{The best} microwave chocolate chip cookie

I think like most people who have craved a late night freshly baked snack, I’ve had mixed results with microwave ‘cakes’ and ‘cookies’. I’ll just say ‘rubbery’, and leave it at that.

This cookie is different. And without wanting this post to devolve into histrionics, it has changed my relationship with the microwave forever. Having a delicious chocolate chip cookie available within ten minutes is, admittedly, dangerous, but well — you only live once. And if you’re going to have an evening treat, make it this wonderfully gooey, deliciously sweet, ridiculously easy microwave cookie.

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Ingredients

1 tablespoon (14g) butter
1 tablespoon (13g) sugar
1 tablespoon (13g) light brown sugar
A tiny splash of vanilla extract
1 egg yolk
3 tablespoons (30g) plain flour
2 heaped tablespoons (30g) chocolate chips

Directions

– Grab a ramekin or mug that’s microwave safe (this won’t rise, so no need to use something big)

– Place the butter in the ramekin and melt in the microwave; do this in short intervals at about 70% power until just melted.

– To the melted butter, add the sugars and the vanilla. Stir together until combined ( a teaspoon is easiest on this scale!)

– Add the egg yolk and stir well.

– Add the flour, and stir in. The consistency should be similar to real cookie dough; if it’s too runny add a little more flour, and if it feels too stiff add a splash of milk.

– Add the chocolate chips and stir in. For this cookie I used a mixture of milk and dark chocolate chips – use whatever you fancy. Flatten the surface of the cookie.

– Microwave at about 70% power for between 30 and 40 seconds.

Tip: You don’t want to overcook this as it will dry out. The first time, only cook for 30 seconds; if it’s still looking quite wet on top, microwave for another 10 seconds. The cookie will continue to cook after you remove it from the microwave, and retains its heat for a while so be careful!

– Devour with a side of ice cold milk. Pretentious mini milk bottle not obligatory.

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Listening to Black Magic by Little Mix, Sugar by Maroon 5 and Hit me with your best shot by Pat Benatar.

This recipe is from Sweetest Kitchen with a few very tiny tweaks. All other content is © Rebecca Daley and ohtogoawandering, 2015.

Neapolitan cupcakes

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Up until a couple of days ago, it seemed that summer had well and truly arrived in Britain. We had weeks of glorious sunshine, and when I was invited to my first BBQ of the year, it was the perfect excuse to bake something wonderfully summery. I was inspired by this beautiful neapolitan cake on Ellie Bee’s blog to create a cupcake version.  And here it is. These little beauties consist of a layer of chocolate cupcake topped with a layer of vanilla, and then finished with the best strawberry frosting I’ve ever tasted. The fact it’s made from real strawberries probably explains this.

Everyone loved them at the BBQ, and plenty of people sheepishly sidled over for a second one. (N.B. I wasn’t guarding my cupcakes, I just happened to be standing near the food table for most of the evening. That’s where all the best people are during parties, right? *awkwardly eats another Dorito*)

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Ingredients

Chocolate Cupcake

1/3 cup (35g) cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup (80ml) boiling water
1/4 cup (60g) unsalted butter, melted
2 1/2 tbsp vegetable or canola oil
3/4 cup (150g) and 2 tbsp granulated sugar
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk (you can save the white for the vanilla cupcake mixture)
1/4 cup (60g) double cream
1 cup (140g) plain flour

White Vanilla Cupcake

1 1/2 (210g) cups plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
7 tbsp (100g) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar
Seeds of 1/2 large vanilla bean
3 large egg whites
1/2 cup (120g) milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Strawberry frosting

1 cup + 4 tbsp strawberry puree (Unless you can get hold of this, you’ll need to start with a little less than a punnet of strawberries. Yes, just less than a punnet is a legitimate measurement.)
1 1/2 cup (345g) unsalted butter at room temperature
5 – 5.5 cups (625g – 690g) powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
A few drops of red food coloring (optional)

