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Knit one, pearl one, drop one, gain one?

So I have started knitting. It came about after I attended a workshop put on by the UK Hand Knitting Association and I was hooked (is that a knitting pun? I’m not fully ‘down’ with the lingo yet.)

It took me a grand total of 45 minutes to cast on and do two rows – it was a challenge I can say. I have watched my nan knitting away for years and years, quite often witnessing her hands acting purely autonomously as she simultaneously crafted an Aran jumper whilst watching Fifteen To One on the telly, drinking a cup of tea and eating a ham sandwich.

In my case, simply casting on was the hardest thing I’ve had to do for a long while (sad, isn’t it), but I got there, thanks to the help of one (very patient) UK Hand Knitter. A few weeks later and I’m a good fifty-odd rows down. The thing is…(and it really is a  big thing…), I keep losing and gaining stitches and I don’t have the foggiest reason why!

I started my first ever knitting project (a headband, in case you’re wondering) with 15 stitches. Now I’m up to 17, having at one point dropped to 14, then I went back up to 15, then to 16 and now 17. What I’d like to ask the Gods of Knitting is…HOW on earth am I doing this? I’m as slow as a snail and meticulous in my concentration, but somehow, out of what seems like nowhere, my headband is growing wider and wider.

Any ideas, folks? Pinny Girl is in need of your pin-wisdom!

Knitting for beginners

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Egg-cellent Adventures!

Easter is the time of year when it seems socially acceptable to munch day and night on perfectly formed orbs of deliciousness, Indeed, there’s never a better occasion to celebrate all that is great about CHOCOLATE!

Made this little beauty this weekend in honour of the God of Cocoa, with a little divine inspiration from a rather lovely chocolatier.

Fiona Sciolti imparted her words of wisdom on how to create a stunningly beautiful yet supremely simple egg of your very own at the recent Country Living Spring Fair…after serious note-taking and utter concentration, this was the outcome of a day spent covered in speckles of melted loveliness.

Egg making at Easter

Feel inspired? Moulds and melted chocolate is all you need…in a (nut)shell!

 

 

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Gone Dotty Chocolate Cake

A ‘spot’ of baking was in order for BBC Children In Need last week, and so emerging from my kitchen was a rather chocolatey offering.

Encasing a cocoa-enriched cake sandwiched with home-made damson jam was a creamy dark chocolate ganache, lavishly decorated with chocolate fingers, Maltesers and Smarties. If you’ve got the aforementioned treats lurking in your cupboard, this cake is one sure-fire way of putting them to a deliciously good use!

Gone Dotty Chocolate Cake

Gone Dotty Chocolate Cake

For the cake:

8oz golden caster sugar

8oz butter, softened

4 large eggs

6oz wholemeal self raising flour

2oz good-quality cocoa powder

For the filling:

A berry-flavoured jam of your choice

For the ganache:

100g dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa)

50g butter

1 heaped tablespoon golden syrup

For decorating:

A couple of tubes of Smarties

A large bag of Maltesers

A box of Cadbury’s Milk Chocolate Fingers – or two, if like me, you have a habit of munching on them!

Method:

Pre-heat the oven to Gas 5 / 180 degrees / 160 fan. Grease and line 2 x 7-inch sandwich pans.

To make the cake, cream together the butter and sugar using an electric whisk or beaters until light and creamy, to get maximum fluffiness for your effort and to save your arms from dropping off (wooden spoons are sooo last season!). Beat in an egg a time, accompanied by a tablespoon of the flour, until all the eggs are used up. Now carefully fold in the rest of the flour and cocoa powder using a metal spoon until combined, treating it like a delicate flower – this is how you end up with a light cake, so avoid beating the life out of it!

Divide the mix between the two pans and give them a good tap to level out the mix. Pop in the oven and bake for around 25-35 minutes, until a skewer or a cocktail stick comes out clean when inserted into the middle. Ovens vary! Once cooked, allow to cool for 10 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Once cool, sandwich the two cakes together with your choice of jam in the middle (or Nutella if you fancy!).

