Wednesday, 17 December 2014

RECIPE: Healthy mince pies.


I am so blimmin’ pleased these babies turned out well. Truth be told, I’m a little bit in love with them.


And I’m just going to warn you from the get-go: I took way too many pictures of them. Sorry in advance.


Mince pies are some of my favourite things about the Christmas period, and it wasn’t until my year abroad last year that I really realised they’re a uniquely British treat. Germany does Christmas food blimmin' well, but the lack of mince pies was deeply felt.

As much as I adore them, I’d never made my own, somewhat shockingly. Let’s be real here: you can get some pretty darn spectacular mince pies from bakeries and supermarkets.



Delicious though they are, mince pies ain’t generally the healthiest of snacks. Sure, you could take the view that Christmas is the time of year to throw caution to the wind and chuck healthy eating out the window for the whole of December. And my natural instinct is to do just that. But I think we know we’d all regret that come January. (Or so I try and remind myself when faced with a tin of Quality Street…)



Christmas is a time of excess, it cannot be denied. And hey, I enjoy that as much as the next gal. But I was super keen to find a way to make healthier mince pies.

So when I stumbled upon Hemsley + Hemsley’s healthy mince pie recipe, I knew I had to give it a try. I’ve made a few changes but my recipe is indeed based on theirs. (After all, they are best-selling cookery authors so we’d be wise to do as they say, no?)



These mince pies are totally gluten-free: the pastry is made with ground almonds, and I for one adore the subtle almondy flavour. It lends itself perfectly to the apple in the mincemeat, which is another fab addition in my books.

The ground almonds also create a softer pastry – almost shortbread cookie-esque – and I am a fan.

D’you know what I hate? Mince pies that are basically all pastry with a couple of raisins in. No, no. That is not OK. Such a disappointment, don’tcha think?



So, I’ve made sure to stuff these babies with mincemeat. The result? A fabulous texture sensation with very bite. The mincemeat is super easy to make too, and the spice mix makes it gorgeously Christmassy: plump dried fruits, sweet apple and warming spices. Oh yes.

These mince pies aren’t huge, but I rather love their size. You can either keep them in their paper cases or take them out.




They’re genuinely super good for you too! The only “bad” ingredient is the teeeeny sprinkling of sugar on top (and depending on your position on the saturated fat matter, the tiny bit of butter/spread.)

Ideally you’d have a star-shaped cookie cutter to make the toppings of your mince pies, but I had to make do with a flower. Personally, I still think they look charming though.



It’s Christmas joy in a guilt-free mouthful. I love them

If you don’t gobble them all up in a day or two, the pastry may start to go a little soft but if you pop them in the oven for a few minutes to warm up before munching they should crisp right up again.



This recipe makes 14 mince pies.


Ingredients

For the almond pastry:

200g ground almonds
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp baking powder
¾ tbsp Sweet Freedom (or sub maple syrup)
15g butter/spread, at room temperature
1 medium egg

For the mincemeat:

1 ½ apples, about 150g
160g mix of raisins/sultanas/currants
The zest and juice of ½ lemon
½ tsp ground mixed spice
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 pinch of ground nutmeg
2½ tbsp apple juice
25g coconut oil or butter

To serve:

Melted butter
Caster sugar


Method

1. Preheat the oven to 170C. In a bowl, mix together the pastry ingredients until they form a dough – I started with a spoon then got stuck in with my hand. Separate into thirds (mine were about 95g each), cover with clingfilm and chill in the fridge while you make your mincemeat.


2. Core and finely chop the apples so that the pieces are the size of raisins – there’s no need to peel them. Place all the mincemeat ingredients into a large saucepan and cook on a medium heat, lid on, for about 15 minutes until the apples are soft.


Stir every now and then to prevent sticking.


Lift the lid and allow any extra liquid to evaporate on a low heat. Line a fairycake tin with paper cases.

3. Working with one third of the chilled dough at a time, roll it out between two pieces of greaseproof paper until a few millimetres thick (use a rolling pin if you have one. Use a wine bottle if you’re a peasant like me). With a pastry cutter that fits the diameter of your cases, cut several discs of pastry. Use a knife to gently lift each disc and place in a paper case, carefully pressing it into shape.



4. Gather the scraps and re-roll – I made 14 pies from two thirds of the mixture. Keep the remaining third for the star/flower tops.

5. Bake the tart bases for five minutes (there’s no need to use baking beans) and remove from the oven.

6. Fill each crust with a heaped teaspoon of mincemeat and press down with your fingers (be generous). Cut stars/flowers from the remaining dough and gently place one on top of each pie.



Brush the tops with melted butter or an egg-yolk wash, sprinkle with a little sugar and bake for approximately 10 minutes until lightly golden. Cool the tin on a wire rack for five minutes, then ease the tarts out on to the rack to cool further – they will crisp up as they cool. Once cool, remove the mince pies from the paper cases if you wish.


7. Enjoy! Ideally warm from the oven. With a cup of tea. No, wait... Make that mulled wine. Whilst in a plush armchair beside a roaring fire. To the sound of carollers.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Sparkly skating at Clifton On Ice.


