About Kate

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I blog at www.katescreativespace.com

Posts by Kate :

Channeling Martha with a spot of dip ‘n dye

I was lying on the sofa the other day, idly trying to choose which of the few remaining chocolate Mini Eggs to eat first; should it be the pastel pink one, or the soft purpley-blue one? (Note the deliberate use of ‘first’ here; it was clearly never going to be a trade-off).  It reminded me that Easter is just around the corner and that Martha Stewart is no doubt at this very moment engaged in vigorous preparations for her extensive annual Easter home-makeover.  I prefer a rather more minimalist approach myself, saving the creative double-barrels for Christmas, but the one thing I do love doing is dip-dyeing eggs to make a simple centrepiece, or even a colourful addition to picnics when the weather allows.

The one big drawback here in the UK is the distinct lack of white eggs, unlike in the US where white eggs are the norm.  Apparently sometime back in the 60s, the UK government announced that brown eggs are better for you, and farmers and the general public immediately switched allegiance and the white hen egg was quite literally bred out of circulation.  The health-benefits story turned out to be entirely untrue, but brown eggs are now the norm and so for this I used white duck eggs, from Prince Charles’s very own Royal farms, and thus retailing at about £10 an egg.  Alright then, £2 a box.  Even so…

1. Hard-boil your eggs, boiling rapidly for 5mins then cooling gently in the pan for 15 mins to ensure a gradual reduction of heat, preventing the shells from cracking.  In the meantime….

2. Prepare several small bowls with 1 tbsp vinegar, food colouring of your choice and enough warm water to cover the egg completely. I used plain blue and green (above), then also mixed pink and blue food colouring to create a lavender colour, and experimented with different shades and depths of colour as I went along.

3. Add the eggs in turn and check colour regularly – leave for anything from 30 seconds to 5 minutes for deep colour, before extracting with gloves or tongs. Don’t wipe the eggs but instead rest of a piece of kitchen roll or place in egg cups.  Martha’s minimum wage elves apparently build her custom-made draining boards with a grid of nails specifically calibrated for optimal egg drying, but for us mere mortals an egg cup is more than sufficient.

4. The eggs look beautiful just grouped on a tonal plate as below (this one is from Wedgwood’s Vera Wang ‘Chalk’ range and I use it constantly…), or you can experiment with speckle effects using either undiluted food colour (if you’re intending to eat the eggs) or artist’s ink or paint if not.  Be warned that using anything pink/red based could leave your kitchen looking like a scene from CSI, with extensive blood spatter pattern effects across every surface.

The good thing is, once you’ve finished displaying them (no longer than a week after cooking, and keep in the fridge in the meantime), they taste really lovely too, despite H’s obvious suspicion…

Spiders, leaky roofs and that cheese obsession again…

This week’s project: a slate cheese board made from one of the ancient roof tiles which I found tucked away in the shed at the bottom of the garden.  This shed, which looks as if it would fall down if someone so much as coughed loudly in its presence, contains a myriad of dusty and (to me) beautiful abandoned garden bits and bobs left by previous owners.  A mountain of tiny, hand-formed terracotta plant pots are ready to be transformed into summer candles (on my long list of things to do…), but it was the slate tiles that caught my eye this time.

Taking the filthy and unpromising specimens below, the first step was to give each a long, hard scrub before coating with a durable matt varnish to bring out the original depth of colour.  Actually, I’ve abbreviated the process somewhat; the first step was to pick up a slate tile, carry it halfway in doors before dropping it, shrieking, onto the lawn as a generation of arachnids large and small leapt off the tile and scurried hastily back to the security of the shed. Having recovered from the mild hysteria this provoked, I carefully checked that no-one had observed me before casually retrieving the tile and continuing with the stages described above.