Directions

For the chocolate cupcake
– Preheat oven to 180c (350F) degrees.
– In a large bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder and baking soda.
– Pour in the boiling water and whisk until the bubbling subsides and everything is well blended, then allow to cool for 5 minutes.
– In another bowl, blend together melted butter, vegetable oil, granulated sugar, vanilla and salt with an electric hand mixer until well combined.
– Stir in the egg and egg yolk, saving the egg white.
– Blend in the cocoa mixture, then blend in the double cream.
– Gradually mix in the flour and blend until well-combined.
– Divide the mixture between the 22 muffin trays — around a generous teaspoon in each.  Spread the mixture into an even layer and set to one side.
For the white vanilla cupcake
– Sift the plain flour into a medium-sized bowl.
– Add the baking powder and salt and stir until well combined.
– Using the handheld electric mixture, whip together the butter, sugar and vanilla bean seeds until pale and fluffy.
– In a separate bowl whisk together milk, egg whites and vanilla extract until well blended.
– Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter/sugar mixture until completely combined. Mix on a high speed until the batter reaches a fluffy, almost mousse-like consistency.
– Now divide the chocolate mixture between the cupcake cases, spreading gently into an even layer so that the mixture reaches the sides of the cases.
– Bake for about 16-19 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean.
– Leave on the tray to cool for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
For the strawberry icing
–  If, like me, you can’t find strawberry puree, you’ll need a little under one punnet of strawberries. Using a hand blender, blend your strawberries until you have 1 cup and 4 tbspn worth of pureed strawberries.
– Add the puree to a small saucepan and simmer, stirring occasionally, until reduced to 6 tbsp. It should take around 10 – 14 minutes (it’s worth measuring the mixture and if it isn’t quite 6 tbsp then return and continue to simmer until it has reduced enough).
– Pour into a small bowl, then pop in the freezer, stirring every so often, until cool. It shouldn’t take long.
– Whip the butter with the electric whisk until nearly white.
– Add an initial cup of icing sugar, then blend in the puree. Keep adding the icing sugar until you reach a good fluffy consistency — it needs to be relatively stiff to pipe.
– Once the cakes are cool, either pipe or spread the frosting on top. Et voila!
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Oh, and this was my first time piping – too! It’s a little wobbly, but not too bad for a first attempt, right?
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Listening to I get around by The Beach Boys, Sunshine of your Love by Cream and The Curse of Curves by Cute is What we Aim For.

This recipe is from Cooking Classy.  All other content is © Rebecca Daley and ohtogoawandering, 2015.

Crispy chilli beef with red peppers

This is an attempt at a classic Chinese takeaway dish — my boyfriend’s favourite in fact.  He loves it, and although this isn’t exactly the same, it’s delicious in its own right. I’ve made it twice now, and it’s a firm favourite in the lovely-treat-but-healthier-than-a-takeaway dinner category. It’s has a little heat to its thanks to the chillies, but I have a feeling that if you left them out you’d still be left with a deliciously sticky sauce perfect served with fluffy white rice. The red peppers are my own edition — what can I say? I’m my mother’s daughter and can’t often bring myself to create a meal wholly devoid of vegetables!

This is the kind of recipe that can seem a bit complicated at first, but after your first attempt it soon becomes more straightforward. In fact, most of the changes I’ve made to this dish were to simplify it from its even more complicated original! I didn’t have any black rice vinegar…

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Ingredients

For the crispy beef

  • 200g of beef steak (the thinner the better)
  • 100g cornflour, seasoned with salt and pepper

For the marinade

  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 1 egg

For the sauce

  • 5 thin slices of fresh ginger,  finely chopped
  • 2 gloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • Dried or fresh chillies to taste, very finely chopped
  • 1 red pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons tomato ketchup
  • 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons honey

Optional garnish

  • Spring onions, sliced

Directions

– First make the marinade. Mix together the sesame oil, soy sauce, sugar and the egg until well combined.

