Friday, 27 December 2013

N is for New Year

Phew!

Christmas is done! So happy.  Eaten far too much (as usual) and had much fun and many laughs.

Today is a furious day of activity as we have one set of guests leaving and the next couple of days will see the next set descending.  I love it!

And I'm turning my sights towards New Year's Eve.

So I'm digging out my various clocks from around the house to dot around the dining room, and printing Auld Lang Syne sheet music as the backing for A5 menu cards that are placed on people's places to keep everyone to my seating plan.


Am also dusting off the board games in case there's any time between the meal and midnight when we mark the occasion with fireworks in the garden, wave around sparklers and toast each other with champagne around the patio heater.

And the menu's designed to auger in the brand new year and is broken down into more courses than usual to keep it relaxed and keep people at the table as long as possible.  This year sees:
  • Roast Leg of Lamb
  • Potatoes Boulangère (with finely sliced fennel added)
  • Mixed Greens (Kale, savoy cabbage, de-skinned broad beans, peas)
  • Cheese course (Brie, Comté and Stilton with grapes and crackers)
  • Petits Fours (bought in) 
The lovely thing about ALL these dishes is that I can prep them all in advance and they don't take much stove time on the night so I can enjoy being with guests.  Depending on how energetic I feel I can make OR buy in the stuff. This is why the menu includes the chicken liver mousse, the crostini and the Petits Fours.

Last, but not least, I'm just need to print off my quiz which I use before the meal to get everyone's brains into gear after sofa slobbing so much in the last few days and kick off the table conversations.  Fingers crossed that no-one reads this before I hand it out on the 31st!

Monday, 16 December 2013

H is for Ham

If there is anything you do because you've read this blog, this should be top of your list.

This for me is a life saver over the festive period.  

It provides for continental breakfasts, sandwiches for my ever-hungry step-sons, chunks for pea and ham soup, and even a dinner when it first comes out of the oven.  And if I do have any left (and this is unusual) then I slice up the remaining joint into really thick slices and freeze it between layers of greaseproof paper to use as needed.


Gather:
  • The largest joint of unsmoked gammon that will fit in your biggest pan
  • 1 large bottle of full sugar cola (no need for a brand)
  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped into quarters
  • 1 carrot, scrubbed and snapped into two
  • 1 stick of celery, cleaned and snapped into two
  • 150gms packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tblspns English mustard
  • 2 tblspns whisky / bourbon / orange juice

Then...
  1. Put the ham (still in its net) in a pan and cover it with cold water.  If it doesn't quite then it's fine
  2. Bring to the boil on the stovetop
  3. Once it's boiled, drain off the water and make sure that there is no remaining puffy scum left on the ham or in the pan
  4. Replace in the pan and if necessary pack out with the onion, celery and carrot.  If they don't fit in the pan, it's not a problem
  5. Pour over the cola to cover the joint* and bring the pan to the boil again
  6. Once it's boiled, turn down the temperature to have the liquid simmering as gently as possible
  7. Leave to simmer for 40 mins per kilo MINUS 35 mins. You may need to top up the cola every now and then.  If you run out of cola, water is fine
  8. In the meantime, line a baking tray with multiple layers of tinfoil so it doesn't tear (this is important)
  9. At the end of the simmering time, heat up your oven to 240°C
  10. Take the ham off the stove and leave to cool for 10 mins so as to be able to remove the net
  11. Skewer the ham through the middle in a cross using two BBQ skewers otherwise the ham will unfold during the oven time.
  12. Mix the sugar, liquid and mustard together until it is completely smooth and there are no lumps in the sugar (otherwise these will burn and cause unsightly black spots on the rind)
  13. Put the ham carefully into your lined tin (taking care not to tear the foil with the skewers), rind side up and score into a diamond pattern / stud with cloves as desired (I never bother)
  14. Spoon over the glaze making sure all the outer surfaces are coated
  15. Put the ham in the oven for 35 mins
  16. Take out and leave to cool^ before moving the ham onto a carving plate and pulling out the skewers
  17. Fold up the tin foil around the now black/burned sticky glaze in the bottom, bringing the edges together to form a tight parcel that won't see any of the glaze leak out. Lining the tin means no washing up...and trust me...trying to get off that burned glaze is quite a task
  18. Once cool, you can leave the ham in the fridge covered with a foil tent for up to 10 days, carving slices/chunks off as needed
* If your ham is taller than your pan then rotate the ham while it's simmering to ensure the ham cooks throughout.
^ It's at this point that I will often carve off a couple of generous slices and serve with Mac'N'Cheese or a poached egg and chips depending on how I'm feeling for dinner for two.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

D is for Decorate

Each year sees me expand my collection of Christmas decorations.

