Tuesday 10 March 2015

Love your leftovers ... Beef and Mushroom pies

The Sunday Roast is a weekly favourite in our house. We love a good roast dinner with all the trimmings. It's a bit of an occasion, and we like to linger around the table, taking our time, putting the world to rights and enjoying what Emi calls golden rainbow family time. It's the one time of the week when no one's in a hurry.

It doesn't matter whether it's beef, chicken, duck, a leg of lamb, or a shoulder of pork; they all taste better for having been slow-roasted in the oven. And ditto too with the veggies and potatoes. My Spanish family rarely cook anything outside of bread, pizza and cakes in their ovens, but over here in Blighty we've always loved our oven-cooked savouries.

One of the great things about this type of cooking is the left-overs. A good roast of beef, like we had last Sunday, can easily be stretched out over a couple of dinners. And what you do with the left-overs can be just as tasty as the main event.

Last night I made these beef and mushroom pies from our Sunday leavings. And they went down a treat with the troops at supper time.

If you'd like to have a go at making some of your own, they're easy and quick to prepare. Here's my recipe, which should produce individual pies for 5 or 6 people (depending on how generous you are with the filling):


My left-over Sunday Roast weighed about 400g after I'd cut off all the bits of fat

250 g sliced mushrooms
2 bay leaves
1 large carrot peeled and sliced into smallish slices
1 large leek, washed and finely sliced
4 toes of garlic finely sliced
200 ml of gravy also left-over from our Sunday dinner - made using the cooking juices from the joint
200 ml red wine
A couple of sprigs of finely chopped thyme
pre-rolled puff pastry
1 egg for an egg-wash (optional: I don't do this as one of my troops has an egg allergy and I can't be faffed trying to remember which pie I haven't put the egg-wash on. It's easier for me to go eggless.)


1. Over a low heat sweat the leeks, carrots and mushrooms in a saucepan with the bay leaves and the thyme and a good glug of olive oil for about 15 minutes. You want them to be soft, but not browned.
2. Add the red wine, and turn the heat up to burn off the alcohol for 5 minutes or so, stirring to make sure that the mixture doesn't catch on the bottom.
3. Add the diced meat and the gravy. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir well so that everything's nicely mixed and set to one side (off the heat).
4. Roll out the pastry and cut circles for the bases of your pies and for the tops. I use a pie tray with individual pie moulds that measure 9cm in diameter and have a depth of 6 cm. I think they produce a pie of perfect proportions for each person. Through trial and error I've discovered that if I use a Portmeirion cereal bowl to cut around it makes a perfectly sized circle for the pie casing, and cutting around the base of an Emma Bridgwater mug makes the perfect pastry roof to go on top. Ideally you want your case to sit just a little bit higher than the top of the mould so that you can squish it into the roof to seal the whole thing up, but we'll get to that later.
5. Butter the pie moulds to stop things sticking, and line them with pastry.

6. Spoon the beef and vegetable mixture into your pie cases. Be sure and pick the bay leaves out of the mixture and discard, as they won't make great pie-filling. Place the pastry lids on top, and push them gently into the walls of the cases with the prongs of a fork to seal the edges. Then slice through the top with a knife to make two or three steam vents.

7. If you're doing an egg-wash. Beat your egg and glaze the tops of the pies with the egg mixture using a pastry brush.
8. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 220º C for 20 minutes. Then, without opening the door, turn the heat down to 180º C, and leave them to bake for a further 25 minutes.
9. Remove from the pie moulds with a palette knife and serve with a Greek salad or whatever sort of side-dish takes your fancy.

Enjoy with your nearest and dearest and a decent glass of vino.

All the best for now,

Bonny x

Friday 6 March 2015

TGI Friday ... 5 Random things ...

Yippee it's Friday ... and the sun is shining ... and tomorrow the mercury is promising that it will push its way up to 14ºC up here in the Big Smoke.

