Thursday, 17 April 2014

The Boy and his Poison: Basil and Strawberry Infused Vodka


My life has taken on a nocturnal twist since I found I was living opposite a cruelly sadistic nest of birds. They decided to start their campaign of harassment in March and have shown no interest in giving up their incessant morning chorus for two months now. On the plus side it's led to some productive internet foraging… what else is there to do at 3am? One early morning, a tweet led to a blog, a blog led to an instagram picture, and suddenly I'd stumbled on an article about how well basil and strawberry work as complimentary flavours. Cue me drifting off to sleep dreaming of basil and strawberry-infused vodka.

With an incredible taste and colour imparted by the strawberries and a complex savoury note from the basil, it's a deceptively simple flavoured vodka to make which is delicious served ice cold or as a base for any number of drinks. In particular it makes a fantastic Collins or, if you like your drinks shorter, a moreish Sour.

You'll need
  • A sterilised container (if you're going to gift this Parfait make the best ones)
  • 500ml vodka
  • 6 strawberries
  • 10 basil leaves
Make it! 
  1. Slice the strawberries and layer them around the bottom of your jar. 
  2. Strip the leaves from the basil stems and prod them between the strawberries. 
  3. Pour over the vodka until all the fruit and leaves are covered.
  4. Seal and leave in a dark place for a week to let the flavours infuse. Your strawberries will release their colour as well as their flavour, so don't be worried if they start looking like zombie strawberries a few days in.
  5. After a week, strain the vodka using a coffee filter or muslin into a bottle of your choice
For a Strawberry Basil Collins:

  1. Add 50ml of your vodka with a dessert spoon of sugar and 25ml of lemon juice to a highball glass and stir until mixed. 
  2. Fill the glass with ice, top up with sparkling water and stir.

For a Strawberry Basil Sour:

  1. Add 50ml of your vodka with a dessert spoon of sugar and 25ml of lemon juice to an ice-filled cocktail shaker and shake for 5-10 seconds.
  2. Strain into a martini glass and garnish with a basil leaf and a sliced strawberry on the side of the glass.

Tall Girl Treat: Miss Selfridge Flapper Dresses


I know. Let's take a moment to reflect on a Tall Girl Treat from Miss Selfridge, which I have historically found to be a petite/extremely slender girl's heaven. But OH! These dresses are the bomb. I walked past them while using Miss Selfridge as an escape route from Oxford Street Topshop the other day and you've never seen my head snap round faster.

I am a sucker for 20s and 30s dressing, and even more of a sucker for bright colours. Not only do these fabulous dresses combine the two, with some extremely good attention to detail, but they are oh so long. I mean, mega long. The right length for me (6'1) long and so therefore hopefully the right length for you.

Let us begin.
Red flapper dress
Bonnie fuchsia flapper dress
Bonnie coral flapper dress
Absolutely mad love for the Bonnie flapper dress. I had a brilliant one with spaghetti straps that I got from New Look for about £15 when I was a university fresher, and it lasted years. These, and indeed all the Miss Selfridge dresses are SIGNIFICANTLY more expensive, but the detail is amazing. No idea why the red one isn't listed under Bonnie as it is exactly the same style.

Seriously. Go to your nearest branch and peer at them. They are, to misquote Eddie Izzard, covered in beads. Beads, glitter and utterly spectacular fringeing: these are amazing. Let's have a look at them with a woman in them.
 

It's here that cries of "But I bet the model's only 5'8!" will start - but no. The fabric finishes on the knee on me and there is loads of below knee fringe swishing.  Go and try it on now as they are running out online. The dresses come in sizes 8 to 16 and cost £190. I know, ouch. But these are monumentally good frocks.

Nude embellished maxi, £120
I only held this embellished maxi dress up against myself to curl my lip at the inevitable swinging that would ensure (cough, Monsoon). But no. This was brilliantly long and went right to my feet. Reader, I nearly fainted and squashed a teenage girl. Sizes 4 to 16, £120, wear them with a pair of really gorgeous flats.
 

If you prefer something a bit more traditionally 30s, then it also comes in a purer nude without the pink. LOVE that cutout back. Sizes 4 to 14, also £120.

These are the ones I got my hands on, but Miss Selfridge has a more extensive range of flapper frocks in different styles that could be worth a whirl. In the meantime, ignore the godawful film and get your Gatsby on in style.

Sluttishly Savoury: Pulled Spring Lamb with Slaw


Struggling for Easter day meal inspiration? We've got it covered and tied up with a big Easter bow. This 'pulled lamb' is a more casual way of enjoying the traditional roast lamb, and it's much cheaper than buying the leg. It can be piled into burgers, you can go Moroccan and team it with apricot couscous and toasted almonds, or serve it with typical roast dinner accoutrements. It has a spicy crust and is meltingly tender inside, so much so that you can pull it apart with forks rather than slicing it. It takes a day worth of cooking time, so I suggest putting it the oven when you go to bed. There's no better alarm clock than the smell of pulled lamb. I made a spring slaw to go with mine which is nice because it's pretty and feels fresh and celebratory.

