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Thursday 13 November 2014

Label-tastic: how to make your own sticky labels ...

Maxi the Wonder Dog and I are confined to barracks this morning waiting ... waiting ... and then waiting some more for the delivery man. Of course he's guaranteed to show up five minutes after we set off on the school run.

We've been whiling away the time playing with a couple of lovely new gizmos that the slow-footed delivery man dropped off with us a couple of days' ago.

You see this label-making fixation of mine all started when I couldn't find any ready-made labels for my Cardamon & Clementine Marmalade. I looked in all the shops but couldn't score anything better than a plain rectangular number with a few cheesy, but unidentifiable, flowers and just enough space to write Clem M'lade. I was very underwhelmed.

Anyway here are my new toys:


The white gizmo is a label punch by Martha Stewart. You just push a piece of paper in, pull down the lever and - bingo - you've got a lovely label shape. The X-shaped purple number is a Xyron Sticker Maker, a wonderful bit of kit that puts the sticky backing on your label once you've punched it and written it and made it as pretty as you possibly can. And together this dynamic duo have blitzed a way through my cheesy-boring-labels issue.

Ok, Ok, I'll admit that I haven't found a way to bring peace to the Middle East, or a cure for cancer, but I'm very happy with what we've done with our crayons and gizmos during this morning's play session. 


We made some more labels for the Epsom Salts Bath Bombs that we knocked out earlier in the week.


We found a snazzy white gel pen, which produced a lovely chalk-on-a-blackboard type of effect when we used it on coloured paper. I tried rubbing a bit of chalk over one or two of the labels to add even more chalky authenticity.


And then we had a go at parcelling up the bath bombs in plastic cake bags, tying on some ribbon and finally adding our lovely labels. Now who wouldn't be delighted to get a little pressie of lavender-scented loveliness like this?


I parcelled each bath bomb up like a boiled sweet with some baking parchment to keep all that wonderful smelliness intact and to help protect them from chipping as they're carried.

And then we moved the focus of our campaign back to the marmalade.


What do you think? Have I got the label crooked? 

The grand master plan is to make up a few hampers of home-made goodies for some friends and family, who like that kind of thing, so the labels are a big plus in the presentation stakes.



And, finally, here's Maxi the Wonder Dog doing quality control. He's all hunched over, squinting to see that I've spelt Marmalade correctly. He's a very clever little chap, the Wonder Dog.


Hope you're having fun too!

All the best,

Bonny x



Tuesday 11 November 2014

Epsom Salts bath bombs ...

Have you tried Epsom Salts?

Your granny probably swore by them. And she wasn't wrong, your wise old gran.

The thing is they're packed full of magnesium and sulfate, which are minerals that most of us seem to be deficient in these days. If you suffer from any sort of skin problems, such as psoriasis or eczema or any arthritic conditions Epsom Salts can help ease your symptoms. I know a couple of people with arthritis who swear by a hot bath in Epsom Salts on those cold, damp days when they're feeling a bit creaky. I sometimes suffer from super-dry skin on my elbows and knees, and I find that a good soak in the Epsom Salts helps keep things under control.

You can read all about the miracle that is Epsom Salts here on their website: Epsom Salt Council.

Now the only little niggle that I have with them is that they're just a tiny, little bit ... well ... boring. I mean they don't smell, and they don't explode into a fizzing bath-bomb type jacuzzi or give you any other bath-time special effects. They may be very, very good for you, but so is Cod Liver Oil and how many of us rush for a spoonful of that in the mornings?

What they need is a makeover ... big time! And this is exactly what I've given them.

Ta-dah!



I  give you my Epsom Salts and Lavender Bath Bombs, which not only smell divine, but are also really good for your skin. I had a fun morning a couple of days' ago knocking out a load of bath-time munitions as I listened to my favourite programmes on the radio. Have I ever mentioned what a big Radio 4 fan I am?



Normally I boast about how lovely my kitchen smells when I get cooking, but this is one recipe that will leave both the kitchen and the cook smelling wonderful!

Anyway if you'd like to make some for yourself they're very easy and rather fun to make. Here's what you'll need:

Ingredients

130 g Citric Acid
250 g Baking Soda
120 g Corn flour (or corn starch if you're in the US)
120 g Epsom Salts
3 teaspoonfuls of water
6 teaspoonfuls of Lavender Essential Oil
3 tablespoonfuls of Argan Oil or almond oil
a couple of drops of red and blue food colouring mixed to make purple


a few handfuls of dried lavender flowers

Method

Fold up a hand towel and place it on a tray. Lay out a piece of baking parchment on top. This is going to be the platform on which your bath bombs rest as they dry out. If you placed them on a hard surface they'd form with a flattened end on one side.

