Wednesday, 21 November 2012

First Guest Post: Thanksgiving Pumpkin Cranberry Oat Muffins at Claireabellemakes

A few weeks ago, I was invited to do my very first guest blog post. Claire, from Claireabellemakes, so graciously let me share a recipe that I have been wanting to post for Thanksgiving. Go check out her beautiful blog and read all about my Pumpkin Cranberry Oat Muffins. While you are there, have a good look at all of the lovely crafty things that Claire has been up to.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

A Saturday Break

Every once in a while I try to sneak away on a Saturday to do something just for me. My husband keeps the kids and I go off and enjoy a day all to myself. Today was one of those days, albeit not quite a full day, but several hours none the less. A few weeks ago, I booked myself into a one-off beginner's sewing course to make applique cushions. I knew that I was getting a sewing machine for my birthday, so I spent my birthday money on the class.  So this morning I set off in the misty rain to Cambridge city centre for CallyCo, a beautiful little shop just off the market square.

I have been admiring this shop for such a long time. Nearly every time I am in town, I try to have a peak in through the windows, but because I didn't know how to sew, I never actually went in. Until today. When I walked in through the door my eyes could not stop wandering around the room at all of the beautiful delights. The fabric, the buttons, the ribbon, everything! Everything was just beautiful. I wanted to move right in.

When we made our way down the stairs, I found myself in the cutest little classroom filled with sewing machines, gorgeous fabric scraps, and everything I could ever imagine I would need to sew up something special. The instructor Jill, got us all aquainted with the sewing machine and soon we began rummaging to scraps of lovely fabric for our cushions. 

There were four of us on the course so we were able to get plenty of attention. Jill was very patient with us as we were all of varingly different levels of experience.  She even let us stay a bit late so that we could all finish.  I have to say, I am truly pleased with my results. It's far from perfect, but I think it's pretty decent for my first attempt at cushion making.  You can judge for yourself.
I loved my morning at the CallyCo shop. I'm sad that there will not be any classes for the next few months, as they are having some work done down in the basement where the classes take place. However, I'm sure Betsy, who runs the place, won't mind. She is expecting her first baby in a few weeks! As soon as the classes start running again, I know I will be signing up for a few. I'm desparate to learn more already. So desparate, I came home and opened up my shiny new sewing machine and managed to lose a screw on the bobbin case. It's lurking somewhere on my dining room run amongst millions of crumbs from the children's dinner. I'm trying to remain hopeful that it will show up. If not, Singer will be getting an order from me soon. :(
But, I will not let that get me down! I had a great day (or a few hours anyway) away from the daily family responsibilities today and loved every minute. And now for a great ending to a perfect day, some leftover Blueberry French Toast (more on this later).


A big thanks to Betsy and Jill at CallyCo in Cambridge and best of luck to you Betsy! If you'd like more information about their classes, they keep a class list on their website. Keep in mind that they will be finished with classes for a few months, but should be back teaching once their work in the basement is finished.


Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Busy But Happy and a Ta-Da

I thought that life would slow down once the kids were in school, but whew, I have been even busier! It's good busy though. Not stressful busy. I've been doing more of what I want and when I want (mostly) but since I have a lot that I want to do, it's hard fitting it all in.  Every night for the past week, I have wanted to write a new post here, but one thing or another got in the way. I've told the hubby he has to give up the laptop tonight so I can very quickly fill you in on all of the fun things I have been up to. My apologies for this being a bit rushed!

I went to the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace the other week and had a lovely time drooling over beautiful fabrics, yarns, buttons, and more. I could have bought something from nearly every stall. It was hard not to spend too much time at all of the stalls, but we managed to see all of them. We made it back to our coach just in time! I will be back next year for sure.

Two days later, I was in a cosy pub in Cambridge called The First and Last, where I was attending my first Clandestine Cake Club event put on by Miss Sue Flay of Secluded Tea Parties.  I was surrounded by 30 or so women (and one man) who had all baked and brought cakes to share. We sampled our fair share of cakes then all settled down to watch the Great British Bakeoff Final. A photographer was even there to photo us with our cakes! It was a fabulous evening and my husband was delighted with the cake selection that I brought home.

There were 22 cakes!!

