Friday, 17 December 2010

Biriyani Cheesecake

YES.  The day has come to continue our Quest!  The next step in my diabolical plan to create a spicy-hot cake, this cheesecake comes with an inner layer of aromatic basmati rice pudding.  Inspired both by the Indian dish and by the Malaysian pudding knows as 'glutinous rice' which comes in many strange colours, I've added dairy produce to my list of magical ingredients which seem so wrong but taste so right.

To be honest this didn't turn out like your traditional cheesecake; I believe the top is a little more browned than I would like (so would recommend watching carefully and a tinfoil hat) and the base more of an upside-down crumble topping, but it's all delicious so I'm posting it anyway.  Experimentation and improvement can wait until later.

Biriyani Cheesecake

You Will Need: Small saucepan, wooden spoon, Springform cake tin 20cm across, tinfoil, large deep baking tray, greaseproof paper, sharp knife and chopping board OR food processor, teaspoon, large bowl, measuring jug.

150g bread(crumbs)
50-70g blanched hazelnuts
100g butter
150g caster sugar
75ml milk (not too skimmed)
150g cooked basmati rice
4 dried bayleaves
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
about 10 cardamom pods, opened and seeds ground
(pinch of saffron if you feel like affording it)
400g cream cheese
2 eggs
2 egg yolks (so you need 4 eggs but save the whites of the last 2 to make meringues.)

1.  Line the Springform tin with greaseproof paper and grease it with butter.
2.  Acquire your breadcrumbs and toast them, either by making 150g of toast and processing or chopping it, or buying ready-made breadcrumbs in a box and very carefully grilling them on a baking tray lined with baking paper until crispy.  Watch out if doing this!
3.  Chop the hazelnuts very finely, and melt the butter in the small pan on a low heat.  Stir the crumbs and nuts into the butter, then tip into the bottom of the tin and press down gently with the back of a spoon.  Chill in the fridge while you make the next stages.
4.  Make sure you have cooked your rice well and that it comes to 150g only when cooked, not dry - otherwise you'll have too much.  
5.  Rinse the small pan.  Add the spices and bay leaves to the milk, with 50g of sugar, in the small pan. Bring to a simmer, then remove, wash and reserve the bay leaves.  Add the rice.  Simmer and reduce until sticky mess!  Leave to cool off the heat.
6.  In the large bowl, beat the remaining 100g of sugar and the cheese until smooth.  Add the eggs and yolks and beat again until incorporated fully.
7.  Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.  Bring the tin from the fridge and spoon the rice pudding over the base, leaving about 2cm gap between the rice and the sides of the tin.  Smooth down with the back of the spoon.  Pour over the cheese mixture evenly.
8.  Triple-wrap the bottom and sides of the tin in tinfoil to prevent any water from getting into the cake.  Water you say?  It will make sense soon!  Put the tin on a sheet of foil and crunch it around the sides, rotate, repeat.
9.  Place the tin in the deep baking tray and pour water carefully into the tray so that it comes about 2cm up the sides of the tin.  This is called a Bain Marie and it allows the cheesy mix to cook gently and evenly on all sides.
10.  Bake for about 50 minutes, turning and covering with a foil hat if it looks to be going brown.  When the time is up, take the tin out of the bath and foil and leave to cool for at least 1 1/2 hours before unspringing.  Garnish with the reserved bay leaves.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

The Holly and the Ivy

It's a funny carol, isn't it:

The holly and the ivy, when they are both full-grown,
O-of all the trees that are in the wood
Oh the holly bears the crown...

What happened to poor Ivy?  Why even mention it if the only purpose of doing so is to rub in Holly's success by comparison?  I don't know, some people have no manners.

I took a cheeky trip up to the Common today to cut some Christmassy greenery.  Dad had expressed a desire for a windowsill to be 'festived-up a bit' as it was the sill behind our christmas tree.  So, I decided that a wreath-sort-of-thing with evergreens and a big candle in the middle would do.

Things to look out for in the wild:
Holly and Ivy obviously.
Small pine cuttings provide good fluffy-looking filler for an arrangement.
Pinecones to scatter about.
Heather, branches still looking green with plenty of berry-like dead flowerheads.
Gorse - prickly, but if in flower a spectacularly yellow addition (especially if you've been unlucky with holly berries.)
Long branches of birch or beech, to make a framework, especially with catkins attached.

With a bagful of each of these things stuffed to the brim, I headed home and put some newspaper on the floor to get wreathing.  You don't need any wire to hold it together if you get whippy enough silver birch branches and plenty of ivy.  Get your centrepiece or candle and fold a forking branch around it so that it makes the shape of the Pupil of Sauron.  Twiddle the whippy ends together to secure.  With the next long branch put the whippy ends on the other side and fold into the thicker end of the first branch.  Repeat until you've used all your branches.  Sorted.  Now wind ivy creepers around the centre candle and between the birch branches.  With your arrangement secured on all axes you can start stuffing the other bits in as you like, trying to keep it evenly balanced of course.  Peel bottom leaves and spikes off the gorse and holly twigs to allow yourself to handle them easily (wearing gardening gloves helps if you're a bit of a weed.)

Remove the candle to move the arrangement to the desired position, and replace the candle and light it when you're happy with your placing.  Rest pinecones on the leaves judiciously, or scatter them on the surface.  (That's garnish, that is.)

Monday, 29 November 2010


The first of what I think will be many Christmas posts.  So much of what makes Christmas Christmas is food-related, and every family has their own traditions.  We liked to have fancy croissants and pain au chocolat for breakfast on the day, lunch was poached eggs with hollandaise sauce, and dinner was usually duck or goose (turkey is abominable done badly and presents far too many leftovers problems.)  The nibblies that surrounded these meals were however just as important and included nuts in the shell, biscuits from a tin and Christmas cake - the sort that keeps until February.

Since my father's fiancé N moved in however we have developed a slightly different 'feel' to our Christmas, with different food reflecting the changes and additions to the family.  N brought the idea of Pepparkakor to the household, as she had sampled them when visiting friends from Sweden.  They're a little like gingerbread biscuits, but incorporate other spices and flavours as well as being a bit crunchier than English gingerbread.  With a hole in the top for a ribbon and  cut into decorative shapes they can be hung on the tree.

I tend not to do the same Christmas cake as my mother used to (and I presume still does) any more, because living with Dad who doesn't like the icing makes it a bit of a chore to eat all by myself.  Instead I have substituted Nigella Lawson's Certosino recipe, which I seem to remember she admits to stealing from an Italian friend.  I will therefore reproduce it here later at an appropriate moment; it contains spices and dried fruit so is perfectly seasonal.