– Cut the beef into strips a couple of inches long. Add them into the marinade, swish around and let it sit for a couple of minutes.

– Heat a decent couple of slugs of cooking oil of your choice (I used rapeseed) in a deep frying pan over a medium heat.

– Meanwhile, add the seasoned cornflour to a shallow dish. Once the oil is hot, dip the beef pieces into the cornflour, shaking off the excess before adding to the pan. Fry until crispy and browned. Drain off the excess oil on kitchen paper and set the beef aside.

– In a clean frying pan, fry the ginger, garlic and chilli gently on a low heat. Mix together the soy sauce, tomato ketchup, balsamic vinegar and honey and add to the pan. Add the red pepper and turn up the heat. Bubble the sauce for a few minutes until thickened slightly.

– Return the beef to the pan and coat with the sauce.

– Serve immediately with rice and a sprinkling of spring onions.

Listening to Mr Hurricane by Beast,  Me and Julio down by the Schoolyard by Paul Simon, Can’t Stop by Red Hot Chili Peppers, Little Red Wagon by Miranda Lambert and Speaking a Dead Language by Joy Williams.

This recipe is quite heavily adapted from the Food Network website.  All other content is © Rebecca Daley and ohtogoawandering, 2015.

Bubble & Squeak: My new (old) favourite thing ever

When I was still at primary school, whenever we went out for dinner, it was to the same pub. It was called The Grapes, at a tiny village near where we lived called Wrea Green. In Year 3 we went on a geography trip there to see an example of a ‘typical’ village. As the officious seven year old that I was, what I remember most from that trip were the bright red clipboards, and the difficulty I had filling in my worksheet neatly on them. Seven year old troubles, eh? I must have been a ball as a child… But I digress. Whenever we went to The Grapes, I had Bubble & Squeak. A food surely named for children, and completely unrelated to what it actually is, of course! Leftover mash, plus lots of yummy veg and some stuff to bind it all together, fried until golden in butter. I loved it every time. Then we moved house, stopped going to The Grapes, and I promptly forgot all about Bubble & Squeak.

Then recently I rediscovered and made it myself, and it was as yummy as I remember.

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Arty Stack. Perfect Fried Egg. Win.

 

Ingredients

(Very flexible: you can throw most things in, that’s kind of the point)

– 2 medium potatoes

– 1 carrot

– 1 onion

– About half a leek

– 4 or 5 leaves of cabbage

– 1 tbsp flour

– 1 egg

– Salt and pepper, to taste

– Oil or butter, for frying

Directions

– You can of course use leftovers, in which case the veg would already be cooked, and you can skip the first few steps, but if you’re starting from scratch:

– Prep the potatoes and carrots as you prefer, then simmer in a big pan of boiling, salted water for about 20 mins or until they’re soft

– While they boil, chop up your other veg (I favour the onion, leek and cabbage combination) pretty finely, and saute in a different pan using oil of your choice

– Once the potatoes and carrots are cooked, drain and tip them back into the pan. Add the other veg and give it all a thorough mix/mash.

– Add the egg and the flour, as well as salt and pepper to taste, and give it another thorough mix until everything is combined.

– At this point, it’s best to refrigerate the mix to firm it up (I learned this the hard way…! It’s fine if you fry up the patties straight away, but you’ll have to make peace with them falling apart somewhat.)

– Once you’re ready to fry, heat some oil or butter in your pan (no need to wash after frying up the veg in my opinion…) and scoop in a burger-sized dollop of the mixture. Press it down gently with the back of a fish slice or a fork until golden and crispy on one side. Then carefully flip and cook the other side until that’s golden too. (Unless you have a million pans and hobs, you’ll probably need to do this in batches)

– Wahoo. You’re done. I’ve made these quite a few times now, and can thus say from experience that they are amazing with a fried egg. I’ve also had them with sausages, and once with bacon. But whatever else you choose, I’d say that tomato ketchup is absolutely essential.