I used two cupboard handles shaped like chillies to attach to either end for carrying – I’d found these a year ago in a sale bin at the local DIY store and finally they’ve found a natural home.  I used epoxy resin to attach them securely, though those more savvy with drill-bits might want to have a go at doing this properly and making holes in the slate itself; mine looked a bit fragile to take it.  Now for the fun bit of accessorising the new cheeseboard; these decorative parchment leaves look great against the black, and a simple white pastel pencil works well on the slate, and is erased with one wipe of a wet cloth.  I’ll also be using it for tapas, with perhaps a trio of white bowls for contrast.

This project would be even easier with new slate tiles if you happen to come across them or have neighbours who are in the process of repairing their roof; a word of caution however – it was only when I whipped this out at dinner with much fanfare and self-congratulation that I noticed my husband peering at it a bit too closely. ‘Would that be one of the handful of original tiles I’d set aside to repair the annexe roof?’ he queried, in the kind of voice that tells you we both know the answer already.  Oops. So check that the roof slate is spare before coming over all artistic, would be my advice.  Still, it looks great

The life-shortening joy of Churros Y Chocolate

Whilst the rest of the world was celebrating St Paddy’s day this weekend we – contrary as usual – were having a bit of a Spanish moment and cooking churros for the very first time.  I’d often looked longingly at churros recipes (doughnut mix ? rolled in cinnamon sugar? That you are then actually required to dunk in hot, melty chocolate? Can it even be legal..?), but never before attempted to conquer them at home.

To the loud accompaniment of Catalan songsters The Gypsy Kings, we sashayed around the kitchen brandishing piping bags filled with an ever-expanding dough, whilst simultaneously heating a vat of oil and melting a tonne of chocolate.  It’s amazing in retrospect that nothing caught fire and no-one was sent to call for an ambulance.

My understated photo belies what a truly explosive and messy process this is, at least the first time – no kitchen surface or implement was spared, and none of the pans involved in this enterprise (there were many) looks quite the same afterwards… but oh my god it was worth it.  Eating churros dipped in molten chocolate may be the only time in life that you can actually hear your arteries furring up if you listen closely enough, but in the moment it is impossible to care.  As Harry demonstrates below, you can add fruit into the mix too if you like, but really it isn’t going to make it any healthier.  Still, life is short…

Ingredients:

For the chocolate dipping sauce:

  • 200g dark chocolate, 50g milk chocolate
  • 2 tbsp of golden syrup
  • 300ml double cream.
For the churros:
  • 90g caster sugar (for dusting after cooking, when mixed with the cinnamon)
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 125g plain flour
  • 125g self-raising flour
  • a good pinch of sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 litre sunflower oil for frying
  1. Mix the chocolate sauce ingredients in a pan over a low/medium heat until melted, then set aside until ready to use; gently reheat once the churros are cooking.
  2. Sift the flours and salt together into a heatproof bowl; make a well in the centre.
  3. Mix the olive oil with 450ml of boiling water. Stir well then add to the flour and mix to make a smooth paste (you can do this in a mixer if you prefer). The dough will be sticky and puffy and will adhere to every part of you it touches; be warned.
  4. Spoon the dough into a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle and place in the fridge to chill until ready to use.
  5. Heat a saucepan of oil to 170c / until a piece of bread sizzles on contact.
  6. Pipe your churros, snipping each one off at whatever length you’re happy with.
  7. Toss each one in the sugar mix and set on a plate with the chocolate dipping sauce.  Wait whilst each of your friends declares undying love for you before grudgingly passing around the table.
recipe adapted from Thomasina Miers’ book Mexican Food Made Simple

Unnatural Passions…

So there I was in the new kitchen, sniggering at a story in the news about a lady in the US who was experiencing a distinctly unrequited passion for the Statue of Liberty, whom she intended to marry at the earliest opportunity.  ’A rare disorder’, mused the gravely serious experts, which meant that she was ‘irrevocably attracted to inanimate objects’, causing the same pulse-racing, obsessional behaviour that might occur in a normal woman were George Clooney to move in next door.  The Eiffel Tower too, it seems, has a flurry of admirers who become a little skittish and flirtatious when in its presence.