You Will Need: Large bowl, small bowl, wooden spoon, coffee cup (to measure; about the size of an American 'cup'), happy-shaped biscuit cutters, baking tray and greaseproof paper, cling-film, dinner knife, fork, teaspoon, tablespoon, grater, thin ribbon if using

8 ounces unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
1 tablespoonful maple syrup
1 egg
3 1/2 cups plain flour
2 tsp baking soda

2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cloves
splash of orange juice
2 tsp orange zest

1. Cut the butter into little cubes.  Cream the butter and sugar, add the maple syrup and mix.
2. Beat the egg with the fork and incorporate into the butter mix.  
3.  Add the flour, spices, orange zest (grate a bit off the skin until you can see the white showing through, using the small cheesy holes (the diamond-shaped punctures make too much mess)) orange juice and baking soda.  
4. Knead into a stiff dough, adding more flour if need be until the whole mass will come away from the sides of the bowl.
5.  Take the dough out of the bowl, wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for 2 hours.
6. Preaheat the oven to 175 degrees C.  Line the baking tray with greaseproof paper and put aside.
7.  After 2 hours remove the clingfilm, lay the dough out on a floured surface and roll out with a floured rolling pin with floury hands until it's about 1/8th of an inch thick.  
8.  Cut the dough into shapes, making a hole in each one with the point of the knife for the ribbon; remember that the biscuits will expand as they cook so make the hole relatively big.  Transfer finished shapes to the baking tray and re-roll leftover dough until there is none left.  (if you have a teeny bit left, squidge it into an impromptu heart or circle shape and bake it anyway ;P )
9. Bake for 7-10 minutes.  When browned, transfer to a cooling rack.  When completely cool they can be ribboned, hung or scoffed!

In writing the 'You Will Need' for this post I've reflected once again that making a cake is like laying a table setting for one very hungry soup-eating giant, who needs a fork for some reason and takes sugar in his coffee.  All baking seems to require at least 3 kinds of spoon.  It's probably a law.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Go back in time with a tin

No, I don't mean that you should make a time-capsule and bury it in your garden, although that is also a Simple Thing To Make And Do - what I meant was that it's easy to cheer oneself up with a treat from one's childhood, and so often these things come in tins.
No, I don't mean that you should raid your store-cupboards for Best Before 1987!  Are you sitting comfortably?  Then I shall explain...

Recently on a visit to the boyfriend's father's house, we met once more with the delightful J, boyfriend's father's girlfriend (sorted that out in your head?  Good-o.)  Supper was being made, and as most men of his age will bf's dad had a whole host of things in his cupboard that he had never eaten, and couldn't remember ever liking, let alone buying.  J on the other hand was delighted to discover a tin of Bird's Custard, which she prepared with relish and set upon the table at pudding as though expecting a prize.

I would have given her that prize.  I used to have Bird's for breakfast as a toddler, and mum despite knowing how could never really be bothered to make 'real' custard after bothering to make a crumble (understandably).  This was the very stuff of puddings, and I devoured it greedily.  The boys on the other hand could hardly believe their eyes - someone actually liked this stuff?  Were they suffering from something?  

It's all about the nostalgia.  It's easy to be snobbish about the sort of cheapy, tinned delights that one habitually gives children; I would rather eat 'real' custard than Bird's most of the time myself; I would rather eat the superb lentejas or lentil and chorizo stew served at a tapas restaurant than Heinz's finest.  Usually.  But on a cold Wednesday, unemployed, alone in the house, more than a little sorry for myself, what better way to invoke happier times than a bowl of baked beans, hotted up in the old pan with the (possibly even older) wooden spoon, a splash of malt vinegar (that's garnish, that is) and a cup of insanely weak tea?  A true madeline moment.

I say it's easy to be snobbish knowing full well that I am as bad as the boyfriend.  Mum once tried to get us to eat Fray Bento's tinned pies, and my god they smelt of cat food.  Many more leftovers for her than usual.  But I'm sure that a significant proportion of those who buy those pies now are not thinking, 'my a tinned pie how convenient' but rather, 'I used to have those when I came home from school and sat in front of those terrible cartoons.  It's a wonder they still make them.  I wonder if they still taste as nice,' and buy three.

Any memories of your own?  Please leave them in the comments, and we can all decide whether you've been blinded by nostalgia or rediscovered a culinary gem ;)

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Patchwork Part 2: Grandmother's Flower Garden

Last post, I told you how to make the basic hexagons which make up a traditional piece of patchwork.  of course you could make squares, or indeed any polygonal shape, or combine different shapes - as long as the results will tessellate.  Hexagons however have something elegant and professional-looking about them, and arranged into 'flowers' as you can see in the above picture make for beautifully organic designs.

'Grandmother's Flower Garden' is the name of the pattern being created above, but I don't have enough white or other single-colour fabric to form the edges of my flowers, so instead I'm just going to sew together the seven-hex shapes you can see on the right - just as Mum did for my quilt-cover.

Making 'Flowers'
You will need:
7 hexes, either different colours or 1 of one, 6 of another
Cotton thread in a complimentary colour for both kinds of hex (e.g. black and rust hexes, brown thread)
needle, obv

BEFORE YOU START: Remember the Rules of Sewing - never use a thread longer than your own arm, and don't panic if you get loops - they can be prevented by letting your needle dangle freely on the thread occasionally.

Hooray for the return of shoddy MS Paint diagrams!

1. Lay out your hexes as you would wish them to appear, right-side up.  This is important when dealing with some patterns and stripes (see fig. 6.)
2.  Taking the central hex, position the edge of your first outer hex against it and flip it down so that the right-sides (outsides if you were wearing it) are facing each other, with the seam you are about to sew uppermost.  Right sides, remember!
3.  Sew right-to-left along this edge.  Don't worry about the papers and tacking stitches, we'll deal with that when it's all finished.  Use the stitches shown in these videos.
4. The tricky bit.  Consulting your layout and the right-side of your work if necessary, position the next outer hex alongside the first one.  Sew the dotted blue line, where the solid blue line is the seam you've already completed.  Tie off.
5.  Rotate the work.  Repeat Fig. 3 for the second outer hex, and then add the third by sewing a 'radial' seam as in Fig. 4.  Continue until you come to the last radial seam, which will be the other side of the first hex you added.
6.  Especially with stripes you can create a nice symmetrical effect.  I find it easiest to do my seams in the order described, because it feels like it involves less tying-off and on again than my mother's method:

1. Attach all outer hexes to the inner hex in a continuous seam.
2. Complete all the radial seams in turn.

If you find the second one easier, then it all averages out in the end; the Mum way is probably easier for stripe-co-ordination for beginners.

Soon - the coat pattern!

Wednesday, 10 November 2010


I am the proud owner of a patchwork quilt-cover made by my mother.  Patchwork nowadays is a very old-fashioned hobby; it dates from the time when leftover fabric was a real resource to be saved, and when women needed things to do which were repetitive and occupied the creative parts of their brains to stop them from thinking things like 'perhaps I could leave the kitchen one day' and 'wouldn't it be nice to vote.'

Luckily for me English patchwork has never quite died, and now I can see the pattern of my early childhood laid out on my bed - from the silk and cotton shirts which Mum used to wear, to the stripy red and white of my primary school summer dresses, to the lining from Dad's old favourite coat.  I have also been left a hexagon template for making my own pieces, and seeing as I am now unemployed and lazing about the house with nothing to do, I have decided to create a patchwork housecoat - giving me something to do and a warm garment to laze about in.  I'll post the method or pattern for that when I get to that stage, but at the moment I'm still making hexagons, so I'll show you how to do that.

