Sunday 24 August 2014

W is for Waffles

When I noted that today is Waffle Day, I baulked.  I have quite a large number of gadgets in my kitchen as I have the space and I like them (like father, like daughter).

But I wasn't going to buy a waffle machine.  Years ago my parents used to own a toastie maker which would churn out grilled cheese sandwiches on a Sunday for tea.  They were amazing (apart from burning the top of your mouth every time), but the machine cleaning post cheese heaven was not so fun.  You had to clean it while it was still warm so the melted fat didn't set but not too hot to burn fingers.  It was a right pain!

And waffle machines are in the same camp as far as I'm concerned.  Great if someone else owns one, but one's not going to live a rancid life in my cupboards.  Especially since I came across the recipe for one that could be made in a griddle pan!

Half an hour later and I'm having to use the picture from Jamie Oliver's site as the waffle smelled so good as it came out the pan and was inhaled so quickly, there wasn't anything left to photograph.

  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 300 mls (whole) milk
  • 225 gms self raising flour
  • 2 teaspns baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 100 gms butter, melted and allowed to cool
  • Extra butter to grease the pan

  1. Whisk the eggs and the milk together
  2. Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt
  3. Once combined, add in the 100 gms melted butter and gently fold it in
  4. Do not whisk any more or else you'll have stodgy waffles
  5. Put the pan on a high heat and grease it with the extra butter
  6. Pour in the batter and swirl it around gently until it's covered the pan base
  7. Turn down the heat to allow the mixture to start to set without burning on the bottom
  8. Cook for 6 mins until it's golden brown on the bottom
  9. Flip the waffle on the other side and cook for a further 6 mins or so*
  10. Flip the waffle again and cook for another min or so and then back onto the other side for another min
  11. Serve with your desired topping of bacon/maple syrup/eggs or berries/crème fraîche

* We flipped it onto a plate and slide it back in to the pan the other way up.

Sunday 17 August 2014

H is for Hawaii

Regular readers of my posts know I don't need much of an excuse for a celebration. That's mostly because I like mixing it up and having different types of evenings.

It's also because while lots of people come around for food, my guests typically include a core cohort of family members. The regularity of their attendance means I want to keep them surprised...and that's easier through themes.

I also firmly believe that an evening is made up of so much more than food.  Having quirky decorations that work with the food and spark conversations also help an evening along.  You don't just go to restaurant for food and for someone else to do the washing up.

This weekend is no exception to the above and sees me shift the celebration of Hawaii Day from 21st August a couple of days back to the 23rd and a Saturday evening for a film night.  The choice of film is going to divide the guests as I'm asking them to choose between From Here to Eternity and Runaway Bride.

And what connects these two...well both incorporate my Hawaii Luau themed food and decorations.  Didn't see that coming, did you!?!  Well you probably did...

So here's the idea board behind my party.

So I've raided Amazon for cheap rattan screens, tacky plastic flower leis, half coconut shells, cocktail umbrellas and paper lanterns.  Tesco/Supermarkets do some great orchid plants which can jazz up the table before spending the rest of their days in the bathroom...they love the humidity of that room.

We actually already have the shirts and flip flops from a pool party a number of years ago.

And the Tiki totem poles are just clip art that I will print off and stick to tall glass handle holders.

And for a menu, I've gone for one featured on Sunset.

Everything's being served as a buffet so people can watch and eat, or eat and chat.  Whatever suits them most.  And here are the food cards I'm using for the buffet, which can be downloaded here and then printed off.

Now where's that Beach Boys' CD...

Sunday 10 August 2014

L is for Left-Handers' Day

My brother is left handed which puts him in a group that makes up only 10 to 12% of the population.

But when we were kids, I never realized what a struggle he had with every day objects.  Fortunately my parents were not the type to make him use his right hand, but everyday objects are not so forgiving so things like pens, scissors and even tin-openers were a daily challenge.

But having come across the website Anything Left Handed a while ago, his next few presents may see some items work their way into the packages that work for him properly...although after all these years, he may have more difficulty using these left handed design ones than the regular ones at home!

His first present will be a bit of a surprise as am sure he doesn't know that there's a Left-Handers' Day, let alone that it's on 13 August.

