As everyone knows, I really like the cooler months of the year rather than the blazing hot ones ( I don’t need to be told I’m strange – I already know that!) So I didn’t mind when it was pelting down with rain last Friday. I didn’t mind at all. I just wished I could have been at home watching the rain come down from the comfort of my own home rather than be outside in the rain, freezing in my lightweight summer clothes while carrying three times my weight in groceries!
Thankfully Mr. D. was on hand to give me a, um, hand with the shopping but even that couldn’t take away from the discomfort I felt as the rainwater slowly began to seep into my totally inappropriate ballet-style pumps. Just then an image of a steaming hot mug of chocolaty goodness with enough cream and marshmallows to concern Jamie Oliver flashed into my head.
“You know what?” I began as I turned to Mr.D. who makes carrying a multitude of grocery bags look so effortless, “this is perfect hot chocolate weather.” All I wanted to do was get home, change out of my damp clothes and into comfy pjs, and sit by the fireplace, sipping gloriously thick hot chocolate and munching on toasted goodies. OK, so I don’t have a fireplace but the radiator with a few candles around it would do! Then I realised – we didn’t have any hot chocolate. And we hadn’t thought to pick any up. But then again why would we? Summertime’s all about the Pimm’s and cider. Or perhaps I should say, it should be all about the Pimm’s and cider. But at that exact moment all I wanted was hot chocolate and I could very easily have kicked myself for not buying any, if it wasn’t for the fact that I felt as though I had a swimming pool at the end of each foot!
It seems strange to be writing a post that’s better suited to the Autumn months than in what should be a blazing hot July, but it did get me thinking about cosy and warming suppers; the kind that’d be a real treat after a trip out in the cold, wind, rain, and possibly even snow. Or when you’re indoors, all snug and cosy while it’s chucking down buckets outside. Or perhaps you’re just in need of some good old-fashioned comfort food. There’s no special occasion for this supper; you can prepare this when you need something warm and comforting. None of the following should be served cold; everything should be either piping hot, warm or lightly toasted. You could serve all the following courses as a kind of high tea if you really wanted to go to town, especially if you are having friends over. But the main idea here is to keep it simple (who wants to do a whole lot of cooking when you’re looking for some much needed comfort food?) so I would pick one or two of the food items and serve it with a hot drink. Furthermore, unless you’re going for your own brand of comfort food, a lot of the foods listed here are deliciously stodgy and high in carbs, so I would choose carefully! Oh, and a lot of it will most probably be dripping in butter…
The good thing about this kind of supper is that even if you’ve invited your friends to come over and join you, there’s really no need to go to town on dressing up or creating an elaborately decorated table. The key here is simplicity, comfort and warmth. So comfy trackies, sweaters, pjs, robes and slippers are ideal. Oh and don’t forget the blankets!
Sandwiches should ideally be made with thick-sliced, soft bread and toasted:
Bacon and tomato
Sausage and mushroom
Chocolate and hazelnut spread
Cheese and tomato
Cheese and ham
Serve with warm crusty bread:
Chicken and sweetcorn
BREADS AND PASTRIES
Don’t forget the butter, jam, marmalade etc:
Oat and raisin cookies
Jacket potato with cheese and bacon bits
Kipper with poached egg
Egg on toast
Mushroom on toast
Spinach and cheese muffins
Apricot tea bread
Tea – of any kind
Hot chocolate – with a splash of your favourite liqueur for the adults
Hot apple toddy
Hot milk with honey
And I’m well aware that we’re not all fortunate enough to live in a house with a fabulous fireplace (I know I don’t!) so we’ll just have to crank up the heating a notch and dream of romantic, roaring log fires! And you can always create that cosy glow with dimmed lighting, candlelight, and if you really want to push the boat out, fairy lights.
As much as I’m a cappuccino and cake kind of girl, I do love a good tea party – especially if it’s done properly. I know in the States, an afternoon tea party is considered to be a quintessentially British pastime. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news guys, but most of us here in the ‘old country’ don’t even own a piece of fine bone China, never mind drink from it every day. And I really cannot remember the last time I used a saucer. On the rare occasions I do drink tea, it’s usually from a cardboard cup – just like my cappuccino!
But I do know a typically British afternoon tea party can be a fabulous occasional treat. We don’t have them every day or every week, but they are very popular for birthdays, bridal showers, little girls dressing-up tea parties, and just generally when you feel like being a little bit girly and going overboard with the hats, gloves, tea dresses and pearls. Told you it’s not an every day thing!
