Wednesday 23 December 2020

Possibly the best ever Christmas chocolate brownies

I was very excited when The Holiday, starring Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz and Jude Law first came out in 2006 as Winslet’s character was a journalist on a real-life British daily newspaper - where I actually worked. There were even rumours that Jude Law had been seen on a tour of our real-life office though I unfortunately didn’t see him myself!

While the film was lovely what I found most far-fetched was the depiction of some of the details. Winslet works on the paper’s obituaries desk and manages to own a beautiful roomy cottage in Surrey (surely out of her price range) which is apparently a 40 minute commute - my memory is more like 40 minutes after leaving the office you would probably still be standing at the station waiting for a delayed Southern train). 

The village where many of the U.K. scenes are filmed isn’t that far away from me - Shere, near Guildford - and though I haven’t actually been there, but we did do a Weber barbecue cookery course in a village called Abinger Hammer a few years ago which is only a five minute drive from Shere, and I can vouch for the fact that there really are some English villages as picturesque as the ones in the Holiday! 

Debra at Eliot's Eats selected The Holiday as the theme for this month's Food 'n' Flix, The idea is that we all cook or bake something inspired by the film, and it's a great movie to rewatch at Christmas!

In terms of foodie inspiration from the film itself, one of the scenes that stands out is when Amanda (Cameron Diaz) arrives in her house swap and goes to the local shop where she stocks up on wine, chocolate, Christmas cake, mince pies and more. The shop keeper assumes she’s having a party but it’s all for her! The other food moment that sticks in my mind is when Iris (Kate Winslet) makes Christmas fettuccine, which I didn’t realise was a thing (and according to a few rather indignant posts I’ve read online, isn’t). 

I decided to go with something a bit more traditionally festive - chocolate brownies. They strike me as both the sort of thing that Amanda may have bought to indulge in at her holiday cottage but also the sort of thing that she might make herself - she doesn’t strike me as much of a cook but I can’t help feeling that she would have made brownies before even if from a packet mix!

I used a recipe I found on a website called Jane's Patisserie and I can say that these are some of the best chocolate brownies I’ve ever made. They are particularly good on day two if you keep them in the fridge!

I didn't add anything to them (Jane's recipes suggest adding chopped up chocolate bars like Mars or Crunchie, but I just wanted the standard brownie texture) but I decorated the top with some drizzled icing and some mini KitKat Santas, but you can put anything you want on top, or indeed nothing at all. These are truly more-ish and might have to become my go-to brownie recipe!


Sunday 13 December 2020

Christmas bauble cakes

There was a time when I always wanted the latest novelty cake pan or innovative piece of baking equipment from Lakeland - to be fair I still do want those things but am realistic to know I don’t have space for much more and don’t have time for the sort of elaborate bakes I used to do! But it’s fun to dig out equipment I haven’t used in a long time - or in this case had never actually used.

This is a silicon mini cake pan in the shape of Christmas baubles - I think I bought it in the January sale one year and had never actually used it!

The only instructions on the back said to use a two egg cake mix so I used this recipe from the BBC Good Food website  but had far too much cake mixture so made these reindeercupcakes as well.

I had to guess how long to cook them for as though the cakes are small they are fairly deep so I did them at 180C for 20 minutes.

You can see the design on the cakes when they came out of the pan - some baubles have stars, others stripes and two had a snowflake pattern that looks really pretty if you go over it with white icing with a fine piping nozzle.

I went over the other designs with icing with varying degrees of success. My piping has never been neat! These look quite effective when all piled together on a plate though I don’t think I’d have the patience to ice more than six, it would be a fun activity to do with children.

Reindeer cupcakes with pretzel antlers

I really wanted to make some time to do some Christmas baking when I had a day off last week as in the past I would have made several festive treats by now and I hadn’t done anything yet! 

These reindeer cupcakes are really easy, the key ingredient is the pretzels - and you can make the cakes themselves any flavour you like!

I made chocolate cakes using this recipe on the BBC Good Food site and made a simple chocolate buttercream.

When the cakes were baked and cooled I topped with a spoonful of buttercream and used salted caramel flavour chocolate coated pretzels (made by Flipz, available in most supermarkets) for the reindeer’s antlers. You can use regular pretzels as well but I thought these went better with the cake!

For the face you can use a Smartie or M&M for the nose but I didn’t have any and these were a spur of the moment bake so I used some icing I had coloured red and used a little piping bag to pipe on the rest of the face. Some of the reindeer have slightly odd expressions but my daughter liked them and so did my husband!

Wednesday 9 December 2020

The Cocktail Man - Cocktail kits at home subscription box review

Many of us are missing going out to bars during lockdown – the atmosphere, the company, but also the cocktails carefully crafted by bartenders. Though I have to admit that I have barely been out to a bar since becoming a parent and even before that it wasn’t a regular occurrence – but I do love a proper cocktail that’s more than just a spirit and a mixer. A few months back I decided to treat myself to something I came across online, which aims to fill this particular gap. The Cocktail Man is professional mixologist James Vyse who quit his job at a top bar in London to create this new subscription service bringing you cocktail making kits at home.

