Entertaining

Beetroot & Carrot Gyoza

Beetroot and Carrot Gyoza

Every now and then I like to try my hand at something a bit fancy. I first made gyoza about three years ago, when I was still in my old flat. I was new to Leeds and Matt used to work long shifts, so I’d spend my evenings in the kitchen, trying new things. I covered all sorts of stuff, from Thai fishcakes to chicken kievs. Because I had time, I made things you might usually buy ready-made, just to teach myself a few techniques – the more complicated (and far from essential) stuff you can only really attempt if you’ve got hours on your side.

Crimping gyoza is the kind of long job that becomes weirdly therapeutic. The first few are fiddly, but after a bit you settle into a system and before you know it you’ve got a whole tray crimped and ready to steam. I’m not even going to attempt to explain to you how to do it, so have a look at this video to guide you – I owe it everything. Last night, I had plenty of mix, so I made fifty. After sharing 16 yesterday and demolishing six today alone, 28 are now nestling between layers of greaseproof paper in my freezer to steam or fry at a later date. They’ll last quite happily in there for about three months – tidily achieving one of the 5 Steps to a Happier Kitchen Life I wrote about last week. Stock that freezer, readers!

Beetroot and Carrot Gyoza

Beetroot and Carrot Gyoza

Beetroot and Carrot Gyoza

Believe it or not, this was one of those “let’s see what we have in the fridge” meals. I use my local asian supermarket pretty well – stocking up on sauces, vinegars and spices regularly. It’s cheap, and you can find more exciting things than you might see browsing the shelves at Tesco Express. I usually have a store of gyoza wrappers hanging around. I buy them frozen for about £1.75 a packet, and each one contains about 60 skins. While I love stuffing them with minced pork or shredded duck, these babies are particularly cost effective when you rifle through your crisper drawer to see what’s left.

On Saturday afternoon, during a search of the fridge and cupboard, I found a shrivelling piece of ginger, a wrinkled red chilli, an onion, a corn on the cob, one carrot left in the bottom of the packet, some sorry-looking spring onions and three cooked beetroots that had been stewing in a tupperware since Christmas. Grated up and mixed together, this veg that might’ve just as easily ended up in bin came together as fragrant, spicy bites which don’t just fill a hole, but genuinely impress whoever’s eating them. I added a squeeze of (again, shrivelled) lime, a dash of soy and a slug of rice vinegar to help, too.

Beetroot and Carrot Gyoza

So are we steaming or are we frying? Well, both of course! These guys get their underside fried til golden, then we add water to the pan to steam them through – potsticker style. This way, you get crunch and chew. It’s the best. What I especially love about these is that the beetroot starts to bleed through the skin so they turn pink. Simple pleasures, eh?