Mix all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl


Shake all the wet ingredients in a jam jar as though you're making salad dressing.


Add the wet ingredients to the mixing bowl and mix well. You should get a little bit of fizzing when you add them.


Now for the fun part. It's play time ... . Using your hands mush the mixture into balls. It's kind of like making snow balls out of beach sand. Your mixture will have the same consistency as the perfect sand-castle-making sand: not too wet and not too dry.


Place the bath bombs on your towel/ baking parchment and leave them to dry for a couple of days. When you come back to them they'll be hard to touch and perfect for fizzing in the bath. And as I have small hands, and am a bit decadent, I'm going to drop these little mamas in my tub two at a time. They'll give me the perfect home spa experience for a fraction of the High Street price.

Enjoy!


Bonny x

Friday 7 November 2014

Cardamon and Clementine Marmalade

Today my kitchen smells of clementines. Their sweet aroma, mixed with some upper notes of green cardamon is so good that if I could figure out a way of bottling it I'd wear it behind my ears for special occasions!

I've played around with the flavours to produce a light fragrant, not-too-sweet marmalade. Cardamon is one of my favourite flavours, and these green cardamons marry beautifully with the floral, citrus taste of the clementines, which I've ramped up further with the Cointreu. I'd say it's a flavour match made in heaven!


Would you like to make some for yourself? Well, no worries, here's my recipe :

Ingredients

1200g clementines - about 8 clementines
2 medium sized lemons
2 kg jam-making sugar
2.5 litres of water
1 tablespoonful of green cardamon pods split lengthways
8 tablespoonfuls (120 ml) of Cointreau
Certo apple pectin for emergency use if you can't get the mixture to set as you may not have enough pips in the clementines to give you all the pectin you need.


Method

A: Day 1

1. You really need to start this recipe the day before. The first thing to do is wash the fruit in some fresh, clean water. Then juice the clementines and lemons, finely slice them and let them soak overnight in their juice to soften up the skins a bit and release some of their natural pectin. I half them and extract all the precious pips, which I place on a saucer for safe keeping. These are full of pectin, and will help your marmalade to set.


2. Take all the pips and tie them in a little square of muslin. Draw the four corners together, and tie them with a piece of kitchen string to make a parcel like this:



3. Place the skins in a large ceramic bowl, pour the juice over the top, and pop your parcel of pips into the mix. 

Cover with cling film and leave overnight to allow the juice to work its magic on the skins.

Day 2

4.Take an old saucer and put it in the freezer to get it really cold. You will use this to test the consistency of your marmalade later in the process.

5. Put your citrus skins/juice/pips mixture in a large saucepan. Add 2.5 litres of fresh water and bring to the boil. Once it reaches the boil, turn down the heat and leave to simmer gently for about two and a half hours until the skins are soft and slightly translucent.

6. While you’re waiting for the skins to cook you should sterilise your jam jars. Wash both the jars and their lids in hot soapy water. Rinse well with warm clean water. Dry the outsides but not the insides. Place them on a baking tray (open top ends up) with the lids (top sides up) on a separate tray in an oven pre-heated to 150 degrees Celsius for about 20 minutes to half an hour.



7.You should also warm your sugar. With about half an hour to go before the lemons are ready, weigh it out and put it in the oven at about 150 degrees Celsius in a large flat dish.

8. When the citrus skins in the saucepan have been boiled to the point where they are soft and translucent, add the sugar, cardamon pods (split in half length-ways) and a knob of butter (this helps to stop it burning, according to my mum) and bring to a rolling boil, which is a gentle boil that isn’t too violent – think of gently churning rapids downstream from a large waterfall. Stir occasionally and let everything boil for another fifteen minutes or so until it starts to set. You could use a thermometer for this stage to check the temperature. The marmalade should start to set somewhere around 104 degrees Celsius.

9. When it reaches this stage, and you see it starting to thicken, you need to do the frozen saucer test. Take your saucer from the freezer and drip a little drop of the marmalade onto it. Leave it for a few seconds and then gently push it with your fingertip. If the marmalade is ready it should have formed a thin skin on top and you should be getting wrinkles when you apply pressure. It may still seem to be too liquid for spreading on your toast, but if there is a very thin skin with wrinkles you are good to go. The mixture will thicken/ solidify a bit more once it cools, and sometimes it will carry on setting for a few days after. This is the trickiest stage of the process, so do keep your eyes peeled.

