Rhubarb and Custard Cake

If you are a lover of tangy rhubarb and love the combination with comforting custard, this cake is a perfect delight.

It is easy to make but will impress your guests at high tea!

Serves 6

175g self raising flour
50g butter
50g caster sugar
150g rhubarb (chopped into chunks)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp milk
50g butter
100g icing sugar, sifted
3 tbsp custard

Pre-heat the oven to 150 degrees C / Gas mark 3

Line a loaf tin with grease proof paper (use a 1lb tin)

Put the butter and flour in a bowl and rub together with your fingertips. It should eventually resemble breadcrumbs.

Stir in the sugar and rhubarb then mix in the eggs, vanilla and milk.

Once the mixture is combined it is ready to go in the loaf tin. Cook in the oven for around 50 minutes. The cake will be cooked when it springs back after lightly pressing the top.

Turn out on a wire rack to cool.

Next make the filling.

Combine the icing sugar and butter and whisk together until creamy. Gradually add the custard (don't let it get too runny).

When the cake is cool, cut it in half length ways and spread some of the filling on each side. Sandwich back together, dust with sifted icing sugar and serve.

Multi - Coloured Mini Macaroons

We call them macaroons but in France they are 'macarons'. The word comes from the Italian 'maccarone' or 'maccherone'. They are very similar to the Italian amaretti biscuits with the chewy almond and meringue taste.

To me they just look gorgeous. Putting all these little sandwich cookies together on a pretty Victorian cake stand really seem impressive. The colours side by side are like a grown up's sweet shop.

I saw them fairly recently for the first time and thought they were very cute. An ideal centre piece for high tea or an alternative to cupcakes at a wedding. In fact they were everywhere.

So now I decided to try making them - and they are very tricky to make indeed! Getting the shape and size right and handling them delicately so they don't break up is not easy. But I did it. Some came out better than others but they still taste good...

The ingredients needed:
175g icing sugar
3 large egg whites
125g ground almonds
75g caster sugar
Pinch salt

Optional colours and/or flavourings 

Either butter icing:
150g softened butter
75g icing sugar

Then a flavour of your choice

Or you can make a ganache or fruit filling

Making Your Macaroons:
Pre-heat your oven to 160C/Gas 3. They need to be cooked on a low temperature.

Next you will need to ground up your almonds some more in a blender or food processor. The almonds need to be fine for this recipe. Mix them up in the processor then add your icing sugar. Ensure they are mixed together.

Sift the almonds and icing sugar into a bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites and a pinch of salt using an electric whisk. They need to be whisked so that they form soft peaks when lifted. Gradually add the caster sugar whilst whisking until they have a glossy appearance.

If you want to add colourings and flavourings then add them at this point. You can also separate the mixture evenly if you want different colours. (If you are unsure about separating all the mixture into equal quantities, then make more batches when you are done).

Use lemon, sifted cocoa, vanilla essence and different food colourings. You could also make your colours and flavours from natural fruit or use half pistachios and half almonds.

Next fold in the almond and icing sugar mix gradually. Fold and cut, making sure the mixture is thick in consistency. It should be shiny and thick enough to be piped.

Line 2 baking sheets with grease proof paper then fill some of the mixture in a piping bag. Use a wide nozzle. 

If you are not confident with the piping bag then only fill a little at a time.

Then pipe little walnut-sized cookies onto the baking sheet, leaving space between each one. They should be about 3cm across. If you give your baking sheet a quick tap on the surface, it will establish a 'foot' for your macaroons. 

Leave you macaroons to sit for 20 minutes or so at room temperature. They will form a film - this can be tested by lightly touching them. They should not stick to your finger. At this point they are ready to go in the oven.

Cook for 15 minutes, then cool.

Make your required filling. For a simple butter cream beat the softened butter in a bowl. Sift in the icing sugar while still beating. When thick you can add colouring, flavouring or add sifted cocoa powder with the icing sugar for chocolate macaroons. 

Lift your macaroons from the baking sheets and match up equal sized cookies. Spread on a little of the filling and sandwich them together.

Make sure that you cook your macaroons at the right temperature for the right length of time, and always ensure the consistency of the batter is stiff - to avoid flat, hardened or broken biscuits. 

Like I said, they are dainty little things, and some of mine broke and a couple went flat. It takes practice and trial and error to get them right. They will be perfect for my summer picnics this year!

Whenever I am making a recipe, I use a pretty looking file and put my recipes into plastic wallets inside. It is less messy than having a recipe book or laptop on the sideboard as it can be wiped clean!

Camomile Tea for Natural Highlights!

Go chemical free and natural by lightening your hair with camomile tea.

It won't make you look peroxide blonde and won't lighten dark hair, but it certainly brings out the shine in lighter coloured hair. I like to do this during the winter when I am lacking sunshine. My hair which is mousy-brown with natural highlights goes quite dark during this time.