Wednesday 6 August 2014

B is for Book Lover's Day

This Sunday (10 August) is a day I can designate to celebrate two of my main passions: books and food.

Throughout literature, many memorable moments have been marked with meals.

And this book looks to bring to life the food hidden in pages.  It's called Fictitious Dishes: An Album of Literature's Most Memorable Meals and is written by Dinah Fried.

It's beautiful.  If you do buy a copy, please buy the hardback version -- this is not a time for the Kindle.

One of my most memorable meals was detailed in Heidi by Johanna Spyri and features the toasted cheese & bread that the eponymous girl was fed when she spent her first night with her grandfather--cheese that was so golden from its time on the fork near the fire that it was as soft as butter.

And it's faithfully recreated in the book.

As are a number of other meals from many of my favourite reads...

For me, it's something to relax over and the perfect way to spend Book Lover's Day.  But if you need more prompting, check out the book's website before you buy.

Thursday 24 July 2014

C is for Crème Brûlée

There is something very simple, but very delicious about a luscious Crème Brûlée.  Cracking through that crispy disc of caramelized sugar to dip into the velvet smoothness of vanilla custard.  

And this is the recipe I use to make six ramekins of ambrosia (and that's not the canned/packet stuff)!

  • 500 mls double cream
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • 100 gms caster sugar
  • 6 tblspn caster sugar (to sprinkle)

  1. Turn on the oven to 150℃ to pre-heat
  2. Cut the vanilla pod down the middle and scrape out the seeds by running the back of your knife along the skin of the pod (both sides inside) and dumping the seed pulp into the cream.  Put in the pod too.
  3. Bring the vanilla cream in a pan to boiling point (when you can see it's just beyond scalded) and then simmer for 5 mins
  4. While this is simmering, whisk the egg yolks with the 100 gms sugar until the mix is pale and fluffy
  5. Fish out the (empty) pod and bring the cream back up to the boiling point and then whisking the egg mix furiously, pour the cream into the bowl.  If you don't whisk enough, you will only have scrambled eggs
  6. Pour the mix into six ramekins until they're about ⅔-rds full
  7. Put the ramekins in a deep roasting tray and pour water into the tray (not the ramekins) until the water's about half way up the outside of the dishes to form a bain marie
  8. Then carefully put the tray in the oven and leave to cook for 40-45 mins.  It should still wobble a bit as the dish will continue to cook slightly out of the oven
  9. Immediately take out the ramekins from the water (I use my kitchen tongs to do this) and leave to cool
  10. Chill until needed (easily left overnight)
  11. When you come to serve, sprinkle over a tablespoon of caster sugar per ramekin and put under your hottest grill setting to caramelize OR you can use a blowtorch
Obviously you have to be careful, but I tend to use my husband's blow torch as it's a lot quicker.

Are you ready to serve up Crème Brûlée on Crème Brûlée Day on 27 July.

Tuesday 8 July 2014

T is for Teddy Bears' Picnic Day

So it's not helpful that it's ended up being mid-week, but you could always shift the celebrations from 10th July to the weekend...

And I'm not talking about a party to suit a slightly scary Peter Pan-personality type that has hundreds of plush toys that have taken over the corner of the master bedroom of a 40-year-old.  I'm talking about a party for the kiddies.

So here are some of the ideas I have:

I already have the tiffin boxes and will be serving lots of child-friendly food drawing from the list from the Beeb.  And to keep costs down, I will make a bright picnic blanket and similar tree cushions to mimic the woods in which the picnic will take place as the patterns are very easy, although you can buy a similar picnic blanket and the cushions should you so choose.

Now all I have to do is to download the music by John Walter Bratton, which dates back to 1907.

Friday 4 July 2014

T is for Tour de France - Le Grand Départ

We're off up to Yorkshire ce soir to see the Tour de France come through the county which has gone to town on yellow shirts and cyclists. And I spotted this in a butchers' window in Ripon.

Am looking forward to the weekend and seeing the action unfold.  And to ensure everyone understands what's going on...

