Birthday- Part II of II

And so to continue on the theme of birthday greed, here are some photographs and recipes from my final bash at Wilton’s Music Hall last Friday.   
I had been at a total loss trying desperately to think of somewhere to have my do, when a copy of East End Life landed on our doormat.  Normally it ends up in the recycling bin, with a mutter of ‘Humph! Council propaganda’ from Toby.  But on the cover last month was a story about a new grant to save the dilapidated grande dame that is Wilton’s, sparking my ‘ah-ha!’ moment.  It’s the perfect, slightly unusual, place to have a party.  
The building itself has a colourful history dating back to 1743.  It has been an alehouse, a saloon theatre, a Methodist mission and soup kitchen as well as, of course, a music hall.  Today, it produces a varied programme of performances, talks, screenings and events.  And there are several beautiful rooms to hire (I chose the library due to its proximity to the bar). 
In terms of catering, I only wanted to offer my guests a few nibbles to snack on with their drinks.  Initially, I got carried away planning fancy canapes- a little mini this and a wee taster of that.  However, the weather had other plans.  I don’t know if you’ve seen what happens to canapes in 34 C.  It isn’t pretty.  And frankly the logistics of making, transporting, storing and serving perfect, dainty party morsels was more than I could be arsed with. 
So what to do now that I’d settled on the glamorous theme of non-melting, heat resistant snacks?  Well, the bulk of my prep involved sitting on our living room floor in front of a Channel Four screening of The Net (do you remember The Net?  Sandra Bullock in a time when the Internet was out to get us all…) making a gazillion paper cones.  I filled these with cheap sweets, rosemary flavoured nuts, dill and lemon popcorn, chili and lime popcorn and pita crisps (with some cannellini bean dip).  All ridiculously easy to prepare. 
As a token nod to the original canape theme, I turned to the beautiful (and very reliable) What Katie Ate cookbook for Parmesan biscuits topped with pesto and cherry toms as well as pork and apple sausage rolls.   Finally, for my sweet-toothed friends, lemon and coconut meringue cupcakes (cupcakes minus melting, sticky icing = a bit less sickly).  I was also fortunate to have the wonderful cuisinegenie make cookies for the party, absolutely delicious. 

Hmm.. the perfect pairing? 

Although I have to say in all honesty, and I think many would agree,  I wish the cupcake would die a swift death.  However, in miniature they can be quite useful for parties.  They look appealing, are bite-sized and come with their own self-contained wrappers, which is pretty convenient.  So I suppose I reluctantly have to admit that there is still a time and place for them, but only if carefully considered.

Although still very sweet, these ones are a little bit more ‘adult’ in that you can add coconut rum and they have a meringue topping rather than frosting, which also makes them a bit more durable.  They are therefore actually baked twice, so it is worth making sure you don’t over-bake them the first time round or they will be on the dry side. 

Mini Lemon and Coconut Meringue Cupcakes
(for approx. 20 mini cupcakes)

You will need :

For the cakes:
 125g unsalted butter, softened
2 tsp lemon zest
150g caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
80ml milk
1 tsp coconut essence or 1 tbsp coconut flavoured rum (optional)
80g desiccated coconut
185g self-raising flour

For the filling:
1 jar shop-brought lemon curd (or make your own!)

For the topping:
4 egg whites
250g caster sugar
100g desiccated coconut
coconut flakes, to decorate (optional)

Method:

1.  To make the cakes, preheat a 180C oven and line a mini muffin/cupcake tray with paper cases.  I have some mini silicone cases, which I simply lined with mini paper cases for extra support and placed on an oven tray.  

2.  Beat softened butter with the sugar and rind until light and fluffy.  Slowly add the eggs so the mixture does not separate.

3.  Add the sifted flour and coconut.  Finally stir in the milk.

4.  Divide the mixture among the cases.  Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden and beginning to come away from the sides.  Allow to cool completely on a wire rack. 

