Tuesday, 22 May 2012

It's going to be quiet for a while

Regular visitors to this blog and my competitions and Twitter advice blog, The Competition Grape Vine will know that my mother has been ill recently and has been in and out of hospital. This week she is due to come out again, and I am going away for a while to spend some time with her, getting her used to being back home and arranging the support services she will need help from.

Mum doesn't have any internet access and getting any mobile signal involves dangling hopefully out of an upstairs window, so I'm afraid the blogs won't be updated for a week or so

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Review - Grated Hot Horseradish from The English Provender Co.

I was sent a jar of Grated Hot Horseradish from The English Provender Co  to test and review. I love horseradish, but I usually buy it in the form of ready made creamed horseradish, so I enjoyed the chance to experiment with  using it in other ways.

First of all, I had a dollop of it neat with steak and chips. I'd been a bit worried that it would blow the top of my head off, but in fact it was just right - although the flavour was strong enough to mean I only needed a small quantity,  it didn't have those mind-numbing fumes that go straight to your sinuses. (And I humbly apologise for putting the steaks on the griddle so the stripes  went the wrong way!)

Encouraged by my first taste, I also tried one of my other favourite combinations - horseradish and smoked mackerel. I often use horseradish cream instead  of butter when making a smoked mackerel and cucumber sandwich, so this time I buttered the bread and strewed the horseradish over the top.

The verdict? Delicious. In fact much nicer than when I use creamed horseradish.

Finally I made a trio of sauces for with roast beef. I whisked a little double cream and stirred some horseradish in for a horseradish cream,  blended horseradish into Dijon mustard for a more Eastern European flavour, and mixed horseradish into apple sauce as a gesture to Austrian "Apfelkren".

All three were delicious, and I was impressed with how easily it blended  into the sauces. And you can see from the amount left in the jar after using it in 5 different ways just how economical it is! I've definitely been converted from the ready made creamed horseradish I've been buying for years.

Some other ideas I've had for using it, but not tried yet:
  •  added to hot dogs   - another Austrian inspired idea
  • whisked  into Yorkshire Pudding batter to serve with roast beef
  • mixed into the dough for dumplings when making a beef or game casserole
  • whisked into a vinaigrette dressing for a beetroot and red onion salad to serve with smoked fishes and meats
  • blended with sour cream, yoghurt or mayonnaise for a salad dressing or dip.
I'm going to have fun experimenting!

Note the sample was sent to me free of charge for review. No other form of payment was received and the opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

See, I CAN do pretty!

I'm not one for making pretty things - not that I have anything against them, it's just that pretty and dainty never seem to work for me. But I'm a big fan of Nikki Hall's Polkadoodles  designs, and  also a big fan of designs with dragonflies in them (I probably hold some kind of record for the number of dragonfly themed stamps I have) so when I saw issue 2 of her "Pen & Paper Circle" magazine, I had to get it!

The card I made today is based on the first design in the magazine, although instead of colouring in the images with watercolours I stamped them with Memento ink and coloured them with Promarkers,  which I am still very much a beginner with. 

I'm very pleased with the finished result and looking forward to trying more ideas from the magazine.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Tabbouleh and other tasty treats

My husband, who blogs over at Marks Veg Plot is good  at growing mint. He is VERY good at growing mint.  Our mint started out as a tiny £1 pot bought from a farmers market about ten years ago,  and gets stronger and more luxuriant every year. When it is at its best, I love to make a fresh, vibrant tabbouleh with it.  I soak bulghur wheat in hot water for about 15 minutes, drain it well and dress  it while still warm with olive oil and lemon juice, and some finely chopped onion - spring onion, red onion, shallot or common or garden everyday onion, whatever is to hand. When it is cool, I stir in lots and lots of chopped mint and parsley - the more the better.  In Middle Eastern restaurants, tabbouleh is often a huge bowl of  chopped herbs with just a little bulgur speckling it. While I love it that way, we often have it at home as our main  carb, so we adapt the proportions a bit.

This time I served it with home made hummus (chickpeas, sesame seeds - I was out of tahini - cumin, paprika, olive oil and lemon juice whizzed together until smooth) topped with tiny snippets of lamb, quickly fried until cooked through and mixed with toasted pine nuts.

and finally, a tomato, cucumber and melon salad sprinkled with more mint!
I am joining in the Herbs on Saturday challenge at Lavender and Lovage. Herbs used this time were parsley, mint, more mint and yet more mint........

