Friday, 31 August 2012

Yoghurt pot cakes (or what to do when the kitchen scales break!)

Watching the Hairy Bikers last week using yoghurt in fairy cakes reminded me of a recipe a friend gave me years ago. I fancied having another go at it so I dug it out. The beauty of this recipe is that it is incredibly simple. You can use any flavour yoghurt to make the cakes. I used lemon, but blueberry and fudge are also particularly good. The pot is then used to measure out the rest of the ingredients, making it a really good recipe if you are in a hurry.


150ml pot of yoghurt
1 pot caster sugar
3 pots self raising flour
3 eggs
1 pot sunflower oil


Put the whole lot in a bowl and whisk together. That is all there is to it! Bake at 190 C for at least 15 minutes until golden brown on top. This quantity makes 12 big muffins. I made 24 mini-muffins and 12 fairy cakes. 

I admit they are not Great British Bake Off standard!

After a bit of jiggery-pokery with the calculator I make the calories for a mini-muffin to be 80 and the saturated fat to be 0.9g, which isn't bad if you are on, or supposed to be on, a diet!

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Damson jam

Yesterday we visited my parents-in-law, who have a lovely big garden which is full of produce this time of year. I came back laden with plums, damsons, carrots and tomatoes. Tomatoes were easy to deal with - peeled, chopped and frozen within half an hour. The carrots will keep while we eat through them, and the plums will either be eaten fresh or stewed. But damsons? Mum makes great jam with them, but I am not an experienced jam-maker. Mamade marmalade is about my limit! So I was keen to have a try at the art of preserving - to me it seems a little like alchemy.

The loot!
As a complete novice I am not going to attempt a tutorial. Enough to say I used the same weight of sugar as stoned and halved damsons, and simmered the damsons first to soften them. I ended up with just over 3 jars of a richly coloured red/purple jam. Unfortunately the mixture caught on the bottom of my stock pot, so the results taste a little "caramelized(!)". The flavour is still good, so although it won't be given as presents, it will still be enjoyed!


Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Cassoulet the Hairy Bikers way!

I am a bit of a Hairy Bikers fan, and was very pleased when the current series of "Hairy Dieters" started a few weeks ago. After a few too many croissants and pains au chocolat last week, I also have a few pounds to shift. DH and I loved the look of the sausage cassoulet in Episode 2, so today I gave it a go. The recipe is freely available here on the BBC website. 

Cassoulet is basically a casserole of sausages, gammon and chicken thighs. Like many people I try to shop frugally, but I also try to shop ethically, with the result that my shopping trolley has a bizarre mix of value supermarket goods alongside free range chicken, bacon, eggs and sausages! The recipe calls for sausages which are at least 85% meat, so I dutifully stood in the meat aisle reading sausage packaging. I was very surprised and quite shocked to  find that the standard supermarket sausages are less than 50% meat! I eventually found some which are 90% meat and Freedom Food certified. The chicken thighs were free range, but relatively cheap as they needed skinning and de-boning. It would be difficult to buy the small amount of gammon needed, but I had a larger joint in the freezer so saved a small amount of that when I roasted it.

It was a simple recipe to follow, even if it has a daunting list of ingredients. The lovely smell had us salivating all morning, and the result was very tasty. There was quite a lot of chilli in it, which suited me, but others might prefer it a little milder. I forgot the orange for the garnish but parsley by itself was fine.

The finished product!

It worked out at about £2 a portion, not including the store cupboard ingredients, which is more than I would normally spend on a meal, so it will be a special treat. I suspect it would be cheaper if you bought dried beans. I also bought small packets of fresh thyme and parsley, which I very rarely do. I grow mint, chives and rosemary but I have plans to plant more herbs next year which should make all my cookery cheaper.

I am looking forward to the rest of the series. I also love "The Great British Bake Off", but might have to resist those recipes for a while!

Sunday, 19 August 2012

En vacances!

Since our wonderful children came along holidays in our family have generally been spent camping, visiting family, going on day trips from home or staying in a self-catering cottage in the UK. This year, however, was different. DH and I really wanted to show the kids another culture so for the past few years we have been squirrelling away money every month in a sacrosanct "holiday fund". Not being beachy people we opted for a week in Paris! We found a good deal on a family friendly hotel (which included a huge breakfast), bought supplies from the numerous supermarkets, travelled on the very efficient metro and ate out at cheap local eateries.

DH was the official photographer...I claim no credit!