5.  Using a teaspoon, make a small hole into each cake.  Eat or throw away the tops.

6.  Use piping bag fitted with a small nozzle or a plastic bag with a corner cut off to fill the holes with lemon curd. 

7.  Preheat the oven to 200 C.  Make the meringue by beating the egg whites until medium peaks form.  Gradually add the sugar and continue beating until you have stiff peaks.  Fold in the coconut.

8.  Pour some of the meringue mixture into a piping bag and pipe onto the tops of the cakes in a swirling motion, creating a fair bit of height as you move towards the centre of the cake.  Top with a flake of coconut if desired. 

9.  Bake the cakes in a hot oven for 10 minutes until the meringue has set and is beginning to crisp up and brown a little (but not burnt!).  Remove and cool on a wire rack. 

Easy-Peasy Flavoured Popcorn

Lemon and Dill Popcorn

You will need:

100g popcorn ( 1 microwavable bags worth, basically)
30g butter
2 tbsp dill, chopped finely
1 lemon, juice and zest
Sea salt

Method:

1.  Pop your popcorn and decant into a large bowl.

2. Melt the butter and allow to cool slightly.  Add chopped dill, lemon zest and a few drops of the juice.

3. Pour over the popcorn.  Season with sea salt and use your hands or a large wooden spoon to mix until most of the popcorn is covered with the lemon-dill butter.  Consume. 

Chilli and Lime Popcorn

You will need:

 100g popcorn (1 microwave bag)
30g butter
1 tsp chilli powder
1 lime, zest and juice
Sea salt

Method: 

1.  Very much as per the above recipe, pop your popcorn and decant into a large bowl.

2.  Melt the butter and allow to cool slightly.  Add chilli, lime zest and a little of the juice. 

3.  Pour over popcorn and mix together to combine completely.  Season with sea salt. 

Parmesan Biscuits
(adapted from the cookbook What Katie Ate by Katie Quinn Davies)
Makes about 60

You will need:

Biscuits:
 4 garlic cloves
260g plain flour, sifted
200g unsalted butter, cubed and cold
2 tbsp double cream
1 tsp dried thyme
140g Parmesan, finely grated

Topping:
30 large cherry tomatoes, halved
olive oil
sea salt + black pepper
grated Parmesan
1 jar pesto
extra virgin olive oil
thyme sprigs

Method:

1.  To make the biscuits, first roast the garlic cloves in their skins, drizzled with olive oil, in a 200 C oven for about 30-40 minutes.  They should be totally soft and gooey inside.  

2.   Blitz together the the flour and butter in a magi mix to a breadcrumb consistency.  If making the biscuits by hand, quickly crumb together with cool fingers (run under the tap), making sure there are not large lumps of butter.  If the mixture gets too greasy, refrigerate for 10-15 minutes before continuing.  

2.  Add the cream, roasted garlic (squeezed out of their skins), thyme, Parmesan, salt and pepper and mix until just combined.  Turn out onto a floured work surface and bring the dough together with your hands to form a flat, puck-like shape.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

3.  Roll out the pastry on a floured surface to the thickness of about 5mm.  Cut out rounds with a small cutter, about 3 cm in diameter, I used a shot glass. Place onto a baking sheet and refrigerate until firm.

4.  Preheat the oven to 160 C.  Sprinkle the biscuits with a little extra Parmesan and a good grating of pepper.  Bake for 25-30 minutes until lightly golden and set.  Allow to cool on a wire rack.

5.  To make canapes, drizzle the cherry tomatoes with olive oil, season and roast in a hot, 200 C oven until soft and beginning to caramelise.  Allow to cool before assembling the biscuits.  Dot each with a little bit of pesto (I actually found it easier to put the pesto in a plastic bag, snip a corner off and ‘pipe’ onto the biscuits), top with a tomato half and sprinkle with a little Parmesan, thyme leaves and salt and pepper.  Serve immediately. 

Something for those January Blues…

Happy New Year!

Its been a busy festive period here at Always So Hungry with travels down to Devon for Christmas via a short stint in Somerset then back up to London and onto Scotland for a New Years Eve wedding and finally back down to London for my start at Leiths.  Can I have a holiday now, please?

Having said that, I had a wonderful few weeks not least because I got to experience my first Hogmanay.  Those Scots sure know how to put on a decent do.

