Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Ice Sculpture at Ottawa's Winterlude

One of the best bits of the Winterlude festival in Ottawa is the international ice sculpture competition. I don't know what kind of subjects I'd expected to feature in the display, but I was taken aback (in a good way) by the towering alien lizard protecting her eggs! Along with such fantastical subjects, there were also a number of more familiar still-life tableaux, as well as some abstract pieces. It was really interesting to see the variety in the display, and I don't envy the judges who had to weigh each against the others.




The level of detail in some of the carvings is immense, and makes you wonder how many breakages they have to contend with. (Fortunately, as we observed while watching one sculpture being repaired, the advantage of ice is that you can stick it back together with water for glue.)



It's impressive. You wouldn't think you could be more impressed, by what is, after all, a collection of ice cubes.

And then the sun goes down, and the lights go on:

Ottawa Ice Sculpture

Ice Sculpture in Ottawa

Ottawa Ice Sculpture

Ottawa Ice Sculpture

Ottawa Ice Sculpture

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Gooseberry & Ginger Jam

Gooseberry ginger jam

I recently had the good fortune to receive a large bag of gooseberries from a friend, who has a productive bush but wasn't sure quite what to do with them. Obviously, I made jam, but I wanted to jazz it up a bit. After a little head-scratching, I decided that ginger would probably go pretty well with gooseberries. The end result is a very pretty jam, as the black gooseberry seeds are quite striking in the golden preserve.

Blackberry jamAre you interested in learning to make your own jam? Or just looking for more yummy recipes with jam as an ingredient? Click here for jam-making tips and a collection of related recipes.

Gooseberry & Ginger Jam
Makes enough to fill 2 jars (450g/1lb size)

450g (1lb) gooseberries
½cup ginger root
120ml (½cup) water
450g (1lb) granulated sugar
  1. Sterilise your jam jars, and put a small plate in the freezer.
  2. Wash the gooseberries. Peel and finely chop the ginger.
  3. Put the gooseberries, ginger, and water into a heavy-bottomed pan, and bring to the boil over a medium heat.
  4. Simmer the fruit for 5 minutes, or until the fruit softens.
  5. Add the sugar, stirring gradually until all the grains have dissolved.
  6. Increase the heat and boil vigorously for about 20 minutes, or until a sugar thermometer consistently reads 104°C (220°F).
  7. To check whether the jam is setting, retrieve your plate from the freezer, and drop a little jam onto it. The cold of the plate should cause it to set quickly, so that if you push the edge of the drop with your finger, it will react like a jelly instead of a liquid. If not, continue to boil for a couple more minutes, then test again.
  8. Decant the jam into the jars, and top with a piece of greaseproof paper. Screw the lids onto the jars while the jam is still hot, to form an airtight seal.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Strawberry Caprese Salad (Secret Recipe Club)

Strawberry Caprese Salad

Secret Recipe Club

This month for the Secret Recipe Club I was assigned to make something from Deborah of Delicious Happens.

Deborah's blog is just beautiful. I'm so envious of her food styling abilities, she clearly has a natural eye for artistic composition. Needless to say, her recipes had my mouth watering from the first moment.

It's summer berry season right now, so I'm buying and picking berries every weekend. (Keep an eye out for another batch of jam recipes soon.) Recipes for a gluten-free berry crisp and fresh berry tart drew my attention, but in the end I decided to go simple and elegant.

Now, everyone knows tomatoes are a fruit. But I think it's fair to say that replacing tomatoes with strawberries - even in a salad - is a slightly unconventional idea.

So I was feeling a bit brave as I made this strawberry caprese salad. My mum introduced me to strawberries with pepper when I was growing up, so I knew that bit would work. I was drawn in by the walnuts, and the tangy balsamic dressing. I added a spinach base to Deborah's recipe, inspired by a strawberry spinach salad that I once enjoyed at a restaurant, and I candied my walnuts (because why not?).

The end result was downright delicious, and very summery... but I still don't think strawberries-for-tomatoes is a substitution I'll be making every day (pizza, anyone...?)

Strawberry Caprese Salad

Strawberry Caprese Salad
Serves 4

4 cups fresh strawberries
4 cups fresh spinach leaves
⅓ cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 cup (200g) fresh mozzarella balls

For the candied walnuts:
½ cup walnuts
1tbsp sugar
1tbsp water

For the balsamic dressing:
3tbsp balsamic vinegar
2tsp light brown sugar
¼tsp freshly ground black pepper
⅓ cup olive oil
  1. Wash and hull the strawberries, and cut into halves.
  2. Wash and dry the spinach and basil leaves.
  3. Arrange the spinach and basil on the plate, and top with the strawberries and the mozzarella balls.
  4. Make the candied walnuts: roughly chop the nuts, and toss together with the sugar and water in a small pan. Heat until the walnuts are toasted and the sugar dissolved. Set aside to cool.
  5. Make the dressing: stir the sugar and pepper into the balsamic vinegar, and whisk in the olive oil.
  6. Sprinkle the walnuts over the salad, and serve with dressing on the side.

