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!

Blueberry Hill Cakes

I recently went to a friend’s (amazing) hen party in Brighton and was lucky enough to meet loads of awesome and interesting people. One of those awesome people was Rachel, who told me she’d recently gone self-employed with her friend Ella, running a cake-making business called Blueberry Hill Cakes, catering for parties and weddings.

We got chatting about this further, as this is the kind of thing I had at my wedding, and when the topic of my blog came up in conversation she asked if I’d like to review some of their cakes. Of course I jumped at the chance (who am I to turn down cakes?), so in the post arrived a little gingerbread family, in very stylish attire and with some choice eyewear:

Gingerbread people courtesy of Blueberry Hill Cakes

Not only did they look cute but they tasted amazing; I love my gingerbread men a bit chewy and not too biscuity, and these were just that. They were almost cakey and were really fiery with ginger, so delicious! Once I’d taken the photos, I was sat munching on one (the dad), when my husband came home and bit his leg off; fortunately the amputation was not in vain as he enjoyed it so much he proceeded to eat one all to himself. This can only mean that they were very tasty!

Rachel and Ella can cater for any event, whether it’s a party, wedding or any special occasion in London and beyond. I also happen to know that they have a sizeable stock of great prosecco, what more could you want?!

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!

Sticky lemon chicken with broccoli and cashew nuts

I have been feeling rather uninspired when it comes to cooking recently, which is why things have been a bit quiet around here lately. I’ve not really cooked anything new or exciting; in fact most days it’s been too hot and/or muggy to want to cook anything at all. Oh we’re also in the process of buying a house, which seems to be a complete time sap! But when your big brother calls you from New York and tells you to make more blog posts, you know you’ve left it a while.

I decided to end my boring rut of meals and headed straight fallback source of new ideas: the BBC Good Food website. I was browsing on a Friday afternoon for something delicious to make for dinner and stumbled upon this recipe. The reviews were good and it was just the kind of thing I was after, so I went and bought some chicken after work and gave it a go. It was completely perfect; sticky, flavoursome, light, quick and healthy. I tweaked the recipe a little, but I will definitely be making this again and again!

Sticky lemon chicken with broccoli and cashew nuts

Serves 2

1 tbsp groundnut oil or sunflower oil

2 chicken breast fillets

2 garlic cloves , sliced

8-10 stems tender-stem broccoli, halved if very long

100ml chicken stock (I just used liquid stock from concentrate)

1 heaped tsp cornflour

Pinch dried chilli flakes

3 tbsp clear honey

Zest and juice of half a lemon

A large handful of roasted cashews

Rice, to serve

Method

First, make sure you’ve got everything prepared. Slice the chicken breasts into fairly chunky strips, chop the garlic and cut the broccoli in half if the stems are very long. Put the kettle on to make the stock.

Heat a small, dry pan and toast the cashews until golden. If you’re making rice then you can put this on to boil at this point. Steam the broccoli over the cooking rice for around 5 minutes until just tender. (The original recipe said to stir fry the broccoli with the chicken and cover the pan to steam, but I don’t like my veg TOO crunchy so I steamed it before adding it to the wok).

Meanwhile, put a wok or frying pan to heat. Add the oil once the pan is hot. Fry the chicken for around 5 minutes until it’s turning golden. Once the chicken is almost cooked, add the garlic and chilli and continue to stir fry.

Whilst the chicken is frying, combine the chicken stock, 2 tablespoons of the honey and cornflour together to make a thick sauce, then pour over the chicken and leave to bubble for 5 minutes or so. When it’s reduced by about half (after about 3 minutes), add the broccoli and cashews and continue to simmer for a further few minutes. Before serving, add the last tablespoon of honey (this just makes it super-sticky!) and the lemon juice and zest and stir through.

Serve with the rice and enjoy!

Homemade crumpets with homemade salted butter

If you fancy a bit of pottering around in the kitchen this weekend then making some crumpets could be the very thing for you! I’m on a total crumpet kick at the moment; I’m having them for breakfast every morning (breakfast at my desk has been replaced by breakfast in my car) and feel like I could never get tired of eating them. So a few weeks ago I figured I’d have a go at making them, since everything home-made generally tends to taste better than shop-bought. I have always wanted to know how they get their bubbly tops and stringy, spongy centre.

I used Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe which was SO easy. It took just a few minutes to whip up the batter; the limiting factor on making these is the time the batter takes to rest and the time the crumpets take to cook. It’s best to make them on a day when you’ve not got much else on, and can just keep checking on the batter/cooking crumpets as and when you need to (I wouldn’t advise making them on a Sunday morning when you’re supposed to be going out like I did!). One thing I will say about the recipe is that it says to add 10 grams of salt, and once I’d measured this out I realised that this is a LOT of salt. Even though the recipe makes a lot of batter, I still didn’t think that 10 grams was necessary, and as a result I put in probably about 6 or 7 grams. Still though, my husband complained that they were too salty, although I did make salted butter so maybe it was just all too much. Next time I’d put in even less salt though; there’s nothing worse than eating something that’s too salty.

