Saturday, 30 June 2012

Does this ever happen to you?

You have a piece of card. A lovely piece of card. One you are reluctant to cut in to. But eventually you give in and use part of it, and carefully store the rest in your bits box.

Every time you are looking through for a piece of card for some other project, it catches your eye. And while it is completely unsuitable for the project you are working on, you think "I really must use that soon, before it starts to get dog eared."

Time passes and it begins to feel like an old friend, always happy to greet you when you are rummaging through your scraps. Until one day you embark upon a project that it would be absolutely PERFECT for. So you dash to your bits box and........ IT'S VANISHED. You turn the box upside down, spread the contents on the floor, frantically search through all your other drawers and boxes, and there simply isn't a trace of it anywhere.

Well, that's what happened to me today while creating my card for the "Less is More" challenge, which this week is a Lucky Dip, taking inspiration from the header. I absolutely KNOW I have a piece of card that is exactly the same shade as the border around the title, but it has gone into hiding!

Anyway, here is my interpretation. The music and flower stamps  from Kanban recall the music and flowers in the header, and I thought the swirly thorns of the rose were very reminscent of a treble clef, so I superimposed the rose stamp on the music. I stayed with the music theme for the sentiment, matted onto card which is NOT  quite the perfect colour after all! The music words are from a sheet of Beethoven themed stamps I bought to make a card for my son in law, which you can see on my Grape Vine blog

I an entering this into the Week 74 challenge at Less is More

And if I now find that missing piece of card, you'll  hear me SCREEEEEAM!!!

Jamie Salad

This might sounds like a strange name for a salad, but it is our family name for it. It is derived from a salad Jamie Oliver made in one of his very early TV series, back in 2000 - hence the name - and has evolved over the years to become our favourite summer salad, as long as we are lucky  enough to get some lovely ripe peaches.

The ingredients are sliced peaches, Parma ham, sliced or torn mozzarella, boiled eggs and olives on a bed of baby leaf salad.

Baby leaf salad is another thing that has a family name - we call it "Daddy salad" because when the children were small, bagged  salads hadn't hit the supermarket shelves to the only way to get hold of it was if Daddy grew it!

Friday, 29 June 2012

Triple Cheese and Onion Muffins

Last week I felt like baking. There's something so calming about baking isn't there? It's much more magical than any other cooking process, as the end result is so very different from the separate ingredients that go into the mixture.

And filling the house with tantalising smells that result in something good to eat - well, that's always rewarding.

Since finding out I was diabetic, I don't bake as often as I used to, but when I spotted these cheese and onion muffins in the July issue of Good Food magazine, I had to try them. Although they would probably have been even better for me if I had used wholemeal flour, the balance of protein, carbs and fat means I was able to enjoy them in moderation without worrying too much about harming my health.

If you would like to try making them, the recipe is on page 67 of the July Good Food magazine, or you can find it on the Good Food website here

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

An easel card for a friend

A few days ago, my friend Marina asked me on Twitter whether it was difficult to make an easel card. I replied that they are very easy to make, and  I would send her one to pull apart so she can see how it is done.

Marina received her card this morning and now she says she doesn't want to pull it apart, so here is a quick description of how to make a basic easel card.

Start with a square card blank plus a square of card cut to exactly the same size.
Fold the front of the card blank in half, with the outer flap towards the inside - this makes the support for the easel.
Now decorate the unfolded side, which will become your card's base. Incorporate a raised element about halfway across the card, as you look at it from the free edge. This will be where the edge of the card front rests when it is in the easel position. You could use buttons, large-headed brads or a raised border. In this case I have used a border, raised with foam tape, and added extra height with a sentiment, also raised with foam tape.
Decorate the separate square, which will become the card front. Make sure any writing doesn't go right to the bottom where it could be obscured when it is standing up against the raised area on the base.
Cover the folded-in flap with adhesive and, with the card opened out flat, stick the front to it, carefully lining up the edges.

This shows how the folding works - you can make the card more upright by having the raised area on the base further back, but it can also be more likely to topple over if  all the weight is too near the back!
The card fold flat for posting.

The stamps I used were mostly from a sheet of clear stamps I won many years ago from Tanda stamps. It has been a much loved addition to my collection and I see it is still in production. The flourish and sentiment came from the Anna Griffin kit I blogged about here.
The inks were black Memento and pink Brilliance - I really had to incorporate some pink.... anything for Marina has to be pink!!! I didn't want to detract from the impact of the image by adding too much colour, so I just highlighted a few areas with a pink Marvy and a watercolour brush.

I hope you like it, Marina, and I hope this will help you to create easel cards of your own.

