Every Monday and Tuesday we get free hot chocolates from some magical vending machines. They’re surprisingly delicious for something that’s (sort of) free. I’m fairly sure extortionate tuition fees cover the cost. The cups that they are dispensed in are thin, and as such, spectacularly fail to insulate your hands from the scalding heat of a freshly brewed hot chocolate. It seemed wasteful to take more than one cup to protect my hands, so I decided to knit up a little cup holder.

Cable Knit Cup Holder

To make your own you’ll need:
Some wool (I used some that I had leftover from another project)
Four double pointed knitting needles (dpns)
The gauge doesn’t really matter too much, as the knit and the cables give it quite a bit of elasticity. Nevertheless, if you are interested, my gauge was about 28 sts/36 rows = 10cm/4ins. The finished product is between 16cm and 20cm in circumference, depending on how stretched out it is.

Cast on 36sts over three needles – each needle should have 12 sts.
Row 1 – Knit 6, Purl 6, k12, p6, k6 – repeat this pattern three more times.
Row 5 – k6, slip three stitches onto a fourth double pointed needle, hold these stitches in front as you p3 that are still on the original needle, then p3 on the fourth dpn, k12, slip 3sts to 4th dpn, p3, p3 on 4th dpn, k6.
Row 6 – repeat row 1 four times.
Row 10 – see row 5.
Repeat the pattern until you reach your desired length.

If you want to make the circumference to be slightly larger to fit a Starbucks cup, for example, use the pattern below.
CO 48 sts over 4 dpns – 12sts on each needle
Row 1 – k3, p6, k6, p6, k6, p6, k6, p6, k3 – repeat this for three more rows
Row 5 – k3, sl3 on to another needle, p3, p3 from other needle, k6, sl3, p3, p3 on other needle (repeat until end of round)
Row 6 – same as row 1.
Repeat as desired.

You could also flat knit this if you don’t have dpns, but you will need to sew up the sides. Also, don’t forget to alternate your knits and purls on each row:
Row 1  –  k3, p6, k6, p6, k6, p6, k6, p6, k3
Row 2 – p3, k6, p6, k6, p6, k6, p6, k6, p3
Row 3 –  see row 1
Row 4 – see row 2
Row 5 – k3, sl3 on to another needle, p3, p3 from other needle, k6, sl3, p3, p3 on other needle (repeat until end of round)


Exasperating Bowl of Sweet Potato GnocchiFirst of all, I have to apologise. This post will be about a catastrophe. A horrific culinary experiment that I would rather forget.

Traditional potato gnocchi have a slightly floury texture and absorb the flavour of whatever sauce you put with them. However, this recipe for sweet potato gnocchi creates little balls of infuriatingly gelatinous and tasteless dough. I suspect that there was far too much flour in the recipe. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have trusted the Waitrose recipe. I should have used a recipe with reviews from real people who have actually tested the recipe and shared their thoughts on it. That’s the main lesson I’ve taken away from this experience – always try to find out what other people thought of the recipe before you make it.

Instead of providing you with the disgraceful Waitrose recipe (which you can quite easily find by google searching), I’m going to give my modified version of this recipe. Note: I haven’t tried this recipe, I am only altering it based on my experiences with the Waitrose recipe.

Ingredients (to serve 4-6)
1kg Sweet potatoes
1/2tsp Ground nutmeg
55g Grated parmesan
Salt & Pepper
150g All purpose flour (you may need more or less – see below)
(NB: I have omitted the egg from the allrecipes recipe, as the addition of more moisture would require even more flour, thus contributing to the glutinous problem)