“It’s even more magical than ice skating in Germany at Christmastime!” And, coming from a gal who was living in Munich this time last year, that’s saying something.

Last Friday, just after the sun had set, I met up with three of my best girlfriends at Clifton On Ice, Bristol’s newest pop-up ice rink.


Situated in the heart of Clifton (the loveliest area of Bristol in my opinion), the ice rink is a sight to behold. Having walked past it gawping at the pretty twinkly lights multiple times, I was desperate to get my skates on and have a go on the ice myself.


Wrapped up warm in winter woollies, we excitedly laced up our skates and ventured onto the ice.

Snap courtesy of Amber

My initial feeling was “HOW THE BAJEEZUS DO YOU DO THIS!?” But we soon got into the swing of things, gliding over the ice like wannabe Torvills and Deans.

OK, we definitely looked more like Bambi on ice, but we were having a great time and that’s all that mattered.

Having my very own "Harry Styles in the Night Changes video" moment
The atmosphere was simply magical! Fairy lights sparkle above and all around the rink, it’s adorned with real twinkly Christmas trees, and festive tunes play out over the ice, creating the perfect Christmassy atmosphere.


The adorable après-skate bar lines the rink (I’ll get to that later) meaning family and friends can cheer on laugh at their chums on the ice, and the skaters themselves can look out over Clifton bustling by on the other side.

Granted, the rink isn’t huge, but with its little loopy cave section, the layout is interesting and you don’t get bored. We nattered and skated for our full hour and had a great time!

Amber nailed the skating selfie

Luckily the rink wasn’t too busy, although we did have the occasional collision with some men far too eager to show off, not to mention tiny, fearless children.

Helmets were free if you wanted them though, and having two skating staff members on the ice at all times who would gracefully glide over should anyone take a tumble, we all felt safe. The staff were delightfully friendly too.

Our hour was soon up though, and we were ready to hit the utterly charming, Alpine chalet-style bar.




Isn't it gorgeous?

Warming up round the fire, I felt like I was back at Winterdorf in Bayreuth!


The free blankets and fire weren't quite enough though, oh no. We needed warming up from the inside-out. Ergo, mulled cider. 




From posh hot dogs to Champagne, there's an array of tempting treats on offer. Although they're not the most student-friendly of prices, alas.


That said, our mulled cider was indeed scrumptious and just what we needed after coming off the ice.


We all agreed it had been an absolutely perfect afternoon of festive fun, and I'd thoroughly recommend Clifton On Ice to anyone in the vicinity. Magical, sparkly, Christmassy... I utterly loved it.

Thanks to Clifton On Ice for inviting me and the girls to skate at a discounted rate - this post is, as always, entirely my honest opinion. Find out more about tickets here.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

My Telegraph piece: 11 things you'll only understand when back at uni after a year abroad.

Super excited to share my first piece as a student writer for the Telegraph! Hope you all like it. And post-year-abroaders... do ya feel me? #postyearabroadproblems 

Pic from the Telegraph
Whether you filled your days studying, working or – as is often the case – doing very little, living it up abroad for a year, or even just a semester, was always going to be a good decision. Coming back to the uni bubble afterwards, however, can bring both joy and pain, and there are certain things you’ll only understand upon your return…


1. Timehop makes you die inside every single day 

Yet at the same time you can’t bear to delete it. Oh, look how much fun I was having this time last year. I’d much rather be sitting in the library writing an essay. No, really! These are definitely not tears. It’s just, um, winter hay fever.


2. After months of travelling, you get twitchy having to stay in one city for weeks on end

As much as you may love your university city, nothing compares to the amount of travelling you did on what was essentially an extended holiday. And the chances are you know your surrogate home country better than you do the UK, despite having lived here for two decades.


3. You realise German Christmas markets in the UK aren’t actually that German…

French bread isn’t particularly French, and pizza in Britain might as well be a completely different food to the authentic Italian. Jamie’s Italian will never hold the same charm as before.


4. Baked beans, scones and fish & chips have never tasted so good

(Not together though. That would be weird.) The majority of the world outside the UK may think our cuisine is horrendous, but you know better. There’s nothing like a stint abroad to make you appreciate the manna from heaven that is a proper roast dinner.


5. Everyone assumes you’re fluent in a foreign language

You know you’ll never be 100 per cent fluent as there are TOO. MANY. WORDS! “But you lived there, you must be fluent,” they say. Rather than explain that you, in fact, spent most of your time hanging out with other Brits and everyone abroad speaks English, it’s simpler to just smile and nod. They don’t need to know the truth.


6. The joy at shops being open on Sundays still hasn’t worn off

Praise the Lord for no longer having to make sure you have enough food for Sunday and Monday morning. (We’ve all been caught out by that cheeky Monday breakfast before, right?) Oh, and good riddance, lunchtime closing hour. Or, if you were in France, three hours.


