Friday, 21 December 2012

Ask the Sluts: What's your favourite thing about Christmas?

It's Christmas! We've got time for one more glass of mulled wine and then we're switching our laptops off for a few days. We've had such an fun run up to Christmas, with so much food we're almost bursting and some fabulous Christmas competitions. We're absolutely thrilled to have raised over £4500 for Shelter (you can still donate throughout the rest of 2012). Before we go, we thought we'd leave on a happy note and share with you what we're looking forward to about Christmas.

Sian: I really love that little bit of time between Christmas and new year. No one knows what day it is, no one gets dressed properly, no one really does anything except mill about and eat sweets. It's the calm after that storm that is Christmas, wrapping paper and friends and family. You'll find me reading books, reflecting on the year that's passed and watching Love Actually for the millionth time. It's my most favourite time of year. I love seeing people I love in the run up to Christmas but I also really enjoy a bit of time to myself. That's when I'm recharging my batteries, buying a new diary and writing epic to-do lists for the year ahead. I get to do that but with a glass of Baileys nearby and kitten curled up on my lap, hanging with my parents who are pretty damn awesome. I'm so excited right now I could pop.

Kat: Christmas in our house is so traditional I could write out the timings of what happens and when already. But this year, I've got a lot to be thankful for: my brother is back from Singapore for his first Christmas in two years; I get to spend time with my parents, my uncle, aunt, grandma (and most importantly, dog); and there will be lots of feasting and going "I TOLD YOU" when my parents wax lyrical about Modern Family. One of my favourite bits is watching the Queen's Speech: looking back over the year, and seeing what we as a country have achieved, as well as thinking of those we've lost. And I'm looking forward to going to church and hearing our slightly Kraftwerk organist hitting almost all of the notes in the correct order. I wish you a very merry Christmas and a happy and successful New Year.

Laura B: I spend Christmas and New Year in the Canary Islands with my mum every year, so my favourite thing about the festive season is SUNSHINE! This year, we will do as we always do: wake up late, eat a big breakfast of churros, sit on our balcony for a while, take a walk on the beach, maybe have some grilled sardines or prawns for lunch, and then a massive slap-up dinner (with not a turkey in sight!). On the eve of Epiphany, when Spain has its main celebration, we'll leave shoes out for the Kings to fill with gifts (plus we'll thoughtfully provide a bowl of water for their camels), and on the day itself, we'll stop by a bakery to buy a roscón - the traditional Epiphany cake - before watching the town parade (more camels). Ojalá que todos tengan una feliz Navidad y un próspero año nuevo.

Caleigh: I'm spending this Christmas in North Carolina with my in-laws so I actually have no idea what it'll be like! Although I have spent Christmas with my hubby's family before, it was at our home in the UK and, once, in Florida, never yet at their home in Charlotte. Family is important, no matter where I spend the day and I'm sure that, as well as Mum, Dad and Sis -in-law, there will be a few other ex-pats making an appearance. I'm such a child at Christmas, I insist on leaving a dram and a mince pie out for Santa, plus some carrots for the reindeer! I wake up at 5am on Christmas morning, then again at 6, 7... until I'm finally allowed to wake my husband at around 9am - the excitement is too much! We open our stocking gifts together before joining the rest of the family for breakfast and opening gifts. I wish you a joyous Christmas and a prosperous new year, slàinte mhath!

Laura: For me, it's the silliness. There's a festive episode of The Good Life called "Silly, but it's fun" and their Christmas is pretty much the benchmark of ours. There's no standing to attention, no bickering, no conflict of interest: we just all have fun being as ridiculous as we like, and it feels like I laugh all day. It's stuff like seeing my dog Phoebe proudly unwrap her own presents (although sadly, this year will be the first without her.) And realising at half one in the morning of Boxing Day that I've absent-mindedly been wearing a cracker hat since lunch. And my grandparents' outrageous one-liners when they've had a sherry too many. And, this year, watching my 3 year old niece meet Santa but being so in awe she decided to address him with the more formal "Mr. Christmas". I hope you all have a very merry Christmas indeed, and here's to a special 2013 for everyone.

Merry Christmas, Domestic Sluttery readers! You've made 2012 a blast and we can't wait to see you again in 2013.

Flickr image from paparutzi.

Sluttery Sales Spy: Anthropologie, Fab & Accessorize


I know what you're thinking: it's the Friday before Christmas, we're up to our eyes in mincemeat and giblets; we nearly lost an eye curling ribbons; every penny of this month's wages has been spent on Cheeselets and half-dead poinsettias, and THAT GIRL from Domestic Sluttery is still trying to convince us that buying more stuff is a good idea. (Quite a long thought, wasn't it? If you could condense it next time; I don't have an infinite wordcount, you know.)

