Christmas

Drunken Snowman Brownies with Malibu

DrunkenSnowmanBrownies3

A few weeks ago I was offered a bottle of Malibu. For me, Malibu is oh so very 2005. A smell and taste that reminds me of very late nights, dancing to The Killers and Britney Spears one after the other, and eating chips while giggling with my best friend Anna. The idea was that I put the Malibu to use in a creative way – in baking or cooking, instead of straight up with a splash of pineapple juice – the way I used to drink it back in the days of my youth.

Christmas sweets are difficult. The desserts of this season really aren’t for me. I’m not into sweets at the best of times, really. Christmas for me is all about the cheese, and a dark, dense pudding of dried fruit really isn’t my idea of fun. I do, however, love to put a festive spin on a classic. These brownies are rich and indulgent, but the Malibu and desiccated coconut cut through and add a hint of Caribbean flavour. Perfect for listening to “Mary’s Boy Child” by Boney M (my favourite Christmas song) and having a dance in your living room. 

DrunkenSnowmanBrownies1

As for the melting snowmen, well I can’t take the credit for that idea – it’s one of those Pinterest projects that’s all over the internet. Cute little snowmen with perplexed faces sitting on top of sugar cookies. This kind of thing is usually a bit fiddly for me, but in reality, I found this pretty easy – little hassle for a nice pay-off. They’re fun, festive and guaranteed to get a smile. Take a batch to your Christmas gatherings and you’ll definitely be in the good books.

The brownie recipe is fairly spongey – there’s a lot of rise from the little baking powder that goes in. You’ve got two options, really. Bake for 20 minutes and you should get a nice gooey middle. Go for a bit longer (no more than 25 minutes) and you’ll have a springy, cake-like texture. I’ve adapted the recipe from my Fail-Safe Blondies, adding cocoa and a few other things, swapping the vanilla extract for the Malibu. 

DrunkenSnowmanBrownies2

Drunken Snowmen Brownies
Serves 4
A very sweet festive treat with a bit of a boozy kick - oh, come on, it's Christmas!
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Prep Time
25 min
Cook Time
20 min
Prep Time
25 min
Cook Time
20 min
For the Brownies
  1. 200g Plain Flour
  2. 25g Cocoa Powder
  3. 1tsp Baking Powder
  4. 1tsp Salt
  5. 2 Large Eggs
  6. 5tsp Malibu
  7. 60g Light Brown Sugar
  8. 50g Dark Muscovado Sugar
  9. 165g Unsalted Butter
  10. 75g Milk Chocolate
  11. 75g White Chocolate
  12. 15g Desiccated Coconut
For the Topping
  1. 25g Icing Sugar
  2. 1 tbsp Water (approx)
  3. 4 Marshmallows
  4. Orange Midget Gems
  5. Black Icing Tube
Instructions
  1. Mix the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl.
  2. In another bowl, beat together the butter and sugars. Add the eggs one by one, followed by the Malibu. Beat until smooth.
  3. Fold the flour mixture to the wet ingredients, scraping the sides of the bowl with a spatula.
  4. Chop the chocolate into shards and mix into the batter, with the coconut, until evenly distrubuted.
  5. Transfer to a greased tin (approx 8x8) and bake in a preheated oven at 180ºc for 20 minutes. 25 for a firmer, more cakey finish.
  6. While cooling, mix the icing sugar with water a little at a time until a thick icing forms.
  7. Once the brownie is completely cooled (this could take a while, so plan ahead!), cut into four pieces. Spoon a little icing into the centre of each brownie. It should spread into an artful splat, but if you need to, help it along with a spoon.
  8. Use your black tube icing to decorate marshmallows with eyes, smiles and anything else you fancy. Use a tiny blob to stick on an orange midget gem for the nose.
  9. Place the marshmallow on to the top of the brownie, the tacky icing should hold it in place. Add buttons and arms to your melted snowman's body.
whip until fluffy http://whipuntilfluffy.com/
DrunkenSnowmanBrownies4

 Happy Holidays!

Wreath Making with Katie Laura Flowers

Wreath Making with Katie Laura Flowers

So now Halloween is over, it’s time to start thinking about Christmas right? I know, I know… eye roll. It’s weird for me to get festive anytime pre-December 1st, but a few weeks ago I was invited to spend a bright but crisp Sunday afternoon with Katie Laura Flowers in Harrogate, to discuss wreath making and Christmas decorations. My first thought? Oh god, not yet. But it turns out I really rather enjoyed myself. Plus, it pays to get ahead with these things. After a few hours I had well and truly slipped into the festive spirit, and picked up a few new skills too.

