Invitations

99 Days to go!!!!

With less than 100 days to go I find mself sitting in front of a pile of envelopes and invitations wondering whether or not it is time to commit and send them out. Looking online there are plenty of people who have firm opinions on the etiquette of when to send invitations, what information should be included and who should be invited and how. Its all well and goo saying that the invitations should be sent out with six weeks to go but as my fiance and I never quite manage to get around to sending out Save The Dates we probably should act sooner than that. Added to that we are asking that children do not come to the wedding so to give our guests time to organise childcare, accomodation, travel etc. we are going to send out the invitations now.

So as far as I am concerned the hardest part of this is deciding on the guest list but we have already done that and I might talk about that in another post. Once that is done you need to think about what information you want to include in your invitations and how any additional details can be disseminated. There are so many options for that these days with various social media platforms providing means for contacting people instantly even when you don’t see them very often. We decided to do a more traditional invitation because a significant portion of our guest list is made up of family who are less au fait with social media and the internet in general. However, having not finalised a lot of the details of the celebration we printed the core essentials on the physical invitation and put together a website that we could continue to update as we organised the finer details.

The website is a separate issue but for the invitations we decided to use VistaPrint. There are excellent options for sourcing personalised invitations online but we wanted something super simple and economical. There are some amazing options on Etsy of fabulous artists work and with an unlimited budget I would have found these much more decorative options diifficult to resist. We ended up going for a ready made design on VistaPrint that perfectly matches our laid back natural theme and for around £50 we were able to get all our invitations printed and envelopes to go with them. My one tip if this is the way you want to go is to spring for the higher quality card stock. It costs very little extra but gives the invites a much more special feel.

 Tip number 2 is go and invest a small amount in a callugraphy pen and coordinating ink. Spend an hour practicing writing some of the names of your guests and then put your new found skills to work in producing some simple, elegant invitaions with an easy to do personalised touch.

That’s the way we decided to go and we are delighted with the results. I would have loved to make something more elaborate using a variety of papercraft techniques but this way I was able to get them all done in the space of two evenings. One to design them on VistaPrints online design software and one to write them.

Back to work finishing them off Lxx

100 days to a Wedding!!!

100 days from today I will be making vows in front of friends and family, promising to love my best friend for the rest of my life. I am excited about the wedding but also incredibly stressed out when I think about how much still needs to be done. We have been engaged for almost two years and set the date last year but despite this forewarning we are fast approaching with nothing other than the venue and the dress set in stone. So I had an idea……..I am going to revive this blog that never really got off the ground and I plan to share my journey from here to the (hopefully) mst fun day of my life so far.  By setting myself the task of posting daily updates, I will keep myself accountable and have a record of the fun and exciting journey that I suddenly find myself further along than I had realised.

So that is the challenge to myself. What should you expect to find here going forward? I will include the story of what we have done so far inclluding the propsal and dress shopping as well as all the decisions still to make. We want to have a fun, relaxed wedding full of hand made personalised touches so that we can enjoy our day with our guests and have a day to look back on with nothing but happy memories. I have three months off work this summer and I am going to get stuck in to the wedding organisation and handicrafts the day after I finish. This is one of the major advantages of teaching as a career.

I hope that you find this interesting and maybe even useful. If you have come here looking for a tutorial on how to organise a wedding you might want to check back in 100 days. I do not know what I am doing but this will be an honest account of what works for me and what proves to be a mistake. If you have any suggestions or questions please feel free to comment below

Lxx

Portuguese Custard Tarts

I love these delicious sweet treats that offer so much more comforting satisfaction than their first appearance promises. I decided to make these for two reasons. The first of these was that they are quite frankly delicious and I wanted to eat one and the second was that I fancied making some puff pastry having not done so for a while. If you want to use ready rolled pastry skip ahead to the second set of instructions below.

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To make enough pastry for 12 perfectly proportioned individual tarts:

Ingredients
110 g plain flour
80 g butter
50 g margarine/lard
a pinch of salt
75 mL water

The ratio of butter and margarine specified in the recipe above is not written in stone but I find I get the best balance of a nice buttery flavour with good layers and a pleasant crispy texture when I use these proportions. The pastry can be made with all butter if preferred.

The first stage is to prepare your ingredients. Measure out the water and put it in the fridge. Measure out the fat and cut into small cubes. Put this in the freezer for 5 – 10 mins. While these elements are chilling, measure out the flour and combine with the salt and lightly flour a work surface.

