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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Half Bred Fleece....

I needed a break from all the alpaca, so yesterday evening I was sorting out my stash cupboard when I came across a half bred fleece I had purchased last year, intending to wash and prep the fibre ready for spinning of course ~ until I got side tracked by all the alpaca.

Half Bred Sheep:
A registered breed that was originally developed in the 19th century by crossing one of the English long wools such as Romney or English Leicester with the merino. They were developed for both wool and meat and are suited to hill and high country.

The staples are well defined and chunky with crimp right up to the tip. It is classed as a fine wool with medium bulk. There can be wide variation amongst fleeces.

Fibre is usually between 21 - 33 microns.
staple length is 75-110 mm
An excellent fibre when soft durability is required.

It's a waxy type fleece so needs a good wash in very hot water.

I had already prepped a small portion of it and spun it up, but the majority was sat looking at me, so I bagged some up and put it in a bucket of hot water and dish washing liquid, soaked for 20 minutes then changed the water and soaked for a further 15 minutes then 2 rinses in hot water. I set it out on a mesh rack to dry overnight:

Obviously the locks on the left are unwashed, the ones on the right washed. They come up nice and clean apart from a tiny bit on the very tip which I snip off with scissors. The combed fibre is at the back, yet more beautiful squishy nests that I will look forward to spinning. I would say the fibre is next to skin soft for me, it's lofty and light and would knit into a nice comfortable, yet hard wearing sweater.

I enjoyed spinning some of it into a fingering weight 2 ply yarn:

I have 2.6kg of this to get through and have noticed there's very little waste when combing it. I shall continue to work on this when needing a break from the alpaca.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Carded Alpaca Fibre......

I got my alpaca fibre back from the carders just before Christmas but I haven't had time to look at it it until recently. I'm really happy with it. This is the rest of little Saturn's fleece, I had it blended with 30% fine merino fibre:

It's wonderfully soft and fluffy, just like clouds. There's 1.6 kg.

This is the rest of Chantalini's fleece, I kept this one as 100% alpaca. It was a deep fawn with white patches so the white fibre was blended in together with the darker and it's come out as a mid fawn, much different to the fibre (from the same alpaca) that I hand prepped and blogged about here. It weighs 3kg and is also lovely and clean and soft:

The shearer came last week so now there's 4 more fleeces to contend with but they shouldn't take me as long to clean as the last 4, they are much cleaner to start with. I learned my lesson, I now rake out their shelter every 2 weeks which cuts down on fleece contamination with the dreaded V.M. I'm still working on cleaning Radar's chocolate brown fleece from last year, and am about halfway through it, 4 bags of it washed and dried today as we have superb weather and I have a rare day off work.

I'm going to clean up Caesar & Jupiter's fleece and get them sent off to the carders, but I would like to do Saturn's and Radar's myself again. I just wish it wasn't so time consuming. But, I enjoy it and love spinning hand combed fibre, for me there's just nothing that compares to it.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Pressure Cooker Cheesecake......

I know - I said there wouldn't be any more baking or recipes for a while due to the diet, but we had a birthday in the house yesterday and I had to make a cake/dessert to celebrate.

Cheesecake is one of my hubby's favorite treats and as it's quite low in wheat it seemed a good choice. It must be over a year since I last baked one and had all the ingredients to hand, well why not?

Normally I would bake my cheesecake in the oven sat in a water bath and leave it in there to cool with the oven door closed (this is supposed to prevent the dreaded cracked top, however, they do still sometimes crack). Plus there's the chilling time to add on to that.

Then I read about using a pressure cooker for making cheesecake. What? I would never have thought that was possible, but time was running short I decided to give it a whirl.

I used my regular basic cheesecake recipe:

150g digestive biscuits, crushed to fine crumbs
75g melted butter.

Mix these 2 ingredients together, press it into the base of a 20 cm springform tin and pop it in the fridge to chill. Make sure the tin is not too wide to fit in your pressure cooker!

It helps greatly if the following ingredients are at room temperature before you begin.

400g full fat cream cheese
150g caster sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
100ml sour cream

Beat the cream cheese until smooth and soft, then add the sugar and mix in. Add the 2 eggs and vanilla and beat until thoroughly mixed. Mix in the sour cream.

Pour into the tin and smooth the surface.

Put the trivet in the bottom of the pressure cooker and pour in water to reach just under the trivet. In my pressure cooker this takes 500ml. Carefully position the cake tin on the trivet and close the lid. Bring up to pressure and cook for 15 minutes. Allow the pressure to release naturally. Remove the cake from the cooker, let it cool then chill for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Run a knife around the edge of the tin before releasing the spring clip. Top with your choice of fruit, I used raspberries as we have an abundance of them in the garden at the moment and made a glaze from red quick-gel and a little raspberry juice.

Verdict - I will cook it this way from now on. There was no cracking on top and the filling seemed to be lighter in texture than when I bake it yet it was perfectly set. There was just a tiny little puddle of water sat on the top of the cake when I opened the cooker but this was easily absorbed with a sheet of kitchen towel.


Monday, January 5, 2015

HAPPY NEW YEAR ~ The Fast Diet 5:2

After 2 weeks of festivities - which really means eating and drinking stuff that's not good for me, I've decided to start the 5:2 diet.

Earlier in the year I dieted and lost 1 stone in 4 weeks, that was through cutting out all wheat and sugar. I have kept that 1 stone off. I also increased my exercise and have kept that up but lately I have slipped back into the old convenient routine of eating bread and wheat products and sugary stuff all too regularly, which makes me feel really bloated and lethargic. So new year new me and all that.

