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January 21, 2017 / mintcustard

Inauguration brownies – orange Reeces Pieces brownies

Inauguration Brownies - orange Reeces Pieces Brownies.

Inauguration Brownies – orange Reeces Pieces Brownies.

Watching the inauguration of the 45th US President I had a hankering for brownies. I put it down to the need to comfort eat having seen Trump sworn in and realizing that there was now no turning back.

Brownies cry out for added treats stirred into the batter before baking. What better than those quintessentially American candies Reeces Pieces? Joy of joy, they are coated in a yellow, orange or brown crisp shell. I had to pick out the orange ones, in Trump’s honour, to scatter on the finished dish, didn’t I. You know you would too. Had I been really thinking politically I’d have made Blondies…….

Inauguration Brownies - Orange Reeces pieces brownies.

Inauguration Brownies – Orange Reeces pieces brownies.

Inauguration brownies.

  • 185g butter
  • 185g chocolate
  • 85g plain flour
  • 40g cocoa powder
  • 3 large egg
  • 275g golden caster sugar
  • 125g Reeces pieces (orange ones set to one side)

How to….

  1. Preheat the oven to 160c (fan) 180c (conventional)
  2. Line a 20 cm square pan with parchment.
  3. Heat a small pan of water over a low heat. Place a bowl over the hot water and tip in the butter and chocolate. Allow to melt slowly. Stir .until completely melted. Set to one side to cool a little.
  4. In a large bowl measure in the sugar and break in the eggs. Beat together until the egg and sugar mixture is doubled in size, pale and foamy. This may take up to 5 minutes.
  5. Using a spatula stir the cooled butter and chocolate mixture into the foamy eggs and sugar. Work carefully as you don’t want to knock out the air you have beaten in.
  6. Sieve the flour and cocoa onto this mixture and then fold in, again using the spatula or a metal spoon.
  7. Take a handful of the orange Reeces Pieces and keep for later. Stir the chocolates in.
  8. Scrape the batter into the lined pan. Bake for 30 minutes, place the remaining Reeces Pieces on top of the part baked brownie. Gently push them into the surface but don’t submerge them. Return to the oven for a further 5 to 10 minutes.
  9. Cool a little, enjoy with cream or creme fraiche.
December 30, 2016 / mintcustard

A visit to the Bombay Sapphire Distillery.

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‘The gin and tonic has saved more Englishmen’s lives, and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire.’ – Winston Churchill

Gin is, and always has been, my spirit of choice. I inherited my love of gin from my dad. In the beige world of the Seventies, when a Watneys  party seven was seen as a single serving of beer, he was ploughing his own furrow with a gin and tonic.

Imagine my delight then, to be invited  by 365 tickets to visit a gin distillery. Not just any gin distillery but the Bombay Sapphire distillery in Laverstoke, Hampshire.

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A lovely drive through the Hampshire countryside led us to Laverstoke Mill. This former paper mill was carefully and sustainable renovated. Bombay Sapphire transformed a 300 year old paper Mill with over 1000 years of history within a Conservation Area and a Site of Special Scientific Interest with patience and dedication. The River Test flows through the site creating unique wetland habitat throughout the distillery. The Test is the purest chalk-stream in the UK with many native species inhabiting the river and surrounding wetlands.

We were met at the distillery by Sam Carter, Bombay Sapphire’s senior Brand Ambassador. Sam spent time explaining to us all the finer details of gins and gin distilling before taking us on a tour of the distillery itself.

Even if you really are not a gin lover a visit to Laverstoke Mill is fascinating and informative. My favourite part of the restoration and renovation are the stunning Glasshouses designed by Heatherwick Studio. Filled with growing examples of the botanicals found in Bombay Sapphire gins, the glasshouses are truly wonderful.

Having toured the site, investigated which of the botanicals were our favourites and made no sparks whatsoever near the stills we went back into the bar for some gin tasting!