Making Hexagons
You Will Need:
Stiff paper or very thin card
Scissors for paper
Scissors for cloth (if you use the same scissors then they will become blunted and useless)
Bits of old dressmaking fabric, torn clothes, grown-out-of clothes (explore handing-me-down first)
Cotton thread in a bright colour
Plastic bag for scraps which inevitably result

The last item is the most difficult to get hold of; every piece you make must have every side the same length to within about 2mm, so use a proper template such as can be printed off from here.  Using this template, cut out paper hexagons; you may be able to print the lines directly onto your paper.  I used my mother's metal hexagon as a stencil.

Cut out squares from your fabric pieces using your sewing scissors, so that there will be at least 1cm of seam allowance around your paper hexagons.  If you're cutting up a garment, cut swaths out from between the seams first, i.e. each side of a shirt as you would iron it, or opening out the legs of trousers; folding seams around the paper is awkward and makes for uneven hexes.  You could save or bin the resulting seamy scraps; if you saved them you'd be making a peg-rug, but I don't know how to do that and think that peg-rugs look like the seaweed mats which form in the oceans, so I binned them with joy.

Lay the paper hex on the wrong side of the cloth (the wrong side would be the 'inside' if you were wearing it) and fold  the fabric around the corners.  Using a single stitch at each corner, 'tack' the fabric to the paper as shown in these videos.  Leave an inch of thread tailing off the last stitch, cut the thread and begin another hex. Stack hexes by colour so that you know how many of each you have.

Once you've made all your hexagons you can decide how you want to sew them together.  Depending upon your commitment and level of extroversion, you can combine contrasting or complementary colours either in single hexes next to each other or as 'flowers' like the picture.  I went for the flower option, and I'll explain how to make those in my next post.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

The Kitchen Clear-Out Before the Builders Come...

A 'do' rather than a 'make' this time, as being ovenless and with a bedroom full of boxes I find myself cramped for ovens or space to create cake or needle-based joys.  But I do have some advice for anyone who might be going through or go through such an upheaval as we are enduring here at the flat.

If you have a permissive parent, it is remarkably simple to appropriate items from the dusty bottoms (ahem) of kitchen cupboards and begin building your own kitchen - what used to be called the 'bottom drawer,' I believe.  What is simple, but not easy, to do is to decide which pieces of culinary ballast to jettison, and which may be useful at some future date (which is of course how they stayed in the cupboards in the first place).

How many bottle openers does one household need?  Will we ever use that fondue set, or the potato mouli? (Google it if you've never experienced this object, it is truly a thing of beauty and went into my 'bottom drawer.') What does this thing do?  If we find out what it is for, will we realise how much it could have been improving our lives all these years?  How 'best' is 'best' china if it is literally never used?  Which of these teacups have true emotional significance? (If you doubt that such a thing as a teacup can have emotional significance, then you are either my boyfriend or a similar non-hot-brown-stuff-imbiber, and a philistine).  

There is only one way - Keep, Move, Charity Shop, Bin.  Doubles of anything other than crockery, cutlery and wooden spoons etc. are out.  'Devices' are out.  If it has not even been seen in two years, it is subject to immediate tribunal to establish its status as 'for best' or 'shit.'  At the end of the day, as a student I managed to cook perfectly acceptable meals for 20 using only my slow cooker,  a single wooden spoon, chopping board, 2 sharp knives and a selection of cutlery swiped from parental drawers.  The event was 'BYOB - Bring Your Own Bowl' but the principle stands.  If such poverty and such plenty can coincide, then you should have no qualms about saying goodbye to that grapefruit knife, those can openers which don't work and the matching set of olive-skewers.

But leave me the potato mouli.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

A Simple Thing for you to Do: Put some spunk into your Wednesdays

I haven't posted for a while, and after visiting my old friends in Cambridge who apparently read this blog I felt as though I was neglecting the Interwebs by not writing.  Unfortunately the curry-cake saga has been postponed by work and the re-doing of the kitchen at my house (hurrah!) but I felt that I still had some knowledge to offer this week for anyone to try.

It's a statistic that I've picked up from somewhere that the majority of suicides are committed on Wednesdays (not Mondays, as it is apparently often assumed).  They're far enough away from the weekend on each side, in the past and in the future, that neither your memory nor hope of time off is enough to console you through the long day at work.  In my time I have been lucky to learn how to set this deadly Wednesdayness at bay, and you will not be surprised to learn that the key thing is food.

When I was working for a literary scout in the Easter holidays, my second year of university, I was the lowest of interns, given all the most druge-worthy tasks.  The one light at the end of this tunnel other than the mantra 'it'll look great on my CV' was Wednesday lunchtime, for this was the day of Sushi.  I had never really tasted sushi before this.  Across the road from the office was a little restaurant, where generations of up-and-coming young people like myself had taken it in turns to shuffle over the road, carefully order the bosses' preferred dishes, and then wait forty minutes before shuffling back again to get the fishy goodness.  The staff were friendly enough, but in the reserved and very quiet East Asian way which made me frightened to raise my voice or even speak to them beyond asking for a receipt. 

The meal would be brought to a large table in the lower office, and carefully laid out.  Everyone had their own pot of soy sauce, their own plate of delicacies and pickled ginger, including me.  For two hours, we would sit and eat (some more awkwardly than others) whilst the most exciting books of the week were discussed.  Some people disliked pickled ginger, so I was given theirs as well - heaven!  I had never known such succulence, salt and excitement could be packed into one meal, which looked so elegant and healthy at the same time (although I'm sure a diet of nothing but sushi would be incredibly draining.)  Wednesdays became the highlight of my working week, and when they were over I had the weekends to look forward to as well.

It doesn't have to be sushi.  At my next job, I allowed myself the luxury of a bought pot of soup rather than my usual homemade, rushed sandwich or some real hot leftovers on Wednesdays, to keep up the tradition and my spirits.  It had become a day of treats.  Yesterday I had a piece of carrot cake from Pret a Manger, just because I could.  However you can, I recommend you do the same, and watch as your working life becomes that much sweeter.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Korma cake, Korma 'Shortbread'

For this curry, I tried two different approaches to the problem.  The cake which I made was popular with some, but others complained that it was a little too dry and crumbly for their taste - so I made a 'shortbread' biscuit as well to take advantage of this property.  Here are both recipes, presented for your benefit - I hope you enjoy both of them.

