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Showing posts with label cooking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cooking. Show all posts

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Cooking for the in-laws

food for husband's parents

The first time I cooked for my husband's family was when we'd only been together for about six months. His extended family were coming over to his parents' house and I offered to make a tiramisu for everyone. I hadn't considered the fact that they were Italian and that there was no whipping cream in the house for the topping. I managed to substitute cream cheese, single cream and a lot of whipping to make it, and it seemed to go down well, but I'll never forget the panic and horror that overcame me when I realised that I was making tiramisu for the first time, for my Italian in-laws.

Since Dan's parents are allowing us to stay with them rent-free, we're taking on a lot of the cooking duties. I've probably made it pretty clear from my previous posts about this whole moving fandango, but we're actually really happy with this arrangement because Dan's parents have a beautiful kitchen! On Friday night, we drafted a meal plan for the week, focusing on things that we would have had trouble making in the tiny kitchen in our old flat, as well as some of our favourite recipes that we really wanted to make for the family.

Last night's dinner was planned to be a butternut squash and chilli soup with freshly baked bread, and a rhubarb crumble for pudding. Any of you who follow me on twitter will know that the bread ended up off the menu as the yeast I used was a sachet we'd brought from our flat, which was lonnnnng dead. Sad times. Aside from that, everything went to plan. Cutting up butternut squash is always a hassle, but the soup was shaping up to be silky and flavoursome. Then Dan's sister dropped the bombshell that she didn't actually really like butternut squash or rhubarb very much. I want to please everyone all the time, and I hated the idea that I'd be making food that she wouldn't like! It's always a struggle to cook for people whose palates you don't know fully, I think. Plus, there's the added pressure that I really want my husband's family to love me and to like the things that I make for them!

Soup with creme fraiche

In the end, Dan's sister really liked the soup, which made me almost cry with relief! Dan's mum said "mmmm" a lot, and his Dad was very impressed with the concept of a butternut squash. My personal goal for the next few months is to improve my food presentation skills (for eating and photographing!) and this was my first time garnishing a soup with olive oil, and everyone said it looked pretty! (PHEW!!!) The rhubarb crumble didn't look as beautiful but it tasted good, and apparently Dan's sister is now also a rhubarb convert too. I'm pleased with how that went. Now to continue this positive streak for another two months worth of evening meals!

Have you ever cooked a meal for someone else? Did you find it at all stressful? Was it a disaster or did it all go to plan?

vegetable love

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Boozy popsicle cocktails

alcoholic ice lollies

Storms one moment, blazing hot sunshine the next - that’s what we’re dealing with in the UK right now and I’ve come up with the perfect solution - cocktail ice lollies. When it’s sweltering outside, you can cool off with one of your favourite cocktails in a frozen format, and when it turns to storm, you can get tipsy enough to forget it’s raining…! Hurrah!
The main thing to remember when making any kind of frozen alcoholic treat, is that alcohol doesn’t really freeze properly in the average person’s freezer. So these ice pops aren’t actually going to make you drunk. There’s not that much alcohol in them. I’ve not given exact measurements, because I don’t know how big your ice lolly moulds are, but if you use the ratios I’ve given, you’ll be fine! We made Mojito, G&T, and PiƱa Colada cocktails, but you should get super creative and try your favourite cocktail in popsicle form!

mojito popsicle recipe

Mojito
1 part Rum (whatever type you prefer)
1 part Simple Syrup
4 part Soda Water
1 part fresh lime juice
Several sprigs of mint

gin and tonic ice lolly idea

Gin and tonic
1 part Gin
½ part Syrup
4 parts Tonic Water
Cucumber or lime (depending on what’s your favourite!)

pina colada popsicle

Pina Colada
3 Blended Pineapple
2 Coconut Cream
1 Rum

If you increase the amount of alcohol or syrup it probably won’t freeze and you will have a slushy. The mojito and G&T are about at the limit of what will freeze and they melt pretty fast! We froze ours for about four hours, but I’d recommend freezing them overnight.

So let me know if you give this a try - or if you’ve got any secret frozen cocktail recipes you want to tell me! This is a really simple and fun recipe to prepare for parties, or just to have a fun twist on your evening cocktail! Oh, and if you love ice cream, why not check out my top 5 ice creams in London?!

