Friday, 28 February 2014


Hello my dears! 

Just a very quick post as I am enjoying my jug of daffodils bought for St. David's Day so much, I wanted to share a photo so you can enjoy them too.  Spring is about to - well - spring!

Wishing you a beautiful weekend


Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Welsh cakes - Pice ar y maen

As I am sure those of you with a Welsh connection already know, St David's day is rapidly rolling round - in fact, it's this Saturday; and if you're feeling even a little patriotic or nostalgic, or else just a little peckish, this could be just the recipe for you.

Welsh cakes are a delicious, scone type cake traditionally made on a bakestone, but they can be made on a griddle or a dry frying pan wiped over with an oiled piece of kitchen roll.  These little cakes are so good and so easy to make.  They are traditionally made with currants, but nowadays they are often made with raisins or sultanas, chocolate chips, or chopped glace cherries and almond flakes (these are really cute as heart shapes!).

You will need:

225g self raising flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
125g butter
75g caster sugar (golden if you have it)
75g currants, or raisins, or chocolate chips or chopped cherries & almond flakes
1 large egg
good pinch of allspice
a dash of milk

a large plate well covered in caster sugar to dust

How to:

Beat the egg in a cup.  In a bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and allspice well.  Rub the butter into the mixture with your fingertips to form breadcrumbs, stir in the sugar and fruit or chocolate and the beaten egg.  Bring the mixture together, adding milk a few drops at a time until you have a dough a little softer than shortcrust pastry dough.  Very lightly grease the frying pan or griddle and bring up to a moderate heat.

Flour your surface lightly and roll out the dough to between 1/2 and 1cm in thickness.  Using a 2 1/2 inch cutter, cut out rounds of the dough.  Provided your kitchen is reasonably cool, you could stack these prior to cooking if you are short of space by sprinkling a light dusting of flour between each one. The dough is very forgiving so you can keep rolling and re rolling until you have cut it all into rounds.You will have time to do this while they cook if you want to get going.

Cook the Welsh cakes on the pan or griddle about 5 or 6 at a time and cook for about 3-5 minutes each side until each side is turning a mottled golden brown. (if you flip them too early, just turn them again until they are golden).  While they are still hot, drop them onto the plate of caster sugar, flipping to coat both sides.  Stack on a plate or cooling rack.

These taste AMAZING still warm, enjoyed with a glass of milk or a hot cup of tea.  Alternatively they can be enjoyed cold, and you can add butter and even jam or honey if desired.  If you warm them over in the oven, they will taste freshly cooked.

This recipe is traditional but the measures are based on the wonderful little book 'Welsh Bakestone Cookery' written by Bobby Freeman and published by y Llolfa :)

Happy baking - and dydd Dewi Sant hapus for Saturday!


My favourite project of 2013

Okay, so the title's a bit of a fib. I actually had at least 2 favourite projects of 2013 - though one is currently lost in the mail and I am hoping against hope it will turn up, so I don't want to spoil the surprise - hopefully I will be able to post about that later.  This one was by far the biggest though - it took weeks to complete, but I was delighted with the end result. 

Favourite childhood teddy
I have two very dear friends who are sisters, and the older of them (though she's still younger than me by a little) had a milestone birthday recently.  I wanted to do something really special to celebrate, and she had specifically asked for a homemade gift.  An idea grew in my mind, based on all the memories we shared, and her love of bright colour, cartoons and all things nerdy.

I ended up using 2 double flat sheets, one very lightweight summer duvet, about 3 packs of Giotto fabric pens and a few weeks of my life!

First, I pinned up the sheet on the wall with masking tape and drew out a few images in pencil to give me an idea where to place things.  

I marked off the edge of the double sheet at the width of a kingsize duvet cover so I knew where to stop drawing.  

I quickly realised that the pens would run through onto the wall, so I then took the sheet down and used a book wrapped in a sheet of plastic to draw on.  