You can choose your favourite cocktail as a one-off treat or a gift for someone else, or you can choose a subscription package where a different cocktail kit each month makes its way through your door. I have had two now, as part of a six-month subscription, and can confirm that the cocktails are delicious. However, the package changed after the first month and I do think these are a little on the expensive side – even though they are still cheaper than paying for cocktails of this quality in a bar!

What do you get in the Cocktail Man box?

Each month, the pack brings you everything you need to make five cocktails. That includes three miniature bottles of spirits, and a bottle of the Cocktail Man’s own recipe ‘sliqueur’ (which I think might be a ‘secret liqueur’ but I couldn't see an explanation for the name) – this is a flavoured liqueur that is basically what makes the cocktail something unique, plus a garnish and a recipe card. The three cocktails I have had so far are:

Raspberry Rose Gin Fizz: miniature bottles of gin, plus raspberry and rose sliqueur, and dried rose buds to garnish

Blueberry and lavender sour: vodka, blueberry and lavender sliqueur, and lavender sprigs to garnish.

Rhubarb and ginger negroni: gin, campari, rhubarb and ginger sliqueur, and dehydrated orange slices to garnish.

The recipe cards also explain what fresh ingredients you need; the first two both needed an egg white which isn’t something I would normally put in a drink, but as long as you shake it up enough, works just fine. The blueberry and lavender sour is served neat, whereas the raspberry rose gin fizz is topped up with tonic water; which wasn’t on the initial list of ingredients on the recipe card so luckily I read the whole thing before I started making it, or I would have gotten to the end and realised I had no tonic water! 

A negroni is usually too bitter for me and the rhubarb sliqueur did sweeten it somewhat, and I liked the hint of orange, but again I would prefer a sweeter cocktail. The garnishes give a nice final touch but what I liked most was that these tasted like proper premium cocktails. I preferred the raspberry rose gin fizz as I like a sweeter cocktail – I’m hoping that next time I get either the champagne cosmopolitan or the mango and passion fruit mojito!

What are the cocktails like?

Delicious – like something you would get in a high end bar. I’m not talking jug of sex on the beach – but the sort of drink I’ve enjoyed at the Dorchester or the Skylon bar in the South Bank Centre. With the garnish as well they look the part (providing you have suitable glassware – by the way, you also need a cocktail shaker). The mixers are minimal so these are strong cocktails too – a little goes a long way.

How is it packaged?

In an attractive blue strong cardboard box, with the bottles neatly arranged so you can see what you’ve got at a glance. There was also a postcard with a message from the Cocktail Man about the inspiration for this particular cocktail and the recipe card. Initially, there were two options however, of a standard and premium subscription; my subscription was upgraded from the former to the latter after some delivery issues. The standard box was similar but packaged in a plain white box, with a removal blue sleeve, and without the postcard. These feel like a luxury treat when they arrive and would make a lovely gift.

What does it cost?

Currently at the time of writing on the Cocktail Man website, an individual kit is between £34.99 and £36.99, a three month subscription is £79.99 (reduced from £98.97), six months £149.99 (reduced from £197.94) and 12 months is £279.99, down from the usual price of £395.88. That sounds expensive, and in fact since I started drafting this blog post the prices have actually gone up - but given each kit makes five cocktails, a one-off at £32.99 (including postage) sets you back £7 per cocktail – you’d pay nearly twice that in some high end bars. On a six month subscription, it’s less than £5 per drink, and for 12 months, that falls to under £4.70. Of course, you also have to take into account the fact that you are making these cocktails yourself at home – and a fair amount of the bar price would go towards covering overheads. I got a special offer via Facebook so look out for voucher codes so I feel like I got a bargain based on the current prices - and am looking forward to my next few boxes of cocktails!


Wednesday 2 December 2020

Winter Warmer recipe - Cheesy Sausage, Broccoli and Quinoa Bake

I wanted to share this dish I made recently from a recipe by the Chunky Chef as it’s a perfect winter warmer and easy to make.

The quantities can be easily scaled up or down - prepare some quinoa according to the pack instructions (rinsing then simmering on the hob). When cool, fluff with a fork.

Fry some sausages in a pan and at the same time, briefly steam some broccoli (I did this in the microwave). 

You also need a cheese sauce which you can either make from scratch or use a packet mix.

Mix the sausages, broccoli and quinoa into a large greased ovenproof dish and pour over the cheese sauce. Sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs and grated cheese and bake in the oven until brown on top.

The quinoa is a nice change as I don’t eat it very often but it works really well in this recipe. The cheese sauce is what brings it all together and while I made it with regular pork sausages, I am tempted to try this again with chicken sausage!