My Hummingbird Cake

Us ladies posing with our cakes
Now for my Ta-Da! If I haven't busy enough, I have been spending most evenings with my crochet hook and yarn working on my granny square blanket.  It has taken me since July to finish this baby and I am so very proud of it.  I love the bright colours and weight of it. There isn't much I don't love about it. It's just perfect for me.

Sorry, you'll have to let me indulge myself with several photos.


Even my babies like it.
And finally, we even managed to have a nice little Autumnal family walk.

My mother comes to visit in a few days and I am beyond excited! I know she can't wait to pinch these kiddie's cheeks, but am thrilled to have my mommy around. We have lots planned so I don't expect to be posting much.  I am currently working on a mile long crochet project list, so I might pop in with a few photos of them.

Here's a little preview of one of my crochet projects:

Now I must go snuggle up under my granny blanket and work on a pretty cowl for my cousin. Night night.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Conversions and Equivalents

Here's a perfect guide for conversions and equivalents:
From Chocolate and Zucchini

1 cup = 240 mL (milliliter)
1/2 cup = 120 mL
1/3 cup = 80 mL
1/4 cup = 60 mL = 4 tablespoons
1 tablespoon = 15 mL (= une cuillérée à soupe or cs in French) = 3 teaspoons
1 teaspoon = 5 mL (= une cuillérée à café or cc in French)
1 fluid ounce = 30 mL
1 US quart = 0.946 liter ~=1 liter

1 ounce = 28 grams
1 pound = 16 ounces = 454 grams

1 inch = 2.54 centimeters
1 foot = 12 inches = 30 centimeters

400° F = 200° C = gas mark (France) 7
350° F = 180° C = gas mark (France) 6
300° F = 150° C = gas mark (France) 5
(See equivalents for UK gas marks.)

Volume-to-weight conversions

Note: Since the volume measurement of an ingredient depends on how you pack the measuring cup/spoon and on the ingredient itself (how it is cut, its density, its water content), the volume-to-weight conversions are not absolute: they are simply a reflection of my own experience.

Butter: 1/2 cup = 1 stick = 4 ounces = 113 grams
Butter: 1 tablespoon = 14 grams
Comté cheese, grated: 1 cup = 100 grams
Crème fraîche: 1 cup = 240 grams
Fresh cheese: 1 cup = 240 grams
Greek-style yogurt: 1 cup = 280 grams
Gruyère cheese, grated: 1 cup = 100 grams
Heavy cream: 1 cup = 240 grams
Light cream: 1 cup = 240 grams
Milk: 1 cup = 240 mL
Parmesan cheese, grated: 1 cup = 110 grams
Ricotta: 1 cup = 250 grams
Yogurt: 1 cup = 250 grams

Nuts etc.
Almonds, shelled, whole, blanched: 1 cup = 125 grams
Almonds, sliced: 1 cup = 70 grams
Almond meal (a.k.a. ground almonds): 1 cup = 100 grams
Almond butter/purée: 1 cup = 240 grams
Cashews, shelled, whole: 1 cup = 130 grams
Chestnuts, shelled, cooked: 1 cup = 130 grams
Hazelnuts, shelled, whole: 1 cup = 120 grams
Macadamia nuts, shelled, whole: 1 cup = 125 grams
Nut butter: 1 cup = 240 grams
Pistachios: 1 cup = 125 grams
Poppy seeds: 1 cup = 145 grams
Walnuts, shelled, halves: 1 cup = 100 grams

Agave syrup: 1/3 cup = 100 grams
Baking powder (levure chimique or alsacienne): 1 standard French sachet = 11 grams = 1 tablespoon
Cacao nibs: 1 cup = 120 grams
Chocolate chips: 1 cup = 160 grams
Cocoa powder: 1 cup = 120 grams
Honey: 1 cup = 300 grams
Honey: 1 tablespoon = 18 grams
Salt, fine: 1 teaspoon = 5 grams
Sugar, brown: 1 cup (packed) = 170 grams
Sugar, confectioner's: 1 cup = 130 grams
Sugar, granulated: 1 cup = 200 grams
Sugar, granulated: 1 tablespoon = 12.5 grams
Molasses: 1 cup = 280 grams

