Snacks

Pretzel Chocolate Chip Tray Bake

Pretzel Chocolate Chip Tray Bake

Weirdly, I’ve started doing a bit more baking lately. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a particularly competent baker. I don’t really have the patience needed for really great results, but I spend a lot of time at home these days and it’s a nice thing to do to pass the time.

Now that the newborn fog has finally cleared and I’m feeling a little bit more “me” again, we’ve been trying to get back on track with meal planning and cooking. This is mainly on my part, Matt loves it and needs no motivation, but I find it hard to think of something new and exciting to make everyday without a bit of forward planning. Buying ingredients for one bake a week with our regular shop means we’ve always got a sweet treat to hand if we want one, and it’s also a great time filler for a dreary afternoon.

Pretzel Chocolate Chip Tray Bake

Baking is actually a really fun activity for the girls too – I usually sit them in their bumbo seat or lie them on the kitchen table facing me, giving them a little of each ingredient as I go. They just pat their hands in it, get to know the texture and maybe give it a taste (no raw eggs, obvs). It’s fun for them, and educational, and as parents I guess we have a pretty laid back attitude towards weaning anyway so we don’t mind if they give any of it a little try. We’re planning to start Baby Lead Weaning in a few weeks when the girls hit six months, and I think it’s important to get them feeling enthusiastic about food as early as possible.

Pretzel Chocolate Chip Tray Bake

Tray bakes are always a good option for me because there’s little to no pressure (minimal rising, very few fancy techniques to master, just mix it all up and shove it in the oven etc). Over the past few months I’ve made rocky road, my Fail Safe Blondies and flapjacks. Yesterday was the turn of the Pretzel Chocolate Chip Tray Bake. They’re a nice sweet and salty treat and you can cut the pieces as big or as small as you like. Plus the recipe is customisable so you can add all your favourite extras! I’d like to try it with bigger chunks of chocolate and maybe some mini marshmallows for a s’mores-esque vibe.

I basically only use Le Creuset bakeware these days *hair flip*. Because I’m no aficionado, I find I only use a few tins anyway, so I’d rather spend money and get quality in return. So far I’ve got my excellent 9×9″ Square Cake Tin (£20) which I used for these, and I have my Kugelhopf (£30) for cakes, as well as mousses and jellies. Next I think I’ll replace my simple round Sandwich/Sponge Tins, then my loaf tin and my muffin tin and I’ll be pretty much set. The Afternoon Tea Set (£78.40 down from £112) is actually really good value and currently on sale, so that’s worth checking out. I love the Le Creuset bakeware because it’s thick and sturdy, plus it’s really easy to clean. I promise they’re not sponsoring this, as always I just love them!

Pretzel Chocolate Chip Tray Bake

Pretzel Chocolate Chip Tray Bake
Yields 16
A sweet and salty treat, perfect for a rainy day.
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Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
25 min
Total Time
45 min
Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
25 min
Total Time
45 min
Ingredients
  1. 250g Plain Flour
  2. 220g Unsalted Butter, melted
  3. 150g Dark Muscovado Sugar
  4. 110g Caster Sugar
  5. 2 Large Eggs
  6. 1 Vanilla Pod
  7. 1 tsp Table Salt
  8. 175g Dark Chocolate Chips, split into one 100g and one 75g portion
  9. 100g White Chocolate Chips
  10. 60g Salted Pretzels, in 2 x 30g portions (I used Penn State Pretzels - deelish!)
Instructions
  1. Preheat your oven to 180ºc or if you're using Fan, go for 160.
  2. Grease a square baking tray (mine's 9x9") and line it with greaseproof paper ready for the filling.
  3. Pour your melted butter into a medium sized bowl (or a mixer, if you have one) and stir in the Muscovado and caster sugar until combined.
  4. Next, add the eggs one at a time, then split the vanilla pod and scrape out its insides. Add it to the bowl and mix in.
  5. Now it's time for the dry ingredients. Stir in the flour, followed by the salt until it's just combined. Don't over-mix.
  6. Follow that with any extras you might like - I used 100g each of dark and white chocolate chips, along with the first 30g of salted pretzels, which I snapped into smaller pieces. Mix well until they're well distributed.
  7. Scrape the batter into the tin (it'll be super thick - almost like caramel!), smooth it and press the remaining 30g of pretzels into the surface. Bake for 25 minutes or until a knife poked into the middle comes out clean.
  8. While it cools, melt the remaining 75g of chocolate chips over a bain marie or in the microwave until smooth. When the bake is completely cool, drizzle over the melted chocolate with a spoon.
  9. Wait for the chocolate to set and cut into 16 squares (or however many you fancy!). Store in a tin for up to 5 days.
Adapted from Just a Taste
Adapted from Just a Taste
whip until fluffy http://whipuntilfluffy.com/