I learned so much during our tutored tasting. From how to cut your lime wedges to using a spoon to add the tonic into gin. I also now covet a very expensive ice machine.

One final treat was to top off the tastes of several cocktails with a cocktail all of my own. Made and enjoyed in the two storey bar area, followed by a trip to the gin shop, for a bottle to take home.

My companion was my 19 year old daughter, another recent inductee into our gin loving family. If you happen to be the designated driver, the alcohol free cocktails are delicious AND you can collect a gin and tonic pack to take home and enjoy at your leisure.

One plea though please, start distilling and selling Bombay Sapphire East in the UK soon. It is my most favourite gin ever!

Such a lovely day out. A beautiful, thoughtfully restored mill, with years of history and the most delicious gin cocktails too. Go, drink, enjoy!

This hidden gem of a place is well worth taking the time to visit. If you are too far away then please try to find a bottle of the Bombay Sapphire gin and enjoy that instead.

I was invited to visit Laverstoke Mill Bombay Sapphire distillery by 365 Tickets. All words and photographs are my own. I was not paid to write this post and all words and photographs are my own.

December 18, 2016 / mintcustard

Gingerbread iced gems.

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Gingerbread festive iced gems.

Iced gems have been a staple for parties and lunch boxes ever since I was tiny and I have managed to pass a love of them onto my girls too. I have never bothered to make them myself before because a bag of them from the shops is faster to open than making the biscuit bases and doing the icing. However a little leftover gingerbread dough from some biscuit making got me thinking. What if Iced gems came in festive flavours and colours? Well they don’t, but that doesn’t mean to say they couldn’t.

Now they do! Please look back at this recipe to give you the quantities for the gingerbread and the instructions.

I rolled out the gingerbread so it was about as thick as a pound coin. I used a screw top bottle lid to cut out the circles. I placed them on baking parchment and baked them for 10 minutes until crisp and golden.

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Royal icing is essential for the tops to iced gems.You could make your own or you could use a royal icing mix. Make up the royal icing and using a star tip pipe a blob onto each biscuit. Allow the gems to sit for at least two hours before eating. You can colour the icing if you wish.

Enjoy.

December 4, 2016 / mintcustard

Christmas nibbles and tipples – a round up.

During the holiday season we all like to treat ourselves to a few little extras. As I’ve been wandering around the shops a few tasty morsels have popped themselves into my shopping basket. I thought I’d share them with you too.

Bellini poshcorn and Three bird roast crisps.

Bellini poshcorn and Three bird roast crisps.

Watching a Christmas movie or two always calls out for a snack or two. Tyrrells have a couple of interesting new tastes just for Christmas. A bellini version of their Poshcorn that has a real peachy tang and a suspicion of bubbles redolent of a Bellini cocktail. Add to that their three bird roast crisps (Turducken if you are from the US). Ah, the three-bird roast, a truly show-stopping winter centrepiece. And one worth trying , if only as a snack. So here it is: a duck, in a chicken, in a turkey… in a crisp.

Ahmad herbal teas

Ahmad herbal teas

Next up are a selection of herbal teas from Ahmad Teas. Sometime over the Christmas break my body often calls a Time Out from rich foods and a surfeit of bubbles. When that happens a cup of herbal tea calms, soothes and refreshes without removing the enjoyment of the celebration. My absolute favourite as I write are the Mixed Citrus tea bags, tangy and refreshing but still caffeine free so I can drink one at any time day or night.

Dairy Milk winter bar.

Dairy Milk winter bar.

Christmas often seems to be coated in chocolate, so why not indulge your sweet tooth with a cute bar of chocolate from Cadbury that features white chocolate Christmas trees. Ideal for sharing.

I’d like to thank Waitrose for combining two of my favourite things, gin and olives. A tub of these will be in my fridge at all times over the Christmas break. They do contain a little gin so perhaps best kept for a evening in.

