Thursday 28 March 2013

The Sewing Bug...

The Sewing Bug

In a bid to achieve one of my "27 Things to Do in the Year I Turn 27" , and in desperation to get out of the house and DO something for a few hours a week, I recently signed up to a Kitchen Table Sewing beginners course. The course ran over 4 weeks for 2 hours on a Wednesday evening, a just-about-manageable amount of time for me to be able to sit & concentrate with my bad back. KTS is run by the wonderful Janet Lehain who I met through the Scone Roses WI, and who I am now lucky enough to call my friend. She runs the courses from her kitchen table, and you'll only ever be one of four attendees. Sadly, the course finished last night, and it was Janet's last course for a while as she's soon to have a baby and move house - but watch this space, as I'm sure she'll run courses again in the future. 

I was lucky enough to attend the course with two of my lovely friends Clare and Angie, and met a lovely new friend called Lucy who was our number 4 attendee. Janet has the patience of a saint, and taught us all the basics of using and maintaining a sewing machine, basic stitches etc. Over the 4 weeks we made a set of two cushion covers, as well as a fully lined tote bag (in contrasting fabrics) with a double front pocket and boy am I pleased with the results! 

It beggars belief that before the course I had no experience on a sewing machine, and now my confidence has built, and I'm starting some solo projects at home, using a machine I have gratefully borrowed from Janet while she has her time off from teaching. 

So, let me share with you my creations...

Two cushions using "Cockatoos" fabric, designed by Quentin Blake - to match our Nursery wallpaper...

I am majorly in love with this fabric/wallpaper - I hope Baby Bishop loves it! 

my finished tote bag in Cath Kidston style fabrics with double front pocket

contrast fabric lining in my bag

I have officially got the sewing 'bug', and decided to try a few simple projects at home on my newly-borrowed machine. I found a pattern on Sew Scrumptious Blog for a bandana style bib - and had a go at a couple of these this morning. One in girlie wipe-clean oilcloth, and another in a gender-neutral spotty fabric with absorbent towelling back. Obviously, theres no baby to model these yet, so Monkey had to do for now! 

They're not perfect, but for a first attempt at the pattern I'm pleased. I'm sure I'll make lots more of can never have enough bibs, right? 

wipe clean oil cloth - a girlie bib

spotty/towelling bib, gender-neutral 

 modelled by Monkey 

modelled by Monkey

My next project is a roll up baby changing mat using the Quentin Blake fabric, and some gingham oil cloth - as seen on Kirstie's Vintage Home on Channel 4. I've started cutting out the fabric etc, so hope to have this completed in the next few weeks. Watch this space....

Cake Fame

In other news... my recent Easter bake for the Clandestine Cake Club the Queen Mother Cake is famous! It's just been shown on the Channel 4 programme "Whats Cooking?" with Lisa Faulkner and Ben Sheppherd. :-) They asked viewers to tweet in their pictures of their Easter bakes, and their favourite ones were shared live on air. How cool! :-)

My cake! On the TV :-)

Close up of the cake again! :-)



Mrs B 


Tuesday 26 March 2013

A Paul Hollywood inspired loaf...

Have you been watching Paul Hollywood's new series on BBC2 (Mondays, 8:30pm) called 'Bread'? 
I don't need much of an excuse to tune into a programme starring Mr Hollywood, as I have a rather large crush on the dishy silver-fox, and luckily husband likes him too and is an avid bread baker. 

I have always told myself that I don't have the patience for bread baking, but if anyone was going to persuade me at trying my hand at a fresh loaf, then it was going to be Mr Hollywood. 

My husband Liam has tried making a variety of homemade breads (very successfully) including: white and brown loaves, pretzels, pitta breads, iced buns and tear 'n' share loaves. Whereas I tend to stick to baking with more 'instant' results. 

On Sunday night hubby and I wanted something to do, and he suggested I try baking a loaf, and that he would help guide me. We had the ingredients, we had the time, and finally (thanks to Mr Hollywood and my husband) I now had the inclination.

It was actually really very simple, and fun. The downside is that, yes, there's a lot of waiting around for the bread to prove, but we watched a film while we waited - so at least there's enough time to do something of substance (house chores/bubble bath/put the kids to bed/watch a film/read etc).

You can find the full recipe for Paul Hollywood's Bloomer Loaf here (also with a video guide)

Here is my slightly edited version...