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When the fat has chilled, add it to the flour and toss in the bowl until the cubes are coated with flour. Working quickly, add the water to the bowl in portions add bring the mixture together as a rough looking dough. The fat should still be in lumps at this stage. Once it has come together, place on the floured surface and shape into a rough log shape. Roll the dough out into a rectangle that is three times as long as it is wide (roughly 10 x 30 cm) keeping the edges as square as possible. Fold the top third down and the bottom third up to give a square. Turn the dough 90 degrees clockwise, use the rolling pin to press down the edges and then repeat the rolling and folding three times turning by 90 degrees after each fold. Pre-chilling the ingredients means the dough should stand up to this process without chilling again but id the dough starts to get soft or greasy, put the dough in the fridge for 20 minutes before continuing.

After the rolling and folding has been completed the dough will need to chill for at least 2 hours before use.

To make the tarts:

Ingredients
1 whole egg plus 2 egg yolks
1 1/2 tbsp cornflour
100 g granulated caster sugar
400 mL milk (any will do but for a truly indulgent treat it has to be full fat
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Puff pastry as above or 1 sheet of ready made puff pastry

Preheat the oven to 190 °C

Combine the egg, yolks, sugar and cornflour in a saucepan and add the milk. Stir to mix and then put the pan on a gentle heat stirring continuously until it thicken and just comes to the boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla essence. Put the custard a bowl and cover with cling film to prevent formation of a skin while the it cools. Meanwhile, roll out your puff pastry until it is a couple of mm thick. Aim for a rectangle about 40 x 60 cm in size. If it is easier, you can roll the dough out one half at a time. Cut the pastry into 24 squares around 10 x 10 cm and grease a 12 muffin tray. Line each hole with one square of pastry followed by a second square at 45 degrees to the second to create a decorative star-type shape. Spoon the cooled custard evenly on top of the raw pastry and place in the preheated oven for 25 mins until golden brown on top. Rest in the tin until cool enough to handle and then place on a wire rack to cool completely.

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Variation – For this batch, I topped half of the tarts with some cherry halves too a add a fruity twist to the classic.

Toffee Oat Cookies

These cookies have caused me no end of difficulties over the last week for a number of different reasons. The first issue was the toffee chunks. I wanted to make my own toffee chunks for the cookies because the ready made ones were ridiculously overpriced in my view and its always good to add a new skill to your arsenal. I didn’t spend much time researching recipes (costly decision) and I went ahead with the second one I found as it seemed straightforward and simple. Combine half a cup of butter with half a cup of sugar with 2 tbsp water and a pinch of salt in a pan and then heat to 300 ° F before pouring onto a silicon mat and cooling. I tried this twice with baking fat (margarine) and both time I ended up with a mess of separated oil and hard caramel. I thought this might be the use of margarine so I tried again with butter but the same thing happened. I did take a couple of mixtures of the result but it looked so gross I decided not to upload them.

Back to the internet and I found that most of the recipes recommended four times as much sugar to fat ratio. The next attempt worked perfectly with 100 g granulated sugar, 10 g butter 2 tbsp water and 2 tbsp milk. Combine and heat to 280 ° F before pouring onto a silicon mate and leaving to cool. This give a fantastically flavoured brittle hard toffee which can easily be broken into pieces and stored in an airtight container.

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Having conquered the toffee, I went on to the cookies. I love oat cookies and have a tried and tested mixture that I use for oat and raisin cookies. This dough is the same with the toffee chunks used to replace the raisins.

Ingredients
100 g plain flour
100 g porridge oats
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
100 g light brown sugar
50 g granulated sugar
50 g butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large handful toffee bits

Preheat the oven to 190 ° C

Combine the flour, oats, baking powder and salt in a bowl and mix together with a whisk. Cream together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy and then beat in the egg. Add the dry ingredients and combine thoroughly before folding in the toffee bits. Place walnut sized balls of the cookie mixture on a lined baking sheet with large gaps between them and flatten slightly. Bake the cookies for 9-11 mins until lightly golden. Allow to cool slightly on the baking sheet and then transfer to a wire rack to cook completely.

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These cookies have a wonderful buttery caramel flavour and make a perfect treat with a cup of tea. These are incredibly moreish and the two dozen this recipe makes will not last long.