I waited until nap time and tucked into two of these with a steaming cup of tea and Lunch Lady – it’s an awesome blog and print magazine all about food and family. It’s packed with fab photography and great recipes, I love it. In Leeds, I buy my copy from Colours May Vary.

Pretzel Chocolate Chip Tray Bake

Giving these a go? Let me know how it goes! You can reach me easily down in the comments, or over on Twitter or Instagram at @whiptuntilfluffy. Happy baking!

Goats Cheese, Chorizo & Chilli Scones

GoatsCheeseChorizo&ChilliScones4

One of the only things my mother has ever truly mastered in the kitchen, and I’m sure she wouldn’t mind me saying so, is the humble scone. I didn’t exactly grow up in a home-baked household – my mum didn’t teach me the culinary basics and she certainly isn’t the kind I’d call to request fondly-remembered childhood recipes, years later. She has a go, bless her, with varying results, and I can’t fault her for that. Scones though, that’s different. Years of practice have lead to success, and somehow I don’t think anyone’s can beat hers. 

We hail from Bristol, all of us, the Neales (though my sisters and I have all given up the name, the characteristics are forever embedded). But since we all left home, my parents have moved even further into depths of the West Country, and now live in the quaint little seaside town of Sidmouth, Devon. As you can probably imagine, scones (plus the obligatory clotted cream) are a very important part of their lives. 

As a child with diabetes, baking with mum never consisted of fairy cakes and Rice Krispies folded into melted marshmallows, but being the great mum that she is, she was determined that we’d still give kitchen creation a go. After a short dalliance with peanut butter cookies packed with a teeth-squeaking amount of Canderel,  we almost always defaulted to scones. We thankfully stuck to caster and simply halved the sugar content, and we packed in raisins to make up the shortfall. I always ate the scones hot, straight from the wire rack, twisting and pulling the two halves from each other with my fingers and dabbing on too-cold butter before it was ready. The texture was, and still is, something that dreams are made of: soft, buttery and comforting – the three characteristics that describe most of my favourite things in life.

GoatsCheeseChorizo&ChilliScones2
GoatsCheeseChorizo&ChilliScones3

Because of all that, scones are a fairly regular occurrence in my own kitchen. As always, I favour savoury over sweet, so more often than not I’m packing in leftover cheese and morsels of salty, fried pork, cut through with a bit of garlic or a wilting spring onion or two. Whatever’s in the fridge, basically. And that’s how we got here, today: a dreary Sunday filled with fluffy socks, the Observer Food Monthly and linen laundry. January budgets and an enthusiasm to just be better has lead me to another of those fridge-raiding meals that’s somehow managed to become something quite delightful. Nigel would be proud. See also: Beetroot & Carrot Gyoza from a few weeks ago.

Mostly, I eat scones on their own, but they also work amazingly well on top of stews and chillis, as an inventive alternative to rice, bread or potatoes – indulgent and packed with flavour. 

