Sunday, 28 April 2013

And now for something completely different.....

Last week I bought a CD I'd not seen before, Joanna Sheen's Viva La Divas. The images on it are rather like the humorous cards seen in the shops at the moment, 1950s style pictures, mostly of women, with very 21st century slogans.

The images and mottoes really speak for themselves, so there isn't a lot in the way of creativity you can produce with it,  but it's perfect for making humorous cards, perhaps for the kind of person who wouldn't normally appreciate a hand made card.

I've been looking for an excuse to use it, and this Sunday's challenge at CD Sundays, Purple Paradise,  made me think of this image straight away.

I experiment with many different styles, but I've never used a CD quite like this before - hence the subject of today's post.

Use-it-up Pizza

Sometimes a dish made to use up odds and ends can turn out to be so scrummy that you want to make it again and again. That's what happened with this pizza, so I'm sharing the recipe here and, because it used up all sorts of bits and pieces, I'm joining in with this month's Credit Crunch Munch hosted by Camilla at Fab Food 4 All and Helen at Fuss Free Flavours The only thing I needed to buy was the mozzarella, the rest was dreamed up from assembling three past-their-best tomatoes, half a punnet of mushrooms, the last bit of a batch of pesto and a  dried up stump of parmesan on the kitchen worktop and thinking "What shall I do with this?"

Using pesto in place of a tomato sauce worked brilliantly, I'll be trying many more variations on this!

1 x 30cm  uncooked pizza base, home made or bought. I use half of the basic bread machine recipe
3 tbs pesto - I used traditional basil and pine nut, but any pesto, bought or home made would work
3 small tomatoes
a few - about 75g - mushrooms
as much finely grated Parmesan as you can muster up. I got about 3 tbs from a dried up stump that looked as if it would yield nothing
1 ball of mozzarella
olive oil
salt flakes
coarsely ground black pepper
a drizzle of balsamic vinegar
¼ tsp crushed chilli flakes
½ tsp dried oregano

While the pizza dough is proving, chop  the tomatoes roughly and drizzle with a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a few flakes of salt. Stir and leave for a while so the juices start to run out.
Slice the mushrooms and fry with a tiny bit of oil, just to stop them burning, until the steam stops coming out of them and all the surplus water is driven off. Lift out onto absorbent paper to cool.

Heat the oven to 200 C (or as directed in the instructions for your pizza base)

Spread the pizza base with pesto, taking it close to the edges. Scatter the chopped tomato over, spooning it out of the liquid that has run out, then drizzle over some of the liquid but stop if it starts to look sloppy. Scatter with salt, pepper and chilli flakes. Next arrange the slices of mushroom evenly over the tip, then sprinkle the Parmesan over. Tear the mozzarella into chunks about  1cm across and tuck evenly over the pizza. Drizzle the edges  with olive oil and bake for 15-20 minutes until crisp and golden at the edges and bubbling on top.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Ripening Crystals - what are they?

You may remember I recently reviewed Old Amsterdam cheese, and while I thoroughly enjoyed the cheese, I was puzzled by a term on the pack. It referred to "ripening crystals" in the cheese. Now I have a very scientific mind, in fact I have a degree in physics, and wanted to know what the term meant. I did a bit of research but it seemed to refer to ice formation, especially in ice creams and sorbets, and I couldn't work out how that applied to cheese.

However the lovely people at Old Amsterdam got on to their technical department and found an explanation for me, and I thought you would be interested in reading it

Taste and aroma and in cheese are formed during ripening of the cheese. For this purpose specific starters are added to the cheese milk.  These starters help in breaking down proteins from the milk into tasty components. When cheese ripens for long periods (e.g. >6 months) proteins will be broken down to harmless amino acids. As some of these amino acids are badly soluble in the remaining water in the cheese, they will form small crystals in the cheese as well as on the cheese surface. One of the main amino acids forming crystals is tyrosine. Tyrosine is very common, incorporated in proteins, present in almost all forms of life.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Ranty Friday - misleading labels

I've never joined in with Ranty Friday on this blog before - mostly because craft and food are two things that make me feel calm and relaxed, not the least bit ranty. Usually.

