MAKE IT: Easy bread

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This is my easy-peasy standard white loaf recipe which can be adapted by adding all sorts of bits and pieces.  My favourite variations are poppy seed, sunflower and pumpkin seed, cheddar and rosemary, sundried tomato and olive, dried fruit and mixed peel… you get the picture.

Bread ingredients

1 lb strong white bread flour
1 pkt fast action dried yeast
2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
300ml warm water
1 tbsp olive oil

Method:

Mix the flour, salt and sugar together first and then mix in the yeast (you don’t want the yeast to sit directly on the salt) and pop it the bowl of an electric mixer with the dough hook attached.  Add the water and olive oil and mix on a low setting for 10 mins.  Alternatively you can roll up your sleeves, get your hands in and knead like crazy for approximately the same length of time.

Once the dough is smooth – it should be elastic, a bit sticky and sort of translucent when you thin a bit between your fingers – pop it back in the bowl and cover with cling film or a damp tea towel and stash it in a warm place like a window sill or airing cupboard.  Alternatively, pop it in the fridge overnight for a long slow rise.   I like to put mine in this jug so that I can clearly see when it’s risen.

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Yup, that’s definitely risen.

Pop it out on the work top and press the air out of it, knead it lightly  incorporating any extra ingredients and gather into a tight round or oblong.

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Put it on a lightly-greased baking tray and slash the top a couple of times with a sharp knife so it can expand easily.  It’ll take between one to two hours depending on the room temperature but once it’s risen again and is sluggish to spring back when you press your finger on it, it’s ready to bake.

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Into the oven at about 220c  for 25 – 30 mins.

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Yum, yum, yum!

If you want a soft crust, rub it with some butter as soon as it comes out the oven.  If you prefer a really crunchy one, spray the inside of the oven with a bit of water just before you put the loaf in and shut the door.

You can divide it into rolls, plaits, sticks – whatever takes your fancy.

What are your favourite additions?

 

 

WANT IT, MAKE IT: Quilt

Let me vent a little about duvets. Grrrhh!

Everyone loves a duvet, surely? Warm and snuggly and just like sleeping in a cloud. Nope. Not in our house. In our house, duvets create bedroom misery. I hate how difficult it is to change the cover. I despise those little poppers at the feet end – or worse, the back-to-front buttons. I get annoyed that the feathers migrate to the bottom of the bed leaving me with cold shoulders and that the micro-fibre ones end up as a twisted lumpy mess. We both hate the chilly void of doom it creates when we sleep back to back.

It took a good few years fighting over the duvet before we gave in and reverted to our childhood bedding solution. Duvets didn't exist when I was little. We had sheets and blankets and, in the middle of winter, we'd have what used to be called a 'continental quilt' on top.

Oh the bliss of the blanket! It's thin but warm, heavy and, importantly, wraps around your body leaving the chilly void of doom a dim and distant memory.

As a topper, we have a couple of shop-bought quilts but they're expensive and rather boring really so some years ago I thought I'd have a go at making one myself. I found a very sweet lady on YouTube and had a lot of fun watching her videos. Check out the Missouri Quilt Company here –

https://www.missouriquiltco.com

Some time ago I made a lovely winter quilt using traditional fabric and a 'stitch in the ditch' machine quilting technique. It's really simple. All you needs is a variety of pretty fabrics for the top, some batting for the middle and some backing fabric. The only special equipment which is helpful is a quilting foot for your sewing machine. This year I wanted to make a lighter one for spring and summer.

 

 

This one is free-motion quilted using pre-cut fabric squares known as a 'layer cake'. The fabric is designed by Pat Sloan and is called 'Bobbins and Bits'.

For more information on free-motion quilting, this lady really knows her stuff.

http://freemotionquilting.blogspot.com

I definitely recommend giving quilting a go. It's a great skill to have in your crafting arsenal and smaller projects like tea cosies, bags, cushions or table runners make quick and easy additions to your home or as beautiful home-made gifts for friends and family.

Careful, it can become addictive!

Have you tried it?

 

WANT IT, MAKE IT: Ripple blanket

I saw these beautiful blankets on Attic24. It’s a lovely blog which I recommend checking out.

http://attic24.typepad.com/weblog/neat-ripple-pattern.html

and I thought to myself,
“I really like that. They’re very pretty…. Hmmm. I think I want one.”

I dug out my crochet hook and went off to one of the very few yarn shops in my area and purchased some 100g balls of acrylic yarn, fifteen colours for a bargain price of £27. A few rows later, and it’s begining to take shape. It works very quickly compared to knitting so I’m hoping that a few rows a day will set me well on the road to having a new, hand-made blanket for the bed in the shepherd’s hut.

