Learning To Crochet

I’ve decided it’s time for me to learn a new skill and hobby – crocheting.

My great-aunt used to be a dab hand at crochet and made all kinds of things when I was little. Unfortunately, I was only 8 when she died and hadn’t shown any interest in learning before she passed away.

I’ve been trying to learn for a week now. And whilst I’ve had a few mishaps along the way…

gone wrong

….I seem to be able to follow a basic pattern for bunting and hearts.

Now, I’m trying to get my head around crocheting in the round, but that’s proving a little more tricky.

I have my sights set on a much bigger project, which I’m hoping I can complete for our wedding later this year.

To help me practice, I’m going to head back to the shop later to get some different sized hooks and yarn, along with a stitch marker and row counter. If only Auntie Babs could see me now – I’d like to think she’d be pleased that I’m following in her footsteps a little bit.

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Oaty Baked Chicken

It was another experimental dinner last night for Mr Fiancé. Like me, he’s on a slim down for the wedding, but is quite happy eating his carbs, which I’m cutting back on. He’s big into his chicken at the moment, but after having it with rice a lot, he asked me to whip him up a tasty chicken sandwich, that was still healthy.

Challenge accepted!

I started by pounding a chicken breast to make it equal thickness and then coated in flour, dipped it into beaten egg and then into my special oaty mix. This mix was simply basic porridge oats, cayenne pepper, hot chilli powder, chilli flakes, garlic powder, paprika and cracked black pepper. Yes, my fiancé likes things hot and spicy.

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Once I made sure the chicken was nicely coated with oats, I popped it onto a lined baking tray and put it in a pre-heated oven at 190C for around 25minutes – check it’s cooked through before serving.

To serve, I got some crusty bread, made a sweet chilli mayo with just a mix of these two condiments and smothered the bottom piece with that, layered up with salad and chicken and put some mango chutney on the top layer.

Apparently, it was a very good dish – too spicy for me! – but well worth a try I think.

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Simple Blueberry Smoothie

The health kick continues, as the wedding slim down gets into full swing. So far, so good – I’ve lost 1.5lb in the first week. Slowly but surely! I do have eight months to get there.

This morning, I figured it was time to get back into smoothies. They’re so easy to whizz up.

I had a small punnet of blueberries.

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Add a banana and a splash of milk and just blended it with a hand blender until smooth.

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Ta-da! Easy breakfast, that’s tasty and healthy!

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Healthy Warm Chicken Salad

Like most people, I don’t enjoy dieting. However, with my wedding now all booked for this year, the clock is well and truly ticking for me to lose the 2 stone that’s been haunting me for the past two years.

I’m currently running – on the spot indoors admittedly – for an hour a day, which my pedometer says is around 7miles. On top of that, I’m doing sit ups, crunches, leg raises, planking and squats. I can’t say I’m enjoying any of it, but needs must.

Food is a struggle for me too, because I love tasty things! I’m being very good though and going for high protein where possible and avoiding chocolate, which isn’t easy.

I’ve been turning to my warm steak salad a lot and tonight, I opted for a warm chicken salad. Quite simply, I just cooked a chicken breast, cut it into pieces and served on a bed of mixed salad leaves, tomatoes, spring onion and avocado with just a small crumbling of cheese for added texture and flavour. Instead of a dressing, I used just a little balsamic vinegar and walnut oil.

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Beef Stroganoff

Firstly, apologies for the lack of photos – I forgot!

This was a last-minute beef stroganoff request from my fiancé. It’s really easy to whip up though, so don’t panic.

Start by finely chopping an onion and sweating in some olive oil in a saucepan, along with three crushed cloves of garlic. When nicely softened, throw in some skirt steak or frying steak, that has been cut into bite-sized pieces and allow to brown.

Then squeeze in a good amount of tomato puree, before adding beef stock, red wine stock and some Marmite, along with some cornflour. Give the mix a good stir, put the lid on and allow to simmer at a low heat for around 15 minutes, before adding some paprika, mixed herbs, Worcestershire sauce, horseradish sauce, wholegrain mustard and English mustard. As you know by now, I’m not really one for measuring things, so just try and see how it turns out. You can always add more of an ingredient. Stir every now and then to make sure nothing catches on the bottom of the pan. Have to confess, I also added a splash of brandy.

Allow everything to simmer for around 45 minutes, then taste to see if anything is missing. Now you can add some chopped mushrooms and a small tub of soured cream, before allowing to cook for around another half an hour.

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Serve with some boiled rice and if you fancy, as I did, a little grated Parmesan cheese.

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Roast Chicken

For me, nothing beats a good Sunday roast and chicken is one of my favourites. I have to say, my fiancé does a mean roast chicken, but this week, it was my turn.

I start by putting some roasting dishes in the oven with dripping in them – I used leftover dripping from the Christmas turkey this time – and let them get good and hot on 220C.

Whilst that’s warming up, peel and chop the potatoes – I do mine quite small – rinse to remove excess starch and pop in boiling water for around 10 minutes. After that time, check with a sharp knife to see if they’re on their way to being done. If they are, drain them and carefully tip them into the hot fat in one of the roasting dishes. Gently make sure the potatoes are all coated in dripping and season with pepper and rosemary. Pop them back in the oven for around 10minutes.

Whilst the potatoes are getting a head start, get your chicken and put in a cool roasting dish. Smother generously with butter or far – I use goose fat – and season with plenty of pepper and a slight grinding of salt. Cover loosely with foil and pop Mr Chicken in the oven, turning the temperature down to 180C.

Every 20 minutes, I take the bird out and baste with the juices in the pan. After an hour, add sliced carrots, leeks and florets of broccoli and cauliflower into the second roasting tin that’s been getting nice and hot. At this point, you also want to uncover the chicken so the skin can crisp up and continue with regular basting – you will thank me!

Give everything around 20minutes, then test the chicken with a sharp knife or skewer and if the juices run clear, it’s done. Whilst it’s resting, make some gravy – I was lazy this time and just used instant. Serve and enjoy.

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Banana Bread

Banana bread is one of the easiest cakes to make and is a great way of using up bananas that could otherwise be facing the bin.

All you need to whip up this family favourite is:

150g self raising flour
165g caster sugar (white or golden)
1 egg
3 very ripe bananas

Sift the flour into a mixing bowl, add in the sugar and the egg.

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In a separate bowl, mash the bananas with a fork until smooth and add that to the other ingredients.

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Simply mix with a wooden spoon until the batter is combined and pour into a lined loaf tin. I always line my loaf tins, as it saves on the washing up!

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Pop into a pre-heated oven at 180C for around an hour. Check with a skewer and it if comes out clean, the cake is cooked.

Allow to cool for a couple of minutes, before turning out on to a wire rack to cook complete and then enjoy with a cuppa.

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As an alternative, you could stir through a handful of chopped nuts or chocolate chips or even a couple of spoonfuls’ of honey or peanut butter to jazz up the cake.

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