It’s all about the Chilli

We did a test batch of the chilli yesterday and it was quite the process.  Then had a group of friends around for dinner for a taste testing.  There was much talk about the fore-burn, and the afterburn, perhaps because the 1/2 recipe contained these items as well as the better part of a full bag of fresh green chillies as well!

Not expecting a win, as the green chilli is certainly going to be a novelty, but he is enjoying the process.

what else is in the batch?  Not all the ingredients (that would be telling) but:

No, the plasters don’t go in the chilli, just in case of a nasty knife accident!

And as the crafty side of things, I had to work on the stall decor.

Just a bit f fun, really, but the foam stamps turned out pretty well.  My local fabric shop doesn’t sel Wonder Under any more, then sell a different brand, and it is made up of a sort of diamond pattern, where the Wonder Under is a fine, overall mesh.  The pattern is clearly visible but most noticeable behind the whites of the alien eyes so in a way that is OK as it makes them look like fly-eyes.  But the shop lady says it is for applique work – I wouldn’t use it for that, because you can “see” the pattern of the glue under the fabric.  Maybe it’s better under a floral or patterned material, but it is nowhere near as good as Wonder Under.  But it was what they had so I used it.

More test cooking today, and any allowed pre-chopping and measuring,  and with luck, some crafty time tomorrow!


Crop food – Tamale Pie

The crop yesterday was great fun, although not my most productive.  I worked hard on my layouts, shifting things about, adding and subtracting, despite a Cricut being there, had cutting letters…and oh yes, eating.  We do a pot luck (do they call it a pot luck in the UK?  I don’t even know!) and sometimes, if we don’t have Sarah on the task of contacting people and telling them what to bring so we have a well-rounded meal, it might be less meal and more a series of snack all day long.  The ladies who do sweets are truly talented, but that leaves the rest of us to defer to them and do savouries.  Not as easy, I don’t think, as it’s hard to come up with something that everyone at least can tolerate, if not truly LIKE.

I have a store or recipes that I trot out for these sorts of events.  They are tasty, not too spicy but hopefully not totally bland, economical without being cheap, and above all filling. This recipe went down a treat.  A number or people asked for the specifics, so I thought I’d post it on what tends to be a non-craft day, to make it easy for anyone to grab.

The problem is that I cook rather … haphazardly.  I never really take not of things like the package weight of meat.  I figure a bit more or less isn’t going to be a huge issue.  I also am a bit flexible with measurements since I think in cups and most cans are in  grams.  So I kind of look at the can and make a judgement as to whether it looks like enough.  I’ll convert my recipe to fit UK products if I can.  I doubled it, so I could have a large dish for the crop and a small pie-size one for DH to have at home, but I reckon the whole recipe as shown here would fill a standard 9 x 11 baking pan.  More or less.

You see, this is why I don’t write cookbooks LOL!

Oven temp is 180  ( if yours is fan assisted do what it says to adjust – I think that would be about 160)

Make the crust first.  We used to buy Masa Harina at Sainsbury’s in the specialty food aisle but ours doesn’t carry it anymore.  For this I bought a bag of fine corn meal and one of coarse corn meal (sold as Polenta) and used one cup of each. You could probably use all of one, if you want. Add two tbls of sugar.

In a bowl lightly whisk  2/3 cup of milk, two eggs and 4 tbls melted butter.  Add to the cornmeal and sugar. Mix with a fork until it is just combined.  Don’t  over mix it.

To this add two small cans of sweet corn (not creamed corn, but you could use about 1 1/2 cups of frozen corn, defrosted) and 6 oz. of shredded mature cheddar.

Grease your baking tin then press the cornmeal mixture into the bottom and up the sides of the tin.  Try to get a uniform thickness.  Set aside.

Cook the filling:

1 cup finely chopped onions

1 cup chopped bell peppers (I used a mix of red, yellow and green but you can use all one colour)

Saute the peppers and onions in 2 tbls butter over medium heat for a few minutes, until they are soft but not browned

Add two 500 g packs of ground turkey and cook until the meat is no longer pink.

Add two cans of drained and rinsed black beans (these used to be hard to find in the UK but Morrisons has then, as do Sainsbury’s although they tend to be in boxes and organic) and two packets of Old El Paso taco seasoning mix and a 400g can of chopped tomatoes. You will not need any additional salt!  Let it cook for a few minutes.

