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Friday, March 30, 2012

Spinning + Eye Candy Friday ~

I've been spinning a lot this week, I even got my drum carder out and made batts.

I have a project I'm working on at the moment, involving dyeing and spinning a gradient yarn. I dyed 4 x 30g strips of BFL combed top in various shades of silver grey and blue.

Here they are after dyeing and being passed through the drum carder once.

I then split all the colours in half and carded each lot into 2 batts working from the lightest to the darkest shade.

I started spinning the first batt into singles, but as is often the case I got side tracked by this ~

A blend of 70% black alpaca from an alpaca that belongs to a friend, 15% polwarth dyed red and 15% silk. It's beautiful stuff. I just finished spinning it into superfine singles and have Navajo plied it for a 3 ply yarn. I've been aiming for a sport weight yarn as I'm wanting to knit this cowl. I got 18 WPI and 250 yds of yarn. It's so soft and silky and will keep my neck cosy warm this Winter.

A little eye candy while I get on with finishing my spinning ~

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Apple Shortcake

This apple shortcake is wonderful ~ light, soft shortcake pastry filled with soft apples. It's best if you use slightly tart apples such as Granny Smiths or another apple suitable for cooking, you don't want apples that ooze out lots of juice when cooked or your shortcake will be soggy.

The secret to success with this is all in the construction.
First make the shortcake pastry and chill it for at least half an hour, then roll out the lid between sheets of floured baking paper because it is hard to handle and will stick to anything. I roll out the pastry into a rough circle to line the tin and then press it in using my hands then work it up the sides of the tin using my fingers (although only about halfway up the sides or it will be too tall and the pastry too thin).

This quantity makes a smallish cake in a 20 cm tin, I always double the pastry recipe and have enough to make one in a 24 cm tin and a second one on a 8" foil pie plate (that one goes to my son's house) but increase the apples to about 8 if you are doing the same as I do. Enjoy!

For the shortcake:
11/4 cups standard (plain) flour
1/4 cup cornflour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup caster sugar
4 oz unsalted butter, softened
1 egg ~ well beaten
a few drops vanilla extract

For the filling:
4-5 large apples, preferably Granny Smiths, peeled, cored and sliced fairly thinly
2 tablespoons sugar

You will need a 20 cm spring form tin, line the base with a circle of non stick baking paper and lightly grease the sides. If making double the quantity of pastry see my notes above.

Oven pre heated to 175c

First cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Add the beaten egg and vanilla extract and beat until well mixed.

Sift the flour, cornflour and baking powder together and add to the mixture. Stir until it starts to come together. Knead lightly on a well floured board until you have a smooth soft dough like so ~

Wrap the dough in a plastic bag and chill for 30 minutes.
Cut 1/3 off the dough for the lid and roll out between 2 sheets of floured baking paper ~ using the tin as a guide cut around it so you have a lid that will fit perfectly, put the sheet of baking paper back on top and pop it in the fridge. Roll out the remaining dough into a rough circle while making sure it's not sticking to the board and place it in the tin. Use your hands to press it in well and work it up the sides of the tin to a height of about 2". Now put this in the fridge while you get on with the apple filling.

Put the sliced apples and the sugar in a saucepan and heat on a medium setting until the apples are starting to cook and the sugar has dissolved. Then put a lid on the pan and turn the heat up high, keep shaking the pan to make sure the fruit isn't burning or sticking. You want the fruit filling to be nice and hot but you aren't aiming to cook it at this stage. When it's nice and hot turn off the heat and quickly retrieve the tin and pastry lid from the fridge. Tip the hot apple mixture into it, quickly place the lid on top pressing it down lightly around the edges to form a good seal. Sprinkle the top with a teaspoon of caster sugar and put it into the oven.

Bake at 175 c for 15 minutes then reduce the temperature to 150 and bake for a further 20 - 30 minutes.  It's cooked when it feels firm to the touch and is a nice golden brown colour. Allow to cool before running a knife around the edge of the tin before releasing the clasp. The shortcake will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for 2 - 3 days.
Now onto a totally different subject ~ I've started collecting these decorating samples. We're going to be doing renovations to the house. I'm dreading it in a way but also looking forward to seeing the place looking like it should look. There will be a brand new shiny kitchen, a new bathroom, 2 rooms are going to be knocked into one, a proper studio/craft room will be created for myself and a total redecoration throughout. I like the green paint swatch and love the name ~ Tea Ceremony, how quaint. I'm thinking it may be used in my bedroom :-)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Thursday's Feast...

I'm lucky that I don't have to go to my day job every weekday. It's nice to have 1 or maybe 2 days (if time permits) in the week for cooking up something delicious. I'm talking about the home-made-from-scratch kind of food here that takes a couple of hours or sometimes half a day to cook. Yet for most of that time you are doing nothing much at all, just enjoying the smells that are wafting through from the kitchen and thinking of the silence there will be at the dinner table that night as everyone is far too busy enjoying their meal to chatter much at all.

The Autumn weather is upon us now (and has been all through Summer lol), the log fire is lit almost every night and I'm thinking of the darker evenings starting to draw in, of knitting warm woollen sweaters for everyone, and of meals for my family that offer warmth and comfort with no stodge in sight. Vegetable soups, casseroles thickened with pearl barley and lentils, Beef Daube, pot roast chicken and all the tasty things the cooler weather brings.

My family adore curry. No matter what variety or form they take anything curry is good (maybe because 3/4 of the household are male?). I have experimented over many years with perfecting various curry recipes to our personal tastes.

