Monday, 30 August 2010

Banoffee Pie

When guests are coming over, I always like to have a little something ready for them to eat. Sometimes this means I'm up early on a Sunday morning, baking banana bread so it's fresh out of the oven by the time they arrive. Other times it means creating a buffet-style lunch, and in Winter I like to make soups.

But sometimes I don't have the time to get busy in the kitchen. Either because I have too much to do, or it's an almost unexpected arrival and I've not been able to get to the shops to get the ingredients I need. In these cases, I have a very quick and easy Banoffee Pie to make.

Melt 100g butter in a pan. While the butter is melting, put 250g digestive biscuits into a food processor and and blend until finely crushed (note: you can also do this by putting the biscuits into a plastic food bag and crushing them with a rolling pin).

Add the biscuits to the butter and stir until evenly mixed. Put the mixture into a (greased) loose bottomed cake tin and with the back of a spoon, evenly spread out the mixture and create a crust along the sides. Sit in the fridge for about 20 minutes while the mixture firms up, and get started on your whipped cream!

Whip double (or whipping) cream with an electric whisk and fold in some chopped bananas. Once the base is set, remove from the tin, add a 397g tin of carnation caramel (this is for super time saving - for super penny-saving, get a tin of condensed milk and turn to caramel by boiling for 2 hours or so - follow instructions on tin) and top with the whipped cream and banana mixture.

Dust with cocoa powder and leave in the fridge until guests are ready to be treated!

While not the best Banoffee Pie to have ever been made in the history of Banoffee Pies, it's pretty damn tasty! And credit where credit's due, Matthew's friend regularly goes to the restaurant where the Banoffee Pie was created, The Hungry Monk, here in East Sussex, and he said that my pie was very good!

The best thing about this recipe is that it can be made from things already in the house. Biscuits? In the cupboard. Cream? Generally always in the fridge to be used in some form of pasta dish or with cake. Bananas? Yep, nearly always have those, too! And who doesn't have butter?? Just keep some Condensed Milk or Caramel in your store cupboard and you'll be ready to go whenever you hear that guests are popping around to visit.

Who needs to know it barely cost a thing and took you no time at all? Don't let them in on the secret!

Sunday, 29 August 2010

The Lavender Hearts

I always said I'd have Lavender Hearts by the end of summer.. and I do! I've been drying lavender throughout the summer and have quite a nice collection. This is the first batch I've made and although they're not the greatest things I've ever made, I'm still quite proud of them - if only because I have done something I said I would do.

I'm still learning when it comes to sewing-based crafts and I'm looking forward to teaching myself more.

Making these was still super easy, though. I just cut out a heart shape out of an old cereal box, drew around it twice, roughly cut it out 5mm away from the edge to leave room to sew and tightly stitched around the pencil marks. I left a gap at the top to stuff it, turned it inside out, filled with lavender and stitched it from the outside, trying to create the top of the heart, but not really doing it successfully. I tried to give it a bit more detail by adding a button (an idea I stole from other stuffed hearts I've seen in shops) and I liked that result... I will do it more often.

I'm going to make a few more today and tomorrow to give to friends and family. Two hearts are more than enough as Matt already complained when I made the second one. Ah, well! At least it gives me something to do!

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Why I Love Saturday Mornings

Tea, warm croissants, decor magazines and Saturday Kitchen Live. The ultimate relaxing way to start the weekend and put you in a perfectly good mood for the rest of the day.

It's the simple things that make life good.

Friday, 27 August 2010

My Pretty Boots and Why You Should Never Buy Cheap Ones

Pretty boots. Pretty, pretty boots. Oh how I love boots in the winter, for they keep my feet nice and dry and allow me to wear really nice skirts with opaque tights or leggings. These particular boots have been in my list of things I need for a while. And I’ll tell you why.

Do you sometimes ignore your own advice? I do – and I regret it. Maybe not at first – in fact, definitely not at first. At first I am rather pleased at myself and then a few months down the line I feel silly. Why did I not think about this in the long-run?

I often do this when I get faced with the dilemma “save pennies now, or save pennies in the long run?”

