Sunday, 29 December 2013

Party Food Recipes

So it's New Year's Eve, or Boxing Day, or just a bank holiday barbecue in the summer... and you have to provide food for 20 hungry family members. You need some simple tasty snack ideas. My favourite thing to snack on such an occasion is cheese straws. They're awesomely cheesy, and so easy to make.

Cheese Straws
(makes around 30)

450g cheddar cheese
1tsp salt
120g margarine/butter
250g flour

  • Preheat the oven to 200C and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
  • Grate the cheese into a large bowl. Cream together with the butter.
  • Sift in the flour and salt. Mix well.
  • Knead the dough in the bowl until it softens and comes together. Don't be tempted to add any liquid, it will seem very dry at first but the cheese will soften.
  • Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface until it's around 1cm thick. Cut into long strips about 2cm wide, and place on the baking tray a few cm apart.
  • Bake for 10-15 mins until browned and crisp.

My other party idea is something I once served at a party as a waitress. They had bought canapes to serve from Waitrose, and 8 of these spirals were around £4 a pack. For much less than that you can make enough to serve a whole party of people! This does actually make rather a lot, so you may want to half quantities.

Cheese and Bacon Spirals
(makes 30-40)

Pack of puff pastry
3-4 rashers of bacon
200g cheddar cheese
A handful of snipped chives

  • Preheat the oven to 200C and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
  • Roll out the puff pastry on a floured surface until it measures around 25cm by 35cm. Cut in half lengthways so you have two long strips of pastry.
  • Sprinkle with cheese, leaving a border of
    around 1cm on each strip. Sprinkle the bacon and chives on top.
  • Roll up the strip lengthwise, you may need a second person to help with this. Use a little beaten egg to help seal the edge.
  • Cut the rolled up pastry into 1 inch spiral pieces, and place on the baking tray. Brush with the rest of the beaten egg and bake for 10-15mins until puffed up and browned.

You could use this same idea for any ingredients, maybe use brie with bacon and a little cranberry sauce. You can make sweet ones with chocolate, or butter and cinnamon. When it comes to making home-made party snacks, pastry really is your best friend. Make filo pastry parcels with leftover turkey and cranberry, use shortcrust for mince pies and mini fruit/treacle tarts. And the best thing is you really don't need to make your own pastry, they are all easily store-bought, and filo and puff pastry is very difficult and time-consuming to make so why bother anyway!

So impress your friends and family by making your own simple, tasty party food!

Emily Kate

Monday, 23 December 2013

Christmas Hamper/Hessian Box Tutorial

So now you've decided what to put inside your hamper, you need to find something to put it all in. Now when I first made some last year I spent ages looking for wicker baskets online, but they really aren't cheap, even on eBay. As I had lots of hessian/burlap left over from my advent calendar project, I decided to see if I could fashion a kind of bag/box out of it, and I'm pretty happy with the result. To make 4 of these it didn't take me anymore than a hour or two maximum.

First decided how big you want the box to be. It depends on how much you want to put in it, but I wanted mine to look snug and full, rather than have too much space. I made mine 7" square, with each of the sides 6" high. Each of the sides labelled A need to be the same length, and the same for sides labelled B.

Cut out another square the same size as the box and a square of thick cardboard around 1/2 inch smaller on each side. This is to reinforce the bottom of the box. Fold over the cross shape of the box and sew the 2 edges that meet together. I used my sewing machine with strong thread and a zigzag stitch.

Then sew together the other two edges. It should now be looking like a box! Fold over an inch or so all around at the top and pin. Sew all around the edge you just pinned to neaten it.
Flatten the box a little and fold the edges underneath so you can use pva glue to stick the cardboard to the inside bottom of the box. Stick the extra square of hessian you cut out on top of the cardboard to hide it.

Now turn the box the right way out, and tie some ribbon round it to make it look pretty.
All that's left to do is fill the hamper. I lined mine with tissue paper, filled it with treats, and even adds some holly and ivy sprigs to make it look extra festive!

