14 December 2011

Snowdrop lamps by Jonathan Tibbs Furniture

Call me biased, and you may well do, given the fact that Jonathan Tibbs is my brother, but I love these snowdrop lamps.

Hand-made in Jonathan's workshop in Hackney, the lamps are made of steam bent ash with an ash hinge that lets you position the lamp depending on what sort of lighting you want, and the desk lamps have a fantastic slate base. The frosted lampshades create a lovely, soft, warm light and I really love the simple design - understated and elegant. Even I have to hand it to him for these ones.

Jonathan sells his lamps through Benchmark, and you can see his full collection of furniture at Jonathan Tibbs Furniture.

11 December 2011

Dried orange and cinnamon Christmas decorations

Well, it's been a little while since the last post, but now it's well and truly the festive season. Hurrah! The Christmas cards have started arriving, I've strung up miles of paperchains and the Christmas tree, which takes up most of our sitting room, is twinkling and sparkling with lights and baubles. 

But as much as I'm loving garish decorations this year, sometimes it's nice to go back to nature for some festive cheer, and these dried orange and cinnamon decorations are really easy to make.

It's quite a slow process to dry the oranges yourself (you can buy bags of pre-dried citrus fruits if you're low on time or inclination), but your house will be filled with Christmassy smells, which makes it all worth while.

Dried orange and cinnamon Christmas decorations
Large oranges
Cinnamon sticks (buy florists ones, rather than the ones for cooking with)
Raffia (or similar)
Sharp knife

Pre-heat the oven to about 50C, or as low as you can get it if it doesn't go that low. Cut the oranges into slices about 1cm thick, and lay them on a baking tray, before putting them into the oven. You want to dry them out, rather than cook them, so the lower the temperature, and the longer you can leave them, the better - it may take three or four hours or even longer. If you don't manage to dry the slices completely, don't worry too much - the oranges will be fine for this year's Christmas decorations, but probably won't last forever. 

To make the decorations on the left above...
Take three or four slices of dried, cooled oranges and with the sharp knife, make two small slits in the centre of each slice - big enough to thread the raffia through. 

Cut a piece of raffia about 30cm long, and starting with the biggest orange slice, thread an end through each slit. Lay the next biggest slice on top, and thread the two ends of the raffia through the slits. Do the same for the remaining slices, then tie the raffia, but don't cut it. 

Get a little bundle of cinnamon sticks and lay them on top of the oranges. Tightly tie the raffia round them, so they're secured to the oranges, then trim off the raffia ends.

Loop round and tie some pretty ribbon around the cinnamon, so you can't see the raffia. Then finally, feed some more raffia through the ribbon to make a loop and tie it off.

To make the decorations on the right above...
With the sharp knife, make two small slits in a slice of orange, at opposite sides, next to the rind.

Cut a piece of raffia, about 20cm long, and thread it through one of the slits, tying it tightly on the outside of the orange, leaving the ends long. Take a bundle of cinnamon, and loop the long ends of the raffia around it, knotting tightly at the bottom. Trim the ends. 

Loop some pretty ribbon round the cinnamon sticks, and tie off, hiding the raffia. 

Feed another length of raffia through the second slit in the orange, and tie in a loop. 

And you're all done. Ta da!

9 November 2011


I made this a few weeks ago for lunch with my sister. We hadn't quite made the switch to this horrible weather by then, so the sun was shining and with a bit of imagination we could have been in France.

I know lots of people don't like anchovies, but they really do make a difference in this recipe. Also, if you can, try to use small olives with stones, like kalamata, rather than the stoned ones you get in brine.

If you're really organised, you can cook the onions the day before, or even a couple of days before and just keep them in the fridge. They take a little while to soften, whereas the rest of the recipe is super quick.

Serves 3-4

1 tbsp olive oil
15g unsalted butter
Small bunch of thyme, leaves picked
800g onions, finely sliced
250g puff pastry (ideally the all butter type)
6-8 anchovies
8-10 black olives
Sea salt
Black pepper
Heat the oil and butter in a large, heavy-based pan until the butter has melted. Add about half of the thyme leaves and the onions, and cook over a low heat for about an hour, stirring occasionally - they should be soft and slightly caramelised, but not brown. Season and leave to cool. 

Meanwhile, heat the oven to 220C.

Line a baking sheet with some grease-proof paper (or you can just brush it with a little olive oil), then roll out the puff pastry until it's about the thickness of a pound coin, and place it on the baking tray. 

Brush the surface of the pastry with a bit more olive oil, then cover with the cooked onions, leaving a gap of about a centimeter from the edge, all the way round. slice each anchovy in half, then arrange on top of the onions in  a lattice pattern. Place the olives in the gaps between the criss-crossed anchovies. Sprinkle with the remaining thyme.