Tea parties can vary in terms of theme, style and food served, and there’ll be more about that in later posts. Although they are usually considered to be quite formal occasions, they don’t always have to be. They’re just great fun and a chance to have a cup of tea and a natter with a huge slice of cake. However formal or not, there are certain rules (for want of a better word) which need to be taken into account for a smooth running party.
So here’s the low-down on tea party etiquette.
TEA PARTY ETIQUETTE
IF YOU’RE THE HOSTESS:
1. Depending on how formal you want to be, you may want to send out invitations. Make sure you send these out in plenty of time.
2. Greet your guests as they come in. I don’t really think a handshake and a ‘how do you do?’ is necessary as one book suggested. Hello and a smile work just fine!
2. Show guests to the table and invite them to sit down. Whether you give them assigned seating or allow them to chose their own seats is up to you.
3. As the hostess, it’s your job to serve each of the courses and pour the tea. Make sure the conversation is flowing and your guests are eating and drinking.
4. It’s fine to arrange for someone else to do the serving if you wish so that you can concentrate on just having a good time with your guests.
5. If you are not able to get outside help and you have a fairly large number of guests, you can nominate a couple of friends to help serve – especially if you know that they are happy to do so!
IF YOU’RE THE GUEST:
1. It’s always nice to bring a small gift for the hostess.
2. Take your place at the table and wait to be served.
3. Keep your purse or handbag on your lap or behind your chair but not on the table.
4. When the party’s over, always send a handwritten note of thanks to your host – preferably within a week.
1. Place napkins on your lap. If you need to leave the table, leave the napkin on your chair and not on the table.
2. No reaching across the table for anything. If you’d like something, ask someone to pass it to you.
3. It’s perfectly acceptable to eat with your fingers – no one eats sandwiches with a knife and fork – but anything that has the potential to be messy should be eaten with a fork.
`4. Remember that thick cream is for scones – not for tea.
5. Take small bites of the sandwiches no matter how tiny they are. Don’t cram a whole one into your mouth. Now is not the time for party pieces!
6. When eating scones or muffins, break off a bite-size piece, then put a small amount of butter and/or jam on it. If clotted cream is being served, a small amount can be dabbed on after the jam.
7. Don’t dip the sugar tong or sugar spoon into your tea if you are taking sugar.
8. Stir the tea with your teaspoon and then place the teaspoon on the saucer behind the cup.
9. If your tea is too hot, simply leave it on the table to cool. Don’t blow on it to cool the tea down.
10. Slurping is not acceptable!
11. And neither is dunking biscuits.
12. Whatever our American friends might say, nobody here sticks their little/pinky finger out when drinking tea from a teacup. Who does that???
This is of course a rough guide and rules are open to interpretation. The most important rules which go without saying is that everyone should be happy, comfy, well-fed and having fun!
Passion fruit mousse is supposed to be the closest thing that Brazil has to a national dessert. It’s not hard to see why. Mousse? Great! Passion fruit? Amazing! I absolutely love tropical fruits, so this dessert is right up my street.
Prep: 15 minutes, plus 1 hour chilling time
- 4 passion fruit, pulp and seeds scooped out
- 150g sweetened condensed milk
- 175ml fresh whipping cream
- 4 lemon shortbread thins, to serve
- Put ¾ of the passion fruit pulp and seeds (reserve the rest for decorating) in a food processor or blender and whiz to a purée.
- Push through a sieve into a bowl, to remove the seeds.
- Add the condensed milk and stir until smooth.
- Pour the cream into another bowl and use a hand-held electric whisk to whip until stiff peaks form.
- Fold through the passion fruit mixture, 1/3rd at a time, until combined.
- Spoon into small serving glasses and chill for at least 1 hour before serving.
- Spoon the reserved passion fruit over the mousses and serve with the lemon thins.
I love the pairing of chocolate and rose as a flavour combination. It works really well and tastes divine. So you can imagine my delight when I came across some recipes featuring the two.
It’s no secret that I’m a huge chocolate fan – who isn’t? But I also really like the delicate flavour of rose – the sweet fragrance alone is deliciously tempting. It’s not a common flavouring in most parts of the world, being more popular in Asia and the Middle East. In the UK, it’s probably more commonly known for being used to flavour Turkish delight and rose creams. However in the Far East where my mum comes from, it’s used to flavour a whole variety of sweet things including cakes, biscuits, ice-creams, jams, jellies, milk puddings and drinks. One of my favourite drinks is a rose milkshake made with a delicious rose syrup. My mum prefers to dilute the syrup with water to make a type of rose squash.
