Wednesday, December 28

Turkey pie

Yesterday I planned to make that Jamie Oliver leftover turkey pie. I think everybody else had the same idea however - not only have I seen it all over Twitter and blogs, but not one food shop I went into had puff pastry in stock!

I didn't have any creme fraiche either so decided to just roll with what I had and make it up as I went along. That's the beauty with pies though - you can throw what you like in, top it with some good pastry and it will probably taste delicious.

This is what I used:

for the filling:
1 leek
Two handfuls of chopped celery
1 medium & 1 small onion
1 fat clove of garlic
Handful of dried thyme
Knob of butter
1 tbsp olive oil
600g leftover white turkey meat
Around 750ml turkey or vegetable stock
2 heaped tbsp plain flour

for the pastry:
3 oz plain flour
7 oz self raising flour
5 oz butter/margarine
3-4 tbsp water

This is what I did:

I chopped the celery, leek and onion into rough but manageable pieces and steamed them until fairly soft and tender.

In a large deep frying pan, I heated the butter, oil, thyme and garlic together. I added the veg and stirred until everything was well coated.

Then I added the turkey meat, stock and flour. I stirred well and brought everything to the boil, and seasoned with salt and pepper.

(For the pastry, both puff pastry and shortcrust work well in this pie, readymade or homemade. If we want puff pastry we usually opt for readymade, but shortcrust is very simple to make from scratch.)

So to make the shortcrust pastry I whizzed together 3 oz plain flour, 7 oz self raising flour and 5 oz butter or margaine. When the mixture became crumb-like, I began adding cold water, a tbsp at a time until a dough formed. I then moulded it into a disc shape and left in the fridge to chill for half an hour.

I poured the pie filling into a pie dish (draining off any excess liquid). After rolling out the chilled dough to about 5-10mm thick I covered the top of the pie with it, and had enough leftover pastry for some decorative festive stars. (If we had a proper pie dish I would have made a thick pastry rim around the pie.)

I baked the pie at 190 degrees for half an hour, and when it was golden brown and any escaped filling was bubbling, served it up with some steamed purple cabbage. Yum.

Thursday, December 22

that christmas tree smell

Last Sunday we donned Santa hats, played Christmas crooners ("let it snow, let it snow, let it snow...") and rummaged in the huge box of tree decorations all afternoon. That box is like concentrated nostalgia for me, the contents ranging from decorations crafted by mine and my brother's chubby 5 year old hands, to ones bought last week. Tree decorating always feels special, and once the tree's up I don't have any Scrooge moments. Just seeing the tree lights twinkling in the corner and catching the Christmas tree smell (I'd never get a fake tree) gives me that surge of childish excitedness. Christmas!!

The festivities extended around the house - cards hung with ribbon like bunting, a Christmas wreath in the hallway, new lights in my bedroom, and a stag cushion from Primark which only cost me £3!

When did you put your tree up? If you've got photos, link me to them - I love looking at other people's trees!

Friday, December 16

the basic and best Christmas cookie recipe

Christmas is a delicious time of year. It's the one time you can open the fridge door in hope and not be disappointed. Mince pies, yule log, Christmas pudding, Christmas cake, boxes of chocolates, fudge, candy canes... but sometimes a simple Christmas biscuit is all you fancy, something sweet to fill the gap between that lunchtime slice of yule log and the post-dinner wodge of mincemeat.

There are many types of Christmas biscuit, but the two types I make the most are Christmas shortbread and Christmas cookies. Incredibly easy to make and great to have in the cupboards during Christmas. They also make brilliant Christmas gifts!

Here is my go-to recipe for Christmas cookies. They turn out lovely - slightly chewy (thanks to the addition of golden syrup), slightly doughy and slightly crisp on the edges. A perfect cookie. You can add cinnamon, mixed spice, or even ginger to turn it into gingerbread. Yum.

