Friday, May 28, 2010

Mild and Creamy Sausage Pasta

Everyone loves this pasta - especially kids.  It’s quick to prepare and tastes really comforting after a rough day. Of course, there is no reason why you could not leave out the sausages if you are vegetarian - in which case I’d probably saute a handful of sliced mushrooms with the onion just to fill things out a bit.  Alternatively, vegetarian sausages (cooked according to package directions) would work really well in this.   

This recipe makes enough for four hungry adults. 

8 sausages
1 tablespoon olive oil + a bit more for drizzling the sausages
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
2½ cups passata (sieved tomatoes) or smooth tomato sauce from a can
½ teaspoon garlic salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon oregano
¼ to ½ teaspoon chili powder
1 cup frozen peas, thawed a bit
¼ cup light sour cream or low fat crème fraîche
8 ounces pasta (penne or similar pasta shape)

Preheat oven to 375 or 190.  Place the sausages in a roasting tin and drizzle with a bit of olive oil.  Roast in the oven for about 30 minutes, turning once, until no pink remains inside.  

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add the onion and sauté gently until it begins to go translucent.  Add the passata or tomato sauce and seasonings.  Simmer over medium to low heat for about twenty minutes, stirring occasionally.

When the sausages are cooked, remove them from the oven, cover with foil and keep warm.

While the sauce is simmering, cook the pasta in boiling salted water according to package directions.  Slice the sausages in fairly thin slices.

When the pasta is done, drain it and return it to the pan.

Add the peas and sour cream or crème fraîche to the tomato sauce mixture and stir to heat through.  Add the sausages.  Pour the sauce over the pasta and stir through gently. 

Serve with a salad and hot crusty rolls.

I’m linking up today with Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum, Friday Food at Momtrends, Food on Fridays at Ann Kroeker’s Blog and The Grocery Cart Challenge Recipe Swap.

An Afternoon Tea Extravaganza at The Chelsea Flower Show

This year, the Floral Design Marquee at the Chelsea Flower Show hosted An Afternoon Tea Floral Extravaganza.  It was a new feature this year in which in-house florists from some of London’s top hotels created stunning pieces of floristry that represent the look and feel of their hotel’s afternoon tea.  The displays were gorgeous and flowers were used in really clever ways. 

Flemings Hotel Mayfair’s Gold Medal winning ‘Pink Afternoon Tea’ (photograph above) was inspired by the ‘Booby Birds’, a group of high achieving women who took part in a parachute jump to benefit the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Charity.  Flemings donate twenty percent of the price of each afternoon tea to the charity, and the silver cake stand filled with cupcakes from the Primrose Bakery in London that takes pride of place at this afternoon tea was the inspiration for Jan Skate’s floral arrangement.  It cascades from filigree cake holders filled with domes of flowers reminiscent of cupcakes. 

In this photo you can see the arrangement from The Mandarin Oriental Hotel Hyde Park featuring an umbrella topped floral display, fans and a gorgeous floral picnic basket.  It was very pretty indeed.

The Intercontinental Hotel’s display is shown below, incorporating a floral topped teacup and some very pretty nosegays.  The company logo is at the bottom, made entirely of yellow and white roses.

My absolute favourite of them all was Firmdale Hotels’ Afternoon Tea display.

Depicting a beautiful afternoon tea in the garden, this rustic yet elegant display was designed by Bloomsbury Flowers and featured a wonderful candle-free candelabra.  

Each crystal drop accented arm was topped by moss balls filled with tiny red and white flowers.  Rachel Fearon, Firmdale’s Director of Sales, told me that these are often used with candles for functions at their London hotels.  I can just imagine how beautiful they would be.  There was something delightful about this tableaux - it gave the feeling one could just step into it.  Definitely my favourite!