Beetroot & Carrot Gyoza
Yields 50
Cheap, healthy bites that'll seriously impress your guests
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Prep Time
1 hr
Cook Time
10 min
Prep Time
1 hr
Cook Time
10 min
For the Gyoza
  1. 3 Cooked Beetroot
  2. 1 Carrot
  3. 1 Corn on the Cob (or half a small tin)
  4. 1 Red Chilli
  5. 1 Knob of Ginger
  6. 5 Garlic Cloves
  7. A Sprig of Coriander
  8. 1 Onion
  9. 3 Spring Onions
  10. 1 tsp Light Soy Sauce
  11. 1 tsp Rice Wine Vinegar
  12. Juice of Half a Lime
  13. 1 Pack of Gyoza Skins
For the Dipping Sauce
  1. 60ml Light Soy Sauce
  2. 60ml Rice Wine Vinegar
  3. ½ tsp Dried Chilli Flakes
  4. Chopped Spring Onion to Garnish
Instructions
  1. If using a food processor, throw in your peeled garlic cloves, peeled ginger, roughly chopped red chilli, halved onion and trimmed spring onions. Pulse for 10 to 20 seconds until the mix is chopped finely. If you don't have a processor, either dice all ingredients as finely as possible or grind in a pestle and mortar until the correct consistency is reached.
  2. Remove the mix from the processor and transfer into a frying pan. Add a slug of vegetable oil and fry, keeping the mix moving, for four-five minutes to soften the onions and bring out the flavours.
  3. Back in the food processor (don't panic - there's no need to clean it), pulse your sweetcorn, carrot and beetroot until it looks as though it's been grated - you want to keep the texture chunkier so it has a bit of bite to it. When finished, transfer to a bowl with the ginger and onion mix and combine.
  4. Add your soy sauce, vinegar and the juice of half a lime to the mix and stir through. Set aside.
  5. Pour a little water into a glass or ramekin and set it next to your bowl of mix on a chopping board. With a gyoza skin in one hand, spoon around a teaspoon of the mix into the centre.
  6. Dip your finger into the water and trace it around the edge of the skin and fold the skin in half, the bottom up to the meet the top, being careful not to seal it. Use your fingers to create folds in the front flap of the skin, crimping around 5 times per gyoza. For reference - have a look at the video mentioned earlier in this post, a visual speaks a thousand words, after all.
  7. Repeat, getting into a nice rhythm, until all your skins are used. You'll probably have a little mix leftover. Put a frying pan on a medium heat, and add a good slug of vegetable oil to the bottom.
  8. When the pan is hot, place your a few gyoza into the pan, so their folds point straight up. This flat bottom will get nice and browned as they fry. I can fit around 12 in my large frying pan, but you can pack them in quite tightly if necessary. Keep an eye on them and after 3-4 minutes, the bottoms should turn a golden brown colour.
  9. When the frying stage is complete, get around 65ml (that's roughly a quarter cup) of water from the tap and throw it into the pan, still on the heat. Be sure of yourself, and as soon as the water hits, cover the pan (with anything - if it doesn't have a lid, use a plate or a baking sheet!) and allow the gyoza to steam for 4-5 minutes, or until the water is gone.
  10. As the gyoza steam, pour equal parts light soy and rice wine vinegar into a small dish. Sprinkle with dried chilli flakes and drop in some chopped spring onion. Take to the table.
  11. When the water is gone, turn off the heat and transfer your gyoza to a dish. Take them to the table with pride! Alternatively, keep your gyoza in a a simmering oven - about 80ºC - while you fry and steam your second batch.
whip until fluffy http://whipuntilfluffy.com/
Beetroot and Carrot Gyoza

Have you ever made gyoza? If so, let’s compare notes! If not, what’s stopping you? Next time, I’m thinking I could experiment and stuff my skins with confit duck. I think I’ll deep fry them too, and serve with a plum sauce. I love these ideas from Serious Eats – maybe I’ll add a fig or two?

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!

Yorkshire Day with Le Creuset: Courgette Risotto

Courgette Risotto

A few weeks back, I designed and cooked a Yorkshire Day menu for a demonstration at the Le Creuset store in Leeds Victoria Quarter. Today, I’m sharing the recipe for the starter: Courgette Risotto! This was the first cookery demonstration I’ve done, and I was lucky enough to have the plush surroundings of the luxury French cookware brand we all know I’m obsessed with. It was nerve racking, and not something I’d ever seen myself doing, but could I turn down such a great opportunity? No way. Le Creuset coached me every step of the way, and luckily, there were a lovely bunch of ladies in attendance. In fact, I couldn’t have asked for a better audience – and I actually enjoyed it, having previously thought I’d burn at least 10 tea towels, all of my fingers and, just possibly, the whole place down. Turns out I’m one step closer to basically being Rachel Khoo (no?… ok maybe not).

Let’s talk about the food. I’m one of those people who finds cooking therapeutic. Which I guess is obvious, otherwise I wouldn’t do it so much. Risotto, however, is probably the most therapeutic dish to make, with a slow bubble and methodical stir that will calm worries and soothe stress. It’s also great to make for a group – one pot means little washing up and it can bubble away while you stand by with your spatula looking pretty. It can be served as a starter or, in larger portions, as a main. It’s versatile, innit. That’s part of the reason I chose it as my first dish to make in front of a room of people. And I’m glad I did – it went down pretty well, and I somehow managed to channel a bit of its laid back Italian charm.