Cooking the crumpets was, er, interesting. Not that it was hard, but it took a bit of trial and error to get the correct thickness. Unfortunately I had one of those moments where you just blindly follow the recipe rather than using your own common sense, so I added enough batter to come ‘almost to the top of the crumpet ring’, although my crumpet rings are particularly tall. So I ended up with a crumpet about an inch thick that took about 20 minutes to cook, and even then was still a bit gooey in the middle. I obviously made the subsequent crumpets a lot thinner. Next time, I will be more prepared for the time they take to cook, they’re totally worth it. They were really delicious!

I’m convinced this whole enterprise was doomed from the start, as when I bought the egg rings I took them to the till at the supermarket with a 15-rated DVD and got ID’d. What 14-year-old buys egg rings?! Seriously. I am obviously retaining my youthful good looks, being mistaken for a 14-year-old at the ripe old age of 26.

As for making the butter, it’s something I’ve wanted to do since one of my work colleagues bought a book on making “traditional” things like cheese, butter, bread etc. In this book, the method seemed slightly laborious, but luckily I was watching an episode of Jamie Oliver’s 30 Minute Meals and he made butter in the processor and it took no time at all. Obviously then I had to give it a go. Even if you don’t have a processor you could do it, essentially you just need to over-whisk double cream until the curd separates from the whey. You could do this by hand (Hulk arms are a MUST though) or with a marble in a jam jar, or any other weird and wonderful way you can think of to whip cream. Then it’s just a case of squeezing out all the fluid (I do this via a combination of a sieve and lots of kitchen towel, although since I made these I managed to score some butter pats from a car boot sale), putting any flavourings into it that you want, and then eating it! I couldn’t believe how easy it was and it’s really delicious too. A really easy way to impress friends or family that you’ve had to stay at breakfast!

Crumpets

The recipe says it makes 12 but once my batter was rested I could have easily got a lot more than that out of it!

450g plain white flour

350ml warm milk

350ml warm water (approximately)

5g powdered dried yeast

10g salt

1 tsp baking powder

A little sunflower or vegetable oil

Homemade butter

Tub of double cream (it really doesn’t matter what size, it all depends how much butter you want to make! I think I used a 284ml tub which makes a generous amount)

Pinch sea salt

Method

In a large bowl whisk the flour, milk, water and yeast into a runny batter the consistency of single cream. Cover with cling-film and leave for an hour until really bubbly (or three to four hours, if need be).

To make the butter, use whatever method you want to whip the cream. Keep whipping it until it goes really stiff, then it will get lumpier and lumpier, and eventually you’ll see the fluid come out and will hear a sloshing sound. This means it’s done!

Now tip everything into a sieve and squeeze the butter to get rid of the worst of the fluid. Next, I spread the butter out onto a sheet of greaseproof paper into a thin layer and dab all over with kitchen towel until the liquid has all gone.

Once you’ve done this, scatter the salt over the surface, and fold the greaseproof in half, smooshing the butter together. Peel back the greaseproof and fold the butter in half again using the paper, so that it’s a quarter of the original size. Do this several more times; flattening it out and folding it up so that the salt is evenly distributed. Using the paper to squash it together stops the heat from your hands melting it. Once it’s done, cut a circle from greaseproof paper, dollop the butter into the middle of it and squash up the sides, making a little patty encased in the paper.

Obviously you could just leave the butter plain, or put in herbs/garlic/chilli etc and use it on steaks or over vegetables. Yum! If you want to use it for these things you can freeze it; just form it into a sausage in some greaseproof paper, wrap it and put it in the freezer. Then you can cut disks off as and when you need it.

Once the crumpet batter is rested, heat a frying pan or griddle over a medium heat. Whilst the pan is heating, whisk the salt and baking powder into the batter. Lightly grease some crumpet/egg rings and the pan, and then make a test crumpet. Pour some batter into the ring, about 1 1/2 cm thick. If the mixture runs out the bottom of the ring, you’ll need to add more flour to the batter to thicken it. Otherwise, as the crumpet cooks small holes will appear on the surface. Once the surface is set and the crumpet looks like it’s cooked through (this will take around 8 minutes or so), flip it over and cook for a further few minutes until golden. Once you know your batter is ok you can cook several at once.

They’re best eaten straight from the pan, with the homemade butter and jam, nutella, cheese… anything!

