Sunday, 31 March 2013

Choux Buns

We've always considered choux pastry to be beyond our limited cooking abilities, but choux pastry is amazing. Chocolate eclairs, profiteroles and choux buns are up there with the best cakes/desserts, so we've been meaning to try and make something with choux pastry for a while now. Liz's friend Sarah (who seems to be getting mentioned all the time on this blog these days) bought her a beautiful Ladurée recipe book and we eventually got around to trying their 'Choux a la Rose' recipe yesterday.

Sadly, as our closest supermarkets didn't have anything even vaguely like rose water or rose syrup, we had to go without. So technically we made 'Choux a la Nothing'! I was secretly pleased because rose is a bit gross.

120g plain flour
100ml milk
100ml water
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 pinch of salt
80g butter
4 eggs (beaten)
A pot of double cream (whipped)
80g white chocolate
Some red food colouring

This recipe takes a while, so make sure you have plenty of time to faff about letting things cool and all that. A Bank Holiday, lazy Sunday afternoon or day off work would be excellent.

Step one: Sift your flower. We never usually bother with this bit when making other things, but thought it was worth the extra effort in this case.

Step two: Put your milk, water, sugar, salt and butter in a saucepan and then it will look something like this...

Step three: Bring this appetising looking mixture to the boil and then remove from the heat. Tip your flower into the hot liquid and then mix it with as much enthusiasm as you can muster until it forms a kind of thick batter/soggy dough. Put it back on a low heat for a minute or two to get rid of some of the moisture.

Step four: Put the mix in a bowl and leave to cool for a bit. We left our bowl on a windowsill to speed things up a little bit, and the unseasonably cold weather really helped us out here!

Step five: When the batter has cooled down a bit, start adding your egg, a little bit at a time so that the batter doesn't split. This bit will look a bit gross and you'll feel like you've completely ruined everything, but don't panic! Persevere and you'll get there. When everything's mixed in and in one large, smooth blob in the middle of your bowl you're ready to get piping!

Step six: Stuff the batter mixture into a piping bag and then pipe circles on to a baking tray with greaseproof paper on it. We used a cookie cutter as a guide for how big we needed to pipe our circles, but you could draw circles on the paper or just do it by eye. The recipe wasn't clear about how thick the circles needed to be, so we did them about 1cm thick. Probably?

Step seven: Put the tray in a pre-heated oven (About 160 degrees) for 10 minutes and then open your oven door slightly to let out some of the steam. Prop the oven door open a little by wedging a wooden spoon in the top and then bake for another half an hour or so (Thankfully our oven is broken and the door doesn't close properly anyway - this is the first time this has actually been an advantage).

Step eight: Poke a little hole in the bottom of your delicious looking buns (To let the steam out) and then leave them to cool on a cooling rack.

Step nine: Now, the recipe calls for creme patisserie here, but we just used whipped double cream because we're lazy like that. Also because whipped cream is amazing. Put the whipped cream (Or creme patisserie if you can be bothered) in a piping bag and then, using the little hole you made earlier, fill each one until you can feel it bulging. You don't want them to burst though, so don't go mad. Here you can see some cream poking out of our buns!

Step ten: Melt some white chocolate and mix in a little red food colouring to get a nice pink colour. Dribble over the top of the buns and leave to set a little while. Then dab some of the leftover whipped cream on the top of each bun. Use this as a glue to stick a raspberry on each of the choux buns. Voila, as the French say.

We were pretty chuffed with the finished results. Maybe being a French patisserie chef isn't as hard as it looks?


Friday, 29 March 2013

Dead Exciting

While we were in London last week we popped in to the British Library for their temporary exhibition 'Murder in the Library: An A-Z of Crime Fiction'. We are both fans of a good murder mystery, whether it's an Agatha Christie novel or Murder, She Wrote on the telly, so we were both pretty excited by everything on display.

A was for Agatha Christie, probably the most famous writer of crime fiction ever. She was knocking about during the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, which was in the 20s and 30s. As well as her, you had Margery Allingham, Dorothy Sayers and Ngaio Marsh writing usually quite gentle murder mysteries involving upper and middle class English people poisoning and strangling each other. We watched a thing about Agatha Christie on telly the other night and it was saying how she'd worked as a pharmacy assistant. As a result she knew loads about poisons and things like that, so about half of the murderers in her stories use poison to kill their victims.

