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20 February 2013

The easiest envelope-cushion-covers ever!

We have just recently replaced the world's most uncomfortable sofa for a sofa you would actually choose to sit on! We don't have a heap of spare space in our small flat, but decided that it was time to have somewhere comfortable to sit, and so if it meant turning the table around and eating standing up, well so be it (just kidding, but it is snug in here!!). 

After getting used to our new life of comfort, it dawned on me that there was still something missing, cushions. I didn't want to be messing around with zippers so made 3 quick envelope cushion covers, which took about an hour in total. Sounds pretty easy right? They sure are. 

I wanted to use some salmon wool fabric I bought at a lovely store in Bath, Atmosphere Bath, but also wanted a bit of a contrast, so decided to go with green stripes as well. 

You may be an accomplished seamstress who may want to skim over this tutorial, for the rest of us, it's always handy to know the basics. 

Measure the cushion you are hoping to cover.  Then cut your first piece an extra inch on both sides. My cushion was 15",  so I cut my fabric to be 16" x 16". 

To cut your second piece (which is going to be the back of the cushion), place your first piece on the fabric and then add an additional half of the length. I therefore added 8" in one length. This will form the envelope. 

This back piece now needs to be folded in half length-ways and cut down the middle. 

The next step is to make a seam on the inside edges, which will form the envelope flap, and is highly visible, so its nicer if you turn the seams under. I like to do a double seam, ironing as I go to make it easier. 

Sew these seams in place. 

You are now ready to pin the front and two back pieces together. Place the fabric together with the outside pattern on the inside. Start pinning the two back pieces to the front piece, being sure to have the two seams together in the middle of the fabric. The two seams will overlap a fair amount, that is the idea. 

Take your fully pinned cushion to the sewing machine and do a simple straight stitch the entire way around. I like to reinforce the envelope openings, so perhaps do a backstitching over these sections. 

Cut the corners once you have finished sewing. Rather than just cutting the triangles off the corners, I like to do what I call "castle cut". It makes it even less bulky in the corners which is particularly useful if you are using heavier fabrics. 

Turn your cushion inside out, and fill with the cushion insert. This is how the envelope will look once the cushion has been filled. 

And here is the finished product, ready for me to go and curl up and read a good book on (or in actual fact, read That's Not My Bunny to my 8 month old on!). 

19 February 2013

Venison Burger

Growing up in Australia you would think I would have been used to eating some wild outback animals, but in truth, the beef and lamb is so good, why would I want to eat anything else (and really, as much as there was the odd wallaby in our backyard, they weren't exactly plate-ready!!). I moved to the UK having never eaten any game meat at all and it took me a really long time to venture into the game park!

Our local butcher (The Hampstead Butcher & Providore) has just started making venison sausages and they are delicious! I hesitantly tried one (while still having regular ones too, just in case) but was pleasantly surprised at the flavour and texture of the venison. I was expecting it to be quite tough and for some reason, to taste like blood! But, it was tender and if I didn't know any better, I would have said it was the best British beef that isn't beef. Having a chat to the butcher I found out that they get all their venison from Marks Hall Estate in Essex, and that the hunting season is coming to a close. It makes complete sense but was a surprise to me to learn that as with most wild animals, there are restrictions placed on what time of the year they can be hunted, so as to manage their population and breeding cycles. So venison is from November to March.

I had gone back and bought a kilo of venison sausages after enjoying them so much, but had the idea of turning the sausages into burger patties and so set about taking the meat out of the casing. 

Because they were butcher-made sausages, the casing was very easy to take off and the meat was easy to extract. I used 8 thin sausages to yield enough meat to make three generous-portioned patties. 

I treated the venison as I would if I were making beef patties and so added fresh basil, breadcrumbs, worchestershire sauce, onion (I used red this time but usually would use brown) and tomato ketchup.I didn't feel that I needed to add the egg because the meat was so juicy and was binding together fine without it. 

I formed the meat into patties and cooked for about 10 minutes on a fairly hot pan (in an ideal world we would step outside to our barbeque, but alas, on the hob it is) until they are cooked through and dark brown on top. We had halloumi, onion, tomato and spinach leaves with our burgers and I have to say, it was the most delicious burger I think I have ever made. 

Having learned that venison has approximately 1/3 of the fat of regular beef makes it all the more sweeter to cook more with this adorable and tasty animal (sigh). Get in quickly though, March is looming!

18 February 2013

Melting Moments

I made these to take to our Valentine's Day Cookie Exchange on Monday night because they are a firm favourite in our house. Our traditional family version is the Custard Kiss, which is the same idea but with a custard accent, but Pete seems to like these more, so make them more I do! 

This recipe is from Donna Hay's Classics 2 cookbook. 