Always, always choose long run whenever you can. Or you end up with a problem that rears it’s head umpteen times.

You see, last year I bought some boots. Cheap boots from New Look, but they were nice boots. Comfortable boots. And they cost me approximately £20. Excellent.

But these cheap boots began to break and less than a year after I bought them, the insides began to crease giving me that niggling feeling of a constantly creased sock and no way to correct it. Then he inside heel began to wear out and the plastic of the shoe rubbed against me. The fake leather got torn and the soles were cracked.

I could wear these boots no longer and it couldn’t have happened at a worse time… summer has officially ended and the rain is pouring.

So I went out in search of some good boots. I was willing to spend up to £85 on a pair so long as they were exactly what I wanted. But they weren’t – so I settled on a pair for £40. Which is good as I paid less than half what I was willing to pay, but I am hoping that £40 is enough to last me more than a year or I will be faced with this problem yet again.

False economy is one of my most hated things in the world. Seriously, it’s right up at the top there. If you can, do. Or you will regret it. I really should listen to myself more often.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Hiding a Monstrosity

There is one thing wrong with my flat. The kitchen is too small to fit a tumble dryer so the tumble dryer is in my bedroom. I have an oddly shaped bedroom. It has a sort of entrance hall of it's own and luckily it was big enough to fit both the dryer and my chest of drawers/dressing table. The dryer is generally hidden behind the door when it is open, but it doesn't stop me being able to see it when I leave the room, or put on my make-up.

It's also been home to a cardboard box. It is the only box which has been left unpacked because I have nowhere to put the contents. Material and cushion pads and other bits of things that have to go in storage - the one thing I really don't have right now.

Look at it. Just look at it. Awful.

Tonight I decided enough was enough. I was tired of seeing the ugly thing and sick to death of the cardboard box stuck on top of it because it was the only area in the flat that was hideous enough to put up with it. It suddenly hit me that there was something I could do. And I had the materials in that very box. I dug out the curtains that hung in my living room in my previous flat and one was big enough to cover the two visible sides of the machine. With just a few pins, I created a cover pretty enough to keep me happy when I see that area of my bedroom.

At last, the one thing I hated about this flat has been fixed. It's not perfect, but a damn sight better than it looked before. I promise myself it won't take me 5 months to fix a problem ever again.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Spinach and Goats Cheese Muffins

I do love a good roast chicken, but what do you do with a roast chicken in summer? You do what I did and head on over to sidewalk shoes for some inspiration and whip up a fabulous roast chicken, potato and spinach salad, perfect for a summer Sunday afternoon.

But what do you do with all the left-over spinach? Well that's easy, of course! You go to the delicious magazine website and search 'spinach' and see what lovelies pop up.

Matt has been working all weekend (again) so I've had a lot of free time to get my apron on and dance around in my kitchen whilst cooking up some treats. This gave me plenty of time to make the recipe that caught my eye the most - Spinach and Goats Cheese Muffins. And the even better thing was that I only needed to buy the goats cheese as everything else I had in!

Now, I'm not going to lie here. Goats cheese is one of those cheeses that I keep telling myself I like. And then I eat it, and I don't. So I ask myself why I keep getting goats cheese when I know I don't like it?? The answer to that question is that one day, I will tell myself I like it, and I will!!

This is precisely what happened this time and my god, was it worth it. These muffins ooze cheese when they're hot, and hold deliciously soft stringy cheese when cold. I had 2 straight out of the oven for my lunch and have brought another into work today! For the cost of some cheese... definitely worth it, as it only cost around £2 and will do me for another week of lunches (they can be frozen, too, so no need for anything to go to waste!).

When doing a shopping list, make sure you look out for ingredients that will give you leftovers. It's so much better to spend an extra £1 and use them all up properly than let things go to waste. Plus, you'll get a lot more food for your money and show off the domestic goddess inside of you!

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Time to Start Walking!

The weather in Brighton has been playing up a lot recently and confusing me in the mornings. It starts out quite miserable and then perks up in the afternoon when the sun comes out. This means that I usually ignore what the weather is like in the morning and dress for the afternoon which can sometimes make me look a bit ridiculous.

