A spring in our step!

February seems to be running away from us this year and before we know it March will be here, the days will be longer and hopefully brighter!

Reasons we love this season!

  • ‘Spring fever’ – an increase in energy, motivation and vitality for life!
  • Asparagus season is just around the corner. It takes three years to grow asparagus from seed to harvest which is one of the reasons the spears are so highly prized.
  • Spring lamb – the quintessential meat of the season.
  • Delicious leafy herbs and baby greens begin to sprout.
  • Public holidays – lazy, sunny mornings reading the papers and enjoying brunch with the family.
  • Spring weddings – a classic time of year to tie-the-knot – beautiful spring flowers, bright colours and local, seasonal produce. With the weather cooler than in the height of summer, everyone stays comfortable during the day!
  • Farmers’ Markets – highlighting the best of the season and perhaps even the best of the year.
This season is also a great time of year to kick those bad habits and spring clean your diet.  Whether you have given up something for Lent or are embarking on a no sugar, gluten or dairy diet for health reasons, the range of ‘free-from’ foods and recipes has exploded over the last couple of years.
The number of people who identify as having a food allergy or a food intolerance (which as we know, is not the same thing) has increased dramatically in the last twenty or so years. There are lots of theories as to why this might be – a rise in the use of antibiotics, the use of pesticides in farming, the growth of heavily processed foods or increase in the amount of sugar in the diet to name a few. Certainly people are, on the whole, more nutritionally aware and many have discovered that their health has been improved by excluding or limiting certain foods/ingredients in their diet.

Last year, we expanded our range of ‘free-from’ food. We are always happy to discuss specific dietary requirements and provide alternative menu options to cater for our clients and their guests.

Below are a few ingredients which we’ve been experimenting with in the ffO kitchen – sometimes using them as substitutes or alternatives although, of course, they are all great ingredients in their own right!

  • Goat, sheep or buffalo milk – some people find their tolerance to these milks is better than to cow and there are other products such as cream, butter, yoghurt and cheese to consider which are much more readily available these days.
  • Quinoa – now available as ‘rolled quinoa’, it can be used to make gluten-free porridge or in place of oats in other recipes and is high in protein and rich in minerals.
  • Honey – long been used as an alternative to refined sugar, it also contains numerous nutrients and is heralded as having several health benefits including antibacterial properties. Honey works well in some baking, helping keeping cakes moist.
  • Coconut oil – an excellent alternative to butter (you can buy a refined version if you don’t want the taste of coconut and although it is more refined/processed than virgin coconut oil, it still retains many of the health benefits).
  • Stevia – a natural sweetener made from the Stevia plant from South America.
  • Chia seeds – containing protein, antioxidants, fibre, Omega-3 fatty acids and other important nutrients. Also a useful thickener in desserts and in vegan baking in place of egg.
  • Vegetable ‘pastas’ or ‘noodles’ – many kitchens now contain a spiralizer. A great way to reduce your carbohydrate intake or replace wheat-based products. Use a food processor to turn raw cauliflower into a really good ‘cous cous’ – no need to cook.
  • Alternative ‘flours’ – buckwheat (not a wheat at all but a seed), rice flour, coconut and chestnut flour which are both grain free  –  the latter is especially good for cakes but it does go stale quite quickly so buy in small quantities and teff, a very small grain for a type of grass providing large amounts of iron, calcium and potassium.

Finally, a recipe for spring morning coffee breaks! This delicious lemon and pistachio cake is dairy and gluten free.

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Time to return to traditional remedies?

