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Monday, February 1, 2016

More Jam Making....

It's the1st day of February already, I haven't had any time to blog about anything for the past couple of weeks. My husband has had to return to England at very short notice as there's been a sudden, unexpected death in the family, so I'm left here holding the fort by myself.

I've been knitting away on my zig zag tunic on and off, and I recently bought a jumbo flyer so I have been spinning, the only thing is the bigger the bobbin, the longer it takes to fill it!

But today I decided to make jam:

Peach Jam
1 kg peaches, skinned, de-stoned and sliced
800g sugar
juice of 1 lemon

Firstly, put a saucer into the freezer.
Then skin the peaches by scoring a cross on the base of the fruits. Dunk them into boiling water for 2 mins, then plunge them into a sink full of cold water. The skins will now slip off very easily.

Remove the stones and slice the fruit.

Put the peaches in a large pan, I use a stockpot to make my jams. Add 2 tablespoons of water plus the lemon juice and cook gently until the fruit softens, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the sugar, stirring very well. Heat very gently until the sugar dissolves, then bring to a full boil and cook for about 10 minutes, until setting point is reached. Test for the setting point by putting a teaspoon full of jam onto the saucer from the freezer, when it's cold push your finger through it, it should wrinkle up, if not boil for a further 2 minutes and recheck.

Stir in a knob of butter to disperse any scum and pour the jam, carefully, into warm sterilised jars.

Apricot Jam
(needs to be started the night before)

1 kg apricots
1 kg sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon butter

Start by greasing the pan with the butter. Halve the fruit and remove the stones, layer the fruit in the pan with the sugar, pour over the lemon juice, cover and leave overnight.

This process draws the juice out of the fruit, firming it up.

The next day cook the fruit over a very low heat, until the sugar has completely dissolved. Bring to a full boil and check for a set after 10 minutes, mine took 12 minutes but each batch veries.

Put into warm sterilised jars and store in a cool dark place.

I spun this skein of yarn ~ I bought the fibre as Polwarth, but I'm certain it isn't Polwarth it feels more like half bred to me:

95g, 300mtrs of DK weight yarn.

Now I'm spinning this beautiful Half Bred fibre:

Onto these giant bobbins:
I've got 210g onto one bobbin so far but still have room for possibly another 50g or more. I'm hoping to spin a sweaters worth of yarn, wish me luck!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

A Belated Happy New Year & A finished sweater!

A Very Happy New Year to everyone!

I finally finished a third Riddari sweater, this one used a combination of mill spun and hand spun wools. The main body is knit in a mill spun aran weight wool and the colour details are all hand spun shetland yarns that were left over from one of my previous Riddari. I'm really happy with this one, it actually blocked out quite a bit larger than I anticipated but that isn't a problem:

The pattern is Riddari by Vedis Jonsdottir.

As always, I'm on yet another self imposed yarn and fibre diet for 2016 as the stash didn't get reduced avery much throughout 2015. 10 days into the New Year and yes, I already broke the diet:
No will power at all when it comes to a sale, especially when the sale is in a yarn shop.
20 balls of Naturally Heather DK in Heather brown, 14 balls of Naturally Merino silk in a bold red and a ball of Earth Wear Possum sock wool in silver grey.

However, I have recently cast on a top for myself using some stashed yarn that I have had for about 8 years:

The pattern is ZickZack Tunic and the yarn is Malabrigo lace, colour Azul Profundo, which is a 100% soft merino singles yarn. I'm making this as more of a top rather than the longer tunic on the pattern.

Picked the first of my sweet peas that I grew from seed. They are a Heritage seed - appropriately called 'more scent' and just a few of them have perfumed the entire room within a very short space of time:

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Another Year Over, A new Year about to Begin....

Well, I can't believe we are at New Years Eve already! Christmas came and went as quick as a flash, as it always does.

I've been busy but I'm now enjoying a nice long holiday from work and look forward to getting stuck into some knitting and spinning. I had a lovely Christmas ~ lovely weather, great food and most importantly having time with my family, all together.

Today has been about baking, do you remember the home made fruit mince I made a few weeks ago? I never got time to make any mince pies before Christmas but here's what I did today, in pictures:

You will need:
1 packet filo pastry
1 packet/sheet of ready made puff pastry
fruit mince/mincemeat
50g melted butter

Roll out a sheet of puff pastry to 20 x 36-ish cm. I used a ready rolled sheet. Spread thinly with mincemeat but leave a good border around all 4 edges. A little tip: if you leave the ready rolled pastry on the sheet of cellophane it comes in it makes rolling this up much easier!

Roll up tightly, as if you were making a Swiss Roll then pop in the fridge.

When working with filo pastry -  take off the sheets you need and cover the rest with a damp tea towel or it will dry out extremely quickly!

