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.