I don’t know about you but after yet another bout of the ubiquitous sore throat, cough and cold this winter (or is it just the same one and I never really got over it the first time round?), I’m reaching out for anything which might just boost my immune system or, at the very least, provide a little relief. A friend recommended mixing up a non-alcoholic ‘toddy’ of fresh ginger, lemon, honey, coconut oil and turmeric in hot water and while it didn’t prevent me going back down with the virus, it was incredibly soothing and surprisingly tasty. She also gave me a ‘woodland’ tincture she’d made which included St John’s wort, hawthorn leaves and berries, sloes, pine and rosehips and although I can’t pretend it was delicious, with a base of vodka it certainly wasn’t unpleasant and it got me thinking about other traditional remedies using natural ingredients.

hawthorn_000007021330

We know that many prescription drugs are originally derived from natural sources and the World Health Organisation estimates that 80% of the population of some Asian and African countries use herbal medicine are part of their primary health care. We also know that there’s a long history of using plants as remedies although it’s worth remembering that until relatively recently these were the only ‘medicines’ available and just because they have been in existence for hundreds of years, doesn’t necessarily mean that they can be relied upon as effective treatments. Care should always be taken when self-medicating and medical advice sought for serious conditions. Nevertheless, interest in traditional remedies has increased as people have become more health conscious and more aware of the health benefits of natural ingredients and there is undoubtedly more to be learnt about the power of plants. Below is a selection of preparations and potions which are easy to make, using store-cupboard or common garden ingredients, and can be used as remedies for common complaints, not just in the winter season but throughout the year.

It is perhaps not very surprising that the hot concoction my friend suggested I drink was soothing. Honey and lemon have long been favoured as a cold and sore throat tonic and both turmeric and ginger are supposed to have anti-inflammatory properties. Turmeric has also been in the news recently as a possible preventative for several human diseases, including Alzheimer’s, although studies are not yet conclusive. When you are feeling stuffy and bunged-up, you often don’t feel like drinking tea or coffee, particularly with milk which can clog rather than ease congestion, so drinking something ‘clean’ tasting is certainly preferable.

Another remedy for the common cold and a traditional ‘favourite’ is the vitamin C boosting Rosehip Syrup. Ripe in autumn, rosehips can be harvested from the hedgerows when you gather your blackberries and sloes. The syrup was advocated during the Second World War when the importation of fresh fruit was severely limited. The syrup is delicious mixed with water as a cordial or with stronger mixers as a cocktail!

Method:

Gather about 1kg of fresh rosehips. Crush them (a potato masher is good for this) or chop and add to about 2 litres of boiling water. Bring back to the boil and then remove from the heat and leave to steep for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour the mixture through muslin or a jelly bag and put aside the drained liquid. Repeat the process with the crushed rosehip pulp by adding a little more water to ensure you extract as much goodness as possible. Put both lots of strained liquid back into the pan and add 750g of granulated sugar for each litre of liquid you have. Bring to the boil for just a few minutes and then the syrup is ready to bottle. Some recipes suggest adding cinnamon and/or cloves to the syrup for extra flavour.   

Ginger is widely reported to alleviate travel sickness and general queasiness. Try crystallising pieces of fresh ginger for ease of use. Chop or slice the ginger and boil gently in water until al dente. Drain and add an equal amount of caster sugar to the weight of drained ginger in a pan with a small amount of water (just enough to wet the sugar). Simmer until the mixture becomes syrupy and then reduce the heat until it starts to crystallise. Tip the ginger into a bowl of caster sugar to coat each piece.  Store in a sterilised jar.

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One of the easiest home remedies must be Peppermint Tea, allegedly good for digestion and symptoms of IBS. Simply steep peppermint leaves in hot water (not boiling) for at least 5 minutes. It is also said to lesson wind and heartburn.

If you suffer from Athlete’s Foot, try making a crushed garlic, salt and cider vinegar mixture to dilute in warm water and then soak your feet (avoid using on broken skin though as the mix will certainly sting!). A few drops of tea tree oil in warm water will act as a less potent anti-fungal alternative!

To improve your circulation and prevent cold toes, try massaging chilli and mustard oil into your feet. Chop fresh red chillis and mix with sunflower oil, grated fresh ginger, black pepper and mustard powder. Warm the mixture gently for half an hour in a bowl resting on a saucepan of simmering water (a bain-marie). Strain and store in a jar.  

At this time of year, there is plenty of advice out there for beating the winter blues including making your environment brighter (either with artificial light or by simply sitting closer to the window and maximising the natural light in your house), keeping active and getting more exercise, particularly outside. We all know that a healthy diet will boost your mental well-being and give you more energy so make sure you balance your winter craving for carbs with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.