This recipe is very slightly adapted from A Girl Called Jack; Jack Monroe is a very cool lady and a fab food writer specialising in yummy budget recipes. Definitely check her out if you haven’t already!

Everything else is © Rebecca Daley and ohtogoawandering, 2015.

The Very Inspiring Blogger Award

Well, the excitement is actually almost too much. (Even to me, that sounds sarcastic, but it’s really not!) And so, minus the sparkly dress and sequinned shoes I would have favoured for the occasion, I need to say a great big thank you to Osyth for giving me a Very Inspiring Blogger Award. One of the best things about blogging, or life generally, is surely to find that somebody whose work you admire also admires yours. Honestly, it made my week. In her own words, Osyth’s is a ‘story-telling blog’: the stories she tells are a joy to read, packed with witty insights and warmth. Keep telling stories please, Osyth!

So here are the rules for the award:

  • Thank and link to the person who nominated you
  • List the rules and display the award
  • Share seven facts about yourself
  • Nominate 15 other blogs you enjoy, then comment on their posts to let them know that you have nominated them

Here’s the very pretty award, I’m excited to add it to my sidebar!

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So now: seven facts about me. Hmm…

1. I currently live in London, but I’m yet to become a city person. I miss clean air, open space, Northern accents and recognising everybody I see in the street.

2. I feel most at peace when I’m by the sea. Or preferably in it. The times I have felt most content to just be have been when I’ve been swimming in the sea. The freezing cold, crystal clear, British sea.

3.  My mum is Northern Irish, and I have visited Ireland every summer since I was born – it has some of the best beaches around… And hearing Northern Irish accents is the most comforting sound ever.

4.  I don’t tend to call the people that I love by their actual names. I make up alternatives, and not just one alternative, but loads of interchangeable ones. I also make up words. I kind of like not speaking properly…

5. I love to dance. I haven’t danced properly since I left university, but often just dance in my flat when the mood takes me. There is nothing more freeing. Weirdly, when I’m not dancing, I am beyond clumsy. To the extent that I feel I should have higher home insurance allowances than normal people.

6.  I cry a lot. And not necessarily because I’m sad! It really doesn’t take much. I cry at songs, films, adverts on TV, books — anything poignant. Sometimes I laugh until I cry. I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I cry at the drop of a hat. No shame.

7. I’m a perfectionist when it comes to my own work, and my handwriting is super neat, but yet I’m really messy. This is one of those strange contradictions that people seem to find odd.

And finally, the best bit: nominating fifteen other blogs for this award. Here goes! (and only numbered because otherwise I’ll lose track, these are in no particular order)

1.  The Little Library Cafe — Kate bakes and blogs her way through the foods in her favourite literature. An ingenious concept in my opinion, and she writes mainly about books she enjoyed growing up, so her blog is often a delightful trip down memory lane. With food. What more could you ask for?

2.  Pointes of View — Lani made the move from the big city to a sleepy suburb, and documents her everyday life on this blog. Lots of beautiful photography, wry humour and tales of everything from tepees to kitchen renovations!

3. Steph and Penny — A fellow lady who likes to bake, with a KitchenAid to die for named Penny. This blog is all about having fun in the kitchen, and Steph’s recipes are almost always enough to tempt me to get the scales out…

4. Storyshucker — This guy can write. I mean, really write. I love his view that there is a story to be found in almost all of life’s moments. It’s something I want to implement more in my own approach to writing/blogging, and his stories have honestly made me both laugh out loud and cry.

5. Leaf and Twig — A marriage of poetry and photography, these posts are short but always sweet, insightful and beautiful.

6. Something like a storybook —  Morgan writes in a way that is searingly honest and really, really good. She inspired me to write and actually send Christmas cards by good old fashioned snail-mail last Christmas, and recently her poetry has been just exquisite.

7. Listful Thinking — A blog revolving around lists (one of my primary passions) that is also my favourite kind of hilarious. Literally, all of it is funny. Please read it.