Bake for about 20-25 minutes until the pastry is puffy and golden and serve warm with some salad and bread. Yum.

4 November 2011

Book Club: Printing by Hand

This is a really, really lovely book. Textile designer and illustrator, Lena Corwin, walks you through the three primary ways of printing by hand: stamping, stenciling and screen printing. 

Printing by Hand starts with a straight-forward guide to all of the materials that you need to get started, including the different fabrics, inks and paints. It's really well laid out with beautiful photography and really simple step-by-step instructions. Lena has even included a pack of her designs at the back of the book, so you can create stencils and stamps with the minimum of artistic talent! 

From napkins and table cloths, to stationery and soft furnishings, it's impossible not to find something tempting in this book.

3 November 2011

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Who doesn't love pictures of animals? Exactly.  And now the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition is back at the Natural History Museum. The exhibition runs until March next year, so there's plenty of time to go and see it, but make sure you do.

2 November 2011

Apple Rum Twist

Autumn is absolutely everywhere at the moment - golden trees, orange pumpkins and lots of apples. And this is a cocktail to match, helping to get you in the mood for the season and keep you warm when it's cold outside. It's a perfect drink for sipping while you sit round a bonfire and enjoy the flashes and bangs of the fireworks. 

I made a cold drink, with ice, but if you need to warm your cockles, try it with hot apple cider. Just put the ingredients in a pan and heat gently. Don't let it boil though, or you'll start to burn off the alcohol.

Apple rum twist
Makes 1

1 1/2 shots dark rum
3 shots apple juice (or warm cider)
1/2 shot lemon juice

Put all of the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with a couple of cubes of ice. Shake it well and pour over more ice. Garnish with a good slice of apple.

25 October 2011

Pumpkin cake

I'd never thought of using pumpkins in a sweet recipe before, but then I've also never had three of them to use up before, so extreme measures were called for. I know three's a bit excessive, but pumpkins are so autumnal and lovely, I think I have a bit of a compulsion and can't resist. (I actually have to stop myself buying them. Loser, I know.) So after a stint on display and looking pretty, the time came for them to be put to use.

This cake is very similar to carrot cake, and is amazing still warm from the oven, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or a dollop of double cream. It's a perfect autumn cake - good for round the bonfire, or after a long stomp around outside.

I used a Turks Turban (the ones in the background in the picture on the left) pumpkin for this recipe, but you can use any pumpkin or a butternut squash. Turks Turbans are delicious, but have really tough skin, so getting the flesh out while the pumpkin is uncooked is quite tricky. Next time, I'll probably just use a butternut squash. 

Halloween Pumpkin Cake
Serves 15 hungry/greedy people

300g self-raising flour
300g light muscavado sugar
3 tsp mixed spice
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
175g sultanas
1/2 tsp salt
4 eggs, beaten
200g butter, melted
1 orange, zested
1 tbsp orange juice
500g pumpkin flesh, grated

Heat oven to 180C. Butter and line a 30 x 20 cm cake tin.

Put the flour, sugar, spice, bicarbonate of soda, sultanas and salt into a large bowl, and mix well. Beat the eggs in to the melted butter, stir in the orange zest and juice, then mix into the dry ingredients. Stir in the pumpkin. 

Pour the batter into the tin and bake for 30 minutes or until golden and cooked through. 

Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack and leave to cool completely.

20 October 2011

Tom Butcher Ceramics

Earlier in the year, before this site existed, I was introduced to the brilliant Notonthehighstreet.com (thanks Anna!), in the hope of finding inspiration for my sister's birthday present. It's a great website, that compiles the lovely things that hundreds of small-scale shops and independent crafts-people are selling. Perfect birthday present fodder.

Needless to say, I spent hours trawling through pages of beautiful things, and was wracked by indecision until I came across Tom Butcher Ceramics

Tom designs and hand-crafts his ceramics in his studio on the shores of Loch Long in Scotland, and I  love the simplicity of his designs. I like things that feel like they've got a bit of character, and these are robust and outdoorsy, but still elegant, and I'd happily have them on my kitchen table any day.

Tom sells direct through his website, as well as via Notonthehighstreet.com

16 October 2011

Pear jam

Making jam is a really lovely way of using up fruit, and if you make it in small batches, it's super easy to do. The basic recipe for jam is much the same no matter what fruit you use, so start saving old jars, and you'll be ready to go at a moment's notice.

I've used Conference pears for this recipe, but use whatever you have piled up in your fruit bowl. The important thing is to to make the jam before the pears go too mushy because the levels of pectin in the fruit, which makes the jam set, start to drop as the fruit ripens.