1) Place the sweet potatoes on a baking tray. Drizzle a little bit of olive oil over them and bake for 30 minutes at 180C. Keep an eye on them to avoid them cooking too much. They should be soft, but not excessively dry.
2) Allow the sweet potatoes to cool until you are able to handle them comfortably. Slice them in half and scoop the flesh out with a spoon into a large mixing bowl.
3) Using a potato masher, mash the sweet potato flesh until the consistency is smooth.
4) With a wooden spoon mix in the salt, pepper, parmesan and nutmeg. Slowly begin adding the flour. Make additions of about 50g until the dough is soft and consistent. If it is still sticking to the bowl a lot, add more flour, but avoid adding so much flour that the dough feels dry. Getting the flour content just right is the hardest part.
5) The most helpful suggestion in the reviews on allrecipes at this point was to put the dough into a plastic sandwich bag, cut the corner off (if you have such a thing, you could use a piping bag for this) and pipe the gnocchi out. I would recommend piping the gnocchi directly into a saucepan of boiling water. When you have a small sausage (no more than 2cm long) cut it off into the water with a sharp knife.
6) At this point, it would be tremendously helpful to have a beautiful assistant. While you’re piping gnocchi into the pan, your helper (or 3rd arm) should keep a close eye on the gnocchi already cooking. As each gnocchi floats to the surface, you know it’s ready. Leave it there for about 10-20 seconds, before fishing it out with a slotted spoon and putting it aside.
7) When all the gnocchi are cooked, empty the saucepan of the pasta water and return them to the pan. Cover with a sauce of your choice (a nice sage butter sauce or tomato and basil sauce, perhaps) and heat everything up over a low heat. Serve in bowls, cover with parmesan and lament the 2 hours it took you to produce.

Meatballs are fantastically easy and fun to make from scratch. You only need a few ingredients to make a filling meal for four.

500g Mince meat (beef or lamb – or a mixture if you like)
1 egg
1 slice of bread (crusts cut off)
1-3tsps Medium curry powder (depending on your tastes – it’s not terribly spicy, but quite fragrant)
1tbsp Mixed herbs (you can use fresh or dried, depending on your tastes and budget – if you’re going for fresh herbs finely chopped flat leaf parsley is an excellent place to start)

1) Put the mince in a large mixing bowl. Add the curry powder and herbs, then crack the egg over the top. The egg helps to hold the meatballs together as you fry them
2) In a separate bowl soak the bread in water. Don’t leave it too long, just enough to make it a bit wet. Squeeze the water out of the bread and then put it in the mixing bowl with the meat.
3) Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon start to mix everything together. Make sure that each of the elements get really well combined.
4) With your hands, knead the mixture a little bit more to really make sure everything is well mixed. When you are satisfied, take little clumps of the meat and roll into small balls. The balls should be no more than 5cm in diameter. My boyfriend always wants to make them really big, but if you make them too big they become difficult to fry properly in the pan. Place each meatball on a plate ready to be fried.
5) Pour a little bit of olive oil into the pan and allow it to heat up. When a haze comes off the oil the meatballs are ready to go in. Fry for 10-15 minutes until there are no pink bits and the meatballs are nicely browned.

You can serve the meatballs with spaghetti and tomato sauce or the Ikea way with gravy, potatoes and jam. Alternatively, they would make a great appetizer for party guests.

I’m not one to let something beat me. I’ve been thinking about my failed attempt at machine sewing Sashiko embroidery for a while now. I’ve realised that there were two problems with my approach. Firstly, I was trying to sew circles – something a machine just isn’t very good at. Secondly, I was sewing totally illogically.

The solution to these problems is very obvious. For the first problem, sew in straight lines. For the second problem, come up with a plan for sewing BEFORE starting.

And that’s exactly what I’ve done.

The results were excellent compared to the first attempt. I have a little patch of Sashiko embroidery that looks the way I wanted it to and didn’t take forever to hand embroider.

Guide to machine sewing Sashiko from scratch:
Drawing out the pattern

Assuming you haven’t bought a ready-made pattern, the first thing you’ll need to do is draw out your pattern.
First, decide how big you’d like the pattern to be. This will depend on what you’d ultimately like to use it for. For example, if you’re going to make a cushion out of it you’ll need a fairly large piece of fabric. Since the pattern itself can be repeated as much as you like, there is no limit on how large you can make it.
Start of the pattern
Starting with a rectangle or a square draw the lines in the order prescribed in the image above. There should be a gap of 2.5cm between the start of each diagonal line and a gap of 2.5cm between each horizontal line. Of course, if you’d like the repeat to be bigger or smaller, just vary the ratio (i.e. 1cm to 1cm or 3cm to 3cm, etc). Mark the peaks of the zigzags. In my example the point is 1.25cm from the centre of the star and then each point should be 2.5cm from each other. Again you can vary this. How deep you make the zigzags is mostly a matter of preference. I made the 0.75cm (7.5mm) away from the horizontal lines, but if I’d wanted the stars to appear completely symmetrical I would have made them 1.25cm deep.
When you have finished drawing all the zigzags you can mark on the short vertical line. This should reach from the top of one zigzag to the bottom of another. In my pattern they are 3.5cm long. All of the lines should now be marked.

