Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Knitting A Dress In The Round: FINISH HIM

The above title is an allusion to 90s beat-em-up button masher Mortal Kombat, in case you were wondering.

Once you have reached up to two-three inches of your desired final length, stop doing the lace repeats and work three rows of knit stitches, knitting over the purled decrease-triangles (they were only purled to keep them visually separate from the lace).  On your fouth row, do a picot row: *knit1, yarnover, knit2tog*; then do another six rows of knit stitches, followed by another picot row; followed by another two rows of knit stitches.  Now cast off

Turn the work wrong-side out, and fold up the hem along the lowest row of picot holes.  Slip-stitch the hem into place with the last of your wool.  Weave in any dangly ends you can see using the TechKnitting tips to help you (they are AMAZINGly good).

Try on your dress right-side-out before blocking, to see which directions it needs to stretch and be moulded.   Bear in mind that the lace will expand downwards a good way when blocked, outwards too.

N.B. the increase/decrease diamond has flattened out
Now hand-wash your dress in warm water with delicates-washing soap.  Don't bash it about too much as we don't want to obscure all the holes in the lace by felting the wool (which makes it fluffy).  When you're bored, pull the dress into a long thick rope top-to-bottom and squeeze the water out from the bodice to the hem.  This helps to lengthen it and straighten the lace stitches.  Lay a towel over a large chair or sofa, and using as many pins as it takes to hold it down, stretch and shape it so that the picot rows stand out at the upper edge and the increase section is nice and flared.  Leave to dry naturally.

Meanwhile, choose your ribbon.  I am lucky enough to live and work just round the corner from VVRouleaux, a boutique which specialises in designer trimmings, ribbon and frills.  Strikingly-coloured ribbons can be a surprisingly cheap or expensive way to tart up a craft creation, depending on how difficult it is to make the ribbons in the first place.  As my dress is an ivory white, I had to choose carefully to get the right level of subtle 'accent' colour.  The light in my workroom is awful but the ribbon is grey/lavender.

When your dress is dry, attach a safety-pin to one end of your ribbon, and using the blunt 'head' end weave approx. 1 metre of ribbon through all of the picot holes at the top edge and under the bust.  Start at the centre, work your way round and cut leaving plenty of length for loosening the tension and for a bow.  Trim the ends with the traditional triangle to discourage fraying, or carefully roll the ends back on themselves and secure with a few tiny stitches.


Sunday, 15 April 2012

Failsafe Chocolate Mousse Panacotta

Originally presented with strawberries and cream...
I say failsafe because I didn't use a recipe to make this first time and it still didn't fail.  There is a lot of literature out there which says that if you do the Wrong Thing to anything which involves chocolate, you are a Bad Person and your concoction will be a Désastre.  They then give a lot of proscriptive instructions.  I will try to make my instructions as much 'stir-it-and-see' as I can get.
The literature also generally involves a lot of 'milk or tea first in cup'-type arguments about whether to have hot chocolate and cold cream, or hot both, or hot cream and cold chocolate.  I went for the latter simply because my 'recipe' involves melting gelatine, and this seemed easier to do in cream than choccy.
People also talk a lot of guff about Valhrona and the importance of using 'really GOOD QUALITY' chocolate for any and all things.  I may be very middle class, but Sainsbury's cooking, Dark, has always been good enough for me and mine.

For the moulds I cannot recommend silicone cupcake cases highly enough - they give such a lovely even shape. But you can always serve mousse in little pretty cups (or even ugly cups) if occasion calls.

Chocolate Mousse Panacotta
  - to make well in advance of eating
You Will Need: sharp knife, chopping board, measuring jug, small saucepan, wooden spoon, 2 cups, small bowl, fork, whisk, large bowl, moulds/serving dishes.  If using silicone moulds, plates.  Serving platelets.

100g dark chocolate
150-160ml double cream, plus dribble to decorate
1 leaf leaf gelatine
2 eggs
fruit to serve

1) Break the chocolate and chop it into small slivery pieces.   Put in the larger bowl.  Soak the leaf of gelatine in a cup of cold water for about five minutes.  Meanwhile,
2) heat the cream gently in the saucepan until hot-bath-hot to touch.  Separate the eggs, with the whites going in the small bowl and the yolks into the second cup.  Beat the yolks with the fork and mix them into the hot cream to make a quick custard.  Fish the gelatine out of the water and add to the cream.  Stir to dissolve.
3) Pour the hot cream over the chocolate, and stir until the chocolate is all melted.  If choccy lumps give you trouble, rinse and refill your saucepan with water, plonk the bowl on top of the saucepan, and heat again, stirring continuously.  This gentle method will stop the mixture from curdling.*
4) Whisk your eggwhites to a stiff-peak stage, and gently whisk them 1/3 at a time into the chocolate mixture.
5) Fill your bowls or moulds with mousse mix.  If using floppy individual silicone moulds, you may find that sitting them on a plate stops them from wibbling EVERYWHERE as you move them to the fridge.
6) Allow to set in the fridge for at least 4 hours.
7) Cut your fruit decoratively; dismount your puds onto little plates, garnish with fruity pretentiousness and drizzle with cream á la Michelin.  This pudding should have a Faff -to- Posh ratio of about 1:5.