I cannot believe how child friendly Paris is! This pond is in the Jardin du Luxembourg where children push around model yachts with wooden sticks. DD and DS loved it so much they had two turns, although I think DH had most fun.

It is a very pretty park with a fantastic playground. You can buy scrumptious ice cream and watch the locals playing "petanque". The building in the background houses the French senate. Can you imagine the same thing happening outside the House of Lords?!!

Of course we had to go up the Eiffel Tower. It really does dominate the skyline.

We took the lift up, but managed to walk part of the way down. Gravity helps!

The view from the top is quite impressive!

The engineering appealed to DH.

We visited the Louvre, which, as well as being an art gallery, houses a large collection of Egyptian artefacts. DS was particularly pleased as he has just studied ancient Egypt at school. His knowledge outstripped ours!

The spectacular entrance.

The Venus de Milo.

Are they waiting for a bus?

We also visited the "Jardin des Plantes" which houses a small zoo. We hardly saw any other tourists here at all. In fact, apart from the obvious tourist traps, Paris was remarkably quiet as most Parisians were on their annual holidays. It was a good time to go!

It was a very hot day!

Loved these pink "ballerinas"!

We had a wonderful week. The children were just old enough to appreciate the more cultural parts, Paris itself is beautiful and, contrary to the stereotype, the Parisians were very friendly and patient with my schoolgirl French.

The view from the hotel roof.

I will be reopening the holiday fund, so hopefully in a few years we will be able to explore somewhere else!

Monday, 6 August 2012

Owl puffs

Since I managed to complete my tea cosy I have been knitting this little fellow for DD.

This quirky little bird is an owl puff created by Jenna Krupar and it is another Ravelry pattern. She looks simple enough, and according to the Ravelry community is very easy. I have to say, the Ravelry contributors are obviously way out of my league. The first difficulty is that she is either knitted on double pointed needles, or by the magic loop method. Having read up on both, I opted for double pointed needles.

It looks worse than it is. Once you realise you don't need an extra hand or two it is fairly straightforward, as generations of sock-knitting grannies can tell you. However, I am very much a novice and will need a bit more practice at this one.

The other difficulty was the simple line, "Kitchener stitch the top of your owl closed." What? Yet another Google search turned up this brilliant tutorial which shows how to graft pieces of knitting into a single seamless entity. Magic!

DS has now demanded his own little owl, so I am about to start casting on again. It's a good thing they are quick!

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Scotney Castle

Today we packed up a picnic and some waterproofs and headed off for the impossibly beautiful Scotney Castle which is run by the National Trust. We are members of the National Trust as we are very lucky to be close to four properties and a reasonable jaunt from quite a few others. We get value for our money!

Scotney Castle estate is a sort of architectural "buy one get one free" as it has both a medieval ruined castle and a more recent nineteenth century mansion. You are allowed to picnic in the walled garden which is still being developed and has gained some chickens and flower beds since our last visit. The sun came out and I went a little mad with the camera...

I love dahlias! Their petals always look so perfect and their colours so jewel-like.

 Apparently cornflowers aren't just blue.

This is a Large White butterfly according to my ancient "Observer's Book of Butterflies".

 DD took this one. She is starting to love photography.

After lunch we wondered around the mansion. The last owners were feline obsessed; the children counted over 140 cat references around the house. Then we slowly meandered down to the castle and walked around the moat. It really is a very impressive place; straight out of a fairy tale.

On our way out we discovered some craft demonstrations. DS made a candle, although all he did was roll up some prepared beeswax - it took him less than five minutes. I had a long chat with the spinner-lady. As much as I like the idea, I don't think I have room for a spinning wheel! I did discover that alpaca wool, being lanolin-free, is good for those allergy-ridden people (like DD) who can't tolerate sheep's wool next to their skin. Hmmm, I might have to find some! We all had a very interesting demonstration from an "encaustic" artist. This involves melting wax with an iron onto a a flat surface. The demonstrator very kindly made one for each child.

This is called a "mandala".

Both children have been strictly warned not to try this at home!

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Wakehurst Place

We are very fortunate to live within striking distance of Wakehurst Place, which is "Kew in the country".  The children have been loving their "Adventurous Journeys"; we have been twice this week! Wakehurst has put a lot of effort into conserving meadowland, which is a great natural habitat for flowers and insects. They also have hives to pollinate all those wild flowers. The results were obvious today; the butterflies, grasshoppers and bees were out in force!