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

A Bookatrix wedding card

When I want to make an extra special card, especially for a wedding, I almost always  turn to the Bookatrix embossing board. There is something about the open-book style that lends itself particularly well to weddings.  Here is a card I made for a young friend who married recently.

I embossed the outer layer onto pink pearlescent card, also embossing the third line in. Then I cut out along the outer line, and cut floral paper to fit inside the inner embossing line and stuck it in place. Next I embossed the second, third and fourth lines onto white pearlescent card, cut out along the outer line, and cut away the inner rectangle of the fourth lines.  I stuck acetate behind the windows created by this. Then I decorated the edges and windows with peel-offs, gems and paper flowers before sticking the white and pink cards together along the "spine".

The stand was made from card which had been covered on both sides with floral paper to match that behind the windows.

To complete the card, and protect it, I made a matching box. If the bride and groom keep the card - and I hope they will - they will be able to store it in this box.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Memories of Sienna

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to win a recipe competition run by Merchant Gourmet foods. The recipe I submitted was Spiced Lamb with Pastawheat, and the final was a cook-off at the Good Housekeeping Institute.

The prize was a cookery holiday to Tuscany - for one. I was a little nervous about holidaying alone, but we were a small group of people who shared a love of cooking and I had a wonderful time.  Each day was divided into a cookery session and an outing, and one day we went to the historic town of Sienna. I set off to explore by myself,  but it soon started to pour with rain and I dashed into a tiny restaurant where I had a wonderfully reviving lunch of a simple tuna and bean salad with some crusty bread.  Now I think of that holiday every time I make the salad.

It is  wonderfully easy to make. For one main course serving or 2-3 starters, or as part of a selection of antipasti for more, you need

1 small tin tuna, approx 80g (I like Tuna in brine, but tuna in oil would be more  authentic)
1 small tin canellini beans, approx 150g
1 small shallot or  a piece of red onion, very thinly sliced
juice of half a lemon
1 tbs olive oil

Simply mix all the ingredients together and serve with crusty bread.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

A quick card from a prize kit

A little while ago, I was lucky enough to win a goody bag from a  craft magazine. Some of the elements in it were great for making a quick but striking card - ideal for when I'm pushed for time yet feel the need to do some "therapeutic crafting". I'd never used die cut decoupage before. It feels a bit like cheating, but I was pleasantly surprised by the result. The co-ordinating papers were included in the kit, so all I needed to do was score and fold my card, add some red matting to pick out the colours in the design, and higlight it with a little red Candi.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Better a dinner of herbs.....

If you read my husband's blog, Marksvegplot you will know that we have a lot of herbs in the garden, and while the recent weather might have made most of us feel miserable, the herbs are loving it! Most of them  are luxuriant and fragrant at the moment, and when we have plenty herbs, I'm inspired to make a dish loosely inspired by one from the book Spices,  Salts and Aromatics in the English Kitchen by the late Elizabeth David.

I pick a selection of herbs - this time they are parsley, thyme, oregano, rosemary, sage, chives and bayleaves. The other ingredients are
2 pork steaks or chops
2 cloves of garlic
½ a lemon, sliced
a drizzle of olive oil

Score the surface of the meat in criss-cross lines then rub all over with the cut face of a halved garlic clove. Rub with a drizzle of olive oil and seasoning.

Put a layer of herbs in the bottom of an ovenproof, non-metallic dish and top with the meat. Cover with the lemon slices and cut garlic then top with more herbs.

Cover with cling film or a plastic lid and refrigerate for several hours. Then replace the cling film or lid with foil  and bake for about an hour in a moderate oven. If you like your meat to look brown, you can remove it from the herbs at the end of cooking and quickly brown it under the grill, but I think that can make it rather dry.

Just scrape off the herbs and eat! This time, I served it with a gratin of potatoes, kohlrabi and butternut squash

And some braised Florence Fennel with white wine, shallots and raisins

The finished meal - I'm afraid I forgot to keep back any uncooked herbs to garnish it with and I didn't want to go out in the rain for some fresh ones! It really could do with a fresh green touch on the plate.