8.  Taste of Colours — First of all, points for a fabulous blog name. And second of all, as you’d expect, the photographs on this blog are beautiful. And the recipes are in grams. Any British people who read a lot of (often American) food blogs will appreciate that fact a LOT.

9. The Ordinary Cook —  She is actually far from ordinary. Great recipes and an infectious zestiness (is that an appropriate word? I feel it sums it up…) make this blog one of my favourite new discoveries.

10. Cafe Argentique — Helen is a bit of a blogging newbie, but as she is one of my best friends in ‘real’ life, I am confident that her blog will grow into something that I will very much enjoy visiting. She’s a talented artist, and takes amazing photographs. And she likes cake.

11. Life of Sarah Beth — A kind of lifestyle blog crossed with a beauty blog with some general musings thrown in: just the kind of thing I enjoy. Sarah has also been very brave and upfront about her struggles with depression, which I really admire. Keep going, Sarah!

12. Luce Luxe —  Lauren is a fellow history lover, as well as a northerner living in London, so I can relate to much of what she writes about! We also share a bit of a beauty product addiction, and I really enjoy her beauty posts.

13. Glitter Bunnies — Another beauty blog (I love ’em). Heather has a great eye for design: her blog theme is gorgeous and her posts are always beautiful to look at.

14. Daisy Chains and Dreamers — A recent discovery, I have fallen in love with this blog.  It’s another lifestlye/ beauty one, but with a bit more craft thrown into the mix. Everything on it is just so pretty. And sometimes, well, that’s really just what you need.

15. Butter Baking — Last, but my no means least: this blog is another yummy delight of a baking blog. Beautiful photographs and loads of lovely recipes to tempt you.

To my nominees: of course, I hope that you’ll take part! But many of you may not want to, or have been nominated already. In that case, please take this as a friendly nod in your direction and a kind request to please keep doing what you’re doing. I love reading your blogs!

All content is © Rebecca Daley and ohtogoawandering, 2015.

The Breakfast Club: Banana, blueberry & almond smoothie

Everyone loves a good smoothie. The beauty of the smoothie is that you can bung most things (within reason) into the mix and it’ll taste fine. However, all smoothies were not created equal, so here’s the yummiest combination of classic smoothie ingredients I’ve found. The Greek yoghurt, almond milk and honey give this one the creamy edge of luxury, while the banana and frozen blueberries keep it tasting fresh. It’s so simple that I do kind of feel cheeky calling it a recipe though…

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Oh, and it’s a pretty colour too

Ingredients

1 banana, in chunks

A handful of frozen blueberries

2 tablespoons Greek yoghurt (optional, I guess, but it makes it oh-so-creamy)

4 tablespoons Almond milk (you could use another type of milk, but I like the subtle almond taste)

1 teaspoon honey

Directions

–  Add all of your ingredients to your smoothie creator of choice (I use a handheld blender and jug combo) and BLITZ AWAY until your smoothie is… well… smooth.

– Now drink your smoothie. That’s it. I told you it really was embarrassingly simple.

All content is © Rebecca Daley and ohtogoawandering, 2015.

Caramel {Millionaire’s} Shortbread

When I was in sixth form I once tried to make caramel shortbread when my parents were away. Yes, I was the teenager who embarked on ill-planned and over-ambitious baking in the absence of my parents. Crazy parties? Nope, flour in every corner imaginable and slightly ruined baking tins were more my style.  Anyway, it went quite wrong. I can’t really remember why, I think it got stuck in a tin which I wasn’t meant to be using anyway or something. Anyway, I thought I’d try again. Not to take this too seriously or anything, but with caramel shortbread it’s all about ratio. Ask any self- respecting lover of this traybake, and they’ll happily go into great detail about how much of each mouthful should be shortbread, how much caramel, and how much chocolate. Shop bought versions tend to be woefully uneven in this respect: think, a massive wedge of shortbread and comparatively inconsequential layers of both caramel and chocolate. A travesty. This recipe, on the other hand, gives you the perfect levels of caramel vs. chocolate and shortbread. Also, they’re super tasty. Well, I think so anyway.