Tuesday 1 July 2014

I is for Independence Day

I have always shied away from Fourth July celebrations, but I'm currently doing some work for an American company and we're getting the day off!  So I'll ignore the fact that it's a celebration of becoming independent from the UK, and dig out the bunting I made for the Jubilee celebrations given the red/white/blue theme works for both!

And after a quick conflab with some colleagues, I'm also now hosting a small soirée.  I'm going for the full American experience...for which I'm turning to Martha for support.

First off...given the heatwave we're experiencing...I'm making up some fans.

Couldn't be easier.  Print off the templates onto light card, fold and stick to the stick.

These napkin rings are just as easy. Cut out four stars per 'ring', attach two to either side of the end of the string and wrap loosely around your cloth.  Adjust the colours according to your table linen.

And I'm also using a Martha menu for the day although I'm replacing the pudding with a star-themed one (also from Martha) to mirror the stars on the table.   I know the design of the menu's OTT (and that I may have to explain that phrase)...but it's fun!

And finally here's some music to play (in no particular order):
  • America – Tracy Chapman
  • Englishman in New York – Sting (given it’s being served in England)
  • Breakfast in America – Supertramp
  • Fairytale of New York – The Pogues
  • America – Neil Diamond
  • New York – Paloma Faith
  • Kids in America – Kim Wilde
  • King of New York – Fun Lovin’ Criminals
  • Living in America – James Brown
  • New York, New York – Frank Sinatra
  • Let the Rover Run – Carly Simon
  • Americanos – Holly Johnson
  • American Woman – The Guess Who
  • American Pie – Don McLean
  • American Beauty – Dead Already
  • American Life - Madonna
  • Young Americans – David Bowie
  • America! – Cast of West Side Story
  • Americano – Brian Setzer Orchestra
  • Born in the USA – Bruce Springsteen

What will you be up to?

Wednesday 25 June 2014

C is for Constance Spry (and Coronation Chicken)

I bought the biography of Constance Spry before Christmas last year, but for some reason have only just gotten 'round to reading it.

Am so glad I did...although it has now led to a few more purchases from the Amazon used book options as was inspired to find out more about her work.

Spry (née Fletcher) was a British educator, florist and author in the mid-20th century.  Her main line was flowers...fashioning bouquets for all the right aristos...although she became a huge advocate of 'Grow Your Own' during the Second World War.

After the war she'd made enough of a name to team up with Rosemary Hume (of Le Cordon Bleu fame) to found a domestic science school at Winkfield Place (now closed).

But it was in 1953 though when Spry really shot to fame when she arranged the flowers for Queen Elizabeth II's coronation, and was involved in the celebratory meal enjoyed by the visiting dignitaries that was cooked by the Winkfield students.

And so, although it was Hume's recipe, its first publication was in the 1956 publication The Constance Spry Cookery Book under the far posher title of Poulet Reine Elizabeth.

And it's an excellent recipe for both a meaty salad and a sandwich filling, but I now use Felicity Cloake's recipe as it's lighter than the original.

  • 1 chicken
  • 6 peppercorns
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 cm piece of ginger, chopped in half
  • Pinch of saffron
  • Pinch of salt
  •  5 tblspns mango chutney
  • 50 grms dried apricots, finely chopped
  • 2 tblspn mild curry powder
  • 2 teaspns Worcestershire Sauce
  • 200 mls mayonnaise
  • 200 mls Greek yoghurt
  • 50 grms flaked almonds, lightly toasted
  • 2 tblspn flatleaf parsley, roughly chopped*
  • S&P
  • Some cos/little gem lettuce leaves
* You can (obviously) use coriander as per the recipe

  1. Poach the chicken in a pan of water with the peppercorns, cinnamon, bay leaves, half the ginger, saffron and some salt
  2. Simmer very gently for 1½ hours or until the chicken's cooked (test the leg meat)
  3. Pour off the liquid, discard the spices and shred the chicken meat
  4. Toast the curry powder in a pan bring out the fragrance and finely chop the remaining ginger
  5. Mix these with the mango chutney and the apricot 
  6. Then add in the Worcestershire Sauce, mayo and yoghurt
  7. Season to taste
  8. Once the chicken is cold, fold into the sauce with the parsley and refrigerate for a couple of hours
  9. Serve on the lettuce and scatter over the toasted almonds at the last minute

Wednesday 18 June 2014

T is for Ten Mistakes in the Kitchen

**Warning...blood mentioned in this post**

A friend of mine nearly sliced half her finger in half today.  We were sitting in her kitchen as she chopped up her vegetables and...arghh...splurt.