This happened yesterday when I woke up and it was raining. Not wanting to be wearing my wellies outside later in the afternoon in the glorious sunshine, I decided to wear summer clothes and get out of the rain by doing something I never do – getting the bus to work.

I walk to work every single day. Come rain or shine (apart from in this instance) I take the 30 minute walk through Hove and Brighton to get to work by 8.15am. I like walking, and whenever I am asked why I walk I say it’s because I enjoy it, but the reason is much more economical – the bus and train are shockingly expensive. £3.60 a day. That’s just less than £20 a week, and just over £70 a month. And there is no way I am spending £70 a month on a bus. Not when I can walk for free – no way.

I have worked out a route that changes scenery a few times to keep it less mundane.

I start off walking along the main road.

Then through the park. Where I get to perv at my favourite house and play out fantasies in my head of what it would be like to live there (picture at top of post).

Then up through the backstreets of Hove and past the old houses.

With a handy little Post Box on the way in case I need to send out anything.

Until I arrive the in the centre of town where I work! (I don’t have a picture of that because there were bin lorries ruining the view!)

I find that by varying the walk a bit it breaks down into easier chunks and I don’t feel as though I’m walking a long way. But it’s a mile there and a mile back and I get my little bit of exercise by just going to work. It saves me a hell of a lot of money and I enjoy it. I enjoy it even more when I put the radio on on my phone and giggle along with it.

I now walk everywhere. Which is massive for me as I never went anywhere without my car, but now I don’t see the need!

If it’s less than a half hour walk – try to walk it. Don’t just pop to the corner shop in your car – walk there! It saves petrol and it gives you a bit of exercise. It’s one of my number one money savers and it really does help. I know not everyone lives close by to local amenities but if you do, and you can, do it. Don’t get the bus, don’t get a cab – walk it. And spend those pennies on something a little more worthwhile.

I’d rather buy myself something pretty than pay for petrol.. wouldn’t you?

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

A Vintage Sewing Machine

The lavender is coming on brilliantly so at the weekend I went out to buy some fabric to make some lavender hearts. I would quite like to have a mixture of materials for the hearts, so my aim is to buy a few different fabrics every week and build up my collection.

With all this extra fabric I think I will start to sew a bit more. I say a bit more, but I have only actually made one cushion and the lavender hearts will be sewn by hand. I need something to do so I can use my sewing machine.

This sewing machine is one of my best ever buys. They are surprisingly cheap (mine cost just £15 and I got it from an online ad) because even though they are decorative and beautiful, there are a lot of them out there. Never pay a large price for a sewing machine like this because they really are worth pence.

(For an example of just how many of these things there are – this is a shop here in Brighton that has used these sewing machines to decorate their window display).

But I’m not bothered about what it’s worth! I’m bothered about what it cost (almost nothing) and how little it cost compared to other sewing machines (£60 for a cheap standard one that doesn’t even look nice!). My sewing machine doesn’t sit in a cupboard when it isn’t being used… it sits proudly on display, inviting people to marvel at its beauty. It’s both functional and ornamental and that is why I love it.

Of course, with only having made one cushion so I am in fact a complete novice when it comes to sewing. I don’t need all the fancy attachments because I only want to make simple things. I will buy a fancy one when I need a fancy one, but for now I want basic function and gorgeousness.

The thing about this sewing machine is that it really does look expensive. It adds a sense of grandeur to my cookery bookcase and that makes me happy. If you can find a 1920s Singer or Frister and Rossman sewing machine… buy it. Buy it now. You really won’t regret it. Trust me.

Monday, 9 August 2010

An Inflatable Bed

I wish I had a spare bedroom. A guest bedroom. A bedroom with flowers on bedside tables, and a bed that was always made. A bedroom that welcomed guests with open arms and promised them a good night sleep.

I don’t have a spare bedroom. Well, I do have a spare bedroom – but it is currently being used for a different purpose. The spare bedroom is Matt’s studio and is kitted out with a Mac and amps and guitars and other equally boyish things. It could never be a pretty guest bedroom even if I tried - but at least it isn’t a living room, and at least people sleeping in it won’t have to worry about waking up early so Matt and I don’t have to stay in our bedroom for hours until we hear signs of life coming from the other side of the wall.