I think Spring may finally have sprung! And not a moment too soon in my book. I so dislike those cheerless grey days of January and February, but now we're into merry old March,  the sap is rising and I'm feeling so much better. There's something to be said for having more daylight as the days lengthen, and there's a lot to be said for the gentle caress of the sun on your face when you venture out of doors.

So, without further ado, here are five random things that have rocked my world this week.

1. Spring Flowers

I'm really enjoying the spring colour that's gently pushing its way through all the drab greyness of winter. Yesterday I collected a whole bunch of lovely blooms for my flower press, and they made my heart skip happily in the bright sunshine. If you'd like to read about flower pressing I've written about it here: Making a Mother's Day Card; and How to press flowers at home.

If you love flowers, pressing is a great way to spread the joy throughout the year. It's such a kick to use your pressed flowers in the grey of winter to spread a little colourful, flowery cheer on cards, book marks or even to compile a pressed bloom journal of all the wonderful colour that grew in your garden the year before.

2. Emi's a girl in the school play

Now this is well to the west of weird in my book: my very boyish son is playing a lady in the school play. His school is all boys so there's always an issue about who plays the female parts. They're staging a version of the Pied Piper and little Emi has been cast as one of the mothers who loses a child. He says he got the part because the Master asked him if he'd mind being a girl, and he said that he'd be happy with any role they gave him. We've had to buy him a dress (weird and getting weirder), and kit him out with a lady's wig and a shawl (off-the-scale weird). When I finally get over myself and stop saying weird  I'm going to embrace the positive and feel happy that he has the self-confidence to feel comfortable playing that part.

3. Slinky Paws, the bandit squirrel, appears to have died through over-consumption of fat balls!

My nemesis, old Slinky Paws, has been conspicuously absent since Monday when he gorged on 3 huge fat balls that I'd hung up for the birds. In my last dispatch from the front I mentioned how the battle lines had been drawn following the Wonder Dog's disastrous encounter with Slinky's left-overs. 
Slinky in action
4. The Wonder Dog has made a remarkable recovery

Happily (for both of us) the Wonder Dog's digestive tract has now fully recovered and he's back to normal service. 

It was SO not my fault!

5. I'm sharing my garden with a goldfinch!

In Slinky's absence I've fallen in love with a little goldfinch who drops by from time to time for some seed. Isn't he just the most adorable little chap?

When I was upping my game against the Slinkster with some squirrel-resistant feeders I bought one that will only dispense seeds to the smaller feathered fraternity, which I'm going to keep stocked up with niger seed for the finches. Apparently they go nuts for niger seed.

And finally I'd like to say Welcome Back! to Nancy at a Rural Journal, who's come back from her sabbatical to resume her Friday Blog Hop. We've missed you Nancy; it's good to have you back.

All the best for a lovely weekend,

Bonny x

As shared on Random Friday

Thursday 5 March 2015

Mother's Day Card ...

Here in the UK we're all set to celebrate Mother's Day on Sunday, 15th March. I think they use different dates in the US and in Australia.

Normally we make a photo card for my mother with some of the funny snap shots that we always seem to have an abundance of in our family. But this year I've also made a card for her using some pressed flowers from the garden.

I started with a blank card, and stamped it with a Just for You! stamp. Then I got to work gluing on my pressed flowers. I use a wood glue that turns transparent when it dries out.

You wouldn't believe that those wonderful red leaves on the card were really the pressed remains of my Christmas poinsettias. I'll let you into a secret: my Christmas poinsettias ended up looking like this:

Shush! Don't tell anyone or Social Services will be after me for cruelty to pot plants. The truth of the matter is that I'm not brilliant at keeping my poinsettias alive, and they rarely make it through to the New Year under my tender care. But the silver lining is that I was able to salvage some red leaves (or are they petals?) to press. I turned them upside down on my card as I thought that the underside with all those wonderful green-tinged veins brought more texture and interest to the composition.

