Thursday, May 15, 2014

Imaginative Cookery: Luscious Lasagne

IMG_1067So here I am again, bringing you another delicious recipe, or at least I hope you think its delicious. I know my husband certainly does.

Italian Dreams

I have always liked Italian food, for a long while I wanted to move to Italy, unfortunately I didn’t quite get there. In fact I’ve never been to Italy, although I’ve tried learning Italian quite a few times. When I was a teen, I used to imagine I’d marry an Italian and have a horde of children whilst living in a Tuscan villa. I will probably end up with the horde of children, but any Italian husband would have to take me away from my Norwegian one and I couldn’t leave him. Who knows though? I may get my Tuscan villa yet.

I’m getting away from myself, lasagne and I have a long-term relationship. Its one of those accessible Italian dishes you can find almost all over the world. I always associate lasagne with Italian-American’s and not Italy at all, but that’s probably Garfield’s fault, since my first encounter with the dish was via the cartoon cat. Lasagne was the first meal I cooked for my husband, he had told me it was his favourite dish, and I, being the good retro woman that I am and believing that a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, I made it for him.

Ever after it has been my go-to recipe when we are having midweek dinner guests, which isn’t very often, and when my husband is feeling extra romantic we cook it together. This recipe has sort of evolved out of those occasions, and because of that it isn’t the fastest recipe I know. If you decide to make it, beware it can easily take an hour and a half to make. I usually would make this on a day I have plenty of time, it freezes well though so you could easily make it ahead of time.

Allora Andiamo!

This is what you will need:

  • 6-8 Fresh Tomatoes
  • 3 cloves of Garlic
  • Sundried tomatoes in oil
  • Ground paprika
  • Olive oil
  • 1 large onion
  • 500g Ground or Minced beef
  • 1 tin of Peas and Carrots
  • 300g of red lentils, cooked
  • 100g butter
  • 100ml water
  • 100ml milk
  • 3tbsp cornflour
  • 1/2 tsp Ground Cardamom
  • Tomato Purée or paste
  • 6-9 Dried pasta sheets (I used Barilla)
  • 200g grated mozzarella cheese.
  • Salt and Pepper

Roasted Tomato Sauce

Preheat your oven to about 200C, we’re going to roast the tomatoes now so you’ll either have to do some washing up or have two oven dishes. I had two oven dishes. IMG_1051So slice the tomatoes in half and put in an oven dish, put in the garlic cloves and sprinkle liberally with olive oil. Now put that in the oven for about 20 mins, or until you can smell the garlic and the tomatoes are beginning to bubble. I tend to do this by smell rather than time.

Take the tomatoes out of the oven, you can wait for them to cool a little, or if your blender is strong enough just throw those tomatoes and garlic in now! Add three or four sundried tomatoes, if yours are like mine and come in olive oil add a little of that too, if not, just leave it out. IMG_1054You just want the sauce to be smooth, and you’ll probably have a beautiful orange coloured tomato sauce that sort of reminds me of a Lea & Perrins bottle.

Making The Pieces For A Masterpiece

Great, now dice your onion. Then with a little oil in a frying pan fry the onions till translucent , or just beginning to go golden on a medium heat. I haven’t added any garlic here, because we already have the roasted garlic in the tomato sauce.

So now it time for the ground/minced beef, I always use lean beef for this particular recipe because I have quite a lot of olive oil in the sauce so it doesn’t need any added fat. Add the beef to the onions and brown it off.  Then add the peas and carrots and the cooked lentils. This doesn’t need much cooking so just go ahead and add the tomato sauce, tomato puree and paprika and stir. Taste and season with salt and pepper. (You can add a sprinkle of sugar here if you think it needs it.)

Basic White Sauce Or Béchamel

Now on to the white sauce. This is you basic white sauce, its really easy to make. IMG_1062In a saucepan melt the butter. Once its melted take it off the heat and whisk in the cornflour (You can use baking flour here if you like, in fact a traditional béchamel is made with wheat flour). IMG_1064Return the saucepan to the heat, keep stirring, you just want the flour to cook a little so it looses its floury taste. Add the milk and water (You can use just 200ml of milk if you want a creamier sauce), keep stirring! Turn the heat up a little and keep stirring, add the cardamom, this will make it taste creamier and take away any residual flour taste. It will thicken when you least expect it, as soon as its thickened take it off the heat.

Leaning Tower of Lasagne

Its time to build your lasagne. So in you oven dish put a layer of the tomato-meat sauce, then the pasta sheets (I can get three in mine.) Then another layer of meat sauce, and more pasta sheets, repeat until you’ve gotten at least three layers of pasta. IIMG_1061 try always to have enough meat sauce to put a layer on top of the top layer of pasta. Like this:

So now you can put a layer or the white sauce, you should have enough to put a generous layer of the white sauce. Then its cheese time.  Now is the time to freeze it, if that’s what you are going to do. Carefully wrap the top with tin/aluminium foil to protect the cheese and freeze.IMG_1067

Bon Appetit!