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Previous experiences with scones… the first bacon and stilton, I think, followed by gorgonzola and spring onion atop a beef and ale stew

And in the spirit of frugality, these babies freeze like a dream. Portioned and unbaked, they’ll last in the freezer for up to three months. Just defrost them thoroughly before putting them in the oven. If anything, a bit of time in the freezer improves their texture. For us, there was no need for freezing this time, Matt and I devoured two for a low-key Sunday lunch, spread with soft, salty butter and garnished with a scoop of last night’s fiery coleslaw. Two more are currently sitting in a tin for tomorrow. Take that, January. 

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Goats Cheese, Chorizo & Chilli Scones
Serves 4
Soft, buttery and comforting - a quick, cheap and easy alternative for lunch
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
18 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
18 min
Ingredients
  1. 315g Plain Flour
  2. 1 tbsp Baking Powder
  3. ¼ Bicarbonate of Soda
  4. 1 tbsp Sugar
  5. 115g Salted Butter, cut into 1cm cubes
  6. 120ml Natural Yogurt
  7. 1 tbsp Whole Grain Mustard
  8. 100g Goats Cheese
  9. 100g Chorizo, chopped
  10. 1 Onion, diced
  11. 2 Birdseye Chillis, chopped and deseeded
  12. Pinch of Black Pepper
  13. 1 egg, beaten
Instructions
  1. Preheat your oven to 220ºC.
  2. Combine your flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and sugar. I used golden caster sugar because it was all I had, but you could use normal caster or granulated without a problem.
  3. Make sure your butter is very cold, in fact, freeze it if possible. Add the butter to the flour mixture and mix until the butter is in roughly pea-sized lumps. If you're using a mixer or processor this'll be easy enough, but if using your hands just rub the butter into the flour, trying to handle it as little as possible - you don't want it to melt!
  4. Add the yogurt and mustard, mix to combine, and then follow with the goats cheese, chorizo, onion, chilli and black pepper. The mix should come together to form a rough, sticky lump - this is what you want.
  5. Turn the lump out on to a lightly floured surface and shape into a smooth ball. Flatten so as to form a round cake, 4-5cm high. Divide into 4 or 8, depending on your preferred portion size.
  6. Brush the beaten egg over your scones and place on the middle shelf of the oven.
  7. After 17 minutes, remove your scones and poke them in their fattest part with a skewer or fork. If it comes out clean, transfer them to a wire rack to cool. If still raw in the middle, pop back in for two minutes at a time until the skewer comes out clean.
  8. Enjoy warm with lots of butter.
Notes
  1. Can be frozen in portions before baking. Defrost thoroughly before putting in the oven. Will last for up to three months.
  2. Eat within 48 hours of baking.
whip until fluffy http://whipuntilfluffy.com/
You can mix things up a little by switching your extras. In place of goats, use blue cheese or parmesan. Try bacon or ham, or throw in half a tin of sweetcorn or some sorry-looking herbs languishing in the fridge door. There are loads of variations to be enjoyed and the formula is simple. Get creative and enjoy. For example, these Roasted Red Pepper & Feta Skillet Scones by Joy the Baker look awesome.

Got a favourite scone recipe? Share it with me down in the comments or over on Twitter @whipuntilfluffy. Let’s talk soon!

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?

Courgette & Yogurt Loaves: a Recipe for The Yogurt Council

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A few weeks ago, something quite exciting happened. I won a competition! Love Yogurt were looking for an official “Yogurt Stylist” to work with them on a few recipes as part of Yogurt Week. It was easy to enter – just upload a pic of your favourite recipe including yogurt for a chance to win. I did that, and after being shortlisted due to my Instagram likes (big thanks to all of you for following and liking my pictures – I really appreciate it), my shot was plucked from the other nine finalists by a couple of expert judges: Jo Sweetman, top nutritionist and advisor to many of the UK’s biggest food brands, and Karen Burns-Booth – food writer, blogger, recipe developer and food stylist extrordinaire who runs Lavender and Lovage.

