Cheese Swirls

At work this week we celebrated a Macmillan Coffee Morning.  Because I am lucky enough to work in a generous and perhaps greedy office, we actually did a weeks worth of cakes and savouries with people donating food, time and money to raise money for Macmillan nurses.  I am fortunate enough not to have experienced the work of Macmillan, but recent years have brought me closer to the effects of cancer upon people and their families so the cause which has always been extremely worthy has become increasingly poignant for me.

I am not a baker and am definitely not capable of baking a cake (although my new friend at NR11 Blog has inspired me to try…soon!) so I did a quick cheat and made my team some cheesy pastry swirls.  Dead simple and I didn’t use shop bought pastry because I am incapable of making my own, but because all the TV chefs have said that it’s okay and they do it too.  I believe that they were a success, all gone by tea break in the morning, so I thought I’d share the recipe!

Cheesy Pizza Pastry Swirls

1 roll of puff pastry

1/2 an onion, chopped finely

100g grated cheese

50g tomato puree

Herbs and seasoning for the tomato base, I used some fresh thyme, black pepper and a little bit of dried basil as that was what was within easy reach!

First, take the pastry out of the fridge and let it reach room temperature.  While it’s warming up a little, use the time to finely chop the onion and grate the cheese.  Now’s also the time to preheat the oven to about 200C.  Make sure you eat the bit of cheese that won’t grate because you are fearing for your finger tips.  No one wants fingertips in their swirls, so you’re doing it for the greater good.

Put the tomato puree into a little pot.  Add your herbs and seasonings, plus a tiny bit of water.  Mix it so that it’s all well incorporated and at a consistency that is thicker than your standard pasta sauce but that you’ll be able to spread.

Once everything is prepped, now’s the fun part.  Unroll the pastry, but keep it on the little bit of plastic so you don’t have much washing up.  Take your tomato paste and spread it across the pastry.  I made sure to cover the whole area right up to the edges, but left about 2cm on the far end.  This means that when rolled, you can use the ‘dry’ part of the pastry to finish the seal at the end.  Now take the onion and cheese, sprinkling it across the tomato base.  Make sure it’s even and not too thick in any place.  Once you’re happy everything is spread nicely, it’s time to roll!

The joy of buying shop bought pastry is that once you’ve unrolled, it’s really easy to roll it back up again.  Make sure that you keep it even and fairly tight as you go, you don’t want the cut pastries to fall apart in the oven!  Squish (technical term) the dry part against the roll to be sure to close it all up.  Slice your nice swiss pastry roll up, about a finger width per slice.  Pop the pieces on a baking tray, making sure to leave a couple of centimeters between each one.  This is puff pastry, after all, and it will puff.  A quick glaze with some milk (an excuse to use the pastry brush you have in the back of that drawer!) then put it in the oven and – ta-dah! – about 20 minutes later you’ll have a house that smells of pastry and cheese and anyone who popped over for a cup of tea will be bitterly disappointed that they don’t get to eat the tasty treats.

Well, unless you are nicer than I was at least.  Dead easy, still a bit homemade, and delicious all within 30 minutes.  What more can you ask for?

There would be countless variations on this theme too.  Feel free to add other bits (maybe some chorizo? Peppers? Fresh tomato?) as you fancy but make sure you don’t over-fill it.  If you do, they may fall apart which would be a disaster.  They wouldn’t be suitable to serve for any charity bake, you’d have to eat them all and start again.  And no one wants that, do they?!

I’ve spent a busy summer working around the country, but in my down time I have been doing what I can to live The Good Life.  Some of this has worked much better than others.  My personal crop of lettuce was a success til the slugs found it, and of the herbs grown from seed I do believe the rosemary has a fighting chance to be taken from its protective pot and graduate in spring to being Planted Out in the beds.