The sugar will harden the fruit when it's added to the jam, so if you're using fruits like apples and pears, make sure they're cooked right down before you add the sugar. 

Pear jam
Makes about three jars

2kg pears, peeled, chopped and cored
1kg granulated sugar 
1 lemon, juiced
1l water

Heat the oven to 180C.

Put the pears and water into a large pan with the water, and simmer gently for about 20 minutes, until the pears are very soft and the water has reduced by about a third. 

Warm the sugar in the oven before adding it to the pears and stiring gently until it's completely disolved. Warming the sugar first speeds up this process. 

Turn up the heat, and boil the pears rapidly for about eight minutes, then take the pan off the heat and check to see if the setting point has been reached. Keep checking every minute until the jam is ready then take the pan off the heat. 

Sterilise your jam jars while the jam is resting, then pot up.

14 October 2011

Baked eggs with chorizo and beans

This is a recipe for those days when you can't really be bothered to cook, but it's just as well, because you haven't bothered to go to the shops either. It could easily be breakfast, brunch, lunch or supper, and as long as you have eggs, tomatoes and some kind of beans, can be adapted to use up almost whatever it is that you have in the fridge. Perfect for a lazy day.

A really lovely adaptation is to replace the beans with a jar of artichoke hearts. It makes a lighter dish, and is a lovely brunch with some fresh bread. 

Baked eggs with chorizo and beans
Serves 4 (I made an individual one for the picture)

1tbsp olive oil
1 onion, sliced
150g chorizo, sliced
4 eggs
400g tin chopped tomatoes
410g tin butter beans
410g tin haricot beans
1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes
2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley

Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Add the onion slices and cook over a medium heat for about 5 minutes, add the chorizo and chilli flakes and cook for another 5 minutes or so, until the onion is soft and the chorizo is cooked. 

Add the tomatoes, and beans and simmer for about 15 minutes until slightly reduced.

Make four little wells in the tomato and beans, and crack in the eggs. Cover the pan with some foil, and cook over a medium heat for 4-5 minutes until the eggs are cooked. 

Sprinkle over the parsley, and you're done!

National portrait gallery: Glamour of the Gods

Glamour of the Gods is a celebration of the 'Golden Age' of Hollywood, from 1920 to 1960. From Greta Garbo and Clark Gable to Audrey Hepburn, James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, it's an exhibition of the photographs that created international style icons and in many cases these are the career-defining images of Hollywood's greatest names.

Featuring over 70 photographs, the exhibition demonstrates the part that photography played in creating the Hollywood mystique which changed just about everything.  

The exhibition only runs until the 23 October, so you'll have to be quick, and if you've been or you're going, I'd love to know what you think of it.

13 October 2011

Envelope cushion covers

Just like most people my age in London, I rent my house. It's lovely, but I can't paint the walls, or put up too many pictures, or really do much about some of the furniture, so sometimes I get a bit bored and feel the need to shake things up a bit. Inevitably, and no doubt to the relief of my landlord, it's generally the cushion covers that get the makeover.

If you've got a sewing machine, it's so easy to make new cushion covers and it can really make a difference to the look of a room. Almost as good as wielding a paintbrush!

How to make an envelope cushion cover 
Material (if you want the covers to be washable, wash the material before you cut it)
Cushion pad
Tape measure
Iron and ironing board
Needle or sewing machine

1. First thing, measure your cushion pad (mine was 46cm square), then measure out your material. The length needs to be 2.5 times the length of the cushion pad, plus 5cm for hemming, and the width is the width of the cushion pad plus 5cm for hemming again. So mine was 120cm x 51cm. Then cut out the material.

2. With the right side of the material facing down, turn over 2.5cm at each width end of the material and iron it down to create a hem. Fold that hem over again, by another 2.5cm, and iron it down, so you have a double thickness hem and the rough edge is hidden inside the fold. Sew along the hem with a straight running stitch.

3. With the wrong side of the material facing down this time, place the cushion pad in the middle of the material. Fold the fabric over the cushion from each end, to create the 'envelope' with the overlap. Carefully slide out the cushion, and iron the material, so you have a square. If your material slides about a bit when you remove the cushion pad, just measure the length to make sure it's the same as the cushion pad on each side. 

4. Pin down the unhemmed sides, tack, and sew with a straight running stitch, leaving a 2.5cm seam allowance.

5. Turn the fabric the right side out and stuff with your cushion pad.

If you want a stripe on your cushion, at stage 1, cut a strip of fabric the same width as the fabric for your cushion. Measure the length of your stripe and add 5cm for hemming. With the material facing down, turn a 2.5cm hem on each width end and iron it flat. Position the stripe, right side up on right side of the cushion material, making sure the length ends are lined up with the edges of the cushion fabric. Sew a straight running stitch (or zigzag if you want to get fancy) along the folded sides of the stripe, close to the edge.