The Floral Design Marquee at Chelsea is always amazing, but this year the Floral Afternoon Tea Extravaganza made it even more special, and for me, it was one of the highlights of the Chelsea Flower Show

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Chelsea Flower Show

Every year the Royal Horticultural Society hosts The Chelsea Flower Show.  Attracting in excess of 157,000 visitors each year, it is one of the most famous gardening shows in the world and a big part of London’s summer social season.  Whether you are an avid gardener or not, you cannot help but be impressed by the beautiful show gardens and floral displays.  Garden designers and florists compete for the coveted Chelsea Flower Show awards, and corporations sponsor designers and gardens to create publicity.  Charities are also involved, and use their gardens as an opportunity for fund raising and to increase public awareness of their causes. 

I attended the show with my husband yesterday.  I am always inspired by the amazing gardens the designers manage to create.  Some of the gardens would require a rather generous budget and are more the stuff of dreams than reality, but I always come away from the show with new ideas.  There were so many beautiful gardens it is hard to choose a favourite, but here are some we particularly liked. 

Looking like an outdoor room even more than a garden, A Joy Forever designed by Kate Gould really impressed us both.

Designed for a young couple who want to use their garden year round (although I think they would struggle in snowy weather!), it features comfy sofas, chairs, a fantastic storage wall, a waterfall and even a fireplace.  We were particularly taken by the storage wall which has sections to store everything from wine to throws.  It’s a very modern garden with lots of concrete and steel, but this is offset by the planting - all white and green with subtle blue highlights.  It even has a permeable floor and rainwater harvesting facilities to reduce its environmental impact.  I was really taken with it, and my husband and I were not the only ones who were impressed - the RHS awarded this garden a Silver-Gilt medal. 

The Dyslexia Research Trust did a garden to highlight their work entitled “Dyslexia - A Barrier to Education?”  The garden was designed by Tim Fowler and is the winner of a Bronze Flora medal.

I liked how Tim had used a small space and incorporated words, letters and even giant books into the garden.  One side of the garden is white, the other blue and yellow, divided by a mosaic path with jumbled letters on one side and fully formed words on the other.  The iris were stunning.  It was a beautiful garden that also managed to highlight an important. 

There were so many beautiful things to see, it was nice to take a little break in one of The Stone Chef’s amazing chairs.  You wouldn’t think that stone would be comfortable to sit or lie on, but actually these individually made, bespoke creations were warm, smooth and really cosy!

If it were not for the four to five figure price tags, I would order a design similar to the one on the left without hesitation!

I’ve got tons more to share from Chelsea - including some amazing floral tea parties - plus I’ll be blogging about the changes we are making to our home over the next three days - including the new built in study, changes to the master bedroom some colourful new walls.  Watch this space!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Busy As Usual

It’s really hot here at the moment, very nearly 30 .  Everyone is barbecuing, the electric fans are on, and life is moving at a much slower pace for most people.  But although we are barbecuing and our fans are going full tilt, life never moves at a slow pace in our house!!

The new furniture in our study is being built in this week (to see what we are doing click here), as is another big wardrobe in the master bedroom.  Oh, and we are having the living room painted as well - all starting on Wednesday.  This means that I have a heck of a lot of stuff to sort through and a lot of furniture and curtains to move - not exactly hot weather work!  Plus I’m packing for our upcoming trip to San Francisco, which I am looking forward to more than I can say.

I just wandered out into the garden for a breath of fresh air and to enjoy the sunshine and I was delighted to find some really nice surprises.

Some of the strawberries are starting to ripen and I’ve got two tiny tomatoes forming on one of my tomato plants (okay they are so teeny you can hardly see them, but I'm thrilled!).

There is also a good chance we might be able to have a completely home grown salad pretty soon.

There is a good crop of red and green lettuces, along with some giant red mustard and some rocket.  I’m getting so much pleasure out of watching my garden grow.  I still have tons I need to do, particularly in the very large flower garden part of it, but it’s great to see things coming along so well. 

Speaking of gardens, tomorrow my husband and I are off to see the very spectacular show gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show in London. I’m hoping to get lots of inspiration.  I’ll take plenty of pictures so I can share this iconic flower show with you.  Watch this space!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Easy Saturday Night Barbecue

It was a gorgeous evening tonight.  We had been out all day so we picked up some things on the way home and fired up the barbecue when we got back.  I always used to think that barbecuing was hard work, but that was before I realised that barbecuing is much more fun if you just keep things simple. 

