Friday, 31 July 2009

Chocolate and courgette muffins

10 oz self raising flour
3 oz sugar
2 medium eggs
8 fl oz milk
4 oz butter, melted
3tbsp good cocoa
1 medium or two small courgettes, grated

Sift flour and cocoa into large bowl, add sugar and stir well. Add grated courgettes. Beat eggs with milk and melted butter, pour on to dry ingredients and mix lightly. Don;t beat it, or it will end up like a heavy sponge cake - just keep turning and folding the mixture until everything is incorporated. Spoon inot muffin cases and bake in a hot oven for 25 - 30 minutes until well-risen and firm to the touch. Cool on wire rack.

Taking out the chocolate and courgette gives a foolproof recipe for muffins, which I've been using for about 7 or 8 years now - add in anything you like - fresh or dried fruit, spices, chocolate chips, grated carrots, bacon bits, sweet or savoury. My very favourite is blueberries, the classic muffin. This will give you a muffin akin to the American ones, not too sweet, rather than the overly sweet big spongy things that are sold as muffins usually here in the UK.
Great with a big mug of very hot tea. :)

Making a good cup of tea

Be sure to heat the earthen pot,
And have your water boiling hot.
Put in a teaspoonful per cup,
That each of you intend to sup.
Allow to stand for minutes four,
Then off the leaves be sure to pout,
When serving put the milk in first,
Add sugar, and allay your thirst.
With this delightful, fragrant brew
You'll be refreshed and live anew.

(Granny's Cookery Book, Frances Kitchin)

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Drying feathers

Isn't it funny how things come about sometimes, and just turn up when you need them, or are thinking about them? Soem people call it coincidence, some call it serendipity, but I'm just glad it happens - and it happens quite often here, so I think there's more to it than mere conincidence;I came to the conclusion ages ago that everything happens for a reason, and timing is all, whether we realise it or not.
Very wet here yesterday, so I did a couple of hours on the sewing machine, sewing new cushion covers; the larger of the two are for the sofa, the smaller one is another flag one, for a post on the forum about how I do them.
The cushion pad for this one was feathers (the other two being some sort of modern polyester stuff that bunches up into lumpy lumps all the time, but they came with the sofa), and this reminded me of a conversation we had on a forum several years ago about processing feathers for use in cushions etc. No-one had tried it, and the most information any of us could come up with was to dry them in a low oven, but we could find no more information than that, even on the net. There may be more around now, but I haven't looked for a while. A short break was required at 4 o'clock to visit the mobile library, where I came back with a nice selection of reading material as usual; the librarian had put aside three new books on allotment gardening for me, so I took them out and a few others. One of those is "1939 -a year in the rural Dorset landscape". I'm fascinated by books about bygone days in the local area, and read them avidly; there's always things of interest about the local areas, as well as lots to learn about rural ways, farming life, ordinary peoples' lives - of much more interest to me than a lot of things. This one was written by a lady called Edna Rice, who lived at Melbury Abbas, not very far from where I live now.
Lo and behold, on p13 of the book, after a piece about doing the laundry, she starts to talk about home made feather mattresses, and goes on to describe how they processed the feathers.
"The pillowcases were all handmade, as were the night-dresses. Every year, Mum bought a large piece of wincyette for these. It was quite unheard of to buy ready made things. The feather beds were home made too, the feathers were saved from any poultry cooked for dinner, all the big feathers were disposed of, the others were all picked over and the hard bits cut off with scissors. Then a large bag was made by stitching a few sheets of newspaper together and the feathers were put in this, and placed in a slow oven until it felt crisp and hot and the paper became brown, this got rid of any creepy crawlies and germs. Anyone who has never slept in a feather bed does not know what they have missed. The beds are so warm, you just sink into them and there are no spaces for cold air all around. They had to get a good shaking every day, many the times I would help Mum by taking a corner at one end, and she the opposite one and we would have a good shake and often a good laugh as well.Ofcourse, the quilts wer handmade too; Granny made most of these with patchwork."
I think that's a wonderful passage, although the sheer hard work and necessity of it all doesn't escape me. When we visited my granny in Scotland, we slept on feather beds, and Edna is right, they were truly wonderful.
I'm not sure I'll ever be able to gather enough of our own feathers for even a cushion, let alone a whole mattress, but the thought is there and wonderful; never say never. I believe that the feathers for cushions etc these days are imported from China............................

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Easy sourdough starter

This is the sourdough starter I use, based on the one in By Bread Alone by Sarah Kate Lynch (recommended read, also Blessed are the Cheesemakers by the same author). Take four good sized organic apples and extract the juice from them.I don't have a juicer that would tackle them, so I grate them (skin and all) on to a piece of muslin, then squeeze the juice through. Put juice into a non-netallic bowl or jug, cover loosely and leave i the kitchen for several days until it smells tangy and yeasty, a bit cidery. Add 7 fl oz water (room temp) and 7 oz plain flour, stir well, cover and leave at room temperature. Repeat this over several days, when your starter will begin to bubble and look gloopy, the yeasts clearly starting to work. I just add some to the flour I'm making bread with, then feed it again with flour and water and set it on teh sie, loosely covered, until I need it again. It can be kept in the fridge, but will need to be got to room temp and fed again before using. The bread benefits from a slow rise, the taste is tangy and slightly sharp when baked. I usually make a load with a mixture of white and good wholemeal for this.
the pictures show the finished loaf, and it proving in its basket - the traditional way, using a well-floured linen cloth (not washed between uses, to build up its non-stickingness).
I've tried several starters over the years, but this has been the easiest and most successful for me.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Home made envelopes

I like writing letters, and I like using nice paper for them - makes a change from bills in ominous looking brown envelopes whizzing through the box LOL. I used to write a lot of letters when I was younger, with penpals all over the world, but drifted away from it all. I've got back into it over the past few years, though, and find that everyone really appreciates a "real" letter - one of my friends even phoned up to say thankyou when I wrote to her last ...............LOL I used to decorate a lot of my enevelopes, themed to the recipient - drawings, little cartoons, paper cut outs, all sorts. It's quicka dn easy to make your own, and a good way of using up/re-using paper. For these ones, I used some smaller bits of art paper I had from another project/card making. As I have a few letters to get written thsi week, I made these the other day. Very easy, just use an oridary one of appropriate size, opening it out carefully - I used a bluntihs knife to slip between the joins. Cut around the patter, fold and dab a spot of paper glue on and leave to dry. If the paper is too dark/patterned to write on directly, just use a label or piece of lighter paper etc over it for the name and address. One of these on the doormat would cheer me up! I'm also investigating textile envelopes and communications for my own amusement - could be interesting!

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Monkfish and smoked eel pie with capers and white wine

I made this for supper tonight and it was really good, so thought I'd share the recipe.
Melt a large knob of good butter in a pan, and when hot, add monk fish cut into cubes; put on lid and cook gently until just done, then add in smoked eel, sliced or in chunks. Give a good stir, then remove to pie dish with slotted spoon. Turn up heat under pan with butter in, and add plain flour until thick, like making a white sauce; cook until it starts to honeycomb, then gradually add milk and white wine, cook gently until thickened. Season well and add a good handful of capers, and a handful of roughly chopped parsley, and pour over fish in pie dish. Top with mashed potato or pastry and cook in a hot oven until golden brown. Serve with peas or another green vegetable.

I haven't given any quantities as I didn't measure anything, but it's easily adaptable for however many you are catering for, and what you have in the way of fish, capers, etc.