Autumn cheese & wine festival

Love cheese? Love wine? Then this one might be for you.

Taking place from Friday 14th  - Sunday 26th October, the Autumn Cheese & Wine Festival is taking over the Southbank Centre Square to celebrate Britain's best ethical and artisan produce. There's loads of lovely cheese and wine to buy, and talks and demos going on all weekend so we can all be connoisseurs by Sunday night. Lovely!

10 October 2011

London Cocktail Week

You might not know it yet, but right now we're in the middle of London Cocktail Week.

Cocktail Week started on the 7th, but from today and until the 16th, over two hundred of the city's best bars will be throwing open their doors for some special Cocktail Tours. Each bar involved will serve their own bespoke London Cocktail Week drink available at a reduced-price for those wearing a London Cocktail Week wristband. Free transport around the city will also be provided with dedicated London buses running every night of the week - plus master classes, tastings and parties are happening all over town.

With this celebratory mood in mind, I thought it was only right to tempt you with a recipe for a delicious cocktail. I'd love to hear your favourite cocktail recipes too, so send them in and I'll happily test some out and feature a few. It's a tough life!

Dark & Stormy
2 shots dark rum
1 shot freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 shot sugar syrup
ginger beer

Shake the rum, lime and sugar syrup in a cocktail shaker with some ice. Strain into an ice-filled highball glass and top with ginger beer.

5 October 2011

Flourless pear and chocolate cake

The pears are still plentiful, and this is a delicious way to use them. It's a proper, grown-up chocolate cake, which is just as good warmed, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, as it is at tea time.

Sometimes chocolate cakes can be a bit rich, but the pears in this recipe help to cut through the intensity of the dark chocolate, and using almonds instead of flour, makes this unexpectedly light and moist.

Flourless pear and chocolate cake
Serves 8

85g butter
85g caster sugar
85g dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids)
3 eggs, separated
85g ground almonds
4 ripe pears, peeled, cored and sliced

Heat the oven to 180C, then grease and line a 23cm loose-bottomed cake tin.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, then remove from the heat and let it cool a bit.

In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until pale and thick. Fold this into the chocolate with the ground almonds.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks (your bowl and whisk needs to be ridiculously clean, otherwise the whites won't hold. Also, don't over-whisk them - if you do, it can be difficult to fold them in.). Stir a third of the whites into the chocolate mix, then gently fold in the rest in two batches.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and level it out a bit. Arrange the pears over the mixture so that they look pretty.

Bake for 40 mins until the pears are soft and the cake is cooked through. Leave to cool in the tin slightly before cooling completely on a wire rack.

1 October 2011

London Restaurant Festival

The London Restaurant Festival is a celebration of the thousands of restaurants and places to eat out in London.

The festival takes place 3 - 17 October, and restaurants across the city are offering special menus at special prices - from local bistros to Michelin Star restaurants. There are also special one-off events, like the Gourmet Odyssey where a Routemaster bus takes you on a three course tour of London, with your first course in one top London restaurant, your main in another and dessert in a third. What's not to love?!

30 September 2011

Pear and ginger upside-down cake

I've got a LOT of pears at the moment. Last week I was faced with a laden pear tree, a carrier bag and an offer for me to help myself, and I got a bit carried away. So, now I need to find something to do with them before they turn to mush.

I liked the idea of an upside-down cake, and this one is delicious. Most ginger cakes are dark and treacle-y, but this one is quite light, so it's a nice change. Although, if you wanted, you could replace the sponge with a more traditional ginger cake instead.

Pear and ginger upside-down cake
Serves 8

4 ripe pears, peeled, cored and sliced
1tbsp caster sugar
200g butter
2 eggs
250ml milk
350g self-raising flour
1tsp ground ginger
200g soft brown sugar
1tbsp golden syrup
2 pieces preserved stem ginger, finely diced, plus 2tbsp of the syrup

Pre-heat the oven to 150C. Grease and line the base of a 23cm cake tin. Rub a bit more butter on the top side of the baking parchment, then sprinkle over the caster sugar. Lay the pears on top of the sugar in a pretty pattern.

Melt the butter, brown sugar and golden syrup in a pan, until the sugar has dissolved. Add the stem ginger and ginger syrup. Put the pan to one side, and leave the syrup to cool a bit.