Korma Coconut Cake with Turmeric Yoghurt Topping

200g ground almonds
100g dessicated coconut
100g butter
150g caster sugar
3-4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp chilli powder
2-3 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp garam masala
250ml pack of creamed coconut, drained
2 eggs
150g self-raising flour
100g yoghurt
4 tablespoonfuls icing sugar
1tsp turmeric

Line a loaf tin with a strip of greaseproof paper.  Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.  'Breadcrumb' the first four ingredients by rubbing the lumps of butter between your fingers until you have an even crumbly mix.  Mix in the spices.  Drain the packet of creamed coconut (available in Sainsbury's, or 'all good supermarkets' in the 'foreign food' section) by cutting off a corner and pouring the watery substance down the sink.  Squeeze out all the creamy toothpastey coconut goodness into the mixture.  Mix; add the eggs, and the flour a little at a time.  Bake for approx.  one hour; check every 15 mins. and if need be put a tinfoil 'hat' over the tin if the top looks like burning.  Make up the icing and 'ice' the cake dribble-fashion when cool.

Korma 'Shortbread'

This recipe is based on the BBC Food recipe for generic shortbread, with key korma ingredients added, so some of the credit must go to Auntie...apologies for the Imperial measures for those metric fans among you, it won't happen again!  It does make doubling quantities easier though should the recipe prove especially popular ;)

1 ounce ground almonds
1 ounce dessicated coconut
4 ounces butter
2 ounces caster sugar
4 ounces plain flour
1/4 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp garam marsala
1/4 tsp turmeric

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees C.  Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper and lay out a cooling rack.  Beat the butter and sugar til creamy.  Stir in the dry ingredients and spices.  Mould together into a dough; wrap in clingfilm and chill for 15 minutes in the fridge.  Take it out of the fridge, shape into approx. 8 big fat fingers with your hands and prick each one with a fork 3 times (you know, the way it looks in the shops with holes in.) Bake for about 15 mins til golden brown and cool them on the rack.  Careful, they're crumbly!

Next Week: Biriyani...

Monday, 11 October 2010

The Quest for Curry Cake Continues

Well, as the Kashmiri Carrot Cake went down so well with all who sampled it this weekend, I am determined to continue my suspiciously sober quest for an actually curry-hot-tasting cake.  Today I have been exploring the Interwebs for a definitive list of possible curries to emulate, and have come up with the following Plan of Action, moving from mild to spicy up to a terrifying End Boss:

  • Korma Cake.  Based on a coconut sponge recipe, this cake should be relatively easy to make work, incorporating creamed coconut, ground almonds, ginger, chilli, garam masala, black pepper and turmeric with a sweet yoghurt icing.

  • Biriyani Cake.  This is a rice dish used as a side, so this cake will have to incorporate boiled rice, as well as almonds, sultanas, cinnamon, cardamom and a bay leaf.  Technically it's probably less hot than the previous two but the rice makes it adventurous.

  • Dopiaza Tart.  Literally 'onions twice,' dopiaza uses onions as its basis in large and small pieces.  I plan to flavour a pastry with one 'set' of onions, and make a sweet caramelized onion filling for a spicy tart.
  • Dhansak Cake.  The first recipe to use a significant amount of chilli powder, this might be a tricky one - but I am determined to try.  The significant ingredients are lentils (which have no taste and will add texture,) chilli powder, sugar and lemon juice - and as the Taste Triangle theory reminds us, both sugar and lemon juice go with 'cake' - so why not the remaining player?  We shall see...
  • Madras Tart.  I resort to tarts here because I already own a recipe for an Italian tomato tart, which is admittedly a savoury dish but proves that tomatoes and pastry are a good combo for texture and taste. This should be a really quite hot pudding but I hope that the natural sugars of the tomatoes and anything else I add will bring out the chilli's real flavour, not just the tongue-scorching element.  

  • Vindaloo Cake.  I ran into trouble with my research here - a traditional Goan vindaloo apparently contains wine or wine vinegar, and garlic, neither of which fit into any taste triangle with cake which I can think of - yet.  Helpfully there exists the British Indian Restaurant version which usually uses chilli, potato, lemon and black pepper.  The potato can be missed out as it is a misinterpretation of the word 'aloo' as Indian for the Portuguese 'garlic.'  Lemon+cake = yum, chilli+cake = ? black pepper+cake = ?  Truly this will be a fitting End Boss for my Quest.  Perhaps I shall have to use chocolate as my Ingredient of +4 Yumminess!

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Curry and Beer makes for a very interesting Carrot Cake

A general rule of cooking is:  When drunk, many things seem like a good idea which will later prove to taste like unto that which usually goes down a toilet - which is where the ill-fated dish ends up.  Recently a trip to the local Curry House prompted a conversation which went something like this:
  • If only pubs had curry on tap, to go with your beer.
  • If only that curry was Mr. Whippy style.
  • Hey, you could serve it in cones made of naan bread or very thick poppadoms.
  • With a chilli chocolate flake!
  • Hang on... what about curry IN CAKE FORM... everyone loves curry, everyone loves cake, right??
For once this drunken curry-based line of reasoning didn't sound so bad when sober, mostly because of a little thing someone (also in a pub) called the Taste Triangle: a theory that if A goes with B, and B goes with C, that A and C may well go together as well - chilli and chocolate, chilli and tomatoes, chocolate and tomatoes?  It's Heston Blumenthal territory to most of us, but in this case I didn't see why garam masala, or another 'sweet' spice such as cardamom or caraway, shouldn't be added to a carrot cake.

Kashmiri Carrot Cake

N.B.: The following recipe yielded a rather stodgesome loaf most suitable to eat with a cup of tea in hand, or perhaps some coconut icecream.  For a lighter version perhaps more self-raising, more rigorous beating and less mixture-per-tin might yield a less dense experience, but it will be up to you to experiment.

approx. 350g carrot, grated
half a small red onion, finely chopped
100g apricots, shredded
100g raisins
50g dessicated coconut
3-4 cm fresh ginger, finely chopped
3 fresh eggs
4-5 tablespoonfuls of olive oil
200g dark brown soft sugar
approx. 250g self-raising flour (you may want more than this.)
2 1/2 teaspoonfuls of garam masala
pinch salt
pack cream cheese
2 tablespoonfuls icing sugar
coriander leaves, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 180deg. C and line a loaf tin with a strip of greaseproof paper so that little 'handles' poke out of each end.  Mix together all the fruit, veg and spice in a large bowl; add the eggs and oil and stir to incorporate.  Mix in the sugar.  Add the flour about 50g at a time, until you've reached a thick gloopy consistency; get it in the tin and bake for about 1hr20mins, or until a skewer through the very middle comes clean.  You may find yours needs less than this as my oven is quite unbalanced, baking the back more than the front.
Beat the cheese, coriander and icing sugar together in a bowl until smooth and chill in the fridge until you need to ice the cake.

As a side note, this really rather deliciously unusual confection was made using a Global kitchen knife, which is what your teaspoons imagine the face of God looks like.  When I say 'shredded' apricots, I mean you will not believe how wonderfully sharp and easy to use these things are.  Get one.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Elderberry vodka

You may remember that last month I encouraged everybody to pick elderberries as well as blackberries for making tasty things with.  Well, it's now October, and impatient little minx that I am I have brought my booze out of its vats a month early and bottled it in its final form.