Favourite chocolates
I then learned that you have to stop occasionally and wipe the plastic down to stop the colour pooling and transferring back onto the fabric! However, if you do get the wrong colour on, it's easily fixed if the ink is still wet - with about 10 minutes scrubbing (I used wet wipes) and a little sotto voce swearing as required.

I had a lot of help from her wonderful sister (whose present I am already plotting about) who snuck photographs of teddies, gave me new ideas about pictures I could include, like one of a dolphin, and was so supportive and encouraging as she always is - so welcome, as she is an amazing crafter with a great eye for colour and design.

Finally, I finished drawing, and hung the sheet up. But it was missing a little something.  I decided to use her love of astronomy as inspiration, and filled all the white space with little coloured stars.  I ironed it all over to fix the colour, then washed it to get out any pencil marks, and ironed again.

I then pinned the edges together around the lightweight duvet, got out my long suffering Singer and sewed it together.  I overstitched around a few of the items to make them stand out, sewing in the ends by hand.

Finally, I handed it over.  Here it is on the bed (lightness is due to flash, the colours stayed fairly bright), and I have to say, I was pretty delighted with the finished look - and thankfully so was my friend!

Hope you enjoyed - and if you are crafting today, hope you have fun


Tuesday, 25 February 2014

My favourite recipe books

Hi lovely followers!

I've been thinking a lot about cooking and recipes lately, partly because Pancake Day (or Shrove Tuesday as my mum calls it)  and St David's day are looming.  That got me thinking about - and leafing through - some of my favourite recipe books.

I love reading, and I have a lot of books - including a lot about cooking.  I really enjoy looking through all of them, but there are a few I return to again and again.  So I thought I'd write a bit about them - and why I love them so much!

Beautiful books

Chocolate heaven...
Firstly, there are a couple of cookbooks I just love to look at. I've barely cooked from them, but just love to read them and handle them. 

The first two are the lovely Green & Blacks books 'Chocolate Recipes', and 'Ultimate Chocolate Recipes' (thanks for that one Emma!)

The photographs are so beautiful and the recipes practically leave you full, because they sound so sumptuous you can practically taste them.  I tend to use them for ideas and inspiration, or just when I want to dream about chocolate for half an hour!

Scrummy cakes
Third is the wonderful 'Cupcake Magic' by Kate Shirazi which was a birthday gift from a dear friend.  I not only love her imaginative and colourful cakes, but her writing style is really fun and her recipes are easy to follow. 

The book is divided by how complicated the recipes are, but all the sections contain designs which look spectacular.  And if that's not enough, a part of the price goes to the British Hen Welfare Trust, a fantastic organisation that rehomes ex-battery hens and also campaigns for better conditions for chickens!

Learning new cuisines

This one was hard to track down!
The first of these has to be The Art of Romanian Cooking by Galia Sperber.  I went to Romania when I was in my late teens, and my, what a beautiful country with every landscape from high cool mountains, to lush valleys filled with sunflowers, to ancient cities with topsy-turvy roofs.  I met many wonderful, welcoming people and tasted food unlike anything I had ever tried before.

I returned from Romania determined to try to cook some of the heavenly dishes I had eaten while I was there - so I bought this book. It didn't disappoint. The chicken and sausage casserole (which I make with chorizo) and zrdente (noodles for soup) are special favourites of mine!

Bargain book
Next up is Japanese Cooking by Emi Kazuko - a book I got at the bargain book store. I've never been to Japan, but I got a taste for Japanese food when I lived in London (mainly at Satsuma in Wardour Street if I'm honest). This sumptuous book could just as easily go in the first section, with its gorgeous photos enough to make anyone hungry - but even better, it de-mystifies many Japanese ingredients and explains what to look for in terms of quality and freshness.  

A large section of the book describes food and ingredients, then simple recipes follow - with replacements suggested for hard-to-get ingredients.  This book allowed me to give my little brothers their first taste of sushi.   I just love it!