Beat the eggs and milk together in a large bowl, then sift in the flour and ginger. Pour in the syrup and mix it all together well.

Pour the cake batter over the pears and bake for for around an hour and a half, or until the cake golden brown, firm and cooked through.

28 September 2011

Lavender bags

I know they're a bit twee, but I think lavender bags are a lovely thing to have.

They're ridiculously simple to make and tucking them in amongst clothes, in a drawer or the wardrobe, is the sort of thing that makes me feel like a proper grown-up - someone who takes things to the dry cleaners when they should, and never leaves clothes piled in the washing basket. Sadly it might not always be true, but it's good enough for me.

I bought my lavender at a market during a recent trip to France, but you can get it on Amazon quite cheaply. To make four little bags, I probably used around 50g, so if you have any left over, you can always try making some lovely lavender bath bombs.

Lavender bags
Material (cut to approximately 8cm x 16cm per bag)
Ribbon (approx 16cm per bag)
Dried lavender
Needle/sewing machine

With the patterned sides facing each other, fold the material in half, so you have a square of 8cm x 8cm. From one corner of the fold, tack about 1cm in from the edge around the two and a half adjacent sides, so you have a pouch with half of one side still open. Machine or hand stitch close to the tacking, then secure the thread ends. Remove the tacking.

Turn the pouch the right side out, so the pattern is facing outwards. Using the funnel (or even a piping bag nozzle), fill the pouch with lavender. This can be a bit fiddly, but you want to make sure that the bag is filled well, and the lavender is evenly spread throughout.

Bring together the two ends of the ribbon, and insert them into the unstitched opening of the bag. Fold the remaining unstitched edges of material neatly into the bag and stitch the bag closed, making sure to sew through the ribbon to hold it in place.

Et voila - stocking fillers for all!

23 September 2011

Clerkenwell vintage fashion fair

It's a bit outside the remit of crafty and foodie things, but Clerkenwell Vintage Fashion Fair fits the bill of being something lovely to do, so it's worthy of a mention.

The fair takes place on Sunday 25th, and for just one day, over 50 traders from the UK and Europe will be selling vintage apparel from the 1800s to the 1980s. And if you love it, but it doesn't fit, there's an Alterations Booth where they can work a bit of magic.

22 September 2011

Like it: LondonEater

I love restaurants, but I'm no restaurant critic, so I'm more than happy to leave that to those who are.

LondonEater is a fantastic guide to places to eat in London. Kang Leong, who writes the blog, has a definite penchant for asian food and steak, but he also manages to get round an extraordinary number and variety of restaurants - big, small, tucked away and mainstream. His descriptions and photography are mouthwatering, and are enough to make anyone book a table.


21 September 2011

The ultimate berry cocktail

Unless an Indian summer comes to the rescue, it looks like we've had the last of the hot sunny days. So move over long, refreshing cocktails and hello to something a little punchier that'll help keep out the cold.

September is a month of berries. I'm not sure I'd recommend them without a wash, but even on the grimy green spaces of London, blackberries are ripening everywhere, and English autumn raspberries are piled up in the supermarkets.

With this in mind, I roped in some more happy volunteers to track down The Ultimate Berry Cocktail.

Most berry cocktail recipes we came across included Creme de Mure (blackberry liqueur), but we had real trouble finding any, so instead used Chambourd which is a black raspberry liqueur. The results are obviously slightly different than intended, but still very delicious.

Black & Blue
Adapted from Mix, Shake and Pour

2 shots gin
0.25 shots Creme de Mure (or Chambourd!)
2.5 shots apple juice
16 blueberries

Muddle the blueberries with the gin in a cocktail shaker. Add the other ingredients and lots of ice, then shake well and strain into a glass (it deserves a bit of glamour, so if you've got one, a martini glass is perfect.) Garnish with three blueberries.

18 September 2011

Fruit bowl decoupage

I've had a rather ugly fruit bowl forever. I'm not sure where it came from, but several times it's been on the brink of being rehoused at the charity shop, only to be saved by its practicality at the last minute.

As it has survived for so long, I thought maybe that little fruit bowl deserved a revamp so it could live out its days on my kitchen table without embarrassment.

Decoupage is a really easy way of updating tired bits of furniture. It's a bit more complicated that just a lick of paint, but the results can be really lovely and unique, and it doesn't take much more than a bit of pretty paper and some glue.

The first time you have a go at decoupage, I'd recommend you try something with flat surface, and straight edges to keep life simple - the Fruit Bowl Project turned out to be a bit fiddly. Cutting slits (splices) into the scraps of paper allowed it to lie flat over the curved surfaces though. Alternatively, if you use thinner paper, you should be fine.

