Kicking the histamine bucket

I’d never given histamine much thought, apart from popping anti- pills from about February onwards for the past six years or so. I never suffered from hayfever as a child and it was savage when it hit me, with severe sinus pain and the feeling that I needed to rip my eyes from their sockets to get any relief.

Probably about the same time, I started suffering from a dry cough. Others probably suffered more, to be honest – when it cleared up my mother revealed that she’d always known when I was about to cough during our phone conversations, and she’d pull the receiver away from her ear before the bellow came.

The cough stopped without fanfare just before our wedding and I didn’t even realise until my mum mentioned its absence. “You must not be eating dairy,” she guessed, knowing that we were on a mad panic last-minute diet. In fact I was mainlining yoghurt and cheese, along with meat on a well-known and frequently derided high-protein diet which I reluctantly thought actually suited me rather well even if I still hankered after bread and potatoes and all things magnificently carbulous.

Not long after the wedding I got pregnant and ate my way through morning sickness, mashed potato was particularly helpful. The pounds piled on too, and they weren’t just baby. When our son was a couple of weeks old, at the beginning of August the cough came back. So I was sleep deprived, hacking, and fat. Winner! By Christmas it was so bad that one night nursing the baby at 3:00am I coughed so hard I felt something pop under a rib – and it still hurts now.

The short version of what happened is GP appointments, the chest clinic at the local hospital, some interesting tests and an asthma diagnosis. That came from me performing exceptionally badly in a histamine challenge test (which sounds like a remake of an 80s television show) but I’m still not sure that they are right.

Yes, I react badly to histamine – my lung function dropped 40% at the beginning of the test, when they only wanted a 20% reaction over the course of the entire test. This, to my consultant, is consistent with asthma and there can’t be any possibility of it being food related – he was very dismissive when I asked him if there could be any link between diet and the cough. Even though long-term symptoms disappeared during a restricted diet and returned with a vengeance when I was eating everything.

So I decided to do a little research. I explained the story to a friend who’s a naturopath if she could think of anything that I might be allergic to, or any other reason for the coughing. She asked me if anyone had discussed histamine-rich foods with me. Um, no.

When you look into it there are a lot of slightly conflicting lists of what you can eat if you’re sensitive to histamine. The theory is that your histamine levels are like a bucket – once it’s full you’ll get symptoms (cough, bloating, sneezing etc) but you can empty the bucket a little by managing what you eat, taking Vitamin C which is a natural antihistamine, and drinking lots of water. I took this lightly as I’ve always been a bit of a an intolerance denier (if you swell up like a pumpkin with anaphylaxis fair enough, but some people are just fussy eaters) but decided to try an exclusion diet in line with the histamine-sensitivity principles. Here’s the things I’m supposed to avoid (from Allergy UK).

  • “Champagne ,wine, beer, cider and other fermented drinks and spirits
  • Sauerkraut and other pickled foods
  • Vinegar and foods containing it such as dressings, pickles, mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard
  • Tofu and soya sauce
  • Parmesan cheese and other cheeses
  • Sausages and other processed meats (ham, salami, gammon, bacon)
  • Mushrooms and quorn
  • Tinned and smoked fish (tuna, salmon, herring) and crustaceans
  • Prepared salads
  • Tinned vegetables
  • Dried fruit, seeds, nuts
  • Yeast extract, yeast
  • Chocolate, cocoa, cola

Certain foods (even food that is low in histamine) can stimulate the release of histamine from mast cells in your body (a type of immune cell). These foods include:

  • Bananas
  • Tomatoes,
  • Strawberries
  • Nuts
  • Peanuts
  • Shellfish
  • Egg white
  • Chocolate
  • Pumpkin
  • Spinach
  • Aubergines
  • Avocado
  • Papayas
  • Kiwi
  • Pineapple
  • Mango
  • Raspberry
  • Tangerines
  • Grapefruits
  • Red prunes
  • Pea
  • Spices”

Yeah, I particularly like “spices” thrown in there at the end. It cuts out so many condiments and any source of umami seems to be completely verboten.