This is the kind of murder we can all enjoy. Sometimes not entirely plausible plots, posh people killing each other and a satisfactory conclusion where the perpetrator is apprehended and everyone goes home happy (unless they are dead). Now there seems to be a new trend in lighter crime fiction, though, that completely fascinates me. We're talking (usually) hobby themed mysteries!

If you look around Amazon, or your library, you will find loads of these things. For example, I am currently reading 'Fatally Frosted: A Donut Shop Mystery' which is part of the Donut Shop Mysteries series. It basically involves the owner of a donut shop being implicated in a murder and attempting to solve the mystery in order to clear their name. Here's the best bit though: after most chapters there's a recipe!

Similarly, on my list of books to read is 'A Crewel World: A Needlecraft Mystery'. From what I can tell, the plot of this consists of a woman attempting to juggle the stresses of owning a small business with solving a murder. Whatever your job or hobby, there is probably a murder mystery series to accompany it. There's Library Lover, DIY Home Renovation, Tea Shop and Cheese Shop mysteries (and plenty more). They all seem to work on the premise that as long you can come up with a good pun for the title, you can always think of a plot later.

When I'm looking for something a little grittier than 'Clobbered by Camembert: a Cheese Shop Mystery', I particularly enjoy reading Raymond Chandler novels. As a child I used to get too warm and then faint and it was the weirdest feeling ever - and not a feeling that seven-year-old me could describe very well. Chandler's famous character Philip Marlowe is always getting smacked upside the head, drugged or mistreated in a number of different ways. Chandler writes loads of really good passing out descriptions, probably because he drank too much and had quite a bit of experience of lapsing in and out of consciousness. Here's an example from 'The Little Sister':
A face swam towards me out of the darkness. I changed direction and started for the face. But it was too late in the afternoon. The sun was setting. It was getting dark rapidly. There was no face. There was no wall, no desk. Then there was no floor. Then there was nothing at all. I wasn't even there.
I could talk about Philip Marlowe getting knocked out all day, so I will leave it here before you all get so bored that you start thinking of ways to bump me off without anyone (amateur sleuth, private detective or professional cop included) being able to figure it out.

Like all good TV detective shows, I am going to summarise the contents of this blog post for added drama and to help out the less able members of the audience who might have forgotten what happened earlier. Imagine I'm Jessica Fletcher challenging a murderer or something like that. Okay? So, I would completely recommend going to the British Library exhibition - it is great. Also, we learnt that some crime fiction is rubbish in a good way and some is good in a good way. Thank you for your time.

Just one more thing! There's a new episode of Jonathan Creek on the telly on Easter Monday. Sadly it has Joanna Lumley in it, but it will still probably be flipping excellent.

Here follows a list of our favourite crime fiction/murder mystery telly programs and writers that we like. Do you agree with us? Comment below, ta!

Midsomer Murders
Murder, She Wrote
Miss Marple
Jonathan Creek

Agatha Christie
Raymond Chandler
Ann Cleeves
James M Cain
Michael Chabon (Although he's not a crime writer per se, Yiddish Policemen's Union is great)

See yer!


Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Wool House

We spent this past weekend in London, enjoying all kinds of capital city fun. The main reason for us venturing down to London was because Grimsby Town had somehow managed to get into the FA Trophy Final and were playing Wrexham at Wembley (Spoiler alert: they lost). However, as excited as Steve was to go and see the football, I couldn't find it in me to go and sit in the cold and snow for 90 minutes. 

I made my own plans instead, which meant that I got to spend the whole of Sunday with two of my favourite people, Sarah and Toby, who live in that London. We decided to go and see the Wool House exhibition at Somerset House. The Wool House is part of the Campaign for Wool, which aims to promote real wool as the superior natural and sustainable fibre for fashion, interior and the environment. 

The exhibition was set out as a collection of very different themed rooms from a house, with the common aspect of using as much wool as possible. Different designers had been allocated their own room and brief. My favourite room in the exhibition would have to be the Nursery by Donna Wilson, but that was to be expected as I am completely in love with all of her work and would love to have a house full of Donna Wilson products! My favourite pieces in the room would have to be the large knitted cloud and rain drops hanging from the ceiling in the centre of the room because I am into all things cloud related at the moment. 

My close second favourite room would have to be the Natural Room by Josephine Ryan, who is an antique dealer, interior designer and writer. This room had shelves full of the most beautiful woollen throws and blankets made from all different kinds of wool. There was an awful lot detail to see and she had clearly showcased a wide range of woollen products that normal people could own! It was all very inspiring.