 

Beef stew and dumplings

It seems strange to be writing a recipe for stew and dumplings in July, but with the weather at the moment it doesn’t feel entirely wrong. I must say, the smell of stew wafting through the house is particularly evocative of autumn and winter for me, and therefore I now feel thoroughly confused as to which season we are actually in.

The recipe is really simple and is one I could do in my sleep now. We eat this pretty much every week in winter (with or without dumplings), and I find it works as a great substitute for a roast on a Sunday. My method makes the gravy thick and richly flavoured with no effort at all. It’s the perfect recipe for shoving in the oven on low, and getting on with other things. You just need to give it a stir every now and again.

One thing I will say is that I don’t put potatoes in my stew. I really dislike the grainy texture of potatoes when they’re cooked in this way. I’d much rather have a dollop of creamy mash with it instead. What follows is the quantity I use for two people, although you’ll more than likely have some left over for lunch the next day (GREAT with crusty bread). You can very easily multiply up the quantities for more people.

Beef stew & dumplings
Serves 2

Stew

250g stewing steak

4 or 5 shallots or two small onions

3 carrots

Salt & pepper

A large knob butter

3 tablespoons flour

2 beef oxo cubes

3/4 pint boiling water

For the dumplings

50g suet

100g self raising flour

Pinch of salt

A few sprigs thyme, leaves plucked

Cold water to mix

To serve

Mashed potato

Green vegetables

 

Method

Put a casserole dish on the hob on a medium heat. Melt a large knob of butter with a drizzle of oil. Once hot, add the beef, cut into chunks if you’ve bought it in steaks. Sprinkle the meat with the flour and seasoning (I use LOADS of black pepper, the meat can really take it) and stir everything together. Fry the meat until browned. It will all stick to the bottom and go all gloopy around the edges with the flour and butter mixture but this is GOOD. The burnt bits on the bottom of the pan are what gives the stew such an amazing flavour later on.

Whilst the meat is browning, skin the onions or shallots and either halve of quarter them, depending on their size. Peel the carrots and cut them into sizeable chunks.

Once the meat is browned, add he vegetables and fry for a few minutes. Meanwhile, boil the kettle and dissolve two oxo cubes in 3/4 pint of boiling water. Pour the stock over the meat and vegetables and cover with a lid until simmering.

Put the stew into a 180C oven for 30 minutes. After that time, take the stew out and give it a good stir, scraping the bottom well. It won’t be too yielding just yet, but will soften up gradually. Return to the oven at 150C for another 1 1/2 hours, and stir occasionally, scraping the bottom each time.

Meanwhile, in the last half an hour peel the potatoes and make the dumplings. To make the dumplings, simply weigh out the flour and suet and put into a bowl. Add the salt and the thyme and stir. Add in around 4 or 5 tablespoons of cold water and stir, adding small amounts more until the mixture comes together into a soft dough. Split the dough into four balls.

Once the potatoes are boiling, add the dumplings to the top of the stew and put the lid back on. They will take about 20 minutes to steam; around the same time as the potatoes. Cook your green vegetables and mash the potatoes with milk, butter and black pepper. Serve!

Cider-roasted sausages and vegetables

I know my last post was about sausages, but they ARE my favourite thing. Plus they’re just so easy to conjure up into a dinner mid-week, when faffing around with other meat just seems like a lot of effort.

I got this recipe from my Mother-in-Law last year; when my husband was working away for weeks at a time last summer I ate this at least once a week. It’s so easy but really tasty, and has lots of lovely veggies in so at least feels healthy!

You can roast whatever vegetables you like really; below is what I use on a regular basis. It would be really good with some lovely young beetroot in there too, skins on and quartered up. You can obviously also accompany it with any veg you like, tenderstem broccoli or asparagus are my favourites!

Cider-roasted sausages

Serves 2

6 sausages

2 small handfuls new potatoes (I used Anya potatoes in the pictures below)

1 red pepper

1 medium red onion

1 wine glass of cider

Olive oil

1 tablespoon thyme

To serve

Green vegetables

 

Method

Heat the oven to 200C. In a roasting tin, drizzle some olive oil and add the sausages and the new potatoes, halved or cut into chunks if they’re large. Roast for around 20 minutes, or until the potatoes and sausages are turning brown.

Slice the pepper into chunky strips and cut the onion into wedges. Put these into the roasting tin and toss to get covered in oil. Sprinkle everything with the thyme.

Roast everything for a further 15 minutes, by which time the vegetables will be turning brown. Pour in the cider (you need enough to cover the base of the tin) and return to the oven for another 10 minutes or so, until the liquid has reduced down and made a sticky sauce.

Steam or boil your vegetables for serving and pile everything up together. Tuck in!