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Finally a real treat for us as a family. Sainsburys always stock jars of tuna in olive oil at Christmas time. The taste of this is miles and miles away from the tins we usually purchase to make sandwiches and fill jacket potatoes. Get a jar, make a salade Nicoise, add in a few of those gin olives and use the oil to dress the salad. Indulgent but delicious.

 

I was sent a sample of the Tyrrells snacks and the Ahmad teas. I was not asked to write a positive review. I was not paid to write this post. I purchased all the other products mentioned in this round up myself. All words and images are my own.

November 14, 2016 / mintcustard

Cranberry and white chocolate tiffin.

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Cranberry and white chocolate tiffin.

I’m a bit of a tiffin addict. It has been my favourite tea time treat for as long as I can remember. I still use my mum’s recipe (albeit with the occasional twist) to this day. This tiffin is slightly different, as it has no cocoa in the biscuit mixture. Flavour comes from the orange infused cranberries I have added to the tiffin layer. I saved a few to scatter on the white chocolate topping too. Quick and simple enough to rustle up for Christmas and a tasty treat for guests too.

Cranberry and white chocolate tiffin.

250g shortcake/digestive biscuits

125g butter (melted)

1 tbsp golden syrup

75 g orange infused cranberries (or plain ones if you prefer)

200g white chocolate – melted

 

How to …

  1. In a mixing bowl, using the end of a rolling pin, crush the biscuits into crumbs. You could use the fill a plastic bag and whack with a wooden spoon method if you want. You could use a food processor but that takes all the fun out of it.
  2. In a large saucepan melt the butter and syrup together to make a sauce.
  3. Pour the  sauce onto the biscuit crumbs and combine thoroughly.
  4. Now add in 50 g of the cranberries and give it a stir.
  5. Tip the cranberry rubble into a cling film lined 6″ square tin and press down. Put into the fridge to set.
  6. Once set melt the chocolate and pour over the biscuit base, scatter over the remaining cranberries. Refrigerate once more until the chocolate is set. Cut into wedges and serve. This is best served from the fridge as it is only the cold that holds it together.

I found the orange infused cranberries in Sainsburys (£1 for 75g) but you could easily substitute plain cranberries).

November 13, 2016 / mintcustard

A few ways to save 5 minutes with Nature’s finest – win some cash too!

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Family time is precious, but with so many of us often exhausted at the end of a working day and parents and children looking at screens  we forget to spend just five minutes together.  Nature’s Finest (the fruit pot people) is on a mission to find and champion families who use simple solutions or life hacks to ensure time is spent together, through the campaign ‘Britain’s Most Fruitful Family’.

Run via Nature’s Finest’s Facebook page, the campaign is asking families to send in the life hacks that help them to spend more time together as a family, encouraging others to try the same and embrace a fruit-ful lifestyle.

Inspired by the brand itself, Nature’s Finest offers a variety of tasty Potted fruit only in juice, with no added sugar.  Making eating fruit on the go or at home a simple and easy task.

The campaign will run from 24th October through to 28th November and the winning family with the best life hack will receive £1,000 worth of Sainsbury’s vouchers – ideal just before Christmas when food shopping bills get bigger. If you have a way to save five minutes that you are happy to share with Nature’s Finest on their facebook page then you could bag that 1000 pounds voucher just in time for Christmas.

Here are a few hacks that I found worked well when my children were younger.

  • Encourage your child to pack their school bags the night before. This gives them a chance to do so in a calm manner and you can see if there are any letters in the bag or notes from the teacher that need your attention.
  • Put school shoes next to the school bags so they are easy to find in the morning.
  • Have a copy of your child’s timetable on the fridge, get them to check it every evening and then they won’t forget swim kit or plimsolls!
  • Give your child responsibility for putting their reading book in their bag or checking their PE kit is complete. If they forget DON’T do it for them. They will remember the next time if their teacher gets cross!
  • Organise the emails sent from school into one folder, so they are easier to find in a hurry.

I was sent a few pots of Nature’s Finest to try when agreeing to share this competition. I was not asked to write a positive review of the product and was not paid to write this post.