Well, yes. Yes I am. But since I've jazzily (and tenuously) themed this week's round-up 'Absolutely Essential Bargain Stuff To Help You Keep All Your New Year's Resolutions' (working title), I trust you'll shush and read on. And what could be better than a treat in the post at the beginning of the year? Nothing.

2013 RESOLUTIONS
(and the bargains to buy to MAKE THEM HAPPEN)

WELL! We can certainly help you with that resolution: browse our delicious archives for inspiration. If we can do it, so can you. But you'll need to look the part if you want to be a truly great cook*. This pinny from Anthropologie is SO NICE I want it to be a dress. POCKETS! Handy for storing your meat cleaver, or the burned bits of food you pick off right before serving.

* Not strictly true, but it sure does help give you an air of "Yeah, I am just like Rachel Khoo, actually. I cook everything on a single gas hob and my only piece of kitchen equipment is this vintage enamel colander that I picked up one day in the marché aux puces. Yeah, I am thinking of opening my home as an exclusive restaurant, since you ask. Cordon bleu, nouvelle cuisine, la plume de ma tante est près de la chaise de ma tante AS WELL YOU KNOW, now where's my Mac lipstick? Et voilà. BOF."

TO GIVE UP SMOKING AND EAT MORE HEALTHILY

Full English Tectonic Plate by The New English, £45.50 (was £60), Fab 

You'll remember that Sian wrote about this plate a while ago, while lamenting its £60 price tag. WELL LOOK SIAN, IT'S REDUCED! Admittedly, £45.50 is still a lot to pay for a plate, BUT it will help those of you wishing to give up smoking and eat more healthily. Either that, or it will bring on fag and fried breakfast cravings so immense that you will actually WALK all the way to Dundee to throttle me with your bare hands for suggesting such a madcap solution to your resolution woes. Still, at least you'll have had the benefit of a long walk. Especially if you live in Cornwall. I'll be dead, but hey, one must suffer for their art.

TO TRAVEL MORE

May 28th map watch, £15 (was £25), ASOS

You'll need a map and a watch for that. This May 28th watch from ASOS should do it. Admittedly, the map is of Westminster, but hey, it's all travelling. I just travelled from the kitchen to my bed. I am an international explorer.

TO TAKE MORE EXERCISE

Superga House of Holland polka dot plimsolls, £42 (was £70), ASOS

Now, now, don't be silly. Wear these House of Holland-designed Superga sneakers instead, and occasionally pretend to be a bit out of breath. That's all Jessica Ennis does. 

TO ALWAYS WEAR MATCHING UNDERWEAR IN CASE YOU'RE HIT BY A BUS

Princesse Tam Tam Goddess Yellow set, £42 (was £60.60), ASOS

An extremely wise resolution. Clearly you were a Girl Guide. BE PREPARED. As someone who has had the misfortune to be hit by a car, I can confirm that a hospital will not turn you away for not wearing matching underwear, but I'm pretty sure I'd have been given a free Bupa upgrade had I been wearing this set by Princesse Tam Tam. And what better way to cheer up January than wearing yellow pants? 

Try not to be hit by a bus, people. SPLINK!


TO GET A CAT

Tomasina cat ballerina pumps, £13 (was £26), Accessorize

Hmm. I'm not Battersea, you know. Much as I'd love Sluttery Sales Spy to become a cat adoption listings service, some dog lovers might complain. But look here! You can get two cats for the bargain price of £13, courtesy of these Tomasina ballerina pumps from Accessorize. They're extremely rare Domestic Shorthaired Leopards, and they love you so much their noses have turned into tiny feline hearts. MIAOW.

TO GET MORE SLEEP

DKNY jersey pyjamas, £48.80 (was £61), Debenhams

I am a firm believer in buying a new pair of PJs for Christmas Day, and another new pair to start the new year in slumberific style. DECADENCE. This grey jersey set by DKNY is oh-so-chic, obscenely soft and snuggly, and smart enough to answer the door to the postman in (that time I greeted the postie in my 22-year-old Jelly Babies nightie was a low nightwear moment for me).

TO WEAR MORE SEQUINS

Club L sequin skater dress, £45 (was £69), ASOS

Ah, the perpetual resolution. Men and women the world over vow to sparklify their lives, and then come Easter, they're back in their boring old clothes, painting the town DULL. This year, make a difference. Wear this Club L sequinned dress, and do everyone a favour. 