If all this fails to do the trick, chocolate seems to be the answer to many complaints and certainly enhances my mood!   

And as for that winter cough and cold, it always seems to hit you when you stop and relax.  Perhaps the remedy is to just keep going… 

Next month, ‘free-from’ February. Gluten free, dairy free, sugar free etc.

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A very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from all of us at Food for Occasions!

We’ve finally reached Christmas Week and are nearing the end of 2015.  What a year it has been!

One of the highlights for us from the past twelve months was catering for The Woodland Trust at the naming ceremony for the Langley Vale WW1 Centenary Woodland in June.  It was a huge privilege to be part of such an important event which saw the Princess Royal in attendance.

Another stand-out day was the summer party for High Clandon Estate Vineyard.  A beautiful setting and lovely celebration to promote their ‘fantastic English cuvée’.  Memorable also because although it was supposed to be flaming June, the heavens opened in the afternoon and the staff needed several changes of shirts during the day!

Afternoon Tea Week in August gave us an excuse to return to some classic tea-time favourites such as mini lemon meringue tarts and Bakewell slice and the opportunity to try out some new recipes like these little marzipan cakes (which quickly became one of our new favourites!) and lemon and mascarpone macarons.

 

We extended our range of gluten-free, dairy-free and other ‘free-from’ foods this year.  It’s always exciting experimenting to find alternative or substitute ingredients.

We were sad to say goodbye to one of our chefs, Claudia, who left the team in the spring but we wish her all the very best for her future ventures and we were delighted to welcome Marc to the ffO kitchen.  He was straight in at the deep-end with the numerous weddings and parties we had lined-up over the summer.

Although the weather might be pretty wet and unseasonably mild at the moment, this certainly hasn’t dampened our Christmas spirit and we’ve thrown ourselves into the usual mix of festive drinks parties and preparing luxury hampers and freezer food.  There has also been the ‘edible gift’ making; the infusions, mullings, puddings, bakes and seasonal sweet treats and we’ve also had a few winter weddings to organise.  Here’s a picture of one of our all-time favourites – simply stunning.  

Winter weddings

So when the presents are all wrapped, the stockings filled, the turkey’s stuffed, the pigs swaddled in their blankets, the sprouts peeled and the pudding simmered (for the classic Christmas cooks out there!), we hope you are all able to relax and enjoy the holiday!  

We’d like to thank everyone we’ve catered for, worked with and been supplied by over the last 12 months and wish you all a very Happy Christmas and New Year!  

Photo credits – Ollie Hilliard and Damian Bailey 

Look out for our blog next month on home ‘remedies’ using natural ingredients.  Great for tackling the January blues and kick-starting a happy and healthy new year!  

Forage a feast!

It’s been a very busy and eventful summer for us both in and out of the kitchen. We were honoured to be part of several fabulous garden parties and some simply stunning weddings this year which were, for the most part, celebrated in glorious sunshine.

However, autumn is now upon us. With hazy mornings and distinctly chilly evenings, the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ has well and truly arrived. It has become extremely trendy to get out and about to take advantage of this fruitfulness; foraging along hedgerows, in meadows, woodland and parks. Foraging is not, of course, a new phenomenon; we’ve been gathering wild food as long as we’ve been eating and it wasn’t that long ago that it was part of day-to-day life in this country. There is food to be foraged all through the year but at this time, nature’s harvest does seem particularly plentiful.

Fruit and berries, leaves, nuts, fungi, are all available for the picking during autumn. Many have medicinal properties and were traditionally sought out as ‘food supplements’ and preserved in order to improve a limited diet during the winter months. Rose hips, for example, are known for their high vitamin C content and were commercially gathered during the Second World War as citrus fruit was hard to come by.

Food in the hedgerows

Rose hips…

...and blackberries

…and blackberries

Foraging for mushrooms has become so popular in recent years that there are fears that it might lead to varieties being wiped out in places like the New Forest and Epping Forest so the message is to forage responsibly and sustainably. Pick only what you are going to use; remember animals and birds often rely on these foods for their survival. Be absolutely clear about what you are picking; carefully identify and double check, particularly when it comes to mushrooms and if in doubt, leave well alone! There are several deadly mushrooms in this country and several others that will make you very ill.