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Sunken Apple Cake

It is that time of year where warm comforting treats are needed to snuggle up with on the sofa after a long day at work and a journey home in the twilight. Luckily it is also the time of year where a lot of fantastic ingredients that have been ripening over the summer are finally in plentiful supply. I saw this recipe on Smitten Kitchen’s blog a few weeks ago and couldn’t wait to try it out. I finally got around to it last night and I am smitten with this recipe. I altered the ingredients slightly based on what I had in the cupboard but in general remained faithful to the inspiration.

Ingredients

4 tiny apples – peeled, cored and halved
2 tbsp granulated sugar
juice of 1 lemon
125 g butter
80 g granulated sugar
2 tbsp honey
100 g plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp semi-skimmed milk
2 eggs – separated

The only alterations I made were to account for the fact that I was short an egg to follow the recipe as described. I used a little less flour so the batter din’t become too stiff and added the milk before folding in the whipped egg whites to loosen the mixture a bit. I also left out the glaze which means that the honey flavour is very subtle but this was because Mr Elbi wanted to add custard to his! I also poured the lemon juice and sugar mixture from the apples over the cake before I put it in the oven and this gave a nice moist sticky texture to the top.

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Before and after baking

This was exactly what we were after last night to eat while watching Great British Bake Off Final having got cold and wet on the way home and suffering the first colds of the season. Soft, warming but light with fruit and an airy batter. I can’t wait to make this again perhaps with pears or plums.

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I did keep a perfect piece to photograph and upload here. Unfortunately I turned my back on it for a few seconds too long and it got scoffed by Mr Elbi. At least he enjoyed it. You can just about see here that the cake part is quite close textured. I think if using this slightly reduced mixture 1 1/2 tsp of baking powder is probably enough otherwise it rises a bit too much and collapses a little. Having said that, it did not affect the overall result too much and we had a great time eating and watching the last three great British Bakers sweating it out on the final. Everyone’s showstoppers were fantastic but I think Nancy stole the prize with her incredible edible Moulin Rouge (with moving sugar sails).

Povitica (Pov-e-Tee-za)

Autumn has arrived in Bristol and I for one am quite please. I do like the long hot summer days but there is something so cosy about a fresh, bright autumn day that I cannot help but enjoy them. It is currently at that blissful stage where you need a jumper on the way to and from work but it is daylight when you wake up and warm enough to eat outdoors in a T-shirt comfortably at lunchtime. Adding to my current happiness is my new job situation which came about quite suddenly a few weeks ago. I have now substituted 3 hrs of daily commute with a 15 minute walk each way.

To celebrate my new lifestyle I am doing a lot more baking and this week I was inspired by the Great British Bake Off technical challenge. This European bread with an unpronounceable name is made with enriched dough and a walnut and cocoa filling looked spectacular when the contestants made it last week and I was desperate to give it a go. It is a Paul Hollywood recipe which means time consuming but delicious. Paul’s recipes always seem to involve more ingredients, more processes and lengthier resting periods. There have been numerous times where I have chose a short-cut version of a recipe rather than following his faff-tacular instructions only to be disappointed. If you follow his method to the letter, the results are almost guaranteed in my experience. This Povitica was another example of just that. Having learnt my lesson from previous failures, I did exactly as ordered by the recipe on the BBC website with the exception that I halved everything (after all, there was only Mr Elbi and myself to eat it).

After making a heavily enriched dough (which took much longer than the recipe suggested to rise), and a nutty, buttery, cocoa-y filling, the dough is stretched as large as possible and the filling spread evenly on top. Then a giant swiss roll is made and snaked into a loaf tin. After another rise and LOOOOOOOOOONG bake, the loaf is read and comes out looking ordinary and golden. The magic of this bake come when you slice into it revealing the pattern created by the swiss roll.

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This is an absolutely delicious piece of baking (if I do say so myself). The savoury flavour of the nuts balances out all the sugar in the dough and the filling to give a fantastically moreish product. This did take me about 4.5 hours to make though. Perfect for my new lifestyle / a quiet Sunday at home.

Trying Something New: Homemade Pasta

I love pasta. We eat it more than once every week. Its great for picnic lunches quick dinners, filling snacks, hot or cold, meat or veggie…… The number of options is endless which is why when I see people making pasta on Masterchef or (my new guilty pleasure) My Kitchen Rules, I find it somewhat odd that so many of them choose to make a pasta dish. It’s great but it seem somewhat everyday and straighforward for a cooking competition…….

