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.

20140831_130427 [1109553]

Advertisements

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.

IMG_5812
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.

IMG_5842  

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!

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.

Cordial autumn greetings!

We’ve had a busy summer catering for barbecues, garden parties and weddings etc. and from the Jubilee in June to the Golden Glory in August; it seems there’s been plenty of reasons to celebrate this year!  Although we weren’t able to guarantee the sun (we were caught in a few downpours ourselves over the summer – usually as we were loading or unloading for an event!),  we were able to keep spirits raised by making sure the drinks stayed flowing!

For many, Pimms is the taste of summer! While we certainly mixed a few jugs this year…

…we also stirred things up a little differently!
Click here for our recipe for Limoncello and Mint Lemonade.

Some people might be ready to turn their attention to Christmas but here at ffO we aren’t quite so eager to welcome in the winter just yet (even if the temperature is plummeting and the nights drawing in!).  To remind ourselves that it is still only September, we’ve been getting out to pick the late summer/early autumn fruits around at the moment (during the odd breaks in the rain that is!).

Cordials from left to right: Plum & Cinnamon, Apple & Sloe, Rhubarb & Ginger and Blackberry.

Blackberries, raspberries, plums, damsons, pears, apples and sloes are all in season and a really quick and simple way to savour the taste is by making a fruit cordial.  Basically, cordials are flavoured sugar syrups (this is true in the UK anyway, in America the term is used to describe what we would call a liqueur – in fact both terms have the same origin; the first cordials/liqueurs were alcoholic and used purely for medicinal purposes).  Cordials are usually made with fruit but flowers, spices, herbs etc. can also be used for a twist on a basic fruit flavour; plum and cinnamon, blackcurrant and vanilla, lemon balm and mint, apple and rose, rhubarb and geranium, the flavour combinations are endless…!

Making cordials is not an exact science; quantities can be tweaked, the syrup sweetened to suit personal taste and the fruit, spices, herbs etc. blended to creat the perfect fruit cocktail!  Delicious mixed with sparkling water; they are a fantastic non-alcoholic alternative to offer guests (of course there’s also nothing stopping you from adding them to a glass of prosecco or sparkling wine!).

First, we made a sugar syrup (equal quantities of sugar and water brought to the boil and then simmered until the sugar had completely dissolved) which was then used as the base for each of our cordials.  In some cordial recipes, the fruit, water and sugar are all heated together but by making the sugar syrup separately we were able to control and fine tune the amount of sweetness for each flavour. The fruit (and other flavourings) were then gently cooked until soft and the juice dripped through a muslin cloth before being added to some of the sugar syrup (with some, more delicate, herbs/flowers etc. it is better to add them at this stage and allow their flavour to infuse the cordial rather than heat them with the fruit).  The cordials will keep well in a fridge for a couple of weeks but we find it better to freeze them in small amounts and then use as wanted (you could even freeze as ice cubes).

We’ll be looking out for rose hips to make into cordial this autumn.  Choose hips that are firm and bright in colour and ideally pick them after the first frost for the best flavour.  Or why not use elderberries for another Vitamin C rich cordial (we’re told elderberry and clove is a good combination to try…).

Finally, a quick plug for a great range of cordials available to buy if you’re not into making your own!  We tried these fruit cordials on a quick trip to Norfolk this summer.  Handmade and using only natural ingredients, the flavours in these cordials are beautifully balanced and taste clean and refreshing.  It was difficult to pick a favourite but we particularly liked the ‘Red Gooseberry and Wild Elderflower’.  We notice from their website that the cordials can be found in ‘The Larder’ in Cobham and also now in Fortnum and Mason!  http://www.norfolkcordial.com/index.html

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!