If you don't know what Ranty Friday is about, it's hosted by Mummy Barrow and gives bloggers a weekly chance to let off steam - if there's something you'd like to get off your chest, why not join in?

My rant was sparked off when I was out for a day and stopped to  have a sandwich lunch. As I paid, my eye lit on the posh crisps, strategically placed by the till, where it's all too easy to be tempted to buy. "West Country Bacon & Cream Cheese" they shouted, while in smaller print they added "flavour potato chips". Now I know plenty about food labelling, and I know that the word "flavour"  means that a product doesn't have to include the ingredient whereas "flavoured"  means it does, but who has time for semantics when they are hungry? And anyway, the words "West Country"  gave them extra allure -after all, who ever heard of "West Country flavouring"? For added reassurance, "100% Natural" was emblazoned across the bag.

So I sat down to enjoy my treat. Uh-oh, as I opened the bag, I noticed "Suitable for vegetarians". Now I have nothing against vegetarians, for several days a week I'm one myself, but none of the full-time vegetarians I know eat bacon (or at least they don't own up to it in public). So I took a look at the list of ingredients.

Potatoes, oil, salt, flavouring, dried cream cheese, dried yoghurt, whey powder, sugar, colour.


I know that by using the word "flavour" they are keeping within the law, and that bacon flavour is suitable for vegetarians,  but I think the use of the words "West Country" makes the label misleading. What exactly is West Country about it? How can it be West Country Bacon if there's no bacon from anywhere in it? Is the bacon flavouring made in the West Country? If so, does  it make it any better or worse than bacon flavouring made anywhere else?

I have to admit I rather enjoyed the crisps - but the pack left a bitter taste in my mouth!

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

The Very Hungry Cuttlebug

My 'bug always seems to be chomping its way into things, just like the Very Hungry Caterpillar. Scarcely a day goes by without something being die cut or embossed in it. And today's card was made completely using dies and embossing folders, starting with plain white card and adding a little ink to the finished pieces, apart from the butterfly where I inked the folder before embossing.  No stamping, no patterned  paper, no other embellishments. 

I am submitting this to:
Addicted to Stamps and More  Challenge 41 - Anything goes
Paula Holdfield Ctafts First Challenge - Anything goes

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Queen For a Day

Today is the Queen's 87th birthday - that makes her just three weeks older then my Mum, although she's so much stronger and fitter she could be 20 years younger. But then, she must get the best medical care in the land!

I've celebrated the day by making a card using backgrounds and a decoupage image from the Best of La Pashe 2012 CD, embellished with die cuts from the X-Cut London Skyline set and a "stamp" made by embossing silver card with a Papermania Portobello Road folder and sanding the raised areas to make them stand out from the background better.

I am submitting this to  CD Sundays where this week's theme is Majesty and to Creative Crafts Challenge where the them is Red, White and Blue


This week there is a new challenge at Less is More - a choice of two cards to CASe (I'm not really sure what the abbreviation stands for - Copy And Share? )

Chrissie's card wouldn't really work with any dies from my collection but I'm awe struck at what some of the other crafters have done with the idea. So I decided to tackle Jen's striking card:

Since challenge CFC 99 at CAS-ual Fridays is "Birthday Bash"  I decided to stick to the Happy Birthday message, but to step outside my comfort zone with the colour scheme. I very rarely do pretty, so finding sheets of pink and lilac card among my stash proved to be the biggest challenge of the lot! I decided to add the borders by embossing, with a scoring board for the background and using the Nestie for the label.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Braised Turkey with Carrots and Mushrooms

Yesterday I told you what I'd made with the first part of my piece of turkey. My Tropical Turkey is an easy and healthy dish, perfect for everyday cooking. I decided to use the rest to make something richer and involving more effort, just to see how versatile the same piece of meat could be, this time keeping the turkey breast all in one piece for cooking. I came up with:

Braised Turkey with carrots and mushrooms

750g piece boned, rolled turkey breast (preferable with skin)
1 large onion, thinly sliced
250g Chantenay carrots, scrubbed and trimmed – halve any large ones
150g chestnut mushrooms, wiped, halved if large
6 sprigs fresh thyme, finely shopped
2 bayleaves
120 ml dry white wine
200 ml chicken stock
1 tbs sunflower oil
25g butter plus a small extra knob
4-5 tbs double cream
2  tsp cornflour, mixed with a little cold water.


