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.

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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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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!

Marmalade – start the day the traditional way!

The Romans believed it kept evil spirits away, medieval Europeans thought it aided digestion, Churchill prepared for war on it and Hillary climbed Everest with it but Paddington’s favourite is apparently fast disappearing from the British breakfast table. For those of us who make a batch at the beginning of every year and find, no matter how many jars they’ve made, they have to hide a few to make sure there will be some for the following Christmas, this is hard to believe! Our families can’t get enough of the bitter sweet orange preserve but it seems they are in the minority; or at least this is what has been demonstrated by consumer statistics. Marmalade sales are down and so it seems are the sales of other spreads. People, we are told, are increasingly more likely to grab a quick bowl of cereal or a breakfast bar these days than sit down to spread a slice of toast and if they do, marmalade would be their last choice of spread. It has been calculated that 85% of marmalade is sold to customers aged over 45 (William Langley, The Telegraph) but of course this doesn’t take into account those of us, of all ages, who make their own and watch as it’s greedily devoured by family and friends! This week is National Marmalade Week and according to their website, a record number of marmalade makers have entered jars into The World’s Original Marmalade Awards and Festival in Cumbria this year so perhaps marmalade isn’t toast quite yet!    

Toast and marmaladeAccording to marmalade legend, the preserve was invented in the early 1700s when a Spanish ship carrying Seville oranges was damaged in a storm and forced to take shelter in Dundee harbour. The oranges were sold to a local merchant, James Keiller, whose wife Janet (or mother according to some versions of the story!), is reputed to have turned them into the marmalade. Whether this is strictly true, what is known is that the Keillers of Dundee established the first commercial marmalade factory and had a significant impact on the ‘spread’ of its popularity in Britain! 

The origins of British marmalade can be found in the Portuguese ‘marmelada’, which was similar to ‘membrillo’, the quince paste found today in Spain. It first arrived in this country in the 15th century as an expensive luxury item bought by nobles who believed it to be an aphrodisiac and an aid to good digestion. By the 18th century, sugar and oranges were being more readily imported and the tradition of making marmalade in Britain was born. In fact the Spanish now have little use for Seville oranges and export most over here to us!

Seville oranges are available for only a limited time at the beginning of the year so making marmalade is a seasonal ritual. It is worth making for the gorgeous smell alone but there is nothing quite like seeing jars of your own produce lined up on a cupboard shelf. We tend to make two varieties each year; a classic, thick cut marmalade, a few jars of which we try (and sometimes fail) to leave to mature for a denser, richer flavour and a ‘black’ marmalade, much darker in colour with a slight caramel taste due to the addition of treacle or brown sugar.

Although the window for making marmalade has passed for this year, if you did make some or have been given a jar of homemade, why not try these interesting ideas:

  • Mix a little marmalade with soy sauce, oil, salt and pepper for a tangy marinade; perfect with pork 
  • As with many other fruity preserves, marmalade works well with cheeses, particularly creamy goat’s cheese or try using marmalade as an additional flavour in mini cheese scones
  • Use as a glaze on an orange cake (click here for the recipe), the bitterness of the marmalade is lovely with the sweetness of the cake
  • Make a marmalade cheesecake by adding a few tablespoons to a plain cream cheese, sugar and cream mix
  • Thinly spread slices of bread with marmalade for a twist on a classic bread and butter pudding

Alternatively, thickly spread on hot buttered toast and enjoy for your breakfast!  

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. 

Summer cooking with children

Summer Fruit

Summer Fruit

With a couple of weeks of the long holiday still to go, perhaps you’re looking for a few more ideas of things to do with the children this summer?!  Spending time in the kitchen might not be your first thought in the hot weather but cooking is an exciting and rewarding activity for children and you can certainly enjoy eating the delicious food you make with them outside in the sunshine even if the cooking is done inside.Many of us will remember cooking as a child with a parent or grandparent.  I have fond memories of baking with my mother or, if I’m totally honest, of licking the spoon and dipping my finger in the cake mixture but I did also learn key basic baking skills and started a life-long passion for cooking.

Although it would be true to say that cooking with children requires time and patience and there will inevitably be extra clearing-up and cleaning to consider, the rewards are well worth the effort.  It is well-documented that when children are involved in the preparation and cooking of food, they are more likely to eat it.  With today’s concerns about children’s nutrition it is now more important than ever to get them interested in trying healthy foods and children who learn to cook and eat well are also more likely to eat healthily as adults.  All in all cooking with your children is quality time spent together on a fun, hands-on, creative and ultimately valuable activity. 

It’s worth remembering that the whole process is a learning experience for children.  From the planning, shopping, weighing-out and preparation of ingredients to following a method, cooking techniques and skills, food hygiene and information about food sources and production, not to mention the tasting, the learning opportunities are plentiful.  Even children under the age of five can help with many of the activities; there is never a too young to get involved in the kitchen and of course never a too young to help with the clearing up! 

With the abundance of fresh vegetables, salad and fruit at this time of year, the summer is an ideal time to get children involved in the kitchen.  We’ve put together some seasonal recipes for you to make with your children or grandchildren this month. 

Encourage your children to eat more fruit by making these non-alcoholic cocktails with them.  Children will enjoy using the blender (under supervision of course!) and the idea of mixing up a ‘cocktail’ is sure to appeal!    

Shaken or stirred!

Children will also love making berry fruit jellies as they can be creative about choosing their own combination of fruit and layering it before pouring over the jelly and allowing it to set.  You can use a packet of jelly or try making your own using fruit juice and leaf gelatine.  For younger children, try making fruit kebabs allowing your child to come up with different combinations and sequences with the fruit.  For a little luxury, these could be served with a chocolate dipping sauce (white chocolate is particularly popular with children).  Fruit smoothies or fruit juice frozen in lolly moulds is a great treat when the weather is hot or try making a fruit sorbet, a winner with children and adults alike.   