Rosemary

I’ve even had remarkable success with a chilli plant purchased on the reduced aisle at Tesco and repotted into the greenhouse. For the past three months my nam prik pla has had homegrown chillies (the way that the Thais would certainly approve of!) and the kick in the salsa has been entirely of my making.

Chilii

But my tomatoes. Oh, my precious, lovely tomatoes. I have watched the plants grow into fine young beings, tall (but not too tall!!) enough to make any mother proud. I had visions of Moneymaker’s bountiful crop providing tomatoes for everyone in the district. Roma’s tomatoes would be special, I would experiment with sun drying them (a real plausible option this summer, dag-nab-it!). I was going to introduce them to some wonderful herbs and the freshest olive oil in Norfolk to create juicy, delicious sun blushed and preserved tomatoes to sustain me through the long dark winter. Too good even for my salsa (sorry chillies), the Roma tomatoes were destined for greatness, destined to be savoured, destined to be worshiped…

But what happened?!

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Instead of plentiful crops, I have beautiful plants with only one or two fruit.  Other bloggers boast about what to do and I am struggling to make my babies grow and mature into red young adults.  I love them, I check on them daily, I moved them in and out of the greenhouse as the weather dictated.  And when I wasn’t able to give them my full attention because I was drinking energy drinks in Scotland, or Stratford, or elsewhere, for the week in order to pay for my little tomatoes upkeep, they were being carefully looked after by my less enthusiastic but equally dedicated other half.  I have watered them with rainwater, but not given them any fertiliser.  Is that really where I have gone wrong?

Please give me some advice, my tomatoes need you before it gets too cold and they give me up for good!

Have you ever been on holiday on your back doorstep?

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Like, not literally to the garden (although, that sounded pretty convenient to me with the weather we had this summer) but to the places that you could go to if you just gave yourself the time for a 30 minute drive?

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To celebrate my dad’s birthday, mum organised a surprise holiday to Norfolk and brought the Costa Del… weather with them. I got to spend a few days in a cottage near the coast with them and together we enjoyed exploring my adopted home county.

Norfolk Vay-cay 3You know how they say New Yorkers have never been up the Empire State Building?  I spent so much time wishing that I could explore the world…

Norfolk Vay-cay 17..it’s really easy to forget the wonderful things about where you spend the bulk of your time and wonder why on earth other people come on vay-cay to your home.

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One of my favourite things on a summer Monday is telling colleagues in London where I got to go over the weekend.

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I loved driving around North Norfolk and showing my parents my favourite villages and beaches.

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We walked many, many miles with the two dogs.  Probably would have broken weaker spirits with all the excercise, except for the fact they are dogs and always up for more.

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We got to eat fish and chips, ice cream, Cromer Crab.  We got to drink local ales.

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We watched people kite surf, jet ski, sail.  We mercifully didn’t get rained on.

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It was pretty much a perfect way to celebrate my dad’s birthday together.

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Can’t wait to do it again.  And of course, I would love to hear about your favourite places and what you love about where you live!

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If I was going to write a post about all things that are sweet and sour I think that blackberry vodka may well fit the bill.

While walking Pepper the other day I saw that the hedgerows were filled with ripe, juicy, jewel like blackberries.  Hundreds of them.  They looked amazing.  So yummy.  I could make any number of things, but of course my mind went straight to the vodka that was laying in the wine rack feeling a bit sorry for itself as September officially became The Month We Weren’t Drinking.  (Yup, another story entirely.)  Rather than going straight out to gather the bounty nature offered, I decided to procrastinate for a week.  Then the weather started to turn and I was left with no more excuses.  It was actually really nice, there had been a particularly miserable rainstorm during the day but the sun was out, the air was fresh and I had tupperware and a boy willing to go blackberry hunting with me.  We were off!

