Monday, 8 February 2016

let's cook: bakewell tarts

Our second cooking challenge of the year is complete! Bakewell tarts was the test this time, and it was like a proper bake-off (in that both of our recipes came from the Great British Bake Off).

I went down the Mr.Kipling route with an iced bakewell tart, and my mum went a bit more rustic, with a scattered almond and icing topping.

I was pretty impressed with how mine turned out actually - I thought it might be a challenge too far to get the pastry, frangipane AND icing to turn out right, but I think I did ok - and I enjoyed making it a lot.

The recipe I used was by GBBO contestent Luis Troyano, and I'm pleased to say my tart looks pretty similar to the photo used on the recipe - a visual success!

I enjoyed working with the sweet shortcrust pastry - I managed to roll it out nice and thin, and ended up with a pretty neat looking tart case after the blind bake.

And I haven't made a frangipane filling before so I wasn't really sure what to expect. When I first added it to the tart case it looked like I hadn't made quite enough (and I actually made a little more than the recipe required) but after baking it had risen quite a bit and I wasn't left with a sunken looking tart like I'd been worrying about.

Here's what it looked like post baking - not too shabby!

I thought the icing might be my downfall so I really concentrated on getting a neat and smooth layer, without getting any crumbs mixed in, which has been an issue in the past. I ended up with a pretty even coverage - right to the edges too!

And the stripes were super easy. I'm pleased it didn't matter that I had slightly wobbly hands at the time.


My mum found her recipe in one of the Bake Off books. She said she struggled a bit with the pastry and she had to do a couple of patch up jobs prior to baking. It looks like she had more than enough frangipane though, as it ended up taller than the pastry.

I quite like her approach to a topping - a scatter of almonds with just a drizzle of icing. A good option for the less sweet-toothed among us as the fully iced tarts are definitely super sweet.

So, how did they taste? 

Overall I found my tart pretty tasty, although admit it was a bit of a sugar overload. I worried at first that I'd spread the jam too thinly on the base, but think it was the right amount in the end - the filling was nice and moist, in contrast to the crisp pastry.

My mum has reported that hers was very tasty too, although she thinks she used too much jam on the base, and she said her pastry was a little uneven. It looks good though!

And the scores...

I made my tart the same weekend as my mum and dad came to visit so for the first time in a while we had the same judge to make a direct comparison.

Both my parents and Ben gave my bakewell tart a 9/10, with my mum and dad deducting a point because of the sweetness, and Ben deducting a point for the lack of cherry on each slice (!) I gave him another slice with a cherry on the following day so he was happy in the end.

My dad, it turns out, is quite a fan of bakewell tarts and was generous with his voting across the board, giving my mum a 9/10 too. However, my mum insisted I reduce this to an 8 as she wasn't pleased with the technical side of her bake.

Personally, I think she should take the high marks while she can, as she never knows what my dad is going to refuse to eat.

On the whole, I think we both did really good this time round.

Next time we'll be making filled pasta - I'm thinking ravioli.
I hope it doesn't matter that we don't have pasta machines...

Sunday, 31 January 2016

mini knitted hearts

Mini knitted heart valentines knitting pattern

As Valentines day is almost upon us I thought I'd share a favourite knitting project of mine - these knitted hearts make perfect gifts for loved ones on Valentines Day, or any day!

It's also a super quick knit - I made one yesterday using some of my hand dyed yarn and it was done within the hour.

I've shared the pattern below if you'd like to try one out.

Mini knitted heart valentines knitting pattern

Knitted hearts

Yarn and needles 
I recommend DK wool and side 8 (4mm) needles as a starting point, but you can experiment different weights and sizes if you want a larger or smaller heart.

Cast on 2 stitches.

For the bottom of the heart:
Row 1: purl
Row 2: kfb in both stitches (4sts)
Row 3: p
Row 4: kfb, k to last st, kfb
Repeat rows 3 & 4 until you have 20sts
Purl 1 row

For the top of the heart:
Row 1: k10, then turn
Row 2: p2tog, p6, p2tog
Row 3: k
Row 4: p2tog, p4, p2tog
Row 5: cast off

Repeat the above 5 rows for the remaining 10 sts on needle.

Finishing up
Weave in loose ends.
Sew up and stuff.

Now leave them on pillows, hide them around the house or tuck them in coat pockets - they'll be a nice little surprise for whoever you choose to make one for.

Mini knitted heart valentines knitting pattern
Add caption

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Hanover house numbers 26-50

Here's the second set of photos from my house number series over on Instagram.

I'm still enjoying the amount of variety - they are all pretty unique, especially alongside the colourful walls of the houses. 45 is a particular favourite - I love how it's embedded in the wall.

I'm uploading the photos over on Instagram under #hanoverhousenumbers if you want to follow the series.

The regularity of my posts has definitely slowed down due to the shorter daylight hours and the change in my daily commute, but I expect it will pick up in the summer, and maybe I will be able to reach 100 around a year after I started (in July).

I just need to find a nice number 51 first...