Take 4 sheets of Filo pastry and brush 2 with melted butter, lay the unbuttered ones on top. Brush the top of one of the paired sheets with butter and lay the other pair on top so you have 4 layers. Lay it on top of a 12 hole muffin tin and gently scrunch the pastry into the cups, it will look like a pile of crumpled bed sheets but thats good. The sheets filled 6 cups so you will need to do 4 more sheets to fill the other side of the tin, depending on the size of your tins of course. Repeat this process with a second tin as this makes 24 pies.

Take the puff pastry roll from the fridge and slice it carefully, my slices were approx 1.5 cm wide.

You will need 24 slices in total.

Push a slice into each filo lined cup of the muffin tin. Bake at 200 degrees for about 20 minutes.

Let the tray cool for 10 minutes, then invert it onto a cooling rack, quickly invert it onto a second cooling rack so they are the right way up. Let them cool, then just break them apart. Easy peasy.

Sprinkle with snow and enjoy!

If you want to use up the rest of the pack of filo pastry you could make an apple strudel:

Brush the left over filo sheets with melted butter as before, layering as you go.
I used 5 granny smiths apples, peeled, cored and sliced thinly on a mandolin for the filling. Mix in 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1 tablespoon of sugar. Pile it into the middle of the pastry and fold the pastry in neatly, brushing the edges and joins with melted butter to seal it. Bake at 200 degrees for about 30 minutes.

Here's the Yule Log I made for Christmas Day:

That's enough of the baking, now onto craft related goodies I received at Christmas:

I love this bag, it can hold heaps of stuff.

A proper set of crochet hooks, no excuse not to learn now.

On Christmas Eve my Colour Swap Holiday package arrived. Lovely mittens and a wool & silk blend yarn along with other goodies.

my package was from Laura in Illinois, U.S.A. the home of the White Squirrel ~ who is now hanging out on my Christmas tree.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Homemade Pork Pies....

Today's recipe is for an English speciality pie ~ known as a pork pie. I only make these once a year, at Christmas. The filling is a mixture of different textures of meat, the fatty parts add succulence, if you used totally lean meat the filling would be hard and dry and not as tasty. We usually eat it on Boxing Day, cold with a salad and pickles, chutneys etc. It's a very substantial pie and will feed a large crowd, it's always best when served fridge cold.

It's a bit of a faff to make, in fact the faff was sourcing all the ingredients this year. No pigs trotters to be found for miles and miles. I phoned 7 butchers shops this morning and no trotters were to be had anywhere, that was until I rang the Oxford butcher and lucky for me he had some.

I also had problems getting lard, which is essential for hot water crust pastry. Could not get any of this anywhere, so I improvised and used home made pork dripping. The pastry is so easy to make, it goes against everything you will have ever been taught about pastry making, but it works and is delicious.

You will need a 25-27 cm springform tin
I used a 20 cm one today and also made a mini pie in a 10 cm tin.

For the pastry:
100g lard
100g butter
200ml water
550g plain flour (you may need a bit more)
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt

For the pie filling:
1 kg shoulder pork cut into 1/2 cm dice (tedious but essential for the proper texture)
250 g streaky bacon, finely chopped
250g fatty pork belly, minced
12 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
2 sprigs of thyme, leaves stripped
1 heaped teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground mace
pinch cayenne pepper
1bay leaf

1 beaten egg for the glaze

For the jelly:
2 pigs trotters (ask butcher to cut them in half lengthways
1 carrot
1/2 onion
stalks from the herbs
teaspoon black peppercorns
water to cover

Put both the fats and water in a small saucepan and heat gently until the fat has melted. Do not boil it. Meanwhile, put the flour and salt in a bowl and add the eggs, start to cut this in with a blunt knife and then slowly add the liquid mixing until you get a nice workable dough. You may not need all the liquid and I usually end up adding a little more flour. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead briefly. Wrap it and rest in the fridge for 2 hours.

While the pastry is resting start on the meat prep:
Cut the shoulder pork into 1/2 cm cubes. Put all the filling ingredients in a large bowl and mix it thoroughly, your hands are the best tool for this job.
Cover the bowl and chill while you line the tin with pastry.

Cut off 2/3's of the pastry and roll out until the right size for the tin, it will be fairly thick, much thicker than when you make shortcrust pastry, but that is how it is supposed to be. Line the tin and let the excess hang over the top. Pack the meat in, keep pressing it down and make sure there are no air pockets. Fill it right to the top, then roll out the pastry for the lid. Use a bit of beaten egg to brush around the top of the pastry to seal the lid on. Trim off excess pastry then crimp the edges together. Make a good size hole in the centre of the lid, for the steam to escape and for pouring in the jelly later.

Bake at 180 degrees for 30 minutes, then 160 degrees for a further 1 hour 15 minutes. Take the pie out of the oven, remove the outer ring and brush all over with beaten egg, return to the oven and bake for a final 30 minutes. Remove and leave to cool.
While the pie is cooking make the stock:
Put all the ingredients in a large saucepan and add just enough water to cover the contents. Pop on the lid and bring to the boil then simmer gently for 2 hours. Strain through a fine sieve lined with kitchen paper and let the liquid cool slightly. Once the pie is cooked and has cooled for about an hour, use a funnel to pour the jelly stock into the pie. Do this slowly, let it settle for a few minutes then add more and so on until the pie can't take any more. Leave to cool to room temperature then put it in the fridge. Once it is chilled wrap the pie in baking paper and then put into a plastic bag. It will keep for 2 weeks uncut but once cut it's best eaten within a week.