IMPORTANT PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT

Assuming some of you are as disorganised as me, I have been investigating last-minute Christmas ordering times. You thought you'd missed your chance, didn't you? WRONG:
  • Order by 2pm on Sunday, 23rd and select next/nominated day delivery at ASOS.
  • Order by midnight on Sunday for next day delivery at Oasis, or order by 3pm on Christmas Eve for 90-minute delivery. LIFESAVERS. 
  • Order by 5pm today at House of Fraser and collect your items in-store before Christmas.
  • Order by 7pm tonight at John Lewis and select next day delivery.
  • Order by 4pm today for express Topshop delivery, or order by noon on Sunday to collect from your nearest store. 
  • Order from Amazon by 9.30am on Christmas Eve for evening delivery in selected cities. And remember you can buy a gift certificate on Christmas Day if, say, you forgot you had a brother. 
Most of these stores are offering similar delivery services between Christmas and New Year, so if you're in urgent need of a new party frock but can't face wrenching yourself away from the sofa, all is not lost!

Your faithful sales correspondent is buggering off to Spain for the holidays, but I'll be back on January 8th for a special Tuesday Edition of Sluttery Sales Spy (I couldn't possibly leave you waiting until Friday when the January sales are in full swing!) While I'm away, keep your eyes peeled for New Year mega-bargains. We've heard rumblings already of amazing bargains at Rigby & Peller, 70% off at Selfridges from Christmas Day, and the Amazon Boxing Day Deals Week. ASOS, Oasis and Anthropologie are already in the midst of half-price sales, with the promise of more amazing deals between Christmas and New Year. 

Merry Christmas and Happy (New Year) Sales Shopping, everyone! 

Cocktail Hour: Poinsettia

Prompted by its incredibly festive name, I had one of these at Lucky Voice the other week and had to do some fairly industrial clapping-over my mouth in horror when I looked it up later. I'd paid a ton for something I could make at home in vast quantities for pretty much the same price. But that's why we go to bars, people! So we can realise these things, but drink them anyway.

This is an absolutely brilliant drink to make for parties as it requires no faffing whatsoever and tastes magnificent. I made three batches of this at the weekend and it was a massive success.

Poinsettia - serves eight

You will need:
  • 125ml chilled Cointreau
  • 500ml chilled cranberry juice
  • a bottle of Prosecco or Cava
Pour everything into a jug. Serve. Done. Admire the actual poinsettia you bought because it's Christmas and that's just what you do.

Picture by Dan Costin on Flickr using creative commons - I was too busy making them to remember!

The Christmas Recipe Roundup


It's very nearly time for us to hang up our stockings and get Home Alone on the telly. Sluttery HQ is feeling well and truly festive. But just to help you out a little over the festive period, here's a collection of our Christmas recipes from this year. Combine this little lot with the Christmas roundup we did last year (that's where you'll find our recipes for braised red cabbage and snowstorm cupcakes) and you'll have enough Christmas food to feed a very festive army.


The savoury goodies.

Let's kick off with some Christmas canapes, which will be a perfect treat on Christmas eve. and get some kedgeree in you. This is the perfect Christmas morning treat (and it'll rid you of any Christmas eve hangover). if the hangover just won't shift (were you on the Amaretto mulled wine?) then just have a peruse through our top ten bacon recipes.

Hazel's Christmas cock (quiet at the back) looks blimmin' gorgeous. You can totally use the Clementine butter on turkey. As for accompaniments, we're hell bent on making you love sprouts so we've done them four different ways (with gin and bacon, mainly). If you're still not convinced by sprouts doused in gin then try our roasted beetroot instead. We've also got a mega seasonal chestnut veloute recipe for you to try (it's perfect for smothering your carbs in) and an eldersherry jelly recipe to go with your bird. Laura B is all about the potato latkes this year and the rest of us are going googly eyed for gratin. Oh, and don't forget the veggie stuffing and the Yorkshire Puddings (they're gluten free). And we've got three ways to do your pigs in blankets.

Once Christmas day is over, if can't face any more leftover turkey, then a glazed ham is the ideal Boxing Day indulgence. Laura V's pork and apple sauce sliders are perfect for when you're sick to the back teeth of festive food. Or smother our chicken liver parfait on crusty bread and get to work on our top ten pie recipes.

Once that's all too much, have a total (tasty) detox with this turkey noodle soup.


The sweet stuff.

Everyone has been going nuts for Alex E's Mulled Wine Chocolate Cake (understandable, it's bloody tasty). If you've got friends over, then you should all have a bash at making Gingerbread mug houses (check out some of the AMAZING creations on our Facebook page).

If you're after snacky sweet things, then you should definitely get on the Whisky brittle shortbread and Christmas cupcakes with brandy buttercream. Santa totally needs some Christmas sugar cookies left out for him on Christmas eve. For Christmas day we've got some excellent gluten free options in the way of Clootie dumpling and Ecclefechan tart. And for new year's we're going to be eating Pina Colada Trifle thank you very much. Let's also make mulled pears. If there's an opportunity for mulling in the next ten days, we're taking it with both hands and adding cloves before you can say a damn thing.