Now it’s time to prepare the ganache. Be warned – this is a bit of a pesky one and can go from liquid to solid in about a minute, so you need to be ready to work fast! Have to hand a palette knife (for smoothing the ganache over the cake) and have all of your decorations lined up ready to stick on before it sets!

Here we go: melt the chocolate, butter and golden syrup in a glass bowl over a barely simmering pan of water – don’t let the bowl touch the water! Stir well then allow to cool until it becomes thick – the test is when it falls of a spoon in a robust dollop as opposed to a thin pour. To speed things up, (as it can take a while to cool), I tend to pop the bowl in the fridge and take it out for a stir at 4-5 minute intervals.

When it’s at the stage that it can be spread without a) running down the side of the cake or b) going stiff to the point of unmovable, then coat the cake from the top down to the sides. If you go past the point of no return and the ganache has gone hard, simply pop the bowl in the microwave on defrost for 5 seconds and stir it until it gets to the right consistency again. It’s trial and error with this one, but well worth the attention! Smother with decorations in any design you wish – be arty and have fun! I like to put a chocolate finger ‘fence’ around the sides and a pretty pattern of spots on top, but feel free to go where the wind takes you with this one!

If you have any goodies left at the end, pop the kettle on, make a cuppa and eat them selfishly before the hubby or kids see them; you’ve earned it!

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Cherry Menlove’s Mincemeat

Ah…the sights and sounds of the festive season are upon us and the charming crooner, Andy Williams, was absolutely right; it IS the most wonderful time of the year.

The expectation of excitement is thrilling; crowds are bustling through the streets with shopping; heart-warming ads are on the TV and early morning frosts paint a sparkle of white. For one girl and her pinny, the season is spent full of joy in the kitchen with the oven roaring, the kettle on for a heart-warming cuppa and the smell of Christmas in the air.

It was last weekend that I made my mincemeat, in preparation for a mass mince-pie-making marathon in the weeks to come. It has become a tradition to try a different recipe each year, and I thought I’d cracked it last winter with a Women’s Institute recipe, but after visiting the Country Living Christmas Fair recently, I do believe I have a new contender for the best ever mincemeat I think I’m ever likely to find. It comes from Cherry Menlove, a homely, crafty, cooking blogger and it’s quite simply heaven in a jam jar.

If you feel like a festive cinnamon fix and you want your house to smell good enough to eat, try the recipe for yourself; you really won’t regret it!

Happy mincemeat-making!

Cherry Melove's mincemeat recipe

Best Ever Bircher

Best Ever Bircher

I’m a massive fan of breakfast – so much so that I would never, ever contemplate leaving the house with out it. It kick-starts the metabolism, gives the body much-needed fuel for the day ahead and makes you feel alive!

The practice of eating ‘breakfast like a king’ is certainly well exercised in our house – hubby and I always sit down together over the kitchen table and serve ourselves a generous serving of wholesome, inviting food to really get us going. In fact, our morning meal is arguably the biggest of our day – and as we feel so good and so nourished after it – it proves that for us, front-ending the day with the majority of our calories is a great idea!

A healthy breakfast will help set the precedent for healthy eating throughout the rest of the day and last week I discovered the perfect power-house to get me up and running.

I call it the ‘best ever’ breakfast I’ve had, as I can’t quite believe how simple it is to make, how delicious it is to eat and how satisfying it is at filling me up. What’s more, it’s packed with flavour – and more importantly – oozing with nutrients, vitamins and good stuff. You can make it dairy free (like I did) by replacing cows milk with soya, oat or nut milks, and by using dairy-free yoghurt.

Best Ever Bircher

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best Ever Bircher – serves one

50g jumbo oats

50ml milk (I used soya as a dairy-free alternative)

100ml full fat yoghurt (I used soya yoghurt)

75g prunes, pitted and chopped (preferably organic, although tinned prunes are fine if you prefer these)

Pinch cinnamon

Banana

Here’s what you do:

The night before, mix together the oats, milk, yoghurt, prunes and cinnamon. Cover and pop in the fridge over night.

