Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Countdown to Father's Day [Sunday 16 June]

So it's more than a fortnight off, but with the revamped Tuesday Tables, I realized that less than a week's planning was less than anyone (including me) needs to pull off a lovely event allowing for minimum hassle on the day.  For me prior preparation prevents a pathetically poor 'performance'.

And by giving that much grace, there is time for anything to ordered via the internet, arrive and be gift wrapped or prepped in time for the day's celebrations!

Fathers' Day is really a 20th century event created to help make sure fathers didn't feel left out following Mothering Sunday.  That has roots going back at least to the 16th Century and encouraged people to go back to their 'mother' church and home.

For me it doesn't scream BBQ. And not just because of the weather, but more because, most of the time, it's my poor father left hovering over the griddle instead of being able to enjoy himself mingling with family and friends.

I think the premise for a BBQ basically started because of the theme of meat, supporting the traditional view of the man of the house being the provider (hunter/gatherer).  And while roles have changed in a  lot of households, I like keeping my men happy with a good meat meal once in a while.

So my idea of a fab Fathers' Day fête is for hot dogs.  I serve a mix of frankfurter sausages and (more traditional) English sausages given Hubby's from Lincolnshire which has the BEST sausages in the world*! And everything is served with paper napkins in a plain white long bun.

And you need some decorations.  Bunting's always a good start and so I've designed some basic bunting that can be strung up in a variety of places around your home or garden, and which can be downloaded in pdf form from here, resized if you like, printed onto card, cut out and then strung on string.  The file I've created includes the whole alphabet so you can include your father's nickname if he has one.  Mine's called Pops as below:

And I've created some complementary signs if you are having it in the garden and want signs for your food and drink tables (also available in the downloadable pdf).

To serve with the hot dogs, I usually serve some 'trimmings' and sauces to go with them (see pdf):

Onions are most easily cooked in the microwave with some butter as you can cook them in the dish in which they'll be served, unless you like them caramelized brown in which case, you'll have to pan fry them. For the crispy leeks:

  • 1 large leek, cleaned, trimmed, and the leaves cut into 3-4" long thin strips
  • Slug of light olive oil
  • 3 tbspn plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 1 teaspn paprika
  • 1 teaspn garlic powder (optional)
  • S&P
  1. Preheat your oven to 220°C
  2. Pat your leek strips dry with some kitchen paper.
  3. Pop them in a plastic freezer bag with the oil.
  4. Holding the top of the bag firmly together toss the leeks in the oil until coated.
  5. Then add in the flour, spices and seasoning.
  6. Shake again.
  7. Lay out the coated leek strips in one layer on a baking tray and toast for 10-12 minutes until golden brown, tossing around half way through cooking.
I fry my mushrooms individually as per the mushrooms I cooked for the Tapas week (up to step 9), and for the salad, I usually have a few sliced cucumber, radish and tomato and some salad leaves (Little Gem work well) laid out in bowls.  I tend to put the trimmings and condiments in the bun before sticking in the sausage as it's far easier to eat.

On the drinks station, I have white and red wine, and some real ales.

Finally to get the party started I usually play a game of some sort. Here I've created a generic quiz and crossword (using this online tool) based on all things fatherly. The person to complete your chosen game quickest wins.

And my eclectic, background soundtrack would include:
  • Good Rockin' Daddy, Etta James
  • Daddy Daddy, Ruth Brown
  • It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World, James Brown
  • Daddy's Home, The Delfonics
  • Father & Son, Ronan Keating
  • Daughters, John Mayer
  • Father & Daughter, Paul Simon
  • Mama Don't Dance & Your Daddy Don't Rock & Roll, Dr. Hook
  • Daddy Cool, Boney M
  • I Learned from You, Billy Ray Cyrus & Miley Cyrus 
  • Just the Two of Us, Will Smith
Just don't play 'Oh Father' by Madonna!



* Our favourite sausages are the Boston Sausage which are available for delivery across the UK for a fixed fee of £4.95 up to 20 kg of meat.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Tuesday Tables Revisited

So the last couple of weeks have been very manic and I haven't even had time to think about a post, let alone write one. Shameful procrastination I know and I can only be glad that Thursday's Tips kept me publishing something!