If you're a fudge fan, we've got you covered with beer fudge and mince pie fudge to choose from (don't forget the top ten fudge and caramel recipes). And if you're still not done with your festive baking, you'll find even more inspiration on in our Just Desserts cinnamon round up (oh go on, have the cheesecake and the chocolate ones as well, you GLUTTON).


The booze.

If you were organised, your Christmas drinks gifts will have been on the go a long time ago, but fear not! Some of them don't need much time at all. Rhubarb and custard vodka will be ready in time for a Christmas eve tipple and so will your bacon bourbon if you get a wriggle on. And that amaretto mulled wine will tip you right over the edge into tipsiness.

Want something more traditionally festive? Then it's Christmas pudding vodka all the way. Or just smother yourself in gingerbread syrup for the rest of the year. Whatever you're eating and drinking this Christmas, we hope you're doing it with fabulous people.

Gluten Free: Speculaas Biscuits


If the name sounds a bit too like a gynaecological instrument you could always call them Dutch Windmill Cookies, which is another name for them. Holland has brought some brilliant foods into my life, notably hagelslag and stroopwafels, and of course - speculaas biscuits. If you could distill Christmas and put it in a biscuit, you'd come up with something pretty close, that's the wonder of the speculaas. The magic comes from the spice mix, called speculaaskruiden, that's quite close to our mixed spice, but with extras like cardamon and white pepper. You can use mixed spice in your speculaas biscuits, or you can mix your own spices. I used the recipe from London Eats for mine.

You'll need:
  • 110g rice flour
  • 1½ tsp speculaaskruiden, or mixed spice
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 70g softened butter
  • zest from a lemon and an orange (or a clementine, you've got hundreds of them in the house too, right?)
  • 25g caster sugar
  • 25g soft brown sugar
  • 1-2 tbsp milk 
Make it!
  • Mix the rice flour, spices and baking powder in a bowl and rub in the butter. Add the zest and sugars and stir to combine. 
  • Add the milk, an drop at a time, and mix with your hands until you have a soft dough. You might not need all the milk.
  • Wrap the dough in cling film and rest it in a cool place for about 15 minutes.
  • Roll out the dough between two sheets of baking paper to the thickness of a pound coin. Cut out your cookies and transfer to a baking sheet.
  • Bake for 12-15 minutes at 180°C. Leave them to cool on the baking tray for at least 5 minutes before moving them to a cooling rack, or they'll fall to pieces!
If you're feeling creative (or just need a distraction from all the shopping, wrapping and writing cards that you still haven't done) you can decorate these with candied peel and dried fruits, just stick them on with a bit of water icing.

Sluttishly Savoury: Gravadlax

Every year the big supermarkets go on a bit of a salmon price war, each trying to be cheaper than the others which basically means that Christmas is the only time I can afford to make this! This year's winner on price is Asda who are doing whole fish for just £4/k.

I first made this a couple of years ago using Jamie's recipe but I found it a bit too salty for my liking so have played around a bit over the two years. I also swap his vodka for gin as the juniper in the gin works brilliantly with salmon and the dill for fennel seeds as as the flavours are all pretty strong and I wanted to taste that aniseedy loveliness.

I always like to prepare the fish myself but the fishmonger will do everything for you (except maybe the pinboning bit as they are super busy at this time of year). Once cured though this bad boy will keep for up to 2 weeks in the fridge so it's great to make now and have it carry you across the holidays.

You'll need:

  • 1 side of salmon, skin on but descaled and pin boned (use tweezers to remove any little bones left in the flesh)
  • 100g rock salt (do not use regular or flaked as it will be really salty)
  • 100g sugar
  • 4 whole raw beetroot
  • about a golf ball sized piece of fresh horseradish root (Polish shops sell jars of grated horseradish which aren't as hot as the raw stuff so you could happily use a whole 150g jar)
  • 2 tablespoons fennel seeds
  • 50ml Gin
Make it!
  1. Pat your salmon dry using kitchen towel and lay skin side down in a big roasting tray, you may have to lie it diagonally and cut a bit of the tail off to make it fit, just lie the tail piece next to it.
  2. Sprinkle the salt then the sugar over the fish.
  3. Put your whole, unpeeled beetroots into a food processor with the horseradish root and fennel seeds and blitz. 
  4. Cover the fish with your mixture then pour over your gin.
  5. Cover with cling film, weight it down with some cans to help press the flavour in and the excess juice out and leave in your fridge for 3 days. Each day pour off any excess liquid that is in the tray.
  6. After 3 days scrape off the beet mixture and pat dry.
  7. Get a long, sharp knife and cut through the flesh down to, but not through, the skin at the tail end. Have your knife flat against the skin pointing towards the other end then with one hand hold the tail and pull carefully whilst slicing to remove the skin, Gordon has a really good video for this. 
  8. To serve just slice very thinly and marvel at the prettiness of the deep purple and orange flesh.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

The Winner of The Upper Street Shoe competition

We've had so much fun choosing the winner for our Upper Street shoe competition! You're all excellent shoe designers. We narrowed it down to five gorgeous pairs of shoes, and then Lisa from Upper Street picked her favourite. Here's the winning design!