Blackberry 1

After collecting as many berries as we could before the sun set (autumn is drawing in, ahhhhh….sad to see summer go but excited about curling up on the sofa again) it was a fairly straightforward plan.  A slight surplus of vodka following an August bank holiday party meant we had a few options and we settled on three separate recipes:

Bottle 1 – Sweet Vanilla Blackberry Vodka

  • 300g blackberries
  • 300g sugar
  • 500ml ‘student’ vodka
  • 1 vanilla pod

Bottle 2 – Fancy Vanilla Blackberry Vodka

  • 300g blackberries
  • 200g sugar
  • 500ml ‘grown up’ vodka
  • 1 vanilla pod

Bottle 3 – Grown Up Blackberry Vodka

  • 300g blackberries
  • 200g sugar
  • 500ml ‘grown up’ vodka

All ingredients were put into their separate kilner jars.  They looked really pretty.

Blackberry 2 Blackberry 3 Blackberry 5

And then we shook them like the proverbial polaroid picture.

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Now they look dark and juicy and …. okay, a little sugary.  But a bit more agitation over the next few weeks will hopefully do wonders and there will be a tasting session to see which recipe is the winner…once the Month of No Drinking has passed by and it’s well into curling up on the sofa season.  Ahh, Autumn, you’re pretty cool!

 

 

 

Mmmm….The Good Life.  They have a pig, grow all their own vegetables and gently mock their neighbours.  There’s definitely something to be said about it.  My Good Life is kind of limited to a couple of (slow to ripen) tomato plants, a chili plant I saved from the reduced section in Tesco and a courgette plant that has not delivered the glut of giant green beasts I had slightly hoped for, rather more delicate little yellow zucchini that actually complement a salad rather well. Providing you aren’t too hungry though, because there really haven’t been that many.

Imagine my delight when I received a bag full of allotment grown beetroot.  “Delight” is perhaps a strong word, but I did get a little excited as I decided what to do with them.  I could roast them (with chillies, balsamic and maybe some cherry tomatoes if my plants ever do decide to let the fruit ripen?).  I could chip them, cutting them into crisp sized slices and popping them in the oven. Tyrrells can do it, why can’t I?  (I did try it.  Tyrrells obviously either deep fry them, which would be yummy but rubbish for the diet, or have bigger, hotter ovens.  My beetroot chips were a little bit gooey.)  But really, there was only one option when you think of beetroot, you pickle them!

People who know me well know that I would happily eat my own mother if she was nicely pickled (no reference to your wine intake mum, I promise!) but I have never tried to actually pickle anything for myself.  I love pickles.  One of my lifetime highlights was eating McDonalds with 6 other people, who all gave me their burger pickles.  Moving to England, it was the discovery of pickled onions that got me through the withdrawal I suffered when decent dill pickle spears were no longer available in supermarkets.  Piccalilli is a recent discovery in my world, but by golly it’s a great addition to any boring salad.  And don’t even get me started on just how many jalapenos I could actually fit onto my cinema nachos.  Pickling my beetroot was clearly the way forward.

I love a good Google and I found my recipe on the Down to Earth blog.  It has a really awesome step by step how-to and I have to admit that sterilising the jars in the oven was quite a revelation to me.  I mean, seriously – heat kills germs?  A whole new world has opened to me.   I think I will preserve *everything* that crosses my path now.

Of course I took pictures.  Any questions, let me know!

First you boil…

Beetroot 1

…then you peel (wear your asbestos hands obvs!)….

Beetroot 2

…slice….

Beetroot 3

…..and PICKLE!!! Yay!!

Beetroot 4

I told you I got my hands on a lot of beetroot.  More is coming my way.  I have already tried to mix it up with a giant jar containing some sliced onion (I found a Polish recipe online.  I didn’t follow it but I did steal the onion idea, except I didn’t have a red onion).  I might try some chilli beetroot with some homegrown chillies.  What else should I experiment with?  The Good Life is so on its way…but do I really have to wait til October before I can try it?