Emily Kate

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Hamper Ideas - Mulled Wine and Cider Sachets

When Christmas time rolls around, there's only one alcoholic drink I want to drink - mulled wine. It's warming, fruity and spicy, and just smells like Christmas to me. It's something it seems a lot of people like to drink, but don't want to make from scratch because it seems like too much effort. Realistically there's only a few spices needed, and most you may well have lurking in the back of the cupboard from when you bought them to make a curry once 10 years ago. So what better gift to give, than a bottle of wine with a homemade sachet tied round the neck, or add it to your Christmas hampers this year.

This is everything you need: per one sachet

20 allspice berries
1 cinnamon stick (broken in to pieces)
30 cloves
3 cardamom pods
1tsp orange or mixed peel

Cotton thread
4" square piece of cheesecloth or muslin fabric
Gold or silver ribbon

Allspice berries are the only things that can be a little difficult to get hold of, I could only find them in one supermarket in the UK (Waitrose). For the squares of fabric I recommend cheesecloth as it doesn't fray much. My fabric store was out of it this year though so I've used a thin muslin, but I am a little worried it may fray a little into the wine, although that's easily sorted by straining it.

So all you need to do is put all the ingredients for each sachet in a little pile in the middle of the fabric square. Bring the corners together and tie the cotton thread around it securely so none of the spices will fall out. Tie some Christmassy ribbon around the sachet for decoration. Write a little gift tag with how to use it:
Remove the ribbon from the sachet and add with 3 tbsp of sugar, and 750ml (one bottle) of red wine to a saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15min. Ladle into mugs and serve hot. Garnish with a slice of orange.

As well as mulled wine, this year I've also made some mulled cider sachets to give to family. As my family are all from the west county, the county of Somerset where everyone knows the best cider is made and originated, I thought they might go down quite well.

For each cider sachet the spices you need are:

2 sticks of cinnamon
1 star anise
1 tbsp cloves
1 tbsp allspice berries

Include these instructions on your gift tag: Simmer 1 sachet in 2 quarts (4 pints) apple cider for 15 minutes.
The good thing about these sachets is that they could be easily used for apple juice rather than cider for those non-drinking friends and family. 

Don't forget to keep one sachet at least for yourself!

Emily Kate


Sunday, 15 December 2013

Christmas Hamper Ideas

Last year I decided to do a proper homemade Christmas, and make the majority of my presents. The problem was that I decided to knit most of them, and very last minute at that, cut to Christmas eve frantically knitting with mohair wool. Not all that fun. However I also made some little hampers for my family, which I wasn't intending to do this year, but I've had a few requests. So my next couple of posts will be ideas for treats and sweets you could make for your own hampers. Now you may think, well I haven't got time for this before Christmas... but some of these things are best made only a day or two beforehand, and really don't take long at all.

The first one is Christmas biscuits, a seriously simple idea for little presents. I make a batch of vanilla, and one of gingerbread and then wrap 2 of each in cellophane and tie with a ribbon.

For vanilla biscuits:

100g caster sugar
100g butter
1tsp vanilla essence
1 egg
275g plain flour

  • Cream the butter and sugar together. Beat in the egg and vanilla.
  • Add the flour and mix until the dough starts to come together.
  • Use your hands to knead the dough a little and then put in the fridge for a while.
For the gingerbread biscuits:

50g butter
60g caster sugar
2tbsp golden syrup
1/2tsp ground ginger
1/2tsp ground cinnamon
175g plain flour
1tsp bicarbonate of soda

  • Melt the sugar, butter and golden syrup together over a medium heat until the sugar dissolves.
  • Take off the heat and stir in the flour, bicarb and spices until the mixture forms a dough.
  • Wrap in Clingfilm and put in the fridge to cool for a couple of hours, or the freezer if you're short of time.

Now you have both lots of dough made, set the oven to 180c and line some baking trays with greaseproof paper. Roll out one of the doughs to a thickness of about 5mm, and cut out as many star, snowflakes or other Christmas shape as you can. Re-roll the remaining dough and cut out shapes until there is none left. If you want to hang any of the biscuits, make a hole with a knife in them before baking, Place the biscuits on a baking tray and bake for 8-10mins.