You will need

4 oz butter
6 oz soft brown sugar
4 tbsp golden syrup
12 oz plain flour
2 tsp spices of your choice
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 egg, beaten

to do the following:

1. The boring bit - set oven to 190 degrees celsius and grease a couple of baking trays.
2. In a saucepan gently melt the butter, sugar and syrup together over a low heat. Keep stirring (very gently) so the mixture doesn't catch.
3. Sift the flour, spices and bicarbonate of soda into a large mixing bowl.
4. Add the syrup mixture and the beaten egg, and mix everything together.
5. Knead the mixture into a ball. If it's super sticky, add some more flour (but not too much).
6. Chill the dough for at least 30 minutes.
7. Roll the dough out to about 5mm thick and cut into the shapes of your choice.
8. Bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown. They will still seem quite soft, but soon harden a bit once they're out of the oven. Then put them on a wire rack to cool.

Lightly dust them with icing sugar and wrap with cellophane for an easy peasy Christmas present. Or preferably just eat them yourself.

A batch I made last night for a go with a festive Emma Bridgewater biscuit tin!

I can't wait til Sunday lunchtime when I will be free from work-commitments for over a week. Tree decorating will kick off the festivities. I am so excited and there will hopefully be a few Christmassy posts to share with you! Of course typically I've caught a bug that's been doing the rounds at home and my throat is like sandpaper. Instead of moaning I'm trying to think of it as an excuse to drink more hot chocolate. Praying I'll be ok for the work party tomorrow night.

Apologies to those of you still waiting for your Christmas cards. I've posted a bunch this morning, but had a minor disaster last night when I spilt blackcurrant juice over a pile ready to be sent. Classic Kate. You will get one, eventually!

I've had a very productive morning - posting parcels, cashing cheques, doing a bit of Christmas shopping. Now I'm going to go and make a hearty beef and vegetable puff pastry pie for dinner. My brother has baked an amazing-looking yule log for dessert - it's like Christmas has come early in our house! Excuse me while I adjust my waistband...

Thursday, December 1

Happy advent!


It's December! And the above is what I came downstairs to this morning, to my great excitement. You're never too old for a chocolate advent calendar! I have the same one every year - big sucker for vintage Christmas graphics. My brother and I were of course studying the Where's Wally calendar closely over our cereal - I still haven't found Wally yet.

Flashes of festivity are beginning to appear in my room...

Have a fun first day of advent everybody! I can't wait to put Christmas songs on my iTunes (where they will be horrendously overplayed, naturally) and indulge in Love Actually marathons. And complete my mission of trying every Christmas coffee flavour on the high street.

Thursday, November 24

nothing gold can stay

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold,
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
Nothing Gold Can Stay by Robert Frost

Christmas is starting to have its way with me and before I know it the end of December will be here. So I'm desperately trying to cling on to my favourite season before I get tired of the bleak cold. Since when did autumn pass by so quickly? I think it's a result of the annoying 'Indian summer', which meant we got barely any of the crisp October and November weather I love so much!

December is exciting though. Christmas coffees, fairy lights, frosty mornings, cold nights, Santa's grotto, wishlists, planning what to bake and make... Unfortunately everything seems to happen in December. I'm up to my ears in Christmas card commissions, portfolio work, gift ideas, baking plans, as well as my usual two jobs! Oh, and Christmas parties and get-togethers, ice skating, Christmas shopping...

The photos are of some of my favourite leaves from this year, and the Frost poem is lovely. I first came across it in SE Hinton's novel The Outsiders - a brilliant book should you ever be looking for something to read. I like how these photos came out, considering I don't have an SLR camera (this is going to be rectified next week!).

I hope you all have a wonderful last weekend of November. I'm off to Newcastle for the weekend to visit a friend. Catch ups, Christmas markets and coffee are on the agenda. I've never been so far up North so I'm looking forward to seeing a different part of the country.

And happy thanksgiving to any American folk - mail me some pumpkin pie, please.

Monday, November 21

amazing almond biscuits (greek kourabiedes)

Kourabiedes are these amazing Greek biscuits which are a Christmas favourite. Light, crumbly almond shortbread coated in a liberal layer of icing sugar. They're incredibly simple, incredibly tasty and incredibly moreish. The almond saves them from being like your average sickly buttery Highland shortcake, and turns them into something absolutely delectable.