Pretty paper (I used wrapping paper, but you could use old maps, or anything really, as long as it's not too thick or too flimsy)
PVA glue
Furniture to decorate

First of all, if your furniture has a high shine, sand it down well, and brush away any dust.

Cut your paper into small shapes (because of the pattern on the paper I used, I cut a rectangle about 3cm x 8cm around each bird).

Brush glue onto the surface of the furniture, working on just one part at a time, and smooth the squares of paper on top. You can overlap with other pieces of paper, but ensure that all edges have glue on them and there are no air bubbles.

When you get to the edges, splice the paper to avoid it bunching around any curved edges. If the furniture has straight edges, the paper can just be wrapped over without cutting.

When you've covered your furniture, leave it to dry completely, then brush two or more thin layers of varnish over all of the decoupage areas - leaving it to dry for the recommended time between coats.

17 September 2011

London Design Festival

The London Design Festival starts today, and over the next nine days there will be hundreds of events taking place across London, showcasing the city's pivotal role in global design.

A centerpiece of the Festival is the Landmark Projects, which involves some of the world's greatest architects and designers who have created pieces of work in some of London's best-loved public spaces.

So if you're out and about over the next week, make sure you keep your eyes peeled, and join in the celebrations!

8 September 2011

Book Club: Mexican Food Made Simple

This month's Book Club book is Mexican Food Made Simple by Masterchef winner and owner of the delicious Wahaca chain of restaurants, Thomasina Miers.

I've never been to Mexico, but I've eaten in my fair share of Mexican restaurants and unlike the usual cheesey stodge that you come across, the recipes in this book are enough to make you want to book a flight.

There are two whole pages dedicated to different chillies, which shows you how seriously Thomasina takes the subject of spice, and she runs you through everything from salsas and street food to puddings and drinks. Including how to make the perfect margharita. Sold!

The fundamentals
Mexican Food Made Simple - Thomasina Miers
Hodder & Stoughton
EAN: 9780340994979
RRP £20.00

7 September 2011

Salt and pepper squid

Our recent trip to Billingsgate Fish Market left us with a freezer full of squid. It's one of my favourite things, and is probably at its absolute best when it's a bit charred from the barbeque with just a bit of olive oil, lemon juice and chilli. I'm reluctantly admitting that we might have seen the last of the barbie for this year, so I decided instead to make some salt and pepper squid.

Salty, spicy and crunchy, it's a delicious starter on its own or you can beef it up with some stir fried greens.

Salt and pepper squid
Serves 2 as a main course, or 4 as a starter

250g squid (small, or baby squid are best)
1/2 tbsp szechuan pepper corns
1/2 tbsp sea salt
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
2 tbsp corn flour
Ground nut oil for frying

In a pestle and mortar, grind the pepper corns, salt and chilli. Add the corn flour and mix it all together.

Slice the squid into rings, or bite-sized pieces, and toss it in the flour until it's well coated.

Fill a large pan or wok a third full of oil. Heat the oil until a cube of bread browns in about 30 seconds. When the oil's hot, fry the squid in small batches, shaking off any excess flour, until it's golden brown.

Serve straight away.

6 September 2011

The Pantry & Parlour Pop-Up: Jars and Jam

Join us on the 17th September for an afternoon of Jars and Jam.

With loads of stencils and designs to inspire you, we'll teach you how to beautifully etch or paint your jars, then show you the secrets of making some delicious jam to fill them with.

We'll sip cocktails along the way to keep your creative juices flowing, and will, of course, test out the jam with a few scones and treats before you head home with your jam.

We hope you can come!

Time: 2-5pm
Venue: Clapham Junction

Email thepantryandparlour@gmail.com for more information

22 August 2011

Cornish fairings

I don't often make cakes and biscuits for eating at home - there's only two of us, and a whole cake is a bit greedy by anybody's standards - but a big walk along the river was a good excuse. Initially the biggest selling point for this recipe was that I already had all of the ingredients, but the biscuits were so delicious I've made them again since, and they are now firmly on The List.

They're crunch, spicy biscuits, which will keep well in a tin for up to a week.

Cornish fairings
Makes about 18 biscuits

100g unsalted butter
100g caster sugar
2 tbsp golden syrup
175g self-raising flour
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp mixed spice
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Pinch of salt

Heat the oven to 200C and line two baking sheets with parchment.

Melt the butter, sugar and golden syrup over a low heat until. Remove from the heat and mix in the sifted flour, the ginger, mixed spice, cinnamon, bicarbonate of soda and salt to form a soft dough. Roll the dough into 18 walnut-sized balls and place 2cm apart on the prepared trays.