Spoon the filling into the crust.  Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes until the crust is cooked but not too brown on the edges.  Add a good sprinkle of cheddar cheese over the top and pop it back into the oven till it is melted.  Serve with a good dollop of sour cream and salsa, if you like.

I stopped after the crust was cooked and re-heated it at the crop for about 20 minutes, added the cheese then, and put it back in the oven for another 10 minutes or so till the cheese was melted. Hence the photo with no cheese!  Funny but I can never seem to get a photo of mexican food that looks appealing.  And my DH did a back-up of may machine while I was gone and messed up my 2nd monitor’s calibration.  So the photo looks great on the LEFT monitor, but a bit odd on the right.  I have no idea what you will see on your monitor, but I will say every bite was eaten at the crop so it must have been tasty.

You could, I suppose, make it with ground beef, if you wanted.  We had it with a big, freshly prepared salad, which went perfectly with it.



Not scrapping today – I am preparing for a crop.  We do a pot luck most months, which is fab because there are so many good cooks that attend. Always a feast. This month we are opting for fish&chips but I did promise to make a sweet. I had something in mind.

…and I am frustrated by the missing US goodies I always took for granted.  I had to go to THREE different stores today and in the end didn’t manage to get exactly what I needed, although I do recall making the recipe I had in mind about 15 years ago when we lived in London and know I was able to get the goods then.  But not now.

Classic back-of-the-box recipe, a staple in my family for holiday meals.  Simple ingredients, easy to make (mostly a bit of whipping and dumping out of cans) but today, OMG it was a massive hassle. And lingering is the sneaking suspicion it won’t be as good.

What it took to get there:

– of course a small 9 inch pie was never going to satisfy a crop full of hungry scrappers so I had to double the recipe and make it in a large pan rather than a pie pan.

– making a digestive biscuit crust, instead of picking up a pre-made graham cracker crumb crust (butter  melted and digestives crushed, mixed, pressed into a tin and refrigerated till solid)

– lots of Googling to figure out what the UK sized cans of condensed milk  and the 200 gm packs of cream cheese (which is soft,  not a hard block so a bit of fiddling with measurements there to get the right consistency as well) equal in ounces

I ended up with three 300gm packs of cream cheese, two cans of condensed milk (although I wasn’t very careful to get every drop out of the cans, as it got to a point where it tasted right and there was still a few tablespoons left),  2/3 cup of lemon juice and two tsps of vanilla – after the mixing seems to have created the perfect soft-but-holding-it’s-shape cheesecake filling. This step is a bit like embossing – that magic moment when the embossing powder melts, and the design turnd glossy with no gaps or sprinkles … or in this case adding the lemon juice to the sweet, creamy cheese mixture and watching it seem to thicken before your eyes.  Always a moment of “OMG – is it going to work?” then “Phew!” Onto the crumb crust and into the fridge to set up.

– what in heaven’s name would be a reasonable substitute for a can of cherry pie filling for the topping!? This was the tricky bit – I found black cherries in apple juice at one store (and passed on them), red cherries in syrup (in the Polish food section) in another store (and passed on THEM but should have bought them because I found ….)  red cherry jam in a third store, which also had the black cherries in juice but no red cherries in syrup.  There was NO WAY I was going back to store two for the red cherries.

So, instead of simply opening up the can and dumping it on the top of the cheesecake, I got very mad-scientist.  I drained the black cherries, saving the juice.  I melted the red cherry jam in a saucepan, adding some of the juice and then added some cornstarch (corn flour) and carefully boiled to thicken it.  Back in with the drained cherries and in to the fridge to cool and check. Proportions?  No idea – it was stirring and tasting and letting it drop from the spoon until it seemed the perfect gloopy consistency I remembered.  It tastes good, but in a side-by-side comparison I just don’t know if it will be as perfect in combo with the thickened cheese mixture as the original. And it isn’t the near-neon red of the original, seen above. And rather than topping the cheesecake today, I think I will see how the topping spoons out tomorrow morning and perhaps carry it along to the crop in two bits, ready to assemble when serving.

A 20 minute quickie dessert becomes a 2 hour struggle to get something only approaching the original. PAH!

and that’s before I mention the forgetting to buy a new mixer-with-beaters (not a wand blender) at the first store, then the 2nd store being sold out (delivery due today) so having to commit to the 3rd store to be sure I got one, which tipped the scales in the passing on the red-cherries-in-syrup  since I HAD to get the mixer  at the third store anyway (and that was the chain where I found the pie filling when we lived in London.) The single bright spot?  The mixer with beaters was on sale (£2 off at the third store) and better quality that the one I WOULD have bought at the 2nd store if they had had one.