As a little hat tip, I’d like to present a twist on their classic shortbread.  This foolproof recipe has been adapted to add a little flavoursome zing.  I’m not entirely sure what they’d make of it north of the border, but I thought it worked out rather well.  Adjust the flavours to your liking.



Lemongrass and coconut shortbread
(adapted from Leiths Cookery Bible)

You will need:

110g unsalted butter, softened
55g caster sugar + a little extra
110 g plain flour
55 g ground rice/ rice flour
1 lemongrass stems, very finely chopped
1/2 tsp coconut essence (optional)
100 g dessicated coconut

Method:

1.  Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C.

2.  Combine the butter, sugar, lemongrass, essence (if using) and 50 g of the coconut in a large bowl. 

3.  Sift the flours into the bowl and work into a smooth paste.

4.  Use a 15cm flan ring onto a lined baking sheet to press half the shortbread paste into a neat circle.  Repeat with the other half of the paste.  Crimp the edges and mark into a 6-8 wedges.  Prick with a fork.  Chill until firm. 

5. Sprinkle the shortbread with a little extra caster sugar and coconut and bake for about 20 minutes until it is a pale biscuit colour.

6.  Run a palate knife underneath the shortbread to release.  Cool for 5 minutes before breaking into wedges.   Alternatively, you can use a glass or round biscuit cutter to make round shortbread.  Prick with a fork and crimp the edges, before rolling the sides in a little of the coconut and baking. 

Something to nibble under the mistletoe

Pepparkakor are to Swedish Christmas what mince pies are to English Christmas.  One without the other would be a bit of a sin, really.  

 Although you can find them in shops all year round, these spicy gingerbread biscuits with their taste of cloves, cinnamon and ginger are undeniably Christmassy and ubiquitous come the first of advent.

Apart from being delicious accompanied by a mug of glögg (Swedish, much stronger mulled wine) or a cup of Earl Grey, they are also rather wonderful as canape bases for your Christmas party.  You might think me mad, but topped with some blue cheese, they are an absolutely dreamy combo of salty and sweet and a perfect pairing with a glass of fizz.  In my family, they were also always part of Christmas eve breakfast.

This is my recipe, which makes for quite crisp biscuits with a slight citrus tang from the lemon essence and dried bitter orange peel (pomeransskal).  I realise these two ingredients aren’t the easiest to find, but you could easily substitute for a teaspoon each of grated lemon and orange peel.  Or try ordering them online.  Cloves can be quite difficult to find ground in the UK and US, but are essential in this recipe.  You can always try grinding whole cloves yourself in a pestle and mortar if you can’t source the ground stuff. 

This recipe is best when the dough has been left to mature for a few days in the fridge.  It also freezes very well.  A word of caution for when you do come to bake them, though: Don’t step away from the kitchen.  These beauties burn in a millisecond.  Watch them like a hawk.

Pepparkakor (Swedish Gingerbread Biscuits)

You will need:
250g butter, softened
200g caster sugar
150ml golden syrup
1/2 tsp lemon extract (or 1 tsp lemon peel, grated)
2 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp bitter orange peel (or 1 tsp orange peel, grated)
1 tbsp ground cloves
2 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda
500 g plain flour

Method:

1. Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl before adding the syrup and lemon extract (or lemon and orange peel, if using).

2.  Combine all the dry ingredients (spices, flour and bicarb) in a smaller bowl and beat into to the butter mixture.

3.  Knead quickly to form a sticky dough.  Separate into two balls, wrap in clingfilm and leave in the fridge for at least 24 hours, but preferably a few days.  You can also freeze the dough until you need it. 

4.  Remove the dough from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature for about an hour before using.

5.  Preheat your oven to 180 degrees.  Line a couple of baking sheets with parchment. 

6.  On a floured work surface and using a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough as thinly as you dare.   Use cookie-cutters to stencil out they shapes you would like. If the dough becomes to sticky and difficult to use, return to the fridge for a little while. 

7.  Carefully place onto the baking sheets and bake in the preheated oven for 7-10 minutes, keeping an eye on them to ensure they don’t burn.