But……

the contestants always make their pasta from scratch. How much better does this make it? I tried making pasta once when I was a lot younger and living in Italy. The pronblem was I worked too slowly and the dough dried out before I could get it thin enough to be perfect. This early experience put me off until now.

What’s changed?

A very kind gesture from Mr. Elbi:

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The second he offered a pasta roller I marched him off the road to the kitchen shop where we looked at two models. The Imperia at £60 and another which was a third of the price. On returning home to investigate further, the conclusion we reached was that anything cheaper than the Imperia was not worth the money as customer reviews all said the cheaper models lasted a couple of uses before breaking. Regretting his offer to buy one slightly, Mr Elibi suggested ebay where we found one for £25 pounds apparently used once then left on the shelf. It’s here and I am desperate to try it so it will be my Trying Something New for this week.

Before using the roller, I need some dough. The previous owner of my pasta machine left their recipe in the box and I decided to use it:

INGREDIENTS

8oz ’00 pasta

a pinch of salt

1 tsp olive oil

2 eggs

additional flour for dusting

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Place the flour on a surface and then make a well in the centre. Some recipes call for the flour to be sifted first but if I am completely honest, I couldn’t be bothered with this. Place the remaining ingredients in the well and gradually incorporate the flour. This will be a STIFF dough. If you are used to bread, it will feel wrong but persist and it will come together. Once you have a ball of dough, wrap in clingfilm and leave it in the fridge to rest for at least an hour.

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The Imperia need to be clamped to a table. None of the work surfaces in our kitchen are suitable so I had to use the dining table with an old appliance manual to protect the wood. When I started to feed the dough through the pasta maker on the widest setting, I thought it had gone wrong. Instead of the smooth sheets I was expecting I got:

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Remembering an old episode of Masterchef Australia where a similar thing happened, I kept feeding the dough through the machine and it started to come together:

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Once I had nice smooth dough, I fed it through again and again, reducing the width setting by one after each 2 passes until I got these gorgeous thin sheets.

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As this is my first use of the pasta machine, I kinda wanted to carry on playing so I cut the pasta using the thinnest setting. Although it is technically fettucine, it can easily pass for spaghetti as long as you are not a purist.

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I didn’t dry this pasta but sprinkled it with flour to keep the strands separate and then cooked immediately. This pasta cooks really quickly. I put it into boiling water and when it returned to the boil it was ready. The texture was amazing and overall, the rolling process and cooking only took me a few minutes longer than cooking dried pasta from a packet. It is definately having a go at making your own pasta. It makes the pasta a feature rather than a filler. I am very very happy with my pasta pesto 🙂

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Cutting Fabric for Patchwork

When I made my first quilt as a present for a friend’s baby, I cut all the pieces out by drawing around a cardboard template and cutting with scissors. I cut 36 squares from each of the three fabrics I used making the patchwork making a total of 108 squares. There is only so many individual squares a girl can cut out with one pair of scissors so I folded the fabric into thirds and cut three at a time. This method did have the advantage thar I could adjust the placement of the template to give more pices with full birds on them but the movement of the fabric meant that not all of the squares cut at the same time had the pattern in line with cuts. I did manage to find a way around the problem which you can read about here.

When I embarked on the second quilt, I wanted to cut more accurately to make the sewing part of the project a bit more enjoyable. There are a lot of interesting posts about the best way to cut out fabric on the internet and most of these suggest that a rotary cutter and cutting mat pairing is the best way for accuracy. With that in mind, I decided to splash out on a few more sewing goodies. It has been an expensive couple of months so I shopped around online and manage to find an A3 cutting mat and rotary cutter for about £8 on ebay. The cutter in particular looks as though it is not quite as sturdy as the one that most bloggers use but as an experiment, it is a cost effective tool for trying out cutting fabric this way. I also bought an 18″ ruler to use as a cutting guide.

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If you look at the spots along the raw edge of the pruchased fabric you can see that the print is not aligned with the raw edge.

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In order to cut nice neat square that line up with the print, the first thing to do is quare off the fabric edge:

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Next, using the newly cut edge as a starting point, measure the width you want and mark it.

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The fabric can be folded at this point so it all fits on the mat and then cut. The markings on the mat help to ensure the cutting guide is straight.