When the biscuits are completely cool, you can ice them. Make the icing by mixing a few tablespoons of icing sugar with a few drops of water, so it is a consistency that will just about drop off a spoon, but is not runny.

The best invention in baking recently I think is disposable plastic icing bags. They come in a roll so you just tear one off, put a few spoonfuls of icing in and cut off the tip, depending on how thick you want the icing. They can just be thrown away afterwards, so no washing up! These are perfect for icing these biscuits, with whatever design you fancy.

All that's left is to either thread a piece of ribbon through to hang them on the tree, or wrap them up to give as gifts. I bought a roll of white polka dot cellophane from eBay last year, I just cut out a square and place the biscuits in the middle. Bring each corner to the middle and tie with a piece of ribbon, curling the ends. It looks really effective!

gift hamper ideas

Emily Kate

Friday, 6 December 2013

Christmassy Gingerbread Cupcakes

When my music ensemble organises a recital, I'm always the one in charge of the cake. We like to be nice and informal afterwards and have a cup of tea with the audience... and well we just all really like cake. For our upcoming Christmas concert I thought what we needed was Christmassy cupcakes, (and mince pies, and mulled wine obviously... but still cake) so here's the recipe for my Gingerbread cupcakes.


Christmas cupcake baking100g butter or margarine                              
175g soft brown sugar
2 eggs
150g self raising flour
60g natural yoghurt
2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
 Pinch of nutmeg

For the icing:
50g soft brown sugar
200g butter
200g icing sugar


  • Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/ gas 4.
  • Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. 
  • Beat the eggs into the mixture, one at a time.
  • Sift in the flour with the spices, and stir through the yoghurt.
  • Place 12 paper cupcake cases into a muffin tin and divide the mixture between them. 
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden and springy to the touch. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. 
  • For the icing: while the cupcakes are cooking place 50 grams of the butter in a pan with the brown sugar and cook over a low heat until melted. Leave to one side to cool to room temperature. 
  • In a large mixing bowl beat the butter until smooth, then start to sift in the icing sugar, stirring regularly. Add the toffee sauce and stir until thoroughly incorporated.
  • Put the icing in a piping bag and pipe onto the cupcakes. Dust some cocoa powder over the cupcakes.

This makes lovely soft and light cupcakes with a gingerbread flavour! So enjoy.

Christmas cupcake baking

Emily Kate

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Star-shaped Mince Pies

This post was originally meant to go out in November, as I've been making mince pies for weeks now. I'm the first one to moan about Christmas decorations being put up in November and Christmas songs and adverts everywhere; but the one Christmas thing I would quite happily have as early as possible, is mince pies. They're easy to make and you can freeze them and have a ready made dessert ready in minutes. (always a bonus in our house as we never go without dessert!)

These mince pies are dead easy, you don't need any baking experience whatsoever, it's just a little fiddly. It uses puff pastry, so there's no need to make any (unless you have a LOT of time and just really like making pastry I guess) Jus-rol or any other store bought works just fine.

So here's everything you need:

block of puff pastry
maple syrup
icing sugar
orange/clementine (optional)
vanilla essence (optional)
brandy (optional)


rolling pin
small star shaped cutter
greaseproof paper
baking tray

The optional ingredients are just to jazz up the mincemeat a little to make it a little more exciting and if like myself you tend you buy the cheaper variety.
  • Add any extra ingredients to the mincemeat, and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. Preheat the oven to 180C.
  • Roll out a bit of the puff pastry to a thickness of only 1mm, if it's too thick the pastry will puff up too much and come out of the star shape.
  • Cut out squares of around 10cm by 10cm, and slice the pastry from each corner about halfway towards the centre. Place the squares on the baking tray and add a heaped teaspoon of mincemeat to the centre of each square.
  • Pull the left section of each corner into the middle of the square and overlap on top of the mincemeat.
  • Using the star cutter, cut out a star for each mice pie and put it in the centre on top of the mincemeat, use a little maple syrup to keep it in place.
  • Bake in the oven for around 10-15mins or until the pastry has puffed up and turned slightly golden.
  • Brush the pies with maple syrup, and when they have cooled a little dust liberally with icing sugar.


easy mice pies

Emily Kate