. I went to one of my favourite shops –  ‘Lakeland‘ where they sell anything and everything food related. I looked through the cook books on display and one in particular caught my eye. It’s ‘How to Bake‘ by Paul Hollywood, he of the Great British Bake Off. I’ve picked up so many tips whilst watching both the series and the masterclasses that I thought I’d take a look inside his book. I was not disappointed! His main focus is definitely bread and savoury baking, although he does include cake baking in this book. There are so many recipes in this book that I’m impatient to try out – I was writing my shopping list whilst we were on the train, headed back to Bristol.

On returning home, I defrosted some organic bacon and some puff pastry (shop bought, I admit, but I was tight for time to get these ready for our tea tonight). I used these together with some grated mature cheddar cheese to make my version of Hollywood’s ‘Mozzarella and Bacon Bites’ – I didn’t have any mozzarella to hand and so had to improvise.

They really were delicious – the boys polished the lot off and have requested that I make them again and soon! Here’s how they looked:

I’m sure that other cheeses would work equally as well, they would also be interesting made with sausage meat.

Next on my list are the Moroccan Pasties and a Milk Loaf.