I recently had the pleasure of spending a day with professional food stylist Rosie Reynolds, who gave me some expert food styling advice for food blog photos. Rosie and I met through work, and she was so enthusiastic about my blog, she came to see me at One-Handed HQ for a Halloween-themed baking, decorating and photo session.
We baked delicious chocolate cupcakes, which we decorated using jelly snakes to make Snake Cupcakes, and with chocolate icing and cola laces to make Spider Cupcakes, which we then had great fun setting up in a spooky Halloween tableau (above), complete with skeletons dangling down, all lit by candlelight. In the words of Miranda: such fun!
Rosie has a great eye, and one of the best tips I learnt from her was to take the photo and then look at it really carefully on-screen before deciding what to add in or what to remove to get the best possible shot. Make the change, then take another photo, and compare the two. Usually the secret is taking something away to simplify things and let the food take centre stage.
Another great tip is to try to keep the food and the styling as natural as possible – if you’re serving a casserole, for instance, don’t be afraid to dig into the food and swirl it around with the serving spoon, so it looks accessible and yummy. For cakes and puddings, a few crumbs scattered around make it look even more delicious and homemade.
For best results, shoot in natural daylight (these photos were all taken on my iPhone) and think about the background you are presenting the food on – again, natural surfaces are great for such purposes. Wood, tile and slate are good; have you got an old wooden trunk, or some tiles left over from a building project? Even an old door with peeling paint can be great for overhead shots. Sometimes the most unexpected things can work really well. Take a good look through your cookbooks or BBC Good Food and take inspiration from what they use. Pinterest is useful for ideas, too.
We had a great time styling these shots (and eating jelly snakes). I picked up some really useful tips for future posts and I hope you like them, and enjoy the cakes. Of course, they’re very sweet, so a bit of a treat for little ones. I presented them whole to the children and then cut each cake in half as I thought a whole one would be too much for one child. (I was right.) They absolutely loved them – a real Halloween hit!
Happy Halloween, folks.
Spooky Halloween Cupcakes
40g cocoa powder
3–4 tbsp boiling water
125g butter, softened
150g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
4 tbsp fat free natural yogurt
125g wholemeal flour or plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
For the icing
50g butter, softened
3 tbsp cocoa powder
3–4tbsp fat free natural yogurt
250g icing sugar, sifted
Splash of hot water if needed to make a nice smooth icing
Cola flavour laces
75g packet jelly worms
To make the cupcakes:
1. Preheat oven to 180C/160C Fan/Gas 4. Line a muffin tray with 10 paper cases, set aside.
2. Sift the cocoa into a bowl. Stir in the water to make a smooth paste. Tip in the rest of the ingredients and beat with a wooden spoon until smooth.
3. Use two dessert spoons to evenly fill your cake cases – be careful not to overfill.
4. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until your cakes are risen and a skewer inserted into the middle of a cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
To make the icing:
Cream the butter, cocoa and yogurt together until smooth. Gradually add the sifted icing sugar, beat after each addition until smooth. It might be a bit dry, but if you let the mix relax then keep beating it should come together, if not, add a splash of hot water to create a smooth icing.
Divide the icing between your cakes, spread over the surface with the back of a spoon.
Decorate yourself, or get bigger kids to do their own – depending on how good you are at coping with MESS!
Snake Cupcakes: We decided not to ice these, but of course you can if you want to. Simply cut your jelly snake in half, and make a little hole in the side of your cake, using your fingers. Make another little hole on the opposite side of the cupcake to enable your snake to ‘slither’ through the cake – stick the head in one hole and the tail in the other. It’s that easy.
Spider Cupcakes: Spread the top of the cake with icing and use a cocktail stick to prick the icing and make little bumps. Use little sugar balls for the eyes and cut-up bits of jelly snake for eyebrows. To make the dangly legs, cut cola laces in half and tie a little knot at the end for a foot. Use the cocktail stick to make a little hole for each leg.
This fruit salad came together by accident – I had a lime that needed eating up and having had lunch at Mexican eatery Wahaca earlier in the week I felt inspired to give my fruit salad a bit of a Mexican twist, and we all loved it. We had it for breakfast outside last week – super-healthy and so delicious. The colours are simply amazing – look!