Yorkshire Courgette Risotto

It’s natural to think of risotto as a winter dish. But personally, I see it as the perfect vehicle for the fresh, zingy flavours of summer. Served in small portions, a risotto really doesn’t have to be heavy, which is why I chose it as a starter for my Yorkshire Day menu. Forget the traditional pairings of meaty mushrooms and chunky root veg – just stick with the seasonal veg and herbs of the warmer months and you’ll be reet. Another thing I don’t agree with: that risotto is a labour of love. That phrase is so loaded. Yes, it needs your attention, but it doesn’t have to take hours. In fact, using the 30cm shallow casserole I’m so prone to banging on about, it takes little over half an hour. The method is easy once you know how, and pretty soon you’ll be whipping these bad boys up like it’s second nature.

CourgetteRisotto1

As with everything great, it starts with onions. You can use small onions, or even shallots. Shallots will give you a slightly sweeter flavour that will work well with the more delicate citrus notes in this recipe. Onions and shallots, like risotto, need some lovin’.  Dice them small and soften them over a low heat with a little oil and a little butter, for anything up to 30 minutes. They’ll be sweet, soft and translucent. Add garlic and thyme and you have a perfect base. Next up is the rice. It’s deceiving. Just a cup of the dried stuff will feed six people starter sized portions and probably leave you some left-overs. So many times I’ve just poured Arborio rice into the pan willy-nilly, but be warned: that stuff expands. Add a cup of your rice to the pan and move it around. You want to coat each grain in the oil, get it all up in those juicy onions. Cook it out for around five minutes, stirring continually, and you’ll notice it starts to go translucent around the edges. At that point, you’re ready to add your wine.

CourgetteRisotto3

The wine I used for the Yorkshire Day risotto was a bit special. Made in Leventhorpe, the dry white is ideal for this dish because the acidity is a great balancing flavour paired with the creaminess of the rice and cheese. Starting with a large glass and reducing it down until almost gone, it’ll deglaze the pan, soak up all the flavour from the onions and the taste of the wine lingers on the rice while the alcohol cooks off. The wine, along with the courgettes and lemon, really go a long way to keeping this dish light and summery, despite the robust base. If you don’t want to use alcohol in your cooking then you can deglaze the pan with white wine vinegar, which will also add some acidity. In a pinch, you can even use stock.

Alongside the wine, the real star of the show here is the Ribblesdale Goats Cheese. Usually a risotto is made with Parmesan, a hard Italian cheese I’m sure we’re all familiar with. I wanted to see if, in the spirit of Yorkshire Day, I could get a local cheese in there instead. As always, when I’ve got a cheese-based query (and trust me, they crop up a lot) I head straight to my local cheesemonger, the lovely George & Joseph I’m Chapel Allerton. They were more than happy to help me and when I requested a Yorkshire equivalent to Parmesan, they suggested Ribblesdale Goats Cheese. A hard cheese, it still has a rich, creamy texture, but it grated perfectly into the risotto, not overpowering the way a softer cheese might be, but leaving behind a residual flavour and saltiness slightly more interesting than your typical Parmesan.

CourgetteRisotto2

When plating up I topped each portion with ribbons of fresh courgette and crushed, toasted pine nuts. Not only does it make for a very pretty finish, but it also adds a touch of freshness and a much needed bit of crunch to an otherwise soft, rich dish.

Yorkshire Day Courgette Risotto with Leventhorpe Wine & Ribblesdale Goats Cheese
(makes enough for six starter portions or three mains)

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30-40 minutes

5 shallots or 1 large/2 small onion
2 garlic cloves
3 sprigs of thyme
Approx 130g Arborio Rice
1 large glass of dry white wine
750ml of chicken stock (the best quality you can afford)
2 large/4 small courgettes
Approx 150g (a large handful) of Ribblesdale Goats Cheese, grated
2 heaped tbsps of pine nuts
½ a fresh lemon

1. Dice your shallots and soften over a low heat with a small nob of butter and a splash of oil. After ten minutes, add crushed garlic and thyme leaves, roughly chopped. Soften for another five minutes until translucent. In another frying pan, pour in the pine nuts. Set over a high heat and keep an eye on them.