*This is as close as I get to telling people what to do to their chocolate.  Provided you heat it using the gentlest methods, especially when adding more fat (i.e. cream), it is much more forgiving than you might think.

ProTip: I did mention to my boyfriend (after he puzzled over the ingredients resulting in the stipple-effect look) that there was gelatine in these, and he made a face. 'I know it's fine, and you can't taste it, but...' Gelatine still means packets of cubular strawberry jelly to many people, and even though I was using leaf posh stuff (which is both a ProTip in itself and tasteless) negative associations are strong.  So if you want to keep your choccy-beneficiaries out of the loop and act all mysterious, feel free not to share the recipe too widely.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Moroccan Main Dishes

Here you can see the remains of the Easter Feast which i created on Saturday.  Although it felt like a long day of cooking had happened, none of these things actually take very much work - just monitoring.

Slow-Cooked Spicy Lamb Shanks
You Will Need: Oven tray, tinfoil, sharp knife and chopping board
1 lamb shank per person (or to share between 2 unhungry people)
jar of anchovies
clove of garlic per lamb shank
spice mix - to include coriander, cumin, salt, black pepper, chopped garlic

1) Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C.  Line the oven tray with tinfoil.
2) If you don't know the weight of your meat, weigh it.  Stab the lamb shanks in their juiciest bits.  Chop anchovies in half and garlic cloves into thin slices, and push an anchovy and sliver firmly into each stab with your fingers.
3) Arrange the shanks in the tin and sprinkle over the spice mix.  I used a bought tin of generic Moroccan goodness I had from years ago, but you could make your own.  Use enough to coat the shanks on both sides and rub well in.
4) Cover the shanks with another layer of tinfoil, and tuck in the edges.  Wham in the oven, then turn it down  to 150 degrees C.  Bake for about 40 minutes per pound and then some if you can manage it.

Lamb Kofta Kebabs
You Will Need: wooden skewers, oven tray, large bowl, fork, chopping board, knife, cheesegrater.
Mint to the left already looking limp

500g lamb mince
half a red onion
6 cloves garlic
1 tsp cumin
large bunch of fresh mint
1 egg

1) Soak the wooden skewers in water to stop them from catching fire under the grill.
2) Preheat the grill.
3) Grate as much as possible of the onion on the larger holes of the cheesegrater; chop the garlic and mint finely.  Add to the mince in the large bowl.  Break in the egg to one side and beat with the fork.  Now use the fork to mush it all together until smooth.
4) Get your hands in and make comfortably sized phallic lumps of meat; slide a wet skewer into each one.  Place on the oven tray as you go.  If you have any left over, make the meat into patties to fry like burgers - they won't need any extra fat.
5) Grill until well browned, turning once during cooking to get both sides.  These heat up well in the oven or back under the grill later if you should need to grill a big tray of something else:

Stuffed Peppers
You Will Need: Oven tray, chopping board, knife, small bowl, kettle

Large bell peppers, half per person or two for a veggie main
olive oil
sultanas or chopped apricots
flaked almonds or pistachios
greek cheese e.g. feta

1) Preheat the grill.
2) Cut the peppers lengthwise, removing any seeds but keeping the stems on for decoration.  Pour a little oil into each one, roll it around the inside to coat and rub on the outside as well.  Grill on the oven tray until blackening, then turn over to do the other side.
3) Meanwhile, make your couscous as per packet instructions - about 2 dessertspoonfuls per pepper or less.  Add a handful of fruit and nuts and a pinch of salt and cumin to make things interesting.  Chop the cheese into small pieces.
4) Take the grilly peppers out, fill with couscous and top with cheese.  Put back under the grill until the cheese is browning and squidgy.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Moroccan Starters

Top right: couscous with flaked almonds, black pepper and ground cumin
This Easter I indulged my friends eating and my cooking by conceiving an enormous Moroccan feast.  There were six of us to dinner, and there are still leftovers to feed 2 people, so do take my measurements with a pinch of salt and pay more attention to the proportions to get appropriate amounts of everything.

You Will Need: Large bowl, large saucepan, colander, chopping board, sharp knife, lemon squeezer

300g bulghur wheat or pearl barley
6 large fresh tomatoes
large red onion
large bunch of curly-leaved parsley
juice 3 lemons
2 tablespoons olive oil

1) Bring a pan of water to the boil.  Simmer the grains for about 40 minutes, until nutty but definitely chewable.  You may wish to do this in advance, drain and keep in the fridge until you are nearly ready to make the rest of dinner.
2) Finely chop the tomatoes, onion and parsley.
3) Juice the lemons.  Mix all of the ingredients together in the large bowl.