Imagine my surprise when my husband looked me in the eye and asked me, gently yet firmly, whether I recognised any of these symptoms.  He drew my attention to the way I stroke our Italian granite worktops, sigh contentedly at the soft-close doors and am happy as a clam just gazing at our new range cooker for the entire 45 minutes it takes to cook a Findus Ready Meal.  My denials faded rapidly…. in my defence, at least a new kitchen is – generally speaking –  a lower maintenance and less threatening lover than the usual alternatives.

So here it is; the object of my affections….

The room used to be a shag-pile carpeted living room, before we reconfigured the space to create a kitchen/diner. We had a mould made of the original coving and will continue it along the new back wall (above). The flooring is engineered artisan oak with a linen whitewash; it’s probably my favourite thing, and is great for tricycles…

A pair of dressers hold a collection of white and neutral china, including this cow creamer which holds a place in my heart as the quirkiest yet most utterly useless milk jug ever.

It would be untrue to say that the whole kitchen was designed around this beautiful and organic light from BTC, but we certainly had it in mind from the outset; six porcelain bell-cups cast a soft glow over the dining table.  Assembling it and wiring in without dropping a clanger (literally) is a feat of engineering and would make  a good game show challenge.

An off-white sofa may seem a ludicrous choice for a family kitchen, but this one is treated with industrial-grade stain guard and has so far resisted wine, chocolate, mud and just about everything else a 2yr old can throw at it.

The range cooker from French company Lacanche looks the bees-knees but its opaque doors and my resultant inability to peer inside without opening the door means that my baking skills are going to have to improve…

We kept the original fireplace and added a stone surround from London company Chesneys. After a frenzy of chimney sweeping we held our breath and built a fire; now evenings are spent pottering around the kitchen whilst logs spit and crackle in the hearth.

We’re taking our time with accents (not least because we need to earn some more money first…), and will add counter stools, in due course.  For now a clock and blackboard lean against the wall and can be moved around as we decide on their ultimate position.

And finally, the fireside log basket doubles as a stool and portable play table when fitted with our barrel-top breadboard

Spring Fever

After a couple of stuttering false starts, it’s clear that Spring is just around the corner and Harry and I are alternating between indoors and outdoors at the drop of a hat.  Thank heaven for wipe-clean wood flooring. When the sap is rising and the buds are bursting into colour, it makes me come over all green-fingered, so this week we’ve been experimenting with growing cress, the ultimate in instant-gratification gardening.  There’s something so bafflingly magical about being able to toss a generous and unfettered handful of seeds onto some damp cotton wool and see them sprout forth overnight. For those with patchy childhood memories, each stage is demonstrated with gusto by Harry, below. Our admittedly rather camp collection of Cressmen are now 5 days old and ready for a first trim…



Step 1: moisten some cotton wool in lukewarm water

Step 2: Insert carefully into your egg cup.  Pause to wipe hands on your jumper.

Step 3: Scatter a small handful of seeds carefully into the cup, covering the cotton wool

Step 4: Abandon this plan; instead, scatter seeds flamboyantly over all surfaces

Step 5: Your work is complete. Retire for a nap whilst Mummy clears up and entertains herself attaching eyes and moustaches to your efforts, in homage to The Village People.

And then… For something a little more grown-up, and to give the impression that great culinary endeavours occur in my kitchen, I also planted up a few wilting supermarket herbs into a variety of different decorative containers (including a copper coffee tin, right), and am diligently watering, trimming and tossing into any dish which may warrant additional greenery… aesthetics may outweigh flavour here, but at least they look pretty. Maybe a little understated compared to the Cressmen, but then there’s only so many things you can attach fake eyes to…

Audrey Hepburn Cookies

Harry is an ardent admirer of the older woman. At the tender age of two, he is having his own Mrs Robinson moment and is far more enthralled by my often chic and stylish, rather more mature girlfriends than those of a similar height to him.

This weekend we will be seeing a number of them, so have embarked on a spot of decorative baking in an attempt to turn their heads.  Even projects like this one offer a number of opportunities for small, clean hands; the cutting of cookies, glueing of surfaces and rolling of icing all needed the services of my knee-high sous chef. Much of the original icing vanished during the project; the crumb-covered blackened mouth being a dead giveaway.

