Friday, August 31, 2012

Country Days Zig Zag Cheater Quilt Design for Spoonflower

Country Days Zig Zag Cheater Quilt Design
This is the design I entered into this weeks Spoonflower competition a couple of days ago. The challenge was to create a one yard sized repeat for a cheater quilt design - any motifs, any colours - a pretty wide open challenge. A cheater quilt is a textile printed pattern created to look like a quilt so you can make a quilt without all the piecing and just do the "quilt" stitching on the top of the design to make it look like it is actually pieced.

I chose to go in a country, rustic, shabby chic but with a modern clean bright pastels twist.
  I always start with a vague idea in my head and then I begin the layout on tracing paper - ah - tracing paper how I love thee - I create the design by laying out in regular graphite pencil and changing, moving, resizing and then finally filling in the happy line layout with my also greatly loved coloured pencils - Berol Prismacolour being the pencil of choice.
Each colour is a combination of a bunch of layers of different colours and washes

Once I get the design to where I like it I then redraw it out on my beloved Arches watercolour block and then I get to painting - basically filling in the outlines just like I did with my paint by numbers kits when I was a kid - how lucky I am that I get to do this for a living!!
Now I paint and I paint and I paint until I get the colour saturation and depth I like - patience is the key - especially as I wait between each wash for the paint to dry completely.

Yes I paint very neatly but all around me when I work is mayhem and messy pallettes - jar lids filled with colour washes, jars filled with water, mugs of tea and coffee and lots of bits and bobs of visual inspiration - magazine cuttings, other designs of mine, books laid open at interesting pages. My paintings are tidy - my workspace, a happy mess.
Cobalt Turquoise - my absolute favourite watercolour colour by Winsor and Newton and Windsor red which gives me the best red and my favourite of all and ever - a nice pink!!!
Here are the finished design motifs ready to be scanned and rearranged in Photoshop to create the finished repeat. I only have an 8.5 x 11 scanner so usually I have to create my designs in pieces so I can scan them easily - also it helps to have all the motifs created fully and separately for future use in an as yet unthought of way - I've learnt that one the hard way - I used to paint only half of a motif if that was all that was needed for a design but now that I do so many different applications with my designs - allover repeats, placement prints of different sizes and shapes it really helps to paint everything up in complete motifs - for example - this floral motif below I am looking forward to using as a border on another design.
At first "Country Days" was going to be on an all pink ground as below but as I worked through it I preferred the way it looked with the pop of yellow as at the top - 
I also kinda like it with a nice clean white ground - which do you prefer?

Well dearies - do wish me luck with the competition - please vote for me if you have a minute - this is the link: CLICK HERE! The images are shuffled each time so I can't tell you which page my design will be on - many thanks in advance for your kind vote!!

In the next week or so I will be using this design as a surface pattern in all sorts of configurations in my CafePress, Zazzle and Envelop shops - what fun for me!!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Maine Wild Blueberry Cream Cheese Tart

I cannot believe it is already blueberry season again in Maine and to be honest it's been going a while and got started early this year just like everything else that is up to one month ahead of the usual plant schedule. So here is my Maine Blueberry via Blighty recipe for this year - Blueberry Cream Cheese Tart - another simple and delicious confection - made even simpler if you choose to purchase a pre baked/made pie crust - although if you're into making your own this recipe from Let Them Eat Cake Bakery here in Belfast is FANTASTIC and pretty easy to work with too - it's a nice sweet, very buttery rich and biscuit (cookie) like crust and never fails to delight and work perfectly - at least so far!! So let's get going so you can have your tart ready for this weekends Labor Day celebrations.

Pre heat oven to 325F
Enough for one tart case 8” diameter or for me 2 nice ovals…nice and thin,
I am not a chunky crust personage so if you like a thicker pie crust make this for a smaller diameter pan:

1 1/2 cups/6ozs of unbleached white flour
1/2 cup/2ozs confectioners/icing sugar
1 stick + 1 tablespoon/ 4 1/2ozs butter VERY COLD
1 large egg yolk

1. Sift dry ingredients together into a medium sized bowl.
2. Grate the butter into the dry ingreds., and rub in until like breadcrumbs.
3. Add egg yolk and blend and squush carefully until the dough sticks together. This may take a little time but despair not it will come together - just don't let it warm up - pie crusts pastry should always be kept as cold as possible to make it flaky and divine.
4.Tear dough into big chunks… strategically in pie pan and start squushing to a create a smooth even covering of the entire pan…he beauty of this crust is that it does NOT shrink at all…it stays put…good crust!!...and it tastes like a really good shortbread…yum!!
5. Bob into the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Remove from the fridge and prick the pastry all over with a fork - this is to prevent bubbles forming when you bake. Next I lined the pastry with parchment paper and weighed it down with split peas - you can use beans or pie weights but don't go down the road of popcorn as I did once - you can guess at those results.
Bake for about 15 minutes, remove from the oven, genteely lift the paper and weight from the shell and bob pastry back into the oven for about another 15 minutes - don't worry when you take the weights out if the pastry looks soggy and sad - it will improve by the next time you take it out of the oven :))

Keep your eyes peeled - you want the crust to be evenly browned as below - oh my - I have to say these came out PERFECTLY!!!!
and look - NO shrinkage!! weee heeeeee - so many times I have made pie crusts and when I take them out of the oven they are halfway down the side of the pan - disappointing to say the least.
Now let your cases cool completely and keep in a nice dry spot until you are ready to use them.
The filling ingredients - oops - minus the sugar!!