Set the oven to 180 C, fan 160, gas 4.

Heat the oil and the 25g butter together in a large flameproof casserole and place the turkey joint in, skin side down. Remove from the pan and set aside and add the onion to the fat in the pan, and cook gently for a few minutes to soften. Then add the carrots, bayleaves and thyme, place the turkey on top of the vegetables, cover and place in the oven for 20 minutes.

Add the wine, replace the lid and cook for a further 20 minutes. Then pour over the stock, using enough to come about halfway up the side of the meat.  Season lightly – the liquid is to be reduced -  return to the oven again and cook for a further hour.

Fry the mushrooms briskly in the reserved butter, then add them to the casserole, scattering them around the turkey, and cook for another 15 minutes.

Remove the turkey form the casserole and keep warm, then place the casserole over a high heat and reduce the sauce until it barely covers the vegetables. Turn the heat to low and gradually add the cornflour mixture, stirring, until it gives a fairly thick sauce (just slightly thicker than you want it to be when finished). Stir in the cream and reheat without boiling. Check the seasoning and correct if necessary.

Slice the turkey and serve with the vegetables and sauce, accompanied by potatoes and a green vegetable.  I'd intended having new potatoes with it, but I forgot to buy any so we had boiled potatoes instead, which with hindsight were better for mopping up the lovely sauce.

This photo is a perfect demonstration of why nobody will ever head-hunt me as a food stylist. I can make food that tastes delicious, yet I present it looking like something you wouldn't want to step on in a dark alley. I'm sure when you try it you'll make it look a LOT better!

Verdict absolutely delicious. Cooking the turkey this way kept it lovely and moist, and it was falling-apart tender.

Until I took part in this competition, I'd never thought of eating turkey at any time other than Christmas. To be honest, I've always found the turkey element of the meal to be dry and uninteresting, just a vehicle for all the trimmings, and only serve it because it's what the family expect. So being quite unenthusiastic about it, I'd never thought of using it at any other time of year. But now I will definitely be making it part of my year-round shopping, having proved to myself that there are lots of ways to cook it that are far, far better than roasting an over-sized bird for far too long because you've been at the champagne and forgotten the time (or is that just me?)

So now when planning my menus, I'll bear in mind  that A TURKEY IS FOR DINNER, NOT JUST FOR CHRISTMAS!





Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Tropical Turkey

I have been invited to take part in a recipe blogging competition being run by British Turkey. They asked me to spend up to £15 on turkey then share the recipe(s) I cooked with it. (Note - they are paying for the turkey)

For £11.22, I picked up this huge piece of boneless Turkey breast.

It is much too big for us to eat in one meal, so I cut off just under half of it and diced it for today's recipe, and will use the rest tomorrow.

Tropical Turkey – serves 4
400g diced turkey meat
1 large onion, chopped
1 banana (choose a fairly under-ripe one)
1 x 4 slice tin pineapple in juice
1 rounded tablespoon Caribbean style curry powder
4 tablespoons tomato ketchup
200 ml chicken stock
2 heaped teaspoons cornflour
1 tablespoon sunflower oil 

Pre heat the oven to 160 C (140 C for a fan oven, gas mark 3)

In a flameproof casserole, heat the oil and gently fry the onion until softened.  Add the turkey to the pan and cook until sealed all over, then stir in the curry powder and cook for two minutes. Blend in the stock and tomato ketchup and bring to the boil.  

Meanwhile put the cornflour into a small bowl or teacup,  blend in the juice from the tinned pineapple and cut the slices into large chunks. Stir the pineapple and blended cornflour into the casserole, cover and transfer to the oven.  