Here’s how it’s looking so far…

Now, I have to confess to being a bit of a donut. I wound all fifteen colours into small balls to take away on holiday with me feeling very smug at my cleverness, only to find that I’d stupidly wound each ball too short by about 10g! Aaarrgghh!

I ought to have weighed them out properly of course, but I’d eyeballed it, and got it wrong and I could have left it until I got home but I’m afarid once a fad has taken hold, I just can’t let it go. Instead, I dragged the boy out to the nearest big town in search of a wool shop in order to purchase some more.

And so, with the raw materials restored, I’m happily on a roll, crocheting away and while I sit here, I think to myself…
“Why didn’t I use my small balls to make a matching cushion cover instead and save the blanket to make at home?”.
Now I’ll just have to make two!

 

NEED IT: Holiday

After nine long months since our last proper break from work, we're finally on our annual holiday. It's good to take a really good, long break from everything and choose a system shut-down and reboot rather than a melt-down induced one.

 

Running your own business is rewarding, yes, but nothing ever really prepares you for the longevity of the bloody-hard-work stage, some ten years now. Surely things are supposed to settle down and run themselves? Apparently not. If you're in the same boat, you know how hard it can be to shut off. You need good staff who you can trust to keep things going while you're gone and a will of steel to enable you to put down your phone and switch off your email notifications. Even if you can manage that much, you can easily find yourself using those lazy hours to mentally plan your next business strategy rather than gazing distractedly at the view and deciding whether to have the carrot cake or shortbread slice with that luvly cuppa. Discipline in work and play!

 

Late summer is a fabulous time to be off. Kids are back at school and most people have already had their holiday and so the hoards are safely back at work. Tourist destinations are coming to the end of their season so it's quieter but not yet late enough to be disappointed by things closing down for the winter. This year, the temperatures are still pretty warm and the skies a clear blue. It reminds me of the summers of my youth, always warm and lasted forever. I don't think its the voice of nostalgia speaking, I genuinely think the seasons have been pretty messed up over the last fifteen to twenty years and we had very mild, very damp weather for so long, we've forgotten what it should be like.

With three weeks of relaxation ahead filled with pasties, scones and tea, I'm sure we'll find ourselves to be happier, calmer people heading into October.

 

 

NEED IT, MAKE IT: Recycling Bag

Recycling

I'm going to come out and say that I'm not sure I really get the whole recycling thing. Reduce and reuse? Absolutely! But I just can't get my head around how recycling helps the environment.

We've all heard the cries from older folk about how milk used to come in bottles which were collected, washed and reused and how much better that was and we all laugh and nod in agreement. Then some bright spark points out that the energy cost of collecting, washing and sterilizing the bottles for re-use is much greater than using new plastic or cardboard cartons every time.

I just don't see how collecting, sorting, washing, shredding, transporting and then re-processing this stuff into some other product in other country miles and miles away is energy efficient.

We have a daft system in place here. Plastic, aluminium, and paper/cardboard is supposed to be separated into plastic bags (oh the irony) and collected from our doorstep with our household rubbish but they won't collect glass because it's too noisy!? So, we're then expected to deliver our glass items to recycling banks that could be many miles away. Crazy! All those householders driving around delivering their glass whilst great big trucks collect everything else from their driveway. You see why I find it all a bit confusing. However, there are greater powers than me busy calculating the relative costs and savings so I'll just have to trust that overall, it works.

But, for the sake of landfill – which I completely understand – I am happy to dutifully keep my recyclables out of the bin and ready for collection by an independent recycling man who collects and sorts everything for me – including glass – and charges a mere £10 a month. An absolute bargain!

With that little rant over, we get to why I'm posting today. The simplest of things make life easier and I need somewhere to collect my recyclables once I've rinsed them ready to take out to the collection bin at the end of the week.

My kitchen is small so I can't keep the bin tucked away anywhere inside but there is a little space next to the door where I could hang a bag out of the way and so that's what I set about doing.

I found some fabric and oil cloth in my stash – not exactly a beautiful and eye-catching match but somehow buying new wouldn't really be in the spirit of the thing!

I measured my space and drew up my plan… highly technical stuff.

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I cut out the outer fabric and oil cloth (to keep the inside clean and free from leaks), re-enforced the button hole area from which I plan to hang it, put the button holes in and then sewed them into rectangular bags. Pretty straight-forward.

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Then I squared off the bottoms to increase the capacity of the bottom

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Matched the outside and inside, and sewed them together

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Husband screwed some hooks into place for me and ta-dah, recycling sub-station complete.

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No more running out into the rain.

Hurrah!