(The word 'delectable' definitely isn't used enough these days!)

You will need these things,

8 oz butter/margarine
4 oz icing sugar (caster sugar is ok though)
2 egg yolks
10 oz plain flour
6-8 oz ground almonds
a generous tsp almond extract
half tsp vanilla extract
cloves (a festive option)

to do the following:

Beat the butter in a bowl until it's soft and easy to work with.
Gradually beat in the sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy.
Beat in the two egg yolks.
Add the almond essence and vanilla essence.
Mix in the flour and almonds, bit by bit. You'll think 'it's going to be too dry!' but it will come together eventually.
Once the mixture is dough-like, form into crescents by rolling balls into sausages and pinching and bending the ends. It's up to you how big you want them - remember they get a bit bigger in the oven, but the shortbread texture is more enjoyable in a bigger sized crescent rather than just a 'bite'. Ideally this recipe makes around 20-24.
Put the crescents onto a well greased tray and bake at 190 degrees celsius for around 15 minutes until the bottoms start to turn golden brown. Keep an eye on them!
Let them cool (after inevitably burning your tongue on an impatient taster), then roll them in lots of icing sugar.
Now put your willpower to the almighty test: resisting the temptation to scoff the lot in one go. 

Saturday, November 19

a day out in London

On 11.11.11 we caught the 11.11am train to Waterloo and had a day out in London town.

We went to the Whitechapel Art Gallery (excellent) where we saw a Wilhelm Sasnal exhibition (ok), a small Rothko room (coloured squares) and the Government Art Collection (good).

Then we went to the cafe in the crypt at St Martin-in-the-fields, Trafalgar Square, for lunch. It's one of my favourite cafes. We had spinach potato and nutmeg soup followed by a hearty bowl of apple crumble. Highly recommended!

We caught a bus to Bond Street and rode along Regent St looking at all the lights and festivity. Selfridges was stunning.

Near Bond Street is a grand old house which is home to the Wallace Collection. Lots of old paintings, furniture, etc, but what I liked most was the house itself. Very exquisite and out-of-this-era. There is also a wonderful restaurant in the centre of the house, in an indoor courtyard. I will go for afternoon tea there one day.

This week has been a busy, tiring one with lots of ups and downs. Head down, think of Christmas!

Wednesday, November 16

owl eyed

Here is a monoprint of an owl's eye which I did in my evening class. It's called monoprinting because you can only make one print: you paint your image onto a metal plate, then cover it with dampened cartridge paper and roll it through a press. Real fun, but time consuming!

 I hope you are all having lovely Wednesdays.

Sunday, November 13

I love Sundays #3

that age old cliche of kicking through the autumn leaves

a big fat slice of sticky date and walnut cake

and a Sunday afternoon cappucino

then walking home as the sun set

I've had a lazy Sunday (and Saturday) in preparation for what will be a long and busy week: lots of shifts at work, including the grand arrival of Father Christmas to his garden centre grotto next Saturday - it's going to be chaos. Head down, think of the Christmas break - that's my motto.

This weekend I did manage to get my Mum to cut my ridiculously long hair (it was down to my waist and any layers had turned to wisps) to all one length, very sixties-looking. She also dyed my roots. Eagle eyed readers of this blog will know my hair is shiny blonde, but alas it's all an act as I'm a natural dishwater (especially during the sunless winter months). Garnier Nutrisse is my best friend! Anyway I quite like being able to get a cut and colour for free, all from the comfort of my own home! It's handy having an amazing Mum.

Other than that I have just been working in my sketchbooks, drinking vast mugs of green tea and eating tender-cooked beef puff pastry pie, as well as our traditional roast dinner, the most amazing Greek almond cookies (to be blogged about soon) and the biggest apples you ever saw. Sundays were made for slobbing.

Also, wasn't today's sunshine beautiful?