I have also come to the conclusion that I set myself too tall an order taking photos of a table set-up every week just so that I could post a Tuesday Tables' suggestion--and I didn't want to just post a random selection of other people's tables that I liked.

So going forward, I will instead look to post stories on the Tuesdays about a festival somewhere in the world, detail ideas for decorations and give you some menu suggestions to help you put together a table of your own with savoir vivre (knowing just how to live)!

This week's choice is close to home with the Whit Weekend in celebration of the upcoming public holiday which since 1971 in the UK has been known as Spring Bank Holiday. The public holiday sees many country fairs held (such as that of BakewellBurghleyDoncasterEndonMalvern or Hampstead Heath to name just a few locations), and, most unusual, a cheese rolling competition at Cooper's Hill next to Brockworth, Gloucestershire.

Unfortunately the 2013 event looks to be a more discreet affair than previous years' due to the escalating number of injuries (1998's event was cancelled due to the number of afflicted in 1997) and a revolt by locals about the plans and fees for the event to be commercialized.  So instead of encouraging you to head to the Cotswolds, I wanted to suggest that you held your own cheese event, albeit not perhaps with the same (pagan) aim of encouraging fertility in the fields for the 2013 harvest!

If you have a steep hill nearby you could of course stage your own cheese rolling event.  Instead of a large cheese, use a small wooden barrel as the original organizers did during World War II due to rationing. One friend suggested holding a cheese and spoon race with mini baby bells instead of eggs.  Or you can host a simple cheese and wine party and show the 2012 video as a prequel to the 2013 event, a video of which is bound to be available quickly on the internet for later on in the day.  

The main event is the cheese and I like to ensure there's a good range of four to six cheeses (British of course).  A readily-available selection from most supermarkets would be:
This will give you a nice choice of soft and harder cheeses without going over-the-top.  But make sure that you buy the original from its proper location: M&S was recently noted by my brother as selling a Wensleydale that had never been anywhere near Yorkshire.  Another couple of great British cheeses are Cornish Yarg and Stinking Bishop (which does live up to its name).

I like serving big chunks of cheeses on wooden platters (such as this selection from Jamie Oliver) as you can pass them easily around your guests, each with their own knife for cutting an individual's portion.  The blocks are better than pre-cut slices which tend to quickly look unappetizing (as they curl up and harden) and make it easy to freeze any surplus cheese for use at a later date at the end of your party.

You can hold a competition at your event in which case you number your cheeses....

...and give guests a piece of paper with the numbers and a blank space next to them for them to write their guesses.

Tally up the scores after a suitable period and announce a winner who gets a small prize e.g. a cheese inspired door wedge or blank cheese labels for their own event.

Or you can choose to label your cheese, printing out the below images onto some thin card, cutting them out neatly and glueing a cork onto the back of each piece of card at the bottom so they stand upright.

Serve your cheese alongside sticks of celery (trimmed and stuck upright in a glass); bowls of dried apricots (sliced), olives and nuts, piles of (seedless) grapes and a basket of crackers and crostini (small slices of toasted bread).   Condiments traditionally include fig or quince jam, but a good rhubarb compote works well, as does a dab of mustard.

Resist the temptation to serve cheese straws or cheese-flavored biscuits/crackers at the event as they will clash with your chosen cheeses, as do other cheese bits such as mozzarella bites and halloumi.  And why make cheese bites when the original product is much quicker, simpler and often tastier?  If you want something meatier, cold/cured cuts, honey-glazed sausages and a ham to carve work much better.

For wine, help your guests by pairing up the right wine with the cheese.  Innes Log and Wigmore/Somerset Brie both go well with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, Wensleydale with Chardonnay (un-oaked), the Double Gloucester (& Cornish Yarg) with Pinot Noir/Burgundy and the Stilton (& Stinking Bishop) with a full bodied Shiraz (better during the day than the Port).