UK ice lolly moulds

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Crafting through anxiety and depression

One of the most common pieces of blogging advice for fashion or lifestyle bloggers is always “keep it positive”, and “don’t use your blog as a platform to vent about your sadness”. The idea is that people read your blog for escapism and they don’t need you to deliver your negativity to them, which makes perfect sense. On the other hand, people read fashion and lifestyle blogs because they feel a connection with the blogger, and I think it is easier to form meaningful connections through honest blogging than being 100% chirpy, all the time. Plus, blogging about issues such as depression or anxiety doesn’t necessarily have to be negative.
crafting through depression
I’ve been an anxious person for as long as I can remember. I spent my childhood convinced that I was going to die from some kind of botched operation and I would wake up sweating from nightmares about dying on an operating table. I cried often, and I obsessed over every perceived failure or inadequacy in my schoolwork, in my social life, with regards to my appearance… the list goes on! (This is where I feel like it’s necessary to let you know that this article isn’t going to have some kind of magical turnaround moment, where I go, “BUT NOW I’M FINE!” because that would be a lie).
crochet girl in park
Being a perfectionist doesn’t mean that you are perfect! Somewhere along the line, saying that you’re a perfectionist has become an arrogant statement – I find this unbelievably ironic because it’s my perfectionism that holds me back more than anything else. Sometimes I feel like if I can’t do something perfectly then it isn’t worth doing… or like I want to see results immediately. This is where craft comes in. Or really, any art form for that matter (and I truly believe that craft IS art). Pick up a crochet hook, chain a few stitches, and HEY LOOK – THERE’S YOUR RESULT! You did it! And you did it all by yourself. It’s the same with painting, with knitting, embroidery, and even cooking. The beautiful thing about creating of any kind is that you have something to show for your effort. Even if it’s the smallest thing, there is a measurable achievement there. And as someone who has a very real problem with leaving this planet having made no mark on it, seeing evidence of achievement, however small, is very important.
retro granny square designs
I’m not saying that crochet cured my anxiety – far from it. But I’ve found something about which I don’t have to feel anxious or depressed. I’ve not made any commitments to anyone to make anything. I’m doing it for myself. And if it’s crap, nobody has to know about it – I can unravel it and start again when I’m feeling better about it. As well as having something to show for my efforts, and having an outlet, creative activities such as cooking, crochet and embroidery give me something to occupy my mind in such a way that it gives me space to sort things out in my head a little bit. It takes the ‘edge’ off in such a way that I can see situations a little bit more objectively than I could otherwise. This has allowed me to prevent panic attacks from time to time, although there is no way that knitting or any other craft would be able to stop a panic attack in its tracks altogether.
easy tart and kale salad recipe
The final verse in this love song to crafts and creation is the aspect of ‘self care’ that they can provide. Making a meal gives me an excuse to feed myself, and to think about all of the nutrition I’m getting from my lovingly prepared food. Making a blanket means that ultimately, I’ll have something to snuggle up in when I’m cold. Embroidering and adorning things makes my environment more beautiful. Sometimes, when I’m feeling at my worst, it’s difficult to look after myself in a direct way, which is why framing it in craft or cooking can be really beneficial.
crochet in nature

So here are my tips for crafting through the pain:

  •         Start very small. Don’t try to sew a king-sized quilt if you’ve never quilted before. Just make a coaster or something.
  •         Don’t tell anyone you’re going to do it. Just try it out. Maybe knitting will turn you into a stress cadet. Perhaps it will give you a sense of satisfaction that you’ve never experienced before!
  •         Don’t feel like you have to craft anything for anyone else.
  •         Only craft things that make you happy. Don’t make a dress if you don’t wear dresses. Don’t cook an omelette if you hate eggs!
  •         There is no such thing as failure in craft. Your worst-case scenario is that you end up with a pan full of burnt eggs or a tiny little holey square of knitting. It’s still something you made!  And nobody needs to know, remember?!
geek in embroidered labcoat science embroidery

I’ve not really touched upon the feminist relationship with craft movements in this article, because I think that it merits a whole article of its own. Still, there’s plenty of discourse on the internet already that makes very compelling arguments about these traditionally ‘feminine’ pursuits. Have you made anything recently? Has craft helped you to form a personal weapon against your anxiety or depression? Let me know!

Monday, 28 January 2013

Winter in Brittany

I love the "country lifestyle".