However, the cough is gone.

Except when I eat things from that list.

I’ve already sussed that peppers and potatoes hate me, wheat isn’t great and chocolate and white wine are no-nos. So if I’ve declined an invitation to dine, or try various food products, this is probably why. I’m also taking anti-histamine now just to try to help. And I’ll be looking for new recipe ideas and trying to post food ideas here too.

It should almost go without saying, but all resource suggestions gratefully accepted!

Win! Extra Special Christmas goodies from Leith’s and ASDA

Last week we visited Leith’s in west London, to sample some of the delights that Leith’s have selected from the ASDA range as their top hits for Christma in the “Extra Special” range.. It’s an interesting partnership, as I think we have some ideas in our minds about which supermarkets are more ‘foodie’ than others – I certainly did. However most of us nowadays are looking for both certain standards of ingredients and value for money so this arrangement looks promising. Leith’s were frank about their unwillingness to compromise on quality and it’s going to be interesting to see what these two ostensibly different animals will come up as the relationship develops over the next eighteen months.

We prepared a three course meal using combinations of the products from the range and lots of help from the lovely Leith’s staff. Our display went a bit awry when it became clear we’d sampled some of the honey and mustard baked sausages (but we were huuuuuuungry!) Lesson learned: next time eat three of the dozen in the pack and leave a nice presentable nine.

They still tasted good. We made fast cheaty canap√©s using some of the ingredients in the range, such as goats’ cheese and walnut topped crostini, drizzled with yet more honey, and peppered smoked salmon flaked into cream cheese and loaded up with horseradish. Main course was beautifully cooked venison which, heretical as it would be to my family, I could see as an alternative main course for the 25th. Not in my house, but I understand some people aren’t fans of turkey?!

And just in time for the big day, ASDA and Leith’s are offering one lucky winner a huge hamper full of Extra Special Goodies. The long list includes:

Christmas pudding, All-Butter Mini mince pies, Hazelnut & Fruit Stollen, Yule Log, Roast Pork and Crackling Hand Cooked Crisps (beware, these are more addictive than crack), Forest Fruit Butter Crumbles, Applewood Smoked Cheddar and winter chutney Hand Cooked Crisps, Fairtrade Columbian Roast and Ground Coffee, Artisan Biscuits for Cheese, Florentines, Black olive Breadsticks, Continental Delicacies, Gruyere and poppy seed twists, All butter Sundried Tomato and cheese Crumbles, Cava, Cranberry Sauce, Caramelised Onion Chutney, and to top it all off, a jar of Goosefat!

How to enter:

Leave a comment on this post or on the OMG Facebook page, answering this question:

Q: What will you be eating on Christmas Day?

Edited to add: The winner of this competition is J. Kelly, who commented on Facebook: “Chicken!! We have chicken & topside beef. I don’t mind turkey, but for the price I would have to LOVE it ūüôā So, we have chicken, beef, two kinds of gravy. All the trimming, 100’s of Yorkshire puddings (home-made of course) & my absolute favourite… Pigs in Blankets. Asda’s are the very best!!”

Congrats to you!

Terms and Conditions:

  1. This giveaway is open to all readers over 18 who live in the UK.
  2. The competition opens at 13:30 on 6 December 2011 and closes at 23:59 on 14 December 2011.
  3. There are two ways to enter – by answering the posed question on this page or on the OMG Facebook page. You may enter using each method once, for a total of two entries per person.
  4. The winner will be chosen via a random number generator.
  5. The winner will be contacted by e-mail, if they do not respond within 3 days another winner may be chosen.
  6. There is one prize of a hamper of ASDA Extra Special products, as listed though the promoter reserves the right to make substitutions if necessary.
  7. This competition is being run in good faith on behalf of ASDA, who will be responsible for sending the prize to the winner. Their decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into. They reserve the right to substitute the prize for one of a similar type / value if the prize above is not available.
  8. Instructions form part of the terms and conditions and by entering you’re agreeing to participate under these terms and conditions.
  9. Entries using any software or automated process to make bulk entries will be disqualified.