It's fine...she's wasn't (incredibly fortunately) as bad as it looked.  And the reason...a blunt knife.   As it was blunt she'd inadvertently put more pressure on the knife and when it didn't cut through the onion, it sheared into her finger.  Ouch.'s my starter for ten on the top mistakes made when cooking (most of which only lead to bad food).   Just note the with the English language, the exceptions prove the rule!

1. Blunt knives
To avoid the above injury, please keep your knives sharp using a steel.

There are lots of videos and guides on the web as to how to use one. But these only help keep your knife sharp. If it is already blunt (often called dull), then go to a professional to resharpen properly (e.g. your local butcher) or use a wet stone.

2. Read the whole recipe
There's nothing more frustrating than getting halfway through a recipe and then realize that your sauce is developing a skin as you chop up some more ingredients.

Reading through the recipe (actually best done twice) before you start cooking means you know what's coming up and can prep everything up front so you look like a pro.  And you can put your oven on to heat up as needed.

3. Cook food at room temperature
This especially applies to meat, fish, eggs and butter.

The meat, fish and eggs won't cook through properly if you've put them in a hot pan/oven straight from the fridge.

Butter meanwhile is a pig to mix in when it's cold hard.

The exception is a pastry (pie) case. If it's not chilled your pastry shrinks in the oven and can crack.

4. Cook at the right temperature
This applies to both the hob and the oven.

With protein (fish and meat), your pan needs to be hot so that it sears the flesh and stops the juices leaking.  With onions/leeks/garlic, you want your pan to be on a low heat to allow them to soften gently.

And what you dial your oven temperature to on the controls may not be the real temperature inside.  A cheap self-standing gauge will tell you if your oven is actually (sometimes as much as 15-20℃) hotter or cooler than you think.

5. Add ingredients to a warm/hot pan
If you add ingredients to a cold pan with the oil, the food will soak up the oil and stick more easily.  Heat up your pan. Wait till it's the right temperature and add your oil. Wait five seconds and then add your food.

There are two exceptions to this: bacon and duck.  Both are fatty and bringing the pan to temperature with the food in them (no fat needed, duck skin side down) means they start to render their fat before browning/being seared.

6. Season as you go
The best food flavours are layered.  So add salt and pepper at the beginning of cooking.  Spices are added quite quickly to allow their flavours to develop.  As food cooks, taste and add more seasoning to suit.

Add herbs at the end so their freshness isn't obliterated.  Then, just as you come to serve, taste again and season again if necessary.

7. Use the right amount of water
If you're boiling potatoes, they need to be covered otherwise the bits sticking out of the water don't cook.

If you're cooking broccoli or asparagus, try to keep the tips out of the water so they steam and don't go mushy by the time the thicker stems are tender.

Bring pasta to boil in plenty of salted water so that it has space to swell and not just stick together.

Add the amount stated in the recipe when cooking rice so you don't end up with uncooked rice or a (even worse) watery mush.

8. Don't overcrowd pans
If you put too much food in a pan, it gives off the water from within and your food stews rather than browns.  This applies to meat and fish, but also to mushrooms and any other food that you want to allow to caramelize a little.

9. Cook food for the right amount of time
While this sounds like a simple one, factor in the time that something may sit in the hot pan while you finish off other things or thicken your sauce.  What were perfectly cooked vegetables and pasta have now steamed for another five minutes and are now soggy.

I also have two timers in my kitchen.  One is built into the cooker and one is a magnetic one that I can carry around with me.  Perfect if I have a fruit cake in the oven that takes two hours and I've started doing something else.

10. Rest your meat
I know this is often spoken about, but the number of people that I know that don't factor this into their timeline and so pull the meat out of the oven just as the rest of your food is cooked to perfection... You know who you are!

Also the time for resting is often under-estimated.  A steak needs a good 5+ mins to rest even if it's only taken 4 mins to cook.

A joint can rest up to half an hour so that the meat relaxes properly.