Wallaby Sour Cream is FANTASTIC avail yourself of it if you can - wow is it good!! At the Belfast Coop it is the exact same price as non-organic - an added bonus what?
4oz full fat cream cheese
2 fl oz/ 1/4 cup sour cream
2oz sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice or more to taste
Grated zest of one lemon
Grated nutmeg to taste - I love nutmeg so I added plenty.
1. Cream all the above together until smooth - phew - that was hard!!
This is a really excellent cream which can be used for all sorts of things like dolloping on pies or on a slice of bread - whatever taste it and see!!
Simply dollop yummy cream into your prepared pie shell and smooth - as you can see mine isn't so smooth as I creamed by hand and had little lumps of cream cheese abounding and the zest gives a little texture too - but that's OK it doesn't affect the taste! 

Now there's the easy way I gleaned from the book I used - "Country Harvest" - A Celebration of Autumn by Linda Burgess and Rosamond Richardson - a very informative and beautiful book with lots of good autumnal recipes.
1 1/2 lbs Maine wild blueberries - the small ones - if you can get them
4oz/1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1. Gently cook the ingredients together until the juices run from the blueberries.
2. Continue cooking gently, but do not let get mushy, until the liquid gets syrupy.
3. Allow to cool and spoon over your tart.
THE HARDER WAY:Of course this is the way I chose and if I made these pies again I'd stick with the easy way as I lost some of the blueberry flavour in the jelly I made:
Same ingredients plus one package of either gelatin (non vegetarian) or 2 packages of Natural Dessert Unflavoured Jel - which is vegetarian and possibly also vegan.
I used the latter and made up the blueberries to 32 fl.oz or 4 cups total with water but you know I should have used blueberry juice and the results would have been MUCH better so if you go this way use blueberry juice - or another juice if you are feeling adventurous - apple would work well I think - anyhow -  and then followed the instructions from the packet - with the Natural Desserts you have to work quickly and it can be fickle and not set but it worked fine for me this time - apparently too much acid like lemon will stop it from setting though so the amount I used must have been fine. 
Ta dah my blueberry jelly (jello) worked fine but was not so flavourful because I used water :(( 
The blueberry barren next to our house was 'fallow' this year - commercially the crops only produce every other year - so here are some pictures from last years crop - they are so pretty - the blueberries I mean.  
This photo is available at my Etsy shop
After the crop has been picked - the Autumn colours are wonderful.
So Happy Labor Day weekend one and all - if you make the pie let me know how it came out and feel free to post your pictures of it on my Facebook page - Thanks!! 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Brown Bread Ice Cream!!

Yes Brown Bread Ice Cream - I have not made ice cream for the blog before - mostly because I haven't come across a specifically British recipe for ice cream - but I found one and this is it. Victorian cooks developed the recipe to use up leftover brown bread from the day before - ever conscious of not being wasteful. I used a custard base for the ice cream because I'm a custard base kind of girl - especially if you can use duck egg yolks - they are divine in ice cream. It is not too sweet - which I like in an ice cream.

I also made my own brown bread from King Arthur's No Knead Brown Bread recipe HERE - it was excellent and SO easy to make, to be honest it tasted almost a little cakey itself so it was a perfect bread to use. I used half the recipe, did it in weight because that is so much more reliable, I left out the dried milk because I didn't have it and I was brave and didn't replace it with anything and replaced the orange juice with more water - just because I didn't have orange juice around - you can go whichever way you want, but of course! 
Six delicious ingredients

4ozs bread crumbs - just tear the bread into the size of pieces you see above - don't make the breadcrumbs in a blender - the crumbs will be too small and you want them a nice size to provide the crunch in the finished ice cream
2oz butter - I would definitely use salted as it gives that nice pop with the caramel on the crumbs
1 teaspoon cinnamon - I am not a big cinnamon person so I did less than the recipes called for (I made an amalgamation of recipes) you can add maybe another 1/2 teaspoon if you are big on the flavour.
4 tablespoons turbinado/brown sugar

1. Melt the butter, sugar and cinnamon in a frying pan until it sizzles then add the crumbs and stir around until you have a really nice crisp and brown on the crumbs as below:
Sizzling in the pan!
The finished crunchy, yummy cinnamony deliciousness - let them cool after they have fried and really try hard not to eat them all - don't forget you need them for the ice cream!!
CUSTARD BASE adapted from Martha
20 fluid ounces/ 2 1/2 cups half and half
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
6 oz/ 3/4 cup brown sugar
4 egg yolks - either hen or duck - if the duck eggs are big you could get away with 3 

1. Beat together the egg yolks, vanilla and sugar in a bowl.

2. Gently heat the half and half in a saucepan to almost boiling.

4. Stir a little of the hot milk into the egg mix and then a bit more to temper the eggs.

5.  Then slowly whisk the egg, sugar, vanilla into the hot 1/2 and 1/2 in the saucepan.

6. Stir and stir and stir with a wooden spoon - if you stop stirring the custard will curdle and all will be lost - until it starts to thicken and coats the back of the spoon - take the spoon out of the custard, turn the spoon over, run your finger through the custard and if the line doesn't fill back in it is ready.
7. Take off the heat immediately and put the pan into a bowl of cool water and stir until the custard starts to cool. Cool completely and then pop into your ice cream maker and follow your machines instructions to make a divine ice cream. 

