I was chatting to the lovely ladies from Waitrose Kitchen earlier this week and conversation turned to the hot topic that is jam tarts… whether they are better with thin pastry and a decent dollop of sweet sticky jam or whether it’s about more pastry and less jam. There was even talk of chilling your jam before topping the pastry rounds to prevent the jam heating and spilling over the edges in the oven. Radical stuff. Continue reading →
I’m pretty excited about Christmas which is rather surprising given, like most people working in PR, I’ve been working on Christmas stories since about June – sending off mince pies to monthly magazines and talking turkey timings with our chefs. I should be sick of it by now but thankfully it’s not lost its lustre just yet. Nevertheless having just bought a very expensive but massively exciting pile of bricks and mortar in the shape of our first flat Christmas is going to be a rather frugal affair. However if money were no object these are some of the things I would be buying my nearest and dearest (and really wouldn’t be too sad to discover under my Christmas tree this year either).
Liberty print crackers from Liberty’s Christmas shop
Harriet embellished pom pom jacket £120 from Monsoon
Penelope Chilvers velvet personalised slippers £350; penelopechilvers.com
Tom Dixon etched copper and nickel candles £55 from Tom Dixon
Astier de Villatte Marble pattern teapot from Liberty
Faviken cookbook by Magnus Nilsson published by Phaidon priced £35
Personalised notecards and tissue lined envelopes from £45 from Paper Plain
Wooden rimmed sunglasses £144 Finlay and Co.
Princess Coat £299 by Jaeger Boutique
Miniature wirehaired dachshund called Lady Marmite / Nutmeg not sure which yet (James I hope you’re reading this)
Fair Isle knit by £42 Laura Ashley
Manolo Blahnik Black Mary Jane shoes £456 Saks Fifth Avenue
Pink Frolics Hat £68 by Anthropologie
So last night I experimented with rubber. Ok not that kind of rubber, this was the school eraser variety, which it turns out you can fashion into rather cool personalised stamps. Perfect for making your own cards, fabric printing, gifts etc
First you’ll need a rubber (for once WHSmith actually serves a purpose), I bought a few different ones to experiment, they’re about 50p each so hardly a financial stretch
Place the rubber on a piece of paper and draw round it, this is the maximum size your image can be. Next draw the image you want to make a stamp out of inside these lines
Using a piece of tracing paper, make a copy of it with clear bold pencil lines. To transfer the image on to a rubber, flip the piece of tracing paper over and place it face down on to the rubber, rub the back of the paper by scribbling hard over it to leave an imprint of the design on the rubber
If you want to experiment with a more modern technique, try making a photocopy of your image. Place it face down on your rubber, and either: 1. wet it with acetone (nail polish remover), or 2. cover it with a cloth, and then go over it a few times with a low heat clothes iron
Once you can see the image clearly on the rubber trace over it with a pen so it’s nice and clear. Then using a scalpel / craft knife start cutting! Remember to cut away the areas which have not been inked! Always cut away from the inked areas at an angle so that they become the peaks of little ridges
When you have finished the carving, press it onto an inked pad and try it out on a piece of paper.
I can make a good pie. It was one of the first things I cooked when I was trying to woo my husband (it must have worked) so when deciding what the poor exhausted man might appreciate most for his first supper back at home after three pretty hideous weeks of filming in Columbia, it had to be my chicken, leek and bacon number. A good pie always needs a suitably deserving dish in which to be served in and amongst my favourites are Falcon’s lovely bright white and blue rimmed enamelware. Enamelware is glass fused onto heavy-gauge steel which makes a very smooth, durable and chemically-resistant surface so whilst they may chip a little with time, no matter how many times you heat them or run them through the dishwasher they’re pretty hard to destroy. You can buy them here. Scroll down for my homecoming chicken pie recipe x
For the pie:
1 medium sized free range chicken
2 carrots, diced
1 large onion, diced
1 large leek, sliced
2 cloves of garlic
3 rashers of smoked bacon, chopped
1 cup of chicken stock
A handful of fresh herbs: a mixture of thyme, flat leaf parsley and tarragon usually works well
1 tbsp of wholegrain mustard
1/2 tub of cream cheese
1 glass of white wine
1 roll of puff pastry (or you can opt for the non-lazy approach and make proper pastry from scratch)
Rub some olive oil over the chicken, season and roast in the oven. Once cooled, shred the chicken and set the meat aside
In a large saucepan heat some oil and gently cook the onion, carrot, leek and garlic. Once everything is softened and smelling gooood, tip the mixture on to a plate
Using the same pan fry the bacon pieces until they start to turn crispy
Tip the onion and carrot mixture back into the saucepan, add the chicken stock, herbs, mustard, cream cheese and wine. Mix well
Next add the cooled shredded chicken, season with plenty of black pepper (you won’t need much salt due to the bacon)