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Glorious layers

 

Ingredients

For the shortbread

50g sugar

150g butter (unsalted technically, but I basically never have it in and salted was fine)

250g plain flour

 For the caramel

175g butter (again, should have been unsalted but I used salted and it was fine)

175g sugar

4 tbsp golden syrup

397ml condensed milk (standard tin size)

For the topping

300g chocolate (I used a mix of milk and dark, because that’s what I had lying around. I think all dark would be fine, but you might want to avoid all milk since it might tip these over from deliciously sweet to downright sickly)

– You’ll need the oven at 160 (fan 140, gas mark 3). Line a standard rectangular tin with greaseproof paper, making sure that there is some overhang at the edges – it’ll come in handy when you come to lift the traybake out later.

– Make the shortbread. Place the sugar, butter and flour into a large bowl – mix it all together, and then get your hands in and rub the fat into the flour/sugar until all of the lumps of butter are gone and you’ve got a soft breadcrumb type mix. It should hold together if you squeeze together a clump in your palm. (If you have a food processor, use that – I don’t though, and the hand mix option worked fine!)

– Tip the mixture into the lined tin, spread it out and use your fingers or the back of a spoon to press it down gently; you want it to be even and smooth.

– Now pop the tin in the fridge for about twenty minutes to harden things up, before baking for around 35 minutes, or until golden. Leave to cool.

– Next, make the caramel. Place the butter, sugar, condensed milk and golden syrup in a small saucepan over a low heat— heat gently and stir to combine all of the ingredients.

– Once the butter has melted and the ingredients have combined, you’ll need to keep stirring right to the bottom of the pan to make sure that the caramel doesn’t stick or burn. Bubble for about 5- 8 minutes, or until the mixture has thickened considerably – it’ll be thick, but still of pouring consistency.

– As soon as it’s ready, pour the caramel over the shortbread, and spread into an even layer if need be. Leave to cool.

– Melt the chocolate however you like – you could use the bowl over a saucepan of boiling water trick, but I favour the microwave. This works just fine as long as you cover the chocolate vessel and check/ stir it regularly to avoid burning.

– Pour the melted chocolate over the cool caramel, and spread it out into an even layer.

– Now just leave it all to cool. Once the chocolate is set, use a sharp knife to mark out and then cut into squares.

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Arty angles

 

If you write a blog, now is the time to wander around your flat looking for the best natural light. Once you’ve found it, you’ll want to put something vaguely attractive in the background; probably not that pile of receipts/bills or that tin of baked beans. Anything pastel or crafty is probably a good call. Even better if you have things that are pastel AND baking-related. If you’re truly dedicated, sprinkle some chocolate chips around about. Now, arrange your baking in an arty way, and take ridiculously-angled photographs until it looks pretty. Ignore the sceptical glances of anybody you may live with, surely they should be used to this by now?

If you have no need for arty and beautifully presented images of your creations, then feel free to just eat them. Much more sensible.

This recipe is adapted slightly from BakingMad.com. All other content is © Rebecca Daley and ohtogoawandering, 2015.

Ginger & Eggnog: two Christmas drinks recipes

The days between Christmas and New Year are often a little bit of a weird time; some might even say they’re anti- climactic. It’s almost as though when Christmas day itself is over everyone remembers that December is, on the whole, cold and grey and (in Britain) also often quite rainy. In the build up to the 25th, it’s like all of the sparkle and mince pie making and carols have distracted us from this otherwise evident fact. So to fend off that strange Christmas-is-over-but-it’s-still-winter melancholy, here are two recipes for Christmassy drinks to raise your spirits. We’re only technically on the 5th day of Christmas, after all. And one of my favourite things about the Christmas period is having the time and the excuse to potter around in the kitchen. And I’d recommend some well- timed pottering to all feeling the after-Christmas blues.