I already had some beautiful chicken breasts that I had bought from our butcher on Friday, so I marinated them in about a quarter cup of mild olive oil, a tablespoon or so of balsamic vinegar and some Montreal Chicken Seasoning.  I didn’t have time to let them marinate for long, but even a few minutes can really enhance their flavour.  I left their skin on to keep them moist, and popped them on the grill with some foil wrapped baking potatoes (I did microwave the potatoes before wrapping them in foil to give them a head start) and left them to cook while I threw together  some side dishes.

A really easy salad for a summer evening is my Strawberry and Macadamia Nut Salad - even the Chicago Sun Times liked it!  It doesn’t just taste delicious, it looks really pretty too.

I also threw together a couscous and roasted vegetable salad.  I almost always have roasted veggies in the fridge and I just rustled up some couscous (it only takes five minutes), mixed them together and tossed in a tablespoon or so of oil and a sprinkling of balsamic vinegar.  (For really flavourful couscous, add a crumbled up stock cube with the boiling water.) A bit of chopped fresh parsley is nice sprinkled over top as well.

I did nip out and turn the chicken a couple of times to be sure it cooked evenly, but that was really the only other thing I had to do. The chicken cooked up beautifully, and dinner was delicious.  The whole thing came together in less than forty minutes, and it really was so easy!

(The strawberry salad is out of shot as I put salad bowls out at each place so it didn’t have to get muddled up with everything else - particularly the ketchup!  But then, what’s a barbecue without a bit of ketchup!?!)

Friday, May 21, 2010

My Apricot and Almond Loaf Cake

The wonderful flavour combination of apricots and almonds makes this cake almost sinfully delicious.  It’s seriously moist, so it is best if you can make it the day before and allow it to rest overnight before slicing into it.  (It tastes even better after it has sat for a while.)  However, every time I make this it smells so good while it is cooking I find myself cutting into it when it is still warm.  It tends to crumble and make a bit of a mess if you do that but it is so worth it because it tastes absolutely ambrosial - if I do say so myself! Actually, even when it has cooled, this tends to be a very crumbly cake so I always use a very sharp knife to cut it.  Sadly it is definitely not low-calorie, but I comfort myself with the thought that dried fruit and nuts are really very good for you!   

1¾ cups all purpose flour
¼ cup ground almonds
¾ cup white sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ tsp salt
¾ cup chopped dried apricots (ready to eat ones)
1 cup desiccated coconut
¾ cup chopped almonds
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup oil or melted butter, cooled a bit
1 cup buttermilk or milk
1 teaspoon almond extract

Mix the flour, ground almonds, sugar, baking powder, dried apricots and coconut together in a large bowl.

In another bowl or large pitcher mix together the eggs, oil or melted butter, buttermilk or milk and almond extract.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones all at once and stir thoroughly to blend. 

Pour into a large (2 lb) greased and floured or lined loaf tin, or you can divide the mixture between two smaller ones.  Bake at 350 or about 170 (160 fan) for 40 to 50 minutes (30 to 40 minutes if you use smaller loaf tins) or until a skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean. 

I am linking up today with Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum, Friday Food at Momtrends and Food on Fridays at Ann Kroeker’s Blog.  I’m also linking up to Fight Back Friday at Food Renegade and Vegetarian Foodie Fridays.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Vintage Summer

I’ve been very blessed in the china, stoneware and crystal department.  Not only do I have my own from when I got married and another set I purchased some years later, but my Mom very kindly gave me much of her own beautiful collection of china and crystal, some of it antiques, when she was not able to entertain much anymore.  It is lovely because nearly all the pieces I own have a history, and each one brings lots of memories to mind.  So it is pretty rare that I buy any china or glassware, but every once in a while, something cute catches my eye and I find myself bringing it home with me. 