Tip the mixture into the pie dish and lay the pastry over the top, brush with beaten egg and bake in the oven until golden and crispy and the mixture is happily bubbling inside (around 30 minutes). I usually like a bit of shredded Savoy cabbage or buttered peas with my pie. Happy happy days…
This is a really quick and easy recipe for guacamole – perfect for whipping up in large batches preferably to assist some questionable Saturday night viewing…
Scoop out the flesh of two large ripe avocados into a large bowl (pressing them around the narrower neck of the avocado is usually the best test for ripeness rather than around the body where the stone is)
To remove the stone, push the tip of a sharp knife into the stone and twist, this should release the stone (without severing any fingers)
Add one finely chopped red chilli or cheat and add a tablespoon of the minced stuff you can buy in jars from Asian supermarkets
One diced red onion, two cloves of minced garlic, a couple of generous pinches of salt, plenty of black pepper, a large handful of chopped coriander and the juice of a lime (some people like to add chopped tomatoes but that’s not my bag)
Mash everything together roughly – I like my guacamole chunky – and if you’re not serving it straightaway pop the avocado stone back in the middle and cover the bowl – this stops the mixture going brown and we can’t have that…
For something a bit more interesting than shop bought tortilla chips, brush some flour tortilla flatbreads with oil, season and bake them on a baking tray in the oven for about 5 minutes until golden and crispy. Break them up and serve with the guacamole.
Supper last night was a delight. It had started to rain and the dark, wet streets around Oxford Circus were stuffed with scurrying bodies all with heads down, marching forwards to get under cover. So it was with a huge sigh of relief that I escaped the throng and stepped inside the tiny white clap board clad shack that is Bonnie Gull
Born from a pop-up seafood shack in Hackney last year and with the successes of further projects (The Bonnie & Wild and the Bonnie-on-Sky) under their belts the folks there have decided to take things up a step and open up a full-time permanent restaurant on Foley Street, just off Great Titchfield Street.
The menu is simple and sweet. Two large suitcases brimming with glistening crustacea sit behind the bar, reminiscent of chests of Pirates treasure. We duly sampled the oysters, Isle of Lewis mussels with Aspell cider, creme fraiche and bacon (so good I was drinking the glorious liquor from the enamel pot after all the mussels had gone), Beer battered North Sea haddock chips, mushy peas and onion rings and special mention should be made of the Bonnie Mary – locally infused vodka, roasted clamato juice and served with an oyster. Super cute and very delicious. The place was packed (close to bordering on that little bit too cosy) and service was a tad vague at times but they’re a friendly lot who definitely know how to handle our Brit fish making this a lovely new corner of London which I will happily go back to again and again
I found some rather cute Eiffel Tower print fabric in a shop a while ago and when I came across a template for a handmade purse I realised this was what it was made for (and it’s pretty easy to make you’ll be pleased to hear)
What you need:
Piece of fabric at least 55.2 x 30cms (this will be your bag’s outer fabric)
Fusible interfacing, the same size as your outer fabric (and at the appropriate weight for your outer fabric)
Lining fabric, same size as your scarf
Rectangular purse frame with loops measuring 7.6 x 15.2 cm (I got mine on ebay)
Extra strong fabric glue
Matching chain strap
Basic sewing kit
Finished size: 26cm high x 22.9cm at its widest point. Seam allowance: 9.5mm unless otherwise note
Here’s what you do…
1. Press fusible interfacing to the wrong side (WS) of the outer fabric, following the manufacturer’s instructions
2. Following the triangular shape of the template here cut out a template measuring 29cms at the base, 27cms on each side and 15cm across the top.
Use it to cut out two pieces each from the bag’s outer fabric, lining fabric and fleece. Transfer all the hinge markings to WS of all pieces(fig. 2)
3. Place the two pieces of the outer bag fabric together, right sides facing (RS). Sandwich them between the two pieces of fleece. Pin (fig. 3). With the fleece outermost, stitch between the hinge markings down the side and around the bottom to the other side. Trim the edges, clip away any excess fabric, turn RS out and press
4. Pin the lining pieces together, RS facing, stitch between the hinge markings down the sides, leaving an opening 12cm wide at the bottom. Again, trim away any excess fabric (fig. 4)
5. Tuck the outer bag into the lining, RS facing. Pin and sew between the hinge markings around the top flaps on both sides. Pull the outer bag through the lining’s opening. Turn the bag RS out, with the lining outside the bag. Stitch the opening at the bottom of the lining (fig. 5). Trim the thread ends and tuck the lining inside. Press the bag gently, paying particular attention to the top and side flap seams
6. Open the purse frame, squeeze the glue carefully in to the inside of the frame and quickly insert the bag flaps one at a time into the frame. Be careful not to get glue on the bag (this requires a bit of patience and dexterity). Leave overnight to dry then attach the chain straps and you’re done!
