Saturday, July 27, 2013

Z is for Zest

When I started this blog, I didn't really think through that there aren't many words beginning with 'z' let alone words connected with entertaining guests and food.  But zest is fortunately one of them.

Zest has to be fresh.  If you zest your (citrus) fruit too far in advance then the flavour disappears.  I use two tools for this: a microplane and a zester depending on how large I want my zest strips.

And I use zest in lots of things such as my BBQ butterflied lamb recipe (when I use the zester), and also when I cook spinach (when I use a microplane).

Once the leaves have just wilted in hot water, I drain, grind over lots of black pepper and add the zest of a lemon to serve.  I do this as I find this gives the veggie the flavour it needs without leaving a splodge of unappetising stodge when the juice breaks down the structure of the leaves too much.  If you have a pool of liquid in your spinach dish...this is why.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

L is for Lamb à la Rick Stein

The weather's turned warmer and we're having a BBQ.  But since this is a Sunday and usually devoted to roasts, we already have a leg of lamb in the fridge waiting to be cooked.  And I love lamb.  So we've decided to BBQ it à la Rick Stein.

  • One leg of lamb (with the bone in if you can butterfly it yourself, or ask your butcher to do this)
  • 1 lemon (unwaxed)
  • 3 sprigs of thyme
  • 3 sprigs of rosemary
  • 3 chillies (deseeded)
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Olive oil
  • S&P
  1. Snip off any excess fat or sinew from your lamb and make sure that it lies flat
  2. Zest the lemon and squeeze half of the lemon for its juice
  3. Strip the herb leaves from the stalks and snip in a cup with the ends of a pair of scissors
  4. Snip the bay leaf into thin strips
  5. Chop up the chilli and spread over the lamb with the garlic, lemon and chopped herbs
  6. Season the meat to taste and put the lamb in a large freezer bag
  7. Slug in a good glug of olive oil and massage the ingredients into the lamb through the plastic (keeping hands clean)
  8. Set aside and allow to marinade for at least an hour before putting it on the BBQ to cook
  9. Serve with lightly-toasted pitta bread and salad
And if you wanted, through the wonder of (stolen) technology, you can see how Rick does it himself!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

B is for Bastille Day

Next Sunday is Bastille Day and the day that the French celebrate all things linked to Liberté, Égalité et Fraternité (liberty, equality and brotherhood). The day commemorates the storming of the Bastille prison in 1789, the freeing of many political figures, and the start of the French revolution and the road to becoming a republic.

And in planning my own celebrations for the weekend, I came across a post on one of my favourite blogs, Creature Comforts, for a French style picnic (or pique-nique) featuring a savory and sweet clafoutis.

The pictures (as usual) are beautiful and the post also links to some very cute printables courtesy of the publishers (Chronicle) of The Little Paris Kitchen--the recipe booked published by the clever Rachel Khoo to accompany the eponymous, luscious BBC series.

Now the picnic with the weather we're expecting is a little optimistic, but I do love a good savory clafoutis and so thought this was the perfect occasion to dig out my Marie Claire Ideés recipe for a cherry tomato version.

  • 4 large eggs
  • 300 mls of whipping cream
  • 250 mls of whole milk
  • 4 heaped soup spoons of corn flour
  • 150 grams fresh goats cheese
  • 350 grams of ripe cherry tomatoes
  • 1 bag of basil
  • 20 grams of butter
  • S&P

  1. Preheat the oven to 200ºC
  2. Beat the eggs and then incorporate in the corn flour spoon by spoon, before adding in the cream and milk
  3. Cut up the basil into strips, reserving a floret for decoration at the end
  4. Add to the creamy mix and season to taste
  5. Butter an oven proof ceramic dish that is big enough to take all the liquid
  6. Arrange the tomatoes in a single layer and tear the goats cheese into lumps and arrange evenly
  7. Pour over the creamy mix and put the dish in the oven until it's cooked (approx. 40 mins) but still has a slight wobble
  8. Serve warm or cold with the garnish of basil (set aside earlier), some crusty bread (baguette works best) and a salad

You can also add pitted, chopped black olives to this, meat (lardons work well) or replace the goats cheese with another soft one.

For more Bastille day ideas, check out my Pinterest board on the celebration.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

F is for Fika

This lovely Swedish word is a noun and a verb and communicates laid back snacking in a way that no other word in any language manages.

It really is nothing more than a drink (usually coffee or tea) and a snack (more often than not baked but almost always on a doily) and is enjoyed between neighbours, friends, colleagues and acquaintances, and at any time of the day (or night).

And now I've discovered it's a cookbook..and has been for a while now...

...with the most beautiful layout inside, with each recipe spanning four pages, with ingredients first...

...and instructions second...

Now I just need to work out where I can get my mitts on a copy.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

P is for Picnic

We've decided to brave the British weather and go for a picnic.  However given my memories are full of soggy sandwiches being eaten in the car, I've invested in some tiffin boxes to keep everything dry.