Jelly & Sorbet!

Need an idea for a picnic or a tasty snack to take on a day out in the holidays?  Why not get your children to make these cereal bars for the family?  

Making burgers to cook on the barbecue in the summer is another great idea whatever your age.  Home-made burgers taste so much better than shop-bought ones and are really very simple to make.  The seasoning and additional flavours in this recipe can be adapted to suit individual tastes.

I remember making this lemon pudding as a child and we ate it both warm in the winter with pouring cream and cold in the summer with fresh berries.  It might not be particularly healthy but it does involve many cooking techniques for children to begin to get to grips with!

No cook cheesecake is another great idea to make with children.  To make the base, ask children to crush biscuits (place into a freezer bag, seal and encourage them to crush enthusiastically with a rolling pin!) and then help them to stir the biscuit crumbs into melted butter (the butter could be melted in the microwave rather than the hob if wanted).  Press down firmly in the tin before adding a creamy cheesecake topping.

Happy cooking!

Next month: Tips on which drinks to serve at a late summer party.

 

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!

Spring forward!

Spring forward!

Time must surely be speeding up; it’s already March and it hardly feels like we’ve had time to adjust to the fact that it’s a new year.  What a start it’s been too; snow drifts, icy winds, lingering coughs and colds, more depressing news about the state of the economy…at least there are a few signs around that spring is just around the corner to give us a little lift! 

Thinking of springtime, new life, renewed energy (we hope!) etc. we’ve been making a few goals for the new season (much better than resolutions which often seem to be about depriving yourself of some of the few pleasures in life!).  They are all food related of course; well, what else would we be talking about?!             

  • Bake more bread – we’ve been making our own bread at home for many years now but we’re interested in trying out some of the alternatives to wheat, particularly as the number of people with intolerances seems to be on the rise.  We’ve already had good results with spelt but have yet to try khorasan wheat.  Although both are closely related to wheat and not gluten-free they are possibly more easily digested and certainly nutritious substitutes.  For gluten-free alternatives we know buckwheat flour makes good blini but it would be good to look into using it in other ways.  Amaranth and quinoa flours are also gluten-free, high-protein possibilities; does anyone have any experience of using them in baking?   
  • A proper cup of coffee in a proper coffee pot – well ok, the coffee pot’s not strictly necessary but we really think we should go to the trouble of making a cup of decent coffee if we want a drink.
    Coffee cups from Couvert, bespoke event hire in Surrey

    Coffee cups from Couvert, bespoke event hire in Surrey

     Trying different types of bean and from different countries for example or a new blend; on this note, there are 2 local roasteries we can recommend: Coffee Real and Beanberry who now roast on demand for the coffee house Pinnock’s in Ripley (the UK’s first drip coffee bar).

  • Buy fresh, buy seasonal, buy local – yes, we’ve said it before but it’s always worth reminding ourselves of it, particularly as the horse meat scandal still persists in the press.  This is in no way an excuse for false labelling but isn’t it true that you get what you pay for?  Anyone who has bought meat from an independent butcher knows this is true and is prepared to fork out a bit more to guarantee the quality of the food we eat.  Buy it local, buy it fresh and from known and trusted sources; what more is there to say?! 
  • Make more time to read and follow other people’s blogs – there are some amazing people, doing amazing things with food out there and the best part is they’re willing to share their ideas with us.  The least we can do is show some support!   
  • Spring clean the pantry – it seems a good time of year to check through our dried goods and have a bit of a clear out, particularly the spices and dried herbs.  Although they might not ‘go off’ in the way fresh produce does, their strength, taste and aroma does deteriorate over time.  We know most dried products should be kept away from heat, moisture and direct sunlight but we’ve been reading recently that chilli powder, paprika etc. are actually best kept in the fridge to maintain their colour (although this advice does seem to come from countries with considerably hotter climates than ours!).      
  • Get out and about – there’s nothing better than finding a hidden gastronomic gem.  A delicatessen, café, farmer’s market, specialist producer, ingredient etc. it’s exciting to discover something new for the first time, only trouble is they don’t stay hidden for long!     

Tell us about your goals for this spring!

 

 

 

So, what was on the menu 25 years ago?

So, what was on the menu 25 years ago?

When we first started cooking in the 1980s, Mediterranean flavours were all the rage: sundried tomatoes, olives and olive oil, antipasti, pesto, hummus etc.  Pasta, in all its different forms and varieties was widely popular and pizza restaurants were well established and well frequented (as they are today of course, though this was before eating carbohydrate heavy meals had become frowned upon!).

There was also great enthusiasm for microwave and ready meals, fast food and take away, instant and convenient, packets, packaging and generally all that was over processed and over produced.  Well, just because something’s popular…!   

In restaurants, French influences prevailed.  Reductions and emulsions, glazes and purées spattered the menu and in the nouvelle cuisine fashion, greater attention was being paid to aesthetics although, sadly, this was sometimes over taste.     

Today, you are more likely to see gels, jellies, foams, alginate pearls and other chemistry wizardry on the menu.  There are new ingredients and old or forgotten ones to taste and a greater concern for sustainability and fresh, local and seasonal produce.  

A First Course from our 2012 Spring/Summer Menu

For nostalgia’s sake, we thought we’d hunt out a recipe from our early cooking days to share with you.  Some ingredient combinations really do stand the test of time! 

(Click on either picture below to take you to the recipe).

An old favourite…

Happy Cooking!