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The Cosy Coming-In-Out-Of-The-Rain Supper

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

Sandwiches should ideally be made with thick-sliced, soft bread and toasted:

Bacon and tomato

Sausage and mushroom

Chocolate and hazelnut spread

Jam/marmalade

Cheese and tomato

Cheese and ham

SOUP

Serve with warm crusty bread:

Tomato

Mushroom

Chicken and sweetcorn

Vegetable

BREADS AND PASTRIES

Don’t forget the butter, jam, marmalade etc:

Crumpets

English muffins

Drop scones

Teacakes

Fruit loaf

BISCUITS

Shortbread

Oat and raisin cookies

Ginger biscuits

Flapjacks

SAVOURIES

Welsh Rarebit

Jacket potato with cheese and bacon bits

Kipper with poached egg

Egg on toast

Mushroom on toast

Scotch eggs

Spinach and cheese muffins

SWEETS

Rice pudding

Chocolate brownies

Gingerbread

Banana bread

Apricot tea bread

HOT DRINKS

Tea – of any kind

Coffee

Hot chocolate – with a splash of your favourite liqueur for the adults

Hot apple toddy

Irish coffee

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.

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Easter/Spring Afternoon Tea

Easter is just around the corner and we are looking forward to yet another gloriously long weekend. For me, long weekends mean gatherings, socialising, fun, food as well as a healthy dose of r n’r – and I reckon afternoon tea combines all of these elements perfectly. I’m a huge fan of afternoon teas, and when it’s a holiday-themed afternoon tea, then that’s even better! One of the great things about hosting an Easter/Spring themed afternoon tea party is that if it’s a gloriously sunny day, you might just be able to hold your party outdoors. Inspiration for this party comes from colours and ideas associated with this time of year as well as food that is in season. Colours in soft, muted pastel shades are typical of Spring, and chicks, bunnies, Spring flowers, eggs and chocolate are what springs to mind (excuse the pun!) when we think of Easter, so these will probably play a role in your choice of food, drinks and décor. The list below gives food ideas of what you can include as part of your Spring-themed afternoon tea party menu:

SANDWICHES

  • Egg and cress
  • Cucumber and cream cheese
  • Chicken salad
  • Chicken and pesto
  • Ricotta and apricot jam
  • Egg and asparagus
  • Prawn cocktail

SAVOURIES

  • Scotch eggs
  • Mini asparagus and quail’s egg tartlets
  • Mini Yorkshire puddings with lamb and mint gravy
  • Pea and mint soup in shot glasses
  • Bite-size lamb samosas
  • Chicken tikka on bite-size naan bread with mint raita
  • Spinach and ricotta/feta in filo pastry
  • Cheese and spring onion scones
  • Broccoli and spinach mini quiche

SWEET SCONES/TOASTED BREADS

  • Hot cross buns
  • Fruit loaf
  • Apricot muffins
  • English muffins
  • White chocolate and raspberry scones
  • Rosewater and vanilla scones

CAKES, TARTS AND OTHER SWEET TREATS:

  • Lemon cupcakes
  • Chocolate fudge cake
  • Carrot cake
  • Simnel Cake
  • Mini rhubarb and custard tartlets
  • Crème egg chocolate brownies
  • Pastel coloured macaroons
  • Chocolate whoopie pies
  • Lavender shortbread
  • Raspberry panna cotta in shot glasses
  • Mini chocolate and cherry trifles

DRINKS:

  • Tea!
  • Lemon tea
  • Raspberry tea
  • Vanilla latte
  • Mint tea
  • Elderflower cordial
  • Shot glasses of thick chocolate milk
  • Chocolate flavoured cocktails

Don’t forget the extras you need to serve such as butter, clotted cream, honey and a selection of jams to go with the toasted breads and scones. And for the savouries, you may need to provide a variety of chutneys, sauces and pickles. And now I’m going to leave you with an awesome recipe for raspberry and white chocolate macarons. Yum!