Its been a long time coming but summer may be here!! The rose bush at the end of the garden has finally flowered. Which makes me remember that despite all the beautiful wonderful places I have been lucky enough to visit, nowhere can beat an English summer day in the garden with friends. Now, we just need that sun to come out…..

Summer Rose

I know, I know.  I’ve read all the blogs too: spray paint is amazing.  It’s colourful, it’s quick, it’s foolproof and easy.  It can be used to update your grandma’s old ottoman, it can be used to create wonderful doorknobs (finally found the oiled bronze that the American ladies are always talking about the other day!!! I think I can see where I will use that, oh yeah…..), it will make any old object look wonderfully shabby chic or super sophisticated and modern.  Spray paint.  It ticks all those boxes.  And I have only just discovered it.

But have I ever worried about showing up late at the party? Actually, yes, but teenage insecurities aside… I’ve arrived and by golly I have bells on.  Not quite bells exactly, but I certainly have large lampshade balls.  Hanging from my ceiling.  Except the mid-noughties brown just wasn’t cutting it in the elegant white and grey domestic bliss that has been created in the past few months.  What is a girl to do?  Head to the shed and see what colours she can create of course! Whoop whoop, let’s dig out the spray!

Firstly, spray paint cannot be used by me in any enclosed environment.  The walls had just been painted for goodness sake!  Fortunately, the English summer is struggling to arrive and at least the rains are holding off.  So lampshades down and out into the garden they went, hung up with a handy bit of garden twine.  And my old boring lampshades went from this….

Brown balls

….to this.  This is the miracle of spray paint.  I managed to get it all over the big brown balls and turn them bright and blue and new all within five minutes.  Another five minutes and the heavens looked a little threatening, so the greenhouse was accessorized.

Decorating the greenhouse

….so what should I update next?

 

Yesterday I was talking to a friend at work about up-cycling.  He can remain nameless because I would never want to get him in trouble but he was complaining about the amount of ‘stuff’ his housemate’s girlfriend leaves in the house.  You know the sort of stuff – free or cheap items obtained via freecycle, family members, house clearances…all the things people want to be rid of but that when a magpie like me spies all we can see is the item’s potential.

Potential – potential to be something beautiful, unique and definitely within budget for the home we aspire to have but cannot afford.  Years of investment in the work lottery syndicate has so far proved fruitless so I have had to channel my energies elsewhere.

This is when I told him that I did actually up-cycle.  It’s been a long time in the planning – I have had these chairs stored in the shed at the back of the garden for close to 8 years – but inspiration finally struck (ahem, thanks again Pinterest!) and last autumn I made my beautiful chairs.

Beautiful Chairs

The chairs were old, weathered and extremely dirty.  But they had a nice shape and I knew that something could be done with them.  So I gave them a good clean, thanked my lucky stars that the varnish had long worn away so I was saved the job of sanding them, and decided where to place my lace.  The lace – that was probably the hardest part.  It took a few weeks of darting into every charity shop I passed to see if they had old lace curtains, and if they did, was the lace suitably thick and not too ‘old lady’ for my project.  In the end I found a curtain, confused the old man at the till with my clear lack of concern that it did not have a partner and that the ‘hanging’ section was ripped to shreds, paid my pound and hurried home to complete my project.

I love projects and I love beautiful things but I hate anything fiddly.  The Tidiest Man Alive despairs at my constant mess and disarray and I am not going to lie, I did get paint in my hair (a lovely Cruella style streak across the side) but this project was reassuringly simple.  Lace is laid across the seat of the chair (or, wherever you fancy putting it) and any old masking tape will do to stick the bits from the edges underneath.  Don’t worry about being too tidy or finickity, you’ll paint over the ugly bits later! Sweet.  My only recommendation is to try and get the lace as tight as possible across any curves that have been pre-cut by the seat manufacturer to make their wooden chair more bum-friendly.