For these I used the sugar cookie recipe from cult British bakers Biscuiteers, which I’ve added below; the golden syrup makes the cookies crisp and deliciously chewy, although I should warn the uninitiated that toddlers and syrup are a recipe for kitchen chaos..

Boxed cookies in waxed paper tied with ribbon, to mail to a friend we won’t be seeing

Bake your cookies and assemble your decorations; I coloured royal icing with black paste and used ivory dragees, with edible glue to hold everything together

Use the same size cutter for the icing; the cookies expand a little in the oven leaving a nice rim around the iced shape.  The finished cookies will store for 7-10 days if kept in an airtight container (layer with greaseproof paper).  You can also freeze the unbaked dough.

Biscuiteers Sugar Cookie Recipe (from the Biscuiteers Book of Iced Biscuits)

  • 350g plain flour
  • 100g self-raising flour
  • 125g granulated sugar
  • 125g salted butter; cubed
  • 125g golden syrup (corn syrup in the US)
  • 1 large egg, beaten lightly
  1. Sift the flour together, add sugar and mix well
  2. Add the butter and rub together to resemble fine breadcrumbs
  3. Create a well in the centre and add the syrup and egg
  4. Mix well, into a ball; flatten and chill for 30mins or until ready to use
  5. Roll out, cut and bake for 10-15mins; mine took a little less than this so check at intervals to avoid over-baking.
  6. To adhere the icing to the cookies I used edible glue; for the dragees I dipped each in the glue with a pair of (sterilised!) tweezers and before adding to the neckline.  Doing this when the black icing is still soft and malleable helps them to remain in place

Lepidoptery for the Lily-Livered

As a child on holiday in Cornwall, I remember scuffing my way along the hedgerows in Summer and finding seemingly hundreds of butterflies which had quietly met their last and were now decoratively, if a little sombrely, adding a flash of colour amidst the green.  We’d gather them up and head home, carefully cupping our deceased quarry as if it might still fly away.  But here the nostalgic reminisces grind to a halt because I cannot for the life of me remember what we did with them next.  Even at the age of 10 when one’s barbaric tendencies are at a peak, the idea of pinning them to a board or glueing them into a macabre holiday craft montage  seemed a little, well, unnecessary. So instead I imagine they  sat on the kitchen table, shedding and gathering dust in equal measure, until swept to their ultimate doom by my mother in a fit of domestic zeal.

This week I discovered a far more humane way to reignite my brief flirtation with the world of lepidoptery; a cheap and cheerful craft punch, which has proven to have a multitude of uses.  I worked my way through some leftover gift wrap, then experimented with watercolours and finally some old walking maps, which my husband had unwittingly left lying around.  I am mildly apprehensive about the day when he confidently whips one open when lost on a Yorkshire moor and finds that there is a butterfly-shaped hole in the place where the footpath was once shown, but I’ll endeavour to not lose any sleep over it.  A word of advice on maps; if using the more mundane modern versions like me, rather than the romantic olde worlde versions, do check what map detail you are stamping out before attaching your butterfly irrevocably to a card; I had to prise a fluttering ‘Public Sewage Works’ butterfly off and start again…

Close-ups, tips and tools below.

A Kaleidoscope of Butterflies on pastel paper. If you had the time or inclination to keep going, these would look beautiful en masse in a box frame. (Fact of the day; a kaleidoscope is indeed the beautiful and apt collective noun for a group of butterflies…)

Map butterflies glued to a square of mount board with a watercolour wash

Fun layering with leftover gift wrap – this would work well on tags or headed notecards too

A wallpaper butterfly on mount board as before, this time with a dash of glitter glue

Materials:

  • Hobbycraft small butterfly punch (£3.99)
  • Decorative paper scraps and maps
  • Gel craft glue or hot glue (glue sticks like Pritt will work fine for flat butterflies but are not quite strong enough if you’re folding and mounting at an angle)

 

Homemade Biscuits for Cheese

Sometimes events collide in such a way that you have to just go with the flow and call it fate.  So when Santa left a brand new cookie stamp in my stocking, and a recent cursory examination of the fridge revealed mountains of cheese but absolutely no accompaniment, a spot of savoury biscuit making was the natural conclusion.