Cook for 1 hour, adding the sliced banana 15 minutes before the end of the cooking time.  

Check seasoning (with the spices, ketchup and stock you may not need to add any) and serve with rice and a green salad.  

Note: Caribbean curry powder is available in the ethnic foods section of many supermarkets. If you can’t find it, use any mild curry powder. It tends to be milder than the more familiar Indian ones, even the type labelled "hot" which I used, and the fragrant spices in it go well with fruit, but if you want a bit more heat to the dish, choose a tomato ketchup with added chilli.

The banana could be replaced with fresh mango – add it towards the end of the cooking time, as you would the banana.
Verdict:  We were delighted with this dish. The turkey didn't go at all  dry, because of the sauce, and the Caribbean spice went beautifully with the fruit as well as the turkey. It only took a few minutes to put together, which is a great bonus on a busy weekday.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Review: Old Amsterdam Cheese

Note: I was sent a sample of this cheese to try, but was under no obligation to review it or even to like it!

I seldom buy Dutch cheese. I put this down to overdosing on it in my student days. Edam was cheap and easily available, and both Edam and Gouda had a reputation for being very low in calories - the Slimming magazines we devoured were full of recipes and meal suggestions that used them.

But as my taste in cheese has, like a good cheese, matured, I've lost interest in the rather bland flavour and slightly rubbery texture of those old friends. So I was very pleasantly surprised when I cut a piece of Old Amsterdam and flexed it, to see if that rubberiness was there -and it SNAPPED! Not a hint of rubberiness, it is a proper mature cheese texture with that firmer texture that gives it a much more satisfying mouth feel.

The taste, too, was anything but bland. It has a lovely strong, nutty flavour that marks it out in my book as a Serious Cheese. Just one thing about it puzzles me. The blurb on the pack says "it has ripening crystals that guarantee its constant quality". What the heck is a ripening crystal?

Ripening crystals or not, I'll definitely be buying it again!

Feeling Funky

Lurking in my box of crafting CDs for several years now are three CDs of backing papers from Funky Hand - CDs I turn to time and time again for  their sets of striking, colour coordinated  paper in some wonderful and often very original colour schemes. They are probably the oldest CDs in my collection, bought in 2007 and 2008 and used many. many times since.

The CD I've been playing with today is called Now That's Funky and as well as papers, it has ribbons, circular toppers and slightly smaller circular greetings to co-ordinate with the papers. Apart from the card bases and the flower, everything I've used in these two cards came from the CD.

The first is a thank you card, so with it I am playing along with CD Sundays where the theme this week is Thank You

And the second concentrates on circles, so for the first time I'm joining in with CAS on Sunday where the theme is "Round and Round"

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Less is More - Film titles

This week it's a one layer challenge at Less is More - and the theme is "A Film"  - not great news for me as I'm not a great film fan so I don't know the names of many films. And searching through my stash produced nothing that brought any films to mind.

Until I came to a portrait of Beethoven, and thought about the children's film "Beethoven" from the 1980s. The trouble was, the portrait was part of a large collage stamp which wasn't at all CAS. I tried just inking the portrait area with markers, but wasn't satisfied with the image, so I decided to use a mask. I inked a band, and  stamped the image near the bottom - but the masking didn't work too well and cut off most of Beethoven's hair, the inked band looked too dark and I touched the card with my inky fingers and made a huge smudge.

Never mind, it means I have a failure to share, I've not included one of those for a while.

So what to do now? I was so short of ideas I seriously considered submitting this:
And calling it "Snow White". Do you think I'd have got away with it?
I was just about to give up when I remembered a box of "out of favour" unmounted stamps I have stored away. A quick rummage through it produced a couple of ideas. First of all this little chap basking by a giant cactus, which made me think of "The Mexican" (always nice to think about Brad Pitt!)
And this little robot, a perfect  character for "I, Robot". This is the card I am submitting to the challenge.

Sticky stuff!