2. Add your rice to the pan and stir well to coat each grain with oil. Leave to cook for 3-4 minutes – when ready, the grains will turn translucent around the edges. At the same time, take the pine nuts off the heat and set aside.

3. Turn up the heat and immediately pour in the white wine. Leave to simmer and reduce by more than half, leaving just a tablespoon or two of liquid in the pan.

4. Add your first ladle of stock. Try to resist the urge to keep stirring. A little movement is fine, but messing with your rice constantly will make it more starchy, leaving it with a gloopier texture. When the risotto is ready, you’ll start to see bubbles forming on the surface of the rice. When you move the rice around in the pan, it should stay in the same place, not spreading to the drier parts of the pan.

5. Repeat this process, tasting the rice after each ladle of stock. Use a y-peeler to create ribbons for the top of dish, five to eight should be about right. Grate the rest of your courgette. The rice should take around five ladles worth of stock – you want it to be soft on the outside with a slight bite left at the centre. Tasting after each ladleful will help you get used to how your risotto should be, so you don’t miss that vital point when it’s at its most perfect.

6. After the final ladle, your risotto should be able to stand on its own. If you piled it up, it shouldn’t start to spread to the sides of your plate, but maintain its form. If it’s too wet, keep it on the heat for a bit longer. Chuck in your courgette and turn the heat down to low. Add the grated cheese and stir through. Turn off the heat and let it melt for a few minutes in the pan.

7. It’s unlikely you’ll need to add salt to the risotto because the cheese, especially if you’re using Parmesan in place of goats cheese, has a high salt content as well as the stock. Serve up, top with courgette ribbons and toasted pine nuts. To finish, I drizzled over a little Yorkshire Rapeseed Oil with Lemon, but if that’s not within your reach, try a squeeze of fresh lemon juice instead – mmm zingy! Enjoy!

CourgetteRisotto6

CourgetteRisotto7

I served up my portions of risotto to the girls in the Le Creuset Tapas Dishes, part of the World Cuisine collection. I love these babies and they’re probably going to end up as my next purchase. Perfect for sharing style dishes stretching across all cuisines. Available in Volcanic (pictured), Cerise and Satin Black for £14 each.

I’ll be back on Wednesday with the simple chicken dish I made for the main on Yorkshire Day, but in the mean time, check out posts from some of the lovely attendees: Kat Got the Cream and Life by LDE – gorgeous ladies who just may have caught the Le Creuset bug.

Disclaimer: I’m working as Le Creuset Leeds’ blogger ambassador. As laid out in this post, I adore the brand and have plunged much of my hard earned cash into building my collection, long before Whip Until Fluffy was even a twinkle in my eye. In exchange for cooking for some bloggers on Yorkshire Day, the brand offered me a handsome discount on future purchases (and a fantastic experience!) – but no gifts or payments were exchanged for this, or any other, post.

Le Creuset, Victoria Quarter Leeds

Le Creuset, Victoria Quarter Leeds

As new store launches go, Le Creuset is pretty much as good as it gets for me. Before last month, you could have asked me what shops I thought Leeds was missing and I would’ve reeled off a short but painstakingly compiled list of three: Le Creuset, Kitchenaid & Lakeland. Yeah… my tastes are quite niche. When I saw the sign go up as I walked through the Victoria Quarter one lunchtime on my way back to work, I was pretty excited, to say the least.

Le Creuset and I go waaay back. We’re best pals. We’ve seen each other at our best (chocolate panettone bread and butter puddings – ramekins) and our worst (curdled, gloopy bernaise sauce – gravy boat). As I whizzed around the bright, gleaming VQ store on opening day (I was very kindly invited down for a preview, about an hour before doors opened) I was racking up parallel lists of gots and wants as quickly as a junior school kid with a packet of Panini football stickers.