This is partly because each year I want something different, something new to greet guests.  But also because I am really quite the shopaholic.

But I do try to buy quality items though that will last as I recognize that I will (a) run out of space to store all these decorations at some point...probably quite soon...and (b) my husband will run out of patience with me...almost definitely sooner.

This year's purchases include:


These darling little birds from Frolic & Cheer courtesy of NotontheHighStreet.com, which I will clip onto the tree with all my other little birds.


These metallic glass pine cones from M&S, which I bought in store as their online service is pants.


And these apothecary jars via Etsy which I will fill with sweets, brightly coloured baubles and the trinkets from Christmas Crackers past that otherwise clutter up cutlery drawers, bedroom drawers, random places around the house etc. 

Did you buy anything new?

Thursday, 5 December 2013

S is for Sinterklaas

Tonight and tomorrow will see the Dutch celebrate Sinterklaas or the Festival of St Nicolas.  He's seen as being the original Santa Claus. although today the Dutch celebrate the 5th and 25th.


Boating it over from Spain with at least one servant, Zwarte Piet, in tow, to arrive by mid November, it's not until the 5th December that he fills the shoes of little children (who will have strategically left them outside their bedroom door as they go to bed) with sweets and small presents.

And the adults aren't forgotten either.  Colleagues, family and friends often give each other big chocolate letters of the first letter of their first name.


And there are always plenty of Kruidnoten (small, round gingerbread-nut cookies) around to snack on.


What a nice tradition for us to copy!

Saturday, 23 November 2013

B is for Black Candles

During my recent Halloween Party, I had some black candles burning on the table.  And they just seemed to disappear as you looked across the table.

I thought it was the spirits (both types) playing tricks on my eyes.  But no! Apparently not...

In a recent article (which now typically I cannot find), the homeowner of a New York house designed by Markham Roberts agreed with me.  So am going to use them again.


Thursday, 14 November 2013

T is for Tulips

Ever keen to get ahead, now is the time that you need to think whether you want tulips on your table in Spring!  Unlike most spring bulbs, tulips should be planted now (after a few frosts) as the cold kills off any tulip blight in the soil.

I buy loads and so tend to buy them from J Parkers Wholesale, but if the bulb numbers freak you out then you can just buy from their regular site. There are also some extremely pretty and unusual varieties from Sarah Raven, but they are relatively expensive.


My soil is mostly claggy clay, so I dig a trench about 10"/25cm deep, and cover the base with a couple of inches of rinsed sharp sand.  If you have sandy / well draining soil then you can skip this step and dig to 8"/20cm deep.

This is relatively deep, but by doing so you (a) can plant summer annuals over them when they finish flowering (b) the flowers don't flop over and (c) they flower year-after-year as they don't develop 'daughters' i.e. side bulbs that will stop the bulb flowing that year.


I then place the tulip bulbs pointy-end up, about 3"/8cm apart and backfill with soil. Once you've covered up the bulbs with a layer of soil, you can always add in a second layer of bulbs. This works well if you've got both early and late flowering varieties as once the first lot fade, the others start to bloom. Note that the later flowering ones will be the ones that you plant first and deepest.

Tulips work well in pots and here to get the displays you see around in garden centers, at stately homes or on the telly, layer lots to create a bulb lasagna, where the pasta is a 2"/5cm blanket of soil and grit. Again the latest flowering bulbs go in deepest although you have to also make sure that the larger ones go in sooner to ensure they have enough soil, then plant the earliest and smaller ones at the top. Obviously the more multiple levels of bulbs you plant then the more space around the bottom ones is needed so they can come through.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

P is for Planning

There are 48 days to Christmas and while this may be to many a ridiculously long time ahead to start prepping for the festive season, experience has taught me that it's worth getting ahead a little so that December won't be too manic.


