A revival for 2014… and a new feature

I’ve been remarkably rubbish at updating the blog in the last eight months or so (and probably longer), and I very much want to get back into writing new posts regularly and frequently. The plan for 2014 is to write (and publish!) at least one new food or craft post per week, as well as posting a different photograph every day, which will be tagged Photo365.

I hope you’ve all had a great 2013, and are looking forward to everything that 2014 will bring!

Pink and white baby blanket

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My first craft post has had to wait a little while, because it was a gift for someone, and I had to give it before I could write about it. A dear friend of mine gave birth to her first baby girl in August, around the same time that I started to learn crochet. Rather than buy a gift, I decided I would crochet something. Thoughts of hats and booties were quickly dismissed – I was just learning the stitches and I wanted something that would be simple to do. A blanket was perfect – I had picked up granny squares very quickly, so I could make a blanket from lots of small squares.

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I chose the very stereotypical pink and white as colours, and crocheted 10 squares in pink, 10 in white and 10 in a mix of the the two colours. Each square is made up of 5 rounds of treble crochets with a double crochet border, and all the mixed squares start and end in pink. I used a 4mm crochet hook, and Wondersoft 4 Ply yarn by Stylecraft (petal pink and snow white).

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Once I had finished all 30 squares, I began to work on a pattern. I decided to alternate the squares over the 6×5 rectangle, so the top row was Mixed/Pink/White/Mixed/Pink/White. I shifted the squares to the left for the next row down, making it Pink/White/Mixed/Pink/White/Mixed. This continued for all 5 rows.

To join the squares together, I used a double crochet stitch in white. Holding two squares back to back, I double stitched the outside loops of each square together along one side, creating a pretty ridge between the squares. I added two squares at a time, and just kept going until I reached the end of the row, then fastened off to start the next row.image 

I joined the first row of squares to the row below, then each row in turn. Once all 30 squares were joined together along the horizontal, I rotated the blanket 90 degrees, and repeated the process along the vertical edges.

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Once all 30 squares were joined together on all sides, I stitched a border using double crochet, also in white. Once I’d tidied up all the loose ends, the blanket was finished and ready to give to my friend and her lovely baby girl. I hope it keeps her warm!

Tartiflette

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I first ate tartiflette the first time I was living in France. I was living with a French family at the time, and I ate what they cooked for me – the vast majority of it was fabulous, although some dishes were less pleasant (duck gizzards, anyone?). I was delighted when a plate of creamy, cheesy potatoes appeared in front of me, and even more delighted when I tasted them. This dish is like a gratin dauphinoise with extra fabulousness.

Ingredients (serves 4-6):
50g unsalted butter
200g pancetta cubes or lardons
250g cup mushrooms, sliced (optional)
1kg waxy potatoes (I’ve tried Charlotte, Desiree and Maris Piper, all are pretty good)
Salt and pepper
250g Reblochon cheese, cubed
600ml double cream

Heat the oven to 150C/130 Fan/Gas Mark 2. Grease a shallow 2 litre baking dish with half the butter.

Over a medium-high heat, fry the pancetta (no need for oil, it can cook in its own fat) until crisp and brown, then remove and drain on kitchen paper. Pour off most of the fat, leaving a little in the pan, then add the mushrooms. Sauté for 5 minutes and season.

Peel the potatoes and slice them to a thickness of about 3mm. Toss the slices in salt and pepper, then arrange half of them in a layer in the baking dish. Sprinkle the pancetta and mushrooms over, then top with half of the cheese cubes. Season again, then arrange the other potato slices on top. Pour the cream over the top – it should just cover the potatoes and you may not need all of it. Dot with the remaining butter.

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Bake it in the oven for 1 1/4 hours, until the potatoes are tender. Add the remaining cheese cubes to the top, then return to the oven for a further 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, cover the dish with foil and leave for 15 minutes before dishing it up. Serve with a green salad.

I’ve also heard of pouring a glass of white wine over the potatoes before baking – I’d be interested to hear of your variations on tartiflette!

My dad’s (but actually my mum’s) spaghetti bolognese

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Spaghetti bolognese is one of those dishes that everyone does slightly differently. My dad’s bolognese sauce always tasted different to everyone else’s when I was a child, and nothing came close in terms of how lovely it was. [EDIT: I’ve been informed that my dad’s bolognese sauce was originally my mum’s bolognese sauce, she made it first, then he carried it on.] It was one of the first dishes that I asked him to show me how to cook when I began to take an interest in food, and then when I was at university, he painstakingly typed out the recipe on MSN Messenger. I copied and pasted it into a Word document, printed it out and still use that sauce-splattered conversation/recipe today.

It has since become one of my staple dishes, or perhaps even my signature dish. I once invited a friend over for spag bol because I had made enough sauce to feed an army the previous day, and he said that he was surprised by how delicious it was – he had just been expecting mince in tomatoes. The secret with this dish is the cooking time – the longer you leave it to simmer, the better it will taste. And it always tastes better on the second day, when the flavours have had time to develop, so I now make this a day in advance and eat it on day 2 (and day 3 as well, if I don’t freeze the rest).