Le Creuset, Victoria Quarter Leeds

Le Creuset, Victoria Quarter Leeds

The Le Creuset brand was born in 1925. Sure, it’s a premium, quality range – but it ain’t snobby. What I love best about it, is that the prices aren’t high to attract the “right” kind of customer. Le Creuset don’t have pretensions like that. As Katherine Tranter, Head of Retail in the UK, said herself – the brand’s customers are “passionate home cooks, food lovers and style hunters alike”. Ding ding ding. That’s me! Le Creuset’s prices are high, of course, but that’s because each piece of cookware is a lifetime investment. Each item is built to last, and it’s not a flash in the pan (ho-ho, a cooking metaphor!) endorsed by Michellin starred chefs as *the* kitchen essential. Le Creuset is a brand for the home cook. We’re talking huge, heavy casseroles, marked by years worth of gravy, and seasoned cast-iron griddles that have seen more than their fair share of Sunday brunches. It’s cookware that’s built to be passed down, and around.

Le Creuset, Victoria Quarter Leeds

Le Creuset, Victoria Quarter Leeds

Le Creuset, Victoria Quarter Leeds

Le-Creuset-Store-12

Our story is long and varied. I started collecting in my early 20s, and now my kitchen is filled with items which have come  to me through many different channels. Some were bargains, sitting solo and sad on TK Maxx shelves. Some pieces were presents – box fresh and shiny. And some were eBay or jumble sale finds – including a fondue set from the 70s, a little sooty around the edges, and privy to many candid conversations and suspect dance moves in the last year alone – never mind the previous 40. The point is, my Le Creuset collection is big, and the jewel in its crown is our 30cm shallow casserole, given to Matt and I by my parents when we got engaged, used for everything from one pot chicken dishes to macaroni cheese (spoiler alert: it’s in my upcoming Top 5 Kitchen Essentials post).

I’m aware that it might seem that I’m going a little over the top. But seriously, I love this stuff. It’s classic, and it’s colourful – which in a world full of pastel silicone, throwaway “vintage” and cupcake mania, feels overwhelmingly genuine to me. I’m proud to have this stuff on my shelves, in my oven, on my table, and I have every faith that’s a lasting feeling.

It’s surprising too, there’s more on offer than you would think. There’s a whole World Cuisine range, with tangines, balti pans and condiment pots, amongst many more pieces for your kitchen arsenal that you may not expect Le Creuset to stock. There are also Wine Accessories. #justsayin.

Le Creuset, Victoria Quarter Leeds

Le Creuset, Victoria Quarter Leeds

Le Creuset, Victoria Quarter Leeds

Le Creuset, Victoria Quarter Leeds

Le Creuset, Victoria Quarter Leeds

Le Creuset, Victoria Quarter Leeds

If you can’t tell, I’m very excited to welcome this brand to Leeds. With two floors of gorgeous products, plus a demo kitchen, I’m really looking forward to becoming a regular. You know, like one of those people on that Liberty of London programme, where the shop assistants have my number on speed dial for when new ranges come into stock, and I scream “OMG, gimme 12!” down my mobile in the middle of the office. Well… maybe not. But you know what I mean, right? I LOVE THIS SHOP. Get down there.

Le Creuset Victoria Quarter Leeds LS1 6AZ | @LeCreusetUK @VQLeeds

Disclaimer: I was invited down to the new store to have a little look around before it opened its doors to the public. I received no payment or goods in exchange for this write up.

A sidenote:  I’ve been pretty strict about taking meals and endorsing brands on Whip Until Fluffy, and I set out to only ever work with brands I could talk your ear off about if I met you IRL. If you know me offline, you’ll know my kitchen is filled with this stuff. So please, this won’t be a regular thing and I’m not selling out… I just can’t get enough of that ol’ volcanic stoneware.

Bang Bang Shrimp

Bang Bang Shrimp

This is one of those recipes you might find on Pinterest, designed as the perfect game day snack. The effort that some Americans go to for the ideal half-time taste pleaser is quite frankly admirable, but while I can see what a glorious complement this dish would be for a clash of sporting titans, there’ll be none of that under my roof. Instead, I fried these up during one of my husband’s 8 hour Skyrim binges, and served them to him on a wooden platter to eat with one hand as he slayed dragons… lucky bastard.