Jules McEachern, congratulations! You've won! We're totally smitten with this design - the mix of leopard print and the thick strap work great together. We would totally buy these in the shops. Jules, email us and we'll get your prize arranged ASAP. Want some more shoe inspiration? Here are some of our favourite designs from the competition:


We loved the clashing in this design. They're gorgeous Minna, Salonen!


Megan Blacklock, these are mega pretty. The bow on the front is lovely.


Sinead Dowd designed these gorgeous elf shoes. There is no shoe more festive. (Actually, these were Sian's favourites.)


Richael Ivens was behind this design. The straps are a lovely touch. You all made this competition very hard! Those of you who were runners up, email us, we'd like to send you a little something in the post for playing along and designing gorgeous shoes.

Oh, and if you're wondering who won the gorgeous rolling pin from Bodie & Fou, that was Claire Routh! You should email us as well and we'll get your gift out to you ASAP.

Still want to win something? Then head over to our final Christmas competition where you can win everything we've given away this Christmas - including your chance to design shoes with Upper Street - and you can donate to Shelter as well.

Sluttishly Boozy: Amaretto Mulled Wine

Ah, the glorious sight of mulling
It is a truth universally acknowledged (well, by me) that amaretto added to drinks makes them 70% more exciting. It started when my friend's sister ordered an amaretto hot chocolate on a skiing holiday. My eyes were on stalks - then I tried it and proceeded to drink little else all holiday, which probably helped to make me a less wildly anxious skiier, or at least stop me immediately bursting into tears when I fell over, which was often.

Amaretto works in fizz, too: if you're looking for a more interesting twist on a Bucks Fizz, a shot of amaretto in a glass of prosecco or cava is one of the most surprisingly perfect drinks out there.

But lately, it's all about adding it to mulled wine. And for that, you need a nice base recipe. Use your usual one, or if not, enjoy the vagueries of this one which made lots of people happy at carols last Sunday.

Amaretto mulled wine: serves 4-6

You will need:
  • A bottle of red wine,  or equivalent of boxed red
  • An orange
  • Bay leaves
  • Sugar (caster or demerara)
  • Mixed spice
  • Cinnamon
  • Nutmeg
  • A bottle of amaretto
Make it!

Pour your bottle of wine into a large saucepan and heat it on a medium setting. Cut your orange in half and add to the pan - this helps to reduce the sharpness,particularly if you've used a cheap bottle of wine which, let's face it, you have, because you don't want to waste a magnificent bottle on something which is soon going to be hot and sugary.

Add three bay leaves and your sugar. After you've made enough batches of mulled wine for parties, you will no longer be bothered about measuring it, and will merrily throw it in by eye, but if you're nervy, add 60g of caster or demerara, and add more when it's all melted down if you want it sweeter. If you've got mixed spice in your cupboard, add a small shake to the stove,  about two to three teaspoons.

Cinnamon: you can use sticks, you can use powder, it really doesn't matter. The powder will all melt into the wine in any case. Scatter over enough to very finely coat the surface of the wine, or pop in two sticks.

Nutmeg: I bloody love grating nutmeg. It's probably a Little Grey Rabbit thing; I remember reading a story where she got a whole nutmeg and it was like Indiana Jones discovering the Ark. Grate over less than the cinnamon, enough to just barely coat the surface.

Then stir, until it's nice and hot. You don't want this to boil, so if it starts getting jumpy and excitable, turn down the heat slightly.

When you're happy with how it tastes or your guests start baying for wine,  pour a shot of amaretto into a mug and top with mulled wine.
  • If you want to try something different to amaretto, add a slug of sloe gin which adds a glorious richness to it
  • If the mere thought of mulled wine is affecting your work party hangover, try our gorgeous non-alcoholic drink, Respect Your Elders.

Design Porn: Jessica de Lotz


Jessica de Lotz sounds like she should have her own TV show. A sort of fantasy detective show, perhaps. Fighting crimes in another dimension. As it is, unless Jessica de Lotz has a side job, she's busy making fabulous jewellery that I can't afford but will covet forever.


It's de Lotz's apple range that I'm going nuts for. There's something very Snow White about it (that's the best story, the evil Queen is the best).


