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!

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!  

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.

 

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)!

It’s THAT time of year again!

Over the last couple of months, we’ve been up to our elbows in dried fruit and nuts, spices and an excess of brandy here in the FFO Kitchen as we’ve made preparations for the festive season.  We’re now well into the swing of things; sorting Christmas orders for cakes, puddings, mince pies, meals for those moments when friends and family drop in at short notice, chutneys, pickles, gift hampers… and that’s not to mention the drinks parties, dinners, carol concerts and winter weddings we’re also catering for!  With our new menus out, this time of year is always busy for us but it hasn’t been all work and no play; we’ve also found time to taste test some great new products and ingredients ready for winter entertaining.  There was great excitement in the kitchen last week when a new range of chocolate arrived for us to test in our desserts and this week we’ve put aside an hour or so to try some different coffee and tea blends.

Brandy soaked Christmas pud

Brandy soaked Christmas pud

When it comes to our own Christmases (it still seems a long way off at the moment, many mince pies still to make!) we’re anticipating the usual arguments at home over tradition vs. ‘something different’!  Should we eat turkey or goose on Christmas Day or go for venison, beef or perhaps rabbit this year?  Will it be fish again on Christmas Eve or shall we ring the changes with an Indian or Thai meal?  We’re about half and half in our families for those who’d welcome a bit of variation and those in favour of convention, although everyone seems to agree that whatever is eaten for the main course, there must be a Christmas pudding to follow, even if the alternatives turn out to be more popular!

We’re also about half and half of those in favour of or anti brussels sprouts; there would be outrage from some if they didn’t appear at the Christmas table but for others their absence certainly wouldn’t be missed!  If you are serving them this year, there are countless ways of adding a bit of interest; in the past we’ve shredded them and served with crushed juniper berries, tossed them with broken chestnut pieces, sautéed them with cubes of pancetta, added lemon and thyme or apple and walnut oil…no doubt they’ll appear in a new guise this year!

If you are looking to keep the Christmas flavours classic this year but would like to vary things just a little bit, why not try serving mulled cider (apple or pear) or white wine?  You can use the same spices that you would for mulled red wine (try experimenting with cardamon and star anise) but honey works well instead of sugar and ginger and slices of apple (and some juice) are also good additions.

Don’t forget to look out for those ingredients in season and at their best at this time of year.  Among the highlights:

rabbit, goose, mackerel, apples, pears, celeriac, brussels sprouts, turnips, beetroot, salsify, jerusalem artichokes, leeks, chestnuts, wild mushrooms…

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