I'm submitting this for my first ever contribution the The Crafty Pad challenge, which this week is "More than one gold"

Monday, 25 June 2012

A very simple broad bean dip

At last broad beans are beginning to appear in shops and gardens - maybe we ARE going to have a summer after all! These delicious vegetables are very versatile - delicious  plainly boiled, or used in salads, curries, tagines and risottos. And they also make a delicious dip.

Boil the beans until just cooked, then whizz in a food processor with a couple of tablespoons of finely chopped fresh mint and a few glugs of olive oil, to give the texture you need to use as either a dip or a sauce. That's all there is to it! If you are going to serve it with salty dippers such as crisps, it doesn't even need any seasoning - just let the flavour of the beans shine through. But if you are serving it with crudités, you will probably want to add some salt to taste. This time I served it as a sauce with slices of grilled polenta, grilled halloumi and  grilled tomatoes.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Now where's she gone?

Just a quick note in case you were wondering where I had got to. I am currently without internet access and won't be able to post until I'm properly back on line. Jane

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

My Life in Cook Books

This post was originally posted on my other blog, Competition Grape Vine, in February 20122 but I feel it really belongs over here.

As most of you know, I am a keen cook as  well as a comper, and have sometimes combined my hobbies to win some wonderful prizes in recipe and food related  competitions, including a cookery holiday to Italy, a gourmet tour of India and a new kitchen. So where  does my inspiration come from? I love shopping for food,watching cookery programmes on TV, wandering round farmers' markets at home or abroad and collecting recipes. I have hundreds and hundreds of recipe books, as well as piles of  cookery magazines and several folders and photo albums stuffed with recipes cut out of magazines and newspapers or scribbled down on scraps of paper. One of my favourite recipes, Jamaican brown stew chicken, is scribbled down on the back of the till receipt from the restaurant where it was served to me. It wouldn't seem right to make a fair copy of it now! I can't list all my books - it would take weeks and you'd get bored (you probably already are) and when it comes to the classics and the celebrity chefs, you've probably got them yourself or you aren't interested. So apart from possible one mention of  Delia before she became famous, you're not going to see Jamie or Gordon, Nigella or Gary or even the unmatchable Elizabeth David mentioned here. Instead, I am going to use selected books  from my collection to illustrate an autobiography. When I left home for University, I literally didn't even know how to warm up a tin of beans. And since I was going into fully catered accommodation, my parents saw no need to teach me. However one of the many crises of the 1970s (was it the oil crisis? the miners' strike?) meant that the college decided to save fuel by closing the kitchens at weekends, and my options  were to  either find a boyfriend who could afford to take me out for every meal, live on crisps all weekend,  or learn to cook. So off I went to the bookshop but was horrified at the price of all the recipe books. I couldn't buy them on "tick" so I had to find some alternative I could pay for gradually. Help was at hand in the form of Cordon Bleu Monthly, which had just started to be published in 18 monthly parts.
So in the space of  a few weeks I went from being totally unable to cook to producing sophisticated (for the time) Cordon Bleu dishes and eating meals  far better than those served up by the college. Forty years on, those magazines are still in regular use and have pride of place in my bookshelf.  After University I married  Mark (see my link to Marksvegplot on the right for more about our love of food) who was at that time an officer in the Brigade of Gurkhas. We went to join his regiment in Brunei and I immediately became interested in the local food, influenced  by Malaysia, Indonesia, China and Singapore. There was only one bookshop in the town where we lived, but from there I got two books which have had a huge influence on my cooking over the years. "Art of Indonesian Cooking - the ABCs" is still one I use on an almost weekly basis; it contains many of our all time family favourites.
From Brunei we  moved to Hong Kong, where we  were to live on and off for several years, until Mark left the Army. I have dozens of Chinese recipe books, but my favourites are a collection of small bilingual (right up to this point I've been thinking "Must not type bisexual, must not type bisexual...." because that's what I jokingly call them)  which contain the sort of everyday recipes eaten in Chinese homes and the more  "ordinary" restaurants visited by local people rather than tourists. Some of the recipes are ones  I use over and over again - others, such as one that needs 10 pairs of duck's web, 3 oz fish maw, several xanthoxylum seeds,a  piece of old orange peel and  some lard, are kept just for entertainment value. The translation is quaint in  places too: it was a relief to get to the end of one rather unpleasant sounding recipe and read "discard  all ingredients".
By now it was time to start thinking about starting a  family and then buying our first home  - naturally that meant we had less to spend on food  and I had to start collecting books of a different kind. Ones  about budget cookery! You can see from the condition of them that they have become much loved favourites - in fact these  books now live in a basket in my kitchen so I can grab them for quick reference. And there's a little glimpse of St Delia, with her  book "Frugal Food" which was first published long before she became a TV celebrity,  and  was reprinted in a bigger, glossier format a  year or two ago.
Now moving on to the present day. Naturally I have bought recipe  books from all the places I have lived and  visited, but my knowledge of food around the world has been enhanced by the beautiful books in the Culinaria series. These books are  far too good to cook from!
Food from  the early to mid 20th century is a particular interest of mine and I have an extensive collection of  both old and new recipe books from and about the period, from promotional leaflets to facsimile books. My favourite is called "Economical Cookery", published in 1937. It starts with a suggested menu for every meal of the year, with Sunday's menus being costed out. How eating has changed! For instance today's menu should be BREAKFAST      Prunes, coddled eggs LUNCH                Celery soup, Skate with black butter, Sauté potatoes, Honey Cap Puddings EVENING MEAL Welsh rarebit, Coffee rice mould. Sunday's roast beef would have been a 4lb piece of topside at a total cost of 3/- (15p).
I'm going  to finish with a couple of real gems from my collection. The first is one that Mark brought home when he went to Papua  New Guinea on Army business. Kaikai Aniani is a fascinating book about food of the area, past and present, showing how  all sorts of  things  such as crocodiles, turtles, snakes and even  people  are (or were) prepared and eaten, and including such tempting treats as Sago Grub Satay and Flying Fox and Prune Casserole.
The second is called "The Erotic Baker" - a collection of recipes with rather naughty names, designed to be dished up in suggestive ways. This book always reminds me of a rather stuffy army dinner party we  went to just after I bought the book.  You know  those moments when the whole room goes quiet and all  that can be heard is one voice? Well that happened to me just as I was telling the woman next to me about the book. My voice  rang out across the silent room,  ".... and of course Penis Pie." The General had to call for another gin and tonic.....