My mother’s filthy cheesecake

I never really appreciated this recipe as a child. What I now recognise as a wonderful firm, velvet texture was chalky and bland to me then (and part of a general dislike of anything ‘creamy’). The genius of the recipe is that it uses good old jelly in place of faffing about with gelatin – hence the ‘filthy’ epithet.

The recipe I wrote down on my last trip home was specifically for an orange version of this, complete with tinned mandarins on top. Yes, I am a child of the 70s. After fiddling around with it, it’s become lime instead.

Ingredients

  • 225g digestive biscuits
  • 170g melted butter
  • 1 packet lime jelly
  • juice and zest of 2 limes and 1 orange (to make up 150ml of liquid)
  • 225g philadelphia cheese
  • 55g caster sugar
  • small carton vanilla yoghurt
  • 300ml cream (a standard 284ml carton would be fine)
  • Dark chocolate for grating

Method

  1. Batter the digestives into submission inside a sturdy Ziploc bag, using a rolling pin. Empty into a bowl and pour over the melted butter, mix evenly. Press this into the bottom of a springform tin and put into the fridge to chill.
  2. Heat up the lemon and orange juice in a small saucepan, then add the block of jelly and melt over gentle heat.
  3. Using a food processor, whizz together the cheese, sugar, yoghurt and melted jelly.
  4. Whip the cream lightly and fold it into the mixture. Pour it into the prepped tin.
  5. Allow to set in the fridge. Before serving, remove it from the fridge for 30 minutes. Run a knife around the inside edge to loosen it before removing the springform collar. Grate dark chocolate over the top.

If you’d like a sharper taste, use only lime juice for the 1/4 pint of liquid needed to make up the jelly.

Also I notice in many cheese cake recipes a suggestion to use softened, rather than melted butter, and to pulverise it together with the crumbed biscuits in a food processor. I’ll be trying that next time. I’ve made a thicker base, you could easily reduce the amounts by a third which might be better balanced. But when it comes to cheesecake, it’s hardly about balance, right?

Homemade Christmas Gifts [Honeycomb]

I made this huge batch of nougat the other day. It tasted great. It also had its own personality. It was a bit of a free spirit – actually it was kind of sleazy. It wanted to throw itself all over the kitchen, over me, and just coudn’t take no for an answer. ¬†The Blob of the candy world, it just wanted to keep oozing, and oozing… I will give it another go soon but in need of a quick-fix gift in the meantime, I opted for honeycomb instead. It’s safe and sure – well apart from when you throw in the bicarb and it threatens to flow over the side of the saucepan like molten lava…

Honeycomb

There are tons of recipes out there and I went with more or less the basic one that everyone seems to use.

Ingredients

  • 200g caster sugar
  • 120g Golden Syrup
  • 3 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • As many edible decorations as you can stomach (sorry)

Method 

  1. Mix the sugar and golden syrup in a saucepan. I found it turned into a fudge-like mass. Once it’s on the heat, don’t stir again but swirl it around if necessary.
  2. When you put the pan on the heat, quickly prepare your baking sheet. Line it with parchment and dust liberally with edible decorations, such as edible Christmas trees, gold stars, and pearlescent glitter. Tasteful is not exactly what you’re going for here.
  3. Let the mixture melt then come to a bubbling boil, it will darken considerably.
  4. Don an oven glove if necessary, take the pan off the heat and then dump in the bicarb and whisk briskly. It will mushroom dramatically.
  5. Pour onto the baking sheet and again, go wild with the glittery stuff. Leave it to set then smash it into pieces. Bag up and give it to people with an attached disclaimer about their fillings.

 

 


Scrapiana’s Carrot Cake

Lovely Eirlys (aka Scrapiana) generously shared her Carrot Cake recipe with me, and said she didn’t mind if I gave it to you too. This is one of those great cut-and-come-again cakes that keeps well, can be made in advance, and can be tweaked to fit what you’ve got in the fridge. ¬†I also like the fact that it has less oil that some recipes I’ve seen, but it’s still spongy, spicy and lovely. The cake in the photograph is a doubling of the recipe below – heartily recommended.