Warm weather seems to make it easier to eat more simply than usual and I’ve been whizzing up smoothies, throwing together delicious salads and keeping family food simple, just using delicious ingredients such as these fresh strawberries and ripe mangoes.
We’ve also been enjoying some lovely al fresco food on local picnics here in our little corner of south-east London, as well as barbecues on our recent camping trip to the New Forest, when we also toasted marshmallows and ate ice-creams every day. We were very taken with the wild ponies – what a beautiful part of the world!
Much-needed holiday to Spain soon – life’s been so busy lately, and we need a break. Catch up when I’m back 🙂
Quick 3-Fruit Salad
Enjoy making this – it’s so quick and easy and an absolute winner!
1 ripe mango, diced
1 punnet strawberries, hulled and diced
1 punnet blueberries
Juice of ½ lime
1 tablespoon maple syrup
What to do:
This one couldn’t be easier: simply toss together the fruit, squeeze over the lime juice and stir in the maple syrup. Let it sit for 20 mins before eating, so the flavours combine really well. Stir again before serving.
So the sun’s come out! Which is nice. I am actually feeling pretty summery all of a sudden, what with all the seasonal fruit – raspberries, strawberries, peaches – and of course lovely cold ice-cream. In a cone, in a bowl, straight from the tub (I didn’t say that)… it’s the perfect thing on a hot day, and of course the children love the stuff.
I like making sumptuous sauces to drizzle on top of ice-cream, so when Le Creuset asked me if I’d like to try out their new saucepan range, I jumped at the chance. Regular readers will know I am a huge fan of their cast ironware, but I’d never tried their stainless steel pans before. So I used the Le Creuset 3-ply Stainless Steel Sauce Pan to make two ice-cream toppings, which I hope you will like – Butterscotch and Summer Berry. Mmm.
I have to say, the Le Creuset 3-ply Stainless Steel Sauce Pan is brilliant, and has swiftly become my new favourite saucepan – it’s just the right size (not too big, not too small), it conducts heat really well and gives good heat distribution – noticeably better than my standard pans. It’s great for making sauces, making porridge, heating soup etc as you can be sure you won’t get ‘hot spots’ where the middle is hotter than the rest. I really love it as it makes cooking hassle-free! (Big tick.) What’s more – attention, busy mums and dads – you can pour from it one-handed if needs be, as it has an all-round pouring rim. Useful.
I also tested the little Le Creuset sieve, which is just really cute and perfect for the second recipe, below, and the Le Creuset balloon whisk with its smart red handle.
And now for the delicious and oh-so-easy sauces:
Beautiful Butterscotch Sauce
When I made this, my husband said ‘This is completely amazing’ – enough said, really. Admittedly, it’s not the healthiest of things, but a drizzle here and there is such a treat… This is good with vanilla ice-cream (my fave is Yeo Valley) and if you’re organized, with ready weighed-out ingredients, can be made one-handed so you can tend to baby while making a delicious sauce. Oh yes. Just stir and go.
You will need:
25g light brown or muscovado sugar
90g golden syrup
1tsp lemon juice
75ml double cream
- Put the butter, sugar and syrup into a smallish pan
- Heat gently, stirring from time to time, until the butter has melted, and keep stirring until it’s beautifully mixed together
- Stir in the lemon juice and the cream and heat gently until simmering
- Serve warm over ice-cream, or allow to cool and serve at room temperature.
Summer Berry Sauce
You can use one type or a mixture of berries for this sauce. Raspberries, strawberries, blueberries – anything goes. Three ingredients and you’re done. You can also drizzle this sauce on pancakes (crêpes). This sauce smells amazing, and tastes equally delicious – like summer in a bowl.
You will need
250g summer berries
2tsp lemon juice
2-3tbsp icing sugar (or you can use caster if that’s all you have)
- Blend the fruit, the lemon juice and the icing sugar in the blender (you may need to add a dash of water to stop it clogging together) until smooth
- Sieve the sauce through a fine mesh sieve to remove the seeds.
- Serve as is, or gently heat in a saucepan.
I hope you enjoy these sauces. Happy cooking, peeps.
You can find the pan here: http://www.lecreuset.co.uk
Disclaimer: I was sent the Le Creuset 3-Ply Stainless Steel Sauce Pan for free to review on the blog. All opinions are my own.
If you’re after a super-quick delicious muffin recipe, read on!