Anyway if you haven’t reached this point let the mixture boil on for another three or four minutes and test again. Keep going until you get that skin-and-wrinkle-thing happening on your saucer, but be really careful as it can easily burn if it overheats (and, believe me, cleaning the bottom of the saucepan when it does is a nightmare job).

If you can't seem to get the stuff to set you can always add a spoonful or two of pectin and watch for it to do its magic. I keep a bottle of Certo apple pectin for these occasions.

10. Once the marmalade has started to set remove the saucepan from the heat, and add the Cointreau. Be careful as the hot mixture may spit a little when you introduce the cold liquid. Stir thoroughly and leave for about 15 minutes to cool. Skim the cardamon pods out of the mixture with a slatted spoon while you're waiting for the mixture to cool down.  This cooling will also allow the mixture to set a little more. Stir it again before you ladle it into the sterilised jam jars. By stirring it once it has thickened like this you will ensure an even distribution of peel throughout the mixture.



11. Top the jars of marmalade with waxed disks and put the lids on.

12. When everything has cooled down a bit you can add some stick-on labels.

Enjoy with hot buttered toast and a good cup of Rosie Lee!



All the best,


Bonny x

and if you've got the marmalade bug you might also like to try my lemon and lavender recipe, which you can find:  here.



Autumn at last ... Where have you been?

Autumn has finally arrived! We've gone from balmy Halloween, celebrated in T-shirts and flip-flops, to Jack Frost nipping at our noses in less than a week. Congratulations to our barmy British climate. It's all a bit bonkers, really.

I'm so glad that I managed to squeeze in some time last weekend to walk in the woods with Emi and Maxi, and admire the wonderful colours of the leaves against the most perfect blue sky.


There were lots of other people out, taking the air as well. Several parents came up and asked if their little ones could stroke Maxi. He's everyone's friend, and he especially loves children, although his exuberance can sometimes startle them.


We collected leaves. I'm a compulsive leaf collector at this time of the year, and it's rubbing off. Emi also returns clutching a bunch of foliage as though it were a bouquet of fine flowers.


Aren't those maple leaves exquisite? I was so inspired by their brilliant colours that I dusted off my old flower press and we spent a happy hour placing some of our better-looking trophies between pages of blotting paper and card for pressing. We went out in our garden to see what else we could find.


There were some heroic geraniums and nasturtiums still going strong, so we harvested a few of those to go in the press as well. I'm not sure what we'll do with them all when they're done, but they seemed to give the most perfect spectrum of my favourite fire colours. I hope they don't fade too much as they dry.




We've had a busy time of it recently. Emi has finally got his project on the Romans done and dusted. We had a lovely day at the Roman Baths just before his half-term holidays finished, which gave him loads of material to write about.



And I've been busy baking  Boozy Bejeweled Christmas Cakes, which have left my kitchen smelling like a cosy little corner of heaven.

My favourite Turkish grocer has started to stock the new season's clementines, which are positively divine: juicy and sweet and aromatic. Yesterday a bunch of them called out to me and positively begged me to make them into some marmalade. How could a girl resist? I mean just look how inviting they were:


I used my tried-and-tested method and had a lot of fun playing around with the flavours. I chose to enhance the zesty, almost floral flavour of the fruit with some green cardamons and a decent glug of Cointreau to max out the orangeness. I had a hunch that the flavours would marry well, and they did - with bells on!  If you're interested in my recipe I'll try and write it up soon before I forget. I still like to play with my food and a lot of my cooking is done on the hoof, improvising as I go along, which is fine, but sometimes makes it difficult to get the same result twice. 

Anyway I hope you're enjoying the autumn too, and all the best for a splendid weekend,

Bonny x


PS I've just written up my recipe and you can find it here: Clementine and cardamon marmalade

Tuesday 4 November 2014

Boozy Bejeweled Christmas Cake Recipe

Now is a really good time to get cracking with your Chrimbo cakes. They really do improve, just sitting in the tin, waiting for the Big Day to arrive - especially if, like me, you treat them to the occasional tipple along the way.