Peel-offs, outline stickers - whatever you call them, I bet you have a pile of them that you never use, don't you? It seems that every new crafter sees them and thinks "Ooh, what a brilliant idea!" and stocks up on them. And then can't think what to do with them, apart from the occasional word and a few simple borders, yet can't quite bear to part with them. Having been lured by a few bulk buys on the shopping channels I've got dozens, stored in clear plastic wallets, most of which must be over 10 years old now.

So when I saw that the Use it Tuesday challenge is Sticky Situation! I just had to play along!

I started off by making a square frame from double sided peel offs and glitter. And immediately remembered why I have only ever used double sided peel offs once before..... I'm going to have to so some serious cleaning up after I've posted this!

The flower is made from a sheet of stacking peel offs, and finished off with the very last self adhesive gem from an ancient sheet!

Friday, 12 April 2013

Random recipes - Beancurd Satay

For this month's Random Recipe challenge, Dom has presented us with a nifty little widget to help us to choose a random book from our collection.

I won't tell you how many recipe books I have. I'll just say that the 181 I have listed on Eat Your Books don't tell the full story.... but the randomiser came up with a nice safe 29. Counting along my shelves, it took me to the Ken Hom classic, Travels With A Hot Wok.

I used the randomiser again to pick a page and it took me to page 176, Beancurd Satays. Great - we love beancurd, we love satay, we had all the ingredients in the house - what could possibly go wrong?

I must confess I was a bit anxious about the texture of the beancurd. I was using a firm one, and the recipe instructed me to drain it pressed between several sheets of kitchen paper,  which made it firm up a bit more - but even so, wasn't it going to break up the moment I started to skewer it?

Actually the breaking up started before then, when I was stirring it into the marinade. But I was extra-careful and didn't lose too much, and even managed to get it all on to the sticks without too much damage.

The next step was to make the sauce. I have a super-simple and very tasty recipe of my own, but for the sake of the challenge I followed the version in the book. It was also very easy but came out as a very thick, viscous mixture ..... I won't tell you what Mark said it resembled.....

Now the moment of truth.... cooking the satay. I used a table top grill, to give me plenty control as they cooked, but nevertheless as soon as they started to cook, the disintegration started.....

Eventually we gave up, removed the sticks and gently turned each cube individually

We ate it with fried rice (I'd anticipated disaster so chosen to make the meal-in-one dish of fried rice to make sure we at least had SOMETHING to eat!) and, as suggested in the book, a cucumber and onion salad

The verdict? The beancurd was far more trouble than it was worth. Cubes of fried beancurd with a satay sauce would have been much easier -and a better texture too. As for the sauce - well, if I hadn't been trying to follow the recipe exactly, I could have adjusted the texture, but it was also far too heavy on the raw garlic. I'm really not a fan of eating raw garlic in large quantities. And it simply didn't taste as good as my own version. 

So here is my own version of satay sauce. It's served me well for the last 35 years, and I think in future I'll stick with it!

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.

I'm joining in with Random Recipes at Belleau Kitchen

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Crunchy Pesto and Mozzarella Baked Mushrooms

The full recipe for this can be found on page 15 of the May issue of Good Food magazine. Large mushrooms are topped with a mixture of mozzarella, mascarpone, pesto and lemon rind, sprinkled with breadcrumbs and baked.

We ate these with home made rye bread and a green salad with tomatoes and avocado

A delicious and colourful meal - and absolutely crammed with vitamins too!

Monday, 8 April 2013

Two for the price of one

This week the challenge at CD Sundays is Through the Window. I  printed out a sheet of Jeremy Fisher toppers and two co-ordinating background papers from a freebie CD I got from Create and craft, a compilation of highlights from the Crafters companion Beatrix Potter series.

The topper sheet had two window-related pictures on it, one of Jeremy climbing out through his window and one of him basking on the windowsill reading his newspaper, and I couldn't decide which to use - so I used both!

The blue pearls I added to the blue card were actually natural ones that I coloured with peel off pens. I never seem to be able to find gems or pearls the right colour and my trusty peel off pens often save the day!