When I picked my elderberries in mid-August I had about 800g of them, and decided to make a liqueur by using them to flavour some vodka.  I'm a sucker for purple booze!  A litre of vodka was therefore bought and I simply chucked all the ripe berries into it, sealed the containers and added sticky labels encouraging me to NOT OPEN TIL NOV. 15TH to allow for maximum flavour.
Needless to say the stickies did nothing - I was too tempted to move on with my experiment!  Today I filtered out the berries from my vodka, heated it gently in a large pan and added about 200g of sugar.  I wanted quite a strongly flavoured drink this time round (my blackberry liqueurs were very jammy) but you could add more sugar per litre if you like - just keep tasting 'til you go yum!  
When bottling, stand the bottle on a wad of kitchen towels and ladle into the bottles through a funnel if your pan has no spout.  This should minimise drips.

This all yielded a little more than 1L of finished product, which means I got to use a very small and unusually-shaped bottle for the excess which might make an amusing Christmas present for someone.  Come to that, small jars of jam or chutney or bottles of interesting drink would all make amusing Christmas presents, which should be another encouraging reason to get crafty!

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Return of the Chutney / Son of Chutney

After the success of my (slightly modified) Cottage Smallholder-based damsony chutney, I decided to take the plunge and go out on my own.  Using their recipe as a basis, I designed a mild yellow version to take the place of mango chutney alongside spicier dishes.  I used half the amount of vinegar specified, which turned out to make a speedy-setting, mild-tasting mix, but it might not keep as well as the more pickled version.  We shall have to see in a few months.

Simple Yellow Plum Chunky Chutney

2lbs yellow plums (stones in)
10-11oz cooking apples, chopped (no peeling required)
10-11oz white onions
8oz (approx) apricots, chopped into at least 8 pieces each
3/4 pint red wine vinegar
8oz dark brown soft sugar
10 black peppercorns
2tsp salt
2tsp cumin
tsp ground ginger
tsp garam masala

Stone the plums and chop them into shreds.  Chop the apple, onion and apricots as small as possible, and chuck all the ingredients in a big pan.  Simmer on the hob's lowest heat for as long as it takes to thicken - you should be able to draw the spoon quickly through the chutney and catch a glimpse of the bottom of the pan.  This took 2-3 hours for me I seem to remember, but I was listening to radio 4 at the time.

Sterilise your jars and pot the chutney while everything's still hot.  Having used up all our old jars during previous efforts, I ordered a set of 32 off the internet from this site:  They've got a selection of large, small, Kilner and Le Parfait jars and bottles to suit everyone, at relatively knock-down bulk prices.  It's a damn sight more expensive but less faff than buying 17p curry sauce from Sainsbury's and pouring the contents down the loo, as the boyfriend once suggested!

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Embroidery 'sans frontieres'

It's easy to get scared by the idea of doing embroidery; needles are both fiddly and pointy, mistakes are easy to make and difficult to attend to, and it isn't often done these days so guidance from elder relatives can be sparing.  However - after an obsessive cross-stitch phase in my childhood, I became determined to take up my needle again, and so I offer this pictorial evidence of what you can achieve without a pattern from a kit.

Learning to sew in itself is a bit tricky for me to show you just on a blog, but there are lots of books and old people around who could teach you the basics.  For masterpieces such as above, You Will Need:  Scissors, fine white cloth of any kind, coloured embroidery thread (try John Lewis), needle, small embroidery hoop (ditto), computer and printer, pencil and strong black pen.

Decide on your image.  I wanted a goldfinch because birds make good stand-alone subjects and come in interesting colours.  A great tit was abandoned after the embroidery hoop pulled the pattern out of shape.  Print out your images in black and white or colour and trace them with the black pen onto a separate sheet.  If you can't see the image through the paper do your best to sketch from example with your pencil, then go around the outlines with the pen.  Cut out the pen drawing.

Place the drawing behind the cloth and fit the cloth into the embroidery hoop so that you can see the pattern through the cloth.  If you can't, hold it up to a window or light to remember your way.  Make sure that the hoop is aligned properly and the cloth pulled tight.  Begin sewing with fine black thread, using backstitch, along all the outlines.  

When you've finished the outlines of your image, you don't need the paper pattern any more.  Take the work out of the embroidery hoop and carefully cut or pull away the paper from the back of the work (if it won't come easily, no worries - it won't show later).  Most of the edges will have been nicely perforated by your sewing earlier.  When the paper is mostly or all gone, put the work back into the hoop and fill in the blocks of colour using long and short stitch.  

This way you can make any image you like, or even, if you're a better draughtsman than a sewer, design your own.  For a first try choose a small, simple subject which doesn't have too much fiddly detail.  There are three key things to remember about doing needlework of any kind:

1) Never use a thread longer than your own arm.  When pulling from a bobbin or skein, hold the body of the thread in one hand near your chest, pull out the length you need with your other hand, and stop when your arm is fully extended.  Cutting the thread with your teeth means that the end is already wetted to push easily through the needle, and you don't have to let go to get your scissors.  When you have this long thread, pull about half of it through the needle so that you're only working with a short length at a time.

2) While you're sewing, occasionally let the thread lie on the surface of the work so you can see it curling up.  Then twiddle the needle in the opposite direction until the thread lies flat.  This reduces the chance of tangles happening when you pull through the material.

3) If you do get a tangle, don't panic!  Either snip it out, which is cowardly but effective, and remember to tuck the cut ends under new stitches so that they don't unravel - OR - very slowly tug on each loop and you may find that the culprit is one small loop which simply undoes when the thread is gently pulled taut.  Then dangle your needle to untwist the thread and start again.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Chutney update...

So, the slow cooker may after all have been a bad idea.  Its small base and lid have not been conducive to the evaporation of the vinegar; perhaps next time I shall add even less vinegar than I did - half-quantities - to speed the process.  After boiling for 7 hours, the chutney has now been jarred in good ol' recycled honey pots, sterilised by washing and putting in an oven heating up to 150 degrees C.  Hopefully once it's cooled, it'll look thicker than it is.

Mek Chutney all daaaay...

'Bees make honey, and this is an amazing thing - we never think about it but it's an amazing thing!  Do spiders make gravy?  Do earwigs make chutney?'
from the Cottage Smallholder website

I have paraphrased, but this is Eddie Izzard's wonderful stance on chutney, which I have decided to make myself.  I am not an expert earwig, so I have turned for my chutney recipe to a wonderful blog called the Cottage Smallholder.  Their recipe for plum chutney can be found here, and I have a batch of it (minus the apricots, as I didn't have any) in the slow cooker at the moment.  I am using half the amount of vinegar specified, as the slow cooker tends to conserve a lot of the liquid in any dish.

