Sunday, 17 July 2016

let's cook: swiss rolls

I was tempted to change the title of this post to 'let's fail to cook: swiss rolls' as I'm afraid this challenge wasn't our finest hour. We actually completed this bake-off way back in April, but I've been holding off posting about it as it was such a disappointment.

Here goes though...promise not to laugh too much.

All I can say is that swiss rolls are harder than they look.

My effort is shown on the left (no amount of icing sugar can cover up that sorry mess), and my mum's is on the right.

I actually had two attempts here and this is the best of the two, which is really saying something. With my first effort I attempted a cake with no refined sugar but boy was that a mistake. The recipe used stevia as a substitute which I found out after baking has an aftertaste that will make you need to scrub your tongue (I actually had to do this).

Ignoring the taste, my first sponge came out pretty nice and fluffy. It cracked a bit while rolling but wasn't a complete disaster. But of course I had to start again, because of the stevia. I used a more traditional cake recipe for my second attempt, but think I rushed the whisking part and didn't get enough air in the mixture as my cake came out of the oven very flat and rubbery (with a distinct eggy aroma). Awful!

I also failed with my filling as I was aiming for something tropical, yoghurty and light, which instead ended up sloppy, oozy and gross. Oh well! You can't succeed at everything.

My mum's sponge actually looked ok, although she also reported a slightly eggy taste when freshly baked. I think her troubles were caused by baking for slightly too long, leading to this interesting geometric swiss roll.

You can't go wrong with a traditional jam filling though - sometimes it pays to play it safe!

We actually had an extra entry into the challenge this time. My brother Tim decided to take part too, and just look what he came up with:

A rather perfect looking swiss roll, which rather steals the show.

It totally looks the part, although both him and my mum confirmed that it was a bit dense and eggy too. Why are swiss rolls so hard?

And to the results...

Ben was very sweet and tried to give me a score of 2/10 but I've overruled that and awarded myself 0 marks as we had to throw the whole thing in the bin.

If I remember correctly my mum was awarded a 3/10 for her effort, and of course Tim came in first, although still with a fairly low score of 5/10.

I think we'll all have to give them another go one day, once the disappointment has worn off.

Next time we'll be making sushi. I'm looking forward to this one!
We can't do much worse...

Friday, 15 July 2016

I'm back, seedjack.

I've been going through a bit of a creative dry spell lately, with very little time spent making, drawing or crafting outside of work. I'm not sure why, but I think I need to rediscover some creative energy.

The only area where I am finding motivation, and enjoying making things, is in the kitchen. I've been setting time aside most weekends to do a spot of baking and Ben and I have been trying new recipes non-stop during the week. It's been a good time for our tummies!

I thought I'd share a little recipe for something I made at the weekend, as it was a successful baking experiment, inspired by a tasty seedy snack one of my work pals shared with me last week.

Savoury seedjack
(Makes approximately 12)

150g rolled oats
50g mixed seeds (plus extra for sprinkling)
100g grated cheddar cheese
50g mozzarella cheese
1tbsp melted butter
3 eggs
Small bunch of fresh chives (or other herbs)
Salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 190ÂșC and line a 20 x 20cm baking tin with parchment.

Mix the oats, seeds, cheddar, mozzarella, butter, eggs and herbs in a bowl and season with salt and pepper.

Put the mix in your lined tin and ensure it is evenly distributed right to the corners. At this stage I sprinkled the top of my mixture with a small handful of linseeds. 

Put in the oven and bake for 25-30 mins, until golden brown on top.

Transfer to a rack to cool, and then slice into flapjack pieces.

So easy! Now enjoy...

They're perfect for a mid-morning work snack. Lovely and cheesy. I think I'm going to make another batch this weekend, with extra seeds.

Let me know if you try this recipe out as I'd love to hear how you get on!

Sunday, 10 April 2016

A week in new recipes

I've started to think much more about the food we eat at home recently and am trying to make a conscious effort to be more healthy and sustainable in our food choices.

On the whole we are already a pretty healthy household - our diet is mostly vegetarian (with the occasional foray into seafood) and we prepare nearly all our meals from scratch - apart from the occasional shop bought pizza! However, I'm a sucker for sweet snacks and want to try and wean myself away from the refined sugar and onto more healthy snacks.

I'm also keen to cut down on both gluten and dairy, both because I think it will probably improve my day-to-day health, and for environmental reasons. I've watched a couple of documentaries about the food industry recently, including Cowspiracy, and it's hard not to want to make a change after listening to some of the facts about how the food we eat impacts the environment.

I've also recently been inspired by Rachel's 365 Recipes project. She cooks delicious and healthy plant-based food and her feed is a feast for the eyes. While I can't commit to trying a new recipe every day like Rachel does, I would love to boost the number of new recipes I try and experiment with using less processed ingredients in our meals.

So...I'm going to try and post a bit more regularly about our food choices and some of the recipes we try in an aim to capture the recipes for future reference, and encourage myself to keep cooking new things and move gradually to a better way of eating.