November 5, 2016 / mintcustard

Bonfire night purple carrot cake.

Bonfire night purple carrot cake.

Bonfire night purple carrot cake.

This time of year many supermarkets, farmers markets and greengrocers seem to have a supply of rainbow coloured heritage variety carrots. I have used them for rosti, roasted them slowly and even turned them into soup but for my money they make an amazing carrot cake. Slightly nuttier than the sweet orange carrot they pair well with the walnuts or pecans you can add to this dish if you’d like. My husband doesn’t like cheese so I add a simple orange icing drizzle to the top of my cake but if you’d prefer a more traditional topping then please feel free to add that.

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Bonfire night purple carrot cake

  • 175g light soft brown sugar
  • 175ml sunflower oil
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 140g grated purple carrot (about 3 medium)
  • 100g walnuts or pecan nuts
  • grated zest of 1 large orange
  • 175g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp grated nutmeg (freshly grated if you can.)

Bonfire night purple carrot cake – how to …..

  • Preheat the oven to 180 c or 160c fan
  • Line an 18cm square tin with paper. I used a circular cake tin liner and that worked just as well.
  • In a large bowl combine the sugar, oil and eggs.
  • Stir in the grated carrot, nuts and zest the orange directly over the bowl to catch all the orange oils too.
  • Sift the flour, bicarb and spices into the bowl and fold in until well mixed.
  • Pour the runny batter into the prepared tin and place into the oven.
  • Bake for 40  minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
  • Allow to cool for a few minutes in the tin and then place onto a rack to finish cooling completely.

To make an orange drizzle take 2 tbsp of juice from the zested orange. Spoon in icing sugar and combine until you have the thickness of icing you’d prefer. Drizzle over the cooled cake. Put the kettle on and enjoy.

Light the blue touchpaper and stand well back.

October 29, 2016 / mintcustard

Mediterranean sausage plait – inspired by those GBBO sausage rolls.

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Mediterranean sausage plait.

I occasionally make a sausage plait, essentially a sausage roll on steroids. Based on an old family recipe I normally add in onions, a few sauteed mushrooms and possibly a squirt of tomato puree and a dollop of English mustard. All wrapped in shortcrust pastry and served warm  with plenty of vegetables.

Not this time though. My Mediterranean version is really a result of getting to the back of the fridge and an unwillingness to go out and do a big shop! Do use really good sausages in this dish, otherwise the whole thing becomes greasy. If you are unsure how to fold a sausage plait this video is here to help.

Mediterranean sausage plait – ingredients.

400 g good quality sausages

1/2 onion finely chopped

2 tbsp chopped pepper

1 clove garlic finely minced

12 olives halved, you can use more if you want

1 tbsp sundried tomatoes

good pinch chili flakes

good pinch dried Italian herbs

1 egg beaten

1 pack ready made puff pastry.

How to ….

  • Preheat the oven to 180c fan or 200c non fan
  • Over a medium heat cook the onions, peppers and garlic until softened. Leave to one side to cool.
  • Line a baking tray with parchment.
  • Flour a work surface. Roll out the puff pastry until the thickness of a pound coin. Use the video above to help with shaping your pastry.
  • In a large bowl combine the sausage meat squeezed from the sausage skins and all the other ingredients except the egg.
  • Work the ingredients together until combined and then add half the egg. Combine again.
  • Lay the mixture along the centre of the pastry and fold the edges in. If you can’t be bothered with the faff then simply make a big sausage roll.
  • Brush with the remaining beaten egg and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until crisp and golden.
  • Allow to cool a little before serving. Keep any leftovers for packed lunch or a tea time treat.

A smear of pesto under the sausage meat or a few rasps of parmesan on top of the beaten egg glaze would be good if you happened to have those to hand also.

 

October 28, 2016 / mintcustard

Keeping colds at bay with broccoli soup and ColdZyme.