Ingredients

  • Carrots 6oz/150g
  • 2 eggs
  • 4oz/100g brown sugar
  • 3 fl oz/75ml sunflower oil
  • 4 oz/100g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¬Ĺ tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 oz/50g desiccated coconut or ground almonds
  • 2 oz/50g dried fruit as preferred
  • Icing: 125g/4oz butter
  • 225g/8 oz cream cheese (full fat)
  • 250g/1 lb icing sugar
  • Zest of 1 lime, and half the juice

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 190C/350F/Mark 5. Grease & line the base of a 7″ square cake¬†tin, or a small (1 lb) loaf tin.
  2. Finely grate carrots.
  3. Whisk eggs and sugar together till thick and creamy. Add oil gradually, whisking well after each addition. Then add remaining ingredients & mix to combine evenly.
  4. Spoon resulting sloppy mixture into prepared tin. Level surface and bake for 20-25 minutes (though the loaf version will take longer: various wayward ovens through the years have taken an hour) till firm to the touch and golden brown. Cool and spread with icing (optional) or just scoff warm from the tin (my preference).To make the icing: cream the butter and cheese together, then add the sugar, lime juice and zest. Spread over the top, then perhaps decorate with some chopped nuts.

Let’s make Christmas [Chutney]

There are a couple of reasons why I haven’t fully embraced the notion of a homemade, handmade foodie Christmas before. Firstly, I’m rarely organised in time to do the sort of longer term, big batch gifts. You know, the sort of stuff you put in jars. And leave there for at least two months. Secondly, as someone who does all kind of crafty stuff, I’m a little cautious when it comes to making gifts. ¬†I’ve never been as unlucky as a friend of mine (she knits beautiful, intricate sweaters for her family which they put away in cupboards because “They’re not quite me.” Um, well give them back? Give them to someone else? ¬†I’ll stop now…) but suffice to say, I’m wary of putting hours and hours into a gift that might not be suitable or let’s face it, welcome. Or in this case, edible.

Leaving all that aside…this year I was ready early, we’d been to a jam and chutney class at the¬†Make Lounge¬†and I was making the most of a bigger kitchen. Although I no longer had my hoard of saved jars, as I had to recycle them when we moved, I found that the internet will send me a kabillion jars for not very much money …and they have red spotty lids. Anyone who knows me can tell you I’m a sucker for red polka dots. Once you have 72 jars, you feel under pressure to fill at least some of them. Ahem.

I went with a couple of Nigella recipes – by accident, as I was looking for a seasonal pumpkin recipe and then found her Christmas Chutney one and figured that if you’re going to make the entire house stink of boiling vinegar you might as well go for broke. The Christmas one is almost the same as here, though it specified fresh cranberries which I found (frozen) in Sainsbury’s and has dates as you can see here.

After quite a lot of chopping, the ‘cook down into a mush’ method couldn’t be simpler and it makes about a dozen (7oz) jars of red berry goodness. A quick lick of the spoon – after it was finished with, of course – was delicious, though of course it will have changed and mellowed to lose some of its vinegary tang when it’s come to its full maturity after, yes, you’ve guessed it, two months in the cupboard.

I’ll be delivering some of this to Vanessa’s “Let’s Make Christmas” blogger swap on Friday and will provide the actual recipe used, of course. I’d also hoped to have a couple of other things ready, as the deadline is also helpful for getting my own Christmas presents all done and ready, but we’ll have to see! ¬†As well as some sweets and baked goodies nearer the time, I’m also going to be making a very big pot of lovely Tommi Miers‘ fabulous Chipotles en Adobo. This hearty salsa (she tells me it’ll last for years, at least two but it’s too addictive to hang around for long in your fridge) is a fantastic addition to both Mexican dishes and anything stew- or casserole-like that needs a little souping-up. It’s easy to make, just takes an afternoon of pot watching. And chopping.

