Saturday, July 27, 2013

My perfect burger

Okay first up I can’t claim to be an authority on burgers. Coffee yes. Cinnamon rolls definitely. Cocktails maybe once upon a time. But burgers… I never eat them outside of barbeque season. I’m not American. I have never set foot inside an In-N-Out burger. I haven’t even tried a big mac for goodness sake

But the sun is shining, there is a delicious smoky meaty smell wafting over the neighbours’ fence and I’m thinking we should fire up the barbeque ourselves. Throw on some marinated chicken, a few sausages and of course a hamburger or two. I am pretty particular about my burgers. I think because I eat them so rarely I want them to be a special treat.

My absolute favourite place for a burger used to be the Eagle Bar Diner off Tottenham Court Road. I think it has closed down now and apparently it went off in later years but I used to love it. My favourite thing to order was a hamburger, fat chips and a lychee martini. Blissful.

If I am making a DIY burger at home, this is how I go about achieving burger perfection. First of all you need the right climatic conditions. A truly fabulous burger can’t be cooked indoors under the electric grill. It needs sunshine, charcoal and lots of patience to get the barbeque to just the right temperature. A fierce enough heat to char the meat and give it a bit of surface crunch but not too hot that it dries out the juices. Medium rare is best.

The bread roll has to be white and soft inside but with a tiny bit of crunch – almost imperceptible - on the crust. Preferably homemade and fresh from the oven. (I admit the roll in my picture is less than perfect. I ran out of white flour and had to mix in some wholemeal.) Your bread to meat ratio has to be spot on too. Burgers that are nothing but great mouthfuls of fluffy white bread and hardly any meat are a sad disappointment. Likewise there is nothing messier or more frustrating than struggling with a generous-sized burger and toppings but not enough bread to hold the thing together.

Before adding anything to the roll, I spread it with a thin layer of butter to waterproof the bread. Soggy bread has no place near a perfect burger. There are several must have ingredients; coleman’s mustard, ketchup and gerkins and/or jalepenos to give sweetness and kick. I also like piri piri sauce but it’s an optional extra. I think with a burger you are aiming to pack every flavour and texture into one bite. Sweet, salty, spicy, bitter, meaty, juicy, dry, fresh, crunchy, crisp and smooth. It’s all there.

Sometimes I am satisfied with a nice piece of crisp lettuce and nothing else. Other times I quite like a bit of Stilton melted on top. But my number one all time favourite burger toppings are watercress (the big dark green leafy stuff obviously) and pickled beetroot.
So that is my perfect burger. Now I just need to figure out how to recreate that lychee martini.

Happy barbequing!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Here comes the heatwave

We ditched our weekend beach plans at the last minute predicting traffic jams, parking hassles, hot and bothered kids and had a wonderfully relaxing - and hot! - couple of days pottering around the garden instead. The kids did some painting outdoors and chalk drawing on the paving stones which was a first for them. And we finally got around to planting a new vegetable patch. Check out the monster chard from last year! Everything is about a month late going in the ground but we had a late spring so maybe it'll all even out.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

How to make: a chiffon ballet skirt

Little P started ballet lessons recently and I think I love it as much as she does, possibly more. The mums sit on chairs at the front – as I remember my mum doing when I did ballet as a child – and we grin like Cheshire cats (well I do) for a solid half hour as the lovely Miss Leanne puts them through their paces.
I paid up happily for most of the uniform; pink leotard, matching socks and ballet shoes but I balked slightly at the price of the chiffon skirt. I think I had just paid out a series of cheques for swimming, rugby, art club etc and that additional £8.99 just felt like too much for a flimsy handkerchief-sized piece of material. But I coughed up and she did look gorgeous. In fact she loved the skirt so much she started wearing it everywhere and inevitably it got lost and could not be found.

I was blowed if I was going to buy another but after a skirtless couple of weeks of failing to find a cheaper one anywhere I decided I would make one. How hard could it be? Essentially it is a circle skirt with an elasticated waistband. The fabric, thread and pink elastic cost less than £3. 
I was starting to feel pretty smug but I hadn’t factored in the hideousness of sewing with chiffon. That stuff is a nightmare! I had to quickly shelve ideas of a proper hem or my raw edges being neatly tucked away inside a waistband. Instead I zigzag stitched along the top and bottom of the skirt and left it at that. I think the end result looks pretty okay.
If you would like to make a pretty chiffon ballet skirt, here’s how I did it. First of all you need to drag a bit of basic maths from your memory. Don’t worry nothing too tricky. You are going to be drawing two circles. The smaller circle is the waist and has to be roomy enough to pull up over her bottom so measure round her tummy and her hips and go with the larger measurement. Your next measurement is for the length of the skirt. Measure from her waist down to her knees or mid thigh or where ever you need the skirt to end. Your finished skirt will look something like this.
Right so now you have two measurements waist or hip circumference and length. Here is what you are going to do with them. Take the waist measurement and add 1 inch (just to be sure she can get that skirt on and off easily). Now to get the radius divide waist plus 1 by 6.28. So Little P’s waist measured 19 inches, plus 1 inch is 20 inches, divide that by 6.28, you have 3.18 inches.

First you are going to cut out a template in paper. Get a great big piece of paper – newspaper, baking paper, wrapping paper. Tape several bits together if you need to. You are going to be drawing just one quarter of your skirt. Using your tape measure or a ruler you are going to draw in the waistline by making a series of dots the radius distance (3.18 inches for Little P) from the corner. Easier to see than explain!
Once you have the waistline drawn in, you are going to draw in the rest of the skirt using the same method. Add your radius (3.18) to your length now measuring again from the same bottom corner dot in the rest of your skirt. Now cut along your dotted lines. The finished template should look like this.
Okay. Fold your fabric in half and half again and place your template on top. Cut it out. And voila you have a circle skirt!
You’re not finished yet. Thread up that machine and zigzag stitch around the waist and the hem. My stitches ended up being quite tight and puckered up the material which normally would have been a disaster but on the chiffon seemed to look okay and gave a bit of weigh to the hem.
I found sewing a waistband with chiffon very very fiddly but this way worked well for me. First check your girl's tummy measurement then cut a length of elastic 1 inch longer. Use that extra one inch to overlap the elastic and sew together. Now for the tricky bit, sewing the elastic belt into the waistband. I found pinning the fabric first just made the job harder. For me folding the fabric over the elastic and sewing very very slowly and carefully round adjusting all the time to minimise the inevitable puckers and twists. 
Be careful not to sew your elastic to your skirt as you go! Sew all the way around and hey presto you have a beautiful ballet skirt!
Your little ballerina is all ready to jete, pirouette and arabesque her way off to class.