Here are some of the things we've been eating in the past week or two...

Clockwise from top left: Parmesan, parsley & paprika biscuits // Pea pancakes // Chocolate shortbread // Banana & blueberry bread

Parmesan, Parsley & Paprika biscuits
These were based on the Parmesan biscuits recipe from this book. Although not the healthiest of snacks we needed a savoury snack to counteract the leftover Easter chocolate. I added parsley to the cookie dough, but if making again I'd probably increase the quantities of parsley & paprika for more of a flavour boost.

Pea pancakes with roasted tomatoes, houmous & homemade ketchup
This recipe was very pleasing for me. The pancakes were from a recipe in this allotment cookbook and while we first had these a couple of weeks ago with roasted asparagus & feta there was enough mixture left over to freeze and use another day. Today was that day, and I enjoyed a delicious late brunch in the spring sunshine - the pancakes are delicious, and a great colour too!

Ben made the ketchup from a recipe found in this Hemsley & Hemsley book (a recommendation from Rachel) and it complimented the pancakes really well, especially when topped with lots of roasted seeds.

Chocolate shortbread
Ok, I know I said I was trying to be healthy and eat less sweet snacks, but this shortbread recipe is pretty low on sugar (let's not mention the butter) and I was making them to share with friends. Another one from the Cookie Magic book - it has a great variety of sweet & savoury biscuits!

Hemsley & Hemsley banana bread (with added blueberries)
Another one from The Art of Eating Well - this gluten free loaf uses natural sweeteners (maple syrup) and will make a perfect early morning snack for us to take to work for the next few days. The temptation to reach for shop-bought cereal bars in the morning needs to be curbed.

I really like the texture and taste of this bread, and will definitely be making it again!

Other recipes cooked but lacking photos include:
  • Hemsley & Hemsley Asparagus & Pea Quinoa risotto with mint & parsley oil (turned into Quinoa risotto balls the following day)
  • Hemsley & Hemsley Feta & Black bean burgers (cooked by Ben and served with Courgette Fries & Homemade tomato ketchup)
  • River Cottage quinoa salad with courgettes & onions

I hope to share more soon. I'm enjoying spending my evenings browsing recipe books at the moment. Tonight, we eat macaroni peas!

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

let's cook: ravioli

Three cooking challenges in three months - we're doing really well this year! This one was a tough one too. We set ourselves the challenge of filled pasta, which actually involves a lot more thought than I first imagined.

First we had to decide on the form of pasta and the dough recipe, then we had to think of the filling, and finally decide on a sauce/accompaniment to serve with. A lot of elements to consider.

We both went for ravioli as you can see - mine is pictured on the left above, and my mum's is on the right.

I've broken the process down into stages below with some recipes too if you'd like to try it yourself.


I had never made pasta before (nor had my mum) so this was an exciting one for me. I always had visions of it being really difficult, making a lot of mess and needing a lot of space, but thankfully none of the above turned out to be true!

I didn't want to stick with just plain egg pasta dough so I decided to make two different batches of pasta - one with parsley & one coloured with beetroot - both of which filled me with more pleasure than balls of dough should.

For the parsley pasta I used the "advanced" mixing method of forming the dough directly on work surface by cracking the eggs into a well made in the flour. I felt like a pro! I wasn't quite as adventurous with the beetroot one (mostly because I didn't want to stain the whole kitchen pink) so opted for the food processor approach with that one.

Isn't the colour great? Like pink bubblegum!

The recipes I used were as follows...


Each of these makes about 450g of pasta.

Parsley pasta 
2 eggs
1⅓ cups 00 pasta flour
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons olive oil

Beetroot pasta
2 eggs
1½ cups 00 pasta flour
1 small roasted red beetroot (pureed)
1 tablespoon olive oil

Method (the professional way!)

Place your flour on the work surface and make a well in the centre.

Crack the eggs into the well and add the oil and extras, e.g the herbs.

Using a fork, beat the mixture in the centre, slowly incorporating the flour. If you're like me, you'll find you might get a bit eager with the fork and break through your flour walls so be on the lookout for egg overflow. As more and more of the flour begins to combine with the egg you'll probably want to abandon the fork in favour of using your hands.

Once the mixture is combined into a solid ball knead the dough for about 10 minutes until it becomes stronger and more elastic. When your dough looks smooth and no longer feels sticky, shape it into a ball and cover with a tea towel/clingfilm to keep it moist.

Then let the dough rest for at least 30 minutes.

When you are ready to use your dough, cut it into quarters so you can work on one piece at a time, while keeping the other pieces covered to prevent them drying out.

I actually invested in a pasta machine for this project as I had some vouchers I'd been given for my birthday. Beforehand I thought I'd just make my pasta by hand, but decided to treat myself, and I'm very pleased I did!

Because I made two lots of dough I had enough to make some extras on top of my ravioli so I used my pasta maker to roll out the dough and then cut it into tagliatelle & fettuccine. It worked really well, and was a nice added extra for this challenge! I have frozen some of the fresh pasta to eat at a later date too.