I ought here to mention two people who will have made this chutney possible.  My wonderful boyfriend D (who also prompted the invention of a chutney rather than jam, as he loves cheese) bought me the slow cooker for a birthday present about two or three years ago, for cooking at university.  It has served me well during that time, and I am delighted to discover on the internet that it may be possible to slow-boil such preserves in one rather than on the hob.
The second person is my friend V the Bearded Bat-Woman of the Night, who allowed me to plunder the extensive orchards of her Oxfordshire home for damsons, yellow plums, hard pears and cooking apples.  I shall be trying to condense this plunder into multiple jars of multiple kinds of jam and chutney over the following days, for multiple purposes.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Leftover Apple Tartlets

Remember that I told you to save the cocoa pastry from the Exploding Blackberry Tart? These little babies use the leftovers from making that, and any Bramleys you have left over from making jam, to avoid waste and encourage tastiness...

Leftover Apple Tartlets

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.  Grease a cupcake tray.  Roll out your remaining pastry to about 2-4mm thickness and cut into circles with a floured wineglass (if, like me, you don't have round biscuit cutters!)  Bake these cases for 5-7 minutes, then take them out again. 

Meanwhile, peel and core the apple(s).   Slice off very thin slices equal to the number of cases you have (I had seven.)  Put these aside for later.  Very finely chop the rest of the apple, put in a saucepan with a splash of water, a knob of butter and generous sprinkle of sugar to cover the surface.  Cook, stirring gently, until mushy, then add to the pastry cases.

Place a slice each of reserved apple over the filling, and sprinkle with more sugar.  Bake another 5-10 mins until the apple is hot and browned at the edges.


Sunday, 12 September 2010

Blackberry and Apple Jam

Jam jam jam, jam jam jam, nom.... eugh....

Black Books quotes aside (if you don't know what I'm talking about, go and find out) this jam is definitely not eugh.  It is my mother's own recipe, and I have been highly aware of its production since a very young age.  I first remember picking blackberries specifically for jam at a place called Hole Cottage, once owned as a holiday home by the Landmark Trust but now I believe sadly sold.  It was during our stay there, chopping and fetching wood for the real fire, reading a lot of books, going on a lot of walks and drinking tea from the (always identical) Landmark Trust tea-set, that the Blackberry Jam Song was first composed.  The brambles, as always, were full of spiderwebs, the path, as always, along which they grew was strewn with the detritus of passing dog-owners, and Mum sang out to us wee ones as we worked:

'Spider-jam, spider-jam,
nur-nur-nehneh, Spider Jam
Mind the poo - on the path
or you'll have to, have a bath
Watch out!
Here comes the Spider-Jam,'

to the tune of Aerosmith's Spider Man.  It became a firm favourite immediately, and in honour of the incident I have labelled the first two bottles of my blackberry liqueur 'Créme d'Araignée,' or 'Spider Liqueur.'

Mrs. Dawson's Blackberry and Apple Jam (proportions)

4 lbs (spiderless) blackberries
1/2 pint water
1.5 lbs peeled, cored, finely sliced cooking apples
6 lbs caster sugar
(knob of butter - I missed this by accident, but it seems to be optional.)

EDIT: Thanks to the interwebs, I now know that the knob of butter is apparently added at the last minute to reduce the appearance of scum, but I didn't spot any on mine, so do as you like.

Put a small saucer in the freezer with a couple of icecubes on it.  Trust me, you'll need it later.

Simmer the blackberries in 1/4 pint of the water until soft, which won't take long.  Simmer the apples meanwhile in a larger pan in the rest of the water until soft, then mash them.  Add the blackberries and the sugar to the apple pulp, stir til the sugar has dissolved, (then add the butter.)  Bring to a rolling boil and boil 10 mins.

TOP TIP:  At this point the whole thing will become Extremely Bubbly as you can see in the pictures and difficult to stir without injuring oneself.  I ended up wrapping a teatowel around my hand to protect myself from boiling sugar splats.  It disturbed me somewhat that I never saw Mum doing this, but perhaps she used a longer spoon.

After 10 mins take the saucer out of the freezer and blob some of the jam onto it.  Does it bind together into a  proper jammy blob when cooled?  If not, just keep boiling a bit more.  If so, skim any scum off the top of the jam, and pot into clean jars.  If you don't have clean jars, as I didn't, endeavour to make some, as I did:

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Exploding Blackberry Tart

This tart is a complete experiment, which worked extremely well!  The pastry is a lovely flaky version of a recipe which usually uses ground almonds instead of cocoa.  You could probably easily use both, or just almonds if you fancy a less brown tart.  You'll need some basic ingredients as well as some of your blackberries; I'm afraid to say I didn't measure the weight of the berries I used, so you'll have to guess, but if you have too many left over then you can do what I did with mine the next week...make jam!

For the Pastry:

c.30cm tart tin
200g butter
pinch salt
40g icing sugar
40g cocoa powder
1 egg
teaspoon vanilla
c. 200g plain flour

Cream the butter, almonds, sugar and salt.  Add the vanilla, beaten egg and 1 tablespoon of the flour.  Slowly incorporate the rest of the flour to make a ball of dough which comes away cleanly from the sides of the bowl (use more flour if need be.)  Wrap in clingfilm and fridge for one hour.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.  Roll out the dough to a circle about the size of the tart tin, flouring the rolling pin, pastry, surface and your hands very well.  Use this technique to get it into the tin:
Prick the bottom of the pastry base all over with a fork; this will allow any air bubbles trapped underneath to escape and not make unsightly lumps in your bottom :)  Bake for 10 minutes while you mix up the sponge.

TOP TIP:  If you have any pastry trimmings left over from making your tart base, wrap them up in clingfilm again, and keep in the fridge to make Leftover Tartlets - coming up in a new post soon.

For the sponge:

1 large egg, beaten
3oz butter, plain flour, caster sugar
handful of dessicated coconut or two

Cream the butter and sugar, and gradually add the beaten egg.  Stir in the coconut, then gradually add the flour to make a smooth batter.

To assemble:

Take the tart base out of the oven, and spoon in the sponge mixture, spreading it out evenly.  Now sprinkle over some blackberries, washed of course, until the surface is evenly covered with fruit.  Stick it straight back in the oven for about 25 minutes, or until golden brown and exploded. (by which I mean the individual fruits will have burst, spilling their lovely flavours into the sponge!)

While it's cooking you could melt some chocolate to drizzle over the top, or take some vanilla icecream out of the freezer to make it easier to spoon alongside.  Bon appetit!

Monday, 6 September 2010

Ways with Blackberries and Elderberries: Liqueurs

Blackberries.  We all know and love eating them, especially in crumbles, pies and jam - which I made later, as you'll see.  But this year's harvest was motivated by that finest of things: strongly flavoured, sweet, ladylike ALCOHOL.

At a party many weeks ago now I ordered a Bramble from the bar, a combination of Bombay Sapphire gin, lemon juice and blackberry liqueur - Creme de Mures.  Don't ask me the proportions, all I know is that they're delicious and I shared my love of them with some friends.  One said that it was tasty, but that she'd prefer a vodka-based drink to gin, not being a gin fan.  From then on my quest was sealed - I must make Sue some blackberry vodka, and some thicker, more traditional creme for making my own Brambles at home!