But which recipe to choose? I opted for the ever-reliable Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s digestive biscuits, though having now baked and eaten most of them, I would suggest they are more like oatcakes (and all the better for that).  Making these is a messy old business; I suspect Hugh’s tumbling locks needed a hairnet during the critical stages.  I’d also suggest allowing some time for your freshly chilled dough to acclimatise back towards room temperature, or you will likely suffer from bicep/wrist strain when attempting to roll out your cookies.  Still, I do love a recipe which includes a full-body workout.

Finished article shown below, shortly before being hoovered up by the photographer (that would be me, I’m afraid).  These look even prettier before they are baked – see below – and I’ll certainly be trying the stamp on plain cookies for max effect.

River Cottage Digestives – Makes around 40 biscuits

  • 250g Wholewheat flour
  • 250g Quick cook oats
  • 125g soft brown sugar
  • 1 tsp of salt (his recipe calls for 2, but one worked great)
  • 2tsp baking powder
  • 250g unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
  • 1tbsp milk
  1. Combine all of your dry ingredients by pulsing in a food processor.  Add the butter bit by bit and mix to form a dough
  2. Gradually add in the milk – you may want to transfer to a bowl and do this by hand
  3. Wrap in clingflim and transfer to the fridge for an hour (you can leave it for longer and even freeze it at this stage)
  4. Bring the dough back upto temperature, preheat the oven to 180/350 degrees and cut out your biscuits before baking for around 10-15mins, until golden brown.  Whip out of the oven and attempt to wait until they have cooled before eating – this will make them decidedly less crumbly and be less likely to require a trip to Accident and Emergency.
  5. I suggest at least 4 should be eaten in the kitchen to test for consistency in quality before offering to family and friends…

A kitchen for the Mini-Gourmand

It was when we were raising a glass to the completion of our new kitchen that we belatedly noticed Harry stalking around stroking the cupboards and muttering gleefully ‘My new kitchen! What is in my cupboards? I cook now!’

Never one to miss an opportunity to raise an enlightened metrosexual, it seemed an opportune time to focus on completing the toy play kitchen I’ve been making out of bits and bobs in the garage, but which has fallen off the priority list since our house move.

I bought a dresser top from Ebay (a bargain at £12) and painted it with leftover cream Eggshell, then raided the local Poundsaver store for accessories; the sink (lasagne dish), cups, utensils and bread board all cost less than £1, which is just as well as their life expectancy is already in jeopardy after some flamboyant, Heston-style dramatic gestures from the toddler chef de cuisine. The recycled taps and knobs were procured during a visit to the local dump after I wrestled them off an unwanted sink and cupboard, with the wrench and screwdriver I tend to carry in my handbag (ex-Girl Guides are always prepared…).

Harry may be a dab hand in the kitchen, but he is still inevitably a small boy, so guests; be warned that top of the menu is Slug Soup and Worm Sandwiches.  At least you know he’ll have pretended to wash his hands before dishing up…



The finished play kitchen, complete with accessories…and the original Ebay find (below)

The kettle and toaster were an Amazon.co.uk find

The hob (below) was made with CDs and silver-sprayed wooden knobs

The cupboards are filled with empty food packets and a junk store tea set, plus this rather fabulous toy cake stand from Grandma

I admit it; this was just a great excuse to buy and eat a whole camembert.

Hours of fun (and peace…)

More

A-List Baking

Say what you like about Gwyneth Paltrow, the girl’s obviously got buns of steel and thighs that could crack a walnut at 30 paces. Previously I have attributed this to a diet of pea shoots and a life frittered away in the gym, so I was delighted to discover that au contraire,she maintains her svelte physique by baking and snacking on jammy biscuits.  Well okay then, we’ll call them gluten-free thumbprint cookies.