The downside? Well as each piece is made from precious metals and fairly tale magic, they don't come cheap. The pieces come in around £230, unless you opt for the solid silver necklace (believe me, if I could, I totally would). They're around £700. Jessica de Lotz create fabulous pieces and even though I can't afford them, I'll always enjoy having a bit of a browse. Christmas miracles still exist, don't they? Here's hoping.

Bag Lust: Mozzypop Satchels

There's something about starting the new year with a new handbag. There's so much trash in mine at the moment that it takes me half an hour to find my keys (while I'm dancing at my doorstep in desperate need for a wee). I have silly little rituals before New Year. I won't wait until January 1st to change any of the big stuff but I'll get my hair cut, have a massive clear out and buy a new notebook and diary. A new handbag is on my list of things that make me feel prepared for the year to come.


I'd very much like if my new 2013 bag was one of these Mozzypop satchels. The look familiar, don't they? They're obviously made to look like the Mulberry Alexa and while the debate about designer and high street 'inspiration' continues, I'll should mention that these are just £28.


Obviously they're not leather, but I think Mozzypop are doing a fabulous job of looking pretty convincing from a distance.


Oh no! This one is my favourite and it's all sold out. Dammit. I want this one! Maybe it'll be back in stock next year. Still, I could totally be convinced by any of the others colourways. 


Delivery is just £3.90 for the satchels and as it probably won't arrive in time for Christmas presents, you should order it now and keep it for yourself.

Thanks to Lisa at Mathilde heart Manache where I first spotted these gorgeous bags, pop over to her website. It's a treasure chest of all things happy and interesting.

Sluttishly Savoury: Christmas Morning Kedgeree


Celebrating on Christmas Eve is a bit of a balancing act: you want to eat, drink and be (very) merry, but you don't want to turn up at the midnight church service absolutely shit-faced (not again). Excessive boozing on Santa's busiest night can have repercussions beyond the aforementioned drunken carolling and loud tittering at that group of girls who insist on singing the descant part throughout O, Come All Ye Faithful. A hangover on Christmas morning really puts a dampener on the whole day. With overexcited children, flashing tree lights, sprouts and Cliff Richard songs, December 25th is an all-out assault on the senses!

Just in case you overdo it on the mince pies and liqueur chocolates on Monday, or any other, night here's some hangover food* with a fancy twist. It's my take on kedgeree, made on the assumption that you won't have had the prescience to pre-boil any eggs or make rice the following day, because why would you?

You'll need:

  • 1 banana shallot, or 2 little shallots, chopped
  • ½ tsp tumeric
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp grated root ginger (or ½ tsp ground ginger)
  • 250g pouch of cooked long grain rice
  • a good knob of butter (stop giggling...)
  • a small handful of parsley or coriander (or both), roughly chopped
  • 1 or 2 fried eggs
  • some smoked salmon, the trimmings are perfect
  • a lemon, cut into wedges
Make it:
  • Put a deep frying pan, quietly, on a medium heat and add a little oil. Chuck in the shallot and fry to soften. 
  • Add the turmeric, garam masala and ginger and keep frying until the fragrance of the spices are released. The ginger should ease your nausea and turmeric can protect your liver from the effects of alcohol so, keep going, you're doing well here.
  • Stir the rice into the pan to coat with the spicy shallots and cook for about 5 minutes. Carbs are a must right now, your blood sugar needs the help. 
  • Take the rice off the heat and stir in the butter and herbs. Parsley and coriander both have detoxifying properties, this is a good thing.
  • Put the whole thing on to a plate and garnish with the fried egg (protein, helpful), pieces of smoked salmon (this is just a bit of a festive treat) and lemon wedges. If you feel up to it, a dash of chilli sauce is a wonderful thing on this, too.
  • Eat, lie down for a while, feel well enough to get tipsy on sherry trifle, repeat.

*I offer no guarantee that this will erase any cringeworthy memories, like trying to snog the vicar, or help you remember where your other shoe went. It will make you feel a bit more human and prepare you to face the day.

2013 year planners (in case the world doesn't end tomorrow)


Yes, I do know the world is meant to end tomorrow. But for various reasons, including the fact I don't want to spend my last day of existence on the slow train between Doncaster and Cleethorpes, I'm choosing to believe that it won't. And with that kind of optimism, I'm merrily skipping over the fact that Christmas hasn't even happened yet to tell you to get yourself in gear and buy your 2013 year planner.

You see I like planning, I like spreadsheets, I like seeing the whole year laid out clean in front of me, ready to be filled in with fun stuff (more fun in my book than filling yourself with stuffing) and I'd like to encourage you all to join me on this adventure. Look at the beautiful year planner from Lollipop shown above. It shows a year waiting to be given pretty things to do. And it's only £12.50, therefore only £1.042 a month, approximately. Bargain!