The next day, give the mixture a good stir and add a little extra milk if you feel it’s a too thick. Transfer to a pretty bowl and top with chopped banana. Devour hungrily at the kitchen table alongside a cup of your favourite tea!

A Very Vegan Fruit Cake!

The humble fruit cake…moist, deliciously deep in fruity flavour and an absolute staple of any camping trip!

It was on Bodmin Moor over the recent Bank Holiday weekend that Hubby and I sat around a (rather dubiously constructed) camp fire with a steaming mug of tea and a generous slice of my Very Vegan Fruit Cake. With a sky of sparkling stars above, the roaring flames lighting up our faces and a cosy cuppa warming our souls, never was there a more perfect moment.

Make your memories with this fruit cake, which is dairy-free, sugar-free and down-right delicious!

Very fruity vegan fruit cake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Very Vegan Fruit Cake

Makes 10 slices

Preparation time 10 minutes

Cooking time 50 minutes

300g rye flour

200g wholemeal spelt flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

500g mixed dried fruit (sultanas, raisins, currants, mixed peel, cherries, whatever you’ve got!)

2 tablespoons instant coffee granules

500ml water

Slosh of whiskey if you desire (about 100ml) – you can use black coffee if you like

Preheat oven to Gas 5 / 180 degrees / 160 fan

Mix flours and baking powder together in a bowl. Add in coffee granules and stir in fruit.

Add water, little by little until all the flour is combined. Add the whiskey or milk and give it a final stir

Place in a greased 2lb loaf tin and flatten the top down with a spoon.

Bake for 50 mins, or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the centre

Great served over a camp fire and in the vicinity of a tent!

Skinny(er) Stilton and Asparagus Quiche

It contains Stilton…only it’s skinnier.

After making a healthy Tomato Tartine yesterday, I started thinking about how to skinny-fy another favourite of mine: quiche. Cue an afternoon of experimentation, resulting in a mighty-fine filo alternative to a full-on shortcrust feast. Not that I have anything against pastry…I love it, but sometimes, a desire to delve into a different territory takes hold, and at the moment I seem to be slimming down the saturated fats and shaving off sugars from my favourites. So here I present my Skinny(er) Stilton and Asparagus Quiche!

Skinny(er) Stilton and Asparagus Quiche

Serves 4-6

4 sheets filo pastry

1 white onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

300g mushrooms, sliced (I like chestnut, but any that takes your fancy will work just fine)

Teaspoon of dried thyme

Bunch of asparagus spears, trimmed

250ml semi-skimmed milk

2 eggs

50g Stilton, crumbled

Salt and pepper to season

Time to get cooking!

In a pan, sauté the onion and garlic in a tablespoon of oil or a small knob of butter.

When soft, add in the mushrooms and thyme and allow to mellow gently over a low heat, until they wilt and release their juices.

Meanwhile, place the first sheet off filo in an ungreased round pie dish or flan tin. Then take the next piece, brush it with a little milk and place it milk-side down on top of the first sheet so that it sticks together, with the edges overhanging the dish. Repeat with the other two sheets.

Strain off and reserve the juice from the mushrooms as this delivers much bang for your flavour buck! Spoon the mushroom and onion mix into the base of the dish, spreading it out evenly.

Tip the juice into a measuring jug (there’ll probably be around 15-25 ml in there; small amount but it’s worth having!) Top up the liquid to 250ml with the milk, crack in the eggs and beat together.

Meanwhile, fill the empty mushroom pan with about an inch of boiling water and throw in the asparagus spears. Cook over a medium heat for around 5-6 minutes until just tender.

Lay the spears on top of the mushroom base and pour over the milk and egg mix. Season and sprinkle with the crumbled Stilton.

Tuck the edges of the filo pastry into the dish and bake in a pre-heated oven at 200 degrees (180 fan / gas 6) for 20-25 minutes until the middle of the tart is set.

Tuck in! As a note, it goes wonderfully with minted new potatoes, steamed cabbage and broad beans!