Homemade toffee popcorn

I know you might think it’s a waste of time to make your own popcorn when you can buy it pretty cheap anyway, but there really is something special about homemade popcorn and it has its merits; you can make as much of it as you like, and it can be made on a whim from items you’ve most likely got in the cupboard anyway (once you’ve bought some popping corn). I think a bag of popping corn is about 50p, so it’s pretty cost efficient and tastes a million times better than the microwave bags of popping corn.

It’s also really really fast to make and really fun. Children and adults alike are always amazed to see corn popping, it’s one of those MIRACLES OF NATURE that never disappoints. The only thing you need to worry about is avoiding getting hot fat spitting in your face, or burning yourself on boiling sugar. Obviously these things are easy to avoid if you’re careful!

I got this recipe from Rachel Allen, and though I haven’t changed the recipe at all, below I give a few tips that they don’t tell you in the recipe.

Homemade Toffee Popcorn

Makes one large bowl

40g popcorn (really you want enough to only just cover the base of the pan you’re using, otherwise it won’t pop properly)

2 tablespoons vegetable or other flavourless oil

40g light brown soft sugar

40g butter

2 tablespoons golden syrup

Method

Heat the oil on a fairly high heat in a large pan with a lid (if you have a pan with a glass lid you can see the magic happening. Very awesome). Once the oil is hot, add the corn and shake gently to spread them along the bottom of the pan. If you have a layer more than one kernel thick they won’t pop properly (you’ll be left with loads of unpopped kernels, worst thing ever) and your pan will be full before they can pop properly. It might not look like much, but once popped it will expand massively!

Once you can hear the corn start to pop, turn the heat down low. You will hear the popping get more furious and constant. If you have a glass lid you’ll be able to see how full the pan is getting. If not then DO NOT open the lid at this stage, because you’ll get covered in spitting, hot fat. Wait until the popping has died down and there are a few seconds between pops, and see how full the pan is. If it’s full but there are more kernels to be popped, empty out the popped corn into a bowl and put the pan back on the heat, leaving the other kernels to pop.

Whilst the corn is popping, put the ingredients for the toffee into a small frying pan on a high heat. The ingredients will melt together and then come to a rolling boil. Boil for a few minutes until the sauce is thick.

Once all your popcorn is ready and in the bowl, pour over the toffee sauce and immediately toss everything together with two spoons or spatulas (DO NOT BE TEMPTED TO USE YOUR HANDS!) Once everything is coated, leave the popcorn to cool for a few minutes. Once it’s cooled it will set into a big lump, so break it up with your hands into individual kernels and enjoy!

Seeded sausage rolls

A few weeks ago I took some time off work because my 5 year-old niece came to stay. We knew we were going to take her to Legoland so I said I would cook something with her to take as a picnic. As you’re well aware, my love for sausages knows no bounds, and I know how much children love sausage rolls, so I said we would make those as I also knew it would be something that she could get quite involved with. So, with aprons on, we had a great time mushing up the sausage meat, brushing the egg on to the pastry, and most importantly, testing out the sausage rolls when they were still warm from the oven. They seemed to meet with her approval so they are definitely worthy of an appearance on the blog!

They would be really easy and even quicker to make if you were making them yourself and not with little ones, and they were really really delicious. Best of all, if you can get really good sausage meat then you know exactly what’s going in them, and could add anything you liked into the mixture for different flavours. Oh and no, I don’t make my own puff pastry. Shoot me down if you want, but life’s way too short to be making pastry for a children’s picnic!

Seeded sausage rolls

Makes 8

1 sheet ready-rolled puff pastry

Around 300g sausagemeat

Half a medium onion

1 tablespoon thyme (fresh or dried)

A splash of Worcester sauce

Salt and pepper

Oil for frying

Egg, for brushing

Poppy and pumpkin seeds for sprinkling

Method

Preheat the oven to 180C. Chop the onion very finely and fry in a tablespoon of oil until golden. Leave to cool.

Once the onions are cooled, combine the sausagemeat, thyme, onions, Worcester sauce, salt & pepper. Mix everything together really well (this is where the little ones can get their hands in and get nice and messy!).