Clever Bold and Noble have obviously crept into my living room, noticed that it's a lovely combination of yellow with grey accents and decided to design this wall calendar just for me and my year planning ways. Aw, thanks. It's a clever design that can be adapted for any year so I can happily keep buying them until I decide to repaint my room red and blue (because there's a version in that colour scheme too obviously). This is £27.



Another contender in the red and blue stakes is Crispin Finn's latest design. In fact, all their designs: they only design in red, white and blue. You may remember I wrote about them in last year's round up of calendars. The 2013 model is every bit as appealing and only £12.


I can't write about any sort of stationery without mentioning Present & Correct. That's because they are perpetually ace. Their letterpress card planner is smaller than the other designs here but it's every bit as mighty. It's inspired by index cards, with space on the back of each card to write extra notes, ideas and resolutions. It's yours for £18.50, including the oh-so-useful bit of wood pictured. (Not the shelf. The other bit of wood.)


The trend for star-gazing seems to be going strong. This planner by Kerry Hyndman from Evermade is decorated with some cool constellations. For £12.50, not only will your days be meticulously planned but your night time fun will be increased 365 fold too. While it might help bring out your inner mystic meg or encourage some more Mayan-style prophecies, somewhat predictably I already love it.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Liberty Fabric Watches


As much as I love Liberty fabrics, I find them a little too in your face on clothing. I'm not one for whole prints of chintz on a dress. But I love the history behind the prints so in small doses I think they're rather lovely. Small doses like these beautiful fabric strap watches.


Watches make great presents. They're not as tricky to get right as jewellery which is a whole minefield of gemstones and metals and shapes and sizes.



Buy a watch from someone you really like and you'll make them smile every time they check the time, what could be a more excellent present than that?



Oooh, this is a lovely fabric. I'd like this one, please. You get to pick a gold or silver bezel.



Whichever fabric you choose, the knot watches are all £59 from the Liberty website. Hurry, they're not guaranteeing Christmas orders after today so if you want to surprise someone with one of these under their tree, you've got to be quick about it.

Wrapping Paper Wednesday

Am I the only person who wraps Christmas presents on Christmas eve? I hide myself upstairs with a glass of wine and some Christmas music and wrap everything in secret (it's not really secret, everyone knows what I'm up to). So for those of you who still have a whole bunch of gifts to wrap, here are some more excellent wrapping papers.


ROBOTS! Only buy this Julia Davey robot paper if your present is robots, or (somehow) better than robots, otherwise you'll get more thank yous for the paper than your gift. It's £1.50 a sheet.


I do like these tartan stags. How very on trend they are. They're £3.50 for a 3m roll from Paperchase.


Giving Lego to your favourite people? (Me? Ace, I like Lego). How about some Lego wrap to go with it. It's £3 from John Lewis.


These Papermash parcel tapes are perfect for decorating simple packages. They're £9.50. You've got until the end of today to order.


No, I'm absolutely not over pretty typewriter prints on everything. I'd wrap notebooks and pens in this paper from Nancy & Betty.


For your musical friends, pick this vinyl gift wrap (to wrap up their Lyric Song Books). On one side it's images of singles, on the other it's Ella Doran's stack print, featuring stacks of records in their sleeves. It's £5, and there are matching giftbags as well.

You can still order all of these gorgeous papers in time for Christmas so even if you buy all of your presents at the last minute, they'll be beautifully wrapped. Unlike that year where I resorted to birthday wrapping paper and tin foil.

Sluttery Christmas: We Can Make You Love Sprouts

Yes, it's true: like a culinary Paul McKenna, I am going to change your perception of the humble Brussels sprout FOREVER. Begone, mushy festive obligation. Hello, sprouts you'll want to eat all year round...

I've kept these recipes as simple as possible, since it's going to be Christmas Day and I don't want to be the cause of sprout-related nervous breakdowns/family discord. Sprouts are delicious, but not divorce-worthy. If your oven isn't already full to bursting, I urge you to give the gratin or stalk-roasted sprouts a go. If that's an oven shelf too far, stick to the hob with a sprouty mash or stir-fry.

Veggies: I've sneaked crispy pancetta into or onto almost everything, because I'm a sucker for the combination of bacon + sprout - it's by no means an essential ingredient, though, so you can leave it out. I'd just add a little more salt, to taste, to compensate for pancetta's natural saltiness. I've made all four recipes ginormous enough to feed eight, but all respond well to division and multiplication, depending on the size of your Christmas clan.

First up is a sprout gratin. Everything is made better with the addition of cream, parmesan, and breadcrumbs.


