Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Poem for the Old Year

The Old Year

The Old Year's gone away
To nothingness and night:
We cannot find him all the day
Nor hear him in the night:
He left no footstep, mark or place
In either shade or sun:
The last year he'd a neighbour's face,
In this he's known by none.

All nothing everywhere:
Mists we on mornings see
Have more of substance when they're here
And more of form than he.
He was a friend by every fire,
In every cot and hall--
A guest to every heart's desire,
And now he's nought at all.

Old papers thrown away,
Old garments cast aside,
The talk of yesterday,
Are things identified;
But time once torn away
No voices can recall:
The eve of New Year's Day
Left the Old Year lost to all.

A toast to 2012 - let it be good for all!!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Earl Grey Tea Chocolate Truffles and Biscuits - for the New Year!

Earl Grey Truffles and Earl Grey Biscuits/Cookies - very subtle and sophisticated!

Earl Grey Chocolate Truffles adapted from the book "Chocolates and Petits Fours" by Beverly Sutherland Smith
Start this recipe at least 4 hours before you want to serve the truffles as the chocolate needs a good amount of time to harden after melting - this is a very subtle flavour which greatly depends upon the bergamotiness of your chosen Earl Grey tea.
Ready for truffling - off we go!!
6oz semi-sweet chocolate - chips or block your choice - if you use block break it into small pieces to assist in quicker melting.  
2oz/1/2 stick butter cut into small pieces
6 fluid ounces  heavy/double cream
1 large egg  yolk
2 tablespoons strong Earl Grey tea (made from 2 tablespoons of loose tea and two tablespoons of boiling water - leave to steep for five minutes and drain - squeezing out the liquid from the tea -  for use in the truffles) from preferably loose tea which tends to have a better, deeper flavour  

3 heaped tbsps unsweetened cocoa powder
3 heaped tbsps confectioners/icing sugar
1 tablespoon Earl Grey tea ground fine in a coffee grinder

1. Put cream and butter in a small pan and warm gently until butter melts and cream bubbles around the edges.
2. Add a couple of tablespoons of the hot liquid to the egg yolk and blend thoroughly – add a couple of tablespoons more and then whisk the egg yolk and liquid carefully back into the cream and butter mixture – reheat to just almost boiling whisking all the time to heat the yolk through and make sure nothing curdles.
3. Take off the heat and put chocolate into the mix and stir until it’s all melted.
4. Add the 2 tablespoons of liquid Earl Grey tea and blend.
Lovely chocolatey Earl Grey yumminess ready to cool for at least a couple of hours.
5. Chill until firm – this can take at least a couple of hours if not longer – chocolate takes quite a long to ‘set-up’
6. When truffle chocolate is set - it sets to a hardness like soft cookie dough - sift cocoa, icing/powdered sugar and ground tea together and spread on a small plate.
7. Form chilled truffle mix into small balls and roll in the sugar, tea, cocoa mix.
You can replace the Earl Grey liquid tea with 2 tablespoons of a liqueur of your choice - Brandy, Rum, Grand Marnier, Frangelico - they all would taste good - if you choose to do this then leave out the ground tea in the truffle and also in the coating too.
Ta Dah – you have delicious subtle truffles - they are very rich and the ones you see pictured below could actually have been half the size I made them here -  I would go for a size a little bigger than a hazelnut.
Hello my little truffle!!
and now for -
Earl Grey Tea Biscuits/Cookies from a recipe by Claire Robinson on the Food Network.
These need to be chilled for at least 1/2 hour before baking so factor that into your timing. 

10 ozs white flour
2 heaped tablespoons loose Earl Grey tea ground fine in a coffee grinder 
4oz icing/ confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
8oz butter at room temperature – I always use salted butter but you can use unsalted and then add a dash of salt to the recipe