Monday, 18 June 2012

Less is More - Something Shiny

This week's challenge at Less is More  is "Something Shiny" - the perfect opportunity for me to indulge my love of dragonflies. I think the almost metallic flash as one darts by is one of nature's most beautiful treats, and a quick rummage through my craft stash will show you dragonflies in all kinds of shapes, styles and sizes.

In keeping with the "Less is More" theme, I chose one of my tiny metallic dragonfly brads for this card,   adding a little more shine with matching gems and metallic card, and using one of my old favourite embossing folders.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

I'm not the only cook in the house!

My husband is also a very keen cook and although he doesn't get much time, he likes to take over the kitchen at least once a week and when he does, I know I'm in for a treat.

Today on his own blog, he has written about the meal he made for us last weekend, so I thought I would share it with you. Pop over to - I'm sure you'll be hungry when you read it!

And thank you Mark for creating such a delicious dinner.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Less is More challenge - Use a Flourish

This is my first attempt at joining in with the "Less is More" challenge. The task this week is to create a one layer card and use a flourish.

It sounds easy, but I'm not used to working directly on to my card and I hadn't realised how often I cover things up, cut them differently or just change my plan as I go along to cover up mistakes. Working directly onto the card, it absolutely has to be right first time, and my wastepaper basket is now testament to how tricky that can be. But I was delighted with the elegant simplicity of my finished card, so I will definitely be joining the challenge again. Here is my card

I used masking tape to make a rectangle on the card and sponged yellow, ochre and brown ink into it to create a gradient. The flourish is  from an old Hot Off The Press set of stamps, and the birthday greeting from a grab bag I bought from the USA years ago. I finished the card off by inking the edges in brown and sponging yellow inside to show through the cut-out corners.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Why I don't buy ready meals

.... well, I usually don't buy ready meals - but at the moment there is a competition on some packs so I had to buy one in order to be able to tell Grape Vine readers all about it (and to enter for myself). So today's lunch was some sort of salmon and broccoli thing with potato wedges.

It cost £2.25, plus the cost of having the oven on at a very high temperature for 45 minutes (I don't have a microwave). Bearing in mind that this is a fairly small plate, not a full sized dinner plate, does it look worth it?

At first I thought they  had forgotten to include any salmon, so I fished (Ha! see what I did there?) around in it for a while and managed to separate out the flakes of fish. It came to about a dessertspoonful. Probably equivalent to about a tenth of the amount in an individual sized fresh salmon portion from a supermarket. You can see the salmon at the top  of the photo.

As for taste, well I have to confess it was absolutely delicious. But as a quick lunch to keep me going on a busy day, it was an absolute failure. The fruit bowl has been seriously depleted this afternoon.

