Thursday, 20 October 2011

Comfort Food - Leftover Roast Chicken Casserole with Rosti Topping

The first frost came down last night. When I got in the car this morning my windscreen wipers made a slight crunch and my electric windows were frosted shut. Small things, but they tell me the weather's on the turn. Fiance and I may have resisted putting the heating on as yet but we have had the fire on for the past couple of nights and even with the HUGE quilt on the bed it's more than a bit nippy when you get an unexpected draft in the night.

So I'm turning my mind firmly away from healthy summer salads now and on to comforting, hearty food with plenty of stodge value. We often indulge in a proper Sunday roast chicken around this time of year (though, perversely, more often on a Monday night instead) and with two cats in the house I can never leave a half carved bird on the counter even for the length of time it would take to eat the meal in front of us! So I've become adept at stripping the bird down to bare bones before the gravy's even had a chance to thicken and chucking whatever doesn't get served up that night into a kitten-proof pot. These leftovers get used in various ways, but the firm favourite is in this simple but oh so moreish casserole recipe. We usually get about 5 servings out of a medium sized chicken, 2 from the original roast plus 3 from the leftovers, which makes the whole process pretty thrifty:

Serves two (plus a small helping for lunch the next day)

You will need:
  • The leftover meat from a roast chicken plus the juices from the roasting dish (strain off the fat if you're feeling virtuous)
  • 2 onions peeled and roughly chopped
  • 3 carrots peeled and chopped into disks
  • A handful each of frozen peas and sweetcorn or whatever other veg is lying around
  • 1 veg stock cube or a couple of tsp Bullion powder
For the Rosti topping:
  • 3 to 4 medium potatoes, roughly grated
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Large pinch of rock salt and generous grinding of black pepper
  • A small handful of grated cheese (blue cheese or nice strong cheddar work perfectly, though I have made it with feta and cream cheese before and both were very tasty)
  1. Combine the chicken and juices, veg and stock in an oven proof, lidded casserole dish and season if desired.
  2. Squeeze the excess liquid out of the grated potatoes then combine with the other topping ingredients, spread evenly over the chicken and veg and pat down gently
  3. Bang it in the oven on gas mark 7 (220C, 425F) for 45 minutes to an hour with the lid on, then remove the lid and cook for another 15 to 20 minutes untill the surface of the potatoes is golden and slightly crispy
It really is the simplest of recipes (you can prep it in less than 20 minutes which makes it perfect for after work) but naturally tasty from having cooked in the meat juices. The potato topping works amazingly with any number of other casseroles, I'm thinking of trying it on top of poached fish next for an alternative to fish pie, and it made Fiance happy dispite his man flu so that's a winner in my book!

Friday, 14 October 2011

Up Up and Away

I want to take a trip. I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to my honeymoon next spring. In traditional style, fiance is planning it all and I won't find out where we're going until we're on the plane (though he may give a little away by telling me what to pack!)

But if I could take any trip at all, unconstrained by things like money, taking time off work and, you know, the laws of physics... I'd take a trip on a plane in the 1950's, when traveling was a real event and they had the very best accessories.

So I made this little treasury of pretty things to dream away the afternoon:

Come fly with me, let's fly let's fy away...

Friday, 7 October 2011

Autumn Leaves

I'm a sucker for Autumn, it's one of my favourite times of the year. At certain times of the day the quality of light changes to honey golden and everything looks bright and warm, the leaves start to pick up the same colours as the season's fashion (I'm crushing so hard over mustard and berry tones it's frankly ridiculous) and the air smells of bonfires and toffee even if it's only my imagination. In Autumn you can start thinking about hearty stews and soups and the concept of snugness takes on a whole new deliciously content meaning.

This fabulous treasury including one of my fascinators sums up my idea of Autumn to a tee. So I think today as I feel more tired than when I went to bed last night, I'll leave it to do the talking for me.

Now I'm off to hibernate for the weekend

Monday, 3 October 2011

Hipstamatic Bustles

I've been trying to keep myself motivated and continuously making over the past few weeks, but have been disheartened by the fact I can very rarely organise a photography session to get shots good enough to upload to Etsy. Making all this stock isn't so great when you can't get it up for sale or at least share some makes for general delectation.