 Step 1

Next, the fun part – SPRAY! I am beginning a love affair with cans of spray paint.  My only wish is that each can was $10 like it seems to be in the US, £15 a can  just doesn’t seem fair.  Be sure to get an even coverage over your lace and cover the whole area to ensure you get a nicely scalloped edge.  The further across your chair that you spray, the easier it is to paint the finished seat neatly.  We like easy.  Spray evenly but make sure you don’t spray too much, you don’t want any drips on those bum-friendly sections.

And now…wait.  Wait for the spray paint to dry before being tempted to see what it looks like.  Wait until you think you can wait no longer, then wait a bit more.  And don’t try to re-spray once you’re done, because I am fairly certain less is more in this situation.  When you really can’t wait any longer, carefully untape the lace and remove.  Et voilà!  You  have yourself a fancy seat ready for the final touches.

Step 2

The final touches for me was painting the rest of the chair white.  I used Homebase’s Just One Coat Soft White – anyone visiting my home now will see this everywhere. It took two coats because of the tricky bars on the back (again with the patience for the drying!! Rubbish) but I think that the finished product was worth it.

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I am going to start work on the table now and I have another two chairs that will complete the dining area of the little flat’s living space.  I think I may go for a bright colour on the other chairs – what do you think?

Table and Chairs

Italy, what a blast.  I fell in love out there.

And I photographed food.  Which would have probably frustrated my co-eaters if they didn’t seem to be quite as obsessed with the tastes and variety on offer in Sorrento.  I am very happy to report that I was amongst friends.  Most importantly, friends who share food.  Delightful!

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Whilst there, I myself ordered and enjoyed: tuna steak, fungi risotto, gnocchi alla sorrentina, crazy good puttanesca taglioni, the freshest tomatoes you could imagine (I mean,  you could actually taste the sunshine in them), cherries that were like manna from heaven and several         Panini filled with parma ham, mozerella, steak, buffalo tomatoes, roasted vegetables, pesto, more…

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I sampled from my friends: fillet steak, applejack in a bean sauce, the world’s yummiest pizza (so yummy we forgot to photograph it), more different shapes of pasta than you get at a Whole Foods store and little snatches of ham when their backs were turned.

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Between three of us we ate a £50 antipasti salad.  That waiter saw us coming.  It was lush.  The beans were longer than the long beans in Thailand.  I’ll write more about them another day…

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We all ate ice creams in the shape of little monkeys.  Seriously.  Best gelatos out there.  Mine was pistachio.  He had teeth.

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One person had his first ever cappuccino in Sorrento.  He also had his second, third, fourth, fifth and quite probably tenth before we hit the airplane.  He was buzzing and I was glad he wasn’t driving on the way home.  I myself had a few espressos.  Those who know me would think that would be a crazy idea.  It was.  But the best.

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We even got free food.  Bruschetta, fresh green olives, champagne and a tuna aperitivo with a little kiwi sauce. Not to mention the usual nuts, pretzels, crackers and copious amounts of bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

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And of course, wedding cake.  Congratulations to the newlyweds!

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So, Italia.  Buonissimo!

….on a summer holiday! Yay. I mean, it’s been just over 3 months since the last trip. I am really lookin forward to the break. We are going to Sorrento, Italy for a friend’s wedding. Which will be brilliant but I have to admit to being more excited about actually going to Italy: a lovely but rainy trip to Venice in November many years ago can’t be fully representative of all that Italy has to offer. I mean, I’ve seen the pictures people have posted on Facebook…

I’m looking forward to:
– pizza
– romantic stairways leading to the heavens
– fresh seafood
– the seaside
– seeing Caecilius‘ home in Pompeii (there’s one for the Sunny Hill girls!!)
– finding an Italian classy handbag
– reading at least one of the three books I have in my suitcase
– antipasti like it’s going out of fashion
– being back in a land where the word ‘zucchini’ is understood
– looking at pretty old churches
(And the boys say that they are looking forward to bridesmaids. Because after all, we are going to a wedding! Yay!)

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