 

MAKE IT: Crackers

Cracker header

Today I had a bit of time on my hands whilst my nearest and dearest busied himself building a Shepherd’s Hut (more about that to come) and decided to try something I’ve never baked before.  Crackers.

I love crackers.  Ryvita, Carr’s Water Biscuits, Cheddars, Jacobs’ Cream Crackers, Hovis etc.  Love ’em all. They’re just handy to have in the cupboard ready to smother in pate, marmite, or cheese and pickle and the smaller ones can be popped in as a “hole in one” as my husband would say.  I find them indispensable for lunch as I rarely buy bread and of course home-made bread doesn’t keep well and is only really serviceable for sandwiches on the days it’s made. Pretty impractical to be making bread at four o’clock every morning in time to make sandwiches for a lunchbox!

Anyhoo, I found this recipe at kitchn.com http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-crackers-at-home-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-186144,  thought it looked fairly straight-forward and so this morning I gave it a go.

Now, I’m a fairly seasoned baker so it’s fair to say that the methods weren’t a complete mystery to me but after the first couple of batches, I’d found a few simple tricks that helped to make the last batches better looking and much closer to the type of water biscuit that I often buy.

A word on oven temperature.  This was a US recipe and the oven temperature given was 450C which equates to approximately 230C.  If you have a fan oven you’ll need to either reduce the temperature by 20 degrees or drastically reduce the cooking time – a dangerous game.  A good rule of thumb is to stick to the timings given in the recipe, (checking on progress a few minutes early just in case) and always set the oven 20C lower than the given setting.  It saves having to refer to the manufacturer’s instructions (who actually keeps these?) and then, some potentially complicated mathematics which probably involves a calculator. Credit to Delia Smith for that little gem!

I used –
1 lb plain flour
60 ml olive oil
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp granulated sugar
9 floz water

and followed the method described on the site.

Cracker ingredients

Here are my extra notes –

I threw the ingredients in the Kitchenaid with the dough hook attachment and ran it on the second slowest speed.  Lazy? Yes.

I found it quite difficult to roll the dough out thinly and evenly enough and the first two batches were probably a little thick and not quite crunchy enough in the middle.  Time to bring in the pasta machine!

The pasta maker was an obvious attachment to get for the Kitchenaid as we keep chickens and have a lot of eggs to deal with.  Making pasta, either to eat fresh or to dry and store for later is a beautiful thing, though it scared me half to death when I first tried it.  But, with a bit of practice, a pasta machine can be quick to use and a lot of fun.  It made the next few batches of crackers a doddle and I’ll definitely use it again next time.

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I didn’t dampen them before I cut them out simply because I was using a pastry cutter to make circles and wanted to be able to re-roll the dough to make more. Brushing it with water would have created a soggy, mushy mess so I left that until I’d transferred them to the baking sheet.

I used baking parchment rather than dusting the trays with flour because I’m not keen on floury bottoms on my bread or biscuits.  I wouldn’t recommend using greaseproof paper instead because it’s not the same thing.  Greaseproof works well with recipes that have a lot of oil or butter in them, like biscuits or cookies, but it sticks like a limpet to bread-based stuff and I didn’t want to run the risk of ruining these little babies.  Once you’ve spent half an hour picking greaseproof paper off the bottom of your beautifully baked loaf of bread, you won’t confuse the two again!

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When pricking them, a fork is fine but a skewer is better if you have one.  It’s important to take a bit of care over your prick marks (ha ha) because not only will they look much prettier, but an even distribution of holes will stop them puffing up.  See what happens when you get lazy?

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Ok, so this recipe makes a lot of crackers here and it’s easy to be a bit blasé but, if you’re looking to impress, it’s worth taking a bit of care.

Similarly, if looks are your thing and you want an even shape, try not to pick them up with your hands as they inevitably stretch a bit and look wonky.  I don’t worry too much ‘coz that’s how you know they’re hand-made.  On the latter batches I swapped to using a baker’s…what on earth are these things called?  A scraper, divider, pick-er-up-a-rer?  Anyway, one of these –

Pickeruperer

If you’re going to ’sprinkle’ with seeds and the like, you might want to press them into the dough a bit otherwise they just fall right off after baking.  Grrrhh.

Final note:  Don’t answer the phone while they’re in the oven as they’ll happily overcook while you chatter away.  Oops!
Happily the dogs will generally polish off any rejects and can be relied upon not to tell tales.

Eh voila!  Crackers…made, and without too much kitchen calamity.???????????????????????????????
I’m off to try them out with some cheese, pickles and a cuppa.???????????????????????????????

Let me know if you try them out and if you have any tips to share.