Unroll the pastry sheet and cut into 8 evenly-sized squares. I arranged mine in a landscape orientation and made one cut along the length in the middle, and then three cuts downwards.

Arrange a blob of the sausage mixture onto one side of each pastry piece, leaving a bit of room around the edges (don’t leave too much room though, as the meat shrinks up when it’s cooked). Brush the edges of the pastry with water and seal together with the tines of a fork. Brush the top with beaten egg and sprinkle with the seeds.

Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is puffed up and golden. These taste amazing when still warm for the oven but are perfect for picnics. Enjoy!

Baked mozzarella balls

I recently bought bucket of little mozzarella pearls, thinking that they would be really easy for pizza, pasta bakes, etc. Usually I’d buy the small tubs at the supermarket which hold probably 12-15 balls of mozzarella which is plenty for two pizzas. I soon realised, then, that having this BUCKET of mozzarella would take me a while to get through, most probably not before they’d gone off if I were using them at my usual speed. I was having evil thoughts about deep-frying the whole lot, which would almost certainly have induced some sort of dangerous arterial contraction, so I decided against it.

Instead, though, I thought about baking them, because there’s much less fat involved that way, and though you’re still eating loads of cheese there is just something that sounds so much worse about deep-frying cheese, right?

It’s a fairly tricky process but the result is worth it. I will put a disclaimer here that these are NOT as delicious as deep-fried mozzarella, as you can’t get the exterior quite so crispy and the interior quite so gooey without it all just oozing everywhere. But as a slightly healthier alternative, they’re really not bad. It took me a few goes to get the process right but I got there in the end. I decided to go with semolina instead of breadcrumbs for the coating, as semolina is crunchier and slightly sweet which I think goes really well. Also there is no fussing around with making the breadcrumbs or anything beforehand. The only thing I might try again is toasting the semolina before coating the mozzarella, so that it’s EVEN crunchier when the mozzarella is baked.

These would be really nice to serve as appetisers or as party nibbles (I was thinking that they would be great alongside some chorizo crisps made in the same way I made the crispy chorizo in my last post). There is a bit of faffing and watching them like a hawk, but I think it pays off!

 

Baked mozzarella balls

Below are the quantities for around 12 mozzarella balls, just increase as necessary.

12 mozzarella pearls

1/2 cup semolina

Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon parmesan, grated

 

Basil leaves and tomato sauce to serve

 

Method

The first thing to do is drain the mozzarella balls and put them in the freezer for around 15 minutes. When you take them out you want them to be REALLY firm but not totally frozen.

Whilst they’re in the freezer, combine the semolina with some seasoning and the grated parmesan in a freezer bag. Line a baking tray with parchment and preheat the oven to 220C.

Working quickly, get the mozzarella pearls out of the freezer and tip them into the freezer bag. Give them a good shake until they’re coated in the semolina mixture and then tip everything onto the baking sheet. Put them into the oven for around 1 minute and then take them out and test their firmness. If they’re getting very soft, then slide the parchment onto a plate and refrigerate for a few minutes, before putting back into the oven. If after the first minute they’re not too squidgy (it really depends on your oven) then put them back in for another 30 secs-1min and test again. Once squidgy put on a plate in the fridge and repeat the process, until the semolina is crispy and the cheese is gooey but not oozing into a flat mess on the tray. I grated a bit more parmesan over them at this point actually; cheese-on-cheese, what could be better than that?!

Once they’re out of the oven, serve immediately. I like these speared on a cocktail stick with a baby basil leaf and dipped in tomato sauce. Yummmmm.

Breakfast at my desk 2: Granola

My last batch of muesli ran out last week. It lasted longer than expected because of holidays and a few emergency starbucks visits (a coffee and a blueberry muffin have been breakfast at my desk more times than I want to think about), but once the batch ran out I felt like I’d got bored with the soft oat flakes and wanted something crunchier and a bit more flavoursome, so of course I made some granola.