Would I buy it again? NO!
Will  I be using the piece of salmon in the freezer to create my own version of it for a fraction of the cost-per-mouthful some time soon? Just try stopping me!

Sunday, 10 June 2012

My first craft challenge

Although I've been a crafter for many years, and entered postal challenges, this is the first time I have entered a craft blog challenge so please be gentle with me!

The stamp I have used today is a very old one - so old that the writing has worn off,  so I can't give the manufacturer or reference number, but I bought it from America about 12 years ago, along with a dragonfly and a leaf background in the same range. The designs are very big - about 13 cm by 10 cm  -which means they are not very versatile as they always dominate anything else used with them, but despite that I love them and come back to them over and over again. As many of you will know, I am a comper and find them very useful for making hand made postcards for sending in postal competition entries!

I brayered glossy card with a Kaleidacolour pad in Birthstone, then stamped the image in black and embossed with clear powder. I added highlights to the wings with holographic glitter glue.

The finished image is matted on silver metallic card with a die cut swirl from the same card, and mounted onto a lilac pearlescent card and finished with gems.

And because the stamp is postively ancient (goodness, it's almost a fifth as old as I am!) I'm also entering it into the  Oldie But A Goodie Anything Goes challenge

I hope I've done everything right - please can somebody tell me if I haven't!

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Broad bean, feta and beetroot salad

The first broad beans of the season are beginning to appear in the shops now although ours in the garden still have a long way to go. Here is a salad that helps to make these precious beans into the star attraction of a summer meal

Cooked broad beans (I couldn't be bothered  to double pod them, and as they were young and very fresh they didn't need it, but if your beans are older or you are serving the dish for a  special occaasion, you might want to) are mixed with diced cooked beetroot and cubes of feta cheese.

Dress this with a dressing made from a tablespoon of lemon juice whisked with three of olive oil, seasoning and some chopped fresh mint. As soon as you do this, the colour of the beetroot starts to bleed into the cheeses, so the photo was taken before dressing it, with a few mint sprigs to symbolise the dressing!

I an submitting this to No Croutons Required at Tinned Tomatoes.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Tartiflette for a summer lunch

A few years ago I won a short break to Aix en Provence. One day we drove out into the surrounding countryside, towards Mont Sainte-Victoire, much loved and painted by Paul Cézanne. Apparently he painted it over 60 times, and many of the viewpoints around the mountain are dotted with artists creating their own versions of the views he loved. We stopped at a small restaurant close to one of these viewpoints, sat on the warm sunny terrace and enjoyed a delicious lunch which I now often recreate my own version of for a relaxed meal with friends.

My husband's main course was tartiflette. I've tried several recipes, some quite complicated, but the one I come back to time and time again is Mary Cadogan's recipe which I found on the Good Food website.  It is the simplest, and the most like our first experience of the dish.

On the day of our mountainside lunch, I chose the house salad, which was similar to a salade nicoise but with smoked ham and cheese added as well as the tuna and eggs. Leaving out all the protein except the eggs transforms it into a delicious accompaniment to the tartiflette.  This salad is made of cooked new potatoes and green beans, wedges of boiled egg, olives and wedges of tomato, on a bed of green salad, with a light vinaigrette dressing.

To complete the meal, some fresh, crusty bread. I like to mix the dough in the bread machine, using the standard dough from the manual but replacing half the white flour with mixed grain flour. Then I shape it into a ball and put it onto the baking tray to rise, underneath a very large greased mixing bowl. This seems to encourage the dough  to rise evenly and keep its shape.

While it is rising, I heat the oven as high as it will go and place a small bowl of water on the oven floor to create a steamy atmosphere. Once the dough is risen, I slash a cross in the top then when placing it in the oven, turn the temperature down to my chosen cooking temperature. This initial blast of extreme heat coupled with the steam seems to give a crust that is crisp rather than hard, with the dark colour I love in bread (I'm always the one who picks out the slightly burned loaf at the baker's)

I may not be able to capture the landscape of the area by painting like Cézanne, but at least I can create a meal that gives us the flavour of that lovely day out.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Turkey Risotto

Today we have a guest post from the lovely Claire, who blogs at Life, Ninja Killer Cat and Everything Else

Claire made the risotto with long grain rice for this post, but says she would use risotto rice for preference.

Serves 2-4


2 tbsp olive oil
2 skinless boneless Turkey fillets or turkey pieces
1 Red onion, cut into 8 wedges
2 red peppers, halved deseeded and sliced thickly
1 garlic clove, crushed
100g long grain rice
400g can chopped tomatoes
300ml chicken stock
4tbsp ready-made pesto ) you'll find long-life jars on the shelves or more expensive fresh pots in the chiller cabinets)


1. Heat oven to 200c/fan 180c/gas mark 6. Heat the oil in a large,shallow ovenproof pan, add the turkey and cook for 3-4 mins until golden all over. remove from the pan and set aside.