Wild mushrooms

Wild mushrooms

Below, we’ve listed some of the top foods to forage at this time of year with suggestions of how they can be used. There are countless other examples of wild food available for the taking but thinking gastronomically, it is worth remembering that the only reasons for using an ingredient is because it enhances your dish and tastes good. Just because it’s foraged doesn’t necessarily mean it should be served up for dinner!

Top foods to forage at this time of year:

  • Crab apples – high in pectin so ideal for jam or jelly and particularly useful paired with low pectin fruit/berries. Use as you would apple and purée, juice or stew the fruit, remembering they are usually very tart and you will probably need to add more sugar or honey. Make chutney ready for Christmas or try poaching the apples (with their stems still attached) in sweet wine and spices to serve with a creamy cheese as a first course.

  • Rowan berries – traditionally used with crab apples to make a jelly (it is low in pectin so crab apples are a good partner) but also used as a sauce for game (they have a slight bitter taste which works well with rich meats) or in a fruit or tea loaf. Like other berries, rowan berries are apparently sweeter when gathered after a sharp frost.

  • Rose hips – Traditionally cooked with sugar and strained through a muslin to make syrup, cordial or jelly, rose hips are very high in vitamin C and A. Rose hip syrup is delicious poured over pancakes and ice cream or pour a little into a glass of chilled Prosecco. Also try making rose hip vinegar.

  • Blackberries – one of the best known wild hedgerow food. Bramble jelly is a firm favourite at FFO for an autumn cream tea and who doesn’t like a blackberry and apple crumble or pie? Blackberries are also delicious pickled and served with cheese or try making a sweet, rich liqueur to enjoy at Christmas, if you can wait that long!

  • Sloes – another hedgerow favourite and packed into bottles of gin by enthusiasts all over the country! Also try making sloe and apple jelly.

    Sloe Gin

    Sloe Gin

  • Damsons/Bullaces – both types of plum make very good jams, fruit cheeses and tarts or make a sweet damson vodka liqueur as an alternative to sloe gin.

  • Elderberries – elderberry vinegar or wine are popular uses for these black, jewel-like berries. Elderberry jelly is an excellent accompaniment to venison. Remember elderberries must be cooked before they are eaten as they are poisonous raw.

  • Wild Garlic – can be harvested throughout the year. Use the leaves in a stir-fry or salad or to add flavour to winter soups or stews.

  • Mushrooms – September and October are key months for picking mushrooms. Always cut mushrooms at the base rather than pulling them out of the ground, this way the mycelium won’t be damaged and the mushroom will be able to regenerate.

  • Seaweeds – use to accompany fish dishes, in stir-fries or in risottos. Don’t take the whole plant when harvesting, leave something to grow back!

  • Nuts – a rich source of protein and energy. Delicious roasted, use as the base for a vegetarian bake or tossed into a stir-fry. Soak, pulse with a little water and press through a muslin to make a dairy-free ‘milk’ or extract the oil to use for frying and dressings. In particular, look out for sweet chestnuts, cobnuts and beechnuts.

Happy picking!

The Wedding Caterer

Choose a caterer for your wedding

Outside BarFollowing the flurry of wedding fayres over the last couple of months with couples looking at the countless options for their special day, we’ve been musing about just how little attention is paid to the catering for the meal, despite it being a significant part of most wedding receptions.

Marquee WeddingBrowsing through the pages of the numerous wedding brochures, magazines and websites, there are articles devoted to bridal gowns, flowers, wedding cakes, table decorations, favours and invitations but surprisingly very little on choosing a caterer for your wedding day. There are some obvious reasons for this; many couples concentrate first on choosing their perfect wedding venue and although a menu offered by the venue might be a contributing factor in their choice, more often than not the setting itself is the deciding factor and what is chosen to eat is dictated by the venue.

Strawberry Shortbread HeartFor some couples, (though not usually those we meet!) the food is simply not that important. Many bride and grooms say that they were too excited or too nervous (especially if they have to think about making a speech directly after the meal) to register what they were eating or even eat anything at all! However, the food served on the day will be remembered by many of the guests at your wedding, particularly those who have travelled some distances to get there and it is likely to matter to you in the long-term, as it will be one of the biggest expenses of your wedding.