Bake in the oven for about 20 mins or until the cheese is melted and golden brown and the sauce is bubbling a little.

If you’re cooking it from frozen you might need to leave it in the oven a bit longer. Double the cooking time, checking with a knife after the first 20 mins and approx. every 10 mins after to make sure its cooking in the middle.

I forgot to take a photograph of the finished lasagne, and it got eaten so quickly that there was no time to remember. I made it for a midweek dinner party and everyone had seconds.

I hope you will try this recipe and tell me what you think of it. Please subscribe and I would love to hear if you tried it, or if you had any ideas to improve it in the comments.

Until next time


Monday, May 12, 2014

Splendid Sewing: A Hobby Basket

Dear Readers,

I recently commercialised my blog by adding a few more adverts. You have probably noticed, or maybe not, and you’ve only noticed the posts. Well, I hope I have your continued support in spite of the advertising. However, please feel free to comment on it below. Back to today’s subject.

Splendid Sewing

In my life, I am well known among my friends and family as a competent seamstress. So when someone needs something made, fixed or altered they look over at me with puppy dog eyes and ask me to do it. I find it hugely flattering that they ask me, occasionally I over extend myself and take on too many “projects” leaving me exhausted and stressed trying to finish them all, but thankfully, my friends are gracious and patient. Of late, I have tried to rein myself in and stop taking on so much , that’s why what I am bringing to you now, was just a pleasure to make.

The Brief

My friend is an avid crocheter, she gives presents to  all our friends who are expectant mothers of booties, baby blankets and little dresses all made with her crocheting. She is now, happily, expecting her second and asked me to make her a bag for her wool and crochet hooks. This was the brief, the bag had to be:

  • Retro in style. She, like myself is a lover of the 40’s and 50’s.
  • Big! As I said she’s an avid crocheter and she has a lot of wool.
  • Packable. There are plans for my dear friend to move in the near future, so it was important that the bag could be flattened down and easily packed.

The Design

With all that in mind, I started to design and plan. It had to be retro! The picture that came to mind was of a vintage purse, rather like the photograph.

A rounded top then. The great thing about the 50’s was that the designs of that period were desperately trying to forget the austerity of the war years. Everything was sleek and colourful. New, modern, innovative, colourful, bright and cheerful items were what people wanted, everyone looked forward with optimism to the future. When you are trying to recreate that look, with those things in mind, you have a free hand with colour.


Which is why I eventually choose these two fabrics. A PVC red fabric with stripes and this jolly patterned fabric with florals, and gingham.

Time To Cut To The Chase

I was a bit haphazard about the size, I knew she wanted big so I traced around my biggest handbag to get the size of the side panels. IMG_0924 That’s how I got these!

I decided to line the inside of this basket with the second fabric, so after cutting out the bottom panels…IMG_0925 Like this.

I traced around the side panels on to the second fabric, like this…IMG_0927 twice, of course!

Then I cut four side panels from the second fabric. Two panels per side, since I was lining the inside of the bag with the second fabric, but I also wanted the side panels on the outside to contrast with the red striped first fabric.

And So To Sew

Constructing this bag with its lining was a challenge. It took me quite a while to figure out how exactly I was going to put it together so that it would look how I wanted it to. So I started by:

  • Stitching the two large red side panels to one of the red base panels.
  • Then I stitched the inner large floral side panels to the red large panels. IMG_1041
  • After that I stitched the second red base panel to the floral side panels to make a sort of misshapen tube thing.
  • Next I stitched two of the smaller floral side panels together. Leaving the other two to one side.
  • Then I stitched that panel to one side of the large red panels and the base too. I also stitched it to the two large floral panels and the second red base. IMG_1042IMG_1043
  • Next I stitched the one of the other smaller floral side panels to the other sides red large panel and base.
  • After that I stitched the other smaller floral side panel to the large floral side panel and the second red base. So that it was like a large misshapen deflated ball of some description.
  • Then I turned it all the right way round and pushed the floral half inside the red striped half to make a bag. IMG_1044IMG_1045
  • I made a pocket in the open side panels.
  • I stitched an edge around the top the bag and I was done! IMG_1047IMG_1048







I haven’t shown my creation to my friend yet, so I’m hoping she likes it. I’m quite happy with it, and I think it fulfils the brief she gave me.

I hope this tutorial has given you ideas for your own hobby baskets. I’m sure you will make much better versions of it than I have. Please subscribe and comment below.

Until next time,