I must say, wreath making has always somewhat appealed to me. I love the way they look, whatever they’re made from, and I even bought a foam ring from Hobbycraft last year, to put some of my artistic ideas to canvas, so to speak. It never actually happened, and the ring stayed starkers all winter long, giving me a slight pang of guilt every time it caught my eye.

Wreath Making with Katie Laura FlowersWreath Making with Katie Laura Flowers

After my workshop with Katie, I honestly think I’ll make a wreath of my own every year. The whole process was surprisingly easy and, like with most arts and crafts, I found it extremely therapeutic. I zoned out of my busy brain and sipped on tea for a few hours, chatting away to my blogger friends. I left Katie’s gorgeous studio feeling significantly calmer and with something pretty awesome to carry home in my (extremely grubby) hands.

We started with a wire frame. Katie recommended this, and always works with them herself, because they weigh less than the other options. Better for hanging, see. We wrapped flexible floristry wire all the way around the frame in a zigzag pattern. This provides a good framework for your foliage, preventing fall out, keeping everything solid even when your wreath is upright. Ever the perfectionist, I wove mine pretty tight, though I was told this wasn’t necessary and I took at least ten minutes longer than than anyone else. I felt pretty proud though.

Wreath Making with Katie Laura Flowers Wreath Making with Katie Laura Flowers Wreath Making with Katie Laura Flowers

After winding the wire, we kept it attached and began gathering greenery. We clipped off larger strands and bunched a few together to create a little posy. Katie taught us lot of clever tricks, like putting bushier plants towards the back to make others stand forward, giving your wreath a voluminous shape. We attached each posy with a few more loops of floristry wire to secure it. We kept adding small posies, working in a clockwise motion around the ring, each new posy on top of the next. Tips here include making sure you cover the width of the frame, working outwards – the wider the leaves reach outside of the loop the better, really. What you’re after is something really full and bountiful, and not necessarily perfect symmetry either.

After the green base layer was complete, we dotted in flashes of colour. This is when an artistic side really comes in helpful. The urge to place bundles of colour at regular intervals around the ring is strong, and taking a more relaxed, and (dare I say it) random, approach is key. I played around with mine for a while, and though there was loads on offer, I chose to keep it pretty simple with skimmia and a little statice, along with that Christmas staple – berries!

Wreath Making with Katie Laura Flowers Wreath Making with Katie Laura Flowers

Wreath Making with Katie Laura Flowers

Wreath Making with Katie Laura Flowers

What was really great about the workshop is that we used a lot of materials that can be found in your garden or local area. Be sure to check up on the rules for wild flower picking in your area, but if you look in the right spots, there’s no need to spend any cash apart from the minimal costs of the ring and wire. If in doubt, you can always head to your local florist. They should have all the basics, even if it’s not out on display, so make sure you ask!

We used a mix of fresh and dried foliage, and the glorious thing is that everything fresh will dry well too. That means you can hand your wreath for months if you like, without it starting to look a bit dodgy. It might even look better. If you keep it inside, just mist it every now and again to keep it fresh.

Wreath Making with Katie Laura Flowers Wreath Making with Katie Laura Flowers Wreath Making with Katie Laura Flowers

If you live anywhere near Harrogate, I’d really recommend Katie’s workshops. There are currently two options on offer. The wreath making workshop lasts a few hours, and like me, you’ll craft and leave with your own Christmas wreath. This would be awesome for a pre-Crimbo treat for mums and daughters (or fathers and sons!), a fun activity with friends or even a festive hen-do. Katie has a huge breadth of knowledge – from facts about the type of plants to use, to showing you how to wire-in delicate succulents to make your wreath that little bit different. This workshop costs £55, but mention me when you book and you’ll receive a 10% discount, taking it down to a bargain-tastic £49.50. Each class last three hours, includes fresh materials, coffee, tea and nibbles. They take place on 29th November and 7th December. You can also attend a simple step-by-step demo. These will set you back £20, include tea, coffee and nibbles, and are happening on the 18th and 30th November, and 2nd December.