Flour, grains, etc.
Bulgur: 1 cup = 190 grams
Chickpeas (dried, raw): 1 cup = 190 grams
Cornmeal: 1 cup = 165 grams
Dried beans: 1 cup = 180 grams
Elbow macaroni: 1 cup = 150 grams
Flour, all-purpose or whole wheat: 1 cup = 120 grams
Polenta: 1 cup = 160 grams
Quinoa: 1 cup = 190 grams
Rice, basmati: 1 cup = 180 grams
Rice, short-grain: 1 cup = 195 grams
Rolled oats: 1 cup = 100 grams

Fruits, vegetables, herbs
Baby spinach leaves: 1 cup (packed) = 30 grams
Basil: 1 cup (packed) = 20 grams
Blueberries: 1 cup = 190 grams
Carrots, grated: 1 cup (loosely packed) = 90 grams
Fava beans, shelled: 1 cup = 120 grams
Green peas, shelled: 1 cup = 145 grams
Hibiscus flowers, dried, semi-crushed, lightly packed: 1 cup = 40 grams
Mâche: 1 cup (packed) = 20 grams
Raisins: 1 cup = 150 grams
Raspberries: 1 cup = 125 grams
Rocket: 1 cup (packed) = 25 grams
Strawberries: 1 cup (small strawberries, or large strawberries, sliced) = 125 grams
Young salad greens: 1 cup (packed) = 20 grams

Agar-agar: 1 teaspoon = 2 grams
Baby shrimp, shelled, cooked: 1 cup = 100 grams
Capers: 1 cup = 120 grams
Dried bread crumbs: 1 cup = 100 grams
Hibiscus flowers: 1/3 cup = 15 grams
Oil: 1 tablespoon = 9 grams
Olives: 1 cup = 180 grams

Pans and dishes
10-inch tart or cake pan = 25-centimeter tart or cake pan
9-inch cake pan = 22-centimeter cake pan
4-inch tartlet mold = 10-centimeter tartlet mold
9-by-13-inches baking dish = 22-by-33-centimeter baking dish
8-by-8-inches baking dish = 20-by-20-centimeter baking dish
6-ounce ramekin = 180-mL ramekin
9-by-5-inches loaf pan = 23-by-12-centimeter loaf pan = 8 cups or 2 liters in capacity

Planning Ahead For Christmas With Hot Chocolate

I love homemade gifts. I love making them and I love receiving them.  Last year, I tried making more gifts for the family and friends for Christmas.  For my son's preschool teachers, I made them all some cupcakes. And what better way to enjoy some cake, than to have it with some homemade hot chocolate. So they each got a jar.  I know it's a little early for Christmas, but you can make these well in advance. Why not be prepared? Instead of bringing a bottle of wine or flowers to a Christmas dinner party, bring a jar of hot chocolate mix! It takes minutes to whip up and I don't know many who do not love a steaming cup of hot cocoa.

I found some nice jars from Lakeland and filled them up with the hot chocolate mix.  I used my pretty Cath Kidston Christmas sticker labels for the tags. I peeled them off and stuck them to old cards and cut them out, punched a hole in each one and attached them to the jars with twine.  On the back of the jar, I used the larger Cath stickers and wrote the instructions for making a cup. Very simple but pretty. 

Homemade Hot Chocolate
Don't know cups? See my handy dandy conversions and equivalents page

I have added cinnamon to this recipe which really adds a little something something. The corn flour helps give a nice rich texture and keeps things from getting all clumped up in the jar.

2 cups icing sugar
1 cup cocoa
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp corn flour

Whisk all of the ingredients in a large bowl and pour into sealed container. I know this is not scientific, but I've kept mine for a year and it's absolutely fine.

To make one large cup:
Mix 1/4 cup of cocoa mixture with 1 1/2 cups of steamy hot milk. If you have a milk steamer, use it. It's devine!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Vegan Pumpkin Bread

I dabbled in the cake business for about a year when my youngest was tiny.  Tired doesn't begin to describe how I felt after baking 300 cupcakes in one day only to stand all day the next selling them all.  It was a delight to see the happy faces of the customers, but whew, it wore me out.  Orders began coming in and I just could not stay on top of them.  10 years ago I would have said that baking at home all day would be my dream job.  10 years ago I was much younger and was able to sleep most nights without someone interupting my slumber to tell me that their foot itched or that the shadow on the wall looked like an alligator. 10 years ago I did not realise how much energy two little munchkins can zap from you. So, turning my love of baking into a business was not exactly how I imagined. I had also thought that by baking for others, I would be less likely to eat so much. I'd have a reason to bake other than to stuff my gob. Nah, that didn't work either. I felt compelled to quality control everything and the weight started to pile on. A break from baking was needed. Quickly.