I like courgette bread. I’ve been making it a lot over the past year or so, so my recipe for the competition was easy to come up with. It’s a much more nutritious way to consume baked goods than a sandwich loaf or a cupcake, it tastes really good, and the vegetable content means it stays moist too. I’ve tried it lots of different ways, but this recipe is the one I’ve settled on. The pecans and sunflower seeds give it an extra bit of bite and the spices provide a subtle warmth. In baking, I think yogurt really comes into its own. I use it a lot in place of buttermilk in recipes – since that isn’t easily obtainable here in the UK. Yogurt adds a tangy freshness and makes for a really soft, light crumb. What I like most about these loaves is the way they rise – giving you that perfect, golden dome bakers everywhere long for.

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The image above is the competition winner. I chose to keep things simple and according to feedback, that’s why the judges chose me. They liked that the recipe was clear and achievable for even novice bakers, and that my photos were styled in a clean and honest way. The recipe is simple – completed in little over 30 minutes, and the loaves will last for around five days in a sealed container.

Courgette & Yogurt Loaves (makes 6 small loaves)

nb. If you don’t have small loaf tins you can use one large loaf tin and enjoy in slices, or you can split the mix into 12 and use a muffin tin for smaller, snackable bites.

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes

120g plain flour
120g wholemeal flour
140g courgette, grated
2 large eggs
125ml natural yoghurt
100ml vegetable oil
30g pecans, chopped
20g sunflower seeds
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt

1. Preheat the oven to 170°C.

2. Beat the eggs in a large bowl, together with the vegetable oil, yogurt and vanilla.

3. Drop in the grated courgette and set aside.

4. In another large bowl, combine all dry ingredients except the pecans and sunflower 
seeds.

5. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture about a quarter at a time until a batter forms.

6. Fold in the chopped pecans and sunflower seeds.

7. Grease your loaf tins and divide the batter between them.

8. Place in the oven and bake for 18-22 minutes, until the loaves are golden brown.

9. Leave to cool and enjoy plain or spread with butter.

Courgette-&-Yogurt-Loaves--1

I’m pretty chuffed with my win. I’ve been putting a lot of work into my styling and photography over the past few months – trying to post quality over quantity, with really top notch images. That’s mainly because those are the type of posts I enjoy reading on other blogs. It’s nice to get confirmation that it’s paying off! I’ve had a lot of feedback recently from you guys, telling me that you like my photos and I really appreciate it – thank you. Hopefully I can keep improving.

As for the prizes, I won £1000 prize money (!!) which I intend to plunge right back into the blog. I’ve bought a new 50mm camera lens so I can capture higher quality images, and I’ve invested in some cooking equipment to bring some more diverse recipes to Whip Until Fluffy. Those of you who know me will know that my ambition is to integrate food styling into my day job, so this is a real boost to morale and a very welcome surge of funds. I also won a trip to the South of France to take part in an edible food styling masterclass with Karen of Lavender and Lovage at her home there. I’ve just had the date confirmed and I’m so excited to be going – I can’t wait to pick up new skills, travel and take advantage of a fantastic opportunity to do the thing that I love with someone I can learn a lot from. On top of those prizes, I now hold the title of Official Yogurt Stylist for 2014, which means I am working with The Yogurt Council to come up with more recipes to really show how versatile and tasty yogurt can be.

Want to take a look at my competition? Browse the #YogurtStylist tag on Instagram to see what I was up against – the competition was stiff #humblebrag. Runners up include @me_and_orla who runs the beautiful Me and Orla blog, @kateveggiedesserts who makes amazing cakes and sweet dishes from all kinds of veg at Veggie Desserts, @sylviahappiness who writes at Happiness is Homemade, and @eat_your_veg who caters for the little ones over at Eat Your Veg. All gorgeous entries well deserving of the prize – it’s genuinely such a pleasure for me to be counted side by side with them.

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I’ll be reporting back on my adventures over the summer as well as sharing the links to the recipes that I write for The Yogurt Council, so you can look forward to lots of content from me over the coming months. And in conclusion, thank you. For reading, commenting, liking and sharing. I really appreciate every single person who reads my blog and I value your feedback, so drop me a note down in the comments or over on Twitter @whipuntilfluffy to say hi. Follow The Yogurt Council over at @LoveYogurtUK on Twitter and @LoveYogurtUK on Instagram.