Right now, I live in central London, but when I was growing up in Brighton I always had unlimited access to both the beach and the countryside. I also spent my summers in rural France, exploring everything on my own. I always relish going to stay with my Dad, so here's a little taster of what I got up to on my very relaxing trip to stay with him, this winter.

winter beach walk
winter sunset

festive table setting

winter prawn stew

analogue camera and woolen legs

twilight trees

magic lake brittany
It was the perfect way to convalesce after my operation. I'm on my way back to health, and looking forward to a productive, healthy, and happy new year. This year, I'm getting married, and lots of other exciting things are going to happen too! Keep your eyes peeled, friends!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Learn to make: RAINBOW CAKE!

Chums! The time has finally come for the much-anticipated Rainbow Cake tutorial! This is how to make Rainbow Cake in the UK!

This is not a cake for the fainthearted! It contains a LOT of sugar, and a LOT of artificial colouring. It's the sort of thing I almost certainly wouldn't have been allowed to eat as a child - but now that I'm a grownup I can go absolutely WILD and bake whatever I want. Stickin' it to the maaaan.

Rainbow Cake

I made this cake for my beautiful friend Tara (who does beautiful art which you can see here) because it was her birthday. Roughly speaking, I followed the Martha Stewart recipe (which she got from somewhere else, but that's the internet, guys!), but I'll take you through what I did!

Rainbow Cake Ingredients Food Colouring

So let's start with ingredients! Obviously, Martha Stewart's recipe is American, so I had to substitute with ingredients I could find in England! I also converted all of the American measurements (cups, etc) into Metric measurements, using the wonders of Google.
Here's what I used:
* 360g (but let's be realistic, more like 400g) of Plain Flour.
* 4 teaspoons of baking powder.
* Half a teaspoon of salt.
* 250g of unsalted butter.
* 400g of white caster sugar. (1. That's an unHOLY amount of sugar, even once I reduced the amount. 2. I usually use golden caster sugar but you want the mixture for this cake to be as white as possible so that the rainbow colours shine through better, so I'd recommend white caster sugar here!)
* 5 egg whites.
* 350ml of milky milk. Skimmed or semi-skimmed is best.
* 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract. Not the lovely natural stuff with a syrupy texture and brownish colour. Remember, this cake is in no way natural!

Last but not least, the food colourings. These were a bit of a mission for me! I live in London, but there still appear to be less than a handful of shops that sell proper gel food colouring. I've made rainbow cakes before that have come out lacklustre and dull, despite the fact that I'd added the best part of a whole bottle of liquid food colouring! Our traditional English food colourings, whilst lovely and nostalgic in their little bottles, do not produce the bright colours you can get from American gel colours. I've tried the 'Silver Spoon' gel colours too, and they don't even come close to these 'Sugar Flair' wonders. Now, you can get them on the internet, but I made a trek to Chelsea, to visit the Jane Asher Sugarcraft shop. It's well worth a visit, if you are in the area and love cakey fun.

For the icing, you'll need:

* 500g of butter.
* 1kg of icing sugar.
* Sugar Flair 'super white'

Let's make this bloody cake then.

cake mix
cakey

Oh, I ought to mention at this point, that if you have a hand whisk, your life will be a million times easier when making this cake! Unfortunately, I do not have such luxurious items, so I did it the old fashioned way - with a wooden spoon! So, make sure your butter is lovely and soft, and mix it all up with your sugar, until it looks like a big yellowy play-dough ball!

eggwhite
cake batter

Your next move, is to separate the whites and the yolks of your five eggs. We only need the whites, because we want the cake mix to be as white as possible. Then, mix it up with your buttery, sugary joy - until it is gooey and combined!

vanilla

Then add the vanilla extract. Daintily.

Photobucket

Set aside your goo, and focus on the powdery ingredients for a moment. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. There you go.