There’s one other project that is due to mature in mid-December. Homemade vanilla essence is simple to make but again, it’s a question of time. It requires at least eight weeks to mature. To make it, get yourself a 1.5l bottle of vodka and approximately 20-30 best quality vanilla beans. Roll, flatten and split the beans and scrape out the tiny seeds with the tip of a very sharp knife and drop them into the bottle with each and every split pod. Leave for, you guessed it, two months. Sigh. Now to decorate them – Labeley is aimed at beer but I think we can repurpose?

It can work out to be relatively inexpensive to make big batch presents like this, although saving jars rather than buying them obviously helps, as I tend to go for as good quality ingredients as I can afford. It’s perhaps sensible compared to say, stocking up at one of the luxury food halls – and part of the attraction there lays in the beautiful packaging and the tradition of it all. This big-batch approach obviously makes sense if you’ve got a large group of friends and colleagues to buy for.¬†But I don’t necessarily agree with people who say that homemade is a ‘cheap’ option and it certainly doesn’t mean less care or affection than something bought “in a real shop”. Suffice to say that if you see me proferring a jar or bottle of something your way this December, it’s because I think you’re someone with a discerning palate, and someone about whom I cared enough to make something for, from scratch.

Plus if the chutney is terrible, you’ll just chuck it in the bin and we’ll still be friends, right?

Get baking for Movember

If you’re not able to “donate your face” to Movember this year but you know someone who is and you want to help them with some fundraising, there are lots of brilliant moustache related goodies out there.

I spotted these in Oliver Bonas the other other day –¬†Munchstache¬†Cookie cutters from Fred & Friends. The cutter has an indented pattern on the top so you can flip it over and stamp some beautiful texture on to your Wolford, Baron, or Bristle Brush shaped mo amongst others.

They look super fun, my only reservation might be whether the cut dough comes out easily from the cutter but the stamper means less decorating work to make them look fab.

You could also try  the Fuzzy Inc ones which are available via the Movember website Рlooks like they ship from the US.

Wilton make these rather fab Mustache Molds (note the US spelling if you’re looking for them online!) which could be used with chocolate as well as their candy melts. ¬†Not so widely available here with paying a hefty shipping charge, but could be used again and again.

[Edit – it seems that the Munchstaches might be sold out online at Oliver Bonas. Try in the stores or also available here.]

In the UK, all the ‘Mo Bros’ who participate in Movember help to stimulate conversation about men’s health and raise awareness of the most prevalent male cancers, testicular and prostate.¬†

Homemade Halloween Part II – Tiny Teeny Halloweeny Pies

I’ve been meaning to contribute to Sarah’s¬†“Forever Nigella”¬†monthly round-up for ages. I’m a Nigella devotee. Somehow I even seem to have a copy of “Summer Bites” and that book did too, to be honest. More notes space than recipes in there.

This month’s challenge is¬†“Halloween Horrors”¬†with the instructions to take a Nigella recipes and ‘halloween it up’, basically. ¬†So let me introduce to you… the Tiny Teeny Halloweeny Pies.

Tiny Teeny Halloweeny Pies

These are a variation on the Star-Topped Mince Pies from Nigella Christmas.  I added a healthy helping of chopped stem ginger in syrup to make these a bit more tangy than your average apple pie and put a little powdered ginger into the pastry.

This just about makes 24 Tiny Pies with their scary faces. It also meant I could use the set of miniature Aspic Cutters I bought about ten years ago in Dean & Deluca. On a cost per use basis – well they were still kind of expensive, but still!

special Equipment

  • 2 x 12-cup mini pie baking tins
  • 1 x 4 or 5 cm round biscuit cutter
  • Aspic cutters or a sharp knife and lots of patience
  • rolling pin (this is v handy)

Ingredients

  • 160g plain flour
  • ¬Ĺ tsp ground ginger
  • 40g of Trex (vegetable shortening)
  • 40ml of orange juice (without bits!)
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 cooking apples, to yield about 3oog once peeled and cored
  • 2 tbsp of soft brown sugar
  • 35g of stem ginger, finely chopped¬†