I first made this one New Year about 3 years ago, when we had visitors and I made this epic breakfast banquet of granola, pancakes with blueberry syrup, three cheese and onion strata with bacon and pear and ginger muffins (I LOVE BREAKFAST). I still make it fairly regularly though, and at work it’s a lifesaver because not only do I eat it for breakfast but I also munch on it in its raw form throughout the day.

The recipe is Andy’s Fairfield Granola from Nigella’s Feast (surprise surprise) and yeah, it’s a little more effort than the muesli and it does use a lot of ingredients, although I find I generally have everything but the apple sauce in the house anyway. You can mix it up with whatever fruit you like, I often use dried cranberries which are brilliant with it (but I would say that because I have a pretty bad obsession with them), but I would always use sultanas instead of raisins because I just like them better. I like to pretend to myself that it’s healthy, although with the amount of sugar and syrup it’s probably not. Once I accidentally left the sugar out because I weighed it out but left it on the scales. It was actually nicer as sometimes I find it a little too sweet for morning, and so now I add less sugar.

Andy’s Fairfield Granola

450g rolled oats

120g sunflower seeds

120g white sesame seeds

175g apple compote or apple sauce

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

120g brown rice syrup or rice malt syrup, or failing that, golden syrup

4 tablespoons clover honey or other runny honey

100g light brown sugar

250g whole natural almonds

1 teaspoon Maldon salt

2 tablespoons sunflower oil

300g raisins

The method is really simple. Just put everything (except the raisins) in a large bowl and mix really thoroughly.  Press the mixture onto a baking tray (it will probably fill two), and bake in an oven heated to 170C for about 30 minutes depending on how hot your oven is. Halfway through cooking, flip it over so that it browns evenly (this is no easy task believe me, I advise NOT doing it near the edge of the work surface because a lot will fall on the floor!), and when it’s done leave it to cool, then break into crunchy clusters and mix it with the fruit of your choice. Serve with milk or yoghurt, or just eat it as it is. Yum!

Cinnamon strawberry sandwiches

Breakfast is my favourite meal, and I love when the weekends come and I can make something a bit more involved and special than the usual weekday fare. I wanted to use up the bread rolls I bought for the Little Bubbas (despite taking some for lunch the next day, they came in a pack of 12!), so I thought I’d use them for breakfast. They would have been good with just butter and marmalade and a coffee, but they’ve started to go a bit stale so really I had to use them for something else.

I decided the best thing to do was turn them into french toast-rolls, and to play on the sandwich element I thought I’d stuff them with sliced strawberries. They turned out delicious!

Cinnamon Strawberry Sandwiches

Serves 1

2 small bread rolls
1 egg
Splash of milk
2-3 tablespoons caster sugar (vanilla caster sugar, if you have it)
Splash of vanilla extract (if you don’t have vanilla sugar)
1 tsp cinnamon
Knob of butter

To serve:
Sliced strawberries
Icing sugar

My measures for the above ingredients are approximate, depending on how sweet/cinnamony you like it!

In a dish, break the egg and add the milk, some of the vanilla/caster sugar (I use about a tablespoon), the cinnamon (I LOVE cinnamon so I use quite a lot!), and the vanilla. Beat everything together.

Cut the rolls in half and place them cut side down into the dish and push them down so that they really soak up the eggy mixture.

While they’re soaking, heat a pan with a knob of butter and a tiny dribble of oil (to stop the butter burning).

Stab the tops and bottoms of the rolls with a skewer or cocktail stick and turn them over (this will just help the egg mixture soak in, the tops and bottoms have a thicker crust on that will stop it soaking up as well).

Once they’ve soaked up most, if not all, of the mixture, the butter in the pan should be frothy and hot. Put the rolls in and fry them on both sides until golden and crisp on the outside and the egg is cooked through inside.

While the rolls are in the pan, wash and slice the strawberries.

Once the rolls are cooked, sprinkle the cut sides with the remaining caster sugar (you don’t have to, but it gives a nice crunch) and fill with the strawberries. Sprinkle with icing sugar and serve! I had mine with a vanilla latte made from my awesome new coffee machine, YUM.