Bake for 15 minutes until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

21 August 2011

Rhubarb cordial

It's coming up to the very end of rhubarb season, but I saw some on offer in the supermarket the other day, and wanted to make some more of this cordial before it was too late. It's everything that's delicious about rhubarb, in a glass!

Rhubarb cordial
3kg chopped rhubarb
150ml water
Caster sugar

Slowly cook the rhubarb with the water in a big pan with the lid on, until it's completely soft and mushy. Strain the rhubarb through a muslin cloth, catching the juice. This can take several hours, or even better, overnight. Don't rush it - if you squeeze the rhubarb, your cordial will go cloudy.

For every litre of juice you have, add 750g sugar and 75ml lemon juice. Heat until just below boiling point to dissolve the sugar, then bottle into sterilised bottles.

Dilute with water (or prosecco) to taste.

18 August 2011

Paper bag lanterns

It's raining outside, so there's not much hope for long summer evenings spent in the garden at the moment, but these lanterns looked so pretty, I wanted to try making them. Even if they only make it as far as my kitchen, I still love them!

Mixing naked flames and paper obviously has it's risks, so don't leave the lanterns unattended and keep small children somewhere else. If you want to be super safe, you could use LED lights instead of the tea lights. Just be sensible. 

Paper bag lanterns
White paper bags (I used 130mm x 215mm greaseproof bags which I found in Asda)
Hole punch
Hole punch reinforcer stickers
Craft knife
Wire cut into 30cm sections (I used 1.6mm diameter)
Piece of thick cardboard the diameter of the bags
Tea lights
Long matches

Fold out the top inch or so of the paper bag al the way round, smoothing down the edges, so you have a crisp fold. It's a bit fiddly, but turn out the first bit, then roll the rest down.

Slide the piece of cardboard into the flat bag, so you have a thick surface to cut on, without going right through both sides of the bag. Lightly trace your stencil onto the bag, and cut around it.

Open the bag up, making sure the folds are crisp and the base is flat.

At the top of  the bag, punch a hole on both sides and reinforce them with the stickers.

Use the wire to form a handle, looping it through each hole, and twisting it at the end to secure it on both sides.
Put a tea light in the base, and hang it up somewhere pretty.

ps - if your tea light is new, light it for the first time before you light it in the bag. It can take a while to light the first time, so it gets pretty hot on your fingers if you don't!

17 August 2011

London Honey Festival

For an afternoon of all things bee-related, visit the London Honey Festival on 21st August at the Royal Festival Hall. It's a celebration of London's honey, so pick your favourite and decide which borough has the best bees.

15 August 2011

Billingsgate fish market

If you like fish, one day you have to go to Billingsgate Fish Market. We went recently with friends and now we have a freezer filled with more fish than I know what to do with. And an octopus.

The market is geared towards the restaurant trade, so it's an early start and things are sold by the box-load, but if you ask, most people are happy to let you have more home-friendly quantities and you still get to take advantage of the wholesale prices. Make sure you bring a couple of bin liners to line the boot of your car though - the packaging can be a bit rough and ready!

Before you leave, reward your early start with breakfast at Piggy's Cafe. You can get all of the usual greasy spoon stuff, but when you have the chance for kippers or a bacon and scallop bap, it would just be silly not to take it.

The fundamentals
Billingsgate Market
Trafalgar Way
E14 5ST

Tuesday to Saturday 5am - 8.30am
The market is closed Sunday and Monday. NB the market is closed on Tuesdays following a Bank Holiday Monday.

Billingsgate also runs courses to show you what to do with your fish once you've bought it.

13 August 2011

Lavender bath bombs

These little fizzing bath bombs are a quick and easy way to keep you smelling sweet.

If you want, you can replace the lavender with dried rose petals, or even use herbs like thyme or rosemary for something a little more manly.

Lavender bath bombs
5-6 fresh lavender sprigs (or 1 tsp dried lavender flowers)
1 tbsp citric acid powder (you should be able to get this from your local chemist)
3 tbsp bicarbonate of soda
10 drops lavender essential oil
1tsp vegetable oil

If you're using fresh lavender, heat the oven to 180C. When it's hot, turn it off and put the lavender in the oven to dry for about two hours. When the flowers are dry, remove them from the stalks.

Mix the citric acid and bicarbonate of soda in a glass bowl - make sure you use one that's completely dry, or the mixture will start fizzing! Add the lavender oil, the lavender flowers and the vegetable oil and mix everything together with a metal spoon.

Choose your favourite shape of biscuit cutter, and fill with the mixture, pressing down with the back of the spoon, so it's compact. Leave it to dry out for at least half an hour, or ideally overnight, until it's a dry, hard block.