Surrogate Welsh Granny!

The third of these isn't really a book but a set of books.  They aren't expensive, and they don't have fancy photos or lots of details. They give me something different - simple, tasty family recipes for the Welsh cuisine I have come to love so much since moving here aged 6.  

I learned lots of North Eastern recipes as a kid, like 'Metantatterpie' (meat and potato pie), bubble and squeak and Staffordshire oatcakes; but I don't have a Welsh granny to teach me how to make Welsh cakes, cawl, bara brith, or crempog - so I am learning from these books (£1.95 each). They are perfect - easy to understand, well written and full of local - and literal - flavour.  Thanks, Bobby Freeman!

Spice is nice...

Fourthly, a book which almost certainly never won any prizes for beauty, and doesn't credit its authors on the cover, probably because there are several contributors.  This book has short, to the point recipes and is easy to use.  

If you love Indian food but have no idea how to start from scratch, this is a great choice. It's not overstating to say that this book helped fire my fledgling interest in cooking in my late teens - and moreover, there are so many recipes, you can get a good feel for how to start experimenting.  It has everything from korma and dhansak to naan breads and lassi - and while there are definitely more elegant, sophisticated and up to date books available, this one is a good place to start.

Books I grew up with

These are books that are very close to my heart - books and recipes that were a big part of my childhood. 

Sweet memories
The first of these is one I remember cooking from with my mum and my dad from an early age. We are a cakes and biscuits type of family - my mum is fantastic at baking cakes and my dad makes amazing biscuits.  

There are so many beautiful recipes in this book, many of which I have adapted over the years to make my own.  Our family have made sauces, biscuits, cakes and puddings out of this book over the years - and not one has been other than delicious.  It's out of print I believe, but if you see a copy, I really recommend you snap it up!

Family heirloom
The next is the fabulous Mrs Beeton's Cookery Book. Please do beware of modern imitations - I shelled out for a modern version to keep this fragile family heirloom as intact as possible (as you can see it has been loved over the years) but the recipes were NOT the same - and I saw a sneaky footnote 'based on Mrs Beeton's recipes'.  Very loosely based is all I can say.

My mum has a newer copy which I used growing up, but this was inherited from my great aunt when she sadly passed and it has an inscription to her mother 'To Mary, from Arthur 26.9.27.  This is such a treasured possession, which I handle with great care. It has hundreds of recipes - and although some are outdated, many of them are just fantastic.

Family memories

Finally, and this is cheating a bit because I didn't grow up with this actual book but rather the recipes in it, this book is my own - a hand written recipe book containing family recipes - mum's yorkshire puds and easy sponge cake recipe, a Christmas cake recipe (which I am still perfecting!) and a yummy chocolate mousse from my wonderful mum in law.  

To me, these beloved recipes will make any place feel like home, and I look forward to adding to it as the years go by.  I hope one day someone else will enjoy them as much as I have.

 What are your favourite recipe books?  I would just love to hear from you about what you like to cook and why! If you want me to share any recipes, just let me know and I will try my best to oblige.  I was thinking of Welsh cakes ready for St. David's day?

I'm off to make some practice pancakes!

H xxx

Red onion & parsnip tear and share

This is a seasonal recipe adapted from, of all things, BBC Good Food's pizza base recipe.  The quantities provide a really great and very forgiving white bread base which is quite adaptable and can be flavoured with just about anything.  I've even done a banana and chocolate bread which was pretty damn good - but I need to test that recipe a few more times before I share it (how will I cope!)

The recipe was basically dreamed up, like most of my recipes, when I discovered a solitary leftover ingredient in my fridge that I didn't know what to do with - in this case a parsnip. I was going through an obsessive bread making phase - I tend to go through obsessive phases with all my hobbies - and decided I would try to find a way to get delicious parsnip and delicious bread to become besties.  I wanted that crispy parsnip flavour, rather than the woody undercooked flavour parsnip can sometimes have, and soft, fluffy bread.