1. Beat 6oz (175g) of butter together with 1/4 cup of icing sugar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract until light and fluffy. 

2. Stir in 1 cup of plain flour until combined. 

3. Place mixture into a piping bag (or just use teaspoonfuls) and pipe onto a baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper.

3. Bake in 180C/350F oven for 12-14 minutes, or until the edges begin to turn a golden brown colour. 

4. Cool on trays and make the icing. 

5. Combine 2oz (60g) of butter with 1 cup of icing sugar and beat until light and fluffy. 

6. I then like to add some fresh lime to give it a bit of a kick, but you can just use lemon or any other flavour you like. Add 2 teaspoons of freshly squeezed lime juice and 2 teaspoons of finely grated lime rind. 

7. Pipe icing onto half of the cookies and sandwich with the remaining ones. 

And then, if you are lucky enough to have wonderful friends who give you impossibly beautiful dessert stands for birthday presents, place on display until you are ready to share! Thank you Holly for this stunning GOLD LEAF cake stand! There are some incredibly beautiful Royal-inspired homewares to covet at the Royal Historic Palace.

I also took Lavender and Honey biscuits; and Maple Glazed Maple Pecan Walnut biscuits too, which I made into heart shaped logs before freezing.

It was such a fun night and boy did the men clean up from our socialising and baking collision! 

No-sew Tutu

I love a good tutu. I must not have been allowed to wear them when I was a little girl because not only do I seem to be making up for that as an adult, but I didn't waste any time at all dressing my little baby in one either!

I made this little tutu for Madeleine and other than wearing it around the house on a cloudy Tuesday, I waited for the perfect opportunity to bust it out in public. And last Monday night was definitely the night for it.

A Valentines Day cookie exchange! So much to like!!! All the lovely ladies at the cookie exchange gushed over Madeleine's tutu so I thought I would put up a post on how easy it was to make! 

I love how easy things are now (how old do I sound, did I just turn 29 or 89?). Rather than buying tule that is 1m wide by as many metres as you desire, you can now buy rolls of it about 20cm wide, by 20m.... which really is just perfect for tutus!! So all I had to do was to cut my tule into pieces that were double the skirt length I wanted, and then for some folding of tule onto ribbon, that's all!

Just be sure that they are all facing the same way. 

The beauty with this technique is that you can make it any width for any size little waist.

Happy Valentine's Day (if you celebrate, we don't, other than saying YES to invitations to a Valentines Day cookie exchange!!).

Pulled Beef Lasagne

So everyone has made and eaten a thousand lasagne's right? I know I must have, but I finally made a new one, and now, it will be the only one!!

I've become a little obsessed with slow cooking meat. It is the only way to eat a lot of the meat in the UK (horsemeat scandal aside, its just not that great) and is the easiest way for me to organise cooking dinner with a little baby. I find that if I put the meat on in the middle of the day and leave it (and in this case, TOTALLY forget about it and go to an exercise class with the stove still on.....oops) and then 5 hours later the meat is ready for whatever you need it for.

I browned the outsides of the meat quickly over high heat first and then lowered the heat to a simmer, for 5 hours! I cooked the beef in chunks with two tins of tomato, fresh tomato, onion and some seasoning. It was then tender enough for me to pull apart with two forks and spread between lasagne sheets and bechamel sauce. 

I definitely preferred the lasagne like this with real meat rather than mince, especially as it had a more authentic and rustic flavour that we both really enjoyed. 

On the menu tonight

Did I mention this is the menu for and 8 month-old for the evening!!! I don't want to nurture a fussy eater, but a budding foodie is okay!!! And what, you mean to tell me that you eat pears that aren't French?? Shocking!

So I guess I don't often put on recipes on how to puree food, but my world has changed somewhat,  and if I had to learn it, others must have to as well, so I figured why not!!

I did my online grocery order this week and put a few fruits and vegies in for me to make Madeleine's meals, and justified to myself that not buying them from the fruit shop down the street was made okay if I bought organic produce online. And the only organic pears available, were French. And this is how they arrived....

Both Madeleine and I were amused by their little red wax tips too!

For young babies, you are meant to cook the fruit and veggies until they are soft and mushable.

I think pears and cinnamon is a winning combination and so far seems to be Maddie's favourite fruit as well. Simply peel (roughly as some skin provides great nutrients) the pears and put slices in a pot boiling with water and cinnamon sticks. I'm sure you can use ground cinnamon too, but I like using the sticks so that it flavours the water, but then can be removed.

It is only necessary to boil for about ten minutes, but you can leave it for about half an hour if you want (or forget....).

I then drain the water but keep it aside to add back in once it has been pureed. I have so far been using a stick blender to puree food, but have a new member of the kitchen family to introduce now, so I suspect the stick blender will fall into obsolescence! 