I just love rhubarb – it’s often forgotten in discussions about great fruit (although strictly speaking, it’s actually a vegetable, but let’s not worry about that), but it’s usually around this time every year, when my mum informs me that her rhubarb patch has gone wild and asks if I’d like some, that I remember just how much I like it. Rhubarb does require quite a lot of sugar to make it palatable, which is a downside, given my efforts to reduce the sugar intake here at OH HQ, but then the tang of rhubarb is an unbeatable flavour, and these muffins offer a delicious and easy way to bake with rhubarb.
This recipe was inspired by a recent visit to new artisan bakeshop Kitchen in Langport in Somerset, on our half-term travels, where we tasted rhubarb & raspberry muffins for the first time and they were declared ‘delicious’.
I hadn’t thought of using rhubarb in muffins before, but it’s great, particularly with raspberries. What’s brilliant is that you don’t need to cook the rhubarb beforehand – you just stir it into your mixture – which means these muffins literally take about 10 minutes to make – perfect for the time-pressed parent.
I am into coconut oil at the moment (I use Lucy Bee coconut oil, which I bought in my local health food shop) so I tried it in this recipe and it worked a treat, although you could also use melted butter.
These were a complete hit here – both children loved them. They are great for a weekend brunch, an afternoon snack or even in lunchboxes or for a picnic, now the weather’s cheered up a bit!
Rhubarb & Raspberry Muffins
Makes approx. 10 muffins
200g self-raising flour
½ tsp cinnamon
90g golden caster sugar
80g melted coconut oil (I used the microwave)
2 free-range eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 or 3 stalks of rhubarb, sliced into ½ cm pieces
Handful of raspberries (fresh or frozen)
Flaked almonds, for sprinkling
Demerara sugar, for sprinkling
What to do:
- Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C Fan/350°F, and line your muffin tin with muffin cases.
- Sift the flour and cinnamon into a bowl, and stir in the sugar
- Stir the wet ingredients (melted oil, milk, eggs and vanilla essence) into the dry ingredients and mix, but don’t overmix – lumps are fine.
- Lastly, stir in the chopped rhubarb and the raspberries (if they’re frozen, straight from the freezer is fine)
- Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases, and sprinkle a little demerara sugar on top of each one for crunch.
- Finish each muffin with a good sprinkling of flaked almonds.
- Bake for about 30 mins – test with a skewer – and allow to cool on a wire rack.
It’s almost the end of half term, which has meant a week off school and work and some family time. We’ve been in Somerset with the in-laws, and have had some nice outings, including to the Sherborne Castle Country Fair and the local RSPB sanctuary to learn about baby animals, which was very sweet until the children got tired and hungry – at which point sweet went sour and we made a run for it, home for soup and sourdough bread…
Having a bit of time off has given me the chance to take a proper look at Top Bananas! The best ever family recipes from Mumsnet by the ever-so-talented Crumbs sisters, Lucy and Claire McDonald (if you don’t know their blog, you must check it out now!) which I was sent to review. It is a lovely looking book, packed with glossy photos (there is a photo for every dish) and more than 100 family-friendly recipes ranging from Breakfasts and Sunday Lunch ideas to Packed Lunches, so it’s been really well thought through.
The tone is breezy and light, and the authors have clearly been around the block when it comes to putting a family meal on the table – their amusing insights into some of the less glamorous sides of being a parent had me chuckling, not least in the Introduction to the Sunday lunch chapter in which they described how parents imagine Sunday lunch with friends will be, and how it is in reality (in essence, as long as there is some half-decent food on the table and the kids are happy and eat some of it too, all will be well). Yup, been there.
The authors make a point of saying that they want to encourage families to eat together, that the ingredients they use are easy to get hold of, that the dishes are simple and that they will be sprinkling in shortcuts and tips along the way – all of which is music to this busy mum’s ears. The recipes are arranged by meal type, so the book is easy to navigate, and the clear layout and photos make it a joy to browse through and plan what to make.
My feedback would be that although this is clearly defined as a family cookbook, there is not much discussion about portion size for different child age ranges, which I was expecting, and each recipe states how many adults it serves, which I found strange. There is no mention of children or babies at all – it’s either ‘serves one adult’, ‘serves two adults’ or ‘serves four adults’ or whatever. Perhaps this is meant to be used as a guide, but I would have preferred something like ‘perfect for four hungry children’ or ‘for a family of four, with leftovers’ as I personally think this would have suited the book’s audience better.