DIRECTIONS: Makes about 24 biscuits/cookies
1. Mix together the flour, ground tea, and salt until the tea is just spotted throughout the flour.
2. Add the confectioner's sugar, vanilla and butter and either rub together by hand until it sticks together (as I do as I love to use my hands and not machines - makes a nice break from using the computer!) or pulse in a food processor until it holds together and a dough is formed.
3. Place dough on a sheet of waxed paper and roll into a log, about 2 inches in diameter. Tightly twist each end of wrap and chill in refrigerator for a minimum of 30 minutes.
4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
5. Remove dough from fridge and slice the log into 1/3-inch thick disks.
I know this is Earl GREY tea but I didn't think the dough would look so grey!
 6. Place disks 12 each on 2 baking sheets - about 2 inches apart.
7. Bake until the edges are just brown - the recipe said about 12 minutes but now I think 10 would have been better for mine as they looked great at 10 but I couldn't resist putting them back in for another 2 minutes and they came out overdone - so start checking at about 8 and see how you go - they should look like the picture below not like mine which are too brown.
GOOD colour for the biscuits!
My biscuits/cookies - they are too browned :(((( - they still tasted good though! and a nice texture too.
 8. Let cool on sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks and cool to room temperature.

Ta Dah now you have Earl Grey Biscuits/Cookies to go with your Earl Grey Truffles – I have to be honest and admit the flavor of the Earl Grey in the cookies isn’t very pronounced and if I make these again I would figure a way to get the flavor out with boiling water as I did for the truffles above but I haven’t figured out how to do that yet as adding liquid will probably mess with the end result cookie/biscuit which is actually very nice!!.
Darkness has fallen and once again there's a little snow falling in Maine.
HAPPY BAKING AND TRUFFLING - let me know how your biscuits and truffles come out and 
HAPPY NEW YEAR - here's to a fine and dandy 2012.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Winter's Eve in Maine

I love the look of trees silhouetted again the twilight sky.
As the winter solstice draws near - December 22nd 2011 UTC (Universal Time)
The crest of Blueberry Hill!!

The path up Blueberry Hill
Great looking berries!!

 As the ground freezes harder and harder here in Maine it raises up around the stones to leave hollows like this around them - the moisture in the ground is expanding and freezing - I never saw this before I moved to Maine.
This also happens - ice crystals grow UP out of the ground as the stones go down, they are called needle ice - you can see the little caps of soil on the tops of the ice needles.
Happy winter - brrrrrr!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Brandy Snaps - burnt and not!

This is how a Brandy Snap should look!! Crispy, lacy and oozing with lovely whipped cream!! They are half way between being a sweet/candy and a biscuit/cookie - if you like crunchy caramelly things - you'll like Brandy Snaps! In my experience Brandy Snaps actually don't have any brandy in them and most of the recipes I came across also didn't so I went that way this time but if you want to buck this tradition you can add a spoonful or two of brandy to your whipped cream filling.

SO - making Brandy Snaps is a lot like making crepes or pancakes - you have to get the temperature and time right and chances are you may throw away the first couple of pancakes or batches of brandy snaps - you kind of have to get your hand in - so to speak. They are actually quite simple but at the same time tricky so don't despair if you have to try it out a couple of times before getting it right.
Always read your recipe all the way through first so you know what to expect. This recipe can be a finger burner so adult supervision is necessary with children.

I do suggest watching this video below first by Mary Berry, doyenne of baking in Blighty, - you'll see how they're made and also get some good tips.

INGREDIENTS: for about 10 snaps

 2oz/50g/ 1/2 stick butter

 2oz/50g sugar preferably brown

2oz honey/maple syrup/ golden syrup (if you have it available) - I used honey first and then maple syrup the next day - info for both is included below
1 teaspoon ground ginger (even more if you'd like - the recipe called for 1/2 a teaspoon but that didn't flavour the first batch at all so I went to 1 teaspoon in the second and will happily go to a teaspoon and a half for the next time I make them)

2oz/50g plain white flour

Grated zest of one lemon 

1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1. Heat oven to 325F

2. In a heavy bottomed pan put the butter, sugar, lemon zest, ginger and syrup and melt gently until all is liquid.

3. Sift flour into hot liquid with the lemon juice and mix until smooth. 

4. Allow to cool a little until the consistency of the mix looks like that below - warm and chewy - (my first batch I used whilst still hot and liquid and you'll see the grim results of that a bit further down)
5. Put four largish sized teaspoonfuls full of the mixture per naked baking sheet - no parchment or greasing necessary - and I would only do one sheet at a time - you'll see why when you watch the video below - I started with 5 per sheet but I think 4 gives you a better chance to get your snaps rolled without too much panic.

