Thursday, 20 March 2014

Nuts for it...

 Growing up. Yup, those dirty little words that spell the end of 4pm lie-ins, foam parties and nipping to the shops in your PJs, are becoming an all too frequent utterance in my life. From the day I realised I knew more about the bin-collection schedule than the line-up of the local club, to the sudden interest in the National Trust, and a certain penchant for floral crockery; it seems to have crept up on me. And I am afraid it might just be entirely unavoidable Yes, no matter how tightly you grip on to Teen Vogue; certain teeny-weeny changes add up, and suddenly you own 5 pairs of reading glasses (of which you can find none), have bought a 3 bedroom house, drive a Volvo estate and are a fully fledged adult.

 Ok, ok; maybe it’s not quite that drastic, but as suddenly dawned on me as I helped my Mum delicately slice bitesize morsels of smoked  salmon and fill miniature Yorkshires with blushing roast beef, I might be nearing one of those seemingly insignificant milestones myself. No, I have not quite traded in my oyster card for a family car, but as the vast majority of my friends settle into the 9-5 and are forced to get to grips with the hoover after several glorious years spent living in student houses that saw less of the broom and more of the bottle; I have realised that it is only a matter of time before the big one. Yup, I am ready for it- waiting with baited breath for the day a good night out becomes less dancing on the tables and more restocking the Kettle Chips and circulating the hummus...

Now, despite becoming a dab-hand at hosting dinner parties before I had even tied my first upper school tie (well, someone’s got to eat the ridiculous amount of food I churn out), I know that the time when it is unacceptable to turn up to an event with only a tube of lipgloss and a bottle of cheap wine is not entirely imminent. And yet, I am ready. And to be honest, despite desperately trying to cling on to the idea that I could still work a scrunchie or rock dungarees- I am not entirely afraid of this cruditĂ© wielding, bilini grabbing era to burst into my life and banish the Jaagerbombs forever. Well, maybe not forever, let’s not be too hasty now...

But I am suitably prepared. I already know that when the first drinks and nibbles invitation arrives, these out of this world, Honey and Spice nuts will be top of the list of party-food offerings. Crunchy, spicy, bursting with rosemary and red chilli and the perfect balance of both salty and sweet; these will guarantee your invite to the next civilised affair. Perfectly nibble-able (it is still OK to make up words when you are a grown up, right?) they are as easy as mixing, throwing onto a baking tray and bunging into the oven; perfect if you need as much time as I do to make yourself presentable for a night of champagne quaffing and canapĂ© nibbling. 

And they will be equally quick to disappear. Particularly when accompanied by a nice glass of something cold and fizzy. And I am not talking about a Cheeky Vimto, we are grown ups remember...

Party Nuts

400g mixed nuts (cashews, pecans, hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, etc. etc...)

3 tbsp honey

Squeeze of lemon juice

1tsp cinnamon

1 tsp mixed spice

A grating of nutmeg

1 tsp dried rosemary

½ tsp dried chilli flakes (or more if you like them hot!)

A good pinch of sea salt.

Preheat the oven to 180oc. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

In a large bowl, mix the lemon, spices, honey, salt and herbs. Add the nuts and mix everything up until evenly coated.

Spread onto a baking tray and bake for 12-15 minutes, stirring halfway through cooking, until golden.

Serve with a tipple of your choice...

Thursday, 6 March 2014

The £10 Challenge...

This week, owing to a very unfortunate sequence of events involving one night out, one morning after and one vanishing debit card, I have set myself the somewhat ridiculous challenge of living on £10. In London. And avoiding starvation...


Yup, in the immortal words of Peter Andre, you would not be wrong in screaming ‘this is INSANIA!’ at this point, but thus far, 3 well fed days in, I am (sort of) on track. And that is not to say that I have not had essential purchases to make- I experienced the usual sinking feeling when my can of hairspray greeted me with the dreaded fruitless spray on Monday morning, scraped the dregs from my moisturiser bottle on Tuesday, and then blew a bulb to top it all off this morning. Drama.

But all is not lost; I live opposite a 99p store, remember. Which is a whole 1p better than Poundland, and every penny counts this week.  But, no matter how wonderful that budget wonderland is, I have still managed to avoid constructing my meals from limited edition kettle chips or multipacks of Haribo. Although I may start, that sounds delicious.

But anyway, stop getting distracted- Where was I? Oh yes, avoiding the dodgy looking ham in the 99p store chiller cabinet (yes, that does exist), and instead working my way through the contents of my overflowing fridge; something I probably should have done a long time ago. I just can’t resist a bargain you see- I spot a pack of half priced smoked haddock and it pretty much leaps into my basket and straight into the freezer, I am a sucker for offers, get excited by dented tins of tomatoes, and have a ridiculous urge to buy anything under 50p. Yup, I just can’t say no to a reduced sticker, no matter what random ingredients I end up stuffing into the depths of the freezer drawer. I think it may be an illness.

But this affliction does have its advantages. And these muffins are one of them. After raiding the fridge and emerging triumphant with a courgette, a funky looking piece of feta and a couple of eggs this week; I decided it was time to unearth the baking powder, dust off the cake tin and whip up some of these amazingly yummy muffins. Crammed with pumpkin seeds, rich with rosemary and bursting with a little sweetness from a handful of sultanas; these are, in my eyes, perfection on any budget. Eat warm, dripping with butter for brunch, tuck into your lunchbox for a mid-morning treat or just all in one go, straight from the oven. Who said you can’t have fun for a tenner?

Well, maybe ask me again at the end of day 7, and keep your fingers crossed that nothing more dramatic happens than £2 can cover before then...

Courgette, feta and rosemary muffins (Makes 12)

Adapted from this brilliant Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe, these deliciously moist and flavoursome savoury muffins tick all the boxes; particularly good for drowning your sorrows when the £10 turns to £0...

200g plain flour

40g jumbo oats

2 tsp baking powder

½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

A good pinch of salt

A few grinds of black pepper

1 tsp dried or fresh rosemary

60g feta, crumbled plus another 20g or so to sprinkle on top

2 eggs

250g yoghurt

4 tbsps olive oil

200g courgettes, coarsely grated

40g pumpkin seeds

40g sultanas

Preheat the oven to 200C and line a muffin tin with 12 cases.
In a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, combine the eggs, yoghurt and oil until smooth. 
Fold the wet mixture into the dry, along with the feta and courgette and mix until just combined.
Spoon evenly into your muffin case, sprinkle with the remaining feta and a little rosemary and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until risen, golden and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.