 Grilled Tomatoes
You Will Need: Roasting tin, knife, kitchen foil
1 packet cherry tomatoes on the vine
1/2 packet Feta or other hard Greek cheese
flaked almonds
olive oil

1) Preheat the grill.
2) Chop the feta into small pieces. Line the tin with tinfoil, arrange the ingredients and drizzle with oil.
3) Grill until the tomato stems are blackened and the skins are wrinkled off, about 7-10 minutes.

Grape and Pine-Nut Salad

You Will Need: large bowl, lemon squeezer, small frying pan

1 bag sweet fresh salad
1 packet white grapes
pine nuts
2 lemons
olive oil

1) Toast the pine nuts in the little frying pan: get the pan hot, pour in the nuts without any oil and shuffle them until browned and fragrant.
2) Squeeze the lemons.
3) In the large bowl, mix the salad, grapes and nuts; dress with lemon juice and olive oil.

Simnel Cake

To the left, iced tea made with 3 bags Lady Grey, 4 sprigs mint and 1 lemon to 1 litre boiling water
Christians really seem to like their fruitcakes for special holidays.  At least English Christians do, and I love fruitcake, so I am happy to go along.  Both Christmas Cake and Simnel Cake (Easter cake) contain dried fruit, and use marzipan as part of the icing.  The difference is that Simnel Cake is superior, as it is both a lighter cake (no treacle) and is divided into two or three layers by marzipan circles.  This means that it is impossible for all of the fruit to sink to the bottom.
This large and imposing article formed the pudding for a Moroccan Easter dinner, which was to have involved roast figs.  Unfortunately Waitrose (Christ's own supermarket) didn't have any fresh figs (Jesus does like them, but decrees that they should be unavailable).  You could very much use dates and dried figs in this recipe if you like, but for lightness I prefer pears and apricots.

Simnel Cake

6 eggs (13oz)
13oz butter
6oz light brown soft sugar
3 oz caster sugar
1.5 tblsp clear runny honey
10oz dried fruit - dried pears, cranberries, apricots, vine fruits (use minimum amounts of raisins).
zest 1 lemon
zest 3 clementines
chopped flesh 1 clementine
2 Lady Grey teabags
300ml boiling water
13oz self-raising flour
1tsp ground cardamom (or 1/2 tsp nutmeg)
2tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
packet marzipan - 200g ish
11 chocolate Mini Eggs

 You Will Need: 24cm cake tin, large bowl, small bowl, scales, kettle, measuirng jug, sieve, saucepan, chopping board and sharp knife, zester/cheese grater, wooden spoon, whisk, teaspoon, tablespoon, rolling pin, serving plate

1) Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.  Boil a kettle.
2) Put the two Lady Grey teabags in the measuring jug and make 300ml of tea with the boiling water.  Leave to steep while you do Step3.
3) Chop any larger pieces of dried fruit into raisin-sized pieces.  Put the dried fruits into the small bowl with the citrus zest.  When it is ready, pour over the tea to cover and leave to soak.
4) Weigh 6 eggs (mine came to 13oz more or less; one normal egg is about 2oz).  Weigh out the same amount of butter, and melt in the pan with the sugars and honey.  Don't get too niggly about the amount of honey which sticks to the spoon, if you use the measuring spoon to stir the mix it will all come out in the wash.
5) While the butter and sugar is melting, quickly beat the eggs together in the large bowl.  Go back and stir the butter/sugar until all the butter has melted and the mixture is caramel brown.  Now very carefully pour the melted mix onto the eggs, whisking to mix as you go in a steady stream.  This is by far a superior technique for speed than creaming things.
6) Strain the fruits out of the tea.  Add the fruits to the eggmix; chop the clementine into raisin-sized pieces and stir in.  Add 100ml of the tea.  When mixed well, weigh out flour to match your eggs and butter.  Stir in the spices.  Fold the flour and spices into the fruitmix a quarter at a time, until smooth.
7) Put the finished cakemix aside.  Divide your packet of marzipan into 4 equal pieces.  Scatter caster sugar over your worksurface, and roll out circles the size of your caketin using 2 quarters.  Pour 1/3 of your cakemix into the tin; cover with a marzipan circle; pour in another 1/3, another circle; finish with the last 1/3.
8) Bake for approximately 1 hour 30mins, or until a skewer in the very middle comes out clean.  If it looks to be browning too much at the edges, put a piece of tinfoil over the tin to protect the top of the cake from burning.
9) Allow the cake to cool completely, and turn out onto its eventual serving plate.  Spread the top with a fine layer of jam.  Roll out one last circle of marzipan and cover the top of the cake with it, trimming any loose edges.  Using the last quarter of the marzipan, make 11 balls to decorate the top.  These represent the faithful Apostles e.g. everyone except Judas.  I have made marziflower-nests for 11 mini eggs because I am a hopeless pagan.