Along with the interiors of the rooms, there was also an area in the exhibition to highlight the use of wool in fashion, showcasing the Savile Row Bespoke Association, who aim to protect and develop Savile Row's reputation for being the home of the best bespoke tailoring. In this area there was work from Dashing Tweeds, one of my favourite weave companies, who use a whole range of British mills and workshops to produce high quality woven stuff.

The whole exhibition was fantastic and it really showcased the brilliance of wool and how it can be used in so many ways. I am a firm believer that you can’t beat good quality woollen products and I hope everyone else who visited the exhibition left feeling the same way.


Sunday, 17 March 2013

Sheffield Zine Fest

Two blog posts in one day! Woof! Yesterday we went to Sheffield Zine Fest where we were sharing a table with the ever brilliant Stef Bradley, who now has hand drawn tote bags as well as her super cool comics! If you don't believe me, here, look for yourself:

Just in case you didn't catch the significance in the last paragraph, I will repeat it for emphasis: these tote bags are HAND DRAWN. I can't even begin to fathom how long it must have taken to do that. Stef had loads of them, too, each featuring a different image from her dead good comics. The pollution bogey one is my favourite.

We had a lovely day and it was great to meet all the tablers (this is a term I had never heard of before until yesterday) and visitors and stuff. We even got to have a chat with local indie pop celebrity tonieee from Plouf! and the Parallelograms. We were particularly lucky to have a table next to the supremely talented Jenna Lee Alldread. It is unreal how much good stuff (Etsy link!) she has. Here's my favourite illustration that I could find on her Tumblr (I like illustrations of houses):

We were selling some new things on the stall, too, including some pretty nifty little ladybird brooches and a newly designed little bear that you can now buy on Etsy too!

The event was extremely well organised and we were made to feel very welcome by Chella and Bettie. I think there was talk of there being another zine fest in June some time, so hopefully we will be able to go back and do it again! Here follows a dump of photos from Liz's phone that were taken at the zine fest. They are: 1- our stall! 2- me and Stef! 3- Jenna and her stall!





One of our favourite things to have for our lunch when we are at home is soup. Soup is pretty brilliant. It can basically be made out of any vegetable; if you can blend it you can make soup with it. When it comes to soup there is definitely a wide range of skill levels. Usually we opt in for the super easy, cheap and fast options, as we are both pretty greedy and impatient when it comes to waiting around for lunch.

Two of our favourites are probably pea and mint or carrot and coriander. They both just involve boiling the vegetables until they are soft in some vegetable stock, blending them, and then adding the herbs and blending again. The bit where you add the herbs and blend again is probably the crucial part when making carrot and coriander soup as it stops the soup from going a strange greeny brown colour. Gross! Sometimes we even skip the fresh mint step when making pea and mint soup and just stir in a few spoons of mint sauce. Yum yum.

We do very much enjoy all soups, but at the moment there is a new soup in our flat that we can’t get enough of: cauliflower cheese soup. This soup takes a little more time than other soups we make, and is in no way classed as healthy, but taste wise it is delicious. We found the recipe on Good Food, but we have adapted it a little to make it more unhealthy (and therefore, more delicious!).


Knob of butter
1 large onion, diced
1 large cauliflower (you need to cut off the leaves and chop it into florets)
1 spud (peel off the skin, chop it into small-ish bits)
700ml vegetable stock
400ml milk
200g cheddar, diced (OR try mixing up your cheeses. We added some smoked cheddar too)

Step one: melt the butter in the saucepan. Add in your diced up onion and sauté it for a bit until it goes all soft and translucent. Keep stirring so you don't get bits of burnt onion stuck to your pan.

Step two: add the cauliflower, spud, vegetable stock and milk (and a bit of salt and pepper, if you like) and bring to the boil. Turn your hob down and then leave it to simmer for about half an hour or until the spuds and cauliflower and nice and soft.

Step three: BLEND! The best bit about making soup is blending. We have a hand blender that does a pretty good job. The original recipe said that you could use a potato masher but, quite frankly, that sounds mad to me. Anyway, after a bit of blending your soup will be thick and creamy. But it isn't finished yet!

Step four: CHEESE TIME. Tip in your cubes of cheese and put the pan back on the hob. Stir the cheese around until it melts into the soup, but if you're impatient you don't have to wait until it's fully melted. It's nice having lumps of half melted cheese gloop in your soup.

Step four: serve in bowls with some bread (or toast!) on the side for dunking.

Try it! Or maybe you have a better soup recipe? Let us know, please!

See yer!

L and S