Eggnog

Mum and I wanted to try making something that we’d never made before. And we chose the most stereotypical Christmas drink we could think of. There are a lot of variations on the eggnog recipe. We went for one where you make up the thin custardy part first, and then you can experiment with which alcohol you want to add to each glassful. We preferred brandy in the end.

Ingredients

1140ml/2 pints whole milk

6 free-range eggs

50g/2oz sugar

1 vanilla pod, split (or a decent glug of vanilla extract, which is what I opted for and went fine)

Brandy and/ or rum

Cocoa powder, for dusting

Directions

– Lightly whisk together the whole milk, eggs, sugar and vanilla in a large bowl.

– Pour into a large saucepan and heat gently on a low heat until the mixture is thickened. Stir continuously, and don’t let the mixture boil.

– Once the mixture is thickened, take it off the heat but keep stirring as it cools down to stop it sticking or burning. (Remove the vanilla pod if using rather than extract). I poured it into a large bowl in order to stop the cooking and cool the mix down. Stir occasionally to stop a skin from forming.

– Chill the mixture in the fridge.

– Once cold, pour some into a glass and add brandy or rum to personal taste. Dust lightly with cocoa powder if you’re feeling fancy (I forgot!).

Eggnog!

Eggnog! And a mini glass! And some ivy!

 

Ginger Christmas Cordial

And a non- alcoholic alternative. This is a recipe which my Northern Irish Nana always made at Christmas time, and my Mum still makes it when she can get hold of the ginger essence which is the most important ingredient, but which is a bit elusive in England. This year she found it in a health food shop. This is gingery and spicy and perfectly festive! In pretty bottles it also makes a great gift.

Riddle's Ginger Compound. Sounds a little bit sinister.

Riddle’s Ginger Compound. Sounds a little bit sinister.

Ingredients

– One sachet blackcurrant jelly

– 900g/2lbs sugar

– 4 pints/2.4 liters boiling water

Directions

– Dissolve the jelly and the sugar in the boiling water.

– Cover, and leave to go cold.

– Stir in the ginger essence, and pour into bottles.

– When you’re ready to drink it, dilute it as you would cordial. It’s great with either water or lemonade.

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The finished product

And there you go. Two drinks perfect for any New Year’s Party. Or family gathering. Or, you know, drinking alone watching Bridget Jones’ Diary.

All content is © Rebecca Daley and ohtogoawandering, 2014.

Christmas Baking: Mince Pies

I never used to like mince pies. But this year I’ve warmed to them considerably, for whatever reason. The shop bought ones we had in work were suddenly moderately enjoyable. But then I came home and had some of my mum’s. And they’re AMAZING. I know Christmas day has been and gone, but I recently learned in a Christmas quiz that apparently you’re meant to eat one mince pie on each of the twelve days of Christmas for good luck. But feel free not to limit yourself to one a day. In fact if you make these, I challenge you to limit yourself to one a day. Oh, and the crowning glory of a good mince pie has to be brandy butter. So I’ve included my mum’s recipe for that as well. She is, after all, the Queen of Baking herself. (Step aside, Mary Berry).

The amounts here make a lot of pies (six dozen i.e. 60, to be precise) so you might want to halve the amount if you’re not confident you’ll get through them all. Although they do freeze really well, and make lovely presents. Am I overselling? Never.

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You literally have no idea how long it took me to get that swirl of brandy butter to look aesthetically acceptable

 

Mince Pies

Ingredients

For the pastry

1lb/450g plain flour
6oz/175g lard
6oz/175g margarine
4oz/110g icing sugar
Grated zest and juice of one orange

For the mincemeat

1lb/450g cooking apples – peeled, cored and finely chopped

2 stewed apples*

8oz/225g shredded suet

12oz/350g raisins

8oz/325g sultanas

8oz/325g currants

12oz/350g soft dark brown sugar

Rind and juice of two oranges

Rind and juice of two lemons

4 tspn mixed spice

½ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp nutmeg

*I don’t know if this is a universally recognised ingredient, or a Daley family thing. It’s just cooking apples which have been cut into chunks and cooked on a low heat with a bit of sugar or syrup until they’re really mushy. You might need a tiny bit of water if they start to look like they’re drying out before they’ve reached a decent mush.