This class suited me down to the ground. I’ve always fancied a bit of floristry and this really whet my whistle to try some more at home. I nearly always have a fresh bunch of flowers on my kitchen island, but I tend to buy cheap. Intricate arrangements and displays seem so out of my price range, but this workshop really convinced me that I can try some myself, without spending a ton of cash (hey, we can’t all be Elton John, ok?)

Have you ever tried your hand at flower arranging or floral crafts? Got anything exciting planned for the festive season?

Disclaimer: I attended a workshop at Katie Laura Flowers free of charge, thanks to an invitation from Emma. This hasn’t affected my opinion at all, I loved my experience of wreath making. 

Orange & Pomegranate Fizz

Orange and Pomegranate Fizz 2

Despite not being big drinkers, every year on Christmas Morning my family crack open the champers. Usually it’s straight up for the hardcore and Bucks Fizz for those attempting to keep a hold of their enunciation skills before lunchtime, but 2013 was the year that my mum handed over some holiday responsibility to me, so when I prepared breakfast on Christmas day I rustled up some cocktails with a subtle change.

The thing with this cocktail is that it doesn’t have to be much work. I squeezed the oranges so we had fresh juice, but you could go the way of the carton if you fancied. A bit of vermouth, a splash of lemon juice and one lone pomegranate later, and you’re well on your way to a fruity but sharp festive alternative.

The thing with jars right, they’re pretty. I’m not ashamed to say I love drinking out of them, even if they are made for jam and grannies and non-Pinteresters alike think I’m a dickhead. Call me a hipster if you like but I’m into it. Jars are also good if you don’t have a cocktail shaker to hand. I poured orange juice and Martini (that’s vermouth, but you could use a vodka or gin if you liked) into my Kilner with a bit of lemon juice. I dropped some ice in to make it good and cold, and then I whacked on the lid and shook it up good and proper. One minor note, though. As much as I love how they look, there is one caveat to using a jar as your glass. Unlike a traditional shaker and glass option, your drink isn’t poured over fresh ice when you serve it, instead it’s served with the ice you shake it up with. The movement means you get the ice going and warm it up, making it melt quicker. So as you get to the bottom of your jarred cocktail it can turn a bit watery. My solution is to drink up faster.

Orange and Pomegranate Fizz 1

Ingredients (Makes 6-8 Cocktails)

5 Large Oranges
1-2 Lemons
150ml Dry Vermouth (that’s about 25ml, 1 shot, per person)
1 Pomegranate
1 Cup of Ice
1 Bottle of Champagne, Prosecco or Cava (in fact, any sparkling wine will do)

Method

1. Juice the oranges into a measuring jug. I used a wooden reamer from Lakeland, but you could use a fancy machine or just squeeze them by hand, it won’t take you long. Strain the juice through a sieve if you want it smooth, otherwise leave it as it is!

2. Pour the juice a third of the way up your jar or glass. Next, add a shot of vermouth to each jar.

3. Add 1 tbsp of lemon juice to each cocktail. I did this by sight, it doesn’t have to be exact. Drop a couple of ice cubes into each jar and screw the lid on tight. Shake away for 10-15 seconds, until all the ingredients are well mixed and the liquid’s temperature has come down.

4. Top each jar to the brim with bubbles. Drop in 2 tbsp of pomegranate seeds. Squeeze a little juice in while you’re at it. Voila!

I find that the fruit and vermouth counteract the dryness of the champagne quite nicely, but the tanginess the drink leaves behind means you can’t help but take this cocktail seriously. Fizzy pop, this ain’t. Leave your Sex On the Beach at home, I might just drink it all year long.

Nurturing the Inner Hostess

Winter is the time when my inner hostess goes into overdrive. Oh how I yearn to welcome people into my home, woo them with trays full of delicious nibbles, serve tart & tangy cocktails on a silver platter and try to make them feel like they’re living (just for an hour or so) in a page from the Farrow & Ball catalogue. I mean, obviously, this has never happened. My house doesn’t even have flooring yet. You have to keep your shoes on or you’ll get splinters, it’s hardly welcoming. When I dream about my future though, a warm, full house is what I see. Burning candles and rosy cheeked friends with full glasses in their hands. When a close friend recently said “Dinner at Lil & Matt’s is one of my best things” I almost squealed. I’m on my way, people.

