Thursday, 10 October 2019

September's Cookery Book

Well hello! Thank you for your lovely comments on my blanket. It's still mild enough to earn it's place on our bed and every morning when I make the bed it makes me happy. And here I am writing about another thing that makes me happy: cooking, and eating too, of course.

For September's cookery book I chose Jamie's 30-Minute Meals, one of those titles on my shelf that is rarely used but does contain a few excellent recipes, and it's for that reason that we keep it. This book is a few years old now but I remember loving the TV series that accompanied the book and found it really inspiring. I didn't love the layout so much though, and this is why the book doesn't get used much. Each recipe is presented as a full meal so not just, say, a pasta dish, but a pasta dish with a salad and something else, and a dessert too. It's hard to just isolate a certain dish and I found - still find - the style of writing a bit, I don't know, stressful. I like that Jamie Oliver wants us to eat well and cheaply, that he is so aspirational in what he believes we can create in our kitchens in half an hour. But here's the thing: on a weeknight, I rarely have the energy or attention span to try a new recipe and at the weekend, I do not want to rush through a frantic thirty minutes of chopping and dashing here and there, checking timings and juggling three pans on the hob and something in the oven. At the weekend, I want to cook leisurely with the radio on, or I want to pop something in the slow cooker or oven and come back to it three hours later. 

Anyway, it is a good book and his recipes are, as ever, solid. They are imaginative, achievable and delicious, although not perhaps in thirty minutes, and with a disappointing small number of meat-free options. 

We made "Piri Piri chicken with dressed potatoes, rocket salad and quick Portuguese tarts" first. This was totally motivated by my current obsession with these little tarts, or pastel de nata as they're also called.

The chicken dish is fairy simple - chicken thighs and peppers, browned in a griddle pan before being covered in a homemade piri piri sauce and finished in the oven.

It was a big hit. The sauce had just the right amount of heat for the kids to enjoy it and it was full of flavour. The dressed potatoes were regular and sweet potatoes, lightly mashed and finished with lemon juice and crumbled feta cheese, which was absolutely delicious to John and I but utterly repellent to Bella and Angus. You can't win them all.

The Portuguese tarts are made by blind baking some pre-rolled puff pastry then, when it comes out of the oven, squashing down the puffed pastry before filling with the custard mixture and baking again. The custard is flavoured with orange zest and finished with a little caramel sauce (ready made) when they come out of the oven. 

They were light and sweet and the custard just set enough. I'd like to make these again.

Next, we tried "Spaghetti alla puttanesca, crunchy salad, garlic bread, silky chocoate ganache". We make variations of spaghetti puttanesca often as it's such a good store cupboard dinner, but this was definitely the best I've eaten. The kids really loved it, and were quite vocal about how good it was, even asking if they could have it again. I love serving the children food which they eat with such relish and enjoyment. 

The pasta sauce is your fairly standard tuna, anchovies, garlic, capers, chillies, olives parsley and tomatoes, but the recipe specifically states tuna in oil, and you put in both the oil from the tuna and the anchovies while it cooks. I thought this seemed like a lot of oil, but went with it, and the result was the most velvety smooth, delicious sauce which clung to the pasta. 

The garlic bread and salad were fairy quick and easy to assemble, which left the chocolate ganache.

You melt dark chocolate and cream together with a little clementine zest and then pour into pots and leave to rest. That's it. 

I always think these kinds of desserts should have more effort involved, but I was very glad it didn't. They are like a warm chocolate pot, very silky and very rich. We shared one between two.

Finally, "Mustard chicken, quick Dauphinoise, greens, Black Forrest affogato". We didn't make the dessert but the chicken, potatoes and veg were really lovely and easy. Whole chicken breasts are seasoned, rubbed with mustard and sauteed with leeks. 

When cooked, you remove the chicken, make the sauce with some wine and cream, then return the chicken, sliced, to the pan. The quick Dauphinoise is definitely healthier than the usual version: you put the sliced potatoes into a mixture of cream and water, getting the pan to the boil on the hob before transferring to the oven. 