500g strong bread flour, plus extra for kneading

10g salt

7g instant yeast

320ml cold water

(from Bedfordshire - my favourite oil for cooking and baking, although you can use any rapeseed or olive oil)

1 egg, beaten (for egg wash)

a couple of handfuls of poppy seeds (for the top)


  1. Place the dry ingredients in a bowl, taking care not to have the salt and yeast touching. Add the oil and 240ml/9fl oz of water.

  2. Using your hands, mix the ingredients together. Gradually add the remaining water (you may not need it all), until all the flour leaves the side of the bowl and you have a soft, rough dough.

  3. Pour a little oil onto a clean work surface. Sit the dough on the oil and begin to knead. Do this for 5-10 minutes, or until the dough becomes smooth and silky. 

    me kneading

    hubby kneading (10 mins is a long time, I needed a rest!)

    Once the correct consistency is achieved, place the dough into a clean, oiled bowl. Cover with cling film and leave in a warm place until tripled in size.

    before proving

    after proving

    Kneading bread with oil
    1:01 mins
  4. Once risen, place the dough onto a floured surface. Knock the dough back by folding it in on itself repeatedly. Do this until all the air is knocked out and the dough is smooth.

    air knocked out

  5. To shape into the bloomer, flatten the dough into a rectangle. With the long side facing you fold each end into the middle then roll like a Swiss roll so that you have a smooth top with a seam along the base. Very gently roll with the heal of your hands.
    Brush top of loaf with egg wash, and dip into poppy seeds. Slash top of loaf with sharp knife.

    ready for second proving

  6. Place on a tray lined with parchment paper, or in an oiled loaf tin, cover and leave to prove for 1-2 hours at room temperature, or until doubled in size.

    after second proving - ready for the oven

  7. Preheat the oven to 220/425F/Gas 7. Place the loaf on the middle shelf and bake for 20 minutes. After this time lower the heat to 200C/400F/Gas 6 and bake for a further 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack.

    pretty good for a first attempt! 

    I was pleased as punch with this loaf. 

    The hardest part of this recipe was waiting until the next morning to tuck in (apparently the bread is at its best once you've left it to completely cool). The whole house was filled with the unbeatable smell of freshly baked bread, and I went to bed really excited about my breakfast! 

    It was SCRUMMY! 

    Hopefully Paul would agree that it has a 'good crumb' 

    the perfect start to a Monday - breakfast - a good strong cuppa and fresh bread toasted

    Have any of you got your bake on this week? 

    Any bread connoisseurs out there?

    I watched 'Bread' again on monday night - this weeks episode was all about flatbreads, and I'd definitely like to give the pitta bread a try. Hubby has made them very successfully before - and they go very well with my signature dish 'Lamb Kleftiko and Greek Salad' - roll on the proper summer weather so it can become a dinnertime regular again! 

    Happy Baking!

    Mrs B


Sunday 24 March 2013

A bit of crumpet...with the husband... ;-)

Sorry folks, I couldn't resist the title! 

This weekend has been just lovely - one of those rare weekends where you feel like you've had true quality experiences to remember, with the ones you love - where you know you've made the most of your time, and got the best out of those two short days. 

Sometimes, I can feel like the weekend has eluded me altogether...suddenly it is Sunday night before I've had a chance to blink. Other weekends seem long, dull and full of not-a-lot, which leaves me with a feeling that I've wasted the potential of an exciting weekend. Not this week! 

I've recently been reading 'The Wonderful Weekend Book' by Elspeth Thompson and it has evoked in me a really strong drive to fill my weekends with things I enjoy, people I love, and not just chores and ticking things off my 'to-do' list. I think it is all about planning ahead, shopping ahead (good food, a bottle of wine, some posh chocolates - whatever will help to make your weekend extra-special) and prioritising - what actually NEEDS to be done this weekend? What will make me the happiest? Etc.

 Elspeth gives lots of ideas of fulfilling and fun things to fill your weekends with, as well as 'little victories' like running yourself a hot bubble bath with your favourite bubbles, a glass of something scrummy, and some chilled music on. Simple. 

This weekend was filled with things I love - quality time with the husband, baking a brand-new recipe, being creative, meeting up with my mum, going to London, and relaxing at home. Perfect.

Friday Night

Does Friday night count as part of your weekend? It definitely does in our house! And this week we celebrated the start of the weekend with an impromptu visit from our lovely friend Danni, a natter, a bottle of red, and some homemade burgers for dinner. Sharing homemade food with my best friends is definitely one of my favourite ways to while away an evening...perfect. 

The 'Perfect' Crumpets

Hubby is a regular Guardian reader, and has introduced me to the wonderful 'Perfect' food column by Felicity Cloake. Each week she chooses a dish - cooks multiple versions/recipes by all the 'top chefs' and then comes up with her own 'Perfect' version by combining the best bits from her weeks attempts. 