Pulled Spring Lamb with Slaw (serves 3)
Preparation Time: 5mins
Cooking Time: 10 - 12 hours 
  • 1/2 tbsp cardamom pods, seeds only
  • 1/2 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • /2 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp cloves
  • 1kg lamb shoulder (bone in)
  • salt, pepper and sugar
For the Slaw: 
  • 1 carrot, peeled and grated or cut into matchsticks
  • 3 spring onions, shredded
  • 1 apple, peeled and shredded
  • 1/4 red cabbage, shredded
  • a handful of mint leaves, roughly chopped (optional)
  • a handful of dill, roughly chopped (optional)
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp mayonnaise 
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
Make it!
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas 2. 
  2. Blitz all the spices together with the sugar and salt either in a food processor, spice grinder or pestle and mortar, so you have a fine spice rub. 
  3. Rub the lamb all over with the spices. 
  4. Lay the lamb on a trivet in a roasting tin. Cover with foil and bake in the oven for 10 - 12 hours.
  5. Remove the foil and turn the heat up to 220C/425F/Gas7 and cook for 10 minutes - this forms a nice crust.
  6. To serve 'pull' the meat apart with forks.
For the slaw:
  1. Mix together all of the shredded salad ingredients and sprinkle with about 2 tsp of sugar and 1 of salt. Cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for a couple of hours to get rid of any bitterness.
  2. Mix the mayonnaise with the juice and zest of the lemon and mix into the slaw.

Shop In The Spotlight: One Must Dash

I spent a long time thinking "One Must Dash" was a play on words for "one moustache", before realising that makes no sense at all. One Must Dash more likely refers to the two giddy Swedish women who run this interior design shop (look at their photo!), or the mixture of very proper typography and happy skippy sentiments.


Who among us doesn't love a passive-aggressive - or simply aggressive - statement once in a while? Avoid a very un-British outburst of rage and simply put up a This Is Not A Bloody Hotel print if you've got an unruly housemate or child. Be warned: the target of your annoyance may simply coo over the beautifully laid out fonts and striking monochrome. It's £35 or £55 for a bloody enormous version if you're really Very Cross Indeed.


You know which day is a damn good day for a disco? EVERY DAY! If you're not dancing to Magic FM in your kitchen every evening, you're barely living. Send this card to any friends you're worried might not be getting their disco quota. At £2.80, you can send it to all your friends, just in case.


Nothing sums up the disappointment of a terrible date like "I Shaved My Legs For This?". As the country song says: "Well, it's perfectly clear / Between the TV and beer / I won't get so much as a kiss / ... Darling, did I shave my legs for this?" Honey, if he's really worth it, he won't mind a sporadic whip round with a razor when you can be arsed.


Never mind the romantic message ("Hello dear, just needed to tell you I love you"), check out that typewriter! Cor. I miss typewriters sometimes - the clatter of the keys, the way they weren't linked to the eternal distraction of the internet, the ping at the end of a line. Then I remember Tippex and having to change the ribbon, and I am grateful for laptops.

One Must Dash don't just do prints - look at their Not Another Bag canvas tote bag, with an envelope print that makes it look like an enormous letter. Leather handles mean it won't break on the bus either. It's yours for £55.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Baking for Beginners: Hot Cross Dough Balls

One of my favourite Easter treats is hot cross buns. Usually, I don't meddle with them, but this year I felt like deconstructing them.

I thought about what I like best about hot cross buns, and decided it was when they're enjoyed straight from the oven and dripping with butter. So, I decided to try making butter-filled hot cross dough balls. Reader, this was one of my better life decisions.

They're delicately spiced and oozing with melted butter and dried fruit - they taste like hot cross buns, but with all the fun of buttery dough balls. I am notoriously bad at bread-making, so I have completely and utterly cheated by using shop-bought bread mix. The time you save by not fannying about with yeast and measuring stuff and covering yourself in egg can be spent eating eggs of the chocolate variety.

