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!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

C is for Cheese

One way of celebrating Whit Weekend could be copying the cheese rolling competition at Cooper's Hill (Brockworth, Gloucestershire).

Recent events have been quite quiet after the 1998 event was cancelled due to the number of injuries in 1997 and a revolt by locals about plans for the event to be commercialized.

But before you head to the hills, you could decide to hold your own cheese event.

If you have a steep hill nearby you could of course stage your own cheese rolling event involving a large cheese or a small wooden barrel as the Cooper's Hill organizers did during World War II due to rationing.

Or watch it at home using the previous year's video as a prequel. A video of the current year's event bound to be available quickly on the internet for later on in the day.  

Afterwards celebrate all things cheese by serving a good range of six or seven British cheeses. Most supermarkets stock:
Serve the cheese buffet style with big chunks of cheeses on wooden platters (such as these from Jamie Oliver).  Pre-cut slices quickly curl up and the edges harden--not attractive.

Or  use Rock UR Party's suggestion of chalkboard paper (available from Amazon).

You can label your cheese using thin card and glueing a cork onto the back of each piece of card at the bottom so they stand upright.

Serve your cheese with sticks of celery (trimmed and stuck upright in a glass), bowls of dried apricots (sliced), olives and nuts, and apple slices (tossed in lemon juice to stop them browning)

Serve crackers and crostini (thin slices of toasted baguette) in baskets.

Condiments include fig or quince jam, rhubarb compote, and English mustard.

If you want something meatier, serve cold/cured continental cuts, honey-glazed sausages hot from the oven or have a roast ham ready to carve.

To decorate your table, keep the theme fresh to complement the cheese.

I also make up a radish mouse or two for platters à la Martha Stewart.

And Real Simple's take-home cards allow guests to make a note of any cheese/wine that they particularly liked.

Freeze any cheese left over in more manageable lumps for mini cheese parties for two.

Monday, May 20, 2013

F is for Festivities Magazine

The summer edition of festivities is out.

If the British weather holds out, stage a tent party such as that featured on the inside cover.

Or if not have a Robin Hood themed party as per page 41, compete with a felt fire.

Friday, May 3, 2013

M is for Mushrooms

If you feel lazy (as I frequently do), you can cook the mushrooms all in one go, stir frying them all in a big wok before adding in the garlic, sherry and tarragon.  However, the mushrooms will throw off a lot of liquid and stew rather than fry.

It is much nicer to take the time and cook off the mushrooms individually first.

  • 3 tblspns oil
  • 3 oz butter
  • 3 x 250 grams different types* of mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 1 packet of dried woodland mushrooms (optional)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
  • ½-¾ cup of dry (cheap) sherry (supermarket own brand is fine)
  • 4-5 strands of tarragon stripped of the leaves, which are then chopped fairly finely.
  • S&P
  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil and when hot add in an ounce of butter
  2. Using some tongs, add in the slices of mushrooms one by one so that each is in contact with the pan and there is space around each slice
  3. Leave for a minute or so and then turn over and repeat
  4. Remove when lovely and brown
  5. Drain briefly on kitchen paper and then decant into a bowl
  6. Repeat with more oil and butter as needed until all the mushrooms are done
  7. Set aside the bowl and pan (off the heat) until needed
  8. If you are using the dried mushrooms, soak them in hot water for half an hour at this point and then drain, cutting up the big bits in half
  9. Reheat the pan which should have a little bit of oil/butter left
  10. Add in all the mushrooms (fresh and rehydrated) and stir quickly till hot
  11. Toss in the garlic and cook for a further minute
  12. Pour in the sherry and throw in the tarragon
  13. Fry until the liquid has reduced a little
  14. Serve immediately with the liquid

* I used chestnut, oyster and shiitake.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

T is for Tortilla de Patatas

Spanish tortilla is great summer lunch dish on its own with a salad.

The traditional way of making it is to deep fry the potatoes.  While this adds texture, it piles on the pounds. As a student, I used to buy a bag of fish-shop chips on my way back to my digs to use to make this without having to fry off the potatoes. It was a really quick and cheap dinner alongside some salad and a pork chop.

But most often, I gently pan fry my own potatoes with a lot less fat involved.

  • 3-4 large potatoes, peeled and finely sliced
  • 1 brown/white onion, cut in half and each half is finely sliced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
  • 4 large eggs, very lightly beaten
  • Good pinch of saffron strands (about 10)
  • 4 tblspns veggie oil
  • S&P
If you don't have saffron, don't worry.  The taste is very delicate and most miss it.

  1. Find a frying pan that can be covered a plate
  2. Fry the onion gently in a tablespoon of oil until translucent; remove
  3. Fry the potato gently until soft in another tablespoon of oil (takes about 15-20 minutes)
  4. Drain off any excess oil
  5. Add in the minced garlic and fry for another minute
  6. Decant the contents of the pan and the onion into the bowl of beaten egg: crumble in the saffron strands and season well
  7. Fold everything together very gently

  8. Put the frying pan (empty) back on the hob, add the rest of the oil and heat till hot
  9. Add in the potato-egg mix and push down the top potato bits to flatten
  10. Turn down the heat to a very low setting and cook for 12-15 mins, jiggling the pan every so often to ensure the mix isn't sticking
  11. Now you can flip it or put the pan in the oven at 180° for a further 10 mins (obviously only if your pan is oven proof)
  12. To flip, put a flat plate upside down over the frying pan and very quickly flip both over together pushing the handle down with one hand and holding the plate edges firmly to the pan rim with your other palm splayed out over the bottom of your plate:  The cooked bit should now be facing upwards and you will be left holding the plate in your hand with your hand bent back underneath like a waiter carries a tray
  13. This has to be done quickly otherwise the uncooked egg will leak
  14. Slide the tortilla back into the pan so that the uncooked side is now on the bottom and can finish cooking
  15. (Any slices of egg-potato left on your plate can be slid under the tortilla with a fish slice)
  16. Leave for another 5-10 mins to cook through
  17. Once cooked, flip it onto a clean plate and decide which is the prettiest side (the side cooked first usually does)
  18. Cut out one slice and put a cake slice underneath so people can see the layers; serve with a small sprig of thyme or parsley in the middle