These crunchy little prawns have a firm place in my culinary arsenal now and they’re a real people pleaser. The way I make them they pack a massive punch, bursting with sriracha and fresh chilli. The great thing though, is that you can adapt this to suit all palates. Without the spice they’re not quite as interesting but they’re still as moreish, like a savoury, tangy popcorn. It’s important to state that I can’t take the credit for these, I was inspired by a recipe I found at Fake Ginger and I’ve just adapted it a little over time to make it exactly what I want it to be. That’s where the name comes from, it may seem silly, but once you taste them you’ll understand. Now I can’t call it anything else!

Bang Bang Shrimp

Bang Bang Shrimp (makes enough for 4 sharing, or 1 very hungry dragon slayer)

400g Raw Prepared Prawns
750ml Vegetable Oil
Birdseye Chillies & Fresh Coriander to garnish

For the Sauce:
100ml Mayonnaise
3 tsp Sriracha sauce
1 tsp Caster Sugar
1½ tsp Rice Vinegar
1 Red Birds Eye Chilli diced

For the Egg Mixture:
1 Large Egg
120ml Milk

For the Breading Mixture:
75g Plain Flour
65g Fine Breadcrumbs
15g Seasame Seeds
½ tsp Sea Salt
½ tsp Garlic Salt
⅔ tsp Black Pepper
½ tsp Ground Basil
½ tsp Cayenne Pepper

1. In a shallow bowl (I used these) beat your egg and milk together. In another, mix all the breading ingredients. Set aside.

2. Grab a handful of prawns (around six if medium sized, up to 15 if you’re using the tiny ones) and, using clean hands, roll them around in the breading mixture. When they’re nicely coated, transfer them to the egg mixture, then back into the breading mixture. The double dip will build up the thick coating needed for a good crunch. Place on a baking tray. Repeat until all the prawns are covered. Place in the fridge to set for 10 minutes.

3. In a small mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients for the sauce. Whisk until combined. Cover the bowl and set it to one side. Don’t put it back in the fridge, the sauce works better the looser it is.

4. Pour the vegetable oil into a deep frying pan or medium sized sauce pan (unless you have a fryer, in which case – lucky you, fried things for every meal!) and heat. I used the chopstick method explained in this post to test when it’s hot enough. Remove the prawns from the fridge and drop in 5-10 at at a time, depending on the size of your pan – you want them to be spaced out enough that they don’t touch.

5. Turn the hob down to medium and leave the prawns to bob around. After 1.5-2 minutes they should be golden brown. Flip them over and wait for the other side to turn the same colour (approx 1 minute). If you’re cooking with smaller prawns, reduce the time by at least half, you’ll be able to tell they’re done by the colour. When they’re done, remove the prawns from the pan and place them on a couple of layers of kitchen paper. Repeat until all the prawns are cooked.

6. Place the cooked prawns in a bowl and pour over about half of the sauce. Fold the sauce through so that each prawn is coated, but don’t be too rough or the batter may start breaking up. Add more sauce if you fancy it. Sprinkle with chopped chillies and fresh coriander and serve. Use the left over sauce to dip!

The prep and frying may seem fiddly, but these prawns are brilliant at a party. Serving on a platter with cocktail sticks to grab makes communal nibbling easy and keeps washing up low. They’re also excellent with alcohol. Beer, especially. On the flip-side, all that spice and crunch soothes a hangover nicely. Rustle these up for a boozy house party, but make sure you keep some leftovers for your recovery the next day.

Notes:
– Can’t get raw prawns? Use cooked, they’ll just be slightly firmer after frying. I think raw provides the best texture.
– In the abscence of rice vinegar, it’ll work with white wine vinegar too, just add ⅔ tsp sugar instead of a whole one.
– It’ll work perfectly fine with a full tsp of sea salt if you can’t get hold of garlic salt. The garlic salt just makes the flavour of the coating slightly more robust against the sauce.

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?