I will often add the pears to porridge  (oatmeal)  or serve it as, either way, she loves it! 

To prepare the baked sweet potato with rice, I use the same method of oven baking the sweet potato for an hour, as per my Sweet Potato Gnocchi

For 3 medium sweet potatoes I added a little over a cup of cooked white rice. Next time I will be using brown rice, but white was all I had on hand at the time. I am finding the rice really helps fill Madeleine, without causing her any tummy troubles, which we experienced with pasta or other wheat-based foods. 

Blend until sufficiently pureed. A 7 month old doesn't need for the food to be completely smooth as they need to start learning to chew soon, so a little chunky is ideal. 

I got a few of these Annabel Karmel food trays and they are awesome! I freeze whatever I have made and then pop them into freezer bags to use the trays again and which makes grabbing a few frozen portions simple as can be when it comes to dinner time. 

Sweet potato, so delicious. 

Brown Butter Sweet Potato Gnocchi

That's quite a mouthful! And mouthful after mouthful it was.

I'm not sure what possessed me to make Gnocci from scratch last week, maybe it was because Maddie had been clocking up some great sleeps and I thought I should put all my extra hours to good use, or maybe the snow outside just made me want to cook in the warmth all afternoon!! Either way, I'm glad I did.

We are on a bit of a sweet potato bender at the moment, I cook so much of it for Maddie that its just easy to throw an extra few on for us too. I never really used to cook with it that much, but have since found the easiest way of cooking it, and so now use it all the time. Rather than peeling and washing and then boiling the sweet potatoes, I just put them straight in the oven, as is, and bake them for about an hour, and then just peel off the skin easily when they have cooled a little. I find that if I just put them on in the morning when I'm doing other things, it feels like zero effort at all! 

I don't really have a recipe for this dish, as I just went with however much of everything felt and smelled right, but I'll do my best to approximate!!

3 sweet potatoes/yams
Fresh ricotta cheese
Fresh parmesan cheese
Plain flour
Parsley or any fresh herbs really


1. Put sweet potatoes on some foil in the oven on about 180C/350F and leave to bake for about an hour. 

2. When a knife easily cuts through the sweet potato, they are done. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. 

3. Peel the skin off the sweet potato, which will just fall right off, and put the flesh into a mixing bowl.

4. Mash the sweet potato, it doesn't need to be pureed so I just use a potato masher for this, but equally just a fork would do the job nicely. 

5. Add about 1/2 - 1 cup of ricotta cheese, 1/2 cup parmesan cheese  and mix well. 

6. Start adding the flour in batches. Add a cup to start with and then keep adding until the dough is the consistency that is still a bit sticky, but dry enough to handle. Baking the sweet potato removes a lot of the water so you won't need as much flour as if you were to boil them. 

7. When the dough is at a good consistency, break it off into handfuls and roll it into long sausages on a floured surface. Cut into one inch squares. 

8. There are many methods for what to do next to get gnocchi the perfect shape, but my method was really easy and still looked quite effective. All that you need to do is to have the piece of gnocchi on the edge of the bench, and with a floured fork, press over it and roll it off the bench AND INTO YOUR HANDS!! (a few pieces were not so lucky!). Then just keep the prepared gnocchi in a container (with extra flour and paper towel to prevent them from sticking to each other at all) until you are ready to cook them. 

9. Prepare to cook the gnocchi by heating a pot of boiling water. While this is heating, prepare whatever sauce you desire. The burnt butter sauce was perfect with this particular gnocchi because it didn't overpower the sweet potato flavour, and really, a sauce made entirely of butter, what's not to love about that! To make burnt butter, you quite simply, burn the butter, even a forgetful mum can manage that one! Put a big hunk of butter in a heavy-based pan and heat it until it is fully melted. Allow it to keep heating until the bottom browns, and turn it down while you cook the gnocchi. 

10. It takes only a few minutes to cook the gnocchi in a pot of boiling water, and you will know they are ready because the float to the top. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and set them on a drying rack. 

11. Throw the cooked gnocchi into the burnt butter and mix well. 

12. Serve with freshly grated parmesan and parsley and enjoy while hot! 

Sous Chef Apparel

Two of our nieces in Australia are keen little chefs so I took a lot of pleasure in making them their own personalised aprons and sending a few extra baking pieces for Christmas. 

It took a fair few re-cuts to get them the right size, I kept making them suitable for a giant polar bear instead! Laura and Louise are only two years apart and so I thought it would be wise to make the two aprons ever so slightly different, but not enough to have apron-envy!

I had special ribbons made with their names embossed, and used this as the ties so that the girls would never fight over who's is who's.