Hot Cross Bun Dough Balls (makes 25-30)
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Proving time: 1-2 hours
Baking time: 20 minutes
You will need:
For the dough balls
  • 500g white bread mix
  • 25g caster sugar (optional - I found mine sweet enough without it)
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground ginger (use 4 tsp mixed spice in place of all three spices, if you prefer)
  • 25g unsalted butter
  • 350ml warm water
  • The zest of one orange (reserve one tsp of zest for the butter)
For the butter
  • 150g unsalted butter
  • 125g mixed dried fruit
  • The juice of half an orange
  • 1 tsp orange zest
For the crosses
  • 3 tbsp plain flour
  • 2 tbsp water
For the glaze (optional)
  • Some runny honey
Make it!
  1. Mix the bread mix, sugar (if using), cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger (or mixed spice in place of all three), then rub the butter through the mixture using your hands. Add the water and orange zest, and combine until it's come together.
  2. In a mixer with the dough hook attached, or by hand using lots of muscle power, knead the dough for 10 minutes (by hand) or 5 (in a mixer). It should be smooth and elastic by the time you've finished. 
  3. Place the dough in a greased bowl in a warm place, with a damp tea towel on top, for anything up to two hours. It will have doubled in size when it's finished rising.
  4. Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7 and line a couple of baking trays with parchment. Quickly mix up your butter stuffing by stirring the butter, dried fruit, orange juice and zest vigorously until combined.
  5. Grab your dough, and on a lightly floured surface and with floured hands, punch it a few times to get the air out, then give it a quick knead. Now roughly divide it into about 30 pieces.
  6. Roll a piece into a ball then flatten it on the work surface, either with a pin or the palm of your hand. Spoon a teaspoon of butter mixture into the centre, then fold up the edges and pinch to seal the butter inside. The dough is tough, so you can be quite rough with it and really make sure any holes are fixed. Flour your hands again before rolling your newly-formed dough ball in your palms. Place on the baking tray and continue with the rest.
  7. Once all the dough balls are done, mix the plain flour and water until you have a paste - you may need to add a little more water along the way to keep it smooth. Pour this into a sandwich bag or piping bag, snip off a tiny corner, and pipe crosses on each ball.     
  8. Place your trays in the centre of the oven for about 20 minutes - the dough balls will turn golden brown when done. Despite our careful sealing, pinching and rolling, it's inevitable that some butter will escape, and for me that's the best bit, so don't panic. 
  9. You can either leave your dough balls to cool, and then glaze them with a little honey brushed on with a pastry brush, or toss them around in the baking tray to cover them with butter, and devour immediately. I recommend option 2.   

Design Porn: F***ing Brilliant Swear Word Socks

 

"Swearing isn't big and it isn't clever," say irritating people who have yet to discover the sheer joy of the word 'fucktard'.

These swear socks from those filthy minds at Firebox are the absolute business, and the good news for me is that, unlike most female novelty socks, they fit up to a size 10. HELLO! We start with my absolute favourite: these sunshiny, happy, inspirational message socks telling you to "carpe the fuck out of this diem". Really, if Robin Williams had just said that, then the Dead Poets Society would probably have come to a happier conclusion.


Perfect for a rainy day, or just when you're feeling a bit crap - Fuck This Shit socks are available to pre-order and will be in stock on April 23. Happy birthday Shakespeare! King of the inventive swears.

(I would advise on not wearing with these shoes. Or indeed, going anywhere near these shoes. These belong in kindergarden in the 80s.)


I can't believe I'm going to say "and these are the more muted option" about pink socks with a cat and SOCK WHORE written on them, but that is the case with these genteel leg options for the lady who has a penchant for foot furnishings.

All these socks are £7.99 and will fill you with colourful blue joy from here til eternity, or they die, whichever comes first. You know how these dogs just can't even? I just can't even about these socks.

Top Egg Recipes for Easter


How do you like your eggs? Fried, scrambled or chocolate? This weekend, it's very possible that you'll be rolling hard-boiled ones down a hill, stuffing your face with chocolate ones or brunching on poached ones covered in Hollandaise sauce. The humble egg is a brilliant addition to any meal and we've rounded up our favourites for you to try.



Breakfast seems like the obvious meal for eggs, and when you're talking about a perfectly poached egg on toast or a baked egg roll you can see why they're an egg-cellent start to the day! Puns aside, a souffle omelette would be a cracking breakfast, too. Breakfast cups are rather lovely, too. If you want a decadent breakfast in bed, you need to have smoked salmon Benedict (preferably whilst wearing silk pyjamas).



Let's not forget about the wonderful brunch potential of huevos rancheros and gypsy eggs. Sweet potato hash is a carby, eggy delight, while kedgeree works just as well as supper as it does brunch.



One kedgeree that definitely works for supper is our Thai inspired version. Bibimbap is another eggs and rice dish that's a winner for supper. For a low-carb "rice" dish, egg fried cauliflower rice is gorgeously soothing after a tough day.



No picnic is complete without a scotch egg and Toulouse scotch eggs are pretty hard to beat. Quiche is most certainly required for all picnickers, and caramelized onion quiche is a good choice. Add bacon and you'll make that picnic perfect.



Can you imagine what a chicken that lays chocolate eggs would look like? Delicious, most probably. Ok, so chocolate eggs haven't actually been laid by any sort of poultry, but they're too wonderful to leave out. Our Creme Egg surprise is a super-sweet treat for Easter, make these to make yourself very popular indeed! Any surplus eggs (is there such a thing?) can be turned into these mini egg cookies.



For those people who don't fancy chocolate this Easter, there's always cakes in eggshells or a white chocolate and mango dippy egg.

Still peckish? Check out more of our top ten recipe posts!
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