Sewing the pattern
The next step is to put thread to fabric and sew those complex lines.

SewingFollowing the same logical order as for drawing out the pattern (see the picture above, excluding step four) sew along each line and watch the pattern come together. This is fairly straightforward until you reach the short vertical lines. At this point, the best strategy is to sew down each line break the thread and start again. It seems like a waste of thread, but there’s no better way of doing it. If your machine allows you to secure the thread without breaking it do that at the end and beginning of each line and then move the needle to the next, keeping the thread intact. When you have finished you can simply cut the addition thread out, without losing too much along the way.
Finish the embroidery by outlining the square/rectangle and trim all the ends.

Finished sashikoEasy.

Further things you may be interested in…
If you are really interested in Sashiko and would like to find out more about how to do it the traditional way, The Purl Bee have and excellent tutorial. You might even want to try out the pattern they use there.

Google books is an excellent resource for crafters. Quite often if there’s a subject you’re just getting into Google books will have a limited preview of a book that will help you to find out more and get inspired. For example, Paradise Stiched is an excellent introduction and resource for anyone interested in Sashiko.

If you’d like to have a go at creating your own patterns, Sumopaint could be just the thing to get the creative juices flowing. The online application has a tool allowing you to create symmetrical patterns quickly and easily.

Finally, if you’d like to draw your own patterns from scratch it might be helpful to have some square paper on hand. This will help you know where the repeat begins and tell you how big to make everything. Plus, drawing it from scratch would help you to get your head around the logical approach to sewing it. However, if you don’t have the patience to draw everything out from scratch, I’ve drawn up this handy sheet of the pattern used in this post.Sashiko pattern

Good luck! And remember the general rule: if it’s round, hand sew it; if its straight, go straight to the machine!

Zimsterne – German Christmas biscuits – delicious star-shaped cinnamon and almond biscuits. They always remind me of family skiing holidays in Switzerland where my brother and I used to eat at least two packs of these morsels over five days.

I’ve been trying to make them for a long time, but never quite found the right recipe. I still haven’t, but the latest recipe is the closest to the taste I was trying to achieve. The texture still isn’t quite there. They should be chewy and soft. But these weren’t. I’ve modified the recipe I used to to compensate for that, but I haven’t tested them yet.

Ingredients (for 20 biscuits)

  • 150g  ground almonds
  • 50g dark brown sugar
  • 25g flour
  • 2-3tsps ground cinnamon
  • 2 egg whites
  • 25g butter melted

1) Mix the dry ingredients together. Knead in the egg whites and butter until a well-combined dough is formed.
2) Wrap the dough in cling film and store in the fridge for 1-2 hours.
3) Pre-heat the oven to 170C and roll the dough out to a thickness of about 1cm. Cut out the biscuits using a star shaped cutter.
4) Position the biscuits on a baking tray and bake for 10-12 minutes.

5) Allow to cool.

Ingredients (for icing)

  • 1 egg white
  • 1tsp lemon juice
  • 150g icing sugar

1) Beat egg whites with lemon juice.
2) Add sifted icing sugar and beat until smooth and combined.
3) Ice each of the biscuits and store in an airtight container.


Another Sashiko tutorial is on its way…

The name, while being Portuguese, has no bearing on where the delightful cuisine hails from. True, the chef, Nuno Mendes, is originally Portuguese, but the restaurant’s name should be used as a rough guide to the food on offer. Without a menu or any indication of what you will receive until your waiter lays it in front of you, a meal at Viajante really is like being a traveller on a voyage of culinary discovery.

I enjoyed the 6 course meal at Viajante a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been putting off writing this blog post in the hopes that the restaurant would send me the menu we ate, as promised, but alas, that is not to be.

The restaurant is in an unlikely location. Bethnal Green, as you may know, is not famed for haute cuisine. But this doesn’t seem to have stopped Mendes setting up shop in the old town hall. Although the surroundings leave a little to be desired, the premises themselves are cosy and inviting – a spot of wood panelling never goes amiss.