I kept a tiny bit of all the elements out to make a very small cupcake size taster sample.  I’ll force that on DH and DS tonight and see what they think.

I only have a couple of layout kits ready to pack, and I know we are doing a mini-book class so I hope I’ll be busy enough to fill the day if I can manage one or two more layouts sorted. And will TRY not to forget something critical. I always seem to – scissors, a cutting mat, a trimmer…ADHESIVES! I’ve headed off to crop many times only to find I don’t have that ONE THING that I really cannot do without.  Fortunately my crop buddies are a generous (and far more organized) lot, often having not one, but TWO of just the thing I need.

A long and rambling post, not in the least bit crafty, not really, but better than a blank page – or is it?

Mary Anne

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Surprise Saturday redux

As promised.  I didn’t get a comment on the last downloads so I am just not sure if they worked for anyone or not.  If you got them and they worked please let me know.  If they don’t work then I need to figure out what I am doing wrong!

Here is a .jpg this time. so a white background.  It should still be editable – ar at least I hope it is!

This is what my recipe “bags” look like finished and in the album!

You can see these recipes are well-worn so obviously favourites!

Here are the two recipes.  Give them a go – both are delish and make fabulous gravy. Hope you can read them! Sorry for the American measures – don’t let it put you off.  Oh and “salad oil” just means and sort of non-Olive oil, like sunflower or corn oil.  Nothing strongly flavoured and not Olive oil because it smokes.  No cooking times or temps.  Just follow the directions on the meat package as to time and temp by weight.


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More of the Thanksgiving journal

My word but this is turning into a project!  No change I will finish it before Thanksgiving this year, but at least I will have it on hand for next year.  I figured I’d better set aside some time to quickly post or it will be WOYWW before I know it and I will have missed out a day!

I did a log sheet for the front.  We have moved around a bit and may not be done yet, so I thought it would be interesting to note WHERE we were when we celebrated. I also included a bit of history about Thanksgiving and on the reverse a visual note of when Thanksgiving falls, as it isn’t a DATE but always the 4th week in November.

Next, I added a divider and will make a modifed paper bag holder for recipies.

The divider only has FOOD on the tab at the moment.  I’m undecided if I want to have photos of this year’s feast on there (I think I do – an overall shot of the whole table) but in any case it will remain blank till the photos are taken.  You can just see the paper bag for the recipes behind it.

The approx. 4 3/4 x 9 inch paper bags are altered a bit:

Hope you can make sense of it – the flap is stuck to the body, the left side pleat is stuck together all along the side of the bag. With this done, the holes for the book rings are punched through the stronger stuck-together pleat on the left, while the right side is still free to open for the recipes.  The front of all of the bags will have paper strips with the menu items.

Anyway, there will be more tomorrow.  The menu titles I made with the UKS font of the week this week – doris day, which I think is so cute – and an old CK font, CK  McCormick, which has little dingbats of kitchenwear (McCormick is a big spice manufacturer in the USA).  I am not good it this sort of thing, but I did give making it a .png a go.  Let’s see if it works – anyone who want it can grab it HERE and then comment for me if you were able too do anything useful with it.  At the very least I am hoping you can delete my title and replace them with your own. doris day is free so just download and install it, or pick one you like better.

I want to include info on where I find the bits I need, what UK substitutes there might be, and maybe have a go at converting my US recipes to UK measurments.  Not sure how well that will work, but I need to do it someday.  Maybe DS will marry a Brit, and then how will he get his twice yearly fix of American stuffing?



Too many tomatoes?

DH brought home a big bag of tomatoes from the caretaker of his office building.  What to do, what to do?

Well, make spaghetti sauce, of course!

Time consuming but so lovely compared to just popping the top on a jar.

Cut a slice in the skin and pop off the stems.

Chop up an onion and green pepper and grate a carrot or two.

Collect up your herbs and chop as much garlic as you like – if you don’t have fresh of either, prepared crushed garlic and an Italian herb mix works fine, although fresh IS better.

Boil a pot of water big enough for all the tomatoes or do it in batches – pop them into the boilng water for a minute or two then into cold water.  Peel off the skins and chop.

Saute the garlic other veg in some olive oil and after they are nice and soft (don’t let the garlic burn!) add the toms.

