Sunday, 30 June 2013

Recipe: Lemon and Mint Biscuits

Lemon and Mint biscuits 
Just lately I seem to have a constant supply of lemon and mint in the house.  Not surprising, I suppose, considering it's one of my favourite flavour combinations (Five Valleys lemon and mint cordial is amazing if you haven't tried it; it's a store cupboard staple in this house.)

J, my stepson, was coming to stay for the weekend on Friday and I like to have something freshly baked for his stay, if I can.  Given the huge pile of lemons in the fruit bowl and an overflowing herb crate of mint I thought I'd try the biscuit recipe I found in my 'Secrets of Aga Puddings' book by Lucy Young.

They are easy to make and taste quite sophisticated (if you know what I mean).  You could certainly make them to accompany a syllabub, mousse or fruit salad as a special dessert but it's also nice to have a couple with a strong coffee and an episode of 'Stenders if that's your bag.


Lemon & Mint Biscuits 

175g softened butter
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon and 2tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp of chopped fresh mint
110g caster sugar
225g plain flour
25g demerara sugar

Beat together the butter, lemon zest, lemon juice, mint and caster sugar in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Stir in the flour, bringing the mixture together with your hands and knead lightly until you have a smooth dough.  (My dough was quite sticky so I needed to liberally flour my hands and the kitchen counter.)

Roll the mixture into two sausage shapes, about 6" long each.  Roll the dough in the demerara sugar to evenly coat, wrap in foil or baking parchment (not cling film; the mixture will stick) and then chill in the fridge until firm.

Cut the dough into slices about 5mm thick and place on a baking sheet that you've greased and/or lined with baking parchment*.  Allow a little room for the biscuits to spread. 

AGA baking:  Bake on the grid shelf of the floor of the baking over for 12-15 minutes until pale golden brown.  (For a two-oven model slide onto the grid shelf on the floor of the roasting oven with the cold sheet on the second set of runners.)

Conventional oven:  bake in a preheated oven at 160 ºC/140ºC fan or Gas mark 3 for 10-12 minutes.

Lift the biscuits onto a cooling rack and leave to cool completely before scoffing delicately nibbling. 

*Here's where I sing the praises of my new cooking essential:  Bake-O-Glide.  I have only been using it since we got the new stove but I wish I'd bought some when we had our regular oven.  It's a reusable tin liner and comes either ready-cut (for roasting tins, baking sheets etc) or as a single piece for you to cut to size.  Nothing ever sticks to it and it's dishwasher-friendly.  Can definitely recommend you try some if you don't use it already.


Let me know if you make them!  They went down quite well here and I'm thinking of other flavours I can add to the biscuit mix.  Lavender and rose are obvious choices for me!  Orange would also be delicious.  If you're not keen on mint then you could easily leave it out - they would still be lovely.  



Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Guest Post: Top Home Decor Trends for 2013

Guest Post
Whether you lean to the more modern or the more traditional look for your home, updating your interior can at times be a little bit daunting. We’ve rounded up the best interior trends of the year to help you re-think your surroundings:
Everything emerald
Named Pantone’s colour of the year, this vibrant hue has decorators in a frenzy. But if emerald leaves you feeling green, don’t fret. Alternatively look out for bright, saturated reds and blues inspired by the jewel tone trend.
Where to use it: accent walls, lacquer lamp bases, fabric on sofas and chairs.
Wood, reincarnated
Due to the increasing popularity of sustainable design, reclaimed wood is already a firm favourite among those in the know. The rustic look of solid, worn-in wood is worth an investment: it will wear much more gracefully than any particle board imposter.
Where to use it: for a kitchen table and chairs with a great story behind them, or as an unconventional choice of flooring.
Luxurious metals
Heavy, opulent brass is very much in vogue this year, though gold (or gold-effect materials for those on a more realistic budget) makes a nice alternative if you're looking for a more polished look.
Where to use it: try a classic approach with decorative accents like frames and bookends, or look out for mixed media furniture like bookshelves or coffee tables. 
Patterns, prints and texture
Patterns and prints are a fantastic way to enjoy this year’s vibrant colours without reaching sensory overload. Texture offers a similar effect for fabric furniture. Wallpaper is also back in a big way, with great designs emerging as an alternative to daring paint jobs.
Where to use it: try animal prints for wall hangings, rugs and throws; unusual textures for rugs and sofas, or consider papering an accent wall.
Retro chic
Between last year’s Jubilee celebrations and this year’s obsession with all things 1920s, vintage-inspired designs are all the rage. While kitchen trends give a nod to retro kitsch with appliances doubling as decor, you’ll find a more sophisticated art deco feel in prints and antique furniture.
Where to use it: display retro appliances in a sleek, modern kitchen to create contrast, or fashion an opulent look by placing an antique sideboard against a backdrop of deco-inspired wallpaper.
Remember, if you're going to undertake any ambitious DIY as part of your home spruce-up, be sure to check that your home insurance cover includes accidental damage in case of mishaps.  Axa provides competitive home insurance - click here to access their website.