6. Bob them in the oven and start watching like a hawk to see their progress after 5 minutes - you want a nicely spread pretty evenly browned disc - mine stayed a little lighter in the middle and they worked out OK - I found the honey ones cooked faster and more evenly - the maple syrup ones were different but had a much better taste.

Ha ha - so this below is the result of the first go around - the recipe said to have the oven at 425F and cook for 15 minutes on parchment - NO!!! - the picture below is after 7 minutes and the paper was burnt to the bottom.
So I tried again - brought the oven down to 325F and started looking in the oven after just 5 minutes...these looked so much better - the recipe for the picture below is with honey - it produced a larger sized, lacier snap but I wasn't thrilled with the flavour - the honey overpowered the caramel flavour so next day I tried the recipe with maple syrup and got very different results.
 Here's a video to show you what to do next - do watch before you start baking :) You can see how greasy this recipe becomes - be careful and don't burn your finger!!

These are the honey Brandy Snaps - they look great but the taste for me was only OK. Below is the first maple Snap - it didn't spread as much as the honey one's and had an odd sort of light coloured crust - hmmm - and it seemed to stay much hotter longer and got more crinkly crunchy faster and was harder to roll - but still - I preferred the taste and that's all that counts for me!!
and they looked more like little sausage rolls so.....
..with the third batch I turned the baked Snap disc over and rolled up the snap to be 'inside out' and the look was much better.......then I whipped up some cream - 4 fl oz/ 1/2 cup heavy/double cream with sugar to taste (and the brandy if you want it) - put it in a piping bag and then learned the best way to fill these little rolls so you get a good amount of whipped cream in there is to hold the snap vertically and sort of let the whipped cream fall out of the bag and down into the tube - if you hold the snap horizontally you can't get as much cream in there and really one always needs and wants more cream in there - doesn't one? - you should put cream in both ends of course!!
My absolute favourite way to have Brandy Snaps is to put the cream in and let them sit a few hours so the Snap starts to soften - it's still crunchy at the ends and toothy in the middle and then the cream squushes out - oh YES!!!! You can also add some chopped crystallized ginger to the whipped cream for a little more flavour - but it certainly doesn't need that!!

Look how differently how each batch came out - far left is the honey - better looking but not so tasty for me - next is the first maple batch good but a little ugly - second maple batch I didn't cook long enough and they were too soft - final batch of maple - nicely browned and I rolled them 'inside-out - upside-down' so they looked better and tasted great!

HAPPY BAKING - let me know how you do - Patricia
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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Recycling my own artwork - and having fun in the process.

Many moons ago - yes, maybe actually 10 whole years ago - I created this tabletop pattern "Homespun", comprised of 20 different but related individual designs, for a company called PTS America and they in turn produced the ceramics and sold them through Bloomingdales - wee hee. Lately I have been perusing all the designs in my flat files and saw great potential in the above mix and match designs to re-use the elements and create new work for my own online stores - this involved scanning the art and then manipulating it in Photoshop - which I usually don't find to be that much fun but in this case I starting to get on a roll and now have gone down a wormhole of almost infinite possibilities - I am only showcasing the ones I have used thus far but I do have some more in mind. I was also inspired in this direction of traditional patchwork quiltiness by the continued popularity of the design below in my CafePress store - especially so on iPhone and iPad cases and sleeves.
"Quilt Design" 3G hard case
During my perusing I also scanned this 'country' patchwork design  to use in combination with all the ones above.
"Bow and Gingham" iPad case at my online CafePress shop
This gingham bow is from the edge of one of the bowls in the top picture and the windowpane plaid is from another dinnerplate design in my art archives.
 I took the square patchwork above and combined it with the red windowpane plaid and created the journal cover below.
"Plaid and Patchwork" journal available here .
...and then I combined all of the above designs and literally "patchworked" them together to create this allover design seen below on an iPad2 cover.
"Homespun" iPad2 cover
 ...and here is the repeat in it's full glory soon to be available at my Spoonflower shop (I haven't received my test swatch yet but when I do and (hopefully) approve the first sample then the fabric will be for sale) on a variety of different fabrics.
It was so much fun doing this - I was, and have been planning for quite some time, to start some new "from scratch" watercolour illustration artworks based on desserts and recipes which I will make, bake, photograph and illustrate - BUT  having sat down on a number of recent occasions to do such and just not being able to get the flow going I finally realized what with the Holiday season upon us and other attendant things I should enjoy the recycling process you see here - which although it is time consuming and challenging is very different and somehow easier than creating new work. Starting the creation process of a new piece of art is surprisingly consuming - at least for me it is and it takes a whole different part of my brain and a big chunk of quiet time to contemplate. Thus I shall save the new work for the new year - here's to a productive 2012 - I'm excited to get started in just a few weeks!