Fortunately for us, most of the couples we work with at FFO are as passionate about food as we are and keen to take the time to plan a perfect menu to suit themselves and the guests at their wedding.

Why choose a caterer for your wedding? 

First Course WeddingEven if you choose to have a diy wedding, when it comes to the food, unless you are inviting a very small number of guests, you really do want someone else to take on the responsibility of looking after the catering. You and your families will want to be able to relax and enjoy the day without the worry.

If you are planning to hold your reception at a venue that will allow you to bring in an outside caterer to provide your meal then this option provides you with flexibility of menu choice. Many wedding venues offer a package which includes the meal but the food on offer is often limited. At FFO we offer suggestions for wedding menus but are delighted to talk to couples who have their own ideas for the food they would like served at their wedding.

Tips when choosing a caterer for your wedding

  • Canapes Wedding (Photo by Eddie Judd)

    Photo by Eddie Judd

    One of the best ways to ensure you find a good wedding caterer is a personal recommendation from a friend or someone you trust. Listen to people who have directly experienced the service that a caterer has provided ie. as a guest at another wedding.

  • Go for a local caterer, one that is located close to your venue. You don’t want the stress of worrying about your caterer being stuck in traffic to spoil your day!
  • Book early. Caterers tend to get booked up months or even a year in advance. Make sure you find out what the booking process is and when and how your date becomes secure.
  • Establish a good working relationship with your caterer. Go for a caterer you feel you are able to talk to; who understands your vision and shares your enthusiasm and excitement. Choose a caterer who will listen to your ideas but equally, be prepared to listen to them, their advice and experience will count in making sure your day runs smoothly.

Wedding Table SettingCaterers often work closely with other suppliers and more often than not these will be like-minded people and share a similar ethos and style.

Be upfront about your budget. Of course you want to get the most for your money but find out what is available on your budget to avoid uncomfortable haggling. A good caterer will be able to be creative and provide a menu that will suit your needs.

  • Find out if your caterer will supply the silverware, china, glassware, linen, cake stand, cake knife…etc. The hire, delivery, cleaning and return will be an additional cost to bear in mind.
  • Wedding Canapes Ask to try some sample dishes. Once you have made a booking, some caterers will offer a personal tasting experience to help you make your final menu choices. This can be very helpful in giving you an idea of the style and presentation of the food they will be serving on the day. Take into consideration seasonality when choosing your menu as this will help ensure the quality of the food being served. Ensure you check with your caterer regarding any special dietary requirements.

Wedding Bar Inside

Consider your drink options carefully. If you are providing the drink yourself, don’t forget that serving it, glass hire, cleaning etc. will need to be accounted for.

Your caterer will know how many members of staff will be needed to cater for your wedding meal but if you require staff to take on additional duties (eg. as bar staff for later in the evening) make sure you discuss this with your caterer before the day.

Let your caterer look after your guests so you can relax and enjoy your day!

Happy New Year!

We hope you had a wonderful Christmas and that 2014 has started well for you.  Last year was a very busy and exciting one for us catering for fabulous weddings, special birthday parties, family gatherings and even the launch of a brand new English wine.    

This year is already set to be just as eventful.  In the last few weeks we’ve met several of the couples who will be getting married in the coming months to discuss the food they’d like featured at their wedding.  We’re happy to say that the trend for local and seasonal seems to be continuing strongly! 

ffO Cheese Tower

We’ve been wondering what will be in style for 2014.  Last year, naked wedding cakes were all the rage with cheese towers, unusual cocktails, sweet carts and all things vintage still very popular.  Recently, we’ve seen marshmallow, in sophisticated flavours such as elderflower champagne or sloe gin, begin to be used as wedding favours.  Sequins are tipped to be a massive trend next year, on dresses, decorations, table cloths, as confetti and even on cakes.  According to Rachel Griffiths for Bridal Guide in America, films like ‘The Great Gatsby’ last year will have an impact on wedding style for 2014 with couples looking back to the elegance of the 1920s for inspiration.  She also suggests that spicy food and dishes specifically designed to be shared at each table will appear on many wedding menus in The States; will this be translated across the pond we wonder?  