To the interwebs I went, and scoured many websites (most of them, to my despair, American, and obsessed with 'cups') to find the best recipes.  With these in mind I scoured many bushes on Wimbledon Common, looking for the blackest and least spider-covered fruit.

TOP TIP:  When you are going blackberrying, take with you a very large container - even if you don't fill it it's easier to chuck berries into from a small distance without missing - and the kitchen scissors.  With these you can manipulate thorny branches and cut away large leaves to reveal hidden berries, and reach your hand through to gather in safety.  If possible, don't wear a Gore-Tex raincoat as I did, they catch thorns worse than anything on the planet.

Along the way I also managed to chop down many bunches of elderberries from nearby carparks.  Pluck these in entire bunches and de-stem in the kitchen, or if you need more room in your containers take a break from harvesting to bibble the berries off at leisure on a grassy knoll.  Don't eat the red or green ones - they're a bit cyanidey, but the ripe black ones are fine!

Haha!  Bounty collected, I applied conversion charts to the wretched 'cups' of my recipes and acquired the requisite amount of alcohol and sugar.  I now present the two recipes I used, each delicious in its own way, each suitable for scaling up or down to suit your own harvest.

Creme de Mures with red wine

1.5 kg blackberries
2 litres of good red wine
large amounts of sugar

large tub
large bowl
large saucepan

Soak any labels off the bottles.  Wash and crush the fruit, add the wine and 'macerate' (basically soak) for 48 hours.  You should be able to do this in the tub you used to gather the berries.  Weigh a large bowl; filter the juice into it and calculate the weight of the juice.  Add the same weight of sugar to the liquid.  Bring to the boil and boil for five minutes; allow to cool, and bottle.  A funnel is essential; place the bottle on a wad of kitchen paper to make clearing up spills easy, or bottle over the sink.

Creme de Mures with Vodka

1kg blackberries
1 litre vodka
1/4 litres water
350g sugar

Wash and crush the fruit, add the vodka, and macerate 24 hours.  Strain, reserve the vodka, and put the strained fruit into the water for another 24 hours.  Strain this mixture and add the sugar to the water.  Mix with the vodka, and bottle.

Elderberry Cassis

Remember those elderberries?  Well, I was also looking at cassis recipes, figuring that if anything was a kindred spirit of these tiny black fragrant fruits it was blackcurrants.  Unfortunately I shan't know until November, following the recipe, whether my experiment with elderberry cassis was successful, so I shall save that post for later.  At the moment I have two bottles of vodka filled with slowly paling berries, the liquid getting purpler and purpler every day.  It looks promising....!

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Waste and Plenty

A break from knitting now, as I make the most of the summer harvest.  In the next few weeks I'll be posting five recipes using blackberries, elderberries and apple which I've been testing out this August.  Unfortunately in my desire to use up a disposable camera so that I can show you photos of these creations, I'll have delayed posting until the end of the berry season - but there's always next year!

Where I live there are innumerable old-fashioned Victorian and Georgian houses, all with a little garden, and there is a huge amount of fruit going to waste in those gardens.  From my flat I can only dream of having a real apple or plum tree to harvest; even a crab apple tree would provide jelly to serve with meats.  The Christian Science Church on the main road has a sloe tree in their front carpark; the branches of dull bitter berries are too high for me to reach without a scrumping ladder, and the fruit which might have gone to gin is rotting on the pavement, squished by passing women with buggies.  Elderberry bushes are rampant in front yards and back yards everywhere.  It is simply criminal.  None of these lucky, lucky people are taking advantage of the free jam, pudding and liqueur-making facilities at their command!

I address my plea to the Internet at large.  Soon it will be September, and almost all but the apples will have gone, Summer's bounty withered for another year.  Next year, when you see a red or purple glint on that bush that leans over the fence, investigate it properly.  If the bottom of the bush belongs to you, go to it!  If it doesn't, bring a ladder, and drop me a line...

Friday, 30 July 2010

Here he is! Oh, him? That's my friend Kit, he got very attached to Socky on the night we had a bonfire. And the blue-jumpered one is me!

Thursday, 13 May 2010

SOCK DRAGON! Part 5 - Face and Legs

After some designing on paper, and fiddling about with pinning things on in various places, I decided on the above layout for Socky's eyes and nostrils. Giving him a mouth or tongue seemed like too much effort, but you could have a go if you like. Mine is a very quiet (and probably very hungry) dragon. His irises are made of pale blue buttons, the kind with only two holes in, and the slitted pupils are made by sewing the buttons to the felt eye-shape with gold thread until the holes are completely invisible.

Once he had a face it seemed a shame not to give him some autonomy, so I made some legs for him. They are knitted on both two and four needles, so that there's a tubular section and a flap to make the shoulder-joint, and in two versions (left and right.) Toes are included, but the soles of his feet are made of felt.

To make a leg:
Cast on 1o. Knit 10. Purl 1o. Next row:
*Increase in first stitch. Knit to last stitch. Increase in last stitch. Knit last 2 stitches, turn and purl back along the row.*
Repeat between the *s, increasing by two every knit row, until you have 24 stitches.
Now transfer your stitches to another two needles, so that you have three groups of 8. In the next row, join the ends of the work together and start knitting in the round. This means that the stitch furthest from the working yarn when the knitting is laid flat becomes the next stitch to be knitted. Remember to pull everything very tight when making this first stitch in the round.

Keep knitting in the round until you have about 2 and 1/2 inches of tube, not counting the work you did on two needles. Now for the tricky bit.
Start the next row as usual, level with the point where you joined the knitting in the round. Knit 16 stitches (2 needles.) When you get to the third needle, pass the last 2 stitches onto Needle 1 so that there are 6 stitches left to work. Knit the following pattern on those six stitches:
Knit 6
Purl 6
Knit 6
Purl 6
Knit two together, knit two, knit two together
Purl 4
Knit 4
Purl 4
Knit two together twice
Purl 2
Knit 2
Purl 2 together and cast off, by pulling the cut end of the working yarn through the last stitch.

Evenly divide the remaining 18 stitches between 3 needles, and start knitting again on Needle 1 (to the left with the toe facing you.) Knit all 18 stitches, and join the round together again on the second row. The second row will proceed as follows:
Knit 1 (to join the round.) Knit another 1, and pass the first stitch on the right needle over the second to cast off. Cast off another 2; 3 stitches left on both needles. Increase one, then knit one; increase one, then knit one; increase one more in the space between Needles 1 and 2. There should now be 6 stitches on Needle 1 again, but with a cast-off gap of 3 between them and the toe you just made. Now follow the pattern for the toe from 'Purl 6' onwards.

When you have cast off the last stitch of the second toe, go to the stitches directly opposite them on the other side of the back toe, and start a new purl row. Cast off three as before and then increase between each stitch to bring the total back up to 6. Follow the toe pattern from 'Purl 6' onwards as before.
Having cast off that toe, start a new toe-pattern on the six stitches you have left, on the 'middle' needle. Once that is finished, cut out the felt pieces according to the picture, like you did to make his ears, and sew them on around the edges. Stuff the leg with stuffing.