The most requested curry is a Lamb Pasanda ~ chunks of juicy and tender meat cooked for 3 hours in a beautiful sauce that gains it's depth and heat from the warm spices - ginger, chilli and cinnamon. It's a North Indian dish that was derived from a meal originally served to the Moghul Emperors. It's a variation on the Urdu word 'pasande' meaning 'the favorite one' ~ referring to the prime cut of meat that was traditionally used.

Yes, it's on the menu here tonight:
I shall happily share my recipe with you. I have a very good butcher and use either lamb forequarter that has been boned and skinned, or a butterflied leg of lamb depending on the price/my budget, both give good results although the leg meat is obviously the primer cut. You can ramp up the spices to suit your personal taste ( I often add extra chili and ginger, maybe an extra teaspoon of each)
I love using fresh chilies but they vary so much in heat and it's impossible to get a standard base from which to work with ~ so for these kind of dishes I use the ready prepared, minced fresh red chili that comes in little jars that you keep in the fridge as I find I can get a more consistent result with it. This dish is even better if you can make it the day before eating and keep it in the fridge overnight (well covered). The flavours meld and mingle better if you can do this  wait this long? It serves 6-8 generously ~ but there are usually only 4 of us so we often eat this for dinner the next day too.

Lamb Pasanda
Serves 6-8 people
For the Pasanda paste:
2 fat juicy cloves of garlic, crushed
3 heaped teaspoons freshly grated ginger
3 level teaspoons fresh prepared red chili (see above)
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon Turmeric
3 green cardamom pods
2 heaped tablespoons tomato puree
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons oil (preferably sunflower/vegetable, don't use olive oil)

Mix everything above together in a bowl and set aside.

For the Pasanda:
1 tablespoon oil (not olive oil)
900g lamb cut into large cubes
2 large onions, diced
3 fat cloves garlic, crushed
6-8 tablespoons natural yoghurt, plus 2 tablespoons extra for serving (low fat is good)
300ml chicken stock
4 tablespoons ground almonds mixed with 100ml cold water

Heat the oil in  a large pan and gently cook the onions with the garlic for about 10 minutes until they are very soft and starting to caramelise.

Turn up the heat, scrape the onion mix to one side of the pan and add the cubed meat. Let it brown before turning, don't stir it, you want it to brown nice and quick and get a good colour on the meat, remember colour = flavour. When it's nicely browned turn down the heat and add all of the paste to the pan, stirring gently to coat the meat. Let it cook for 5 minutes, giving it an occasional stir. Add the yoghurt a spoonful at a time and stir it in, then the add the almond/water mixture and stir well. Gradually add the chicken stock, stirring again until everything is nicely mixed.

Bring to a gentle simmer and put a lid on the pan but leave it slightly off for the steam to escape. Leave to simmer gently (a few bubbles should be just breaking on the surface occasionally) for 3 hours, stirring it every now and then ~ enjoy the aroma that will fill the house.

After 3 hours give it a good stir, then gently mix in the extra 2 tablespoons of yoghurt and garnish it with freshly chopped coriander.

The only thing to serve with this (as far as I'm concerned) is a Fragrant Pilau rice~
The secret of a perfect Pilau is to wash the rice first and then soak it briefly. This moistens and softens the grains, enabling the rice to absorb moisture during cooking which results in a fluffier rice. I only use basmati rice, it gives a much superior result and flavour than any other variety. This is true, believe me, coming from someone who struggled to cook 'perfect' rice for many, many years. I usually put saffron in this rice but I had run out today, the saffron adds a lovely golden colour but it's good without.

Fragrant Pilau:
Serves 4 - 6 people
600 ml hot chicken or vegetable stock
generous pinch of saffron (optional)
50g butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 fat clove garlic, crushed
2.5 cm piece of cinnamon stick
6 green cardamom pods
1 bay leaf
250g basmati rice, washed and soaked in cold water for 30 minutes
50g sultanas (golden raisins)

Stir the pinch of saffron into the stock and set aside.
Melt the butter in a pan that has a well fitting lid. Add the onion and garlic and cook for a good 5 minutes until softened but not starting to colour.
Add the cinnamon, bay leaf and cardamom and cook for 2 minutes.
Drain the rice and add to the pan, stirring well and cook for 2 minutes more.
Add the stock and the sultanas and bring to the boil. Stir well and reduce the heat to low. Put the lid on and time it for exactly 9 minutes. When the time is up remove it from the heat immediately and let it stand for at least 5 minutes with the lid still on tightly.
Fluff the rice with a fork.
You can also add some dry roasted nuts to the rice after cooking. Just cook either cashews or peanuts in a dry frying pan until they start to colour then sprinkle over the rice before serving.

All together in all it's glory:

I serve the curry and rice with my home made spicy apricot chutney (similar to mango chutney but using apricots) and a simple tomato and onion salad.

Our apple tree is totally laden with fruit this year. I'm not sure what type of apple it is (which is the problem when you buy a new home, you are never sure what everything is that's growing in the garden) it's a very old tree and I think it's possibly a Gravenstein. They are definitely cookers although the boys have eaten a few and said they aren't really that sour. I made a batch of spiced apple sauce with them a few days ago and it turned out great (apart from getting third degree burns on my hand when I stirred it and it erupted like volcanic lava!). I'm going to have to think what else I can make with them as I estimate there's about 25 kg of apples ripe and ready to be picked. At the weekend there will be the bestest Apple Shortcake in the world to share with you! Here's a sneak peek~