Traditionally June is the most popular month to marry so in the run-up, we’ll be bringing you ideas and tips to help with preparations for the big day. 

Blooming marvellous!

MarigoldsIt seems that using flowers in food and cooking has, well, blossomed in the last few years!  That’s not to say there is anything new in the idea though; in fact, flowers have been part of world cuisines for as long as some vegetables and fruit.  They’ve been used in the same way as herbs and spices to complement, enhance, add flavour to food or bring a splash of colour to the plate.  We know that roses were used in both cooking and medicine in Ancient Rome and violets and primroses have been eaten since the Middle Ages.  Flowers were particularly popular additions to salads in the Victorian era.  Saffron has long been used in world cooking to add both flavour and colour to food; just think Spanish paellas, Italian risottos, French bouillabaisses and Indian biryanis. 

Elderflowers

There are severaPimmsl familiar examples in our own food heritage.  Elderflower, used for cordials or wine, is an obvious example but who else remembers putting borage in their Pimms?  With a taste similar to cucumber, the leaves in particular work well in the classic summer drink but the slight peppery taste of the flowers means they have had a culinary use in this country since Medieval times. 

Nasturtiums

Another spicy tasting and versatile plant, the nasturtium was introduced into Europe in about the 18th century and has been used in cooking ever since.  The flowers and leaves are great in salads and the seed pods can be dried, ground and used as an alternative to pepper or soaked in vinegar and used as a substitute for capers (they are sometimes even referred to as ‘poor man’s capers’).  Nasturtium leaves are sometimes used as an interesting alternative to basil in a homemade pesto.          

Edible flowers are so much more than a pretty garnish.  Why not try some of these ideas:

  • Chive flowers look great on a potato salad but like the stems they have a subtle onion flavour that works particularly well with the earthy taste of new potatoes or try using the blossom to flavour a pot of sea salt
  • Use flowers to flavour vinaigrettes or marinades – basil or thyme flowers work well
  • Or try crushing peppery nasturtiums or citrus flavoured marigolds and mixing into softened butterDaylily
  • Daylilies have been eaten in China for centuries.  The flower buds add a lovely crunch to salads or try them sautéed or stir fried with vegetables

Courgette Flowers

Stuffed courgette flowers are popular in Mediterranean cuisines.  Try stuffing them with ricotta and herbs and deep-frying in an airy, light batter

Pink Rose

Rose petals are often used in desserts as their scented flavour works well in sweet recipe (Turkish Delight is an obvious example).  The best tasting roses are, of course, those with the best scent.  Try making rose petal jam or steep the petals in sugar syrup and use to poach strawberries or peaches

  • Infuse cream with chamomile before whipping to add another dimension to desserts, particularly good served with summer berries

LavendLavenderer is another versatile flower in cooking.  The flavour works well in both sweet and savoury dishes.  It is often paired with lemon; try making lavender shortbreads to serve with lemon posset or try roasting with a joint of lamb  

  • Crush pansies or violets and use to flavour buttercream.  Delicious on cup cakes or between layers of a sponge cake

Elderflower Cordial

  • Elderflowers make such a delicious cordial that it is a must-make each year in our kitchen but we also use the flower heads in the same way as rose petals, to flavour poaching syrups and liqueurs
  • We were first introduced to the idea of putting hibiscus flowers in champagne in Australia but jars of the flower buds preserved in syrup and ready to pop into a glass are now widely available in this country
  • Many edible flowers make lovely floral teas.  Calendula, chamomile, rose, rose geranium and hibiscus to name just a few.  Use on their own or combine with fruit or herbs

The flowers included above are probably the ones we use most often in the kitchen but there are many more out there.  We should point out that if you do use flowers in your cooking then make sure they have not been sprayed with pesticides etc. and rinse them well if you have foraged from the wild.  Better still, grow your own then you’ll know what they’ve been exposed to!  There is wealth of information available on edible flowers but remember; never eat a plant that you can’t identify and if you are eating something for the first time, it is perhaps sensible to try a small amount just in case you discover it disagrees with you!    