There seems to be a real trend towards vintage designs in England this year, particularly in reasonably priced stoneware, and it was one of these that caught my eye as I walked through John Lewis, a major British department store, the other day looking for a silver photo frame for a 25th anniversary present.  I was totally taken by their Polly’s Pantry collection, a casual stoneware collection with mix and match pieces decorated with dots, stripes and flowers.  After much deliberation, I chose six pretty bowls and four pasta plates.

I love the detail on each piece, from the delicate little spots round the edges of most pieces to the pretty flower on the inside rim of one of the bowls.  The range is very reasonably priced and it is all dishwasher safe.  The tea cups and saucers and the egg cups are so adorable; they would make fantastic gifts.  And no, I have not been paid for this post, I’m just a big fan of this sweet new range. 

I particularly love mix and match sets.  Although there is nothing like a perfectly matched set of bone china, there is something so homey and welcoming about something you can pick and choose according to your mood.  Perhaps I’ll hang on till the sales and get some more! 

What’s your favourite china or stoneware pattern?  Or perhaps you have a particular piece with memories attached? Email me if you like, and I can feature some of your favourite pieces in a future post!

By the way, I’ve been featured on These Magical Years again today, so do pop over for a visit by clicking here.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Meatless Monday - The 21st Century Housewife's© One Pot Vegetarian Spaghetti Special

I’m so pleased that so many folks are embracing “Meatless Monday”, the international initiative to encourage us all to have one meatless day each week, benefitting both the environment and our health.  More and more people are getting involved, from bloggers to corporations, and gradually the message is getting out there that just this one small step could make a huge difference.  I was very pleased to see that Ocado, a major British internet grocery retailer, have begun promoting Meatless Monday to their customers.  Paul, Stella and Mary McCartney also have a very helpful website for those who want to take this small step to cut down on their meat consumption.  Although their site does tend to lean towards a total switch to a vegetarian diet, both of these resources have links to lots of great meat-free recipes to try. And the important thing to remember about Meat Free Monday is that it doesn’t have to be Monday - the whole idea is just to have one meat free day a week! 

Although I am only an “occasional vegetarian”, inventing new vegetarian recipes is something I really enjoy.  I’ve been making my own version of a spaghetti one pot for years, but always with the traditional meaty ingredients.  This variation was born out of a desire for an easy, one pot meal that was filling and delicious.  I was very pleased with the results. Don’t worry if you have leftovers, they keep really well in the fridge and are very tasty re-heated the next day.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion
1 teaspoon Very Lazy Garlic or one garlic clove, chopped
2 peppers (I used red and yellow), de-seeded and sliced
1 cup (or about a handful) mushrooms, sliced
1 cup broccoli, finely sliced
2 small tins (about 14 ounces or 400 grams each) chopped tomatoes
2 tins of boiling water
1 vegetable stock cube, crumbled
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon pepper
3 generous tablespoons basil pesto
1 handful of whole wheat spaghetti, broken into short pieces
1/2 cup vegetarian cheese (use your favourite or what you have on hand - I like cheddar or parmesan)

Heat the oil in a large frying pan or saute pan. Saute the onion over medium heat until it begins to soften.  Add the garlic, peppers and mushrooms and cook gently for a few minutes.  Now add the broccoli, tomatoes, stock cube, oregano, pepper, and boiling water.  Bring the mixture just to the boil, stirring gently.

Add the spaghetti, stir in and turn down the heat.  Cook until the spaghetti is al dente, about fifteen minutes.  Stir in the cheese and pesto until the cheese has melted.  If the mixture seems to thick, just add a bit more boiling water and stir through.  Serve with hot crusty rolls. 

I’m linking up to day with Meatless Monday at Hey What’s For Dinner Mom, Mouthwatering Mondays at A Southern Fairytale and Homemaker Mondays at 11th Heaven’s Homemaking Haven. 

Sunday, May 16, 2010

One Evening Circa 1926

Last night we attended a murder mystery dinner at our friends M and J’s beautiful house in the countryside.  My friend J had done the flower arrangements herself

and the table looked absolutely gorgeous.