Not very long ago those large pressed flowers in the centre looked like this: 

They're hellebores from my garden. I bought a starter/ mixer pack of six a few years' ago, and they've given me my money's worth ever after with so much colour in the grey months of January and February when there's nothing else in bloom.  I cut these ones a few weeks' ago, and put them in the press wondering how their big fleshy blooms would turn out. And the answer was: beautifully. See what I mean: 

The colours contrast rather well with the poinsettia leaves, don't you think?

The third guest at the party was a dwarf cyclamen, which was growing just beside my front door. I buy cyclamens every year to add a little mid-winter colour to my flowerpots. Once they've done their thing I plant them in the flower bed at the front and they've been rewarding me with colour through the greyest months of the year ever since. 

If you'd like to press some flowers of your own for card-making it's super easy. I made my own press from some bits of plywood using a jigsaw. You can read about it here: how to make a flower press

And today, when I had a snoop round the garden to see what was worth foraging for my press, I came up with these beauties: 

Aren't they wonderful? I've got some more hellebores, some primroses, a few dwarf cyclamens and an early flutter of scented violets. I also found these slightly different hellebores, which were so pretty that it felt positively sinful to squeeze them in the press: 

It was a lovely dry, sunny day so I picked them and laid them out straight away as the filling between newspaper and cardboard sandwiches in the press. If there's any rain you'd be best advised to pick your flowers with their stems intact and leave them indoors in a vase of water to dry out for several hours before pressing. If they're damp they're liable to go a bit mouldy in the press.

It's also not a good idea to bunch them too close. If they touch one another they tend to meld together, which will leave them looking strange.

I'll leave these babies to press for a few weeks, and when they're done I'll take them out and see what they inspire me to make.

Maybe I'll make another conventional bouquet, or maybe it'll be the swishy dress for a flower fairy. 

All the best for now,

Bonny x

As shared on Friday Finds

Wednesday 4 March 2015

Blueberry Smoothie ... a perfect mid morning pick-me up ...

Yesterday morning did not start brilliantly.

I looked out so see that my adversary, old Slinky Paws, the squirrel, had mounted a dawn raid on my bird feeders. He'd made off with not one, but three fat balls that had been strung to the branches of the plum tree. Now if he'd taken one I'd have shrugged my shoulders and said Fair enough, Slinky. You've got to live too. But the greedy fluffster had snaffled three balls, and only eaten two of them, leaving the third one lying on the ground. In the fullness of time it was retrieved by Maxi the Wonder Dog. Of course he duly gorged on and this new and exotic delight, and made himself very, very sick indeed.

Well ... that was a bridge too far.

By 9:00 a.m. the Wonder Dog was projectile vomiting, and the only vaguely cheerful thought that occurred to me was that if he managed to clear his stomach, messy though the process was, I wouldn't have to worry about the other end of his digestive tract suffering a similar affliction.  Happy Days!

Invoking curses on old Slinkers and all his descendants, I did what the Tough habitually do when the going gets rough: I went shopping.

I cruised down to the local garden centre and loaded up with a couple of squirrel-resistant feeders. I would say squirrel-proof, but that would feel like I was tempting fate. I'm sure old Slinkers has, by this stage, grown a pair of opposable thumbs, and is working on his Mensa application as I type. He'll probably get his fluffy little head around the various locking mechanisms that I'm depending on in a thrice, and, with his manual dexterity and teeth that can gnaw through concrete, there's nothing outside of a nuclear bunker that's going to be totally Slinky-proof.

Anyway, by the time I got back to the ranch, the Wonder Dog was looking a bit more chipper, and I slowly started to feel optimistic about my chances of wresting control of my back garden from my nemesis, the Slinkster. I filled my shiny new bird feeders and strung them up on the plum tree, wondering all the while when he'd show up to do battle again.

Retiring indoors to survey how much the new installations were being appreciated by my little feathered friends I was suddenly hit by an attack of the mid-morning munchies. I'd had breakfast, but clearly not enough breakfast to carry me through all the drama of the morning. These days I am beginning to feel vaguely concerned about fitting into my beach-wear again come the sunny days of the Costa Brava springtime so the biscuit tin, my usual mid-morning nosebag, is firmly off limits.