Directions

– The day before you want to bake your mince pies, you’ll need to make your mincemeat. I know this is a time-consuming process, but that’s a big part of its beauty.

– Mix all of the ingredients together in a large bowl until thoroughly combined.

– Cover with a cloth and leave for at least twelve hours, covered with a tea towel.

– If you intend to make all of the mincemeat into pies straight away, or within the next week, then it’ll keep fine in an airtight container in the fridge.

– If you want to store it for longer, then you’ll need to place it a baking dish loosely covered with foil, and warm it in a cool oven at 120c for about three hours. This slowly melts the suet and allows it to coat the rest of the ingredients, which prevents fermentation from taking place if too much juice seeps from the apples while you’re storing it.

-Then allow it to get cold and spoon into clean, dry jars. Cover with waxed discs and seal.

– On the day selected for mince pie making, preheat the oven to 180c.

– To make the pastry, rub the fat into the flour and icing sugar

– Add the grated rind and enough juice to make a pastry consistency

(If you’re a pastry newbie, then check out this tutorial from Delia Smith for a better guide.)

– Wrap in cling film, then rest in the fridge for at least half an hour

– Roll out the pastry (again, the tutorial from Delia above has a few tips)

– Now use a circular cutter to make the discs that’ll hold the mincemeat, and stars for the tops of the pies (or you could use another disc if you prefer, but I like the less- pastry approach since it’s lighter and more interesting to look at).

– Place the discs in the bottoms of the cupcake tray, and push down gently so that they mould to the ‘cup’ shape. You don’t need to grease the trays since there’s a lot of fat in the pastry that’ll stop the pies from sticking.

– Divide the mincemeat equally between the cups, then top each with a pastry star.

– Brush the top of each star with a little milk, then bake for 10- 12 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown.

To serve, whip up some brandy butter. It’s very easy- in fact, it’s barely a recipe.

You need to make some buttercream by creaming together butter/ margarine and icing sugar. I don’t use a recipe for this, I just tend to start with some butter, then gradually add icing sugar until it’s quite a stiff buttercream. Then I add brandy to taste. To quote my mum directly, there’s only enough brandy when it ‘catches at the back of your throat’. So er, that amount. Beat it all together until lovely and smooth, and dollop generously on top of whatever you feel like; it goes well with anything Christmassy- Christmas pudding and Christmas cake as well as mince pies.

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The artistic bite

And now you can officially scorn shop bought mince pies. And forever wear the smug smile of somebody who ‘handcrafts their own mince pies, actually.’*

*I don’t actually recommend saying this out loud. It would make you an unbearable Christmas guest…

In terms of credit, the pastry recipe came from a family friend who was an amazing cook- she recently passed away, so it’s nice to make these and think of her and how she used to care for people by cooking for them. The mincemeat recipe is the one my mum has used for over twenty years, which she cut out of a supermarket recipe magazine, and has since adapted a little.

All content is © Rebecca Daley and ohtogoawandering, 2014.

The Friday Frame {10} Let your heart be light

Here are a series of Christmassy frames for Boxing Day (which is also a Friday, of course). And, as Judy Garland first sang in ‘Meet me in St Louis’: Have yourself a merry little Christmas.

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Snowman Christmas tree decoration; this was my favourite when I was little

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One of the cupcakes I baked for a Christmas gathering with friends

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Santa sledging

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Ballerina on the tree

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My mum’s tin of retro Christmas decorations

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Dates stuffed with marzipan

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Baubles and sparkly lights

All content is © Rebecca Daley and ohtogoawandering, 2014.