Let’s get one thing clear, I bloody love a canapé. My one complaint about my own wedding is that I never got to actually eat the canapés I painstakingly chose. Apparently they were nice, but I’ll never know. This time of year presents loads of opportunity to crack out some bite-size bits and pieces. I have a few fail-safe ideas that are applicable to most social gatherings. Glazed Sausages are always a hit. Just ask Nigella. My mum’s done them at Christmas for years and in my experience very few people can turn down a banger. Buy raw chipolatas and marinade them in heaped spoonfuls of honey and wholegrain mustard. Keep them in the fridge for half a day and then roast them in a hot oven, ready to pull out when you guests arrive. They’ll be sticky, shiny and irresistible. Next, I like to make myself some Pear, Gorgonzola and Pancetta Crostini. Slice and toast some shop bought baguette and fry your pancetta until it’s brittle and gleaming. Smear some soft gorgonzola onto that toast and pile on the rest. There are loads of variations but I like to keep things simple (3-4 ingredients) and seasonal. This year I made a selection of pastries and some homemade potato rostis with some toppings.


Guardian Perfect Cheese Straws


Joy the Baker’s French Onion Pastry Puffs
Potato & Apple Rostis with Sirloin Steak, Horseradish Cream & Chives

Our home bar is, perhaps worryingly, one of the only things we’ve unpacked since moving in. Yeahhhh ok, we like a drink, but a collection of spirits is great when you have people over. After a year or so of building ours up we have a fair selection to choose from, and it makes cocktail making a lot easier because you don’t have to plan ahead. A Winter Sangria would be my perfect drink for a Christmas gathering, if you have friends over for dinner or a film (hands up for Love Actually!) or even for a present wrapping party in the week before the big day. Still seasonal but a refreshing change amidst weeks of mulled wine, use a bottle of Pinot Grigio and a slug or two of a spirit of your choice – gin or vodka would be ideal. Add a cup or two of fruit juice (I’d use apple or elderflower but anything goes) and chuck in plenty of seasonal fruit like apples, pomegranate and fresh cranberries – better yet, frozen cranberries or grapes can take the place of ice. Whack in a sprig or two of rosemary too. Asking guests to bring a bottle is the easiest way to keep the booze flowing all night without being seriously out of pocket, but I think a cocktail on arrival is a nice little flourish and definitely something I want to work into my routine when having people over.

In the shops over the festive period I keep seeing things to lust over when really my priorities should be elsewhere. I should probably consider buying some curtains rather than those perfect napkin rings or a cut glass punch bowl. My guests could probably do with some coat hooks for their jackets before  personalised glass markers, but yanno – I can’t stop. I won’t. One day, readers, one day.

Clockwise from Top Left: Martha’s Entertaining, Normann Copenhagen Liqueur Glasses, John Lewis Lacquer Round Tray in Gold, Marimekko Pieni Unikko Tray, Zara Home Teaspoon, Ball Canning Quilted Jars, LSA Punchbowl & Ladle.

It works the other way too. I make sure I’m a pretty good guest. Invite me over and generally, I’ll arrive with wine, flowers or occasionally chocolate, but I feel like 2014 is the truly the year I’ll come into my own when it comes to the hostess (or host) gift. I always go to town at Christmas, arriving at parents’ and in-laws’ with arms full of chutneys, curds and baked goods. I guess it makes me feel like a adult to bring gifts with me, since I’m the baby of the family. This year we made flavoured oils to take home with us. It can get expensive if you’re making a lot, but buying the odd glass bottle only costs a few quid, and it’s even cheaper if you save your oil bottles throughout the year. It helps if you have a well stocked spice cupboard too. This year we packed five of our bottles with garlic, rosemary, coriander seeds and peppercorns. The other five got green rocket chillis, red birds eye chillis, chilli flakes and peppercorns. Each couple in the family will get a pair to open with a note explaining what they are and asking the recipients to leave them to infuse for a month or two. It’s hardly original, but it’s tasty, useful and shows a bit of thought.

I always like to receive something handmade, it’s personal and every time you use it, you think of the person who gave it to you. I think these bottles look pretty impressive too. Similarly, jars of sweets or preserves work pretty well. Try these Bourbon Salted Caramels by Shutterbean for hosts with a sweet tooth!

Did you make gifts for christmas this year? Do you go to town when you entertain, or do you prefer to be the perfect guest? What are your fail safe dinner party recipes?