Wednesday, November 9

probably one of the best soups ever

Like a hug. That's what this soup is like, a warm and comforting hug on a cold November night. It's the perfect autumn soup - the rusty orange of the squash with the red lentils are like the colours of the leaves outside, and will brighten up the long chilly winter evenings. Spoonful after spoonful of heaven - thick, velvety, naturally sweet from the squash but with a nuttiness that comes from the lentils as well as a bit of spice from whatever you throw in. You have to make this soup.

You'll need

1 medium sized onion, chopped fairly finely
1-2 garlic cloves, chopped finely
1.5 lbs of butternut squash
1 medium potato
1 litre vegetable stock (preferably bouillon powder)
1-2 bay leaves
Olive oil
150-200g red lentils, depending on how thick you want it
A good tsp of cumin
Salt and pepper

Cut your squash into chunks, not too big, not too small. Don't worry about peeling the thing, but remember to remove all the seeds. Peel and cut your potato into similar sized pieces.
Roast the squash and potato in 2-3 tbsps of olive oil on a baking tray at 190 degrees celsius for 30 to 40 minutes. Give them a good toss now and then. When the squash is soft and turning a deep caramel orange, it's ready to come out. Leave the tray to cool.
Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large saucepan and gently fry the onion and garlic until soft.
When the squash and potato chunks are cool enough to handle, peel the squash.
Make up a litre of vegetable stock.
Add the squash, potato, lentils, stock, bay leaves and cumin to the saucepan. Season to taste (you won't need much salt) then bring to the boil. Let everything simmer for 20-30 minutes until the potato and lentils are soft and starting to break up a bit.
Turn off the heat and let the soup cool a little. Then transfer to a blender and blend until there's no lumps and the soup has a thick consistency. Don't overblend!
Transfer back to saucepan and reheat. Check the seasoning.
Serve, with a sprinkle of sage on the top if you want, and a hunk of good crusty bread.
Savour the first spoonful, enjoy that warm huggy feeling.

Because I was too busy enjoying it to take any photos, here's a soup-er rushed little illustration:

Delicious! x

Sunday, November 6

I love Sundays #2


Cycling across the fields through the early morning autumnal mist, seeing the horses in their winter jackets

Going for a late afternoon walk before the light fades, picking the best looking leaves, admiring the newly wintered skyline

Shopping for wellies and wellie socks!

Sparklers outside, the evening air full of bonfire smoke and spice

Roast dinner, with brussel sprouts and roasted squash. Enough said.

Baking another fruit streusel pie to serve up and enjoy in front of Downton Abbey

(On Sundays it's ok to be like a granny.)

Friday, November 4

life drawing

On Monday evening I did some life drawing. It's something I've always wanted to do so I was pretty excited. Rumours of an old man posing with a cane were, thankfully, just rumours. We drew a woman instead. It's strange - even though you're concentrating so hard on the body in front of you, and looking at it so closely, you sort of forget about the nakedness. I like drawing the female form, but I did feel bad for the one guy in the class. I think he coped alright though.

We did a series of drawings in different amounts of time. Weirdly I found the quick sketches (2-5 mins) a lot easier than the longer ones (25 mins), maybe because there's less pressure to draw perfectly when you've only got a few minutes. Some of my work was absolute rubbish, but I keep reminding myself that a) it was my first time, b) I haven't done intense drawing in years so I'm a bit rusty, and c) I was working with charcoal, which I hate using (it's so dry!). It was difficult, but I wasn't as terrible as I thought I was going to be.

I'd recommend life drawing to anyone - even if you aren't working in the art field/don't think you're arty/don't know what a pencil is. It's great for practising hand-eye coordination, a valuable skill in lots of situations. It also makes you look at things with more care, noticing what you haven't noticed before, seeing things in a different way.

I'm typing this whilst enjoying the smell of roasting butternut squash waft through the rooms - tonight I'm planning to make butternut squash and lentil soup. With a bit of spice. Nice.

I can hardly believe it's Guy Fawkes Night tomorrow! I love bonfires but hate fireworks, which is a tad awkward, but I will be partaking in a sparkler or two. I might even have my first gingerbread latte of the season!

Enjoy your weekends everyone!