It can also go dry and dull due to the coldness outdoors and the central heating indoors. Using a hair mask with lots of yummy nutritious food (mashed avocado, raw egg and honey) can certainly bring it back to life. Then every week giving it a final rinse with cooled camomile tea after shampooing makes it glow!

I even buy honey and camomile tea bags and use those on my (and my son's) hair. It seems to sort out my dry ends - a bit like my home made hair mask.

If you want a deep colour from the tea then let it steep for around 30 minutes. Sometimes I'll add 2 tea bags and fill a jug. Just make sure the water is the right temperature before pouring over your head. You don't want a nasty scald.

Then remember to take it to the shower with you. Wash and condition as normal and rinse thoroughly. Then give your hair a final rinse with the tea. If it is quite cool it will smooth the hair cuticle, giving it a more conditioned appearance. 

For dark hair, try out black tea in the same way. For a reddish tone, Rooibos (Redbush) tea will do the job.

Turn Your Old Maxi Dress into a Skirt

I bought this maxi dress about three summers ago. It probably cost about £10 and it was great for keeping me cool. I wore it to Glastonbury festival and on honeymoon to Sorrento.

Sadly, the straps have worn and isn't that great anymore. But the bottom part is still good.

Here is how I turned it into a maxi skirt.

I cut the top off to separate them. I left a good couple of centimetres to allow a hem. 

If you are not sure of the length then measure from your waist down to your ankles. If you wear skirts on your hips then measure from there.

Next measure some elastic which is compatible for the material. You want it to be the right thickness too so you are secure in your skirt.

You can measure your waist or where you wear your skirt (I wear them on my hips) then measure your elastic. If you then minus a couple of inches off the elastic, it should fit snug.

If you are not sure, pull the elastic around your waist to the tightness required. Then mark where you need to cut it.

Then sew the two ends together to create a loop.

Cut the bottom off the dress
Measure your elastic 

Fold the waist of your skirt over with the elastic on the inside of the fold. Your fold should be on the inside of the skirt.

Pin along the hem to keep in place.

Then sew along to create a neat hem at the top with the elastic inside.

Use a sewing machine or do it by hand.

Then you have your finished skirt!

You could use the fabric left from the top part of the skirt to make belt loops if you want to wear a belt with your maxi skirt.

Cut them to the thickness and length required (measure the thickness of the belt you will be using to make sure it fits).

Sew two bits of measured material for your belt loops together back to back, to keep the pattern on the outside. This also reinforces the strength of the loops.

Then sew them onto your skirt at the top and the bottom of the belt loop. You may need four or five spaced around the top of the skirt.

Your dress re-vamped!

Easy Sweet Potato Soup - Blended

This soup is easy-peasy. My family love it, it's healthy and suitable for vegetarians.

This soup can be cooked up in 10-15 minutes - perfect for a Saturday lunch. Serve with your favourite bread or have a small portion as a starter.

Here's what is in it:

1 large sweet potato
2 medium carrots
2 medium white potatoes
1 small onion
1/2 clove garlic
1 and 1/2 vegetable stock cubes
Pinch mixed herbs
Salt and pepper to taste

What you need to do:

Peel the sweet potato and white potatoes and cut them into cubes. 
Slice the carrots and peel and dice the onion.
Peel the garlic clove and chop up half of it.

In a large pan, place the prepared vegetables, stock, Worcester sauce and seasoning.

Fill with water just covering the vegetables. Bring to the boil and allow to simmer until the veg is soft.

Using a blender, blend down the ingredients until they are pureed. If the soup appears too thick then add more boiling water from your kettle.

Taste the soup and add more seasoning if required.

Your soup should be enough for 5 - 6 portions. 

Preserve Your Own Fruit - Jarred Plums

These pretty jars look fab on your
 kitchen shelf or as gifts
As long as you sterilise your jars beforehand. Re-cycle used jam jars or buy them new. Then decorate with ribbon or whatever you please.

Sterilising Jars

Wash out used jars with hot water and washing up liquid. Use a bottle brush to clean around the rim.

Rinse the suds and sterilise in the dishwasher, a baby bottle sterilising unit or with sterilising fluid (rinse 

afterwards with cooled boiled water). 

Then you are ready to go...

Prepare your plums by rinsing them, cutting in half and removing the stones. Then place them in a pan of boiling water with two or three tablespoons of sugar in. This will create a light syrup.

Boil them for a couple of minutes then remove from the heat. Allow to cool.
Carefully put the plums in your jars - use a spoon but don't fill them right to the top. You need some head room. Funnel in the syrup just covering the plums.

Seal the jar with the sterile lid and place it in a pan of boiling water for 10 minutes. Ensure the jar is immersed.

You then take the jar out to cool which should seal the lid in the process.

I love these to have at home as they are a handy sweet treat. I also love plums in custard for a quick dessert.