To decorate your table, this party is best as a buffet so people can come and graze as and when they like over the course of an afternoon.  Keep the theme fresh to complement the cheese.  Use lots of green with bright paper napkins and fresh herb plants in small terra cotta pots to encourage guests to snip at the basil/dill/tarragon leaves to try with their chosen cheese.  Wine corks (doh!) and wicker mats also work well.

I also make up a radish mouse or two for the platters, courtesy of Martha Stewart, which kids find cute and suit the cheese theme given mouse decorations will obviously work well.

Or if you're feeling flush, these platters and bowl from the traditional mouse furniture man, Robert Thompson, are really lovely.

This suggestion for a set-up from Rock UR Party is very cute and a bit cheaper than bespoke wood boards.  Here in the UK, you can by a roll of the chalkboard paper from Amazon.

Meanwhile, Pottery Barn provides a nice overview of a party set-up, although it is one that focuses on the wine rather than the cheese.

And I also like the suggestions from Real Simple for their cheese party which include these take-home cards that you can print and cut out, and then pop in a tumbler with a few short pencils so people can make a note of any cheese/wine that they particularly liked.

And years ago, I used their invite template, which I can no longer find it on their site but which are still v. cool.

I hope you've liked my revisited Tuesday's Tables' post and stay tuned for more ideas.

And my reason for being so busy is that I have a new job!  Still in the City, but one with career progression that should help me work more easily towards my end dream of a job in the country working from home.


Monday, May 20, 2013

My Monday Must-Have

I love the latest summer edition of the festivities mag.

And if the British weather holds out, I would love to hold a tent party such as that featured on the inside cover.

And their Robin Hood themed party is cute too (pg. 41).  I think the felt fire is v. cool for kiddies.

Hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Crispy Crackling

Ooh and season well with S&P (black pepper) before popping in the oven.  I cook my pork for 20 mins at 200°C and then lower the temperature to 180°C for 30 minutes for each pound (lb) or 450 grammes of meat.


Friday, May 3, 2013

Friday = Mushrooms

In my last post for Tapas week, today's dish is twice cooked mushrooms.

If you are feeling lazy (and I frequently am), you can cook the mushrooms all in one go, stir frying for longer than below before adding in the garlic, sherry and tarragon.  If you do cook it this way reduce the amount of sherry as the mushrooms will throw off quite a lot of juice which they don't when cooked as below.  They also won't go brown as they stew rather than get fried.

But the recipe is so much nicer if you take the time and cook the mushrooms individually off first.

  • 3 tblspns oil
  • 3 oz butter
  • 3 punnets of different types* of mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 1 packet of dried woodland mushrooms (optional)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
  • ½-¾ cup of dry (cheap) sherry (supermarket own brand is fine)
  • 4-5 strands of tarragon stripped of the leaves, which are then chopped fairly finely.
  • S&P

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil and when hot add in an ounce of butter.
  2. Using some tongs, add in the slices of mushrooms one by one so that each is in contact with the pan and there is space around each slice.  
  3. Leave for a minute or so and then turn over.  
  4. Cook the other side for another minute and then turn over once again for another minute.
  5. Remove when lovely and dark brown around the edges.
  6. Drain briefly on a piece of kitchen paper and then decant into a bowl.
  7. Repeat with another tablespoon of oil, another ounce of butter and cook more of the mushrooms.
  8. Remove, drain and repeat, steps 1 through 5 again.  You should have cooked all the mushroom slices by now.
  9. Set aside the bowl and the pan (off the heat) until needed.
  10. If you are using the dried mushrooms, soak them in hot water for half an hour at this point and then drain, cutting up the big bits in half.
  11. Reheat the pan which should have a little bit of oil/butter left.
  12. Add in all the mushrooms (fresh and rehydrated) and stir quickly till hot.
  13. Toss in the garlic and cook for a further minute.
  14. Pour in the sherry and throw in the tarragon, and then fry until the liquid has reduced a little.
  15. Serve immediately with the liquid.

I hope you've enjoyed my Tapas week.  I find that given how many people have allergies these days, it really is a great meal as people can pick at what they want.  I once had a party of 15 over for a relaxed evening where one person was a celiac, one hated beans, two were vegetarians, one person had never outgrown loathing green vegetables and another only ate white meat (chicken and pork).  This really was the perfect set-up.