Of course, with the spare room being Matt’s studio, there is no room for a bed. So we’ve had to get the next best thing – an inflatable one! Ha, it does make me giggle but it does the job. I got a modern black and white duvet set so at least it matched the d├ęcor of the room, and it will just have to do until we have a bigger place – but I’m quite proud of having a guest bed – even if you do have to pump it up before they arrive!

I think it’s important to welcome guests into your home with opening arms and it is especially important for me as I live a good hundred miles away from even the closest people I know properly. I don’t want people to visit and have to pay for a B&B so a simple inflatable duvet makes a big difference. I then make the stay better by whipping up a batch of pancakes for breakfast and turning the radio on for a dance in the kitchen.

Even better – I got the duvet and mattress for free! Thanks to the vouchers I received when I sent my phone to Mazuma Mobile. I could have wasted them on something frivolous (which I kind of did, as I also bought an ice-cream maker) but by buying something sensible I am able to give visitors a place to stay and save us all a pretty penny.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Homemade Basil Pesto

The thing about living on your own, or only with one other person is that a lot of things in the shops are designed for families. Which is great when you can make big portions and freeze the rest for a day when you cannot be bothered, and when it will sit in the fridge quite happily for a month, but when something is perishable and in a huge quantity these items can be a bit annoying.

These items include fresh herbs, salad leaves, fruit, veg and certain condiments.

I am trying to get over my hatred of packet herbs and I’m starting to grow my own. I have a pot of basil and some parsley (which died whilst we were away on holiday) but I would like to have a whole table full of them - including thyme, mint and a little bay tree. These plants need to be picked in order to keep producing more leaves so I decided to put them to good use and make another thing that winds me up whenever I buy it – pesto.

I buy pesto and it sits in my cupboard for a while until I decide I want to use it. I take out a couple of spoonfuls and look at the back of the jar – “once opened keep refrigerated and use within 5 days”. It’s been in my cupboard for weeks and now I have to eat it all in 5 days?? There are only 2 of us! I don’t want pesto every night this week just so that this doesn’t go to waste and I find myself feeling a little bit disgruntled that couples and those who live on their own get cheated on by food designed to feed a whole army.

So last night I decided to go for it and just make my own. Jamie Oliver to the rescue again with his recipe for homemade pesto and my macbook sat happily on the worktop as I followed the instructions bit by bit. I love Jamie’s use of measurements in this recipe - a good handful of this and a pinch of that and the other, chuck it together and add what you want. Brilliant.

He does suggest using a pestle and mortar and I think I will go out and invest in one. As much as you can use a food processor, there just isn’t enough stuff in there to really get it chopped up properly and I had to get out the hand blender too to get it to a consistency that I liked. Never the less, it tasted good and that was what mattered.

Because I’d spent a fair while getting the pesto smooth, I needed something quick to eat it with so took some gnocchi out of the freezer and within 5 minutes it was done.

It made enough for 3, I’d say. So maybe next time I’ll reduce the quantities a little bit. But for a sauce that leaves hardly any waste and a tasty dinner, I think it’s a winner! Let’s hope the basil plant gets more leaves on it now for next time!

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Courgette Carbonara

Yesterday my friend Sarah visited with her 5 year old son, Alex. They spent the day with Matt, playing on the Wii and going to the beach to find oddly shaped pebbles. I only get home from work at six and figured the best thing to do would be to make them dinner so we could all sit around the table and chat before they had to head off home.

But as I thought about it I began to get a little bit worried. What do I make a 5 year old boy? I can’t go down the generic chicken nuggets and chips road because 1) I’m not going to feed my friend’s son that and 2) I don’t really want to eat that myself.

So I decided to make one of my all time favourites – Courgette Carbonara. You may have seen on my Weekly Shopping Lists that Courgette Carbonara is on there a lot. And it’s there for a number of reasons.