Meal Planning Monday April 11th

First a little look back at last week. Monday's Mozzarella and Pesto Stuffed mushrooms were a great hit - I'll be posting more about them later in the week but here's a photo to whet your appetite.

Tuesday's Mac'n'hock-aroni cheese was nice enough but not as nice as my own version of a classic macaroni cheese, so I'll probably not bother to make it again. The game casserole was, as usual, rich and unctuous and there was enough left for a weekend lunch which was a bonus. The star of the dishes I cooked last week was the Mexican Veg hash, which changed from the recipe in the magazine to one of my own, which you can read about here.

I have to thank everybody who has featured lasagne on their menu plans over the last few weeks - I'd not made it for months and months so it was a great treat to tuck in to.
Mark cooked on Saturday, two brilliant courses. I won't give away any secrets but the details will be on his blog on Wednesday and Friday - he usually posts late afternoon.
Finally last night's roast chicken. We usually buy a small free range organic bird but as I wanted to have meat left over for at least one meal, possibly two, I picked up a bargain large bird - a 2kg one for £6 - in the supermarket. It was a rather disappointing dry, tasteless bird. It's good to know that if were ever in straitened circumstanced we could  feed ourselves so cheaply, but I think we'd need to do a lot to improve the flavour if we had to buy chickens like that regularly. Plain roasting just doesn't bring out the best in them!

Now where was I? Oh yes, enough of last week, I'd better move on to THIS week.

Monday Chicken and mushroom pie with Brussels sprouts, carrots and new potatoes. I'll  make stock with the carcase and there should be enough meat left for one more meal.
Tuesday Chicken, ham and leek risotto using the last of the chicken and the home made stock
Wednesday Lamb Brochettes with apricot and pine nut couscous
Thursday tofu satay
Friday fresh beef burgers with home made onion bread rolls
Saturday/Sunday Mark cooking one day, the other day Nigel Slater's Pork and Beans

What are you eating this week? Come along and share your plans over at At Home With Mrs M

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Lime and Black

This week's Less is More challenge is a colour challenge, using the colours Lime and Black.

My card today is so simple there really isn't anything to say about it, apart from one thing - sticking the delicate die cut down. I used tiny dots of tacky glue on the larger areas, but still ended up with some of it showing.

I've tried glue pens (they drag and tear the delicate areas and never seem to make a firm hold), spray adhesive (it gets everywhere, on the front of the die cut as well as the back, not to mention all over me!), Xyron (getting it off the backing strip means the delicate parts tear) and sticky dots (again, they drag and tear the delicate areas). The result is that I hardly ever use this beautiful die. If anyone can suggest an adhesive that actually WORKS on something this fragile, I'd be very grateful!

Mexican Veggie Hash - my version

If you read my Meal Planning Monday post last week,  you will see that Thursday night's dinner was to be Mexican Veggie Hash from the Good Food magazine.

However I got home tired and hungry, opened the cupboard and found that I didn't have the right ingredients after all. So I made up a dish of my own, partly inspired by the recipe, partly by the ingredients I had to hand and partly by a breakfast dish called Chasse which I first read about in The Pauper's Cookbook by Jocasta Innes.

This makes a main course for two hungry people or a light lunch for four.

Jane's Veggie Hash

1 medium onion, finely chopped
350g cooked, halved tiny new potatoes
1 small can sweetcorn
1 large can red kidney beans
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 large tomatoes, diced
4 medium eggs
1 ripe avocado, chopped
1 tbs light olive oil and a small knob of butter
½ tsp chilli powder
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp dried oregano

Fry the onions in butter until soft  in a wide, shallow pan with a lid then add the potatoes and fry until browned.  Stir in the garlic and spices and cook for 1-2 minutes longer. Mix in the drained, rinsed beans and corn and heat through gently, then stir in the diced tomato. Make four hollows in the mixture and slide an egg into each, then cover and cook until the eggs are set to your preference- I like mine very hard which takes about 7 minutes. Sprinkle over the avocado and serve.

I'm joining in Mrs M's Recipe Link Party