So this is what I'm doing this month (across the whole of it):
  • Set a budget; work out what you can afford to spend on presents, as well as food and drink
  • Start a master gift list
  • Draw up a Christmas card list, ensure you have enough cards and postage stamps
  • Buy any extra cards and postage stamps needed
  • Ensure you have everyone's (postal) addresses up-to-date
  • Get out the emulsion and paintbrush and touch-up any areas that have suffered over the year e.g. banisters, around the front door etc.
  • Plan the holiday menu; and set out an ingredient list
  • Try out any new recipes.  They may sound delicious on paper but be far too stodgy in reality
  • Go through your cupboards, freezer and pantry and make a list of what you need. Check cans and spices for sell-by dates; ditch any that are over the date by more than a couple of months
  • Make and bake the cake 
  • Make and steam the pudding
  • Draft a Christmas letter if sending
  • Begin shopping for gifts, collating gifts from suppliers where possible to save on P&P
  • Feed the cake with brandy by making holes over the cake with a large needle and (using a pastry brush) brushing the top and sides with the alcohol
  • Write your cards, stuff them in the envelops (but leave unsealed at this stage)
There...that wasn't too much...was it!?!

Thursday, 31 October 2013

D is for Day of the Dead

Tomorrow is the Day of the Dead (Dia de Los Muertos in Spanish), a primarily Mexican holiday that celebrates the lives of the deceased through food and drink, music and activities that the (dead) relatives enjoyed during their lifetime.

To put together your own party, concentrate on decorations that are skeletons and skulls.  And while this sounds morbid, being Mexican these are incredibly colourful and beautifully decorated.

And for just £3.10, you can buy a party pack to download and print to hold your own, more international version of a happy Halloween!


Given I've just put my own family and friends through a big party, I won't be celebrating this year but...watch this space...it's too good a celebration to miss!

Thursday, 10 October 2013

H is for Halloween

I'm having a party!  It's a bit of a big birthday this year and rather than hide away, I've decided to throw a party and make sure everyone knows I'm 30...ish...well...maybe 30 + 10!

And with 26 guests saying they'll be on they way for 26 October, I've got to decorate my rooms and cook up a feast.


And given I want to be able to spend time with my guests, we're having curries.  I can cook them all a couple of days in advance, keep them in the fridge, put them in the oven with the timer set to turn on as guests arrive to warm them back up. The rice is cooked in the rice cooker.

However they need to be themed up a bit, so I'm giving them new names.  My menu therefore reads as:
  • Swamp Dip & Crisped Dragon Skin (Raiti & mini poppadums)

And for pudding:

When serving the curries, adding food tags to sit next to the dishes will be enough.


But for the puddings, I needed to decorate the cakes, buns and ensure that the fruits sweets really snaked their way out of the jellies as they set and ensure they were suitably spooky.

The lemon cupcakes therefore had strips of ready-rolled icing cut to size to cover the top with a couple of sugar eyes set on each bun.  Meanwhile the chocolate cake was covered in dark chocolate and a web piped in white chocolate over the top.


And I had a lot of fun raiding eBay for suitable decorations.




For extra support and/or if my ideas for recipes don't appeal, check out Martha Stewart's Halloween party planner.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

V is for Vegetarian

Since 1977, this day has marked World Vegetarian Day according to the North American Vegetarian Society.

And while I have to admit that I am much more of a carnivore than even an omnivore, two things have pushed me to serving up more vegetarian food than before.

The first is the impact on the environment.  While we all talk about climate change, you personally can make a bit of a difference by eating less meat (as well as the obvious use of public transport etc.).


The second is the creation of this delicious recipe.  Yum!

