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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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!

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!  

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)!

Another Reason To Celebrate In 2012 – (had you heard it’s the Jubilee and Olympics this year!)

Cheers!

Food for Occasions is 25 years old!

That’s a quarter of a century of catering for other people’s celebrations so we thought it was about time we had our own! We’re inviting you to celebrate this achievement with us as we look back at some of our favourite recipes from over the years and share our thoughts on food and all things food related!

From the beginning, Food for Occasions has kept up to date with changing fashions in food whilst remaining committed to our mission to use locally sourced and seasonal produce.  Read our posts to find out more about the ingredients, influences and inspirations that shape our interest and passion in food!

Our passion – food…

…for occasions!