Now all you have to do is stir the breadcrumbs into the ice cream and Bob's your Uncle you've got Brown Bread Ice Cream!! It's delicious - I let mine sit in the freezer overnight and the crunchy bits got just a little soft - which I like - it is so good!!!

If you make it let me know and feel free to post pictures on my Facebook page.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Let's make a mess - an Eton one of course!!

But why is it called Eton Mess? Because it is traditionally served at the Eton College annual cricket game against the students of Winchester College. The word mess I would suspect refers to the look of the dish which is very rustic and free form but that part cannot be confirmed through my Googling. Strawberries are the traditional fruit used in an Eton Mess, for it is England after all, but I have chosen to use raspberries as there were no decent strawberries to be had and then along came some excellently priced and highly desirable cherries so I mixed the two - and why not?

It is so simple, with three main ingredients, and disarmingly charming! ...and if you choose to use purchased meringues instead of making them well then it's also awfully easy - just a matter of whipping cream, macerating berries and assembling your mess!

Always read through the recipe first to know what you need, and what you need to do and when.

You will need the following for one large serving or two small - I ate the whole thing above top and am now sitting here feeling a little overwhelmed so I suggest, if you can control yourself, to make this for two people - or one person at two sittings :) Of course you can double, triple or more for a crowd and everything will work just as well.

1 cup heavy/double cream - buy the very best you can, whipped with a couple of tablespoons of sugar (less or more to taste, your choice) and a teaspoon of vanilla. Return to the fridge after you have whipped it.

6-8ozs of your chosen fruit - strawberries, raspberries, blueberries - cooked gooseberries if you can find them - and I used cherries because I love them so - tossed with a good tablespoon of sugar and macerated for a couple of hours until the juices run.

4 small meringues either made or bought - recipe follows if you want to make your own
This ingredient list is very loose you can have more or less of whatever you want and it will still taste marvellous!
Here are my cherries and raspberries macerating happily
MERINGUE RECIPE: Try to make on a dry day - humidity and thunderstorms can either effect the consistency of the beaten eggs or make them curdle - so the dryer the day the better - my day was a little humid and they turned out a little chewier than I personally like but they were still very good.
Set the oven at 250F – nice and low. Cover your baking tray with a sheet of parchment or greaseproof paper – no need to grease the paper.

2 egg whites at room temperature
4 ozs sugar...fine if don't want your meringues to be gritty - mine were a bit gritty because I use organic sugar from the Belfast Coop and it doesn't come in fine - and I am OK with a little grittiness in my meringues
1/2 teaspoon of vinegar
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract

1. Whip the egg whites until stiff

2. Add sugar 2 tablespoons at a time and whip, whip, whip until all the sugar has been added and the result is glossy and dense and divine as the picture below.
After much whipping you end up with a lovely dense deliciousness about the consistency of really good mayonnaise.
3. Mix vinegar and vanilla together in a small bowl and then gently fold into the egg white and sugar confection.

4. Pile dollops of meringue onto parchment and spread out into rough and rustic rounds for this is called a mess and the meringues end up being broken apart so their appearance is not important!
This was the first batch I made - they looked great going in the oven but they just did not set up - they stayed bouncy and soft - took me a while to back track and eventually discover I had only put in half the amount of sugar I should have done - so if you halve or double recipes do make sure you get the quantities right!
5. Bake in a 250F oven for about an hour and a half then turn oven off and leave meringues in there to cool - this is for a meringue that still has some softness and chew in the centre - if, like me, you prefer a meringue that is like ceramic (and yes I know that is not fashionable because of French macaron everyone wants a bit of chew) then you can cook for another hour making sure that they do not brown - so check on them occasionally.

The second batch baked to perfection!

So you have sweetened whipped cream, your chosen macerated berries and your perfect meringues - heaven is just a short while away!

TO ASSEMBLE Choose an attractive vessel for your ambrosial delight - plop some whipped cream in the bottom, crush a couple of meringues over this, dollop half the fruit over that and repeat. And now you have an ETON MESS - to make it even more perfect I like to let the flavours meld a little - pop in the fridge for about an hour - take out, allow to warm a little and dig in!!

Please do let me know if you try this and what you think and if you make one why not post your pictures and thoughts on my Facebook page at

Here are some pictures of the day lilies blooming in my garden right now - aren't they the most wonderful colours and look at the red leaves on the two different individual ones - they are the opposite formation from one another!

Happy messing about everyone!

If perchance you like my jaunty little Union Jack design as seen in the top picture here's a link to many and varied items adorned with such at my CafePress shop. Cheers!