Gather:

1 cauliflower, leaves removed
1 broccoli
350 grms macaroni pasta
50 grms croutons
300 mls crème fraîche (full fat)
150 gms grated cheese (veggie friendly of course)
1 teaspn English mustard
Pinch grated nutmeg
Knob of butter
S&P


Then...
  1. Heat the oven to 180°C.  Bring a pan of lightly salted water to boil.
  2. Cut a star shape out of the base of the cauli, leaving the head whole, and stand in the boiling water.
  3. Turn down the temperature and simmer for 4 mins.  Cut the broccoli head into 2-3 pieces leaving florets whole and slot in (base down) around the cauli in the pan. 
  4. Simmer for a further 2-3 mins.
  5. Drain all the water off the veggies, cut off the florets and tip them into a buttered ovenproof dish.
  6. Cook the macaroni pasta as per the packet BUT only cook it for 4 mins.
  7. Meanwhile mix the crème fraîche with the mustard, some S&P, nutmeg and 100 grms of the cheese.
  8. Drain the pasta, reserving a couple of tablespoons of the pasta water, and add in the crème fraîche mix.
  9. Add that to the veggies and add in the pasta water to loosen the mix if needed.
  10. Scatter on the croutons and sprinkle on the remaining cheese
  11. Bake in the over for 10-15 mins until bubblingly brown and when the pasta/veggies are tender to the point of a sharp knife.

Served hot, it feeds four.


Saturday, 21 September 2013

B is for Beerfest

Today the annual Oktoberfest kicks off in Munich, Bavaria.  For the next 16 days, up to six million people will drink over 7.5 million litres of good German beer.

But you don't have to trek to Southern Germany to clank glasses with friends. You can create your own Fest at home very easily.


The food for it couldn't be easier since everything can be bought in packets from the supermarket: potato salad from the cold counter; jarred sauerkraut / pickled cabbage; and sausages that will take 15 to 20 minutes to griddle/grill.  If the bakery section doesn't sell pretzels, mini versions will be available in the snack aisle.

Other traditional tucker includes roast chicken, ham hock, hunks of sourdough bread and cheesy potato cakes.

Add a few accessories from Amazon in the form of a Beer Garden sign, balloons in the traditional Bavarian pale blue/white checkerboard design and of course the large, dimpled glasses if you don't already have them in stock...although really anything that's chunky and that holds beer will work.

And there you have it.  Ein Prosit in your backyard!

Viel Spaß!  Have fun!

Saturday, 14 September 2013

M is for Mid-Autumn Festival

Between the 18-20 September this year (but only this year as the festival moves in the calendar as with all other Chinese festivals), Hong Kong will celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival.

My least favourite part of the festival was moon cakes until Haagen Dazs and Starbucks got in on the act and produced ones that weren't stuffed with lotus bean paste.


But my favourite bit of the festival has always been the lanterns to commemorate the moon.  Some involve riddles, and there's always the obligatory cooing over the ones made by friends' children, but they are always just really bright and fun.

And given the food is plentiful (think of it as a Chinese Harvest Festival) and you can always get hold of a lantern or two, it is not difficult for you to hold your own version of the Chinese celebration at home. AND it's an excuse to dig out some of those decorations only otherwise used once a year for Chinese New Year.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

P is for Pork Katsu Curry

I made a pork katsu curry tonight.  Very simple, very easy, but so so much better if you breadcrumb your pork in Panko breadcrumbs.  Available at most large supermarkets (or if not, you can get them on Amazon), they are so much better than any other type as they are lovely and crisp from the packet...and are not bright orange as most seem to be!


Gather:
  • 2 pork tenderloin steaks (trimmed, halved and flattened to 5 mm thick between cling film sheets)
  • 250 gms Panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 100 gms plain flour
  • S&P
  • Oil for frying the pork
  • 1 teaspn cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspn fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspn coriander seeds
  • 1 tblspn mild curry powder
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 heaped tblspn cornflour
  • 4 tblspn honey
  • 100 mls water
  • Dash of soy sauce
Then...
  1. Put your egg, flour (seasoned) and breadcrumbs separately in three shallow dishes 
  2. Using one hand (so one remains clean to do other things/move dishes), dip each piece of pork in the flour, then the egg and then press into the breadcrumbs, shaking off the excess each time but making sure all the pork is coated
  3. Set aside on a plate and wash your hands
  4. Heat up a pan of oil / turn on your deep-fat-fryer to cook the pork
  5. Toast off the spices in a dry frying pan
  6. Tip into a pestle and mortar and grind into fine powder
  7. Start to sweat your onion on a low heat with a little of the oil
  8. Once the oil in your saucepan/fryer is hot, put in two pieces of pork and cook for two minutes on each side until golden
  9. Drain on kitchen paper and repeat with the last two pieces of pork
  10. Stir the ground spices and flour into the onion and add the soy and honey
  11. Cook for a couple of mins and stir in the water; if the sauce is too thick, add more water until you have a thick but runny sauce
  12. Cut the pork into thick slivers then place on a bed of rice with the sauce draped over or served on the side
Feeds two.  You can replace the pork with chicken but use thighs otherwise the meat will be too dry.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