Sunday, 10 January 2016

let's cook: stuffed bread

Our cooking challenge is off to a strong start this year - with both of us making our stuffed breads in the first week of January. Last year we had four different cook-offs: dips, tart tatin, gnocchi and jam & scones. Let's see if we can better that this year!

I think this one was a good challenge - neither of us have done much bread-making before so it was a bit of a skill test - but also a creative one in terms of deciding on a filling and shaping the bread.

I made a couple of Mediterranean style pesto and sundried tomato mini plaited loaves, and my mum went made a giant plaited bread ring with a Moroccan filling: olives, goats cheese and a spicy onion mixture. Sounds tasty to me.

I used this great recipe from Mediterranealicious as a basis for my bread but made my own pesto for the filling and added some sundried tomatoes. The pesto was super quick. Here's the recipe if you want to try it out.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Super speedy basil pesto


2 packed cups of fresh basil leaves
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup grated parmesan
¼ cup pine nuts
2 crushed garlic cloves


Put all the ingredients in a food processor and mix.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

The recipe above makes enough pesto for the bread, with some left over to use another day (we had it with linguine the following day and it was delicious!)

When it came to making the bread I ran into a bit of difficulty as the dried yeast I had in the cupboard had expired I think - I tried twice and it just would not activate, and my first two batches of dough refused to rise.

I went out and bought some instant yeast sachets though and that did the trick. I left the dough for an hour in a warm place and it rose enough that I was sure the yeast was doing it's job. From the sound of it, my mum's yeast was super active as she said her dough kept growing and growing!

Once the dough and the pesto were ready I rolled out the bread mixture into an A3 sized piece, covered with the pesto and some chopped sundried tomatoes, then rolled it lengthways to create a long tube. I strayed from the recipe instructions here and chopped my rolled up dough in half to make two smaller loaves.

The fun bit was cutting the rolled dough in half lengthways to reveal the filling, then twisting the two halves around each other to make the plait.

I thought it might untwist itself as it baked in the oven, but luckily it came out looking the same shape as when it went in. I really like the outcome here - the shape is really nice and the fact that there is so much filling on display makes it look pretty tempting.

My mum said she got on quite well with her recipe too - which was from a Bake Off book. I think she was a bit suprised by how big it turned out, but it looks like a successful bit of baking, and the flavours sound great! the scores:

We both ended up eating the bread warm from the oven with some baked Camembert (great minds!) Judging by the picture my mum and brother enjoyed theirs over a game of Scrabble.

It's lucky my mum had my brother there as a judge as my dad had two bites and decided he didn't like the flavours (typical!) My mum scored a generous 9/10 from Tim though, with the score being bumped up to 10 because it was served with cheese.

Ben also gave me a very generous mark of 10. I'm wondering now if this is possibly partially due to the cheese too? Either way it was a great result all round - full marks for us both!

Maybe one of the most successful cooking challenges to date?

Next time we'll be making Bakewell tarts.
I think I might do an iced one. Yummy.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

hello 2016

Happy new year! I hope you've all enjoyed the festive period and best wishes for 2016!

Yet again, I was a bit under the weather over Christmas which left me feeling a bit unenthusiastic about everything. But I'm feeling much better now and in a positive frame of mind about the year just gone and the year ahead.

2015 was a great year: Ben & I moved into our first home together - we cooked, we gardened, we holidayed and we adopted a cat! Below are some of my personal favourites from Instagram which sum up the past year...

And now to 2016. I didn't really make any resolutions last year, but I've got a few in mind for this year. Hopefully all very achievable....

Be nicer - be kind
I think it's always good to keep this as a conscious thought - to help be more generous and selfless.

Connect more with friends and family
I've really loved spending time in our new house, so I spent a lot of time at home in 2015. That in itself is no bad thing, but I want to make the effort to keep in touch and see friends and family more often this year. 

Reply to messages and emails sooner
This is one that has come up in my new years resolutions before. I often find myself receiving a message or an email and thinking "I'll respond to that when I have a moment to reply properly." Then it slips my mind and I don't reply for ages. I must do better!

Go on the London Eye
It's been there 16 years now and I must be one of the only people not to go on it! This year is the year.

Eat a pickled egg
Always good to have an eating challenge to tick off the list. I think Ben's going to try jellied eels!

Draw more
No specific challenge here. Just to try and find the time to draw a bit more often.

And that's it!
Good luck with your resolutions if you have any, and have a brilliant year!

Thursday, 31 December 2015

things I like this November and December...

Columns (L-R):
1  •  2  •  3  •  4  •  5  •  6  •  7  •  8  •  9  •  10  •  11  •  12  •  13  •  14  •  15  •  16  •  17  •  18  •  19

A final set of Pinterest favourites to round off the year.
A busy mixture!

Monday, 23 November 2015

colourful crochet

I've made a bunch more crochet squares for my stitch library. Every time I think I've run out of different colours of wool I manage to dig out a couple more balls from my yarn basket.

A couple of these were made from the wool I received in my recent Fibreshare package. It was lovely to make use of them so quickly! 

Of these ones I think the embossed circles is the most interesting (and surprisingly easy to crochet too!) although the colour I used for the crossbill stitch also make that one a firm favourite.