Reason 1: It is very very tasty
Reason 2: It is very very easy to make
Reason 3: Even though it’s full of cream, the courgettes make you feel less guilty
Reason 4: It’s also pretty cheap

I generally always have eggs in as a staple, and we have a fair bit of pasta so I have parmesan in fairy often (but I do think I will start buying blocks of parmesan, as they last for a very long time)/ Bacon is generally something I always have in the freezer as it can be defrosted in a very short time, and we always have pasta in the cupboard so that leaves only a few ingredients left to buy!

The following recipe serves 2 very generously.

Enough penne for 2 portions
3 or 4 rashers of bacon (or whatever you have in – I’ve made it with just 2 before)
1 large courgette
A good handful of lemon thyme
2 egg yolks
100ml of double cream
2 handfuls of parmesan (again, or as much or as little as you’d like)
Black pepper

While the pasta is cooking, cut the bacon into pieces (cut off the fat) and fry in a wok or wok-styled frying pan (if you don’t have one, don’t worry – you can just pour the bacon mixture into the pasta, instead of the other way around).

While the bacon is browning, slice the courgette in quarters, lengthways, and discard the ends. Cut out the soft bit in the middle so they’re thin, and slice down the middle again. Cut the courgette slices on the diagonal, so they’re roughly the same size and shape as the penne.

To get the leaves off the thyme, hold the sprig at the top and run your thumb and forefinger down the stem – the leaves should fall straight off. Add these to the bacon, along with the courgette and fry until the bacon courgettes get a nice golden colour on them. Don’t worry if the bacon goes a bit crispy – I prefer it that way!

While the courgettes are cooking (keeping an eye on them and stirring them occasionally) add 100ml of milk to a jug. Add the egg yolks and one handful of parmesan. Season with black pepper and whisk together with a fork.

Once the penne is cooked, drain and add to the bacon and courgette mix. Stir together, turn off the heat (so the eggs don’t scramble) and pour in the egg mixture. Ensure all the pasta is covered and add the last bit of parmesan to make it extra cheesy.

Serve immediately.

It’s okay, you can thank me later.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Expensive Looking Hand Soap

Mother knows best.

And in many cases, Mother gives me very handy hints and tips. She's a whizz when it comes to saving a few pennies and I have learnt a lot!

My favourite tip of hers is the liquid hand soap tip. And once you know it - it will become a firm favourite of yours, too.

I hate (hate, hate, hate, hate, hate) cheap looking toiletries. Bathrooms should look pretty and bottles that are on display should always look nice. Unfortunately, pretty looking bottles are expensive and it's not a good idea to keep buying them just because they look nice.

Mother's tip is to invest once. They're not really that expensive. £3 or so, but not the type of money you want to spend every other week on soap. So buy a nice bottle just the once. One that has a screw top and one that is ideally a not clear. If it's clear, that's okay - but it just means you won't necessarily get the best results in the next stage.

Once the pretty soap has run out - go out and buy your regular cheap soap. Empty the cheap soap into the expensive soap bottle et voila! Expensive looking soap without the expensive price tag! Your guests (and you) will appreciate seeing attractive bottles in your bathroom, and you can gloat inside knowing that it's actually tesco value and cost you pence!

Feel free to do the same with shower gel, shampoo, bath essence and anything else you want to look pretty in your bathroom.


Tuesday, 3 August 2010

A Tidy House

I think its maybe because it looks as though you’ve got to be a super woman in order to work full time and run a household efficiently, but I just see people in a better light when they have a neater house.

Now I have to admit, there are times when I deny that my house is untidy. I put off doing anything, and then make excuses (which are true, like how I cannot face doing the washing up when there is piles of it – but can quite happily wash up if there is just one load to be done) until it gets to the point where I cannot live like this any longer and have to tidy up.

My main kick up the backside is when I know I have guests coming round. I have to give the impression that I am super tidy at all times, and when I start to clean – I realise it doesn’t actually take that long! I can do the entire place in a couple of hours and I think *why didn’t I just do that straight away??*

Matt went away for 5 days last week and I realised that I can keep the place tidy when he isn’t around. I’m not distracted, and I can just press ‘pause’ on the TV when I want to wash up, instead of only being able to listen to it while he carries on watching the really exciting fighting/flirting/embarrassing incident on Big Brother or something equally as unimportant yet much more exciting than standing with your hands in soapy water. I can also put my clothes in the wardrobe/in the washing basket at night, while he prefers to put them on the floor and then doesn’t move them when he wakes up in the morning because he’s *got work to do*.