Emi and I were really busy last week, during the half term holidays, baking loads of cakes. I like to make a few extra for friends and family whilst I've got the wind in my sails. My recipe is an old family one that I've tweaked a little bit to suit my own personal style. My Grandma used to make these cakes using sherry, but I prefer Marsala wine. I've also chosen my favourite dried fruit from my local Turkish grocer, which is a rather different combination from the one she used. In fact I'm sure my dear old Gran, living in rural County Tyrone twenty years' ago, would never have heard tell of things like dried barberries. I've also chosen not to decorate the cakes with marzipan and icing. I love almonds, but I really dislike almond flavourings, so marzipan is not a favourite of mine. Instead I'm using glacé fruits with a glaze. I love the colours and the glossiness of this topping, and it's a super quick, easy way to decorate a cake. I also like to make small cakes (6"/ 15 cm diameter) rather than big cakes so that people don't get bored with them, although they will last for months in their tins.



If you'd like to give this little number a go, it's a very quick, simple cake to make. Here's the recipe:

Ingredients for 2 small 6"/ 15cm diameter cakes or 1 large 12"/ 30 cm diameter cake 

1 kg/ 2 lb 4 oz of mixed dried fruits.  I used 250 g/ 9 oz golden jumbo raisins, 250 g/ 9 oz brown jumbo raisins, 250 g/ 9 oz dried cranberries, 125 g/ 4 1/2 oz  dried barberries and 125 g/ 4 1/2 oz dried papaya, but you can chose whichever mix of dried fruit you prefer.


175g / 6 oz plain cake-making flour
200g/ 7 oz soft brown sugar
zest and juice of 1 large orange
zest and juice of 1 large lemon
250g/ 9 oz butter at room temperature
100g/ 3 1/2 oz ground almonds
100g/ 3 1/2 oz flaked almonds
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 heaped teaspoonfuls of mixed spice
1 heaped teaspoonful of powdered cinnamon
1/2 teaspoonful of powdered cloves
4 large eggs - beaten
1 teaspoonful of vanilla extract
150 ml/ 5 fluid ounces of Marsala Wine

Method

1. Choose a large saucepan. Place the dried fruit, orange and lemon juice and zest, Marala wine, butter and sugar in the saucepan and heat over a medium heat until the mixture comes to the boil. Then reduce the heat and allow to simmer gently for 5 minutes. Mix thoroughly and remove from the heat. Leave to cool for about 30 minutes. 

2. Whilst the mixture from 1. above is cooling heat your oven to 150º C/ 130º C with a fan/ Gas Mark 2 and line your cake tins with grease-proof baking parchment. You'll need a circle for the bottom and a long rectangle to line the sides. I usually fix it in place with a spot of melted butter. I also like to use spring release cake tins, which make it easier to get the cakes out at the end of the process. 


3. When you've got them lined on the inside, wrap them with newspaper on the outside and tie it in place with some string so that they cook, and cool down afterwards, really slowly. This ought to help prevent your cakes from cracking.



4. After your mixture from 1. has cooled down a bit add all the remaining ingredients, sieving the flour and mixing it thoroughly to make sure that everything is evenly distributed and there are no pockets of flour. 

5. Tip the mixture into the prepared baking tins and place them in the centre of the oven. Cook for about 2 hours - until a skewer inserted into the top of the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and leave to cool. 


6. Make a few discreet holes with a skewer - going in from the top. These will form little channels so that the wine that you feed the cake between now and Christmas gets evenly distributed. 

7. When the cakes have completely cooled, wrap them in some grease-proof baking parchment and store them in cake tins. Feed each cake every 10 days or so with 2 teaspoonfuls of Marsala wine. Don't feed it for a week immediately before you decorate it.  



And would you also like my recipe for the decoration on top? Ok, no problem.

Ingredients for cake topping

1 heaped tablespoonful of apricot jam or honey
2 tablespoonfuls of brandy
Whatever combination of glacé fruits and nuts that you'd like to use. I chose some glacé cherries and apricots with some roasted pecan nuts.

Method


1. Place the jam and brandy in a small saucepan. Place over a medium heat until the jam melts, stirring until the two are evenly mixed.

2. Leave the jam and brandy mixture to cool. I keep mine stored in a small jam pot in the fridge so that I can use it for the other cakes that are in the pipeline.

3. Arrange your fruit and nuts over the top of your cake, and very gently brush them with the jam and brandy mixture using a pastry brush. 

4. Wrap up your cake for presentation. I used a rectangular food doily, cut lengthways as an internal wrapper with some brown paper on the outside tied up with a festive ribbon. 

Enjoy with friends and a nice cup of Rosy Lee. 

All the best,

Bonny x
As shared on Creative Mondays