You can now also Like my page over on Facebook if you fancy it – find me at Whip Until Fluffy.

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.

Fail-Safe Blondies

Chocolate & Macadamia Blondies

Most of us kitchen-dwellers have that one reliable thing. A last minute recipe for when a friend pops round for coffee, a quick dessert if we’ve wasted all our planning time on the starter and main (something I often do). It’s a people pleaser that’ll get us out of a fix. This blondie recipe is mine. Over the past few years I’ve made these beauties so many times. Oh, it’s your birthday? Have a blondie! You’ve just moved house? Take these blondies to help you settle in! You know, it’s the recipe that never lets me down.

Just to illustrate my point further, in the last 3 months alone I have used this recipe for: a house warming gift, one of many puddings at an American themed going away party, an in-law pleaser and just a naughty snack for Matt and I on a lazy sunday. They’re great because they’re versatile. Cook them for varying lengths for a sliding scale of gooeyness, wrap ’em up in brown paper to eat on the go, warm them in a bowl and consume with a hefty scoop of icecream. You can chuck in whatever extras you have in your cupboard: plain chocolate, white chocolate, nuts, dried fruit, glace cherries, mini marshmallows. Seriously, they’ll take pretty much whatever you throw at them. They’re always good.

Chocolate & Macadamia Blondies

Chocolate & Pecan Blondies – makes 6 large portions, 12 smaller

225g Plain Flour
1tsp Salt
1tsp Baking Powder
2 Large Eggs
4tsp Vanilla Extract
110g Light Brown Sugar
165g Unsalted Butter
75g Plain Chocolate Chips
75g White Chocolate Chips
75g Chopped Pecans

Preheat your oven to 180ºC. Grease or line an 8×8″ baking tin, I usually grease all over with a little bit of butter or vegetable oil, then cut a square of parchment to fit the bottom of the tin.

Combine your flour, salt and baking powder. Give it a whisk to get a bit of air in there. In a separate bowl (if you’re using a Kitchen Aid mixer, use the attached bowl for this part, not the dry ingredients) beat together the butter and sugar. Once combined, add in the eggs and vanilla until the mixture is smooth.

Sift in the flour mix and combine by swiping your wooden spoon around the edge of the bowl and folding in. Now it’s time to throw in your extras. If chocolate and pecans doesn’t suit you, another top combo is white chocolate and macadamia nuts. When I change up the extras I generally stick to multiples of 75g. For this I would add 150g white chocolate and 75g macadamias. For a fruit and nut option, stick 75g each of plain choc chips, chopped walnuts and sultanas. For a rocky road affair, 75g each of choc chips and chopped digestives, and 40g mini marshmallows. Happy days.

Scrape your mix into the pan and stick in the oven. Bake for 20 minutes for extremely gooey middles, 30 minutes for a firmer snack. For a structurally sound blondie, leave to cool for at least 2 hours before cutting. Personally, I can’t wait that long, so I slide a piece out with a spatula and eat it from a bowl, natch.

12 Week Old Kittens

OK, so kittens aren’t blondies but they are cute. I thought I’d share a quick pic of the new additions to our family. Meet Hazel (left) and Rousseau (right), we’ve had them for two weeks now and they’re settling in perfectly 🙂

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?

Simple Biscuit Sandwiches with Lemon & Thyme Buttercream

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Sometimes I just want a sweet treat. You know how it is, you eat your tea and it was nice, but for some reason you’re still hankerin’ for something and you can’t quite put your finger on what. It’s in these times of trouble that I’ve learnt to turn to the baking cupboard. Rustling something up off the cuff can be hard when it comes to baking, more often than not you need specialist flours, sugars or flavours. That’s why we all need one fail-safe option up our sleeves, something you know you’re always going to be able to make. This simple biscuit recipe is mine.