So with the deadline for the Etsy Burlesque Seller's Team Spooky Carnival Chalenge looming I decided to take the plunge and pay the princely sum of £1.69 for the Hipstamatic iPad app to see if I could get something servicable by my very own self.

Armed with an armfull of bustle, my beloved iPad and some very unseasonable weather, I manouevered myself out to the garden to see what happened, and whaddayaknow I'm actually pretty impressed with the results. Many of the Hipstamatic lenses and film and flash effects, whilst lovely in themselves, aren't suitable in the least for product shots as they completely throw out the natural colours and I don't want to misrepresent what I'm selling. However I have found a lense that works in bright sunlight to give accurate colour balence (with just a touch more contrast and highlights) and I just adore the vintage square shape the pics come out at and the ragged edge or curved corners you can apply.

So a bit of posting later, here are the results of my weekend's work. Some more representative and some more indulgently arty:

Here's the bustle I made for the chalenge. The colour palette was oranges, purples and black and I called it The Witching Hour and even wrote it a little story (which I think I might do for all my items from now on as long as the inspiration continues to flow)

This bustle has always made me think of mermaids and sea foam. I made it ages ago but never got around to taking any photos, so I'm glad to have it listed finally. I called it The Sea Siren
I've had this one listed for ages with one solitary and rather unflattering photo so I'm so happy to have it properly represented in all it's girly glory. She's called Pretty in Pink but she might get a better name when I give her a proper story.

There's still a couple more bustles to list and then I'll get started on the hats, though it's likely I'll have lost my outside studio as this sun  just can't continue forever. It is October after all! Busy times for productive me!

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Catwalk Review - Vivienne Westwood Red Label AW 2011

I have a long standing obsession with Vivienne Westwood. Her designs may be wacky, at times to the point of being unwearable, but then I've always been drawn towards costume. The themes of traditional British heritage mixed with punk styling just work so effortlessly and she cuts her clothes with such skill and cleverness. Since I've been interested in dressmaking I can usually reduce an item of clothing to it's component pattern pieces in my mind, even if I can rarely if ever reproduce these pieces in fabric, but Westwood designs often baffle me!

So of the few fashion week collections I make a habbit of perusing each year, Westwood is almost always the first. I may not have a hope of affording any of the pieces, let along fitting in to them if I could, but there are always a couple of themes and unexpected juxtapositions that a mere mortal of average build can reproduce from the highstreet. This year's Autumn/Winter Red Label collection is no exception.
I'm an absolute sucker for a pencil skirt at the best of times, it's the most common shape in my wardrobe, so I'm sure I could whip together something like this. I love the mix of smart, boyish shirt with vampy skirt and the accessories are perfectly understated. Statement belts are everywhere this season, this red suade hinge belt from River Island for £15 is a cute mix of smart and glitz for £18.
For a shirt, though I have always wanted the perfect oxford from a proper tailor, a man's shirt will work just as well. Wearing it tucket tight into something high-waisted will avoid that shapeless blocky look that can come from wearing mens un-darted clothing. Primark have a surprisingly tasteful range of shirts for around £8 or sometimes even less. I already want the fine red and blue stripe slim fit I bought for fiance a while back. Might nick it out of his wardrobe when I get home! Though a blue and white stripe is even more classic.
Layering is my new best friend now the weather's getting cooler. I still want to get the best use out of my chiffon blouses and satin pussy-bows but don't feel like shivering the day away. There are a lot of chunky patterned knits around this season but for me a skinny knit long line cardi is the perfect throw over item when teamed with a skinny belt. This one in rust red from H&M is adorable for £24.99

There's a mustard yellow one in New Look which is equally versatile and would tie in with the mauve and tan thing I already have gonig on from summer. According to the above I wouldn't be out of season with this combo. I'm also loving the print dress/long socks/cardi combo in the second picture. I'm tempted now to nip back to the boutique sale at Awear which still has some amazing reductions and some dresses that would translate well into autumn. This print tie waist dress is only £19 and though the print is quite bold it would look fab with a pale, well draped cardi. Even the shape is slightly Westwood! I may have to swap the knee highs for a pair of opaque grey tights (also popular on this year's runways) to save that inch of inch of chilly flesh.