RASPBERRY AND WHITE CHOCOLATE MACARONS INGREDIENTS:

Meringues:

  • 130g pure icing sugar
  • 110g almond meal
  • 2  egg whites
  • 65g caster sugar
  • 4-5 drops of pink food colouring

White chocolate and raspberry ganache:

  • 50ml double cream
  • 100g white chocolate
  • 45g raspberries, coarsely chopped

METHOD:

  1. Preheat oven to 140C.
  2. Combine icing sugar and almond meal in a food processor until finely ground.
  3.  Triple-sift into a large bowl and set aside.
  4. Whisk two-thirds of the egg whites in an electric mixer until it forms soft peaks form.
  5. Add caster sugar, a tablespoon at a time, whisking continuously until fully combined and mixture is thick and glossy.
  6. Add food colouring.
  7. Stir in almond mixture in batches until fully combined and mixture slowly slides down sides of bowl when bowl is tilted.
  8. Add remaining egg white to loosen mixture.
  9.  Spoon into a piping bag with a 1cm plain nozzle.
  10.  Pipe 3cm-diameter rounds of mixture onto heavy baking-paper-lined oven trays.
  11.  Stand until a crust begins to form  which should take around 5 hours.
  12. Bake macarons until firm.
  13.  Cool completely on trays.
  14. Meanwhile, for white chocolate and raspberry ganache, bring cream just to the boil in a small saucepan.
  15. Remove from heat.
  16.  Add chocolate, stand until melted, stir until smooth and glossy.
  17. Refrigerate until firm yet still pliable then stir until smooth.
  18. Add raspberries, stir to form a ripple effect, then spoon a teaspoon of ganache onto half the macarons. Sandwich with remaining macarons and refrigerate until set.
  19. Macarons will keep for 1-2 days refrigerated in an airtight container.

Enjoy!

Hassle-Free Cocktails and Canapes Chez Mrs. D

Entertaining must be my middle name – I LOVE it. I love nothing better than having a crowd of people over, and  dare I say it, I’m well known for my cocktails and canapés. If it were possible, I’d be having cocktail and canapé nights every night. It’s simple but impressive if you’re having a lot of people over although it can require a lot of effort. I tend to make very fruity cocktails so there’s a lot of chopping, crushing and pureeing going on. And canapés, unless you keep them really simple, can be quite fiddly to prepare. Furthermore, when ever I invite people over, it usually tends to be a very last minute thing so I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been running around like a crazy woman trying to get everything ready in time before the doorbell starts ringing. Goodness knows what I’d do if I regularly put on four-course dinner parties!

That’s not to say that the hard work isn’t worth it because when I hear the raucous laughter and non-stop chatter above the already very loud music, see the empty dishes and knocked-over cocktail glasses (accidentally of course) and know that everyone’s having a damn good time, then it’s most definitely worth it.

But there are ways of hosting a great cocktails and canapés night without feeling as though you are in danger of committing murder beforehand. Here are some great tips to hosting the perfect C&C evenings Mrs. D style:

BECOME THE COCKTAIL QUEEN

If like me you are very last minute dot com or you simply dread having unexpected guests, it’s a good idea to make sure you have some stand-by items ready in the fridge or cupboard. There isn’t really much need to stock up on ultra expensive ingredients that you’re probably never going to use again. We all remember the fairy tale about the magic stone soup and it’s true – with limited ingredients and a lot of imagination you can come up with something quite impressive:

  1. I always have at least one bottle of wine, rum or vodka ready to act as the base for a good cocktail so always make sure you have a bottle of something tucked away for ’emergencies’.
  2. Always make sure you’re never out of ice.
  3. You can cheat by using a cocktail mixer pack where all you have to do is add alcohol and serve.
  4. I can’t think of any fruits that can’t be used in a cocktail, either sliced, pureed or muddled and strained so let your fruit bowl be your best friend!
  5. Herbs and spices such as basil, mint, lemongrass and ginger and even chilli can really give your cocktails a much needed kick – just remember not to overdo it!
  6. Cola, lemonade, sparkling water and various types of juices make great mixers.
  7. Never underestimate the importance of the humble lemon (or lime.) The zest and juice can be added to the alcohol; the fruit can be sliced, and the peel can be used for decoration.
  8. When all else fails, cooled sugar syrup + lemon juice + alcohol + ice + soda + lemon slice = inexpensive yet impressive cocktail!
  9. Don’t forget to frost the rims of the glasses with sugar.
  10. If you do have time to prepare, freeze either fruit juice, coffee, cola, tea lemonade etc. to avoid watery cocktails.

Also remember that it’s not all about the alcohol (strange coming from me, I know!) as you may have guests who don’t drink. Where possible simply omit the alcohol in their drinks, substitute it with a flavoured syrup if necessary or top up with more ginger ale, lemonade, soda etc.