You don’t need nothing fancy, just butter, sugar, flour, vanilla and one egg yolk. Simple stuff, right? Buy one set of all these ingredients and they’ll last you a while (just remember to refresh your eggs!), they’ll work in loads of other recipes, and you won’t need to pop out to the shop when you fancy something sweet. The biscuits come out like shortbread, buttery and crumbly, and are the perfect base to add extras too. That half a lemon that’s shrivelling in your fridge door? Zest it! A 3/4 used block of cooking chocolate? Throw it in! Chopped nuts? Check! Dried fruit? Don’t mind if I do! You get the picture… it’s a yummy vehicle for more yumminess.

Don’t get me wrong, these guys are fine on their own, but I like a sandwich. Twice as nice, right? This time around I kept my biscuits plain and I chose another use for that half a lemon from the fridge that’s going a bit brown around the edges… buttercream! While I was in there I grabbed something else that was looking a bit ropey. Leftover from the sunday roast, half a packet of fresh thyme. I’ve used lemon thyme in baking before so I figured lemon + thyme = lemon thyme, right? Well not quite, but kinda. You can add more or less thyme dependent on your tastes, or just keep the buttercream plain old lemony. Personally, I like a herby kick. Next time I’d like to add a splash of booze to the mix. Maybe use orange zest and Cointreau with a chocolate chip biscuit. Nice.

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Ingredients (Makes 16 large sandwiches – whoopee pie style!)

For the biscuits:

250g Unsalted Butter
140g Caster Sugar
2tsp Vanilla Extract
1 Egg Yolk
300g Flour

For the buttercream:

100g Unsalted Butter
200g Icing Sugar
Juice of Half a Lemon
1/2tsp Thyme Leaves

Method

1. Cream the butter together with the sugar. If you’ve got a mixer, great, but otherwise just use the back of a spoon and use those biceps. Make sure your butter is softened and you should have a fluffy consistency in no time. Next, beat in the vanilla and egg yolk.

2. Sift the flour in a little at a time (not sure why you’re sifting? Have a read of Joy the Baker’s Baking 101 post!) and fold it in with a wooden spoon. The mixture will go a little bitty, but once it’s a rough ball take it out of the bowl and shape it into a ball with your hands. It should stay together without a problem.

3. Wrap the dough in cling film and stick it in the fridge for half an hour. This step isn’t essential but a colder, firmer dough will make it a lot easier to handle. Preheat your oven to 170ºC.

4. For this next bit, I got a bit technical. I like to keep things as simple as possible but after one too many incidents with separate cookies blending into one big plank in the oven, I like to make my biscuits uniform. I separate the dough into little balls and weigh each one on my digital scales until they’re all a matching 40g. This helps keep them roughly the same size and shape when they bake. It seems like a lot of trouble but it’s actually pretty easy and the look of the finish product makes it well worth the time.

NB: feel free to cut the measurements down to 30g and use a cutter to cut the biscuits – they’ll look a whole lot prettier than the “rustic” look I’ve gone for.

5. I baked mine in batches. I placed 6 balls on my baking sheet in alternate spaces (see picture) so they each have their own space to spread. I created the pattern in the top just by pressing down with a fork to form a cross. I don’t really know why; my mum used to do it so I guess it’s just habit! Keep an eye on them but 10-12 minutes had them turning brown at the edges for me.

6. While the biscuits are in the oven, beat 100g of unsalted butter together with 200g of icing sugar. If you’re using a mixer, turn it up to the highest speed. By hand? Work up a sweat. For plain buttercream I’d add 2 tbsp of milk at this point, but here the lemon juice does that job. Once the mixture gets to a whipped texture, add the juice and the thyme leaves. Whip until fluffy (wahey!) and the butter should turn from yellow to a lighter, creamier colour.

7. Cool the biscuits on a wire cooling rack. They’ll be flimsy when warm so go steady. Once they’re completely cooled, the biscuits themselves will stay crispy for 2-3 days in a sealed container. If you’re making them for a special occasion, don’t sandwich them with the buttercream until the day you intend to eat them, it can make them a little squishy in the middle if they sit for a bit.

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