S is for Sweet Chilli Sauce

In posting my satay sauce recipe, I use the one picture I had. This included a splattered jug of sweet chilli sauce.  I realized it made sense to post the recipe for that too as the bought version is nothing like home-made.

Sweet chilli sauce (left), satay sauce (middle) and simple Greek yoghurt (right) to accompany a BBQ
Gather:
  • ½ red bell pepper, deseeded and the flesh cubed
  • 2 large clove garlic, crushed
  • 7 tblspns rice vinegar
  • 3½ tblspns sugar
  • 4 tblspns water
  • 2 dried chillies (deseeded for a milder version)
  • 1¼ teaspns cornflour mixed with 1½ teaspns water

Then...
  1. Put the pepper flesh, garlic, vinegar, sugar, water, and chillies in a food processor and whizz until smooth
  2. Decant the contents into a small saucepan and cook over a low heat for 10 mins
  3. Skim the surface until you've removed the red foam
  4. Whisk in the cornflour mix and then cook for another couple of mins
  5. Allow to cool before serving
As per the satay, this recipe can be multiplied easily to make a bigger batch and then freeze meal-sized portions until you need them.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

A is for App

In today's busy world, I love a good app, but get cheesed off when an app is just a mobile version of the website.  It needs to do more than that to command space on my screen.

Here are my top ten apps for entertaining guests which do more than their websites (with one exception).

1. Time to Roast
All you need to do is select your meat (every roast I've had) and enter the weight.  It beeps at you when you need to change the temp (after searing a roast) and when it's time to check whether your joint is cooked.  And if it's not, you can simply let the app know and it'll beep again after some more time has elapsed.

2. Escoffier Cook's Companion
This handy app includes a measurement converter, a kitchen timer, an ingredients list (so you'll never again have to ask what adzuki beans are), an equipment list and a glossary of cooking terms.

Import all your favourite web based recipes into one (h)appy location, photo and all.  You can also manually add your own recipes too.  But the best thing about this app is that if you want to half or multiply the recipe, it'll re-proportion all the ingredients at the touch of a button.

This app helps you grow your own fruit or veggies whatever space you have.  But the best thing is the location-specific alerts for drought or frost to help you ensure that your plants stay healthy.  All the more homegrown food to serve to guests...

This free app features 180 recipes (and appropriate advice) from 12 of the country's best chefs.  Luscious!

6. Canadian Living (Magazine)
Yes it's a Canadian app but we have quite a lot in common with our Canadian cousins (after all we share a queen), and this magazine provides some of the most comprehensive advice without making you pay for every sentence.

This app delivers new recipes to your phone weekly, as well as a host of tricks and tips to get your barbecued food cooked to perfection.  And you can combine your recipe shopping lists into one for your trawl around the supermarket.

8. Houzz
So you've planned your feast but realise that your dining room decor will let the side down.  Use this app and choose from over two million ideas by room, location or style.

Now not many of us need to plan guests lists by excel sheet every week, but for the odd occasion you do, this is a great app.  It also helps you plot out seating plans, keeps track of budgets and timelines, and even lets you delegate tasks.   

This is my exception to the real estate rule, but since it's now much easier to link my phone snaps to my boards, it's made the cut.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

S is for Satay

The weather forecast is promising a lovely weekend and so I'm getting ahead and brewing up some satay sauce to go with barbecued chicken skewers on the weekend.