7. Not having to specifically ask for milk when ordering tea brings a smile to your face

And no longer receiving perplexed looks upon making your cuppa. “Your tea looks like weird chocolate milk,” they said. “Your tea is wrong,” we thought in response. Oh, the sweet sweet joy at not having to specify ‘black tea’ any more. When we say tea, we know what we mean. Finally, you’re back amongst civilised folk who understand the importance, power and majesty of a cup of tea.


8. Alcohol is once again expensive

Remember when beer was cheaper than water and a bottle of Prosecco cost 3 Euros? Those were the days.


9. Tap water is a thing

On the subject of water, as a poor student you will never again take for granted the availability of free water when eating out. What a treat to no longer receive a puzzled look and a shot glass of warm water upon asking abroad. Because that’s really going to hydrate me.


10. You’re not special any more

We could blame all our strange ways on being British (“Oh, well eating two breakfasts is actually totally normal in the UK”), and it was fun being the foreign, interesting, exotic one. Well, exotic as you can be coming from Leicestershire.


11. It’s back to real money

Euros = basically Monopoly money, right? And oh, the treat that is once again being able to pay by card EVERYWHERE!

So what do you think? Make my day and check out my piece on the Telegraph here!

Thursday, 4 December 2014

RECIPE: Cheat's cherry berry trifle.


I love trifle. Seriously. Big trifle fan.

However, oddly enough I’d never made it myself. I guess it always seemed like such a faff with all those layers. But it turns out you can make a rather cracking trifle pretty simply with a few little cheats, as I discovered with this recipe.


It’s an unconventional Hosie family tradition to serve trifle as one of our many Christmas Day puddings, so eating trifle always stirs up festive feelings inside me. And awful plays on words: “Would you like some more?” “Oh, just a trifle.” *guffaws*

(Seriously, we make that joke every year. It's usually my hi-LAIR-ious brother. We're a hoot, we Hosies.)

Cherries also have a slightly Christmassy vibe in my opinion, so when Hartley’s sent me some of their new Black Cherry flavour jelly to try out, I thought it was just perfect for a festive trifle.

Lighter custard = this is health food, right?
Weirdly enough, jelly is another Hosie fam Christmas pud. (Don’t judge us, we like a lot of pudding. Any sensible person would.)

Trifle is a classic British pudding for a reason: it’s damn good. Sweet sponge, syrupy fruit, jelly (not always present but a welcome addition in my books), custard and cream all layered up in one beautiful dish of deliciousness. What a winner.

You know that Thanksgiving episode of Friends where Rachel makes the trifle and ends up adding mince and peas because the pages of her recipe book were stuck together? (She makes a trifle-Shepherd’s Pie hybrid.)

Well I felt a little like her actually. Not just because we share the same name (and amazing hair, obvs), but because I was having a big roast dinner with my flatmates that evening and was the only one on pudding duty. That’s pressure, people.

Luckily, I’m pleased to say my trifle went down a treat!

I only had two individual trifle glasses so made the rest in a big glass bowl – not ideal but we made do.



What I love about trifle is the layers stay distinct and look so pretty (even if not exactly clean lines), then you dive in and mush everything up – you’ve got to get a bit of each layer!

The syrupy fruit mix should soak into the sponge, so it’s totally fine to make your trifles in advance and leave them in the fridge to chill for a few hours. Literally.

I know a few people who don’t like glacé cherries but I have to admit I am a fan. They’re just so plump and juicy and sticky and sweet! I left mine whole in this as I like a chunky cherry, but you could chop them if you prefer.


I really like the cherry-berry flavour combo too.

Of course, if you want to make your own custard, cream, jam and sponge then be my guest. You could even grow your own cherries. But I think this trifle is rather fabulous with a few helping hands. And by that I mean shop-bought ingredients. No-one's judging.

To be honest with you, quantities are a little wishy-washy with trifles - it all comes down to your dishes and your preferences. Wanna go heavy on the custard, go for it! Fancy ALL the cream? Why not!?

OH! And make sure you make your jelly far enough in advance so that it has a few hours to set!

This serves 8 people.


Ingredients

1 pack (135g) black cherry jelly

a wedge of lemon and a little sugar for decorating the glasses

4-5 tbsp strawberry jam (or jam of your choice)
200g glacé cherries 
1 pack of 8 trifle sponges (I used these)
1 carton ready-to-eat custard
Squirty whipped cream (or fresh cream, whipped by you - I used a bit of both)
25g dark chocolate, grated


Method

1. Make the jelly according to packet instructions and leave to set in the fridge.

2. Prepare the glasses by gently wiping the lemon wedge around the rims and dipping them in sugar until covered.


3. Add the jam and cherries to a saucepan and cook over a low heat for five minutes or so, just until it's all melted together a bit. Don't let it thicken too much.


Transfer to a cool dish and leave to cool as much as possible.


4. While the cherry mix cools, cut the cake slices into pieces that will fit into your glasses and place them in the bottom in as even a layer as you can.


5. Spoon the cherry mix over the sponges and then top with a layer of jelly.



6. Next up, custard! Spoon it on top.


7. Cream time! Add as much or as little as you like.


8. Just before serving, top with a generous sprinkle of grated chocolate.




Now eat that up and enjooooooy!

What's your fave type of trifle to make (or just eat)?