Method 

  1. Sieve the flour and powdered ginger into a shallow bowl. Add the shortening in small lumps and the diced cold butter, toss gently and put it into the freezer for 20 minutes. At the same time, add the salt to the orange juice and chill that in the fridge.  Prep the fruit for later.
  2. Blitz the flour mixture in the food processor until the breadcrumb stage. Add as much of the orange juice as you need to make it almost come together (you might have surplus juice which is fine; if you run out use iced water to finish up).
  3. On your work surface, work the mixture into a soft dough. Divide into two batches, roughly one third and two thirds of the mix, and wrap in clingfilm to chill for another 20 minutes while you preheat the oven to 220c or Gas Mark 7.


  4. While the dough is chilling, make your filling. Put the apple, ginger and sugar in a pan with 1tbsp of water and cook down slowly (chop up the apples smaller that I did!) Leave to cool a little while you make the faces and prep the dough cases.
  5. Use the larger piece of dough for the cases. When rolling out the dough, go as thin as possible – 2mm was what I aimed for. You can patch it up, this dough is pretty forgiving. If you re-roll the scraps enough you will have plenty of dough for 24 mini pies.
  6. Cut out the cases with the round cutter and lay into the tin holes.
  7. For the ‘faces’ I had an egg shaped cutter but using a round one, then pulling the face out of shape would be fine. The egg shape worked better sideways too. Use aspic cutters or a knife for the features. Then the leftover triangles you remove can double up as pumpkin stalks.
  8. Put a half tsp of filling in each one – they bubble over quite a bit.
  9. Put in the oven and check after 8 minutes.  Mine were almost done then Рand two more minutes meant they were on the rather well-done side, dammit.
  10. Decorate with suitable jelly sweets – like the Natural Confectionary Company’s worms, as above.

In hindsight putting some green colouring into the filling would have worked too…if you’re making them for kids you might want to tone down the ginger or add either a dusting of icing sugar or some icing on top.

Looking forward to seeing the rest of the Horrors in the round up! For a slightly healthier treat – well, it does involve more fruit but probably also more sugar – what about Caramel Apples?

PS I notice that Lakeland have something similar to aspic cutters in their Christmas range – Tree Trinket Cutters with mini inserts to stamp out shapes in the interior of the cookie. Melt some boiled sweets in there and you’ve got stained glass cookies!

Homemade Halloween: Marshmallow Ghosts

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a newly-married woman in possession of a good kitchen must be in want of a KitchenAid.

Actually the newly married has nothing to do with it but we finally moved to a house where appliances don’t have to prove their worth by multi-tasking to earn valuable counter space (therefore hello enormo coffee grinder…) and my mother in law brilliantly ordered this for us.

This immediately made me want to make ridiculous things, preferably involving hot sugar. ¬†I’m trying to not eat the entire world after being on a hardcore pre-wedding diet, but [serious case of “justification” coming] I’ve had this particular recipe in mind for ages and Halloween was coming…

Marshmallow Ghosts

I worked from the recipe in Matt Lewis and Rene Poliafito‘s Baked book, after seeing them float Titanic-capsizing chunks of fresh vanilla marshmallow into the hot chocolate they serve at their Red Hook bakery last year and being unable to forget them!

Make sure to be particularly pernickety about your mise-en-place for this. Even attempting to be rigorous, I had a few things that I needed to dash and find. Line the tin generously with parchment and clingfilm as you’ll need to grasp it to lever the glorious slab out when it’s set.