The menu (or lack thereof) was exciting to say the least. We went for the 6 course option, but in actual fact this turned out to be 6 ‘courses’ and 4 sides. To avoid spoiling the surprise, I won’t go into great detail about what we were served. The main things I noticed and that I think are worth highlighting is the use of traditional ingredients in novel ways and the recurrent theme of various purées holding the dish together. On the first point, I would like to mention the chocolate truffles that incorporated mushrooms to enhance the flavour. Truffles aren’t exactly the most exciting thig for someone who has been eating chocolate for 21 years, but incorporating mushroom into the mix was an excellent idea. The taste of the mushroom was nutty, a little salty and slightly sour – a perfect counterpoint to the creamy delicacy of the chocolate truffle. In terms of the purées, they prove that if you add enough butter and cream to something they will taste delicious. However, I am not criticising them at all. I loved every single purée I came across, from the more well-known butternut squash purée to the innovative use of kelp. Not only did the taste help to hold together the other ingredients used, but the bright colours made the overall presentation very impressive.

So far I’ve given a glowing report of Viajante, but it did have its bad points. Firstly, there was one dish on which I wasn’t terribly keen. A vaguely asian take on tuna accompanied with very bitter salad leaves and slightly undercooked vegetables came slap-bang in the middle of the meal. Even though I had been enjoying the courses up to that point and thereafter, the tuna dish unfortunately had the effect of dampening my spirits. Secondly, even though we’d ordered the 6 course sampler, there was no indication of what course was being presented to us. For example, what we believed to be the 8th course was actually ‘pre-dessert’. This did cause quite a lot of consternation.

Overall, Viajante is an excellent restaurant, particularly for those with little experience of fine modern cuisine. For around £68 it is possible to eat a substantial amount of very good food. However, if you have high expectations you could be disappointed by what is on offer.

Unfortunately, my sashiko experiment was a failure. I just couldn’t get the circles to come out. There were three main problems. Firstly, I didn’t approach the circles very logically. I’d start sewing and follow the lines in a completely random way. Secondly, the sewing machine just isn’t meant for such tight circular lines. Thirdly, I’m just not very good at using the embroidery foot on my machine, so I avoided it, even though it would have been better for this project.

This photo gives you an indication of the randomness with which I stitched along the lines. It seemed to start off quite well, but by the time I’d given up it was just a mess. The canvas fabric does work extremely well for this kind of embroidery though, as it’s stiff enough to hold its shape without distorting the stitches.

So, in conclusion, the best Sashiko effect is achieved by hand-stitching in the traditional manner.

The cake went down a storm. It has been completely demolished by everyone who has visited the house, including a semi-professional cake decorator. Even the joke cake was quickly consumed. I’ve never been terribly fond of fondant, but my brother seems to love it. He must have eaten close to 600g of it.

So, would anyone else like a cake for their birthday?

Everybody love cake, right? I’ve been watching rather a lot of Ace of Cakes and Cake Boss recently and as a result, I’ve been desperate to have a go at making a properly decorated cake. Since it’s my brother’s birthday tomorrow I offered to make him a cake. He’s a big Chelsea fan, so the cake is in the shape of a shirt with his name and… his age. Yes, he is 18.

I also made him a joke cake, simply because I had so much sugarpaste icing (fondant) left over.

I’d like to think it was done in the style of cakewrecks.com.

Something I’ve been looking at fondly for a while is Sashiko. This form of Japanese embroidery is so simple and elegant. I’ve been wanting to try it out for a long time, but I’ve just never worked up the courage. Besides, all that embroidery by hand must be time consuming!

I’ve come up with an idea to make it slightly less arduous. Hopefully, by machine sewing the lines it will be a lot quicker. Admittedly, by doing this I’ll lose the beautiful gaps between each stitch, but at least I’ll have a semblance of sashiko embroidery.

So far I’ve made a little square with a pattern that I’ll sew.

This is the pattern I’m using. Simple overlapping circles.

To make the pattern I used something with a circular based (a bottle of ‘champagne bubbles’) and drew around it with a pencil. With some help from a ruler I was able to get all of the circles neatly lined up to make the pattern.

So far it’s been pretty easy. We’ll see how the next step goes…

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