I am submitting this for the Herbs on Saturday challenge

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

A dragonfly card

Many of my crafty friends will know that dragonflies are my favourite theme. I must have about 20 different dragonfly stamps, in various styles and sizes, so when I saw a card using one of my favourites in Making Cards magazine a few months ago, I kept the article in my "must try" foder and eventually got around to making it a few weeks ago.

The card was designed by the very talented Dee Paramour and while I used her measurements for the "engineering" side of things, I created my own background paper from a free download I picked up about 10 years ago and used my own stamps for the rest of the card. So it's a "based on an idea by..." card, and now I've made the mechanism once, I'll feel confident to choose designs and colours of my own next time.

The dragonfly is stamped and embossed directly on to the background card then coloured in, and the flowers are stamped on to a scrap of gingham patterned card then mounted with foam pads to give some depth.  The card is a standard easel card.

But this is where Dee's clever engineering comes into play - pull the ribbon at the top and look what happens!

Sunday, 6 May 2012

A very easy pizza

Since following a Jamie Oliver recipe several years ago, I no longer make a tomato sauce pizza topping. I simply finely chop a few tomatoes - skin, seeds and all - mix them with salt, pepper and a drizzle each of olive oil and balsamic vinegar and leave them for a couple of hours. The  result - more of a salsa than a sauce - makes a lovely vibrant, fresh topping for a pizza and is incredibly simple.

The other day, I made pizza and it was almost less trouble than picking up the phone to order a takeaway. First I made a basic pizza dough in my bread machine, using the instructions in the manual. While it was mixing, I made the above tomato topping and sliced and fried a few mushrooms that were hanging around in the fridge.

I divided the  dough into two rounds. One I cooked naked (the dough, not me) to freeze as a ready made base for a future pizza. I topped the other with the mushrooms and tomatoes, then scattered on some dried oregano and a few crushed chilli flakes. I roughly tore a ball of mozzarella over it and drizzled the edges with chilli oil, then rested it for 20 minutes or so and baked it.  Here is the uncooked pizza.

As soon as it came out of the oven, I scattered over some home grown baby rocket leaves and flakes of Parmesan, and it was ready to serve.

Accompanied, of course, by some lovely home grown green salad, grown, like the rocket,  by my husband Mark who blogs about gardening and food over at Marksvegplot

Saturday, 5 May 2012

A card to welcome baby Holly

On Tuesdsay night, May 1st, my new granddaughter Holly was born. If you are a follower of Mellow Mummy  you may have already read about her arrival and seen photos of her, but I had to share a photo of my own
The proud grandparents!

Naturally I had to make a card to welcome her. We hadn't known whether she was going to be a boy or a girl, but as she turned out to be a lovely little girl it was easy to choose which card and paper to use. last year I was lucky enough to win a HUGE bundle of assorted 12 x 12 papers and cards, which included several baby designs in pink (but none in blue, so it's lucky she wasn't a boy!)

Since getting my Hougie Board, I've been very keen on making shutter cards, and I decided one of these would be a good way to make the most of the lovely embossed washing line design on the background card. The paper used on the top and bottom panels also came from my prize bundle, and I stamped the images and coloured them in with Promarkers, then mounted them on frames cut with Nestabilities. A little Candi from Craftwork Cards to highlight the design and this quick-to-make card was ready.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Baking without sugar

This time last year I was diagnosed as diabetic. For the first few weeks I was deluged with information about diet and lifestyle, and found out that it was still OK to eat some  products containing sugar as long as I took into account the overall balance, what I ate when, the GI value of the meal...... it just sounded so complicated that I decided it was simpler just to give up refined sugar and products contaning it completely!  I don't have a very sweet tooth, and I needed to lose some weight, so it wasn't too difficult.

Although I love baking, I didn't really want to bake things that I couldn't eat, so I gave up baking too. However that changed a week or two back when I won six bottles of a product called Sweet Freedom, a plant-based syrup with a low GI value and 25% fewer calories than sugar. It came with a recipe booklet so I immediately set to to bake some flapjack and some nut cookies. Here are the results:

And the taste verdict? I found them rather too sweet! I seem to have completely lost my sweet tooth. But my husband and mother, both confirmed biscuit-lovers, both loved them. I will definitely be using it again whenever a situation calls for cake!