I’m not surprised that it’s not as popular here in England as it’s a very difficult flavouring to get right: too little and you won’t be able to taste it; too much and it will taste as though your food has been laced with air freshener! It’s got to be spot on. But when you get it right it’s just like the flower itself – beautiful.
So I found three gorgeous recipes which combine both chocolate and rose together. They’d be perfect for Mother’s Day, St. Valentine’s Day, romantic meals – any occasions in which roses and chocolates are synonymous. But of course you can make them any time you want simply because they look and impressive and taste amazingly good!
CHOCOLATE WHOOPIE PIES WITH ROSE MARSHMALLOW FILLING
- 60g – 2¼ oz unsalted butter diced plus extra for greasing
- 120g – 4¼ oz golden caster sugar
- 1 medium egg
- 20g – ¾ oz cocoa
- 125g – 4½ oz plain flour
- 1 rounded tsp baking powder
- pinch sea salt
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 3 tbsp milk
- 1 medium organic egg white
- 75g – 3oz white caster sugar
- 1 tbsp sieved fresh orange juice
- ¼ tsp cream of tartar
- 5 pink marshmallows halved
- pink food colouring optional
- Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6.
- Butter two baking sheets.
- In a food processor, cream together the butter and sugar until well blended, then incorporate the egg.
- Sift together the next three cookie ingredients and add to the mixture followed by the remaining cookie ingredients.
- Mix until well combined.
- Drop rounded teaspoons of the mixture on to the baking sheets spaced about 7cm l 2¾ in apart to allow for spreading.
- Bake until just risen and firm without crisping at the edges – they should be soft and slightly cake-like in texture.
- Loosen them immediately with a spatula and leave to cool.
- If not assembling on the day store in an airtight container.
- Place the first four filling ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk using an electric hand-held whisk until combined.
- Set the bowl over a pan containing a little simmering water and whisk the filling at high speed for 5 minutes or until thick and moussey.
- Add the marshmallows and stir for several minutes until beginning to melt.
- Then whisk until smooth and combined, adding a little food colouring if wished to achieve your desired shade of pink.
- Remove from the heat.
- Sandwich the cookies in pairs with about a teaspoon of the filling, matching the top and bottom sizes as evenly as possible.
- Set aside for an hour for the filling to set.
CHOCOLATE AND ROSE PETAL JAM VICTORIA SPONGE
Makes 1 x 20cm (8″) cake
- 225g (8oz) diced unsalted butter
- 200g (7oz) golden caster sugar
- 1 tbsp golden syrup
- 200g (7oz) self-raising flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 25g (1oz) cocoa sifted
- 4 medium eggs
- 100ml (3 ½ fl oz) milk
FILLING & TOPPING
- about 125g (4 ½ oz) rose petal jam or good quality pink or red jam of your choice
- 350ml (12 fl oz) double cream
- pink food colouring optional
- Butter a 20cm (8in) loose-bottom cake tin at least 7cm (2 ¾ in) deep.
- Heat the oven to 190C/170 C fan oven/gas 5.
- Place all the cake ingredients in a food processor and cream together, about 3-4 minutes, until completely smooth.
- Transfer the mixture to the cake tin, smoothing the surface.
- Bake for 50-55 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
- Run a knife around the cake and leave to cool in the tin, then turn out.
- For the filling, work the jam in a bowl to loosen in slightly.
- In another bowl, whisk the cream with a couple of drops of pink food colouring until just starting to form soft peaks, taking care not to let the cream turn buttery.
- Slit the cake horizontally into three layers using a bread knife.
- Spread the bottom layer with half the jam, and then half the cream. Repeat with the middle layer using up the remaining jam and cream and set the top layer of cake in place.
CHOCOLATE ROSEWATER MOUSSE
- 125g – 4½ oz dark chocolate about
- 70 per cent cocoa broken into pieces
- 2 medium organic eggs separated
- 25g – 1oz caster sugar
- 100ml – 3½ fl oz double cream
- few drops rosewater to taste
- Gently melt the chocolate in a bowl set over a pan containing a little simmering water.
- Allow to cool to room temperature.
- Whisk the egg whites in a large bowl until stiff using an electric whisk, then sprinkle over the sugar a tablespoon at a time, whisking well with each addition until glossy.
- Fold the egg yolks into the whisked whites.
- Flavour the cream to taste with rosewater and fold into the chocolate in two goes.
- Now fold in a third of the egg mixture to loosen it, and then the remainder in two goes.
- Spoon or pipe the mousse decoratively into dessert dishes or glasses.
- Cover and chill for several hours or overnight.