I actually spread all my squares out on the floor on Saturday and I think I do have enough for a medium sized blanket. I'm tempted to go large and try out some more stitches though. 

We'll see!

Saturday, 21 November 2015

shopping list sketches

I've decided it's time to revive my shopping list hunt.

I found this list Ben made in our recycling box this morning and realised how long it has been since I've done any drawing. I thought this might make a nice weekly drawing challenge to try and keep up over the coming months.

To get me started I drew the very minuscule butternut squash that has been winding it's way across our patio. We planted it a bit late so unfortunately it's never going to reach it's full potential. I love the way squashes grow though.

Tangles of tendrils.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

a new pal

This is Mary, our new housemate.

Isn't she sweet? We adopted her from the RSPCA two weeks ago and she seems to be settling in well.

I decided to make her a little welcome present in the form of a knitted worm...

A french knitted worm.

It's funny how quickly I forget how to do french knitting and have to look it up on youtube each time for a refresher. It was so quick to make once I got going though.

And Mary seems to like it...

We woke the other morning to find that she had carried it up to bed in the night.
Sweet little one.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

shibori sample needle cases

I have a lot of Shibori samples in my fabric pile since the recent workshop I attended at Sussex Prairie Garden and I've been really keen to start using them.

I wanted to start with small scale projects, as sewing isn't always my forte, so I decided to make some sewing needle cases. A handy make for me as I'm always using track of my yarn darning needles.

I decided to go for patchwork approach and picked out some of my Shibori samples as well as some other favourite fabric pieces (you may recognise them from the cushion cover I made recently).

When it came to the sewing I mixed together some different fabrics and layouts for each case. I didn't really have a plan in mind, and instead just sort of made it up as I went along. You may be able to tell!

To hold the needles/pins I sewed some felt into the insides of the cases, and I also found some gold elastic in my sewing box which I used for the button fastenings.

They turned out well I think. It's a good thing that I wasn't going for a consistent look and feel because they all ended up slightly different sizes. I think that's ok though, especially as I was going for a Japanese Boro sort of approach.

Here they all are...

Not too shabby (I hope).

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

adventures in dyeing yarn

Last month I signed up to the latest FibreShare yarn swap. As part of my swap package I decided to try my hand at dyeing some yarn. 

It's something I've been wanting to try for a while and I thought it would be nice to include something handmade and unique for my swap partner, along with the other fibre goodies.

I've shared a little about the process I followed below if you are interested. 

I thought I'd start on a small scale so I picked picked two 50g balls of eco cotton yarn, one in a pale blue and one in a pale lilac. My aim was to try some ombre effects with the dye and I didn't want a pure white base colour to begin with.

I separated out each 50g ball into two (very approximate) 25g skeins and tied each skein in various places so that it wouldn't get too tangled whilst dyeing.

Next was the fun part! I chose a sunny October saturday and set up a couple of buckets of dye in the garden. The dye colours I chose were emerald green and burlesque red, although as you can see they ended up more like blue and purple.

I dip-dyed segments of the yarn for different lengths of time to try and achieve some different colour effects and I dyed a couple of the skeins in both dye baths to create some colour gradients.

Once I was happy with them I rinsed the dye out in cold water and then hand-washed the cotton with some detergent, just to wash out any colour that wasn't fixed. Then I hung them on the line to catch the end of the day's sunshine (which unfortunately didn't last very long so I had to bring them in and dry them inside overnight).

Once they were dry I wound them up into small hanks, which did involve getting in a bit of a tangle, but they ended up nice and neat in the end.

Here are the finished results... 

I'm really happy with how they all turned out, and love the fact that they're all different. I sent a couple of them out to my FibreShare partner and kept a couple for myself. 

I can't wait to see how they look when they're knitted. Shame they're all quite small, but it'll make a good reference point for future attempts. It would be so nice to knit a cardigan out of my own hand-dyed yarn.

Next I want to try dyeing with natural materials. 
We've already started collecting up our onion skins!

Thursday, 29 October 2015

things I like this September and October...

Columns (L-R):  1  •  2  •  3  •  4  •  5  •  6  •  7  •  8  •  9  •  10  •  11  •  12  •  13  •  14  •  15  •  16

Some more Pinterest picks.
Blues and pinks, and hand-dyed gems.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

sunday morning making

I was a little under the weather yesterday so I failed to do much at all - eating cheese on toast under a blanket was my achievement of the day. 

I really hate to waste the weekend hours so to make up for it I got up nice and early this morning (very much helped by Ben's pre-dawn work alarm) and decided to get to work making a cushion. 

I picked out one of my Shibori samples as a starting point and then matched it with some other fabric pieces I had at home - I really love how they all look together. Nice patterns and colours.

It turned out really well - I love it! 

I haven't really done much patchwork sewing before so this was a good test of my skills. I think one of my vague goals is to practise making things on the sewing machine more and improve my skills (and patience levels). Having these Shibori samples to work with is really encouraging me, so hopefully there'll be more to come.

Shibori overload!