Instead I made a blueberry smoothie.

 It was perfect, hitting the spot and leaving me feeling just a tiny, little bit virtuous as I sat in the sunshine, waiting for old Slinky Paws to put in an appearance.

If you'd like to make one for yourself it's about as easy as tripping over your shoe laces. You'll need 100 g of frozen blueberries, 150 g of Greek yoghurt and 100 ml of milk. If you're feeling decadent you could mix in a cheeky swig of Cassis as well. Blitz it all in the food processor, pour into a glass and enjoy with some sunshine and a dash of smugness for being so healthy.

And strange to say, but Slinky was conspicuous by his absence all day. If there's any justice in this world he's been lying in his burrow with his paws pointing up to heaven, feeling as healthy as the Wonder Dog did.

All the best for now,

Bonny x

Friday 27 February 2015

The Real Tudors ... Masters of Propaganda and Spin ...

Now I have to 'fess up: I'm in withdrawal.

The BBC's totally splendid Wolf Hall season has finished and I am SO going to miss my weekly fix of Mark Rylance's superb Cromwell. Wasn't he fabulous? So wily and self-restrained with more than a hint of violence tucked away with that stiletto blade he kept hiding up his sleeve. I don't think there was a weak member in the entire cast. They were all brilliant.

Feeling slightly sad about the end of the season I took myself off yesterday morning to the National Portrait Gallery where the exhibition The Real Tudors is winding up. Sorry peeps but it finishes on Sunday so there's not a lot of time left if you want to trolley over for a gander yourselves.

Now, first off, I have to take issue with the NPG's title for the exhibition: the Tudors were the masters of spin and I feel that it ought to have been called the Tudors as they'd like to have been seen. Honestly, this lot could have taught the image-manipulators of today a PR trick or two.

The second big point is that they haven't included anything by the great court painter Hans Holbein, who crafted the great, iconic images of the age. Waldemar Januszczak argued recently that our enduring fascination with the Tudors has grown out of the fabulous images that Hans Holbein created, which have provided us with a vivid window into the life of the time. I think he's got a point, which makes the omission of Holbein from the Real Tudors feel as though something important is missing.

That said it's an interesting exhibition with some great images to savour.

They start off, as you'd expect, with the founder of the dynasty, wily old Henry VII.

His portrait looks strange to me: the head seems too big for the shoulders. The rose he's clutching in his right hand appears to be the red rose of Lancaster, which later morphs into the red and white Tudor rose in the portraits of his successors as they gilded the legend of how they were the great consolidators who united the warring factions of Lancaster and York. 

Apparently this is the oldest portrait in the National Portrait Gallery's entire collection. The inscription tells us that it was painted on 29th October, 1505 on the orders of Herman Rinck, the agent for the Holy Roman Emperor. The story was that, after the death of his Queen, Elizabeth of York, Henry had his heart set on marrying Margaret of Austria, the widowed Duchess of Savoy, and had opened negotiations with her father, the Emperor, Maximilian I. As was the custom with the great and the good in those days a portrait was sent so that Margaret could get an eyeful of what might be coming her way. The marriage negotiations came to nothing, but Margaret got to keep the painting. 

Also on display beside the portrait is the head of Henry's funeral effigy. When he finally popped his clogs they had a life-sized effigy made to go on top of his coffin for the funeral procession. The face of this effigy was moulded from a plaster cast of the dead king's face. He looked surprisingly animated and personable for someone who was recently deceased.

The exhibition moved on to Henry VIII, and we saw him strutting his stuff with that famous pose immortalised by Holbein, but shown in a copy made by Holbein's studio, and on loan from the National Trust. Isn't he the very image of royal power and majesty? Jaw set with determination - or, maybe just a hint of stubbornness, leg's planted confidently apart in a masterful stride and eyes staring straight out at us, demanding that we bow to his kingship. In the course of just one generation the royal image-makers have come quite a way from the awkward portrait of his father, staring meekly out of the frame in the hope of snaring a bride, to this image of kingly virility.