THE EASIEST CANAPES EVER

Canapés and antipasti platters are traditionally nibbles served to guests as they arrive and as they are a precursor to a main meal, they tend to be light. However, it’s not uncommon now for people to forgo a sit-down meal in order to serve an array of canapés, especially if they are having a lot of guests or want to keep things informal.

  • So unless you’re planning a party with lots of guests, keep the antipasto fairly simple so you don’t override the the main meal. You could perhaps serve two or three dishes from the list below along with some fruit, nuts and bread.
  • If you’re planning on serving a main meal, then the  antipasto should complement the meal you’re planning.
  • Think about the appearance and fragrance of the food; blending flavors, aromas and colours will create interesting antipasto plates.

We’d all love to do a Delia when it comes to entertaining but let’s face it – we don’t all have time to stuff quail eggs or make pastry from scratch. Neither do we have the patience or finances to track down obscure, expensive  ingredients which can probably only be ordered online. So if you’re pushed for time – or money – cheat! Make the most of your local, supermarket, grocer or deli. And if you’re fortunate enough to live near a farmer’s market, so much the better!

Here’s a list of simple nibbles you could include as part of your canapés:

  • Jarred marinated artichoke hearts
  • Water crackers
  • Various types of cheese
  • Sliced or cherry tomatoes marinated in dressing
  • Olives
  • Cold meat slices
  • Different types of bread
  • Slices or chunks of fresh fruit
  • Jarred roasted peppers
  • Garlic hummus and pita bread
  • Sardines and sweet onions
  • Capers
  • Sweet pickles, chutneys and relishes
  • Cold shrimp
  • Roasted nuts
  • Homemade garlic bread
  • Grilled deli vegetables
  • Marinated fresh mozzarella
  • Anchovies

You could also decide what you’d like to be the key component in your antipasti platter ie. – meat, vegetables, fish etc. and then base other nibbles around them:

Meat:  a selection of natural deli meats – pepperoni, salami and prosciutto etc. — then add mixed olives, brie, deviled eggs, roasted vegetables and crackers.

Vegan: vegetable crudités, marinated olives or olive tapenade, pitta bread, roasted peppers, vegetarian stuffed dolmas and roasted garlic hummus.

 

Seafood:  fish roe, sardines, anchovies, seared fresh tuna and smoked salmon, crackers served with cream cheese, sliced marinated onions and capers.

Fresh Fruit and Nuts: Serve chunks of melon, figs and pomegranate alongside  deli meats, and then add toasted walnuts and roasted, salted pistachios.

Roasted Vegetables with Cheese: roasted veggies e.g. – baby aubergines, beets, bell peppers,courgettes, carrots, tomatoes, asparagus, onions and garlic. (Look for roasted vegetables in the prepared foods section of the store, or simply toss raw veggies with a bit of olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet in a 450°F oven until tender.) Served with tangy cheeses like feta, Gruyère or aged Manchego.

Cheese and More Cheese: Look for out-of-the-ordinary cheeses like Rustica cheese with red peppers or black peppercorns, rosemary coated Manchego, Caciotta cheese with green olives, Gouda with mustard seeds or cumin, drunken goat cheese made with red wine and Sotocenere cheese with truffles and a hint of cinnamon. Then combine them with a few traditional ones like provolone or fresh mozzarella. Serve with crusty bread, olives, deli meats, fruit, crackers, pickles and chutneys.

 

I’ve included an example of a super simple antipasti platter and a quick and easy cocktail. Hardly any fuss at all with easily found ingredients.

ANTIPASTI PLATTER

 

INGREDIENTS:

125g grissini

240g sunblush tomatoes

225g queen green olives

70g Napoli salami

70g Milano salami

70g sliced chorizo

80g Parma ham

METHOD:

Arrange the selection of canapés on a breadboard or platter.

APPLE AND CINNAMON SPARKLE

 

INGREDIENTS:

200ml vodka

300ml sparkling apple drink

1 green apple, sliced

6 cinnamon sticks

METHOD:

  1. Mix vodka and sparkling apple drink.
  2. Pour into martini glasses.
  3. Garnish with a slice of apple and a cinnamon stick.

What could be simpler! Enjoy!

 

Yummy Cinnamon Toast

 

 

 

 

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