Happy decorating!

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Staying in a villa in Spain: How to holiday the Homebird way!

We are just back from a blissful week in Spain.  The sun shone every single day and we did nothing but hang around at the villa and relax.  It was perfect.  Here are a few of my personal tips for a fun and happy holiday:

'Our' Spanish villa:  the breakfast terrace

  • Pre-holiday, loftily declare that you will only eat salads and fruit whilst away because 'it will be too hot' to eat anything stodgy.  Throw a paddy on day three about having 'arsing salad' for dinner again and drag husband out for paella and chips. 
  • When packing your suitcase, spend a disproportionate amount of time pondering which craft projects to take.  Luxuriate in the prospect of 7 whole days stretching ahead of you where you have nothing to do but sit around and stitch. Happily fill your case with 30 (only small!) balls of yarn and a selection of hooks (in case inspiration strikes).   Wake in the middle of the night feeling mildly ridiculous for having a case full of yarn and remove it all except two.  Spend entire holiday pining for the stuff you left behind.
Knitting, but I wanted to crochet my sunburst blanket.   Sad face.

  • If your suitcase doesn't have a 'heavy' sticker slapped on at check-in, you've forgotten something.
  • Don't let being on a remote mountain in Spain curb your spending or IG habits.  3G capability will enable you to maintain peak performance and return home to a sackful of lovely things including yarn, embroidery thread, books and bags.  

The shopping hub of Frigiliana.
  • Pack six dresses but only wear two of them.  Pack a similar amount of t-shirts and wear just one.  Resolve to take fewer clothes next year. 
  • Buy a hat at the airport, forgetting you look middle-aged and dumpy in them.
Obligatory departure lounge hat purchase.

  • Burn legs, arms and chest in the sun on day one and spend the remainder of the holiday in the shade.  Watch dispiritedly as all tanned skin peels off on the weekend that you're home and return to work on Monday as pale as when you left. 
  • Spend at least 30 minutes per day dancing around in bikini bottoms, wafting away a variety of insects.  Yell occasionally for good measure.
  • Ice-cream o' clock is 3pm.  Bacardi-coke o'clock is 6pm and hourly thereafter until you start to feel dizzy.

  • Cover entire body in thick layer of insect repellent before bed and realise, in the nick of time, that you are asphyxiating your husband.  Hastily open a window.  Repeat each evening.  
  • A flip-flop in the hand makes an excellent insect swat.  Havianas are particularly springy and produce a satisfying whack noise. 
The view.   Look, no neighbours!
  • Remind husband several times a day that swimming in the pool is no substitute for a shower with soap.
  • Accept that there is no way to mount a lilo elegantly. 
  • Bikini bottoms become looser when wet.  Discover this when inadvertently flashing husband upon leaping into the pool.  (Prepare self for lots of wheezy laughter from husband and resist temptation to punch him.)
  • A tiled floor becomes very hot in the midday sun.  Temporarily forget this and deliver drink to your holiday companion bare-footed.  Perform impromptu comedy dance and resist temptation to throw said beverage over husband as he doubles up with laughter.
  • Deal with the fact that reading outside (with a boozy drink) as the sun sets will feel like a distant memory the second you download your first work email.  Start planning next year's holiday.

Reading by sunset.  Perfection.