We all played characters in ‘The Final Curtain’, a murder mystery drama, and everyone took their parts very seriously.  Secrecy was paramount and I was more surprised than anyone when my husband’s character died halfway through the dinner!  Luckily he came back as the Inspector so he was able to finish his dinner!  I played Esmerelda de Young, the leading lady of a theatrical company.  My leading man Vincent Royle (who never appears) is actually the ‘murder’ victim and I am a prime suspect.  It was great fun.

M and J have an amazing home - here’s a bird’s eye view of the dinner from the beautiful galleried landing.

But who killed Vincent?  Whoever it was, Esmerelda’s not telling!

Friday, May 14, 2010

The 21st Century Housewife’s© Bran Muffins

It is wonderful when something that tastes delicious is actually good for you.  These muffins make a super breakfast or snack.    I’ve been making them since I was a little girl in Canada, although I have tweaked the recipe as the years have gone by.  Even here in England, where Bran Muffins are a bit of mystery to most folk, I always get asked for seconds! 

I originally posted this recipe back in July 2007 on my Recipe of the Week page, but I still keep getting comments on it so I thought I would post it again.  This week one reader told me they were “the best homemade muffins (she) had ever had” which made me very, very happy!   They certainly are a favourite in our house. 

Last summer I did a video on how to make them.  It’s my first “how to” video so it’s not perfect and it’s a bit longer than I had wanted it to be, but you are welcome to have a look if you like :)  I had great intentions of doing more “how to” videos as I think I need to practice  a bit but have still not managed to get round to it!!

Anyway, here is the recipe, which makes about twelve large muffins.  You can freeze these once they have cooled, so I usually double it.
1 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
½ cup olive oil (You can use Sunflower or Rapeseed (Canola) oil if you prefer.)
1 cup buttermilk (You can use ordinary milk if you do not have buttermilk.  Skim milk will work if you are watching your weight but the muffins will not taste as rich.)
1 cup plain (all purpose) flour
2 cups bran (available in the cereal aisle in most grocery stores – you want bags of real bran, not bran flakes)
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
½ teaspoon salt (or less if you are on a salt restricted diet)
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 cup raisins, sultanas or dried mixed fruit

Preheat oven to 375 (that’s about 170).  Line muffin tins with paper liners or grease and flour them.  I recommend large muffin tins for these.  You can use the smaller ones, but they will cook more quickly so you’ll need to keep an eye on them.

Beat eggs.  Add brown sugar and oil; mix well.  Add bran and cinnamon.  Mix and let stand 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, sift together flour, bicarbonate of soda, cream of tartar and salt. 

Add flour mixture to the bran mixture alternately with the milk, stirring well between each addition.  Gently fold in raisins.

Spoon mixture carefully into muffin tins.  Fill about half full.  (Be careful not to overfill.)

Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes, until a piece of raw spaghetti inserted in the middle of a muffin comes out without any batter clinging to it.  Remove from pans and cool on wire rack.  

Serve warm or at room temperature.  These are delicious with butter and/or jam.  If muffins have cooled to room temperature, you can reheat them in the microwave for about 10 to 15 seconds on high.  I sometimes put them frozen in a lunch box and they thaw in time for lunch while helping to keep everything else cool too. 

Happy Friday Everyone!  I am linking up today with Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum, Friday Food at Momtrends, The Grocery Cart Challenge, Food on Fridays at Ann Kroeker’s Blog and Friday Firsts at Dinner at Christina’s.  There are some wonderful recipes linked up on these great blogs so do go and visit! 

I did a guest post at Momtrends this week about cooking once but actually making two or three dinners, so if you’d like to make next week a bit easier in your kitchen, please click here

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

My Kitchen Garden

Chelsea Flower Show it isn’t, but these two raised vegetable beds are giving me a great deal of pleasure.  It’s not like I’m going to be able to be able to feed the family exclusively on vegetables grown in here, but that was never the intention.  I just wanted to be able to  grow some of the things we eat, and be able to pop out from the kitchen for truly fresh ingredients.  Okay, we are not there quite yet, except for some of the herbs, but things are actually growing and I am disproportionately pleased.  