Throw it into a hot bath and enjoy!

8 August 2011

Damson jam

A recent trip to visit granny resulted in a bag-full of damsons. Crumble would normally be the first go-to in a situation like this, but it seems a bit too early in the year for such a stick-to-your-ribs pud. So instead, I thought I'd make some damson jam.

 Jam is super easy to make, and the only thing that slows this one down is the stones. There are different ways of dealing with them: I settled down with a bowl and a knife and stoned the fruit over an episode of Sherlock Holmes; you can wait until your jam has cooked, then the stones should float to the top and you can just skim them off; or you can just live and let live, and let your fillings take their chances with the final product. It's up to you.

One last thing is that damsons have quite a low pectin level. As pectin is what makes the jam set, it's a good idea to use preserving/jam sugar instead of normal granulated sugar if you can. If not, don't worry, you'll still get jam, but it might be a bit runnier.

Damson jam
Makes about six jars

1kg damsons
1.25kg preserving sugar (or granulated)
400ml water

Put the fruit and the water into a big pan (you want one that's plenty big enough, and with high sides, so the jam doesn't boil over and make a hot, sticky mess) and simmer until the skins are soft and the liquid has reduced by a third.

Take the pan off the heat and add the sugar, stirring gently until it's all dissolved. It can help if you warm the sugar first, by putting it in the oven for 10 minutes, or a quick run through the microwave.

When the sugar has dissolved, return the pan to the heat and boil it rapidly until the setting point is reached. Take the pan off the heat and let it sit for 15 minutes. Skim off any scum that has formed, then pot up into sterilised jars.

7 August 2011

Book Club: Making Stuff

We thought we might include a Book Club in our blog. Not one where you have to dash out and buy, then stay up all night reading, but a Book Club that just lets us flag up a few good books.

Hopefully you'll be tempted by some and will be inspired to get cooking and crafting or, at the very least, they might provide you with a bit of fodder for Christmases and birthdays for years to come.

First on the list is Making Stuff.

Designed to pluck the baton of crafting from the grannies, and hand it over to the youth (I'm counting myself as youth), Making Stuff shows you how to create all kinds of weird and wonderful things from knitted iPod cosies and starlight lanterns to your own soap and ra-ra aprons.

It starts with a How To guide to knitting, sewing, felting, applique-ing and crochet-ing, so even if you're a complete beginner you'll be able to get cracking on something without too much bother.

The fundamentals
Making Stuff - An Alternative Craft Book
Black Dog Publishing
ISBN 10: 1 904772 61 7
ISBN 13: 978 1 904772 61 3
RRP £16.95

1 August 2011

The ultimate cucumber cocktail

I don't want to jinx it or scare it away, but finally the sun is shining. Who knows how long it will last, so it's time to seize the day and enjoy every sunny little moment we can. And how better to do that than sprawled out on the grass with a refreshing cocktail and nothing to do but soak up the sun?

In August it's all about cucumbers. Refreshing, clean and surprisingly perfect with gin, cucumber cocktails are the new Pimms. (Well, sort of!).

I've become a bit obsessed by this idea of cucumber cocktails recently, and so I took it upon myself to rope in a volunteer and test out a selection of recipes, to find the one that could be named The Ultimate Cucumber Cocktail. Several glasses later, I think we found it.

The winning recipe scored top marks on the refreshing scale.       

Cucumber and elderflower gin fizz
Adapted from What Rachel Ate

Serves 2

Cucumber slices
Mint leaves
50ml elderflower cordial (2 shots)
50ml gin
100 ml sparkling water

Muddle (mash) three or four slices of cucumber and a sprig of mint in a cocktail shaker. Fill the shaker with ice, add the gin and elderflower and give it a good shake.

Divide the mix between two ice-filled glasses and top with the sparkling water. Finish with a couple of cucumber slices and a few mint leaves.

27 July 2011

Start at the very beginning...

The Pantry & Parlour is the offspring of a love of eating and a love of, as geeky as we know it sounds, crafting. Hidden away for years, this Sunday afternoon secret finally came out loud and proud one Friday afternoon, and low, The Pantry & Parlour was born.

We, Nicola and Laura, decided we wanted to create a blog that would bring together everything that we love, from great recipes and restaurants to fantastic little design shops and ideas for crafting projects.

There's not much more satisfying than making something that wasn't there before, and we know that we're not the only ones that revel in people saying "what, you MADE that?"!

We want this to be a place where you can find a little gem of an idea to get you started on your next project, whatever that might be. So we hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoy writing it.

Because as Julius Caesar said: "It is better to create than to learn! Creating is the essence of life."

And he knew a thing or two.