This recipe involves an enormous list of ingredients, but it really is a very simple sauce so don't be put off!

Gather:
  • 2 bird's eye chillies (red or green)
  • 1 tblspn ginger, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tblspn lemongrass, chopped
  • 2 tblspn groundnut/peanut oil
  • ½ onion, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspn turmeric
  • 1 teaspn ground coriander
  • 1 teaspn paprika
  • ½ teaspn cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspn black pepper
  • 1 tblspn ground cumin
  • 300 mls of coconut milk
  • 180 mls water
  • 85 grms peanuts, finely ground
  • 40 grms peanuts, roughly chopped
  • 1½ tblspn lime juice
  • 1 tblspn dark soy sauce
  • ½ tblspn light brown sugar
  • Dash of rice vinegar

Then...
  1. In a food processor, chuck in the chillies (seeds and stalk removed), the garlic, ginger, lemon grass and pour in a little of the coconut milk to loosen the mix
  2. Pulse until it resembles a slightly lumpy paste
  3. In a pan large enough to take all the ingredients, fry off the onion gently in the oil for 5 mins before adding in the paste
  4. Fry off everything gently for another 5 mins before adding in the turmeric, coriander, pepper, paprika, cayenne and cumin; cook off until the mix no longer smells raw
  5. If the mix starts to stick during this process, add in a little bit of the water
  6. Stir in the rest of the coconut milk and water and start to reduce slightly (simmering very gently)
  7. Stir in the peanuts and the lime juice
  8. Cook for a further 5 mins
  9. Add in the soy and the sugar and cook for another minute; add in the vinegar
  10. Adjust the seasoning adding in more paprika/cayenne/cumin and salt is wanted
  11. Serve warm
It can keep in the fridge up to four-five days if left to cool and reheated gently before serving.  This sauce can be frozen for up to six months and so I tend to quadruple the recipe and batch it up to last the summer.

Pictured here (in the middle) with sweet chilli sauce (left; amazing with sausages) and Greek yoghurt (right)

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Z is for Zest

When I started this blog, I didn't really think through that there aren't many words beginning with 'z' let alone words connected with entertaining guests and food.  But zest is fortunately one of them.

Zest has to be fresh.  If you zest your (citrus) fruit too far in advance then the flavour disappears.  I use two tools for this: a microplane and a zester depending on how large I want my zest strips.


And I use zest in lots of things such as my BBQ butterflied lamb recipe (when I use the zester), and also when I cook spinach (when I use a microplane).

Once the leaves have just wilted in hot water, I drain, grind over lots of black pepper and add the zest of a lemon to serve.  I do this as I find this gives the veggie the flavour it needs without leaving a splodge of unappetising stodge when the juice breaks down the structure of the leaves too much.  If you have a pool of liquid in your spinach dish...this is why.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

L is for Lamb à la Rick Stein

The weather's turned warmer and we're having a BBQ.  But since this is a Sunday and usually devoted to roasts, we already have a leg of lamb in the fridge waiting to be cooked.  And I love lamb.  So we've decided to BBQ it à la Rick Stein.

Gather:
  • One leg of lamb (with the bone in if you can butterfly it yourself, or ask your butcher to do this)
  • 1 lemon (unwaxed)
  • 3 sprigs of thyme
  • 3 sprigs of rosemary
  • 3 chillies (deseeded)
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Olive oil
  • S&P
Then...
  1. Snip off any excess fat or sinew from your lamb and make sure that it lies flat
  2. Zest the lemon and squeeze half of the lemon for its juice
  3. Strip the herb leaves from the stalks and snip in a cup with the ends of a pair of scissors
  4. Snip the bay leaf into thin strips
  5. Chop up the chilli and spread over the lamb with the garlic, lemon and chopped herbs
  6. Season the meat to taste and put the lamb in a large freezer bag
  7. Slug in a good glug of olive oil and massage the ingredients into the lamb through the plastic (keeping hands clean)
  8. Set aside and allow to marinade for at least an hour before putting it on the BBQ to cook
  9. Serve with lightly-toasted pitta bread and salad
And if you wanted, through the wonder of (stolen) technology, you can see how Rick does it himself!