Hooray! you have made a left leg. To make a right leg, simply start making the back toe on Needle 1 rather than Needle 3 - knit the toe with the first 6 stitches, then share the final two onto the next needles, and knit the remaining 18 in the round again.

Obviously, make two left legs and two right legs, stuff em up good and attach with wool and wool-needle to Socky's body! I'm not quite there yet (second left leg) but once I am, I reckon he'll be done!

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

SOCK DRAGON! Part 4 - Neck and Head

Oooh, it's getting close guys. Socky is now a fully autonomous, fully stuffed and cutely manipulable object, only awaiting the attachment of facial features (more on them later) and possibly limbs. Here's where we left off: 40 stitches in the round, to make the final sock for the head.

Well first I had a go at extending his neck up a bit; I did about 3 inches, decreasing by 4 every few rows until I had... I can't honestly remember, but it was far too few for doing his head properly. If I'd started the head-heel then (which I did, before boyfriend pointed out it looked stupid and I ripped back) his poor head would have been teeny-tiny. I therefore had to increase again (which gave him a bit of a double chin, but what the hell) up to my eventual head-size which turned out to be 24. I then divided to do the heel, 12 on Needle 1 and 6 on Needles 2 and 3. I would recommend decreasing down to 24 much more gradually than I did, and not going in and out. 24 seems to be a good heady size.

Rather than 19 rows of heel-flap, I only did 10, which meant adding 5 picked-up stitches to each other needle. I then made the gusset as usual, decreasing back down to 24 from 30-something. If my instructions seem vague at this point, it's because they are; I was making it up as I went even more than usual during this bit! Following the sock tutorial, I then knitted in the round for another 3 1/2 inches or so until I had all the lovely snout I wanted.

I should mention that during all of this, Socky had been mostly stuffed. The stuffing I used was rather professional-looking polyester fluff at a fiver a bag from John Lewis. I got two, because you never know, but one was more than enough to do Socky's body. When I needed to 'graft' the 'toe,' or rather make the invisible seam in his nose, I stuffed his whole snout first, right up behind the live stitches.

To finish the snout, I (of course) did this. I won't pretend the last bit was easy; it's a fiddly bastard doing those invisible seams, but it certainly looks good when it's finished.

Now I had a big wiggly vaguely-dragonlike tube, with a head, he needed a face! I don't know about you, but when I was drawing my own dragons as a child (and not-so-child ;P) I always gave them big bat-wing ears with huge veins in them. Socky is not going to be any different. Here is the pattern I devised for making his ears (times 2, obviously.) You'll need the same crazy wool as for his body, some black (or other, what the hell) felt, and some gold or silver thread.

1. Cast on 6. Knit 6
2. Purl 6
3. Knit 1, increase by 1, knit to last stitch, increase by 1, knit 2
4. Purl 8
5. Repeat row 3
6. Purl 10
7. Repeat row 3
8. Purl 12
9. Knit 3. TURN THE WORK ALREADY. Purl 3. Turn, Knit 3. Turn, Purl 3. Turn, Knit 3. Turn, Purl 3. Turn, Knit 1, knit 2 together. Turn, Purl 2. Turn, knit 2 together and tie off last stitch by pulling it into a big loop, cutting tail-wool and passing tail through stitch. Pull tight, and leave long streamer if desired. Wish I had videoed that one. Such is life.
10. With the next sets of three stitches on the needle, you will now repeat 'row' 9 until there are 4 pointy bits of knitting coming off the main section and no more stitches. To do this you will need to pick up and start knitting again with the cut end of yarn, like we did for the Space Invaders' eyes (remember them? :D)

You should now have a knitted ear-shape. Draw round it with tailor's chalk onto your felt, cut out the felt shape. Embroider veins like a leaf into the felt shape with the shiny thread if you like. Then using the same thread, sew the felt onto the purlside of the knitty ear with all the ends (except for any streamers off the points that you want) tucked tidily inside. Make sure your felt is the right way round to fit on the knitting exactly, as all the points won't be exactly the same length if your yarn is anything like mine (and you have my tension issues.)

I'm mostly the way through this stage myself at the moment, and fretting about whether to give him legs. Some people say yes; some say no. I tried out a prototype with a bobble on the 'elbow,' but it was far too small and narrow-looking. I think several more goes will be needed before I feel confident enough to share a pattern with the world at large.

Next Time: More Face!

Monday, 5 April 2010

SOCK DRAGON! Part 3 - Tail and Neck

Yo! So, after telling you guys I'd stop when it became impractical to turn the heels on the tail, it then became impossible. So there are now 6 heels to the body section, before I reduced down to 16 stitches and started knitting on 2 needles again. I did about 10 rows of that, then down to 12, another 10 rows, and so on til I got to 4. That whole section will need to be sewn up along the sides, as it's not in the round, but it did leave a useful hole for stuffing his back half through :)

At the head end I did something rather cunning which I should probably illustrate. I orientated the knitting so that I could tell which was the back of Socky and which was his tummy, and found that the first tail-end from my casting-on was at one side of his tummy. I counted 10 stitches back from this point all along his tummy ('bottom' on the diagram) and picked-up-and-knit them so that there were 10 new stitches on needle 1. These stitches were in the same direction as the other tummy stitches, unlike most pick-up-and-knit, which made a nice neat join.
Now I counted up the left and right sides of his body, and saved another 10 stitches each on needles 2 and 3. I didn't pick up and knit these, yet, I just slipped one of the loops from the cast-on stitches onto the needle (which is awkward) so that I could identify and count them.
Now I had 10 stitches left, opposite the first heel I had made, and I slipped these onto needle 4 without knitting them.

Having identified the sides of the body, I could now begin to knit the neck piece! Starting with needle 1, I knit 10 and then picked-up-and-knit an extra stitch from the side-needle before turning the work so that I had 11 stitches. I was using a fifth needle for these rows, at the same gague, but in fact once the top 10 are defined I found it was also fine to take the side-needles out, use one of those as my working needle and just pick-up the likely-looking stitches.
Purling back across the 11, when I got to the end I picked-up-and-PURLED a stitch from the second side-needle to get 12. I found (because of where I put my working yarn to begin with) that I would pick up extra odd stitches on needle 3 (11, 13, 15, etc. up to 29) and even stitches on needle 2 (12, 14, 16 up to 30.)

Once I had knit all the side-stitches, I was left with 30 stitches on my working needle and the remaining 10 on the top needle; I'd created a big flap of chest! After dividing my 30 again between the DPNs, I picked-up-and-knit the last 10 stitches on needle 4 to start knitting in the round again to do the neck.

I'd also nearly run out of wool. I'll need to get at least another ball for his head I think to be sure, and some for his legs as well. Wings are apparently obligatory; they're probably going to involve a lot of black felt and pipe-cleaners! Socky has been mostly stuffed this weekend though and looks amazingly fat and wibbly, just how I imagined, so I'm satisfied at the moment!