Equipment

  • deep 32.5 x 23-centimeter baking pan – I used a roasting tray
  • clingfilm and¬†parchment for lining it
  • Either spray oil or oil plus a pastry brush – which I used instead of the suggested vegetable shortening in the original recipe
  • a medium heatproof bowl for the gelatin, which fits on Saucepan B as below
  • 1st small saucepan to melt the sugars mixture – Saucepan A
  • 2nd small saucepan to act as a bain marie – Saucepan B
  • measuring cups ¬†(two sets might be useful)
  • stand mixer with whisk attachment fitted
  • heatproof spatulas – I like these as they fit in small size measuring cups
  • sugar thermometer
  • offset spatula
  • sieve or sifter
  • sharp knife, or for ghosts –
  • shaped cookie cutters, toothpicks, black food colouring

Ingredients

  • 8 sheets of gelatin
  • 2 cups of granulated sugar
  • 2 x¬†¬Ĺ cups of light corn syrup (which I got in Selfridges but you could use Golden Syrup)
  • ¬Ĺ cup water
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • icing sugar and cornflour mixed together 2:1 for dusting

Method 

  1. Generously line the tin with clingfilm, followed by parchment and either use spray oil to grease, or brush the parchment with oil using a pastry brush.
  2. Leave the gelatin in a bowl of cold water to soften (make sure the bowl you use will fit snugly on top of Saucepan B in double-boiler fashion for later).
  3. In Saucepan A, stir together ¬Ĺ cup of corn syrup, ¬Ĺ cup of water¬†and all the sugar. Don’t splash it up the sides and make the pan is deep enough to accommodate your sugar thermometer’s bulb! (I had to change pans).
  4. Put the other ¬Ĺ cup of¬†corn syrup in the stand mixer.
  5. When Saucepan B’s water is boiling: get the bowl and drain and wring out the gelatin sheets, then put them back in the bowl and place it on top of Saucepan B. Stir with the spatula til completely melted (it looks quite odd and just when you think it will never melt…)
  6. Pour that gelatin into the stand mixer with the corn syrup and start whisking on low.
  7. Skip promptly back to Saucepan A and take it off the heat at “Soft Ball” stage, about 235F. Bring to the mixer, turn the speed to medium then very carefully pour the contents of Saucepan A into the mixer bowl. Then turn the speed to medium/high for five minutes until you see it majestically fluff and expand.
  8. Quickly add the vanilla and salt, then give it another minute on high.
  9. Make sure your pan is ready beside you and pour the marshmallow in and spread out. Use the spatula if you must but gently tilting the tin works too.
  10. Sprinkle the top with sugar.  Leave for at least six hours or overnight before attempting to cut it.

  11. Lift it out of the tin by grabbing the parchment. Flip it over using another board so you can also sugar the bottom. Either cut into large squares or use cookie cutters to cut specific shapes if you like. Toss them in the sugar and cornflour mix to coat them and minimize sticky fingers!
  12. If using ghost cutters, Draw on their expressions using a toothpick dipped in black food colouring. Then¬†chop the remaining marshmallow into small mini pieces to use as a baking ingredient or scatter over icecream. ¬†Store in an airtight tin, good for a week. Or get the hot chocolate ready…

I would say that while it’s not complex to make marshmallows, a stand mixer does make it easier and you have a lot of steps to get through at once, around the critical sugar-boiling stage. Also –¬†hell¬†of a lot of washing up, of sticky gloopy things. But I do think it’s worth it.


The Enterprise, Holborn

You know how everyone thinks that their wedding* was the bestest party ever? Well, we’re no exception to that rule. Credit where it’s due, here are some of the people and suppliers who helped us along to that conclusion.

The Enterprise, Holborn.

It’s one of those places where people narrow their eyes and say ‘Oh – I think I know it’ – but often don’t as it’s a common name. The Enterprise is hidden away opposite Lamb’s Conduit St, at 38 Red Lion Street towards High Holborn.

We wanted a central London wedding and a pub venue for the reception. Ideally without any hire fee and somewhere that we could bring in our own food. A case of hen’s teeth, you might think.

Our fabulous baker friend remembered clients who’d had a strict budget which they spent on Waitrose canap√©s and wedding cupcakes in a pub that allowed you to bring your own food, and that’s how we found Diana and the Enterprise.