I came across this banana bread recipe in Sainsbury’s Magazine and thought I’d give it a go one slow moving Sunday afternoon. As you can probably guess, it’s a healthy version of banana cake using wholemeal flour, agave nectar and plenty of mushy bananas (the blacker the better). I pimped the recipe slightly by adding some oats, toasted nuts and dates to the mix for extra natural sweetness and it turned pretty well. I am pleased to say it is ridiculously easy to make too…
What you need:
220g wholemeal flour
200g self raising flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
400g mashed black banana (nice and overripe)
1 tsp cinnamon
3 large eggs, beaten
6 big tbsps of agave nectar (or golden syrup)
125g chopped dates
150ml natural yoghurt
50g chopped toasted pecans
50g chopped toasted walnuts
And here’s what to do with it all…
Heat oven to 160 C / 140 C fan oven / Gas mark 3
Grease and line a loaf tin with baking paper (allow a bit extra all the way round to allow the cake to come up a bit)
In a big bowl mix the flours, oats, cinnamon, bicarb, baking powder and large pinch of salt
In another bowl combine the bananas, dates, syrup, eggs, yoghurt and nuts (keeping back a handful for later) then pour this in to the dry mixture, mixing quickly
Pour the lovely mixture into the tin, and scatter the remaining handful of nuts over the top
Bake for 1 hr 10mins – 20mins or until a skewer comes out clean
Tastes even better slathered in butter (but then I guess that ruins the healthy thing)
I came across this gorgeous little collection of eco cottages whilst scouring the internet for somewhere to disappear to for a rather overdue week long summer break with Mr T. Unless you are really pushing the boat out, I find it rare that you turn up in a foreign country and feel instantly relaxed and comfortable. This place was an exception. Not only was it incredible value (about 80 Euros a night for a cottage) but it was stunningly beautiful and nothing was too much trouble for our hosts, Karcsi and Ibi. Every last detail had been carefully thought through by the cottages’ owners Catherine and Christopher Dickens, who over the last few years have lovingly created this adorable cluster of cottages – some renovated, some built from scratch – on a small private vineyard estate on the edge of the Vertes National Park just West of Budapest in Fejer county – an area famous for its wine, horses and scenery, an hour from Lake Balaton.
Here, building regulations state that in these protected areas you can build on only 3% of the land you buy, so each of the cottages is surrounded by a 97% hinterland of beautiful lavender bushes, lawns and fruit trees. We stayed in the Eco Haz, a simple, cosy and light filled studio with it’s own little kitchen at one end, a sofa in the middle and bed at the other which runs on almost 100% solar powered energy from the cottage’s roof top panels. Here we spent seven blissful days pottering around, cooking incessantly (mostly outdoors on the barbecue), reading, napping and playing with the family’s two CRAZY but very cute dogs who practically moved in with us.
We were thoroughly spoilt every day of our stay: On our first morning we discovered a breakfast basket outside our door filled with freshly baked bread, fruit from the surrounding plum, pear and apple trees, eggs, bacon and fruit compote all beautifully wrapped up in linens. Then at various points a baked apple cake would be left or a plate of plump vine grown tomatoes and basil, a jar of homemade raspberry jam, apricot compote, local wine, lavender soaps and shampoo produced from the many litres of virgin lavender oil produced by the estate….
There are boardgames in the rooms (and a log fire for slightly chillier times) lavender soap and shampoos to use in the outdoor rain shower, bikes to hire, hammocks to laze in, a lovely pool further up the hill. There were also walking maps in each cottage, so James and I took ourselves off and a bottle of wine, two small dogs and an epic picnic to explore the surrounding countryside. It was utterly perfect.
It seems fitting that I should post about a pair of trainers during the Olympics and let’s face it these aren’t your average trainers, we’ve come a long way since Green flash and PE plimsolls… American brand Be&D have come up with these stompingly stylish unisex ‘Big City’ white sneakers emblazoned with a Manolo Blahnik style print on the side. Flats and heels in one hurrah and GOLD. What more could you want?
Big City Sneakers (also available in pink, turquoise and yellow), £85 by Be&D