Simmer for a couple of hours. I am not one of those people who measures.  I tend to bung things in a pot and add what I think it needs at various stages. You can add some wine, if you have a bit leftover in a bottle, some sun-dried tomato pesto, some milk, cream or sugar if it is too acidic,  parmesan cheese, anything extra you think it needs after tasting.  If it is too thin, add some tomato paste and simmer for a bit longer. Salt and pepper to taste.

You can serve it as is or sieve it to remove the seeds.  I think I am going to cook some chicken breasts in it, and serve with pasta.  Yum Yum.

Now, doesn’t that look better than the goop from a jar?


TV, cravings, and eggplant

OK so a bit of a weird one today – here’s how it started:

I was watching tv and catching up on recorded episodes of Desperate Housewives.  The character, Angie (who is played by Drea de Matteo who was Adriana in the Sopranos, until she got whacked by Bruce Springsteen’s guitar player) is having a flash-forward of what her life would be like if she made a particular decision.  None of that matters.  What DOES matter is the fed who comes in and tosses as foil wrapped tube on the desk and says “Egg Parm”

If, like me, you spent summers on a small island off the Jersey coast, and if your family, like mine, was of Italian descent, and if you had an aunt like my Aunt Helen, the words “egg parm” could make you actually drool.  It translates to Eggplant Parmigiana and will never be “aubergine parmesan”,  just like for me it will never be “courgette” but always zucchini.

It takes a long time. It is def. a labour of love. But when it comes out of the oven, when you cut in to it, when you taste that first melting bite, you know it was all worth it. Vegetarians, take note.  Vegans,  look away now.

This is NOT a photo of my egg parm – I don’t style my food, so it doesn’t look nearly as good on the plate as this one does, but I bet it tastes better.

You need:

2 lbs of eggplant (about 2 BIG ones or 4 small ones)

sea salt

4 cups of passata

garlic (a few cloves, minced or pressed thru a garlic press)

olive oil


1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs (as in stale, dry bread, whizzed up in a blender or food processor, not the yellow crumbs they sell here – and you can mix in a teaspoon of italian seasoning herbs) mixed together

3 large eggs, beaten with a couple of tablespoons of water

1 1/2 lbs of good fresh mozzarella cheese sliced thin (if you MUST, the grated kind will work but it is no-where near as good)

1 cup good grated Parmigiana Reggiano cheese

1 cup of packed fresh basil leaves

Start by salting and draining the eggplant – do NOT be tempted to skip this step.  Slice the eggplant in 1/4 inch slices, and layer them with salt in a colander.  Put some greaseproof paper over the top layer and weight it down (I put a few plates on the top then put the cartons of passata on them) and leave it for a couple of hours.

Mix the passata with the garlic and 1/3 cup olive oil – whisk well, season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside

Dry each slice of eggplant, dusting off the excess salt, if any.  DO NOT RINSE THEM (you want to get rid of the moisture, not add it back in!) and lay them on paper towels/kitchen roll

Put about 1/2 inch of olive oil in a large skillet and heat to shimmering (keep a lid handy,  just in case.  I don’t often fry anything so that much hot oil on the stove makes me nervous and I have an electric stove!)

Put the egg mixture in one shallow bowl, the breadcrumb and flour mix in another. Have it all on the counter, eggplant slices. egg mix, breadcrumb/flour.

Now, like an assembly line, dip the eggplant slices in the egg, then coat in the breadcrumb mix,  then slip them into the oil, a few slices at a time, and fry till golden, turning it once. Take the slices out and drain on paper towels.

Once all the slices are fried, preheat the oven to about 160 to 180 degrees depending on if it is fan assisted or not.

Get a big baking dish (about 10 x 15 and a good 3 inches deep) and put about a cup of the sauce in the bottom.  Layer up 1/3 the eggplant slices,  1/2 the mozzarella,  1/2 the basil leaves and 1/3 the grated cheese, top with 1/2 the remaining sauce then repeat, and end with a layer of eggplant slices topped with the rest of the sauce and parmesan cheese.

Pop into the oven for about 30 minutes till it is all hot and bubbly and the cheese on top is slightly brown and crispy. Let it rest at room temp for 10 minutes or so .

Serve with crusty bread and a nice green salad.  If you can control yourself, you will have enough left to make a “egg parm sub” (hot or cold leftover eggplant parmigiana on a soft torpedo roll)

I can hear it calling to me from the fridge….

THIS is what mine looks like and it was delicious.