The idea is that you eat 'normally' for 5 days and fast for 2 days. Fast as in you are still eating, but at a reduced calorific intake. You can increase the fasting days, which is what I plan to do for the first 4 weeks. I'm going to do alternate days.

Day 1 was yesterday. My first fast day and was much easier than I thought it would be. Plus side was that the weather was so hot and I really never feel like eating when it's hot. Here's what it went like:

2 x Nespresso coffee + 200ml skim milk = 90Kcal each
6 waferthin sesame crackers 39Kcal
1 hardboiled egg 69kcal
150g serve cooked peeled king prawns 108Kcal
large green salad & cherry tomatoes 20 Kcal
Low cal dressing 10 Kcal
1/2 mango 22Kcal
1 kiwi fruit 29Kcal
1.5 ltr iced water with a squeeze of lemon juice 0 Kcal
2 cups black tea 0Kcal

Total = 477 Kcal. 500 is my limit on fasting days. I did good.

Day 2 today so a 'normal' day. I aim to cut out wheat and sugar again and will still be watching those calories. So due to my change in circumstances sadly there will be no more baking posted on here for a while.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Chocolate Mousse Cake with Berries

A New Years Eve show-stopper of a cake!
This is luxuriously rich and chocolatey yet is surprisingly simple and quick to make (apart from the chilling time).

You will need a 25 cm springform cake tin, with the base and sides lined with non stick baking paper
Oven 180 degC, 160 deg fan

For the cake:
25g cocoa mixed into a paste with 3 tablespoons boiling water

add to this:
2 large eggs
100g caster sugar
100g self raising flour
1 level teaspoon baking powder
100g soft butter

Whisk using an electric mixer for 1 minute. Spread the mixture into the lined tin and bake for 20 minutes. It will have shrunk away from the sides of the tin a little.
Sit the tin on a wire rack to cool, don't remove the cake from the tin! Sprinkle over 2 tablespoons of rum or brandy while the cake is still warm and let it soak in.

While your cake is cooling melt 300g of dark chocolate (I do this in the microwave in 1 minute bursts, reducing to 10 second bursts) allow to cool a little.

Whip 450 ml cream to a softly peaking stage, then gently fold through the melted chocolate, do this thoroughly until there are no streaks. Spoon the chocolate mousse on top of the cake, smoothing the surface carefully to get a neat finish. Chill for at least 6 hours or overnight in the fridge to firm.

Release the springform clip of the tin and remove the ring. The cake on the pic is straight after the tin was released and sometimes the sides may look a little rough, you can use a hot, wet palette knife and run it around the outer edge in one quick movement to neaten it, but you have to be confident to do this in one action and it helps to put the cake on a turntable.

Dust the top of the mousse with cocoa powder, pile on some berries of your choice. Give it a final flourish of icing sugar over the top of the berries.

Serves at least 12 people, small slices are best. Enjoy!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting & Other Things..........

It's been a very busy week and also a very cold week. I never thought I would see the day when we had the christmas tree up and the fire lit, but we did.

I made Gingerbread Cupcakes with lemon cream cheese frosting this week, they make the house smell so christmassy while they are baking:

For the cupcakes:
4 oz soft butter
1/2 cup soft brown sugar (packed)
1 egg
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup black treacle
1 1/3 cups plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

For the frosting:
100g cream cheese (full fat)
30 g soft butter
150g icing sugar
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon lemon juice.

Oven 180 degC/350 deg F

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg then add the treacle and water. The mixture may look like it has split at this point but don't be concerned, it will work out right. Mix all the dry ingredients together and mix them into the butter mixture until combined, then beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Fill paper baking cups 2/3 full and bake for about 20 minutes. They will be risen and nicely brown, when you gently press them in the centre they should spring back. Let them cool in the tins for 10 minutes then transfer to a cooling rack.

For the frosting: Mix all ingredients together and mix with an electric whisk for 2 minutes until light and airy. Pipe swirls on top of the cupcakes and decorate as desired. I used snowflake sprinkles. This makes about 18 cupcakes depending on the size of your paper cups.

The postie has been busy at my house this week, delivering parcels and goodies:

My Christmas present to myself.

My holiday colour swap-mini-swap envelope from Annie in The Netherlands, crochet snowflakes for my tree, organic chocolate, mini skeins and a skein of Wollmeise in the most gorgeous shade of red. What a lucky girl I am.

My wonderful colour swap parcel from Aryn in Canada, stuffed full of yarn, fibre and goodies all packaged in the neatest handmade fabric basket.

I'm making slow progress on my cardigan, just not getting enough knitting time lately. Onto the third stripe and have joined in the round for the body part.

My tree has a bird theme this year.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

December Already..

December is here already, I can't believe it! Yesterday was the first day of Summer for us and what a day it was. Hail storms, rain all day and the fire lit last night. I have never known us to have the fire lit in December.

Christmas is fast approaching and I feel so unprepared. I have mailed gifts home to the U.K. and have done most of my gift buying for family here yet I still have to bake my Christmas cakes (I usually have them done and stored away by the end of October), I have the fruit soaking it's just difficult to find the time to actually bake them. Going to work seems to suck up most of my time these days.

So, with all the 'hundred-things-to-do' swimming around in my head I decided to start knitting a cardigan lol. I'm using some yarn that I haven't tried before:

Cleckheaton Perfect Day DK weight ~ a wool & alpaca blend. It's really nice yarn, soft and light, I think it'll make a perfect BlueSand Cardigan for when the cooler weather returns. The mid grey (12 balls) is for the main part of the cardigan and the darker and lighter shades for the stripes, the yarn was on clearance for $7 per ball, a real bargain.

The red roses from my garden are making me feel quite Christmassy, they are the most stunning shade of red, have the sweetest perfume and the blooms are really large. I would love to know what variety they are.