And then we have the Mini-Me image of Edward VI painted in the same masterful stance as his father.

As the mother of a nine year-old boy I was moved by the play-acting of the nine year-old Edward, trying to fill his father's shoes, and so vulnerable to the machinations of his Uncle Seymour, who reigned in his place as Regent.

There must have been huge fears and concerns for the safety of the realm when a child took the throne, but this portrait seems to have been conceived to reassure everyone that the boy was a chip of the old block, and that England would be as safe in the hands of the son as it had been in the hands of the father.

After Edward came the austere Catholicism of his half sister Mary. Her images seem to have been forged to convey the sincerity of her strong Catholic faith, during a time of huge religious upheaval. Edward had been a Protestant Evangelical in a way that made his father, the sponsor of the English Reformation, look moderate, and ,with the connivance of his Seymour relatives, young Edward consolidated Protestantism as the state religion. He worried that this work would be undone if the Catholic Mary, or the apparently disinterested Elizabeth, should take the throne and, in a bid to protect his legacy he wrote them out of the succession in his will, nominating his cousin, the devoutly Protestant, Lady Jane Grey, as his heir. Mary, of course, was having none of this. On her brother's death she raised an army and Lady Jane was ousted after only 9 days as Queen.

They were turbulent times, and Mary's portraits depict her as a pious woman with a serious purpose. To my eye she's a bit dowdy by comparison with her wonderfully flamboyant sister, Elizabeth.

Here she is (below), painted in 1554 by Hans Eworth. Do you see that fabulous pearl she's got round her neck? That's la Peregrina,  one of the most famous pearls in the world. It was found originally by an African slave on the island of Santa Margarita in the Gulf of Panama. He gave it to the administrator of the Spanish colony, and was rewarded with his freedom. The pearl made its way back to Spain and into the hands of the future Philip II, who presented it as a love token to Mary. After Mary's death it was returned to the Spanish Royal family whose women wore it for another couple of centuries before it fell into the hands of Joseph Bonaparte. In 1969 it was bought by Richard Burton for his great love, Elizabeth Taylor. When she died it was auctioned off by Sotheby's in 2011 for a cool US$11 million.

Anyway I'm getting distracted by the bling. Back to the portraits. 

My favourite Tudor is unquestionably the Virgin Queen, or Elizabeth the Great, as I think she should be referred to. And her portraits deliver spin and dynastic propaganda in spadefuls. Elizabeth's personal motto was semper eadem, always the same, which must also have been the instruction given to her portrait painters who never allowed her image to age. 

And here in all its splendour is the Armada portrait, painted to celebrate England's victory over the Spanish Armada. 

This portrait is laden with strutting triumphalism. It oozes out of the brush strokes. Elizabeth's right hand rests delicately on the globe. Here she's not just Queen of England. With the vanquished Armada floundering in stormy seas over her left shoulder, she's the Queen of the Waves and all the World. And it's not just Spain that's in the firing line here: this is painted as a vindication of her Protestant faith. It's proclaiming that God was with her, and her newly Protestant kingdom. Remember that at this time the Holy Roman Emperor was busy telling anyone who would listen that Elizabeth was illegitimate, a usurper with no proper claim to the throne and a heretic to boot, adding that it would not be a sin to bump her off. No English monarch - until the ill-fated Charles I - lived in greater or more constant danger than Elizabeth, but in this painting she stands victorious and undefeated, overcoming the very worst that her many enemies can throw at her. This, my friends, is Girl Power as we've never seen it before, or since. 

If you get a chance do go along and take a look. I understand that they're going to include the paintings in a larger scale exhibition at the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris next month. You can find the link to the Parisian exhibition here: Les Tudors. I see they've given the whole thing a racy new French title, Les Tudors, as opposed to Les Vrais Tudors. Maybe it was all just a subtle case of English humour and those clever curators down at the NPG were being ironic when they suggested that these were the Real Tudors.

All the best for now,

Bonny x

As shared on Friday Finds