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Ingredients (serves 4-6):
1 tbsp vegetable oil
500g-1kg lean steak mince (vary the amount depending on how meaty you like it)
2-3 tbsp flour (any sort)
1 pint beef stock
1 tbsp olive oil
2 large onions, finely chopped
1-2 glasses of decent, robust red wine (I use a Cotes du Rhone, but something like a Chianti would work well – if you wouldn’t drink it, don’t cook with it)
1 jar of sugocasa or passata
3-4 cloves of garlic, crushed
Bunch of parsley, chopped
Mixed herbs (rosemary, thyme, oregano, Italian seasoning, whatever you can get hold of – fresh or dried)
200g mushrooms, sliced
Salt and black pepper
Linguine or tagliatelle (not spaghetti!)
Parmesan

Pour the vegetable oil into a frying pan over a very high heat, and once the oil is practically smoking, add the mince in one layer. Seal the mince on all sides, then once it’s quite brown all over, break it up with a spatula, and continue to cook until there are no more juices in the pan. Tip it into a large casserole dish, and stir in 2-3 tbsp flour, then add the stock.

Add the olive oil to the frying pan, and turn the heat right down. Add the onions, and sweat with a lid on for a few minutes, until the onions are soft without being brown. Add the onions to the casserole dish, then deglaze the frying pan with a glass of red wine. Pour that into the casserole dish too, and then add the sugocasa  or passata, along with the garlic, parsley, herbs and mushrooms. Season well, bring to the boil and leave it to simmer for at least an hour. Taste it every 20 minutes so you can adjust the taste accordingly with more herbs, salt or pepper.

When the sauce has been simmering away for an hour or so and you’re happy with the way it tastes, bring a large pan of water to the boil, salt it generously and cook the linguine according to the instructions on the packet. Drain and serve with a couple of ladlefuls of sauce and plenty of grated parmesan. Buon appetito!

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Simple plum and almond tart

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One of my university friends is behind the idea for this – I went to visit her in London, after university had finished and real life had begun, and she fed me with food far beyond the dishes we had cooked as students. Dessert was a very simple but very elegant fruit tart – essentially fruit on top of puff pastry, served with lashings of cream.

I have developed this idea a little bit, on the basis that plums and almonds work so well together. The flaked almonds add a pleasing crunch to the texture of the tart, in addition to the lovely combination of flavours.

Ingredients (serves 6-8):
375g ready rolled all-butter puff pastry
A punnet of ripe plums
50g ground almonds
50g flaked almonds
3 tbsp caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 220C/200C Fan/Gas Mark 7. Line a large baking sheet with baking paper,  and once the pastry has been out of the fridge for 10-15 minutes, unroll it and place it on the sheet. Sprinkle the ground almonds evenly across the pastry.

Halve all the plums, remove the stones, then chop each half into four. Arrange the plum slices on the pastry sheet, as snugly as you need to, to fit them all on. Sprinkle the flaked almonds on top, then the caster sugar.

Bake for 20 minutes, then leave to stand for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with a little more caster sugar and serve with cream or ice cream.

Mr F put this particular tart together, all I did was cut up the plums, so the credit goes to him today.

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Sausage and kale pasta bake

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I am all for eating things that are in season. I look forward to particular times of the year so I can eat certain foods, knowing they’ve been produced in the UK and taste as good as they possibly can. In season at the moment is kale, and in season it will stay until around the end of January – leave it too long and it will begin to taste too bitter.

Kale was one of those things that I disliked as a child, along with sprouts, spinach and olives. Now I am pleased to say that my tastes have matured and I greatly enjoy the flavour of kale and many of the other vegetables that come under the brassica oleracea umbrella. Kale seems to work very well with flavoursome pork (and spectacularly well with chorizo) – I tried this particular recipe for the first time last week and it’s a very tasty winter warmer.

Ingredients (serves 2):
200g dried fusilli
100g kale
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
4 pork sausages, skins removed (I used the lovely Sicilian style ones from Sainsburys again)
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tub of ready-made cheese sauce
25g grated parmesan

Preheat the oven to 200C/180C Fan/Gas Mark 5. Bring a pan of water to the boil, add salt then add the fusilli, and cook according to packet instructions.

Bring a second pan of water to the boil, then add the kale and cook for about a minute, or until it turns bright green. Drain it, run under cold water, then squeeze out the excess water.

Heat the oil in a frying pan, add the onion and cook over a medium heat until soft. Add the sausages and fry them until brown, breaking them up with your spoon as you go, then mix in the kale and nutmeg, and season.

Once your pasta is al dente, drain it, then stir in the cheese sauce, and the sausage and kale mix. Transfer to a medium-sized oven dish and sprinkle with the parmesan. Bake for 30 minutes, until the top is crisp and lightly browned.

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Chicken and chorizo traybake

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Sometimes all I want to cook is something simple, something that all goes in the one pot. While I enjoy the effort and time that goes into a demanding labour of love such as risotto, it makes a nice change to chuck some ingredients in a roasting tray and stick it in the oven. I totally love chorizo and it goes into quite a few of my dishes, including this one.

Ingredients (serves 2):
100g chorizo, cut into 5mm slices
4 cloves garlic, unpeeled
4 chicken thigh fillets
1 red onion, cut into wedges
1 red pepper, cut into wedges
200g new potatoes, cut in half
3 sprigs rosemary
1 tbsp olive oil

Preheat the oven to 220 C/200 C Fan/Gas Mark 7. Put the garlic and onion into a roasting tray, then sprinkle the chorizo slices over the top.

Put the chicken pieces in the tray and then add the pepper, potatoes and rosemary. Drizzle the olive oil over the tray, and roast in the oven for 45 minutes.

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Halfway through cooking, baste the tray contents with the oils that have come out of the chorizo. After cooking, discard the garlic and rosemary, and serve.

If there are any juices left on your plate when you’ve finished, mop them up with some crusty bread.