How long can a run on sentence be??

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Bara Brith - Fabulous Raisin TEAbread and an industrious squirrel.

Bara Brith atop one of my fabric designs at Spoonflower
Oh My Goodness this is such an excellent recipe from a copy of British Country Living (the BEST magazine in the known universe) from February 2008 - why have I not made it before - was I leery of it's easy peasiness - perhaps - but now I make this about every 5 days and it comes out dandy every time!! If you like fruit cake this is a winner especially so as it contains only 7 pretty much on hand ingredients - maybe you'll have to avail yourself of raisins but I bet you have the rest in the house - there's no creaming butter or anything fancy but you do need to start soaking the raisins about 6 hours ahead of baking the teabread - that's the only 'hard' part. Off we go!!
Plumping up my raisins in good strong tea - yum!!
First make some strong tea - I have used regular black tea, Earl Grey, regular black with a little Lapsang Souchong - they all tasted good -I think Earl Grey is my fave though but the type of tea is up to you - I bet you could also use either green tea or apple juice - mmm - maybe I'll try apple juice in the next one - you'll need 10 fluid ounces hot tea (300ml) - nice and hot! Now put 10 ounces (about 280g) of dried fruit - I use just raisins but you can use raisins, currants, mixed peel and or sultanas - in whatever combination takes your fancy - pop them into a narrow bowl and pour on the hot tea - leave for about 6 hours - more or less - I have found 6 to be the optimum time - less and they're not plump enough and there's too much liquid left and more and there's no liquid left and the teabread burns on the outside. I added the zest of one lemon and mixed it in with the tea and fruit for a little brightness in the finished delight.

Pre-heat oven to 325F

Avail yourself of the following ingredients (including the raisins soaked in hot tea see above):
9oz (250g) self raising flour OR 9oz regular flour combined with 2 teaspoons baking powder (you don't need the baking powder in the self raising flour as it already has raising agents added to it)
1 large egg beaten
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cardamom - goes well with the lemon zest zing
5oz (125g) preferably brown sugar but white is OK too - I use slightly off white organic

1. Once your raisins are soaked and nicely plumped sieve the flour and spices into them (don't drain - you want the tea in there) - stir in the sugar, stir in the egg and beat a little until well blended.
2. Butter either an 8" round or a 6" round cake pan (those of you who know me know I have a ridiculous fondness for the 6" round and tall cake pan because it makes cute cakes as seen below) and add batter - smooth the top and pop into your preheated 325 oven - the oven needs to be low to be able to cook a long, slow time.
3. Bake for about 1 1/2 hours until springy to the touch and a skewer comes out clean - check after one hour and if it is browning too much put an aluminium foil hat over to stop the top burning. This cake depends a lot on how long the raisins have soaked and therefore how much wetness there is to the batter.
The texture of the batter - wet but not sloppy!
Bara Brith "speckled bread"- a beautiful Welsh recipe - the recipe in the magazine said to keep it around for a few days before eating as it develops a nice elastic texture due to it's lack of shortening - yeh right - like I've been able to wait that long to find out - it's great as soon as it's cooled - it does get better by
the day and is faboo toasted with lashings of butter - also untoasted with butter is good!!
I made the yeasted Irish version, Barm Brack, of this a few weeks ago - it was lovely but it was much more of a bread with raisins in, harder and more time consuming to make and not as fruity - this recipe is a WINNER!!

It's another snow day here in Maine - as you can see there are still lots of apples on the tree out back and plenty on the ground for the wild turkey's and deer to nosh on.
And below - an enterprising squirrel found a place to stash his apple - in a hollow on top of the washing line pole - clever little devil - would LOVE to have seen him getting this up there - the apple is held nice and securely for him to nibble on safely away from his other wild neighbours!!
See you soon - my next post is about recycling my artwork - do drop by again. Patricia