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

B is for Bastille Day

Next Sunday is Bastille Day and the day that the French celebrate all things linked to Liberté, Égalité et Fraternité (brotherhood).  The day commemorates the storming of the Bastille prison in 1789, the freeing of many political figures, the start of the French revolution and the beginning of the road to becoming a republic.

And in planning my own celebrations for the weekend, I came across a post on one of my favourite blogs, Creature Comforts, for a French style picnic (or pique-nique) featuring a savoury and sweet clafoutis.


The pictures (as usual) are beautiful and the post also links to some very cute printables courtesy of the publishers (Chronicle) of The Little Paris Kitchen, the recipe book published by Rachel Khoo to accompany the eponymous BBC series.


Now the picnic with the weather we're expecting is a little optimistic, but I do love a good savoury clafoutis and so thought this was the perfect occasion to dig out my Marie Claire Ideés recipe for a favourite cherry tomato/goat cheese version.

Gather:
  • 4 large eggs
  • 300 mls of whipping cream
  • 250 mls of whole milk
  • 4 heaped soup spoons of corn flour
  • 150 grams fresh goats cheese
  • 350 grams of ripe cherry tomatoes
  • 1 bag of basil
  • 20 grams of butter
  • S&P

Then...
  1. Preheat the oven to 200ºC
  2. Beat the eggs and then incorporate in the corn flour spoon by spoon, before adding in the cream and milk
  3. Cut up the basil into strips, reserving a floret for decoration at the end
  4. Add to the creamy mix and season to taste
  5. Butter an oven proof ceramic dish that is big enough to take all the liquid
  6. Arrange the tomatoes in a single layer and tear the goats cheese into lumps and arrange evenly
  7. Pour over the creamy mix and put the dish in the oven until it's cooked (approx. 40 mins) but still has a slight wobble
  8. Serve warm or cold with the garnish of basil (set aside earlier), some crusty bread (baguette works best) and a salad

You can also add pitted, chopped black olives to this, meat (lardons work well) or replace the goats cheese with another soft one.

For more Bastille day ideas, check out my Pinterest board on the celebration.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

F is for Fika

This lovely Swedish word is a noun and a verb and communicates laid back snacking in a way that no other word in any language manages.

It really is nothing more than a drink (usually coffee or tea) and a snack (more often than not baked but almost always on a doily) and is enjoyed between neighbours, friends, colleagues and acquaintances, and at any time of the day (or night).

And now I've discovered it's a cookbook..and has been for a while now...


...with the most beautiful layout inside, with each recipe spanning four pages, with ingredients first...


...and instructions second...


Now I just need to work out where I can get my mitts on a copy.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

P is for Picnic

We've decided to brave the British weather and go for a picnic.  However given my memories are full of soggy sandwiches being eaten in the car, I've invested in some tiffin boxes to keep everything dry.


Marks and Spencer's do a really good solid one, and one that (for me) affords lots of space for a salad in one layer; a small quiche, cherry tomatoes and some cocktail sausages in another; and cheese, biscuits and grapes in the last.  All clipped together for easy transportation.

I usually take along a tupperware box of butterfly cakes for dessert as they're v. easy to eat.

And if those suggestions for tiffin tucker don't appeal, there's a long list of lovely options for a picnic on the Beeb's website.

Meanwhile, if the idea of a picnic appeals but you don't know a good spot, there is of course a website to help you out.

Monday, 17 June 2013

S is for Summer Solstice

Mid-summer heralds the longest day. In Scandinavia and Finland, the almost zero hours of darkness give way to celebrations.

And, depending on the country, the festive customs vary although every country (apart from Sweden and the South West of Finland) likes its bonfires.  In Sweden, people instead twist wild flowers in their hair and dance around a tall pole.

The food is pretty much the same across the region: pickled fish, new potatoes (with dill) and strawberries. All this is washed down by beer and schnapps.

Here in the UK, the summer solstice is only celebrated by a few who try to make it to Stonehenge, but I think we should make more of the day and its lovely long evening.

This year the weather looks to be fine so a BBQ beckons...anything but pickled herring for me!