If you are cutting a lot of strips, it is worth squaring it off again after a few cuts in case it goes off grain.

Overall, the cutting out took about a quarter of the time that cutting the squares for the first quilt did. Additionally, sewing the suares together was a lot quicker and easier becauseall I had to do was match up the raw edges and use the quarter inch foot to guide the seam. So, without pinning and using the presser foor to guide the seams, I was able to assemble the quilt with almost all of the corners matching up.

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Hazelnut and Chocolate Chip Biscotti

A slightly (but hopefully not too) late post for yesterday. This weekend I had my first attempt at biscotti. I love these little coffee accompaniments. The sweet nuttiness goes so well with the bitter dark taste of freshly brewed black coffee. Plus, on saturday kitchen this week, James Martin made biscotti which means that this weekend, I must make biscotti.

As a first attempt at biscotti, I wanted to keep it simple and add only a couple of additional ingredients. I scouted around the internet and the classic combination of chocolate and hazelnut caught my eye (and taste buds). These beauties here look especially fantastic. Oh and these. There are so many fantastic recipes it’s hard to choose. However, getting my sensible hat on, I decided not to put cocoa into the biscuit mix. It may sound ridiculous but I sometime find it hard to judge the “golden brown” stage of unfamiliar recipes that have cocoa in them.

So……here we have Hazelnut and Chocolate Chip Biscotti

INGREDIENTS

2 eggs

100 g caster sugar

250 g plain flour

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

25 g hazelnuts

50 g dark chocolate

1/2 tsp vanilla essence

1. Whisk together the sugar and the eggs until light and fluffy. (I would definitely recommend an electric whisk for this. Normally I use a low-tech balloon whisk but this defeated me)

2. Sift the flow and bicarbonate of soda into a separate bowl. Roughly chop the hazelnuts and chocolate and add them to the flour

3. Add the vanilla essence to the eggs and then fold in the dry ingredients a little at a time. (I also added some pistachio essence at this point because I can’t get enough of that flavour at the moment)

4. Once your ingredients are combined into a dough, turn the dough onto a floured surface. Shape into a sausage about 35-30cm long and then press until it is around 2-3 cm high.

5. Bake at 180 degrees C for 30 mins until golden brown the remove from the oven and reduce the temperature to 140 degrees C

6. Slice the sausage into 1.5 cm slices and lay these out on a baking tray cut side up and return to the oven for 20 mins

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NOTE The biscotti pictured here had only half the amount of chocolate in the recipe but I increased the suggested quantity because they could do with a boost

Quilt Number 2 – Fabric Selection

Following the success of my first quilt and how pleased the parents were with the homemade gift, I have decided to make another one for some friends expecting their first child in September. This time, I managed to rope Mr Elbi into coming to Fabricland with me so that he had a bit of input into the gift. Despite much complaining, I choose to believe that he enjoyed it although he said that I somewhat ignored his opinion.

I liked the size of the finished first quilt so I decided to go with a similar quantity of fabric – 3 quarter meter pieces for the patchwork design and a meter for the backing (all 45″ wide cottons from Fabricland). As usual there was a substantial array of prints to choose from and despite some questionable suggestions from my other half who at times definately seems to be colour blind, we managed to reach a consensus with a green/blue colour palette.

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The cream “French Hen” print fabric is the same design as one of the fabrics that I chose for the first quilt in a different colourwork. I like the fact that these prints have a variety of colours that can be picked out with the accompanying fabrics to make the birds pop in the overall finished design. I also chose the blue “Astoria” print which is a different colourwork of the same pattern as in the first quilt chosen to match the blue in the French Hen print.

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The third fabric is green “Tree Owls” print which again matches the “French Hen” print. The left hand photo is unfortunately a bit washed out due an unanticipated burst of sunshine. I didn’t notice this until after I cut the fabric and I wanted to show how sweet this print is when whole. I love to googly eyes and the variety of colours in this fabric – perfect for a baby/small child.

Although this is a present for a baby boy, there is something lacking in this fabric selection to make the colours more balanced. Therefore, I chose a solid red to make a border and pick out the reds in the bird print fabrics. Mr Elbi was also fairly insistent on the inclusion of a more stereotypically masculine motif so I gave him free range for the backing fabric and he chose this “Aeroplanes” print.

I have made some changes to my methods for this quilt from the first one which I will discuss further in the next post.