Marks and Spencer's do a really good solid one, and one that (for me) affords lots of space for a salad in one layer; a small quiche, cherry tomatoes and some cocktail sausages in another; and cheese, biscuits and grapes in the last.  All clipped together for easy transportation.

I usually take along a tupperware box of butterfly cakes for dessert as they're v. easy to eat.

And if those suggestions for tiffin tucker don't appeal, there's a long list of lovely options for a picnic on the Beeb's website.

Meanwhile, if the idea of a picnic appeals but you don't know a good spot, there is of course a website to help you out.

Monday, June 17, 2013

S is for Summer Solstice

Mid-summer heralds the longest day. In Scandinavia and Finland, the almost zero hours of darkness give way to celebrations.

And, depending on the country, the festive customs vary although every country (apart from Sweden and the South West of Finland) likes its bonfires.  In Sweden, people instead twist wild flowers in their hair and dance around a tall pole.

The food is pretty much the same across the region: pickled fish, new potatoes (with dill) and strawberries. All this is washed down by beer and schnapps.

Here in the UK, the summer solstice is only celebrated by a few who try to make it to Stonehenge, but I think we should make more of the day and its lovely long evening.

This year the weather looks to be fine so a BBQ beckons...anything but pickled herring for me!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

S is for Sweet Paul

Another Sweet Paul is available to read online, but this one is for kids.  Some fun ideas to copy...

And if you don't have children/grandchildren/nephews/nieces or they're too old, you can indulge yourself in some of the ideas in Sweet Paul's summer 2013 edition also out.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

D is for Dragon Boating

Every year in Hong Kong between late May and early June, everyone celebrates the Duen Ng festival.  The date commemorates the death of Qu Yuan, a court official who served towards the end of the Chou Dynasty, but who fell out of favour.  To protest his exile and what was happening in his home state, he decided to commit suicide by drowning himself.

He was however quite popular, so the locals paddled their boats furiously to try to save him and threw food into the water to stop the dragons from eating him.  They failed.

The date varies as his death was on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month and the Chinese calendar varies according to the moon and sun cycles, unlike our Gregorian one.  But on the day of his death, people take to their dragon boats (basically a very heavy, wooden canoe) and indulge in parcels of sticky rice steamed in lotus leaves (and lots of drinking).

Boats get ready to set off in a race in Stanley, Hong Kong in 2010

In the UK, dragon boat racing's been held since 1980 and races take place in Cambridge, London, Peterborough, Nottingham and as far north as Chester.

This year it's on 12 June in Hong Kong, but on weekends either side of the date here in the UK.  Something else to do... 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

H is for Homebound

The latest version of Homebound is available and there's a sample to read on Issuu if you wanted to see what's in this boutique magazine.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

F is for Father's Day

Father's Day is really a 20th century event created to help make sure fathers didn't feel left out following Mothering Sunday.  That has roots going back at least to the 16th Century and encouraged people to go back to their 'mother' church and home.

But if the weather doesn't beckon a BBQ or because you don't want the main man left glued to the griddle, serve up a mix of frankfurter sausages and English sausages as hot dogs in white, long buns on 9 June.

And as usual, I would like some decorations.  Bunting's always a good start and a basic one can be downloaded in a pdf from here, printed onto card, cut out and then strung on string around the place.

 Download complementary signs for the tables...

..and for the sauces and trimmings.

Onions are most easily cooked in the microwave with some butter as you can cook them in the dish in which they'll be served.

For the crispy leeks:

  • 1 large leek, cleaned, trimmed, and the leaves cut into 3-4" long thin strips
  • Slug of light olive oil
  • 3 tbspn plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 1 teaspn paprika
  • S&P
  1. Preheat your oven to 220°C
  2. Pat your leek strips dry with some kitchen paper
  3. Pop them in a plastic (freezer) bag with the oil
  4. Twist the top of the bag together and hold as you toss the leeks in the oil until coated
  5. Add in the flour, spices and seasoning
  6. Twist and shake again
  7. Lay out the coated leek strips in one layer on a baking tray and toast in the oven for 10-12 minutes until golden brown, tossing around half way through cooking
Mushrooms work well (see the Tapas mushrooms up to step 9), with a few sliced cucumber, radish and tomato and small salad leaves for the healthier among us.

On the drinks' station, have white and red wine, some real ales, and traditional soft drinks such as ginger beer and lemonade.

For fun you can hold a crossword or quiz (using this online tool) based on all things fatherly. The person to complete your chosen game quickest wins.

And my eclectic, background soundtrack would include:
  • Good Rockin' Daddy, Etta James
  • Daddy Daddy, Ruth Brown
  • It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World, James Brown
  • Daddy's Home, The Delfonics
  • Father & Son, Ronan Keating
  • Daughters, John Mayer
  • Father & Daughter, Paul Simon
  • Mama Don't Dance & Your Daddy Don't Rock & Roll, Dr. Hook
  • Daddy Cool, Boney M
  • I Learned from You, Billy Ray Cyrus & Miley Cyrus 
  • Just the Two of Us, Will Smith
Just don't play 'Oh Father' by Madonna!