This woman is a saint. I’d like to think we were relatively chilled (because every bride does, even as others are queuing up to slap her silly) and that was largely down to Diana’s patience and organisational skills. Her default answer is “yes” and they literally could not have been more helpful. How many pubs would say

Why don’t we just put up the 75 metres of bunting? Much easier than your coming over. We’ll do it at midnight on Friday when we close, so it’s all ready for you on Saturday at 11:00am.

And the flowers too. We can do those. Would you like balloons? What about balloons? (no, no balloons)

Tea and coffee? Well either you can supply your own which we’ll use or we’ll get in whatever you want.

And yes, we can mix a cocktail on arrival with that specific ginger beer you want and the house Bloody Marys too.

Music? Live band? Great! Just bring an iPod or use or Spotify account for when they finish. What about the disco ball? (yes, definitely disco ball)

You can drop in stuff any time you like or get it delivered directly here.

Of course, your caterer can use anything in the kitchen and we’ll get the chef to come in on Saturday morning to make sure everything is ok.

If you want to pop back on Sunday we’ll have everything packed and ready for you to take away. Or we can keep it until after your honeymoon?

How about an extension until 1:00am? That’s free of charge, we’ll sort it out.

You want striped straws and Fentimans? Just send them over.

And on, and on. We didn’t have to pay anything for hire, just meet a bar spend which was rather lower than anywhere else that we looked at. We had the pub to ourselves for the day (and when one person did wander in off the streets opportunistically, it took the staff about seventeen seconds to clock him and move him on). The pub’s Victorian glory meant we had to do very little to dress it up – in fact we did nothing as it was all handled by the pub.

The Eating.

We were in the lucky position of being able to work with people we knew well for the food.

Sylvain from Undercover Kitchen toiled away in the kitchen for about twelve hours and pretty much used every cooking method available to him. I’ve known him for a while and knew that the presentation would be great but above all the flavours would be perfect. I hear that the quail scotch eggs and the fish and chips went down well (also did that classic thing of not actually managing to eat much at our own wedding, dammit). He made piles and piles of Ginger Pig bacon butties and London Rich sausage sandwiches. He was also game for doing two complete sets of food and even supplied the sugar syrup for the bride’s cocktail. Nothing was too much trouble.

Some issues ahead of the day meant we changed the plans from a small family lunch and evening party, to brunch and afternoon tea and late night shouty singing. Baked greats – not just goods, greats – came courtesy of Scott from Kooky Bakes with American Breakfast Whoopie pies amongst other dazzlingly pretty cupcakery and also including the infamous Kooky Slice; and the amazing Arianna Halshaw of Bittersweet Bakers made all manner of treats. Particularly our favourite Rice Krispie Marshmallow ones, and flourless chocolate cookies, and cinnamon rolls…. the best damn cake ever.

It was three tiers of Guinness and Ginger with vanilla cream cheese icing and it was devastatingly tasty. To the point where I know she’s been bribed for the recipe and she very generously gave it to me too – it’s going to be our Christmas cake this year. It’s gloriously unctuous and moreish, a melting, rich gingerbready concoction. Available to order from her website…

My lovely mum brought us a great pressie, hand carried all the way from Ireland. A wheel of mature Mossfield cheese, made by my cousins from organic milk, fifteen minutes away from where I was brought up. “The Irish Cheese” is like a Gouda and also comes in other flavours like garlic and basil or herb and sundried tomato. I say: the mature wins every time. It’s available from Paxton & Whitfield here.

Steven at Union Hand Roasted Coffee dashed to get a kilo of Revelation into the post to me at 5:00pm on Thursday night after I totally forgot to order any in advance. By 4:00pm on the day of the wedding, given that the ceremony had started at 10:00, people really needed coffee.

We had a ball at our own wedding, not only because we were surrounded by a ton of people we love, but also because we had brilliant people helping us. If you’re considering a London wedding, or even further afield, can’t recommend them all highly enough. Oh, and our photographer Chris was awesome too.

Photos by Chris Osburn, Scott Ball and MiMi Aye.

*Blogging got a bit neglected with wedding planning then getting married and moving house twice, all in the same month. Normal service to resume…