Don't worry if the meat juices ooze out and over the top during cooking. This is how they should look.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Christmas Fruit Mince..

It's December already, can't believe we are so close to Christmas and I feel so unorganized!

So to get me in the Christmas mood I made mincemeat (or fruit mince as it's known as here). I've made it before and blogged about it but I have, for the last 2 years, used a Mary Berry recipe that was in one of her books that I've had for many years but never really looked at. Again, this uses butter instead of suet and there are far less apples to peel, core and chop with this recipe.

Makes 4 x 370g jars

175g currants
175g sultanas
175g raisins
175g dried cranberries
100g mixed peel
1 small cooking apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
125g butter, chopped into cubes
225g light brown soft sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon mixed spice
finely grated rind and juice of 1 lemon.
100ml rum, brandy or sherry

You will need to use a large pan. Melt the butter over a gentle heat then put in all the other ingredients except the alcohol.

Simmer very gently for 10 minutes then allow to cool completely.

Stir in the alcohol.

Spoon into sterilised jars, seal tightly, label and store in a cool dark place.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Hanging Baskets

I'm really pleased with my hanging baskets this year. I grow the flowers from seed in my greenhouse and plant up the baskets when the seedlings are big enough. Then the baskets are hung in the greenhouse for a further 2-3 weeks until the plants are almost ready to bloom. As usual, the day after I hang them outside the Nor'Wester comes and batters them to within an inch of their lives, but the one that is in the most sheltered spot always looks the best all year round:

This basket is planted with trailing lobelia in mixed pinks and pink trailing petunias.

The trick to getting a nice full looking basket is to simply over plant the basket, (I used 6 of the lobelia plants and 3 petunias), water twice a day and feed every week. Pick off dead flowers every few days. After about 6 weeks of blooming, the flowers will start to look straggly and past their best - chop the whole lot back so the plants are just a couple of inches high (you have to be ruthless), then continue the feeding and watering regime and the baskets will soon give another flush of flowers.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Sunday Baking...

A Sticky Orange Marmalade Cake.

Today's recipe is for a very classic British cake, it's essentially a Victoria sponge cake with the addition of marmalade. The topping is what takes it to the next level.

But first a few tips ~ using Seville Orange chunky marmalade, if you can get it, makes a big difference - the regular orange marmalade just makes the cake overly sweet. I make my own Seville Orange marmalade but I have seen it available in New Zealand, usually on the International isle in the supermarket. Duerr's and Frank Coopers are both good brands. Seville Oranges have a very bitter but strong orange taste.

The cake will seem to brown quite quickly, use a sheet of baking foil laid loosely over the top of the tin if you feel it's starting to go too brown. The cake is supposed to be a nice deep brown, but not burnt.

Whenever I'm baking I try to fill the oven as I'm too Yorkshire to put it on for a single item, that's why I often make 2 things at a time. It's no trouble to double the recipe and freeze the second cake or gift it, or bake something else at the same time that requires the same oven temperature. But that's just me!

When beating the butter and sugar together, beat it for a few minutes longer than you think it needs, this gives a very light and airy cake. The cake will rise up while baking into a high dome, but will then fall flat again (which is a sign that it's almost cooked).

For the Cake:
175g unsalted butter, softened
175g caster sugar
3 large eggs at room temperature, beaten
175g Self Raising Flour
1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons chunky Seville Orange Marmalade
2 tablespoons milk

To finish:
3 tablespoons Seville Orange Marmalade
50g Icing Sugar, sifted
Water to mix

Preheat the oven to 180 degC, gas mark 4

Grease a 9"cake tin and line the base with non stick baking paper.

Cream the butter and sugar together until light, fluffy and pale in colour.

Gradually beat in the eggs a little at a time, beating well after each addition. Add 1 tablespoon of flour with the last of the egg.

Sift the remaining flour with the baking powder and salt and gently fold into the cake mixture with a large metal spoon, then gently stir in the marmalade and milk.

Spoon the mixture into the tin and smooth the top as evenly as you can.

Bake for 50 - 60 minutes or until nicely browned and firm to the touch. remove from the oven and run a flat bladed knife around the inside of the tin to loosen. Leave to cool for 15 minutes then carefully turn out onto a wire rack to cool, right side up.

Warm the marmalade (this can be done in the microwave on low power) and gently brush it over the top of the cake. Allow the cake to cool completely before icing:

Add a little water to the icing sugar and mix to a smooth and runny consistency. Drizzle it over the cake allowing it to run down the sides a little. Leave it to set.

This cake will keep in an airtight container for up to 5 days, but I bet it doesn't last that long.