Colour and shape are always very important in Vivienne Westwood collections and this season's colours are right up my street.

From this skirt it looks like I need to be digging out and stocking up on turquoise, rust, navy and tan. Easier said then done when I found the Clarissa Jersey Midi dress at for only £20 available in both colours (as well as black) and I can't decide! I think this may be the most versatile shape of the season (and look, another sexy big belt) so if I don't decide on a colour soon I may be forced to buy both!

And finally one more amazing dress from the collection. When Westwood does a LBD she does it with some real pazazz,. Look at that draping! I'm going to have to figure out how she does it as I'm now set on having this kind of cowl neckline for my bridesmaids. Mix it with the circle skirt from the dress above and a big sash belt and they should be wonderfully flattering.

Hooray for Vivienne Westwood! She may be crazy, but she's my kind of crazy!

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Penny Black - one of my hats in a music video!

I was so excited when I got my first commission from Scottish singer/songwriter Penny Black back in June, and even more excited to find out it was for her new music video!

She had seen my Write Me a Love Letter hat on Etsy (below) and wanted to change the hat band and flower decoration to match the outfit of one of her extras. She was ever so lovely to work with and I always enjoy commissions, and she promised to send me a link to the video when it was done.

Yesterday she did just that, and it's fab! The video has a Victorian vaudeville theme, with a group of ladies being taken for a ride at a fake seance by a very dapper looking Penny (my hat's one of the things that gets pinched, the blighters!) and also lovely Penny in a pink corset and fantastic bloomers with the sparkliest eyeshadow ever. The song's really great too, I urge you to have a listen. My hat is on the very pretty lady in Green:

Click here for a link to the video on You Tube

I'm so proud! Big thanks to Penny Black and hope to work with her again in future.

Monday, 12 September 2011

The Blocking Bug

Finally getting around to a making post! I mean to do more of these but it's hard to get into the habit of taking in progress pictures. Usually when I'm in the flow of making something I won't stop until it's done or I've messed it up!

I bought two rolls of craft sinamay months ago when they were reduced in Paperchase with the vague ambition on learning to block properly and they've been sulking untouched in the corner of my sewing room ever since. But with a posh wedding coming up this weekend and having followed the string of amazing fascinators at the royal weddings and the races this year I thought I'd give it a go myself.

I can't afford real wooden blocks at the moment so I started looking around the house for a substitute. My eyes landed upon a stainless steel fruit bowl with a nice curve to it. Then I flipped it over and found a cute pedestal base perfect for a mini crown

I started by using three layers of the open weave sinamay, wet them thoroughly with hot water and started to smooth and ease them over the shape of the bowl. The sinamay not already having stiffeners in it as proper millinery sinamay would I improvised with watered down PVA (a tip I had read in a few craft blogs) to hold the shape and bond the layers together. I obviously couldn't pin the layers down into the metal as you would with a wooden block so I improvised with some elastic straps and a piece of stiff wire.

Whilst the whole shebang was still pretty wet I covered it with a piece of scrap fabric and pressed it hard with the steam iron to start to cook the shape in to the sinamay. Luckily by this time it was late enough to go to bed as I'm a horror for fiddling with things whilst they're still wet and messing them up completely when I should just leave well enough alone.

The next afternoon I was chomping at the bit to get back from work and see how it turned out. I eased it carefully off the bowl (a couple of hairy moments there) and voila:

The bust is another recent make but I'll save that for another time. At the point of this photo I'd also trimmed and wired the edge.

At this point the two dresses I bought from Awear turned up. Both fit, if a little tight, but both had much paler tones than this creamy yellowish sinamay, so I decided to make a second base from the paler, even weave sinamay. It was easier the second time around and I also decided to accentuate the off centre crown that had been an accident the first time. I love fortuitous accidents.

Finally I added a band of navy grosgrain around the edge and a spray of vintage ostrich and stripped coque feathers that I'd picked up at the Manchester Vintage Textiles Fair. A clear comb on the inside and it was complete!

It's wonderfully light to wear and the tilt should be great for hiding from the family papparazzi. The only problem is now I've been utterly bitten by the blocking bug and keep looking at random objects with possible hat shapes in mind. I've already stolen the lid from the coffee jar, much to fiancé's bemusement!