Back to the ravioli. The filling I decided to used was taken from this Food 52 recipe and was a combination of parsley, mint, ricotta and goat cheese.

It was just a case of combining all the ingredients in a bowl and then dolloping on the rolled out pasta. I found this whole process very relaxing; rolling out the dough, passing it through the pasta machine until it was thin, and then constructing the ravioli.

I bought myself a round ravioli cutter (I also got a square one for my mum!) so was able to create some nice uniform shapes. They looked really nice I think, and held together well.


I made my ravioli in the day time while Ben was at work, but couldn't wait to the evening to try them so made myself a small portion of super fresh ones, which I served on a bed of fettuccine with a homemade avocado pesto and load of parmesan. Delicious! And so quick to cook!

It was the first day of the year that it was warm enough for me to eat my lunch in the garden too so that was an added treat.

I think the ravioli was best cooked fresh as I wasn't quite sure how to store them once constructed and put them in the fridge, but after a while I think the filling began to seep into the pasta a bit and they got a little sticky. Perhaps I rolled the pasta thinner than I was meant to?

Anyway, there were still some good (non-sticky) ones left for Ben to try when he got home from work. This batch was a mixture of herb and beetroot ones, and I served them on parsley tagliatelle with sauteed asparagus and walnuts in a lemony buttery sauce, using this recipe from Green Valley Kitchen.

It was a nice feast!

My mum made her batch on Easter Monday and she said that she found it pretty challenging one too - apparently there was flour everywhere!

She opted for an egg pasta dough, but tried two different fillings. One which was spinach based, and the other a ricotta one. With no pasta maker available she rolled out her pasta by hand and thinks she may have left it a little thick as she found the ravioli took a while to cook. Look how neat they are though. Like little pillows.

She served it with a pomodoro sauce, although confessed that it came out looking a bit like chutney, which is a little odd. Good to see a healthy helping of parmesan too though.

Now, on to the scoring...

Ben gave me a very respectable 9/10 with one point being deducted by the disappointment of me having to throw some of the super sticky ravioli pieces into the bin. I definitely think I'll be making pasta again though so I'll try and make it when he's not at work next time so we can both enjoy it super fresh!

My dad gave my mum another high score with 8/10, possibly with a couple of marks being deducted due to the thickness of the pasta. I did have the advantage of having a pasta machine so I would bump that up to a 9 too I think.

Another pretty good round! This challenge is really improving our skills.

My mum has requested an easier challenge next time (not involving dough) so we have opted for swiss rolls or roulades. I've already started pinning some recipe inspiration.

The thought of them is making my mouth water already.

Saturday, 12 March 2016


My felted tweed cardigan is finally finished. Doesn't it look grand? I really like the contrast trim and it fits really nicely, so a success all round I'd say.

It took me a little longer than my original Christmas deadline, but that is partly because I got caught up knitting a jumper for a small dog so I'll let myself off the hook.

The pattern is from this Rowan Loves brochure which has a few knitting patterns that I really want to make. And they use really nice yarns too!

I actually took the plunge and invested in the Rowan Felted tweed yarn the pattern recommends, rather than taking my usual (thriftier) approach of substituting for different (cheaper) wool.

I think in the past I have doubted my knitting skills a bit more and worried about buying quality yarn and then wasting it by making a badly fitting cardigan I wouldn't wear, but I have confidence in my abilities now so I'm going to try not to hold back.

I also learnt a new skill whilst making this garment, the pick up stitches method for adding on a button band. With previous cardigans I have always knitted the button bands as separate pieces and sewn them on, but am pleased with the pick up and knit method as the end result seems much neater, and it means I can avoid some of the dreaded sewing up.

It's nice to have learnt a new technique too!

The pattern for this cardigan also has a few variations, both in sleeve length and neckline, so I may use it again to make a slightly different version. It's nice when you find a reliable pattern you want to make again and again.

But for now, I'm going to make the most out of this one.

In other news, I've already started on my next knitting project: a chunky knit jumper to keep me warm on spring and summer evenings. I'd forgotten quite how quick knitting with chunky yarn can be and I've already made good progress - the front and back are done, and only took a week each. At this rate, maybe I'll have it finished by the end of March.

Wishful thinking perhaps?

Saturday, 5 March 2016

a brown valentine

I decided to make Ben a little crochet banner for Valentine's day this year, in his favourite colour: brown!

I didn't have a pattern so just sort of made it up as I went. It turned out to be a fairly quick project, which was lucky as I had to make the whole thing in secret one Saturday while Ben was at work.

I used some nice speckled brown wool which I'd originally bought as an alternative option for the bobble hat I made last summer and added a corded edge in cream. Once I'd finished I crocheted around a stick along the top edge to hang the banner.

It ended up looking just as expected, which was a nice surprise.

I debated whether to embroider or add a felted design, but in the end opted to crochet on a heart shape using a series of slip stitches. The end result looked nicely wonky I think.

And Ben said it was lovely so I was very pleased.
In return he made me probably the best card ever. So good!

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!