Add the turkey amd cook for 3-4 minutes until golden all over

Red onion

One red onion cut into 8 wedges

2. Add the onion and peppers and cook for 3 minutes, or until light golden

3. Tip in the garlic and fry for a min. Stir in the rice, then the tomatoes, stock and reserved turkey. Turn up the heat and bring to the boil.

Transfer to the oven to cook at 200c/fan 180c/gas mark 6 uncovered, for 20 mins.

Season to taste and drizzle over the Pesto before serving.
Thanks very much Claire. I've never thought of using pesto as a drizzle over risotto, but I'mdefinitely going to give it a whirl!

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Gado Gado - an Indonesian salad

When Mark and I first got married, he was serving in the Brigade of Gurkhas, and our first posting was to Brunei, a small sultanate on the island of Borneo. Most of the island is occupied by the Indonesian state of Kalimantan, with the Malay states of Sarawak and Sabah along with Brunei making up the rest of the island. So the local food is predominantly Malaysian and Indonesian, with a lot of influence from the large Chinese population. (Disclaimer - I am totally rubbish at geography so please don't take these facts as being 100% accurate)

I was determined to start off married life by cooking fresh, wholesome meals and that meant looking for ways to cook the foods on sale in the markets rather than the limited range of imported goods sold in the NAAFI shop. The first obstacle to that was the unfamiliar smell of the markets - the first time I went into one, the smell of the fermenting salted greens caught the back of my throat and I had to rush out and be sick in the monsoon drain! But I soon got used to it - and learned which stalls to hold my breath while passing - and started to revel in treats like being able to have fresh coconut grated to order, or buy pineapples straight from the boats delivering them from up river.

But what to cook? I visited the local English-language bookshop, a small room in the offices of the newspaper, Borneo Bulletin, where I picked up a tiny book called "Art of Indonesian Cooking - the ABC's" by Agnes de Keijzer Brackman and almost 35 years later it is still one of my most-used and best-loved recipe books. (I've just noticed there is a copy available on Amazon, along with a couple of other books by her - I may be doing some shopping after I post this)

Later on, when living in Hong Kong, I became friendly with a lady called Nancy who, although American-Chinese, owned an Indonesian restaurant and employed only Indonesian cooks. She gave me lots of tips and advice that helped me to build on the recipes from my trusty book, and to adapt them to things I would be able to buy back in the UK.

So that is the background to my love of South East Asian food - now here is my own take on the classic salad, Gado-Gado. Normally this would include cubes of fried tofu and be garnished with prawn crackers instead of cashew nuts, but I left the tofu out as I was serving this with a creamy, coconutty chicken curry and felt there was already enough protein in the meal. And I  ran out of prawn crackers!

For the dressing:

2 heaped tablespoons smooth peanut butter
1 tablepsoon Ketjap Manis (thick, sweet soy sauce - if you can't find this, use Chinese soy sauce and add a teaspoon of black treacle)
½ teaspoon Sambal Oelek or dried crushed red chilli flakes
juice of 1 lime
200 ml water

heat all ingredients together, stirring constantly. As it comes close to boiling, it will appear to curdle, but just keep stirring and after a few seconds of boiling it will come together to form a smooth paste. Set aside to cool. You can make this hotter or milder, to taste, or add brown sugar or treacle to sweeten it, thin it down with more water or thicken it with more peanut butter,  or replace the water with coconut milk - it can be different every time you make it. Tamarind juice and - if you can face it- blachan are interesting additions.  And it makes a great satay sauce or dip for crudités too.

For the salad:

2 eggs, hard boiled and sliced
2 carrots, cut into batons about twice the size of a matchstick
100g green beans, cut into 5cm segments
100g Chinese leaves, cut into pieces about 3cm wide
100g beansprouts
quarter of a cucumber, cut into batons  the same size as the carrots
a large handful of watercress sprigs
toasted cashew nuts to garnish

Bring a pan of water to the boil and drop in the carrots. After 2 minutes, add the beans and after 2 more minutes the cabbage. Cook for a minute then add the beansprouts. Remove from heat as soon as it all comes back to the boil, and immediately rinse well in cold water to stop further cooking and keep the colours bright. Drain well and cool completely. Just before serving, mix in the cucumber and watercress, top with sliced eggs (and tofu if liked) and garnish with cashews or prawn crackers.