All of the baking for money malarky wasn't all bad. It opened my eyes to the world of other types of dietary needs. Gluten-free baking, vegan baking, eggless baking, etc. Although none of these apply to me, I thought that I'd need an assortment of baked goods for those in that market.  I began exploring new recipes and I was very impressed with the possibilities.  My collection of good gluten-free recipes is still limited, so I am always on the lookout for more of them.  However, I do have a fantastic vegan cake recipe for you today. And you won't miss the eggs one bit. In fact, you'll be pleased you don't need to go out and buy any.

You will soon learn that I have a love of baking with pumpkin.  I do not, however, love pumpkin pie. But a cake, a cookie, pancakes, and even a scone with pumpkin. Delicious.
This recipe is from one of my favourite food bloggers, Joy the Baker. Not only is her blog beautiful and her writing hilarious, her recipes are devine. I've never made anything from her blog that I didn't like.  She's so good, she has recently released her first cookbook and it's available here in the UK! Her blog has a few other pumpkin and vegan recipes too. I won't bother rewriting her recipe. I want you to visit her blog and have a looky. I promise you'll love Joy the Baker. I want to be her best friend.

Here's her lovely Vegan Walnut Pumpkin Bread.  Instead of making into two loaves, I made it into a bundt. I love me a bundt! I left out the walnuts too, but you can do what you'd like.  If you have never found tinned pumpkin in the supermarket, try Waitrose or Ocado. I normally keep a stock in my pantry so I can have pumpkin yumminess whenever I like.


Friday, 28 September 2012

Ale Bread and a Poorly Girl

Every Friday, the littlest and I open up our village hall to local mums for a few hours for some tea and a play.  After finding a few spots on her hands, feet, and mouth (see where I'm going with this?), I soon realised that our Friday morning routine was about to be smashed.  Instead we would spend a lot of cuddle time on the sofa, which is never really a bad thing.  It's just a shame one of us needs to be feeling like a bag of nails for that to happen.  So we cuddled. A lot.

Then she fell asleep and I snuck off to the kitchen and made something yummy that I thought I'd share with you.

A few years ago I found this recipe for beer bread somewhere. I'm sure it was a food blog but I cannot remember which one. I had copied the recipe down in my notebook and have made this time and time again.  If you are afraid of working with yeast, short of time, or just plain lazy, this recipe is for you.  It takes just a few minutes to mix up and about 45 minutes to bake. It's perfect for when you have dinner company at short notice and you still want to impress or if you want to whip up some fresh bread for lunch. Any baking ability can handle this. So even if you are a novice baker or never baked anything in your life before, please give this one a go.

Ale Bread (or Beer Bread)
Makes one loaf

You can make this with beer or ale. Today I used ale because that is all I had. I think I prefer a lighter beer compared to ale, but I think my husband prefers the deeper flavour of the ale. You can add cheese, chives, garlic, or whatever you fancy. It's a pretty versatile recipe.  It has some sugar added, but I only find this faintly sweet, but you might want to use less if you want a less sweeter bread.  Again, this recipe is written with cup measurements.  I was going to weigh everything out for this post, but got carried away and only remembered after it was too late. I'll come back later and add them another time.

3 cups self-raising flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
350 ml ale or beer
2 tbsp melted butter

Preheat oven to 170 C (375 F) in a fan oven and grease a loaf tin (no need to line with parchment)

In a medium sized bowl mix the flour, sugar, and salt.

Pour in ale or beer and stir until combined into a sticky, wet dough.  Pour into tin.


Bake in the centre of the oven for 40 minutes.

Now drink the leftover ale while you wait. It would be wasteful not to!

Take out of the oven and brush melted butter on top and pop it back in the oven for another 5 minutes.  Let cool or 5 minutes before turning out and letting cool on a wire rack.

We are having this tonight with a chicken thigh, chorizo, and butternut squash casserole. I cannot wait to soak up all the yummy red chorizo juice with this bread!  Please let me know if you make it and how you get on.
By the way, it makes excellent toast. I highly recommend a good slathering of butter and marmite if you are so inclined.