* I used chestnut, oyster and shiitake.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Help with Herbs

Ha!  I bet you thought with the Tapas week on the go, I wouldn't be posting a tip this Thursday!

However, I am keen to continue to share the tips with you that I've picked up over the years and so here's today's!

I have to admit that there is a third way when I have A LOT of herbs to cut up e.g. when I freeze them from the garden in ice cubes at the end of summer. Then, I abandon the teacup in favor of my old herb chopper, which looks like the line drawing of one embedded in my tip.

An antique affair, it's usually perched between two ancient nails that Hubby banged into the wall,   serving a decorative purpose.  But I can wiggle it out and use it after a quick wipe.  I tend to sprinkle some salt on the board before chopping herbs this way as it seems to stop bits escaping in all directions.


Thursday = Tortilla de Patatas

This is my penultimate Tapas week offering and a great summer lunch dish on its own with a salad.  You can also add in sliced red pepper to the dish when cooking the potatoes, or add in peas or fresh green herbs* as you stir in the egg.  If you don't have saffron, don't worry.  The taste is very delicate and most miss it.

The traditional way of making it is to deep fry the potatoes.  While this adds texture, it piles on the pounds. As a student, I used to buy a bag of traditional fish-shop chips on my way back to my digs to use to make this without having to fry chips in a large pan of fat. It was a really quick and cheap dinner alongside some salad and a pork chop.  And I still think this is a lovely, easy way to cook this once in a while!

  • 3-4 large potatoes, peeled and kept submerged in water until needed.
  • 1 brown/white onion, cut in half and each half is finely sliced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
  • 4 large eggs, very lightly beaten
  • Good pinch of saffron strands (about 10)
  • 4 tblspns veggie oil
  • S&P
  1. Start frying the onion for five minutes in half the oil until translucent, stirring every minute or so to stop the half rings sticking to the pan and going dark brown.  Use a frying pan that can be covered a plate.
  2. While that's frying, dry off the potatoes, cut in half lengthways and slice each bit finely into D-shaped slices.
  3. Put the potato slices into the pan and fry gently until they are nearly soft.  This takes about 15-20 minutes as it should be done slowly to avoid any burned bits.
  4. Add in the minced garlic and fry for another minute or so.  The oil should have been pretty much absorbed by now.
  5. Decant the contents of the pan into the bowl of beaten egg, crumble in the saffron strands and season well. 
  6. Fold everything together very gently.

  7. Put the frying pan (empty) back on the hob, add the rest of the oil and heat it through till it's hot.
  8. Add in the potato-egg mix and push down the potato bits to flatten them so it's all neat.
  9. Turn down the heat to a low setting and cook for a further 15-20 mins, jiggling the pan every so often to ensure the mix isn't sticking.
  10. When it looks like the mix stays all together when you twist the pan about (after about 10-12 minutes), and you can see the egg cooked partway through, put a flat plate upside down over the frying pan and very quickly flip both over together pushing the handle down with one hand and holding the plate edges firmly to the pan rim with your other palm splayed out over the bottom of your plate.  The cooked bit should now be facing upwards and you will be left holding the plate in your hand with your hand bent back underneath like a waiter carries a tray over his shoulder.
  11. This has to be done quickly else the uncooked egg will leak.  And this is the best way as holding the pan and plate together in both hands (with oven gloves on of course), means the plate and pan end up over your head.  Slightly dangerous to say the least.
  12. With the plate edge towards the back of the pan, carefully push the tortilla back into the pan moving the plate edge towards you as the tortilla slides off so that the uncooked side is now on the bottom and it can finish cooking.
  13. If you have any slices of egg-coated potato on your plate, lift up an edge of the tortilla with a fish slice and slide under the slices.
  14. Leave for another 5-10 mins until the whole thing is cooked through.
  15. Again flip it quickly as before onto a clean plate and decide which is the prettiest side, flipping again between another plate if the side you cooked first looked best (it usually does).
  16. Season lightly and serve with a sprig of thyme or parsley.


* Thyme, tarragon or herbes de Provence all work well.