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As a parent of students and as a teacher, these few months after the start of term are full of new beginnings, new challenges and new viruses to contend with. If you are away at University living in Halls Fresher’s flu is a real issue you will almost certainly have to cope with. Not only are you fending for yourselves, you will be burning the candle at both ends and have deadlines to meet I am sure.

Prevention is better than cure, so stock up on vitamin C rich foods, drink plenty of fluids and maintain good hygiene (easier to be on top of your own as sometimes flatmates……. well….!!!!!)

Make sure you get into a good sleep routine. When we sleep our immune system repairs itself, so chronic sleep deprivation can make you prone to infections.Not easy if you are out clubbing but rest when you can.

Manage your stress levels. Try to prioritise and plan where possible as stress can play havoc with your immune system. Don’t leave that essay until the last minute.

Consider using anti-viral tissues and keep them in your bag or on your desk if those around you have a cold to minimise the spread of the virus and make sure that tissues are put straight in the bin.

Use ColdZyme, a revolutionary mouth spray which targets the cause of the common cold and is clinically documented to help reduce the duration of a cold.

If the worst does happen then you can combine all of the above strategies with a big bowl of vitamin C rich soup. It’s cheap too which is always a bonus.

Broccoli stalk soup – makes 1 big bowl

Ingredients

1 broccoli stalk and 2 or three florets – chopped finely

1 small floury potato finely diced

1/4 onion finely chopped

1 clove of garlic

500 ml stock (vegetable or chicken works particularly well)

1 tsp oil

How to 

  • Heat the oil in a large saucepan and soften the garlic and onions until translucent.
  • Add in the broccoli and the potato, turnover in the oil and then add the stock.
  • Simmer gently for 10 minutes until the potato and broccoli stalk is softened.
  • You can either leave the soup chunky or use a stick wand to blitz the soup to a silky smoothness.
  • Pour into a deep bowl. You can garnish with crispy onions, a swirl of sour cream or a few croutons.

Hope you can avoid the cold and flu season but if not remember to use the tips and recipe to help you get better soon.

I was sent ColdZyme to try (as yet I haven’t had a cold so it remains in the box!). I was not paid to write this article, all ideas and the recipes are my own and I was not asked to write a positive review.

October 26, 2016 / mintcustard

Halloween monster tiffin.

Halloween monster tiffin

Halloween monster tiffin

After you have eaten sausages wrapped in puff pastry to resemble mummies, olives dressed up to look like spiders and carved yourself a puking pumpkin you may well need a little sugar boost. Those going trick or treating will have no need of these snacks but the adults shivering behind them may well do! Not overly scary or realistic, simply fun and speedy to make. Enjoy.

 

Halloween monster tiffin.

Ingredients – makes 16 small squares

250g shortcake/digestive/malted milk biscuits

125g butter  (melted)

1tbsp cocoa

1 tbsp golden syrup

1 big bar chocolate (200g), milk or plain as you prefer

Sandwich tin – buttered

32 mini marshmallows

black food colouring

tooth pick

Space out the pairs of eyes!

Space out the pairs of eyes!

How to …

  1. In a mixing bowl, using the end of a rolling pin, crush the biscuits into crumbs. You could use the fill a plastic bag and whack with a wooden spoon method if you want. You could use a food processor but that takes all the fun out of it.
  2. In a large saucepan melt the butter, cocoa and syrup together to make a sauce.
  3. Pour the chocolate sauce onto the biscuit crumbs and combine thoroughly.
  4. Tip the chocolaty rubble into a buttered or cling film lined 6″ square tin and press down. Put into the fridge to set.
  5. Take the toothpick and dip into the black food colouring. Mark a small dot of black onto each marshmallow.
  6. Once set melt the chocolate and pour over the biscuit base. Place pairs of marshmallows onto the molten chocolate to resemble monster eyes. Refrigerate once more until the chocolate is set. Cut into 16 squares and serve. This is best served from the fridge as it is only the cold that holds it together.