My only other gripe is that there isn’t a single photo of Lucy and Claire anywhere in the book, which I think was an oversight, given that their voices are so clear and warm throughout. Even just a photo of them at the end would have been a nice addition; as a reader, you feel like you get to know them as you use the book, but you don’t get a sense of what they look like, which is a shame, I think! Having been lucky enough to meet them at blogging events, I can vouch for the fact that they are absolutely lovely in real life, and a pic or two in the book would have been a great addition to help give it personality.
I decided to make the Courgette Fritters as I had all the ingredients on hand, and I am always keen for my children to eat more veg in a main course capacity. I followed the recipe to the letter, and it worked a treat. I used my food processor to grate the courgette, which took seconds.
The alternative suggestions – using Feta instead of Cheddar, or alternative fresh herbs – were good. I thought the fritters could have done with extra seasoning, but the tip to dip them into sweet chilli sauce was a great one, and I’d make this recipe again. Next I’m planning to make 12-Hour Pulled Pork, which Knackered Mother Helen tells me is ‘amazing’. Bring it on.
All in all, a great addition to any busy parent’s cookbook collection. Congrats Mumsnet, and Claire and Lucy!
Disclaimer: I was sent a free copy of Top Bananas! to review but all opinions are my own.
Phew, life is busy. Busy but good. I’ve been trying to practise a bit of gratitude recently – as in, ‘My train was delayed, there’s no food in the fridge and my hair looks like the hair of a madwoman, BUT I am thankful I have a job I like, two healthy children, a roof over my head and all my own teeth.’ It is not always easy to be grateful, but then being frustrated and cross isn’t conducive to a calm, fruitful home life either. So I will be grateful. I am grateful I have a glass of wine next to me, now, for instance 🙂
So what have I been cooking up at One-Handed HQ recently? Well, in keeping with my gratitude theme, I am grateful that it’s asparagus season. Lovely green British asparagus. Years ago I used to live in Germany, and round rolled May, and they all went wild for ‘frische Spargel’ (fresh asparagus). Hooray, I thought, only it looked like no asparagus I’d ever seen – it was white. Weird.
Anyway, I love asparagus, and look forward to its arrival every May, so when Sainsburys got in touch asking me what I would like to celebrate for their Best of British produce theme, of course I plumped for the green stuff – as Sainsburys are stocking 100% British-grown asparagus this year and I like buying seasonal British-grown fruit and veg.
In the past, I’ve always steamed or boiled asparagus – hmmm, yes, nice enough. But I recently discovered the joys of cooking it in a griddle pan. It is a breakthrough – the asparagus retains its lovely sweet deliciousness but also has a bit of bite and crunch to it. Plus it is SO easy, which we like. You just need a very hot griddle pan (one with ridges), some oil, a pastry brush and some tongs. It can be cooked one-handed while dealing with something child-related with the other. It’s great dipped into the yolk of a soft-boiled egg. My (initially very dubious) kids really enjoyed the novelty of dipping something that wasn’t toast into a boiled egg and ate it all up. Hurrah.
Join me in gratitude for this wondrous dish.
Delicious Griddled Asparagus Dippers
What you need
One bunch British asparagus, washed, and with the woody stems snapped off
Some light olive oil for brushing onto the pan and the asparagus
A free-range egg (medium) at room temperature
What to do
- Put a small pan of water on to boil for the egg. Once the water is boiling, reduce heat to a gentle rolling boil, add the egg and cook for 4½ minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat your griddle pan (I have a heavy-based Le Creuset one) until it’s nice and hot. Brush the pan with olive oil while it’s heating up.
- Brush your asparagus spears with olive oil using the pastry brush.
- When the pan is hot, lie the asparagus across the ridges and allow to cook for a few minutes before turning. They need approx. 5-6 minutes total cooking time.
- Once your egg is done, remove and put in an eggcup; cut off the top.
- Put your asparagus dippers on a side plate, allow them to cool before giving to your child – they will be very hot!
In the interest of full disclosure, Sainsburys asked me to choose my Best of British produce and write about it in exchange for some vouchers to buy some produce. These are my views. And mine only!