It's not quite as utterly rich and delicious as the traditional baked version, and I thought that some nice, creamy mash would have been just as good with the mustard chicken too. 

So, some wins (the spaghetti puttanesca) and two new chicken dishes which I will definitely cook again. It was fun to eat puddings that we wouldn't normally, and the chocolate pots were divine. Sorry for the photos - we've now reached that time of year when it's too dark at dinnertime to take decent photos, so everything has a slightly orange hue.

But I need to be honest here - there's no way I could have cooked those meals on my own in half an hour, not while trying to do other thing like keep the dog out of the kitchen, tidy up as I go along, lay the table. It's way too rushed for me. All these meals were made by John and I together, in about 45 minutes and we didn't get too annoyed with each other either. 

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Sugarhouse Blanket

Just in time for this mild autumnal weather, I have finished the cotton blanket I started last summer on holiday in Devon. I didn't like it a lot to begin with, and put it to one side for a good nine months before picking it up again last June to start work on again. I must have needed the break, for when I looked at it again, and looked at the yarn I had chosen, I remembered what I had wanted to do with it and why I started the project in the first place.

This blanket was inspired by the much-photographed tiled wall of Sugarhouse Studios in London. I have never been, but had seen a few photos online and loved the diamond shaped tiles in their muted pastels, with the swathes of colour that seem to move across the diagonal grid. 

Struggling as I always do to think of imaginative names for the projects I complete, I asked people on Instagram to suggest a name for this blanket, and the results were just amazing: Brilliant Butterscotch, Summer Sorbet, Ice Cream Dream, Summer Daze, Summer's End, Patchwork Summer, Summer Dream, Sweet Summer Haze, Sundae, Tutti Frutti, Wine Gums, Raspberry Ripple, Forget-me-not, Indian Summer, Gelatto Potpourri, Summer Sundae, Fading Flowers, Summer Meadow, Wildflower, Fading Glory, Last Blooms of Summer, Pumpkins and Pear Drops, Essence of Summer, Ice Cream and Faded Flowers, and the wonderful Two Scoops in Paris, which sounded like a great name for a novel.

I love how all these names picked up on the themes of ice cream, confectionery and summer blooms, but also the transition from late summer into early autumn. That time of year when there is colour everywhere, but it's softening and fading as cooler weather takes hold. That's what I wanted from this blanket: all the joy and memories of a good summer - the wildflowers, ice creams, days at the beach, blue skies, sunsets - keeping me warm both literally and figuratively. In the end I went for "Sugarhouse Blanket", which was what I referred to it in my head the whole time I was making it.

I used a standard Granny Square pattern throughout, but opted to set the whole blanket on the diagonal, just like the tiled studio wall. I filled in the sides with half Granny Squares, so that I had straight edges for the border.

I used the join-as-you-go method which I think worked well here. It definitely stopped the blanket looking overly balanced or perfect, as you can't lay out all your squares at the end and move them around, and helped the random feel I was aiming for. Also, along with the single-colour squares, it meant I had significantly fewer ends to darn in, always a good thing!

The border is very simple, just three rows of double crochet (UK terms) in white, nice and crisp. I'm not a fan of a fussy blanket border, it's just not for me. In fact I think this barely qualifies as a border, it's so thin - perhaps it's more of an "edge".

I used a 5 mm hook and Drops Paris cotton yarn in the following colours:

16 White
17 Off White
41 Mustard
35 Vanilla
26 Dark Beige
27 Peach
01 Apricot 
57 Light Light Pink
20 Light Pink
28 Powder Pink
60 Dark Old Pink
21 Light Mint Green
25 Moss Green
29 Light Ice Blue
101 Light Blue
23 Light Grey

I haven't measured it, but it's big enough to drape a little over the sides of a king sized bed.

I'm not sure how many more weeks I'll want a cotton throw on our bed. I may swap it for a thicker woollen blanket soon, or I'll add the winter duvet - it depends how much longer it stays mild for. Already we've had the odd evening where we've switched the heating on for a couple of hours, although we've yet to light a fire. But I know that I'll be overjoyed to unpack this beauty next spring and enjoy using it in the warmer months.