Harry and I unashamedly customised her recipe in her recent book ‘My Father’s Daughter’, having been delighted to find something so suited to our natural kitchen style, namely a cookie that is actually supposed to be a greyish-brown colour when finished, and also to have a very dented and uneven appearance.  I must ‘fess up that here the similarities end, as Gwyneth confidently predicted a batch of ‘around 50′ cookies, and our efforts yielded, well, 12.  This portion control could explain many things.  Still, H and I will maintain our belief that a proper cookie is one of a size which requires both hands to get a good grip.

Recipe follows… they taste wickedly, addictively good.  Eat one and then give the rest away. Quickly.

Step One: Combine all of the ingredients except for the jam.  Roll into balls and place of a baking sheet.  Demonstrated here by my beautiful assistant Ted Glen, of Postman Pat fame.

Step 2: Make a thumbprint dent, then add a healthy dollop of jam in the centre of each

Step 3: Bake in the oven for 20 mins.  Use this time to either a) kill yourself on the treadmill in preparation for the carb onslaught or b) make a large pot of coffee and locate a comfy chair and a plate.

Step 4: Admire, consume, repeat.

Recipe:

4 cups of Barley flour

3 cups of chopped almonds (we used pistachio nuts instead – we love them)

1 cup of Maple syrup

1 cup of oil

Pinch of salt, teaspoon of ground cinnamon

Jam – any flavour you like.

adapted from Gwyneth’s Paltrow’s  ’Lalo’s Cookies’ recipe

MadHatter’s Cake Stand

I spent last Summer vaguely lusting after the gravity-defying cake stands which popped up in every style magazine and chic home store (Anthropolgie does this kind of thing beautifully).  I convinced myself that it was exactly the kind of thing I could knock up at home on a wet Sunday, using thriftily purchased remnants of china from the charity store, to eventual gasps of awe from anyone who came to tea.

In the event it’s taken me about 6 months to acquire enough cups and saucers, within my self-imposed budget of no more than a couple of pounds for each, not least because I eventually opted for white porcelain pieces… somehow there’s a fine line between uber-stylish retro chintz and just full on mis-matched, chipped 70′s china, and I definitely kept finding the latter. Colourful egg-cups from Pip Studio provided a little burst of zingy colour in the otherwise-white ensemble.

So here it is, the finished result, albeit with a distinct cake deficit in this shot; we are still recovering from the cupcake frenzy of last week, so it may be some time before I can picture this properly laden with sugary delights. n.b. For anyone who is similarly inspired and reaching for the hot glue, there’s a definite knack to cobbling one of these together; my ‘how to’ notes are below…

Materials and methods:

  • 3 or 4 plates of differing sizes; I used a saucer, side plate, dinner plate and an optional under plate to rest it on
  • Selection of cups, mugs or egg cups all with flat rims – pile them up before glueing to check for wobble; they should sit happily and steadily before you attach them
  • Epoxy resin

To make:

  1. Compose your cake stand and try a number of different combinations. Decide which direction you want any handles to point in, and ensure you have enough height to layer cakes or biscuits on each tier. Step back and look at it from different angles before making your final decision.
  2. Clean each piece thoroughly and ensure they are fully dry.  Rub a little fine sandpaper over the base and rim of each piece you will be glueing, to increase the hold.
  3. Mix the epoxy resin together and apply to each piece in turn, working from the bottom and allowing each piece to set before adding the next layer.  Take great care to centre each piece, both aesthetically and to minimise the risk of any wobble
  4. Allow to dry fully, then test each join by pulling gently – the last thing your grand hostess-y entrance needs is to be marred by the sudden loss of the bottom tier of your cake stand at the moment critique….
  5. I used a spray of orchid in the egg cup at the top, but depending on the occasion might also use easter eggs, coloured hat pins, berried twigs etc – or for a true Madhatter touch, twisted and bent cake forks and spoons (but there’s a whole other load of trips to the charity shop before I manage to acquire those).