Admittedly the cauliflower and broccoli have not been a success, unless I was trying to feed the snails, who have somehow managed to eat all the top leaves off the plants.  All I have been left with is forlorn green stems.  When I asked about organic pest control for snails I was told the only thing I could do was “squish ‘em”.  As the very thought of that sends a shiver up my spine (and frankly it’s not terribly organic either!) I’m going to skip growing cauliflower and broccoli this year.  I’ve got some sweetcorn to put in instead.  More herbs are on their way as well.  And guess what I found when I went out with the watering can the other day?

Yep, that’s right, I’ve got little green strawberries coming on my strawberry plants!  I’ve never grown strawberries before and it seems they are actually going to provide me with fruit!  For someone who has never so much as pretended to have a green thumb but who loves gardening, well, it made my day! 

Are you growing any fruit or vegetables this year?

CSN Stores Giveaway Winner

The winner of the $25 CSN Stores Gift Certificate which can be used at any one of CSN's online stores is entry number 90, Vickie Walther from New York State.  Congratulations Vickie!  I've passed your email address to CSN so they can send the gift certificate directly to you.

Thanks to everyone for your entries!

Winner was chosen by random number generator.
The 21st Century Housewife was not paid for this post.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Guest Posting at Momtrends

I am guest posting over at Momtrends today so please do go and visit this interesting and informative site.  Offering trends and tips for living a fashionable and fabulous life, Nicole has one of the top mom blogs on the web.

A Work in Progress

It has been a wild ride these last few days in the United Kingdom, and without being overly political, let’s just say I’m very relieved that things have settled down and we have an elected Prime Minister in Downing Street again.  This is the first time in a very long time that I have felt so optimistic about the future of Great Britain.  So while we may still be worrying about ash clouds over Northern Europe, possible rail strikes and impending air travel strikes, there is definitely a spirit of optimism in the UK this morning that I have not felt for many, many years.  It is lovely.

We spent last weekend decorating our study in preparation for some custom made furniture we are having built.  We moved the still very nice “old” furniture upstairs to our son’s study and put the desk from his study in our study just as a stop gap until the new stuff arrives in a couple weeks’ time.  And then we decorated. 

Being very conservative I had been leaning towards a nice shade of ivory, but my husband and son convinced me to go for Dulux “Soft Stone”, a gorgeous neutral sort of mauve shade.  I’m really glad I listened to them because it looks wonderful.  I took some photographs, but the light isn’t good enough to see the colour properly, so I’ve managed to find a photograph of it on the Dulux website and am copying it here

and here is the fabric our blinds are made of

So it's good colouring for a study which is going to be shared by a couple as it is neither too masculine nor too feminine. We had two guidelines for our room designer:-

1. My husband and I wanted to be able to work together in the room at the same time, and
2. We wanted our running machine, which I use at least three times a week, to remain in the room in its current position. 

It’s not a huge room so this was a pretty challenging brief, but I’m thrilled with what he came up with.  Here’s a photo of the computer plans (with a very interesting computer generated view of some fabulous non-existent trees from the windows!).

The wooden structure in this photograph is comprised of two corner desks, both with drawer units on the ends, joined by a filing drawer under the windows.  The photograph below shows the view if you were in the room looking towards the door.

And this one is if you are standing in the door looking into the room with the other desk on your right.  (The big white box thing is the running machine.)  

The wood will be walnut, and we’ll also have a cabinet on the wall for storage. 

Now we’ve got the room all ready and the furniture is being built, I just can’t wait to get this room all sorted out.  It’s the first room we have painted in our house despite having been here over two years, and it is just wonderful to see some colour.  It’s made me very eager indeed to get started on the rest of the house!
By the way, another one of my recipes has been featured on These Magical Years today so please do go over and check out this very interesting blog. 

Also, this is the last day to enter my most recent CSN Stores Giveaway.  Click here for further details and get your entries in to win a $25 gift certificate.