Men are difficult. If you don’t nag – they don’t do it. And if you do nag – they get all moody and say *I was going to do it – later. You just haven’t given me time* and don’t accept *later means the place stays a mess for longer than it should* as a reason why they’re wrong.

Maybe this is why tidy houses give the impression of impressive women. Not only do they have a lovely place to live – but they have controlled their men!

Keep a tidy house and not only will it make your visitors much more impressed with your home, but it will keep you stress free and ready to receive unexpected guests at any time of the day. And is there anything nicer than walking into your livingroom in the morning and not seeing work to do?


Monday, 2 August 2010

Picking Lavender

I looked out of my bedroom window yesterday and saw the lavender in the garden in full bloom. It is the only good thing to come out of this horrible mess of a garden and I am determined to do something positive with it.

Lavender is best picked first thing in the morning before the buds have bloomed fully for the day. Tie each end of the stems with a bit of string and put into bunches of 12/14 (tying each one individually helps the air circulate and they dry a bit better). Hang the bunches up in a dark, dry spot.

I have never dried lavender before and I have heard it can dry in 10 days, but also that it can take 4-6 weeks. I will keep you posted! I will also keep you posted on how well mine are doing hanging out in a not-so-dark spot. I have nowhere in my house where I have a dark place to hang them so they will just have to do hanging in my kitchen.

You may remember when my friend Katie sent me some Home Sweet Home Hearts, and I plan on stealing this idea a little bit by making some pretty lavender hearts once this has dried! Keep an eye out for the results of that in a few weeks!

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Turkish Menemen

I enjoy Sundays. Sundays are a good time. A bit of a lie-in, a day to spend with Matt, and no urgency to do anything you don't wish to (unless you do your food shopping on a Sunday and have to get there before the shops shut at 4pm).

I'd been flicking through my Delicious Magazine and saw a section dedicated to Brunch. I have little fantasies about sitting at home on a Sunday morning with my family - everyone around a big kitchen table or out in the garden, surrounded by pitchers of orange juice, baskets of muffins and little jars of freshly picked flowers, chatting away or reading the paper and tucking in to lots of good food. So really, it's no surprise that this article caught my eye.

Smoked Salmon fishcakes with lemon hollandaise sauce. Mmm. Cheddar, pancetta and spring onion muffins. Even more mmm. Lychee, raspberry and rose smoothie, ricotta pancakes with roast grapes and pomegranate molasses. Mmm but why does fruit have to be so expensive?! And I don't have any smoked salmon. Or cheese. or pancetta. Dammit.

But I realised I had missed a page. I flicked back one and saw the Turkish Menemen. A large frying pan full of tomatoes and friend egg and I flicked through the list of ingredients.

2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp fennel seeds
½ tsp cumin
¼ tsp mustard seeds
½ tsp chilli flakes
3cm piece fresh ginger, finely grated
1 red onion
2 garlic cloves
1 large red pepper
8 tomatoes or 1 400g can tomatoes
4 medium eggs
olive oil to serve
small bunch flatleaf parsley, chopped

I looked at the list again. I had all that. With the exception of the red pepper that was in my fridge, I had all of that in my cupboard! I always keep onions and garlic because you always need them. I have a parsley plant (and basil - very handy to keep in pots as they are not much more to buy and last much, much longer if you look after them) and everything else is an essential stock cupboard ingredient!

My lust of brunch was starting to linger.. but we'd already had cereal early this morning so I thought *sod it* we'll just have it for lunch instead. And it was lovely! I must remember next time to make bigger holes for the egg so they fry quicker, but all in all it was a great store cupboard success. Something I will definitely make again. And definitely something to make for breakfast if guests stay for the night. Very good hosting brownie points would be earned with a dish like that whipped up first thing in the morning!
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