I'm submitting this recipe to August's Cooking with Herbs (hosted by Karen) and No Croutons Required (hosted by Jac and co-founded by Lisa), both of which are guaranteed to be excellent collections of summery dishes.

 Cooking with Herbs Lavender and Lovage

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

On Form Sculpture 2014 at Asthall Manor

Andy and I really enjoyed the On Form sculpture exhibition in 2012, and since the event is biennial, we immediately noted the 2014 dates in our diaries. It happened that I got back to the UK with just a week to spare before the 2014 exhibition closed, and the weather was great, so we decided to head out and take a look at this year's sculptures.

Visiting for a second time was a somewhat different experience to the first. We were already familiar with the layout of the gardens, so although it was still fun to discover art around every corner, there were fewer surprises in store. And a number of the same artists had returned, so the style of many of the sculptures was also familiar. (I suppose this may be exactly what you want if you're there to buy a piece.)

Still, it was a beautiful day, in a beautiful garden (I especially love the wildflower meadows), and outdoor sculpture gardens are always a pleasure.

Asthall Manor On Form 2014

Asthall Manor On Form 2014

Asthall Manor On Form 2014

Asthall Manor On Form 2014

Asthall Manor On Form 2014

Asthall Manor On Form 2014

Asthall Manor On Form 2014

Asthall Manor On Form 2014

Asthall Manor On Form 2014

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Annie Lyons: My Not Quite Perfect Baking Life

To celebrate the paperback release of her bestselling debut novel, Not Quite Perfect, Annie Lyons is taking over my blog for the day with a few reminiscences of not-quite-perfect moments from her baking career.

I can certainly sympathise, I've had more than my fair share of complete disasters in the kitchen! But it's the thought that counts... right?

Over to Annie:

I love baking. Absolutely love it. I love cakes, biscuits, pies and tarts. I love the Great British Bake-Off and I REALLY love Mary Berry. She is a perfect baking goddess. I on the other hand am not a perfect baking goddess, but by golly I’m a trier. Here are my top five not-quite-perfect baking moments:

My daughter's 1st birthday cake

I was determined to do this properly. It was my first-born’s 1st birthday after all. I went to a cake shop. I hired a tin. It was shaped like a dog. Quite a large dog actually. My mum (who is a bit like Mary Berry but with a south-east London twang) came over to help. We seemed to need a huge quantity of ingredients but it looked okay when it came out of the oven. When we tried to turn it out of the tin it became what it was; a huge wet dog. The dog’s head fell off. I cried. My Mum went out to buy more margarine.

My son's 1st birthday cake

For some reason I decided that what my one-year-old son really wanted for his first birthday was a 3D Red Dinosaur cake. He seemed to go RAAAR whenever he saw a dinosaur so that was evidence enough for me. I scoured the internet and found some truly amazing works of art and with my customary optimism I thought, "How hard can it be?" Okay, so I think we all know the answer to that question. The ‘triceratops’ I produced looked quite like a hedgehog but my Mum, three-year-old daughter and I boldly covered it in buttercream icing the colour of innards. The photos of my daughter holding her hands up for inspection following this exercise make my blood run cold even today. She looks like a tiny murderer.

My husband's Jaffa Cake birthday cake

Jaffa Cakes are my husband’s favourite biscuit or cake. I know they’re called cakes but they look like biscuits but I’m not getting into that debate again. Last time I did that I ended up having a spat with an Eccles cake-fancier and we all know how vicious they can be. So I decided that I would make him an actual Jaffa Cake and there is an excellent recipe on the BBC Food website if you want to try it. It involves doing clever things with egg whites, orange jelly and chocolate. What’s not to like, right? Anyway, I was actually quite pleased at how this turned out. It basically looked like a giant Jaffa Cake and as we sliced it, the layers of biscuit, jelly and chocolate appeared reassuringly familiar. We tasted it and paused. "Tastes exactly like the ones you get in the packets," remarked my six-year-old son. I think it was a compliment but I had possibly hoped for more.

My mum's birthday sponge

My mum makes the best Victoria sandwich in the world (sorry Mary but she just does) so I thought I would return the compliment one year by making her a special one filled with strawberries, passion fruit and cream. The result? Raw sponge but delicious fresh fruit and cream. I am a legend.

The real rock cakes

I’m good at burning things. It’s something of a specialist field for me. This recipe was given to me by my beloved mum. The cakes should be moist and teeming with delicious sultanas and other assorted dried fruits. They should be craggy on the outside, like delectable cakey boulders topped with crunchy Demerara sugar. They should not be actual cakey boulders which could happily double up as small but lethal weapons. I would like to blame the oven but can only blame myself. I forgot they were in there and went off to do something else. For a bit too long.

Annie Lyons is the best-selling author of Not Quite Perfect (now available in paperback) and Not Quite Perfect Christmas (A Short Story). Her new novel Dear Lizzie is published by Carina and is available as an eBook. Catch up with Annie on Facebook or Twitter.

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