I absolutely swear-by her 'Perfect Carrot Cake' , and this weekend hubby suggested we try her latest recipe for 'Perfect Crumpets'. We love a crumpet, but have only ever eaten shop bought ones. Would a homemade from scratch crumpet really taste that much better?

This recipe appealed to my husbands interest in bread-baking (he's very good at homemade loaves, pretzels, iced buns etc!) Whereas I just don't have the patience for waiting for things to prove for hours on end, hence my love of conventional cake baking. I was really interested in the cooking process of the crumpets, and obviously the tasting - so hubby made and proved the mixture, while I supervised the cooking. Great teamwork. 

The Recipe

Recipe from 'Perfect' by Felicity Cloake (The Guardian)

Our Take on Perfect Crumpets...

sugar, milk & boiling water in jug with yeast after 15 mins - frothy

mix in the flours & leave to prove

after proving

adding bicarbonate/water mix

vigorous stirring from the hubby

well oiled pan & rings (mine were silicone, but can use metal rings too)
spoon in a little mixture (it rises lots!)

leave to cook until top is covered in bubbles & dry

nearly there...

ready for the grill...

after and ready for the butter

all buttered up! YUM

SOOOO delish! This was crumpet No.2

and these were No.3 batch - yes, we ate 3 each! #piglets

Such a fun bake, and seriously superior to any shop bought crumpets I've ever eaten. Well worth the time and effort for a special weekend treat. And you'll have loads of fun if, like me, you share the baking experience with a loved one. Thanks hubby! 

Being Creative - Chocolate Truffle Stylie!

For Christmas my lovely Mother and Father-in-Law bought Hubby and I a chocolate truffle making course with The Cocoa Box, and deciding it would be sensible to book our course sooner rather than later (what with the pregnancy etc) we booked our course for this weekend. 

Hubby is a chocoholic - so this course was absolutely perfect for him, and as Roberto (the rather charming French leader of the course) pointed out to me - good dark chocolate is full of antioxidants and so very good for pregnant women - bonus! 

It was a 2 hour masterclass involving learning the history of chocolate, process from bean to bar, and then piping and enrobing your own truffles to take home. 

The course was so much fun, very light hearted, and messy! We learnt a lot - and made LOADS of truffles to share with friends and family (and of course, a few for ourselves too!)

We even got a chocolate cocktail each (hubby gladly drank them both - no alcohol for me!) and got to taste some different varieties of chocolate. 

the choccie cocktail

hubby mixing the ganache


our first attempt at piping, lol, yes...very poo-like

the very gooey piped and loosely rolled truffles, awaiting their enrobing...

mmmmmmm....melted milk chocolate for enrobing the truffles

beginning the milk choc enrobing process- very messy work! 

our organised 'groups' of truffles, milk-choc enrobed, with icing sugar, cocoa powder, or hundreds and thousands - drying so they can be bagged up. 

hubby gloved and aproned up - messy but very fun job! 

some of our finished bags! we made 8 bags of truffles in all - yum!

cocoa powder dipped/hundreds and thousands

the supply we bought home (3 bags were given to my mum!)

the best bit...tucking in today as I blog with a nice cup of tea....heaven. 

I would seriously recommend this course for anyone who loves chocolate, and fancies something fun and alternative to do with your weekend, or for a special occasion. The Cocoa Box also run a cupcake decorating course which I'm sure is just as fun! 

Meeting Up with Mumsy

Coincidentally, my mum happened to be in a similar part of London to us yesterday, on a course for work, and so we arranged to meet her after our chocolate course for some dinner and a catch up. I love impromptu meets with my lovely family, and it was nice to meet-in-the-middle (London) and natter in a different environment to usual. We found a lovely pub just a stones-throw from St Pancras (as I can't walk very far at the mo!) and had some yummy dinner together. A perfect end to a perfect saturday! 

What Sundays Are All About...

For my husband Sundays are now all about the Formula 1 Grand Prix races... which means some quiet time for me while hubby is glued to the TV. 

I have to say I love a quiet Sunday where I can potter around, take a long bath, do some chores, and take time to write blogs, or read a good book. I'm well aware that post-baby Bishop's arrival I'll be less likely to have extended me-time, so I'm definitely going to make the most of it for now...

What would make your perfect weekend?

Do you take time out for yourself on the Sabbath? Or are you glued to the ironing board/kitchen sink/cooker? 

I'd love to hear what you're all up to.

With hugs

Mrs B