Enjoy the sun and happy cooking!  

We dream of summer…

 

It’s been a long time coming but finally we’ve had a few days when we can start to believe that midsummer’s day is just around the corner!  Perhaps we should be cautious about mentioning it in case it dives back behind the clouds again but this first glimpse of the summer sun has us dreaming of lazy days spent out in the countryside or at the coast and sees us grabbing the picnic hamper and making plans for a trip into the great outdoors.  With the start of the festival season this month and Wimbledon, Henley and Ascot among other open-air events, we’ve been thinking about our favourite picnic foods and looking at new ideas for tasty treats to take on summer outings.

Whether it’s an intimate occasion between two people, a family get-together or a larger public gathering; the picnic itself is a prominent part of a planned day out.  Long associated with the idea of a shared meal to which everyone involved contributes, picnicking has also become linked with public events such as open-air theatre performances or concerts and with seeking out beauty ‘spots’ and places with a view.  Traditionally, picnic food is cold and designed to be eaten without the need for plates and cutlery although more elaborate and complicated meals emerge from the picnic boxes, cool-bags and hampers these days. 

Click here for summer salad recipes – perfect for picnics!

Here are our top tips for the perfect picnic:

  • choose food that travels well.  It might seem obvious but there’s little point planning to take anything delicate when you’re going to have to carry it for any distance on your back in a rucksack! 
  • summery salads packed with seasonal and interesting flavours are great but try to avoid anything too soggy; choose robust ingredients that will hold their shape.
  • think about the length of time food is going to be out of the fridge and if it can’t be kept cool adequately avoid taking high-risk foods such as salads with mayonnaise dressings
  • cold meats or fish, pork pies, scotch eggs, quiches and tarts are classic but for good reason; they travel well and form a good basis to build a meal around.  Try taking wedges of frittata for the same reasons
  • utilise flasks for chilled soups or even cocktails
  • frozen bottles of water double as drinks and cold blocks
  • wedges of watermelon are refreshing additions to any picnic
  • it’s hard to beat strawberries, raspberries and cherries during the summer months 
  • chocolate doesn’t travel or keep well on hot days, take slices of cake, fruit loaf or biscuits instead
  • don’t forget to include a bottle of champagne, sparkling wine or prosecco!
  • plan carefully and if you’ve judged it correctly you won’t have too much to carry back!

Here’s hoping the sun will come out another day very soon!

Food for love

Love, whose month is ever May…           

Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost

BasilMost people will know that oysters are considered to be one of the top foods when it comes to love but did you know that basil also has claims as an aphrodisiac?

May Day, has traditionally been celebrated as the beginning of summer even though the months of June, July and August are officially thought of as the season.  It’s no wonder that May is the month of love though; it’s an optimistic time of year with the promise of warmer weather, clear skies, thriving crops and blooming flowers just around the corner.  You’ll still find a few Morris Dancers and May Queens adorned with garlands of flowers in some parts of the country but however quaint and innocent it might look, it’s all in honour of one thing, fertility and sex.

Although, scientifically, there is little firm evidence that foods really can act as aphrodisiacs, (beyond a placebo effect that is) claims for certain foods can be traced back to ancient times and these foods are still generally turned to in order to get in the mood for love.  While any truth in the assertions remains yet to be proven these are often things we’d enjoy eating regardless.  We’ve been having a look at some of the well-known and more obscure suggestions and compiled a list of foods you just might want to consider if you are planning a special night in! 