Photobucket

This next bit is a little more tricky. Sift a bit of your flour mixture into your goo. Mix it up. Next, pour some of your carefully measured milk in. Mix it up. Then go back and put more of your flour mixture in. Keep alternating milk and flour until everything is smooth. Once that's done, divide your mixture into SIX BOWLS. As equally as you possibly can. Round about now, turn your oven on to preheat. (180 degrees celcius, gas mark 4, 350 degrees fahrenheit)

purple cake blue cake
yellow cake red velvet cake

Once you've divided it up into the different bowls, you can get to the super fun bit of mixing in your colouring! Start off with a tiny, tiny bit, and mix it like hell, until your mixture is pretty! Then add more! Keep going until it's really bright. Here are just four of the six colours I made. It had started to get dark outside by this point, so the colour doesn't look as amazing as it would have in daylight. Ah well.
Grease your tins with butter. You may have to improvise, and do it one layer at a time like I did, as I only have one round cake tin. It just means you will be baking for a long time. Fortunately, because each layer is very thin, they do bake quickly! They will take roughly 15 minutes, but I always check by sticking a skewer in and seeing if it comes out 'clean'. I recommend a cake tin with a bottom that pushes out, as it makes cake removal so much easier!

Photobucket

Whilst your cakes are baking, get started on the icing. This is going to involve creaming together roughly 500g of butter with a kilogram of icing sugar, give or take. You will need a LOT of icing. I weighed the cake when I'd finished, and it was about 3kg in total. Butter icing is naturally an appetising yellowish colour, but as I said before, natural is not what we want in this cake! I added Sugar Flair's "Super White" powder, which does magically make icing so much whiter! It's really cool. The key with buttercream icing is to play it by ear and keep adding icing and/or butter until it is the right consistency for you. I ended up making more as I didn't have enough to cover the whole cake. Take your cakes out of the oven, and LET THEM COOL! Never put buttercream icing on a warm cake, or everything will be ruined forever.
When they are cool, start to stack them. Start with the purple one on the bottom, followed by a layer of icing. Follow it with the blue layer, and then more icing. Each layer of icing should be lovely and thick. Keep sandwiching the cakes together in rainbow order, finishing with the red one. When you've got your amazing cake tower, cover the top and the sides in the remaining buttercream icing. Then, remove several shelves from your fridge so that you can store the monstrosity overnight.

rainbow cake
rainbow cake rainbow cake
Piece of cake

So there you have it. A mammoth post about rainbow cake! It was a slog to make, and I'd really recommend doing it with a friend, because it would be good fun and also cut down the making time a lot! Baking with friends is the best kind of baking. Give it a go. If you've got any problems or something isn't clear, leave me a comment and I'll try to help you as best I can. Happy Baking, chums! If you've managed to survive that mammoth baking session, why not have a go at these CAKE POPS I made last April!?

Saturday, 21 April 2012

CAKE POPS: Cake on a stick!

Having seen tutorials for 'Cakepops' on blogs such as A Beautiful Mess I decided to make my own version. Dan had never heard of such a delight, and was so excited that he began to plan them meticulously for days. We would have pink ones and brown ones, and sprinkles, and crushed almonds, and they would be marvellous.

In the end, we didn't get around to doing the ones with crushed almonds, but have a look at what we did manage! Dark chocolate with star sprinkles, and pink chocolate with 'freckles'.


We used a Betty Crocker chocolate cake mixture, and the chocolate icing to go with it. You bake the cake according to the packet instructions, and then once it has cooled, you mash it up with a load of icing until it is a thick brown paste. Then you shape it into little round balls, and leave them in the freezer for half an hour to set. Whilst they are setting, you melt up a load of chocolate, and add some food colouring if you fancy it. The rest is fairly self explanatory, and involves a lot of dipping, spooning, and sticking sticks into things! We had to use cut up barbecue skewers because we couldn't find any better sticks. I would recommend ebay or a craft shop if you want proper sticks!
They need to be put into the fridge to set nice and hard - they are much nicer cold than warm, unlike proper cake!


Cakepop boobs. That one wasn't meant to look as erotic as it undoubtedly ended up...

Outfit-wise, the weather has been so weird recently that getting dressed has been pretty strange. I want to start with the summery outfits, like everyone else in the blogosphere, but I still feel quite wintery inside, which isn't helped by the utterly indecisive weather! One minute, it's thundering, the next, the sun is burningly shiny! In the end, I settled for this black shift-dress with a lace collar and cuffs. It is a bit see-through so I am wearing a plain black t-shirt dress underneath. I paired it with grey tights for some contrast, and cracked out my beautiful old Dr Marten Mary Janes for the occasion!

Oh, and we made a video of us making the cakepops, so have a look at that, by clicking HERE

Dress: YesStyle.com
Underdress: H&M
Grey Tights: H&M
Dr Marten Mary Janes: Office (I think).