The recipe may seem a little bit fiddly if you haven't made a lot of bread before, and if so, it's probably best to try it on a quiet afternoon, if you ever have one, so you can take your time.  If you are an experienced bread maker this one should be a piece of cake. Except it'll be made of bread.

Makes a 16 doughball tear and share


300g strong white bread flour

1 teaspoon table salt

1 teaspoon instant/easy-bake yeast

200ml warm water

1/2 small red onion, chopped finely

1 small parsnip, grated (large gauge)

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon uncooked semolina or pasta flour

Put the flour into a bowl, and stir in the salt and dry yeast. In a pan, fry the chopped onion in 1 ½ tablespoons of olive oil until the pieces are soft and going transparent, then add in the grated parsnip.  Stir continuously until the parsnip is soft and starting to brown. Set aside.

Put a handful of flour on your work surface and spread it out a little.

Add all the water (don't be shy) and half a tablespoon of the olive oil to the bowl of flour, yeast and salt. Stir as much as you can with a spoon, and then gather the mixture together with your hands.

Once it is all stuck together, pick it up and put it on the floured worktop. The mixture may be a little sticky, but try to resist the urge to add flour until it is well mixed.

After 3 - 5 minutes of kneading, (during which you can add flour to make it more workable) your dough should be feeling smooth and it should all have the same consistency. It should start to feel a little silky as the glutens are released, rather than sticky.

Flatten out the dough a little on the worktop. Scoop the onion and parsnip from the pan and put it onto one half of the dough. Fold the dough over the veg, seal the edges together roughly and knead again until it’s well distributed (1-2 mins).  You may need to add a little flour as the dough will be a little sticky/oily at this stage.

Sprinkle the bottom of a dish (about 12-15cm square will do, or you can use a large solid bottom cake tin) lightly with semolina. Divide the dough into 4, then each quarter into quarters. Using your hands, roll the dough into balls.  Place in the balls of dough on top of the semolina – they should be just touching.  Drizzle with the last of the olive oil.

Pour about 2 mugs of boiling water into the bowl you mixed the dough in, and rest the tin or dish on top. If the bowl is the wrong shape, use the pan instead.  Cover both with a dry teatowel.  After 20 - 25 minutes or so, they should be nearly doubled in size and all puffed together (and your bowl or pan will be a lot easier to wash up!) Preheat the oven to 200C. 

Grind salt over the top of the bread, and pop it in the oven and bake for about 15 -20 minutes. You may need to turn the dish after 10 minutes to ensure it cooks evenly. It is done when the doughballs are well risen and the tops are all browned.

Really nice served warm with a little butter.  Yes, butter.  Go on - just a little bit.

H xxx

Monday, 24 February 2014

A few of my previous projects

Cotton babygrow for my baby niece who lurves strawberries!
Nightmare Before Christmas inspired cake
Laptop bag made from recycled jeans & belt

Painting of a rooster (acrylic)

Hello world!

Welcome to my very first blog post.  I'm new to this whole malarkey, so please be patient with me!

I live in a little house near Bridgend in Wales, which we are in the process of doing up, with my very patient husband, two wonderful dogs, George and Millie, and one adorable but mischievous cat, Pandora. We also have three lovely little hens at the bottom of the garden - Ella, Zelda and Rose.

I love cooking, drawing, painting, sewing, writing and DIY, not necessarily in that order.  I get a kick out of learning and I'll try my hand at just about anything - so my projects tend to be quite random.  I'll be posting up everything from recipes to bag patterns to pictures and presents I've created - hopefully you'll like what you see! 

I especially enjoy trying out recipes and tweaking them to make them my own.  I am really keen on learning more traditional Welsh dishes and I will definitely be sharing those as I go. Please let me know what you think!