Sprout Gratin (serves 8)

You'll need:
  • 1 kg sprouts, stalk trimmed, outer leaves removed, and cut in half
  • 450ml double cream
  • 200g diced pancetta, lardons, or thick-cut back bacon cut into chunky strips
  • 3 tsp lemon juice (bottled or fresh)
  • 8 tbsp white breadcrumbs (I used half normal breadcrumbs, half panko - use whatever you have lying around!)
  • 6 tbsp grated parmesan 
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • A bay leaf
  • A knob of butter and a splash of olive oil for frying
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Make it!
  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.
  2. Blanch your sprouts by boiling them for 3-4 minutes in a pan of salty water, and then draining and rinsing under the cold tap.
  3. Heat the butter and oil in a large frying pan and fry the pancetta cubes until quite crispy (around 4 minutes over a medium to high heat). Stir regularly as they will catch the moment you turn your back. They don't know it's Christmas and that everyone, including bacon, better be on their best behaviour. Set aside a couple of tablespoons of cooked pancetta to use as a garnish later. 
  4. Add the sprouts and garlic and sauté for 2 minutes. Stir CEASELESSLY.
  5. Pour in the cream, add the bay leaf, and boil for about 3 minutes, until it has reduced to a thickish sauce. Season.
  6. Take the pan off the ring, remove the bay leaf, and add the lemon juice. Decant the mixture into an ovenproof dish.
  7. Mix together the breadcrumbs and parmesan, and sprinkle all over the top of your creation. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the crust has turned an appetising shade of golden brown.
  8. Sprinkle the remaining pancetta pieces across the top, and serve.
  9. Feel immensely smug.
When in doubt, MASH. Sprouts are fantastic mashed, and the addition of a little nutmeg here makes them all the more festive. I like my sprout mash to be borderline-baby food smooth (it's more of a purée, really), but you can make it whatever texture you prefer - just keep an eye on it while it's in the food processor.


Sprout & Chestnut Mash (serves 8)

You'll need:

  • 1kg sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • 200g chopped chestnuts (I use Merchant Gourmet's vaccum-packed ready-prepared chestnuts. Because, honestly, who the hell can be bothered arsing around with oven-roasted chestnuts on Christmas Day? Thought not)
  • 150ml double cream
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 75g pancetta, to serve (optional)
Make it!
  1. Cook the sprouts in a large pan of salty boiling water for 5 or 6 minutes. 
  2. In a saucepan, melt the butter and cream S-L-O-W-L-Y over a gentle heat. 
  3. Bung the drained sprouts, chestnuts, cream, nutmeg, and seasoning into the food processor and whizz until it's reached your ideal mash consistency.
  4. Fry up your pancetta - if using - in a little oil, and sprinkle over the top of your mash.
Next up, a delicious way to serve sprouts in all their weird, knobbly glory. This will make a spectacular centrepiece on your Christmas table.



Stalk-roasted Sprouts with a Maple & Cranberry Glaze (serves 8)

You'll need:
  • 1 stalk of sprouts, rinsed and with any manky bits trimmed off (Buy one that looks like it might fit in your oven. In other words, don't be like me)
  • 180ml maple syrup
  • 60ml olive oil
  • 100g fresh cranberries
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Make it!
  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.
  2. In a very large pot of salted boiling water, cook the sprout stalk for 3-4 minutes (you'll probably need to do one end, then flip the stalk and cook the other end - if so, cook each end for 3-4 minutes).
  3. Whisk together the maple syrup and olive oil.
  4. Lay the sprout stalk on a baking tray, and pour the mapley-oily mixture all over it. Use a pastry brush to really coat each sprout. Liberally season with salt and pepper.
  5. Scatter the cranberries over the sprouts and the baking tray. 
  6. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the sprouts are coming away easily from the stalk (test one from the underside).
  7. Pour more of your syrupy goodness and cranberries over the sprouts before serving, and serve the rest of the mixture in a small jug.
Finally, what could be easier than a simple stir-fry? Something about the gin really enhances the flavour of the sprouts (or it might just be the fact that I haven't had a drink since January...). I can imagine a smoky whisky would work well here, too.


Gin, Ginger & Garlic Stir-fried Sprouts (serves 8)


You'll need:
  • 1 kg sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • 200g diced pancetta
  • 5 tbsp gin
  • 400ml chicken stock, made up as per packet instructions
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 4 tsp chopped or finely sliced ginger (fresh or bottled)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Butter and oil for frying
Make it!
  1. Fry the pancetta in a little butter and oil. Once approaching crispy, throw in the sprouts, garlic, and ginger. Stir-fry for a couple of minutes. 
  2. Add the gin - SIZZLE SIZZLE - and allow it to boil down for a minute. 
  3. Pour in the stock and lemon juice, and simmer until the sprouts are soft (but not too soft!) and flavoursome. Season to taste. 
May all your Christmases be sprouty!  
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