  • We all know that chocolate is purported to be able to give us a little boost and most people would swear that it does.  Popping a piece of chocolate into our mouths usually has a positive effect on our mood so perhaps it can, indirectly, be termed an aphrodisiac.      
  • The English herbalist Nicholas Culpepper wrote in the 1600s that asparagus, stirs up lust in man and woman’ and in 19th century France three courses of the spears were served to bridegrooms the night before their wedding. 
  • It’s no wonder that avocados have an association with sex.  It was the shape of the fruit hanging in pairs on the tree that led to it being known as the ‘testicle tree’ by the Aztecs and also its ban in Spain by Catholic priests. 
  • Chilli peppers contains capsaicin, a chemical which increases circulation and stimulates nerve endings.  Guaranteed to get the blood pumping faster!  
  • We know red wine is a relaxant, contains antioxidants and can help boost blood flow and circulation but is it also an aphrodisiac?  Perhaps this quote sums it up the best; alcohol ‘provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance’! (Shakespeare, Macbeth)   
  • Almonds have been linked to fertility since ancient times.  The aroma of almonds was said to arouse passion, particularly in women.  
  • With links to the Bible, Cleopatra (apparently it was her favourite fruit) and the ancient Greeks, figs have also long been associated with love and fertility.   
  • Trawling through pages on the internet you can find claims that the pomegranate has both aphrodisiac and contraceptive qualities!  Take from that what you will!       
  • As already mentioned, it has been claimed that basil is an aphrodisiac, in particular the smell which is said to increase heart rate and excitement.
  • Other foods said to act as aphrodisiacs include vanilla, banana, honey, watermelon, garlic, red berries, raw meat, gin (or juniper berries but then why not gin?!), puffer fish and turtle eggs.
  • Finally, certain kinds of ants found in China and South America and loaded with energy giving nutrients are also said to be powerful aphrodisiacs but perhaps we’d be happier to accept other people’s word for it…!

Happy cooking (and eating)!

An English pastime

We hope you’re managing to keep warm in this unseasonal weather!  With our new summer menus out we’ve been busy taking bookings for later in the year and trying hard to imagine guests sipping chilled drinks in the sun – not very easy at the moment!  We keep saying it but perhaps we will finally see the turning point this week…

In the meantime, take a look at our latest post about another quintessentially English pastime (besides talking about the weather!) that of taking afternoon tea.

“…there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”

Henry James ‘The Portrait of a Lady’

Afternoon TeaSitting here this afternoon, taking a quick break from the kitchen to leaf through a new food magazine, a cup of tea in hand and the feeling that we could just do with a little something to keep us going until dinner, we started to consider  how the tradition of ‘Afternoon Tea’, delicate little sandwich fingers, slivers of cake, scones etc. washed down with tea sipped from bone china cups, first began.

It’s generally believed that the custom was started in the 1840s by Miss Anna Maria Stanhope, the 7th Duchess of Bedford and a lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria.  It’s said that she found, during the long wait between breakfast/lunch and dinner (not usually eaten until 8 or 9pm), she felt a ‘sinking feeling’ and craved a little something to stave off the hunger pangs until the evening.  She started asking her servants to bring her pots of tea and bread and butter at about 4pm in the afternoon.  This idea developed and she was soon inviting friends to join her for tea in the afternoon.   It wasn’t long before her friends reciprocated with invitations of their own and the ‘tea’ menu became more elaborate and varied.  ‘Afternoon Tea’ was a social occasion for the upper classes (tea was itself an expensive luxury at the time) but particularly for women who were denied access to men’s membership clubs after lunch but were able to receive guests at home.   By the Edwardian period, hotels were offering an ‘Afternoon Tea’ experience often accompanied by music or light entertainment and the custom remained popular until tea rationing was introduced during the Second World War.  Although it could be said that coffee took over as the fashionable hot drink in the later twentieth century, many of us today still enjoy the occasion of a proper ‘Afternoon Tea’.  Read more about the tradition of taking tea in the afternoon here.

Did you know tea is the ‘second most consumed beverage on Earth after water’?

What do you think constitutes the perfect ‘Afternoon Tea’?  Sandwiches of thinly sliced cucumber with a grinding of black pepper, scones with jam and clotted cream, Earl Grey tea, fingers of fruit cake, muffins, crumpets, all served on tired cake stands and bone china?  Click on the link for the recipe for a great, very easy, fruity tea loaf – perfect spread with butter and enjoyed with a cup of tea in the afternoon or at any other time of the day!

Take a look at our new Afternoon Tea Menu Summer 2013 or email info@foodforoccasions.co.uk if you would like to receive our full new Summer 2013 Menus.